She lies on the bed with her face to the floor
stand down said the captain
as his men played hop-scotch with
a chalk line called morality, and his mouth tasted of
the waiting and the air was full of held breath and he watched
the gunpowder men smudge chalk with silver fingers.
In the tattoo parlor, the pierced man lowers his listless
needle to her back flays her skin in
increments and really what are tattoos
but colored scabs, inked staples hold flesh together,
she, the leather woman, who once oiled her fleshy
armor for battle in the crush of bodies,
she of the such thick-skin.
Now their toes scuffed dirt on the edge of human, their words
edged closer to the other-ness of beyond, of transcendence
their beasts whisper.
Emptiness, if not transcendence,
which functions just as well as a state without identity, she
rationalizes, and knows how emptiness sounds if
you break in it and isn’t it funny how she looked like an echo
to her own best self? Recognition like
cold water the knowledge that your body has been dirtied in your
absence, that in your innocence you were unaware and
An army fights for the greater good of the collective.
She fights for the great good of the singular, and no one suspends
disbelief for someone like that, no one takes the trouble to fold his
words into cupped palms and pass them surreptitious-like
so that she will not have to hear them
out loud, no one does something like that that for a person so
Stand down said the captain but
his men crossed morality and wound up in transcendence,
bestial in their emptiness. Sit still says the pierced man,
a surgeon, he sews her self together with inky stitches.
It is dark in the tattoo parlor, the not-quite-dark
of identity, an introspective illumination.
She smiles a knowing smile; retrospective, gritty.
The captain thinned his lips, forwent his preconceptions.
She waves to him.
On the other side of the chalk line
he didn’t wave back.
General Admiral marches to the beat of his own drum. He marches on feet that don’t walk on hands with no rhythm. The grass is dirty with his proclamations, and together they look like concrete. He marches over the backs of his enemies and his inferiors. His back is bowed in the way of a willow tree. He bears the willow’s weight; the green tears of children and old men, falling from him, drowning in the air, begging to touch the ground. The young ones fragment their love into 160 counted characters that he can’t read. He makes wild grabs at them in between drum beats. The old spin their love into phrase, tie their phrases in knots and their knots into tapestries that they gild with blood and gold. Their love he could read, if he could be bothered.
General Admiral’s back begins to ache. He longs for the beds they lie in together, all around him. But General Admiral’s boots are laced with pride and won’t come undone though he dearly wishes he could set down his burden. But that would be telling.
The pride in his boots burns his feet and drags his expression sour. He takes special pleasure in the breaking of backs. He beats his drum and they clap as he promenades, but fall silent their eyes are cut by the lines in his face. They hide themselves beneath one another.
But the drumbeats resound across a plain of hidden faces, alive with the undulations of skin. There is already love in the land of broken backs: it is the music of bodies together. But General Admiral is a love without a body; he is a drum beating alone.
BELIEF IN SPIDERS
Morning rises slow,
the battered yellow
in a thunderstorm.
Does it rise like heat,
graffiti on the ceiling of
my mind, and up
a pane of glass
patterned by the fog?
Does belief bear down,
rounding us out, shaping
me over, and
who am I beneath this
I am too messy for a belief.
I feel spiders
in my blue jeans,
my white tee-shirt.
Their bodies spell
certainty in the shallow
bites taken by my spine, of
my skin, edged
the prints of
vertebral fingers pressing from
inside my chest.
to their own existence.
A spider does not believe.
Its religion lies
striking the thoughtless
I could learn from spiders.
I am hungry for their
Morning rises slow.
I am not intrinsic
to my action,
my existence is not like
that of a spider, not
the sum total of
the movements of
of my movements, but
because my being is
to the neuroses
that fog me
over as if I
were a pane of glass.
I think. Therefore
I am not a spider,
and I have
no absolute grace
and I am human.
I believe in my humanity,
a battered yellow light.
Morning rises slow.
Joe Polsky, Age 15, Grade 9, The Fieldston School High School, Silver Key