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Jim McGowin

Sing Us a Song so That so Many Poets Will No Longer Need To Commit Suicide

Fingers Haunted by Dead Poets (for Lorca)

Sing Us a Song so That so Many Poets Will No Longer Need To Commit Suicide


I could be red cruelty,
the wound which refuses to heal,
a mouth
that stitches conversations into silence.

I am bound mad within the wound,
because to cease is
to exist within the abundance of death
asleep in the meaning.

One face to live, to write from,

One face to drink from Lethe.

What fear? What hush?
What sound? What dream?

I hide in my own marrow,
in the marrow of these marginal proposals,
which are my own entanglement,
my sustenance and ruse.

Devised in a violation of self,
despite all their discomforts.

Damned to writhe in linguistic mirages,
to choke in grand atmospheres,
to respire through
the accumulation of drowning impediments.

Seeking shelter within labyrinthine architecture,
only to deconstruct it in blind excavation,
to cancel out the rigor mortis of shape.

An emotion is called black because of the color,
but what of the color of crows?
Do they receive such scrutiny
because of what they appear to be on the outside?
Little dabs of metaphor in a green field,
merely seeking to endure loss and interrogation?

No one can cut cleaner edges,
given only blunt scissors for wings.

Transformation of words into savage machines,
connected by corridors that conduct
the blood of the dead,
the language and power of the dead,
the fearlessness contained
in their paralyzed tongues.

Distillation of brilliance and lunacy,
a duplicity of madness carved out in opaque sigils,
eroding inert language by law of silence.

Nothing brushes the sky
like a perfectly written black bird,
splashed in spreading ink,
complete in divine velocity,
its wilderness voice
beyond the abstract barriers of
inarticulate hesitation.

I opened a breach in the twilight
with my sun,
my eye full of blind love
that seeks every color
reflected from both sides of the restless flutter.

A burdened mechanical existence,
built to dissect implications
presumed to be smoldering in the voluminous cracks
between every letter and word on the already
decaying pages.

My silence is a myth of two heads,
it is a changeling state of degeneration,
the loss of cohesive language,
born in the afterbirth and ashes of the hunt.

So I must apologize - it was very cruel of me
to disguise myself as a poem.

As punishment,
let me go blind from the allure,
the eyes,
drinking up fountains of bitterness and implication
in order to redefine my focus as embodiment.

Collect this blood, my own asperges,
cast it and hold it accountable
for the strange feathering designs
it makes on the floor
in attempted explanation,
before it trickles away to the gutters.

A reasonable solution
to quell a large breach in a fading beast,
eternally perched within my hands,
waiting to cannibalize its next rejuvenated heart.

And having been born
during the hour of the bell’s loudest chiming,
it is as I have always
suspected –

I am the horizon
that Death seeks,
in vehement strides throughout the sky,

Measured out
one pretty little sentence
at a time.


Sing us a song
so that so many poets
will no longer need
to commit suicide,

So that the finishing stone
will not create
a precipice in the heart
from which to leap.

Lest another mound of soil
and crumbling disguise of flesh
become enshrouded by a frail snail shell,
rattling out its own
hollow song of insolvency.

I praise each bird,
broken from flight’s toils,
ask each to become a luminosity,
to alight in the spontaneous sky,
until the last star’s glimmer
is replaced by the thunder
of their beating wings.

Their inevitable beaks cracking
the interstellar boundary.

She asked me to find the noise of her feet
while sailing on a boat through warm blood,
but the wild waters had already
been amputated into wakes and eddies
by a wooden tongue asking questions.

Reciting a flawed perception of
splintering shorelines,
reflected in the imitation of light
at the end of a long spiraling sentence.

An eroded copper cliff,
deliberately muttering a ring of feet
composition in wet sand -
all that remains of the ceremony.

And there,
I dreamt I was the man
carving driftwood effigies
out of the grey faces of strangers.

I wore an entire city
around my neck,
a small bird followed me
like a chime,
confused by the sound of its own
curious pecking.

But even the sounds of
hallowed birds must pass -
just as echoes lose their color timidly,
just as chains hold their grip fast
in their own suppressing sound,
until the coda of rust
is exhaled at last.

While I parcel up my isolation,
others make the sounds of flesh
with their mouths,
emulating the voices of their fixations,
reciting tarnish into their crumbling mirrors,
screaming at the audience to pay attention.

I never acquired a taste for such noise
during my noctivagant wandering
among the vacant and hungry stars,
anonymous patterns obscured in the dim,
sweeping within one another,
discovering that language is just
a gathering of birds sent soaring
after the world’s vast extravagance,

Only to die of elegant starvation
while on the wing,
falling into the prone shape of a man.

A specific kind of gravity
that can only be understood
though the feat of pulsing wings,
and a prescience that the birds
will never stop migrating their blue pages
just to fall into the trap of arrangement.

I have been repeatedly
spat out of that sky,
and justly so,
fluttering in a stirring of occasional winds,
descending in a vague, tapering tone of absence,

Left to fool,

A human shaped echo
of what should have been
a beautiful mirage


If you are capable
of speaking with your own voice,
whisper only in ashes
so that the takers of flesh
will not notice
and bloom their flowers
in your throat.

The death of the body
is stillness,
the shortage of a word is muted
by fear of sleeping in parting ground.

Purgatory soot dusted fingers
scrawling with burnt ends of bones,
lighting tongues for incense,
each fountainhead of aromatic smoke
cocooned in a shrine of sediment,
dreading the work of permeation
like some profane violation of holy ground.

Death alights on desperate hands
with the promise of transmutation,
offering an inscription to the cosmos
from the storm within the body,
the prolonged night hidden in the volatility
of too much heart to disguise.

Somehow, I lost your bird within me,
my face sinking in shame like a half-moon
paled beneath the dark water,
scribbling a note in the middle of a road:
“If you read the sea, remember…”

I hide in my little notes,
embodiments of the embers from
some strangely familiar figure,
winding through the black,
a smoke snake,
trailing a convincing dusk
through a halo of stars,
restlessly pacing
the dark ramparts of an elegy.

Birds writing their nests of words
did not beg for their fear of mortality
to be inflicted by indifferent teeth.

To live and to eat these minor terrors
is to build them up
in front of your own reflections.

Gather up these moments
and throw away the handouts –

Death sent me a mirror.

And I spent the sea there,
in the substantial body of a female,
sheltered in the mirror’s black
to stop the reflectionless joy
of my only word: unknowing.

as before,
I died alone,
frozen in the heart
of a crow's silent fall.


When you were a child,
what calling birds did you try to fall asleep to?
Hiding from the hell of tangled blankets,
weeping beneath the night’s conspiracies,
breathing through too many open windows?

Did you wince
from the height of you own voice,
hearing the sound of its yearning
from below?

Stuttering on the potable words
you drank from,
words that would one day
become a storm that would submerge
your lost days.

The secreted notes from
anagogic grave robbers
delivered to your dreaming forehead
in beads of sweat
like a lost address,

Exponentially expanding drag
to ultimately overcome
any lift you gained
from carefully unfolding all the voices.

Admired for your
melancholy instrument,
tuned and forgotten,
but not lost,
from a childhood begged forth
in the delicate mechanism of the wrist,

And singing out of blind doll eyes
to an inversion of images,
seeking the elusive fortunes
divined from the ashes of feathers and bones.

In the end, it was the way it had to be,
your words were mirrors of your footsteps,
a bridge of little works,
little flower drifts, little fugues.
An oeuvre scrawled in defiance
with a punctuation of barbiturates,
choosing to let your words fall asleep
on another indifferent Monday.


Within this seeking
there are only endless spirals
spilling out of a melancholy ocean,

And the grey countryside painted
in a melody of crow’s dust and soot,

Forever reminding that
loss can be a virtue,
real as rain and
easy as drowning.

In a bare cast room,
listening to Polyhymnia embodiments
insert black commas
as waypoints to reflection.

Opening all of the books,
with their covers of dead brittle faces,
forcing a breach between
each jaw to locate the fluttering signs
in the breath.

Rime eventually settled on me
through the gaps in the stars
painted on my face,
and I shivered.

we all live by the grim grey stones
we are born from,
and continue to carve them away to pebbles.

So what color face now,
my poor dead crow?
To whom shall I pass you,
down into the stillness?

Where all the oceans are female,
their waves painted over with ghost paper,
their eyes,
trembling moth wings.
Passing the time by twisting
fragrant poem poppets
out of dried flowers and sticks,
to inflict dreams of hunger
upon lonely vigils.

All the remains are gathered,
rearranged and deciphered
in no particular order,
into the waning colors of twilight -

A joke, because everyone knows
the true color of a poem is in its
wayward sparks.

And in reading them,
I will pass you,
mortally wounded and
abandoned deeply,

Sitting in a dead tree,
casting a somewhat dimmer shadow -
but a shadow still -

Across my upturned face.

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Fingers Haunted by Dead Poets (for Lorca)

Phantoms always gather
at the carousel of drinking eyes
to keep watch as if moonlight or sunlight
will render impotent
the steady momentum of dominion absolutism,

While nearby
Mephistopheles hounds always gather
lurking and waiting
with ears kept sharp
like blades temporarily bereft of blood,

And they will listen
for the sound of too much laughter,
and they will listen
so that the sea can continue
to leak its saline dream
into the mockery of battlefield mud,
with only the small mercy
of softening it up
for the jaws of the dead.

Another poet bound,
dragging words like wounds carved
into the faces of all the stopped clocks,
gut springs spilled and belly unwound,
gathered and burned
by a brutal and servile inferno,

A commandment of blind bullets
kissing shut
the defiance of all the lips,
stuffing silent
the defiance of all the throats.

And so many nights
I am a thirsty eye
wandering without sleep,
and fingers haunted by dead poets,
clawing at a too-heavy blanket of scribbles,
thinking beyond the sounds of rifles,
thinking beyond the stillness thereafter,
to the arriving illumination
against a propaganda
that marches counterclockwise to it.

Because your grave is my grave,
a secret still kept
by the shade of some unwilling tree,
because your voice is my voice,
hidden away by the undeserved,

Planted in like company
within the unleavened dirt,
that for the sake of the authentic
must be continually chewed
and then spat out
in a sad form of resurrection.

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Jim McGowin does art among other things and lives in St. Louis MO.

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