4 Poems by Anthony Seidman
Guston And His Grotesques
This book I offer contains all the beetles that have ever crawled and it opens
a blueness pliable enough for both butterflies and dirigibles.
Read this book with your teeth and the tartness of a cold apple and everything
green will charge your limbs, turn you into
a tree of pages fluttering, meadow of vowels taking flight, kites snapping loose.
This book thunders in the gaze of a boy first beholding the ocean,
and it’s round, the moon that glides above the attic
where the poet snores, and by his bed a lyre
slowly simmers in a bucket
which he will later carry, sloshing along to the great
umbilical river, and pour it into currents reaching the sun.
This book is printed on paper which dissolves when touched,
leaving a tracery like red neon in mist or
taillights streaking an evening of rainfall.
Best to call this book a journal of stones, beehive’s diary, news
of mushrooms and mud, the camels jackrabbits and jellyfish
glimpsed in cloud formations, and an exhalation of leaves. This
is the book to commence reading the epic of your seven, eight decades on Earth;
this is the book primordial, like your blood, helium or gravity,
and which you flip, vainly searching for an answer,
when the wind, the playful wind, flips the pages back and forth and
back and forth, as if responding
with gently reproaching laughter.
I’ll Be Right Here
Said Melinda in her best English, red lacquer chipped on fingernail, as she pointed to my chest. Taxis rattled over unpaved potholes, soldiers on leave stumbled into pool halls and cantinas. A jukebox sang if you had ever seen the rain. She had packed all her clothes in a duffel bag at her sandaled feet. We had met weeks earlier in a bar where she pickpocketed Americans. We saw each other every day during a summer of smoke, beer and gunfire. Now she boarded the rutera on its way to the bus terminal. I walked to the window by her seat and pressed it with open hand before the engine shifted into gear, and I stood looking at the back of the bus reading the word Circunvalación in blue paint until I could no longer read it, nor see the color blue in the distance. I like to think that she looked at my hand-print once or twice.
Guston And His Grotesques
The bloodshot eye
or the light bulb’s
jutting from sheets
on a bed too
narrow to hold
wreck of a man
unshaven cheeks riddled
with ruptured blood vessels
between stub fingers
and the hour-hands
on the insomniac’s
wristwatch pointing to
a midnight purgatorial
Journal of Venom
Eat the poem from the spit. Fat still splissing on coals and fragrant smoke. Tear into the instant, your white teeth flashing. Think of the captive Gorilla who can gesture signs for Hunger, Sadness, Kitty, but refuses to mate; or the dendrobatid frog—sapphire-blue and fatal to the touch—now trapped within a Plexiglas cage. Bereft of such prey as centipedes, mites, beetles, the frog no longer distills the chemicals for its venom. A boy could catch it in cupped palms, and crush.
Fitting that jellyfish in Spanish is medusa: tresses of the Gorgon sister like those tentacles adrift. Attic women spoke lies as they labored at the loom: men whom she stalked, forced to gaze into her eyes and carbonized instantly, and villages burdened with widows and orphans. Moon medusa, box-shaped medusa, Pacific Sea Nettle or Flower Hat Jelly, your red and purple afterimage is what I witness in my sleep…venomous carnations of the sea. Fishermen and adventurers see the fabled sister arise from the slow drift, and they keep this secret. The sister is too beautiful to behold and not possess; men have begged for one night in the torch-lit grotto, even if ecstasy means necrosis.
Brown Recluse, crepuscular spider with dark violin shape on thorax, your leap and retreat unleash agile pizzicatos. Obsidian-glisten of six eyes as you sear puss-rose into my sole…creature whose necrotic music vibrates from a strand of gossamer!
This crackling is not the neon flickering vermilion against my motel ceiling and walls. This steam doesn’t rise from the drawn bath, nor is thinned with a couple aspirins and scald of tequila. I know the source and ash…this is heat rising, while red fingers of the Santa Ana Winds flip pages, my book of venom.
Engine churning, I navigate this asphalt steppe. Big rigs, straining with their hoard of flattened cars for the Pick Your Part. Sedans for the ambitious to buy on exorbitant interest. Strips from blow-outs…smoke on the horizon. Puddles of phosphorescent oil and engine coolant. Myself, in a Chevrolet, inhaling an artificial temperature of 70 degrees, breathing the toxins of a lifetime. Lady Venom, is this another strain of your serotonins?
In Zapotec villages, Bidxáa sorceress transforms into fawn, heifer, filly…this is the cocoon stage. Each month she then blossoms: woman with wide hips, breasts pendant and moonshine hair. She bathes at midnight, her scent overpowering and narcotic like cinnamon, mezcal, fields after rain. River water glistens on her limbs while her skin simmers the thirst of adolescent boys.
Lead-poisoning lit Caravaggio’s sword-blustering and madness. Like Van Gogh, he ate colors, and his gaze crackling over the corpse of a Virgin prostitute also flickered as crow-shadows crossing the wheat-fields of Arles.
Your fangs, Lady Venom, in my jugular, yet you tease. You inflict dry bite; no terminal dusk courses through my veins. Only wrinkles…tedium of thinning hair…salve of liquor and pleasure in unbuckling my belt after steak. But the bite immaculate is being honed, curved scythe-bite. When my breath rattles, will jaws of earth grind on my bones forever? Or will I return spawned from something neither water, fire, stone or air?
North American male lives to the age of 78; he gluts on fats, oils and sweets. By 21, he commences a career in charring his liver with ethanol. Average height: five feet, nine inches. Average of 144 orgasms per year. Two children per household. Blood-sugar spikes by the time he is fifty, and he peaks.
Brazilian Wandering Spider’s lifespan: two years. Hunger distilled, it hunts nocturnal, bent on envenomating grasshopper, mouse, lizard. Unlike the stray bullets or disastrous atom bomb of man, spider need only inject a milligram into human flesh in order for victim to experience loss of muscle control, edema, death by asphyxiation.
Our protagonist awakes at 6:00 a.m. and showers. Mirror fogged, he wipes it and shaves, avoiding the gaze of his own eyes. Slaps aftershave on his neck and cheeks, winces from the astringent’s sting. In the kitchen, he peels an orange and sips bitter coffee. An innocuous ache at the base of his spine. Dressed in suit and tie, he boards a trolley car and stares out the moving window: school boys dragging satchels, proprietors opening cafés and kiosks, the pointed breasts and heels of a young woman clicking hurriedly across the Reforma. Once at his desk, he looks over the documents awaiting him, signs off on funds for used textbooks to be distributed to rural schools. Yawning, he hears the clacking of typewriters. Doors slam or dryly shut. He opens the top desk drawer, takes out a file and, with red pencil, makes corrections…crosses out an entire page…chuckles…it’s the first time he has emitted a sound this morning. He inserts crisp sheet of paper in his Underwood, and his thoughts glow, catching fire. The ache subsiding, he works from 8:52 until noon: hendecasyllables, glistening clarity of water. Working title: Death Without End.
Unable to fall asleep, I study Blake’s Ghost of a Flea which shone before him: stalwart and strutting, eye-balls peeled, black tongue like rattlesnake’s sniffing heat. Hours later, I awaken drenched in nightmare; this phantom flea which hosted Y. pestis and gluttonous Death will curse the viewer across ten generations.
Encroaching on our fondest purlieus, a medieval dusk spreads. Fleas swarm our sofa and carpeted dens where children drool Looney Tunes. Florence, Cologne, Los Angeles…emaciated corpses outside are piled and torched. The pathogen is ravenous; the fever has yet to peak.
Fitting that serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract: strict pleasure derived from sopping up onion gravy and steak with a tortilla; a mug of dark beer, drops running down the glass, and the sudden tingle when drunkenness commences. Serotonin also impels man to leave the dinner table. Delectable sleep after making love and the brine-like odor a woman leaves on the pillow. Snake and insect venoms contain the chemical, and without medical treatment, a high dosage leads to lack of muscle control and death. Such a teetering between one extreme and the other…like the pause, distinguishing what freezes from what scalds.
Infestation of cimicidae, every blanket sown with needles. Braille of rashes on a boy’s chest, constellation of scabs. Lovely creature, hematophagous bud, you outwitted the pesticides and now the tenants are jettisoning their linens. Like making love, drunkenness, childbirth and bread, this is something we share with the ancients: scripture of scabby phonemes pocking our skin.
Andre Masson’s lightning: blackness crackling on white fire, whirlpools and raptors, arteries hemorrhaging, ant-swarms bursting into flowers and barracudas; an automatic topography of thirst, meat puppets peering from gaping hyena jaws, sharks, prowling wolf packs and spiders. Ivy spreading at velocity of lust. Venom.
Less is more; venom of ctenidae spiders induce excruciating marathon erections. Neurotoxins causing such extreme priapism can be refined, aid those suffering erectile dysfunction.
Poem’s a wet-bite, a pustule.
No glory. Crackle of loose asphalt under my soles. No fame. Horizon of brushfires from the foothills. Am done with the Homeric clichés. I need ash on my lips, texture of meat torn by my teeth. Then She visits me when thirsty. Her skin sizzles when touched. No tenderness, yet the pleasure She delivers cuts genuine. She leaves when sated, no vows, no promises, only the sharpness of her teeth. So. Cough in your grave, old Ez. Clear your boney throat and rest assured I, too, go in fear of abstractions.
Sweet Lady Venom, this asbestos tunnel where you entrap me after the gas station, laundry and dark bottle of beer. Then a fitful dozing on my bed: a plateau where weeds sap soil. Murky rills I dream, and miles of tar, smokestacks. No fangs jut from ceiling, no legs open, no descent from self-shat thread. Only the rustle of your urticating hairs wafting upon me as I snore…a slow rain of barbed follicles…and I inhale our pact of mesothelioma….
Our Lady of Venom of the blade
Our Lady of Venom of necrotic enzyme
Of liver euthanized by ethanol
Of asphyxiation and the varicose vein
Our Lady of Venom of needle and scorpion
Our Lady of Venom of priapism and night sweats
Of vinegar mistaken for ambrosia
Of mezcal mistaken for ichor
Our Lady of Venom of hepatitis and jaundice
Our Lady of Venom of rust and rebar
Of dog shit in an empty lot
Of carrion and the strutting crow
Our Lady of Venom of Red Heifer and dagger
Our Lady of Venom of the steaming altar
Of shrieking penitents
Of the bell comprehended through sweat
Our Lady of Venom with vomit edema and hemorrhages
Our Lady of Venom with her lead chalice and coolants
Our Lady of Venom with her summer riots
Of the Saintly Skeleton attired in her blue snood
Of the Saintly Skeleton arrayed in her red gown
The globe in her left bone-clutch and scythe in her right
Our Lady of Venom with the antidote…
more venom…there is no antidote….
Anthony Seidman is the author of three collections of poetry, including Where Thirsts Intersect (The Bitter Oleander Press), as well as the recent artist’s book The Motel Insomnia, created with visual artist Jean-Claude Loubieres and published by AdeLeo Editions of Paris, France. His poetry, essays, short fiction and translations have appeared in hundreds of journals internationally, among them Nimrod, Slipstream, The Bitter Oleander, Newsweek en español, Rattle, Poetry International, The Black Herald Review, Luvina (University of Guadalajara, Mexico), and the cultural supplements to La Jornada and La Reforma, the major newspapers of Mexico.