The firing squad missed.
The blindfolded man lurches away
from the pitted wall.
They line him up again,
but not before he flashes on whiskey
and flowers, tobacco still in the cells of his tongue.
Later a guard marvels
at the tulip red of the stains.
It stays with him all day
and most of the evening.
He settles down to dinner,
strokes his wife’s hair.
As if brutality
were a temporary spasm,
the way a lung shudders into cough.
In bed he thinks only
of the sheets, the open window,
his wife’s clean breasts.
Sunday he listens
to his drunk, happy pastor
who likes this sermon:
Lazarus, what a hypochondriac!
Still, he was called forth,
all of him:
the stink of his shroud,
his white numb limbs.
When the firing squad missed,
priests were hired to guard me at night.
They watch me on my cot. How simple he is,
one murmurs to another. The little etchings
I make on the wall are visited by many.
Women try to trace the rough grooves
with their tongues.
My other duties have been lifted.
I miss sweeping and the broom’s thick handle.
But sometimes I’m allowed out into the wintry yard
in a coat I like. The sleeves are too long.
My only burden now is the unbearable way
the air cools my empty hands. This is work, they tell me.
My Work Among the Faithful
Do you remember being ill as a child,
a fever that spiked so high
your mother had to call and call for you to stay?
Did you stay? Did you have to?
The faithful are at peace with Hell –
they’ve been promised a frail, tender body,
bruises flowering forever.
They don’t worry about Heaven
and they scarcely want Earth.
They’re a box within a box,
their bodies a puzzle for their own amusement.
The skin mimics the shape of the rib cage,
the rib cage the shape of the lungs.
What the lungs mimic
will take a lifetime to ask,
and people die in agony every minute.
But with luck
the faithful multiply quickly,
each one heavy and lustrous
as those stars, light-years away,
which cool and dim and collapse
before anyone, on any world,
ever knows their names.