BY MAGDALENA ALAGNA
MISTRANSLATING THE INFERNO, CANTO ONE
We trample our lives unceasingly
Return to an obscure salvation
Impulse a marriage
Of direction and belief.
Quality endures , flashes its veneer.
The toll is the self salvaged or aspirated.
When you drown in your own lungs
The pensive rims of your pauper's blood
Clamor like the paltry love the dead can give,
Traversing benevolent earth, in travail,
Directly choosing to alter what, until
Excoriated flesh intervened, was alike.
I am not bent to the nadir, a plexiglass bashing
Nor does laughter enter the ventricals
Of my counterpuntal truth:
What I know is that fashion
Must be abandoned
In favor of the smoke of you, pooling
Near my youth, remembered like a
Dove beating its breast red in a
Valley quelled to a mauve parody of green
By the core compulsion of my alto-voiced
Angelic guardian. Today I am pinned and peeled,
Seized in a dry stigmata.
No one's fault, still, my spirit dies slowly.
It drips pain, weeps like an eye.
A theatre for the callow glow of privileged
Contemporaries, who skirl blinding white
Symphonies of mail-order lilies
Amidst my poor, spiraling quest,
A green lagoon that spoils like meat.
The night passes like Christ in his mother's arms.
pellucid shadows descending rivers of wanting.
We acquire danger and squalid animals loves,
The brunt of a brute forgiveness ripening to seed,
A fulsome negligence.
Our corpses lasso our responses from the
Childhood streets we deserted, dragging our
Ghosts behind us like spurs.
Look! Sometimes you must begin with inertia,
With long desire, and then presto! You are
Molten, and your lidless lizard eye shines
Its lamp. I take no part of your dining on
Anvil and hammer, the lead zooming
Without impediment through your bloodwalk.
Who is the flower who will bloom,
Made of pure voltage? I temper my pleas.
I do well to spear the bars
Of my cage with a beautiful face forward.
I am a long haunch of stasis, dilating.
Already the day is sweet and stagnant,
A bruise sickening over dirt.
The long wide space of afternoon
Opens like the sun's bivalve jaws.
I can't scrape my eye clean without
The venial, otherworldy contest of
Rabid hunger versus the outlook of
Sweaty, trembling earth. Nothing's ethereal.
I would be a wolf, braving all bravura
Semblances of carcass, and your transgressions
Minimalizing like gentle people with
Milk blue palms. But this side of the grave I am
Flayed by sensation. You haven't heard the last of it.
MISTRANSLATING DANTE'S INFERNO, CANTO II
The need for hope cannot be altered.
Even those whose nails shatter grains of pollen know
That what aligns today is a rich mission. Each day
We're whittled with errata in the
Sterile waystation of time, the blood and glass of
Accident refracting meat and pulse into a thousand
Small moments of heartbeat, sweat, breath.
I bleed like paste, stuck to myself. Nothing
Can make me believe less that there is a kind of
Ingenuity to musing, a helpful mutation.
My bare self writes its life on shale, uses its claws.
My days are agitated by interstellar perversions,
From comet to grit. I propose
That the moon should secede part of its maggoty glow,
Shunt down the dog star and walk on the dais of this
This intense coupling of fury and castigation
Would soon abort its supremacy. It would not
Be so immediate! Even reincarnation
Cannot comfort this facile grief, that
The chief salvation is in aging, and then we
Must torch the murderous creed altogether.
I, your narrator, deign not to relegate my small
Disavowals. Repose in your magnanimity, oh man.
Even Lucifer can hear the stars jingling like piano
It's a durable world.
WIZARD OF OZ
Most days, I feel like that little man
Behind a flaming green head,
Who boomed I am great and terrible.
A caravan of echoes rattling.
The caramel smell of smoke.
Neither hot-air balloon
Nor afflatus took me to this
Dim room in the Flatiron
District, this jaundiced office.
The black desk eating me like pack ice.
Throat choked with dust.
Like the wizard's my radiance
Gutters under pressure. Always
I doff my fagade, offer to help and
Vanish, a ripple in scorched air.
A tiny lady in silhouette, corseted. Flat head where a
man can rest his drink. No mouth, no back talk, all
torso. The perfect girl. Two walled eyes, strung on a
necklace. One leg of a pi sign. Infinity, infinity.
Little pillar, squat capital, the I considers its
drunk, berthed in a basket and wound round with
thread. Who draws you out, broods on death with her
scissors hovering, her hair like cobwebs? Here's the
cradle, where's the cat? Will it lick the milk from my
lips? A needle is the least of it. Oh wooden
grandmother, your housewifely art is a comeuppance, a
Jesus-come-lately. I got married and started baking,
it's a fact. Never before would put my hands in flour.
The hour has stuck tolerably well. Life spools out in
When they first grew in
Kids aimed for them in dodge ball
Trying to dislodge the "tissues."
Girls hissed "whore" as I passed
Though I wore baggy sweatshirts,
Kept silent when boys pretended
My breasts were cone speakers.
I should have enjoyed them more before,
Showed them to tourists in Times Square,
Brought them to Miami for spring break.
Now, overripe, they make me look like
A wet nurse in a button-down shirt.
Now I need the kind of
Over shoulder boulder holder
I wore at age four on my head
Playing Red Baron fighter pilot.
Some say it's a nonproblem,
But I can't run naked on the beach or
Do yoga without risking suffocation,
And in a strapless dress I look
Like a fruit stand.
I'm one of the ma'ams now
My girl self gone forever
Whenever the sight of these torpedoes
Ambushes me in store windows.
YOU MAKE ME WANT TO EAT PASTE
huff bleach and drop
You off a stucco cabana
One look at that face'
Paper airplane folded the wrong way'
You make me want to burst
Out in liver hives
Kick you in the kidneys
Dance the lindy in glitter heels
You make me want to
Buy property on your block and put a
Full-contact porno booth on the lawn
You make me want to flip my eyelids and stick
Pins into the dead skin on my fingertips
You make me want to fill a wax doll with your hair
Watch your back my diet pill is wearing off
Only 9:37 A.M. and my smile's stapled on crooked and
The bile in my coffee cup's cold and I'm not
So numb from sitcoms and hamburgers
That I won't think seriously about wearing
Your skin like chaps
My pageboy and black glasses
Make me Dr. Fritz Fassbender
Peter Sellers's character
In What's New Pussycat?
Dr. Fassbender had tantrums
Shouted at his children
Go away, I hate you
Wore a red velvet suit
Wooed a nymphomaniac
Shouted under her window
It's me, Baby Fritz, and I love you.
What's new? I'm a newlywed,
Married twelve months.
I wear my Peter Sellers fixation
In every pratfall.
I keep my fits of temper
Well hidden am in love
With a Scorpio I stand
Naked under our loft bed
Whisper through the slats
It's me, pussycat, and I love you.
PLAYING POKER WITH ELVIS
I've never known the dead to play games.
He said he didn't want to play poker with a lady.
It wasn't right, and besides,
A lady should personify good fortune, in an updo.
He turned out the pockets of his white polyester
I'm dead, I have no money, he said.
The turned-out pockets of his polyester jeans looked
Sad sagging jowls on the wide mouth of his pelvis.
I wondered aloud how he'd paid the ferryman.
Even the wide white mouth of his pelvis seemed to
He didn't want to talk about his death.
His eyes empty pockets.
We talked about natal charts, about Capricorn.
I'm Capricorn, Scorpio rising just like you, I said
If you're broke we can play strip poker.
He looked dubiously down at the kingly paunch.
I said I'd give anything to see you in dishabille.
I dropped the cards and bent over, ass high in the
Longed to strip to my skivvies (my darling) right
His blue eyes cast black looks at his spreading
KELLY THE UPSTAIRS NEIGHBOR
Our neighbor screams all night behind the wall.
We're not sure, but we think that he's a vet.
He looks like a demonic Santa Klaus.
Drunk, he toddles up the stairs, poised to fall.
Which war? Korea? We bet
That's why he screams all night behind the wall.
Round belly, rosy cheeks and nose and all,
A phlegmy cough that rattles, loose and wet;
He looks and sounds like a demon Santa Klaus.
His shouts are punctuated by a pause
Scarier than noise. He's stopped'is he dead?
He starts again and screams behind the wall.
One day he passed out on the stairs, sat sprawled,
Soused, holding an ice cream cone, profligate
And sweetly asleep, our demon Santa Klaus.
Always: Ahhh! UGH! Mmm, UGH! and I bawl
Shut up, Kelly! Shut up! He hasn't yet.
Our neighbor screams all night behind the wall
And looks like a demonic Santa Klaus.
DAY'S DIZZY CLOISTER
A bundled rumple arks the fires of tall.
We flick our slim from out the vanished dell.
So bold, such dredging, alleluia wall
Of narrow avaricious close-cropped cell.
A neverland of delta petals all
And desecration zips her silt of well.
A trumpeted surprise horizon calls
Yesterday unpinned descends its bells.
The pollen and the plenum scoops us high
We stamen exhortations to decay
Teetering, oh threat! Caress blind blows
And heed black blistering stitch without a sigh.
Amanuensis spills the scope of day
The evidence is bent and spends its pose.