j o s e p h    w o o d


from "YOU."


Excerpt 1

Excerpt 2



—A man-made lake drains under the street and
falls mightily on the other side. This is what I mean
by love, where the snakes of the new year slither
into your throat and usurp your tongue. You
of the high strong shoulders and pronounced

rib cage. You of the rippled muscles in your back,
the lowered head, the steam rising off your neck—
dawn's slung low, thoroughfare laid with bare
gravel. Inside that gravel we shift, two rocks
cracking in the sun. Inside the rocks is the secret

of the rock, and we start to rock toward clarity,
that moment where the green eye locks to the blue
eye and the gaze that connects them—the rock
and the rocking, the smallness of the mole
on your back, the mole itself a motion as you

motion, You, the sun now rising above the barn,
we curl into the corner like two prone sheep,
we curl so far into the corner we merge the corner
with our corneas, we are sheep, and sheepish,
and growing smaller beneath the sun, rocking

like a slingshot in a blender, you move your mouth
into my mouth, you put words inside my gut,
and the syllables are hot and sour and beyond
the microscope lens, and you curl your neck,
you arch your back, you move through time like time

were but a trinket, and what would that trinket
say? I don't know, but the forest in the distance
approaches, you smell of lemon and confectioners
sugar, and I touch the small space inside you,
and it opens—there is so much damage the world

inflicts. There is so much infliction and no
amount of sunlight. This is what I mean by beauty:
the electricity removed from the eel. This is
what I mean by morning: the humid air shrouds
not one single tree. This is how we pack

our bags into our clothes, how we mount the horses
inside us and clomp down the highway rest stops:
lot lizards, sky-high cement trucks, flatulent
truckers strung out on fatigue, a supreme corpulence
of wind howling out from your screaming throat.




—Faulkner and Thoreau ambulate
together—one makes the lists, one burns the lists,
then the system of writing and burning, neighbor's
axes and second rate caskets, everything the I can
eye floats down the stream and turns the cut bank

beyond periphery. They are left with nobility,
which is, after a time, a high-minded arrogance,
or they are left debauchery, which after a time
is the other end of the liquor bottle. Let's play
a game of identification: did you hide the whiskey?

And then: was the whiskey needed to make a fuel?
And then: is this shotgun and your big, fat head
needed for breathing?
And then: I have transcended life,
you see, and you are a moron kicking in a swamp
and eating leeches for inspiration.
This is the story

of setting a prehistoric city on fire in the center
of the tundra, of collecting its children like mascots
and running them out onto the field. Let's face
fact: I'm a terrible father, a borderline apparition
whose contours are sawdust and funeral home lights

and whose heart beats the blackness black flies shed.
O the woe-warn heart you touch, sweet pea, my face
a papa face grown slack in the church light. Burn down
the me from you, burn down the wall with pictures
and colorings and every form of promise I can never keep.

I am an alien from another planet, whose regret turns
green in the solar system and puss-filled in the solar
plexus. I have died a thousand deaths, and a thousand
You's have marched across the greening of the day
where I flip your kindergarten school-day photo

in my hand like a blackjack dealer and the joker O
am I. Little one, I have a vial of tears, and it is vile
and serves no purpose. I butterfly into another town.
Another town turns into me, and what am I left
with but a note I wrote of my teacher in fourth grade:

Ms. Bradley's cooter is hot and pink like fiber glass.
She took the note from my hand, and it sat on her
desk like an unopened theorem. There are the shapes
that destroy us and the shapes that are us, and
her lips were soft and wide and smelled of Uranus.

Little planet of ice I want to crawl inside you.
I want to punch out from the center of your core,
my fist a baboon red, a flag pole in reverse.
This is what I mean by language, the halls we
surreptitiously kiss within, the glass on the ground,

the sand in the glass. Every hour is a promise
and a curse. I hold your hand and You turn to me
and Your eyes moisten and You come down
off the cross and let me drink from Your wrists.
The Romans are silhouettes and Your mother

is a copperhead and the why have You forsaken
me You O You who is every cell in the world.
You, friend, you hold the hymnal upside down
and reinvent the key. You, friend, you thunderbolt
the gossipy minister. You, friend, you elevate

the sycophants into apostles, gutters into marble
stations the priests stand before and the altar
boys flick their incense. I confess my sins
to the altar boys—these children open their chests
and inside rests Blake woodcuts of themselves.


JOSEPH P WOOD is the author of Fold of the Map (forthcoming), I & We, Gutter Catholic Love Song, Travel Writing, and In What I Have Done & What I Have Failed to Do. Recent or forthcoming work can be found in Boston Review, Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, Coconut, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, and Forklift OH, among others.

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