From what I gather, a goshawk with eyes
like peppercorns fallen to the floor
and picked up with wetted finger
had been the first initiate in the Sacred
Order of the Half-Sleeping Things
to decode the décolleté SOS in the chancellor’s dress
and swoop down its own shrinking throat.
An overripe strawberry did it later on
but by then the hoopla had cooled.
Somewhere seemingly worn down
by mall fires and modified hexes,
there was still the glowering child—
trapped, flailing, mashed between girders—
while other children lingered imperfectly,
their century rebuked. The cultists had readied
their time shifter and christened it The Joke.
Though the living godhead made a lovely centerpiece,
all the dinnerware save the one cup broke.
We had it narrowed to a repeating glitch
in the cryptogram or simple slip of the
harbinger’s tongue, pieced it together
when someone out the ambassadress’s bay window
broke so bloodlessly we thought space,
in its feral inertia, had come loose again
at the seams. Eloise, you getting all this?
Let’s role play tonight: I’ll be Expanse
and you take Collapse. No, I don’t even
try anymore. I get down on the floor,
dislocate my bones, and slither around
with the word “leg” dangling out of my
mouth. That, or some other word.
THE WOOLLY WORM THAT WILL DEVOUR THE WORLD
came like a mist from a wormhole that ripped
through the librarian’s stocking, then receded as quick
back to some far-off dimension with salubrious weather.
“We were conditioned to be infinite,
but it is not in our temperament,”
sighed the librarian, pulling a cigarette from her purse
and pulling a drag with pursed lips. “The thing of it is,
we are too meek. Hayseeds could hold us in.”
And one had to admit what she said made some sense
even if despite ourselves—books regathered
on the shelves—we knew we couldn’t resist what muted
attractions (fate?) had led to this in the first place.
In essence, we’d taken heart in defeat, bird shapes
paper-mâchéd to our essence. The worst of us
feared the worst best and we’d grown impossibly
wary of weaponized handshakes... Yet to think
how easily we could say fuck all, hop in the car,
head to hell-knows-where, park in a nameless lot,
spread out on the hood and eyeball the sun’s arch,
thinking of nothing but shapes shade may take
among strangers with bad hair and bona fide
grace as they idle and toil, half or full assing
the recursive rigmarole, inexhaustibly tired—
Thoughts one can’t do and can’t shake.
In the end (nigh), what difference does it make?
We are powerless to all that devours us.
We Didn’t Believe in How the Deal Went Down
The tortoise’s riddle was bullshit.
The mystic’s acolytes calcified
on the outskirts of the city.
The river, on closer look,
was only a barrel of salt.
Conjured from deep-water caverns,
police rose from the sea,
doffed their caps to the elderly,
and walked their beat in a crabwalk
twenty feet over the earth.
But one had to wonder:
if it wasn’t to bind the air about our heads
with a doleful familiarity—
however aberrantly glamorous
it might at times appear—
then why exactly? To inhabit
ourselves wildly, with no proof
of solicitude or tenderness?
To be rankled and abstracted?
A small, ostensibly vital part
had gone on at a remove
from our quiet living room
festooned with moss bloom
and hemlocks cropping up
from no place, calling out,
“Hey, whatever’s cool. Relax
a spell. Lay your head in my lap
and watch it disappear...”
Without it, we’d grown senseless.
Lucky then, Yvonne came along,
grabbed our arms, shook us,
pointed, and warned, “Look!
Our hearts have gone astray!
The cops are on their way!”
even if she did so in a way
that made us look instead
at the commotion of her hands
and listen to the tiny whooshing
her panicked hands made.
For with that we understood
the urgency at last, put our involute
energies to use—however limited
they may be—and fled
squad patrols in the hollows,
out the forest into anything
that wasn’t inhospitably afire.
We grew smaller on the horizon
but soon recovered entirely.
Sean Burke lives in South Berwick, Maine. His poems have been published in a handful of journals including The Destroyer, past simple, Spooky Boyfriend, Jellyfish, and Now Culture.