Qualm


Home    Current Qualm    Previous    Writers
 




Andrew Kozma



SONG OF THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS

There is an end to suffering, but we donít want it.
Instead, we want to watch suffering from a distance

like a cooking show where the oven-cradled food
emerges smoking into the air, ruined, but still

the guests are encouraged to taste. Nothing so sweet
as food you donít have to eat. Nothing so kind

as enduring what you donít mind. O bland heroes,
there is work to be done! There are numbers to run

and stats to compile! How many people have died?
And was it worth their while? If it ainít broken,

letís break it, said the sharks to the fishes.
Life is delicious. Who would want to miss it?



ESCAPE FROM L.A.

Iím the guy that all the guys your mother warned you about
warn you about, but even I am crushed by this city that weighs us
down with a million stares. It pins our body to the corkboard.

It preserves us behind glass. Who knew ether
would taste so sweet? O cotton. O candy. O perfect skin.
All may enter, but none can win. Itís a cunning hell

where the damned dream theyíre in heaven. Is this heaven?
Then throw me back to Earth. Give me acne scars and rolls of fat!
Give me poverty! Give me debt! Or at least let me forget.



INTO A MODE OF EXCESS

I was offered a hand and I took it. But three hands were not enough.
A successful life with a single head is an optimistís dream. All transplants

are proof of failure and this templated body is now a template for others.
The Hindu gods had it right. A dozen arms, an elephant head, the body accepted

for its exceptions. The Greeks prized Argus, he of the hundred eyes,
and when each was blinded with a small knife, he was revered for the sockets,

oracles of silence. Speak in tongues with your many tongues. Say my name
until it becomes meaningless, until all you hear is your heartís dialogue with your blood.

Royalty was marked with a six-fingered hand. So much more secure the grasp
on what makes us betters. Come the revolution, we pruned the hand in protest

until the hands learned to prune themselves. I admit we were wrong. Whereís the tail
evolution stole? Our extra teeth gone obsolete? We are less than we were.

Come scalpel! Come surgery! I elect to be among the elect! Once, I counted
every bone in my body. Each to each, they added up, but I found myself wanting.





Hinemoana Baker



CANDLE

I.

By the time I reach the basket of rose petals
held by the young girl with the green sash
there are none left. Still, she holds
the basket out to me

like an air steward offering sweets
in the last fifteen minutes of the flight.
I breathe in the smoke
of myrrh from the censer
and breathe it out towards your photograph.

If this were a waltz it might go something like:
in space sound donít travel and everyone floats
wonít somebody light my candles


It would be sung in the voice you sang in
when you sang Johnny Cash
and there would be a visual element, of course
a silent film of a free diver
frogging down from the sparkling surface
to the place where the very water
becomes the sinking anchor tied to your feet.

II.

The stone with a muka rope
tied through a single chiseled hole
the one weíll give a name to when it washes up
a thousand years later in the shape
of an island white with gulls.

III.

We wrote words on pieces of paper and stuck them to our foreheads.
My mouth was on the plastic tap sticking out of the plastic bag.
Later I used my lips to free the sound of an insect from you.
I miss you (buzz). Pass me your lighter.

When I opened the door there was a cake on the front porch.
Someone had made patterns of waves in the off-white icing.
A single word in capital letters sang itself in chocolate.

Oh where is the cradle and where is the crime
Wonít somebody light my candles
Thereís fire in the chapel and ice in the rhyme
Wonít somebody light my candles


IV.

Is it possible to perform this word? To own this word?
To kick this word once in the face and want to do it again?
Is it something one can acquire, like land or collectibles?

Oh yes, yes it is a veritable killer whale of a word
creamy and foamy in its black and white propensities
and its refusal to speak English.

V.

I am trying to leave you behind, my love
I am trying to leave you behind


The boat was a mouth, the word was a whale,
the moon was a flying fish, the swoop of a letter.
I miss you, itís like a cave in this mouth.
Itís a terrible saxophone solo.
Itís what passes for a lie down.





Les Murray



TAP DOGS MUSIC

Ponderous cauldrons
roaring with air
white gold slopping over
smoke fallout everywhere

Open the tap-hole
steel light is blind
intense as a searchlight
infinitely confined

The scorched hook-steerers
down in the spatter
spend crib times heel-and-toeing
a new ferrous patter

on sheets of cooled plate
since these works will soon close
and spangling metal
will set in black floes.





Hannah Baker Saltmarsh



SCENT

The bombís smallest victim
makes the front page with the headline, Dead Baby
Highlights Conflict
, where a newborn
serves some higher journalistic purpose,
but the father, a journalist never in the habit
of crouching to the earth, speaks only in choke-whispers,
his throat scrawled open. What do you do with the baby
clothes when they no longer smell like him?
You could make a quilt of his onesies
like the woman online did, pushpin it to a hallway
wall guests turn from, looking for the bathroom.
Do you give them to a pregnant friend,
keep a few to touch
and talk out loud to,
or sell them all in a black garbage bag to the thrift store?

All artists hoard traces of the past.
Victoria DeBlassie making artwork out of hundreds of oranges,
dried down to brown-gold peels hooked together
into a sculptural fabric to give you back the suck
and scent of an orange. She convinces the train-station stand
in Florence to give her the halved, straggly-pulped
oranges after theyíre pressed,
ripped, flipped inside out, juiced.
In San Francisco she takes rinds from restaurants
like a mother-skunk dipping her head in the garbage pail.
In Albuquerque, her yoga studio and her sisters
cast off rinds like a t-shirt over a tank-top.
From her own and everyone elseís breakfast,
she collects the shells to craft A Smell Wall, Accumulated Matter,
Interior Walls,
a pair of leather pants, and a whole igloo.

In a breastfeeding class, they told me sucking
and tearing at the rind, bending it back as you tore
the flesh in your mouth, suctioning,
bursting the pulp, this was suckling
compared to plopping a straw into an orange slice
to draw up one drop, bottle-feeding.
My great-grandmother sent naval oranges by train to my father
from her groves. Every year after she passed, my grandparents
mail-ordered oranges at Christmas. When I named my daughter
for my great-grandmother, I started buying winter oranges
big as grapefruit. I could see how Freudís Anna O.
lived off oranges and drank no water,
just the splashes of juice dripping from the rows of pulp,
and the back of her hand rubbing it off her cheek.
Tonguing the tips of her fingers, how could she ever know thirst?



WIRESCAPE

New Orleanian telephone-wire birds
tight-lipped over street-level shootings:
the aimless stray the co-op clerk couldnít duck out of
like a picture you donít want taken now,
then his cabbage-rose blood hits the asphalt;
the random homicide when bikers chase midnight heels;
the teenager, fired at for just looking at a manís SUV
sleeps in wires in ICU, coming to.

Is this all youíd see, if you hit pavement, shot:
a wirescape of birds spaced along fiber-optic
branches, with few actual trees
nodding their antlers of leaves?
Maybe leaves with lemons still green.
Is there only looking up? The rainbow skittles
in a teenís palm tumble, the face-down cell phone still talks.
What you last see, does it blare and torture

as the last real pulp of a life?
Framed by Newsome in a baroque, gaudy gold
with a trim of neon sheet-cake flowers,
a matting of chinchilla fur.
Captured as a cathedral-dome cut-out of sky,
light, and a wirescape harp-strung to poles.
Is this what children graze-wounded or worse
at a jazz funeral see last, having swayed

into someone dancingís lap?
Who open-fires on a second-line
and its caboose of twin drippy babies,
pear yogurt in their wrist folds,
their blotchy gums bursting
with three peaks of a tooth?
Who interrupts the song of women who, in chaotic tenderness,
rub and tunnel into their babiesí necks

and thigh-folds? Shaking, dip-bouncing,
laughing the squeal-trill of birds.
Who wants to hear the ages, let alone the names of
those in our city whose lives were lost to violence this week
with our without mercies, at an altar?
For now, the teenager who pedaled a childís bike,
who breathed at his reflection in a manís big car,
hangs on, his blood wiped from the courtyard driveway.



Previous Qualms