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Gary Percesepe

Flowing Elm

One Lie



Mr. Cogito Inspects Again the Houses on the Outskirts


Scenes from my Brooklyn Street

Flowing Elm

Flowing elm, your leaves blush at twilight.
My mother’s hair was never braided.

Columbine, red against the Colorado sky.
My auburn-haired mother did not come home.

Storm cloud, ride the greasy wind.
My shy mother weeps for strangers.

Pointed star, lasso the lost planet’s ring.
My mother’s heart was ripped by lead.

Oaken barrel, who taps you in the dark?
My mother’s scream lies muffled in her pillow.

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One Lie

 Listening carefully

we could hear

him laundering

all night

one infinite lie

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This is how my days & nights pass
in a crowded apartment of ideas
overlooking last week’s sinkhole.

The weather remains unthinkable.
Urchins race up and down the avenue.
My friend Skip languished in a nearby

hospital. My bunions are in an uproar!
he’d tease. Moments before his death
he was chipper enough to bemoan the

cheese on the burger. How do people live
like this? I hate these passing days & keep
imagining another may happen by to fall

in love with. Like a wizard with a new wand.
Meanwhile, the government made policy by
picture puzzle. Moonflowers shimmered in the

street dust. All the pieces fit but the frame
had disappeared. Outside my window, a man
carried a sofa. In the light of the street lamp
the stranger grew stranger.

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A dispute broke out at the edge of the property line, rattling the eggs in the pantry causing misfires on the frying pans. It erupted into a war in no time at all, then fell back into disputed territory, and stopped altogether. Someone proposed plastering the windows with wood pulp as protection against the noonday enigmas, others formed a resistance. Each new investigation rebuilt the urgency like a sand rampart until we all fell asleep. Further reflection undermined it, causing its eventual collapse. What was strange was that we could see the dispute as a curving abacus in full urgency mode from Day One, but by then dispatches hardly mattered. Camaraderie, or something like it, pored over us like covfefe. There was a general search for one correct attitude. Nights arrived like a friendly takeover.

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Mr. Cogito Inspects Again the Houses on the Outskirts

for Zbigniew Herbert

outskirt houses
source of pure melancholy
single by choice or habit
filled with the old smoke of crushed Camels

houses chewing scraps of black bread
cold as a crippled cat
your curved stairs turned to sawdust

houses that host rusted sales signs in
front yards covered in weeds
bad luck houses
who never saw a show

houses with blackened fingertips
FBI fingerprinted houses
houses whose lungs have filled with dirty water

houses with legless pianos
broken chairs and headless dolls
houses with open zipper
houses with cracked tooth windows
and propped open door

houses with fallen ladders
beside broken glass

your chimneys dreamed of escape

rat houses on the outskirts of
towns with forgotten names
let them enjoy one night on the warm sand
grant them one night before the hurricane
let waves rise in thunderous crashing ovation
waves that foam and spit and collapse at last

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Much later, I’d wonder about St. Louis and how it kept me as a place holder for something else, for instance the woman who sat across the red banquette in the Chase Plaza Hotel with her friend, who laughed at my jokes, received my film review with amusement and left with her friend just when things might have been otherwise, and the way, for me, this always triggers a memory of my father standing unsteadily on two war-damaged legs, how he failed to cradle my head warm to his chest but left to fell forests and wrote no letters but held a lantern high when we walked out into the night. When she left I stood out in a thunderstorm hoping to be hit by lightning but it missed, first left, then right, and my father’s voice saying, she’s slender and strange, the way you like. As my father grows in me I cede more and more territory and accept our defeats.

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Scenes from My Brooklyn Street

Even stone when inscribed bears the ecstatic ~ Jim Harrison


Juliet of Montreal stood naked in the curtain-less shower; she began to dance.

The calendar above my head shuddered and threw off sparks.

Juliet hissed a sad tune off key; she’d slung a wrinkled red bra over the shower curtain, where it hung like a cut throat.

Mary Magdalene dropped off a salad and winked at Juliet.

Juliet is built entirely of makeup and turtles; holding up the world, it’s turtles all the way down.

Beyond the last brownstone there’s a guy in a zoot suit eating Ramon noodles in his car, practicing Happy Birthday in Russian accompanied by a kazoo.¬†

A Norwegian rat takes out the garbage, sidling down the street with a sack in his teeth.

Juliet says: I have a recurring dream where I sit for hours cleaning my rifle. She reeks of garlic. She pretends to stab me with a thick asparagus stalk; I pretend it hurts. She orders me to mince six more cloves.

They built an ice palace in Prospect Park; nannies idle by, pointing strollers like missiles at passing tourists.

Two congressmen passed out on our stoop; waking, they shook themselves off and jiggled up the street singing show tunes.

In the tavern next door it costs eleven dollars to coax a song from the jukebox, but dancing shoes are supplied free of charge.

A woman in a lemon empire waist dress and red pumps plunged a poker in my eye claiming she mistook me for the chimney sweep; she drank like a clock.

Juliet wears only spun sugar V shaped boy shorts by Olga, face down on the bed; she scratches her belly.

My street cackles at dawn with preachers prophesying and jackhammers serenading Juliet, who goes on soaping; at night the broad sky dumb with stars shadows me home; such beauty saps my courage.

I willed the cat to Juliet and also the dog. I’m off for Graceland, Graceland.

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Gary Percesepe  has a new poetry collection coming out on June 15: THE WINTER OF J (from Poetry Box Press). Percesepe is the author of seven books, including Itch (Pure Slush Press, 2014) a collection of flash fiction, Falling (Pure Slush Press, 2014), a poetry collection, and What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock and Dori G(Cervena Brava Press, 2010), an epistolary novel co-authored with Susan Tepper. He teaches philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx.

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