We Knew It Would Come to This
Carnival devours the world.
Tired of hiding in the woods,
gnawing bark, we apply for jobs.
The manager explains that employees
begin by having public sex
with sheep, then learn to mate
with strangers chosen at random
from the mob. We leave the man
with his throat slit and mingle
with the midway crowd roaring
at spectacles we hadn’t imagined
involving fire, swordplay, and chess
with human pieces. The short day
muddles into a light show
with nudes enacting famous art.
Although I killed the manager
no one seems concerned, no sirens,
no police, only the gray mass
of people surging and plucking
each other to drag behind booths
and mount felonious assaults.
We knew it would come to this,
the aftermath of the plague.
The supply of hot dogs and beer
is finite, and once exhausted
will never be renewed. Starving,
the mob will devour itself,
sparking riots in shades of gray
difficult for scholars to parse,
if any scholars survive. We duck
behind a carousel and count
our blessings. Only one left,
so we retreat to the woods
and resume our diet of bark
and leaves, hoping to be alone
enough to outlive each other
in showers of disgruntled stars.
At the Fireworks Factory
Working at the fireworks factory,
stuffing cardboard tubes with powder,
pleases me with a spark-free
environment, disciplined colleagues.
No smoking within a quarter
mile of the plant. No gossiping
on the assembly line. No love
making in back seats of cars
sulking in the parking lot.
The days pass without rumors,
without political arguments,
without threats of unionization.
My fellow workers look almost
as artificial as I feel.
The pay isn’t bad. Fireworks
sell briskly, even in states
that prohibit the big bangers
and fiery rockets and twirlers
that so handily start wildfires
and burn down entire villages.
Tamping the powder with my thumb,
I can feel the latent force building.
I never wash my hands before
licking off the powder, sampling
the source of power in this world
of nation states run amok.
Every Friday we’re paid in cash.
When I bank the bills the teller
always flinches at the smell
of smokeless powder. A whiff
of Satan at work. I spend
as little as possible, living
only for my job, working myself
into a febrile state of grace
no one whose life is deprived
of explosives can understand.
My Beard Detaches
Every night my beard detaches
and creeps outside to prey on mice,
rabbits, chipmunks, flying squirrels.
Even with snow on the ground
it drags itself after these creatures,
leaving wide brushstrokes behind.
When it returns at dawn, I allow it
to remount without fuss or bother.
One has to indulge one’s beard,
but its reckless conduct worries me.
A wandering bobcat might snag
and swallow it, then cough up
the nastiest hairball. A fox
might snatch it to upholster its den.
A pack of coyotes might gather
to encircle, mock, and ridicule
its lack of honest flesh and bone.
I don’t know how it kills its prey,
but every day I brush a few scraps
off the stoop, and a raw taste
lingers on my innocent lips.
No wonder no one will kiss me.
I should shave off my beard and return
to the naked outlook that served me
well for almost eighty years.
But I fear that if rejected
my beard will return to the city,
prowl in alleys and fight with rats.
Police would arrest and jail it
for indecent behavior. A judge
would remand it to my custody.
We’d never be comfortable again,
its predatory nature resuming,
and the razor burn on my face
a strawberry stain unnoticed
until this unhappy rebirth.