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Patrick T. Reardon

Goddess Dementia


I can write of mermaids



I was born in the desert

Goddess Dementia

Goddess Dementia, come, waltz with me
down gray floors,
along sour green walls,
through Muzak air.

Undress me in my doorless room.
One button at a time, unfasten my pajama top,
unbutton the crotch of my bottoms. 
Slip the blue and white stripes
off my purple-marbled legs
with your prying fingers.

Come, waltz with me.

On cool sheets, I squirt an arc of urine in the air,
my eyes on your eyes.
Your babe.  Let us cuddle.

I mouth your plump nipple, suckle.
You run cool hands along my thin blotched skin
as if to flood me with blood. I faint.

Come, waltz with me.

You mount me like an angel, like a dancer, like a church.
Your dark hair storms.
My eyes on your eyes.
You smell of soil. 

You proffer me a vision in your grotto,
Queen of the Universe,
Queen of Victory,
Lady of Sorrows.

You whisper in my ear a secret.
You whisper in my ear good-bye.

Come, let us waltz.

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In remembrance of Maggie Roche, Ben Scheinkopf,
George Kresovich and David Reardon

Right onto Cermak from Harlem
to go west, listening
to the dead singer’s song from
when she was young, from
when I was young
when I first heard it.

         Manuscripts are completed with
         no chance to edit.

Left onto Mannheim,
the intersection I drove through
on the way back
to the Notre Dame girl’s family
when I was young, untouched,
when she was young,
when we never knew each other,
not then or now,
our parents childhood friends,
the intersection George and I
drove through on the way
to go to the barbecue,
when we were young and
George was alive,
singing together “Twist and Shout”
with the Beatles
when they were young
and all of them alive.

At the McDonald’s,
just before the tracks,
on the way to the table
where one sister and two brothers wait,
each old now, even the baby
who was born in the years
when I first heard the dead singer’s song
with her sister
about a guy named George
who could go for her,
seductive reasoning.

         I could have gone for her.

South on California from Evanston,
past the barber shop
where Ben, out of Auschwitz,
cut my hair the last time
when he was 97, died
when he was 98,
his wife Emily talking still
—— let my people go ——
and I remember interviewing him
about Mayor Harold Washington,
dodging smashing-hate for a second term,
when I still worked for the Tribune,
when Ben was more than forty years
from the camp
where everyone in his family
had to go to be slain
except a brother (they shared bread)
who went to Israel later,
and Ben’s touch was gentle,
in his fingers, I was the skull of someone
who would die, caressed.

         Inside the mother whale, he
         was trapped, swallowed,
         lodged. She was a small
         whale. He was crammed,
         muscled up against her
         fervid spleen, contracted
         there even more when
         she gave her ghost up,
         and, years later, pain too
         great, he cut his way out
         to sea depths where he
         drowned in freedom.

Near the table
where two brothers and a sister met me,
the short woman
among the many short restaurant workers,
looking up, asked me if I had been taller
when I was younger,
and I claimed, not knowing,
that I had not lost any height
when I was now getting to
the end of my sixties
because of basketball
and the chiropractor stretching me,
jarringly popping my back,
when each visit was near its end,
and she smiled, her eyes to mine,
a companion in the years and the world,
and I complimented her on the restaurant art,
envious of her family there
— all the workers of the same blood
or from the same village —
and turned to go back
to my superficial table.

         The father swaggered his petty kingdom,
         looking neither right nor left
         for fear.

Down West End toward Leamington
on the recess playground street,
yellow-paint wood police horses,
where I ran for the long pass
into John Reiter’s teeth,
scalp sliced, both bleeding
as the nuns called,
blood dripped on the way to the office
on the Blacktop,
bleached gray by wear and sun,
where cars parked Sundays,
where tall boys played basketball,
where we would go to play slapball
(closed fist onto solid rubber ball)
and slide into base
in our gray work pants
on the gray asphalt
getting tiny stars of broken glass
embedded in the skin of our hands,
that, mornings, sparkled,
white, green and brown,
in the slant sun,
a constellation of city grit to awe Solomon

         Carved into the roof of the sky, words
         of sacred wind spinning since the world began
         and, in the whirl, listen to the human howl.

North on Tulley
past the house my brother lived
where I wouldn’t go — after — to the back
where the sound of his self shot rippled
the air thick with rain snow,
where his brain blood stained
the sidewalk and grass,
hosed off, sacredly,
by a nephew and a brother-in-law,
priests of our sad song,
family at the world’s wide table.

         The brother voted with his gun.
         He marked his ballot with a bullet hole
         and his blood on the backyard lawn.

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I can write of mermaids


Yes, I can write about mermaids, if that’s what you want,
in your rich world fantasies, and the unicorn with his horn
to penetrate you between your bare breasts, a joyful pain
on the page, a ripple of thrill along your dainty spine.

I confess one baptism of fire for the sin of breathing.
Scald the skin. Bow to the inevitable axe.
Bury the blood dust. Jerk in the current.
Hone the blade. Lift the eyes for the final sight.

Understand the executioner ate breakfast.
Understand the convicted has
a tiny scar from a long-ago Christmas.

Job was right when he moaned and taunted
and challenged his persecutor, not the Santa God, but
an impenetrable electricity holding each heart in a claw.
He was right, too, to finally go silent and open himself
to the slicing shaft of light, cut to the pulse,
the blood and mess of breathing.

Yes, I can write about mermaids if that’s what you want.


Hold your dainty words.
I write of piss and vomit and shit and seepages and pus.

Employees must wash away their sins
before returning to work.

I write of maggots and dirt flies and
worms and crawling things and creeping things.

Employees must wash themselves
in the blood of the Lamb.

I write of death. I put on my brother's ashed skin,
zip it up snug.
I cloak my nakedness in the rot and revealed intestines.

Employees must watch
the tick-tock decomposition
that is breathing.

Long live short-lived life!

I scream at the endless white and the
slash of flesh, and I rise like Buddha, like
Jesus, like each sister and brother, like
each soul rising out of the womb to
breathe. And to stop breathing.

I write of slime.

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Let Israel now say,
let Aaron now say,
give thanks,
mercy endures,
mystery forever his majesty.

           Bulleted chaste gazelle,
           backyard cement,
           clot-blood hosed onto yellow winter grass.

I called upon,
put confidence in.

           Mountain defiled.
           Morning-dark body.

Compassed me about,
compassed me about,
compassed me about,
compassed me about like bees,
the fire of thorns,
raw flame and wild.

           Robes rent. 
           Cup unpassed,

My strength and song
not die,
gates of righteousness,
stone builders refused,
day dawn.

Bind the sacrifice with cords
at the horns of the altar.

           Devoid of speed and flight and fight.
           The finger squeeze.

Sacred holocaust,
the day the Lord has made.

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Job was a fool to buy that crap the Lord was selling.
Don’t believe Job’s happy ending. 
Not a one of us ends happy. 

The wage of life is death, and, then,
your bet is as good as mine.

Job reaped boils
and was laughed at,

a worm he was,
a maggot squirming out
a short blind life

unlike the stolid vestryman and the burgomaster
who, in their warm coats and comfortable shoes,
never squirm at all. 

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I was born in the desert


In the desert, I was thrice tempted.

I was offered two stones to eat and five rushes.
Atop the Temple, I was offered my stolid submission.
In my heart, I was offered a lock-up catechism.

I ate insects in the desert —
fig beetles, tiger beetles and larvae,
darkling beetles and blister beetles. 

I wore sackcloth in the desert, 
harsh as rales, 
powdered my skin with crematory soot.

In the desert,
my father came out of no cloud to say anything.

My mother sang no Magnificat.

The ferocious voice I hear in the desert
may come from another hidden cave,
from an archdemon or angel, in dread or triumph,
but certainly pain
— or on the wind, a caravan rage
— or from my throat.

The desert is a baby crib,
shard and grit,
a lullaby of sweat,
migrating vermin under the skin,
the inside-skull itch, glazed gaze —
evil fleshed spirits pecking innocence like carrion,
godless sacrifice.

The blank sun rises and sets in the desert,
a Bible without tenet, a map to blindness.
Turn away.

A skittering somewhere
in this honeycomb rock face in the desert
is the voice of God,
eloquent as falcon scat.


In the desert, I received stigmata. 
I was prisoned in solitary.
My eyes refused what they saw.
I was unworthied. 

This is my politics: 
desert facts, fulcrum of desert power, 
the Boulder Queen, larger than the Cosmos,
looking down from her own heaven. 

In the desert, I licked blood,
worried the contours of pain.
I believed in doubt
and committed randomness many times
since my last Confession.

If you follow my instructions, you can read the desert: 
Don’t blink. 

In the desert, science is the rise and fall of an idiot sun. 
Lights on, lights off. 

In the desert, health is learning the rules. 
Watch your step. 


In the desert, Isaac leapt from the pyre and slew Abraham.
Holofernes cut off Judith’s head. 
Eve killed Abel and Cain and one hundred billions. 

Goliath dined in the desert 
on David’s scrawny bones.

Mary strangled the baby, 
fed Jesus to the sheep, 
body and blood. 



In the desert, 
I listened for choirs, 
clawed the dirt with fingernails, 
hurried without aim,
knelt to no effect, 
prostrated myself in the empty river bed,  
whistled through cracked lips, 
debated the mourning star, 
sought prophesy in cave bones
— shake, drop, stare —
smelled sad perfume on the wind, 
surrendered to echoes, 
curled into a small frightened animal, 
twitched and twitched and twitched 
as if shaking myself to sleep. 



In the desert, I was misquoted by the rock face.
My words were rearranged by the wind.

The lizard swallowed my autobiography,
the plume moth my elegy.

Red harvester ants
walked evil sentences into my mouth as I slept.



In the desert, my brother’s head exploded.
He had the final word finally.

In this desert moment, he did not stutter. 
I hope he did not.

I hope he did what he did
without a pause for memory
of his twenty-three thousand days,
never peaced.

I hope he moved the gun with clarity and dispatch,
a clean break after so much jagged.

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?



In the desert, a raptor feeds her nest, 
and I lay my head nowhere. 

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Patrick T. Reardon, a graduate of St. Louis University, is the author of eight books, including Requiem for David, a poetry collection from Silver Birch Press, and Faith Stripped to Its Essence, a literary-religious analysis of Shusaku Endo's novel Silence. Reardon, a former reporter with the Chicago Tribune, has had poetry published by Silver Birch Press, Cold Noon, Eclectica, Ground Fresh Thursday, Literary Orphans, Rhino, Spank the Carp, Time for Singing, Tipton Poetry Journal, Under a Warm Green Linden and The Write City.

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