D E V I N J O H N S T O N
Ghosts do exist: death is not entire.
A cloud of smoke escapes the funeral pyre.
Though lately buried beside the road,
Cynthia seemed to lean above my bed
when after jerking off—half in a dream—
I found my sheets a chill and lonely realm.
She had the self-same hair, the self-same eyes;
her shroud was burned into her side.
The flames had gnawed her favorite silver band
and the river Lethe had chafed her lips with sand.
Her breath was warm, but as she spoke I heard
her brittle fingers rattle like a gourd.
“Traitor, from whom I should expect as much,
can sleep already have you in its clutch?
Have secrets of Pigalle, where evenings end
at four am, already slipped your mind?
For you, how many times I shinnied down
a gutter pipe or trellis to the ground,
embracing on the sidewalk where we met,
hugging beneath our coats to find some heat.
Think of the secret oaths, each word a lie,
the wind has torn apart so heedlessly!
“As I fell from sight and mind, no one spoke
a sympathetic word, no watchman shook
a castanet to keep my spirit safe,
no pillow couched my head above the earth.
In short, who saw you stoop beside my bier,
your borrowed gabardine grown damp with tears?
If ‘March was a busy time,’ you might at least
have stepped into the road to see me pass.
Had you no thought to mingle with my smoke
a pinch of sandalwood—to bring me luck?
Did you never think to gather irises,
or spill a drop of wine and break the glass?
“Burn René for poisoning my mind
with acid gossip as I sipped his wine
and Nikki for perverted appetites
kept hidden: brand them both with cigarettes.
Once Mina sold herself, and now she signs
the dust with a hem of gold, and if she finds
some waitress rhapsodizing on my grace
she huffs and puffs to have the girl replaced.
Because a niece brought lilacs for my tomb
or sister asked a favor in my name,
Mina bound the one to a rocking chair
and whipped the other, hung by her twisted hair.
While you stood by, she melted down my gold
relief—a dowry from my dying coals.
“But I won’t hound you for these bitter wrongs,
Propertius: in your books my reign was long.
I swear by rhymes that cannot be reversed
and engine-idle growls of Cerberus
I never strayed—and if I lie, may boas
writhe in hissing knots above my bones.
“Few living know the river Lethe divides,
distributaries branching left and right.
One channel carries Clytemnestra’s taint
and the monstrous, artificial cow of Crete
through which a woman mated with a bull,
its plastic carapace a rocking hull.
On the other branch, a riverboat descends
with flags unfurled in honeysuckle winds.
An orchestra assembles on the deck
with cymbals, double bass, and clarinet.
Andromeda and Hypermestra, wives
remembered in the stars, speak of their lives:
the first reveals her forearms, badly bruised
from frozen chains, an undeserved abuse;
the second tells of how her sisters dared
to stab their bridegrooms—only hers was spared.
And so our loves are ratified by tears,
our lives by death. I hid your faults for years.
“If any feeling penetrates the fog
of pot that you and Mina smoke, I beg,
support my mom, and keep my looking glass
untouched by any other woman’s glance.
Burn the books you seeded with my name
and stop amassing poems by my fame—
uproot that English ivy from my grave
before it binds my bones with twisted leaves.
Where the Seine River forms a horseshoe bend,
a dark exactitude through sunlit land,
inscribe an epitaph in native stone
that city passengers might glimpse at dawn:
Here lie golden Cynthia’s remains
reflecting glory on the mighty Seine.
“A dream that comes through cemetery gates
should not be shaken off, but given weight.
Night frees the cloistered shadows and we roam;
then Cerberus himself may stray from home.
At dawn, the laws command we rendezvous
beside the river Lethe, a lifeless slough.
“For now, let others have you: I alone
will keep you, grinding bone entwined with bones.”
Having closed this argument and case,
her shadow fell away from my embrace.
back to issue one
[ page 1 of 1 ]