The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by J.D. Smith


We decorate the aged and the handicapped
as they remain in place, or fail
to tell us why they should not wear
corsages or bright ribbons, if not hats--
so often hats--at times festooned with feathers,
adorned with flowers as if, like those who wear them,
they had to be obscured
or made to look like something else.

And there are sweaters in the plaids
of non-existent clans, alongside stripes
that are seldom found in nature.
A nursing home might be confused
with a boutique where the mannequins,
however slightly, move.

We do this, mainly, because we do,
as almost no one wants to be observed
in breach of custom.
Yet a purpose seems to underlie the act--
as a handshake used to prove a stranger was unarmed--
but so deeply that it must be guessed at.
Perhaps some flesh is covered
in the spirit whereby architects advise
planting ivy on those walls
that will not rise to beauty.

Still, our motives might be found
in research, or in preparation.
What colors, what combinations might become us,
should we have the chance to choose in our decline?


Epicurus, misconstrued,
found pleasure in avoiding pain:
the farthest flight from it
implied the greatest good.
A friend might even die to save his friend
instead of living with the shame of doing nothing,
or enduring separation.
(The survivor's good, or guilt, is left aside.)

In blunter terms, Diogenes,
found masturbating in the Agora, mourned
If only hunger could be cured this way.
His vaudevillian heir
would hammer his own head, explaining
It feels good when I stop.

Others don't.
Jalapeno-eating champions
speak of a euphoria whereby endorphins flow
through channels seared by capsaicin,
as those who find love mediated
by handcuffs, whips, commands,
see those efforts as devotion
of a sideways kind.
Without a hair-shirt or a bed of nails,
ascetics might have nothing to transcend.

No less strange, when contemplated, are
the plain mechanics of delight
as a lone diner smiles, thus blessing
his daily bread or his hamburger
without comparing it to the sirloin
he does not have.
He may earn his burger
and his humble fries
selling tickets for trains
whose passengers commute
to distant positions and prestiges,  
yet may know nothing that approaches
the private sunny weather in his head's  
hidden firmament--or only when
a pill restores, if not creates,
a long-elusive stasis.
To maintain it may supplant
all other goals.

Again, Diogenes--
prone in lizard luxury at noon,
basking in his wooden tub and home.
Looking over him, Alexander
offered to grant the Cynic's
fondest wish.
The answer bloomed in shadow.
Please step aside,
You're standing in the light.
Uncertain of his own place in the sun,
the Emperor was compelled to conquer worlds.


Blunt loaf of life,
rising, as if leavened,
from your bedding;
vague, furred stone,
by your quick breath
separated from the ground,
with low-slung steps you roll
as if to seal, then open
the passing instants'
transparent tombs.
And you leap,
solid rainbow, of abridged color,
and you squeak with no need to be oiled.

If there is not, in your motion,
joy that knows itself as joy,
there is surely no grief,
or route to regret.

In my years' thinner-barred
and far wider cage,
may I move half as well
for some portion of each day,
may I leap once or twice,
if only in my heart.


Only after thirty-eight years
did I learn that,
at the corner of Seventh and D,
there stands a museum
devoted entirely to beads.

In a world
where such things are possible,
I must reconsider
even the hand I favor,
the language in which I dream.


August has ended
with no harvest forthcoming.
We have braced ourselves in thought:
By June, it was clear
the summer's sun would be wasted;
no one could leave cover
to work the fields.

There is nothing to brace the body.
The tares have flourished,
the goats waned.

Yet the vultures are fat.
From a distance, their naked heads
seem to plow the earth,
a late sowing of manure and seed.
All flesh is manure and seed.

Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication