FEATURED POET: Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Blue in the Aquarium’s Face

There was nothing but altitude below sea level.
I was blue in the aquarium’s face.  Large orcas showed
monstrous fins of concern.  Starfish leapt off someone’s homework
assignment down into the tank.  Sharks circled back as if
trying to retrace the steps of the lost.  And the coral was bleached.
I decided it was a load of laundry.  The obstruction in my airway
refusing to dislodge itself.  Some miserable war-drunk despot
trying to hold onto power.  Each time I cleared my throat a distant
church bell rang.  I thought of dried chewing gum under the pews
taking in the hallelujahs each Sunday.  Of briny miracles from the pulpit.
Stained glass windows so elaborate that code breakers were brought
in to admire them.  And back down in the tunnel under the water
the flash from picture takers.  As I fell to one knee.  The sounds
of choking and many black dots.  A lone octopus with its
tentacles into everything.

 


 

Skeleton Crew

It was during the Christmas high season.
I was working as a shipper/receiver
on this back loading dock
with this stoner forklift driver
named Dave who dealt weed on the side
and imagined it was still the sixties.
And the trucks kept coming in.
We busted our ass.
The manager would not replace
any sick calls.
We were a skeleton crew.
Just me and my driver.
And Dave kept going on about Vietnam
and how I should go there and how great
the people were and that it was nothing
like during the war and I kept thinking,
shit Dave, we’re in a war all our own
and all you can do is talk about
Vietnam.   He was older and I was old enough
that we should have both known better
but the hours get the best of you.
And after work, we’d head of to the gentlemen’s
club down the street so Dave could clap
after each song for all the dancers as though
he were at the theatre or Woodstock
or calling a loyal dog over.

 


 

God is a Polynesian Belly Dancer
with a Neck Full of Flowers

He asks me if I can direct him to the closest church
and I cannot, we could not be farther away from each other
as though God is a Polynesian belly dancer
with a neck full of flowers
and this one is in more of a hurry than
most the rest as though parking
is not the issue and he is perhaps in need
of a serious exorcism, I look at the big black
raccoons hanging under his eyes
and think of rancid back dumpsters with the lid
flipped up, a whole family of opportunists
clawing down his face, probably not an ugly man
if you account for demonic possession
and the way his out of town thighs
lurch forward like cinder block leggings
past the Halal joint that promises
to slaughter everything
half-mercifully.

 


 

Hen House

The girls Sofia recruited all came from Eastern Europe.
In search of work or a man who would pay them not to work.
That was the idea.
Get a man to fall in love with you and make things legal.

Sofia was not her real name.
The girls trusted Sofia because she was a woman.
Once they were brought over, their paperwork and few
belongings were taken away.
They were kept in one of the many “hen houses” across the city
and given a new name.  Like Sofia’s.
A working name and a new wardrobe and a steady
stream of clients.

Once they were in rotation they never saw Sofia again.
They lived fifteen to a house and operated at all hours.
The men with guns never talked to them.
They took the money and made sure everyone worked.

There was a rumour among the girls that you could buy
your freedom with enough tricks.
No one had ever seen it happen, but that was the hope.

And the only police that ever came
were there for the services.
More and more girls all the time.

The new ones were the most popular.
And never new for long.

 


 

First it Smudges Out the Door, then it Smudges Out Me

The smudge on the door is here to get me,
first it smudges out the door, then it smudges out me
the raised ridges of a single thumb print like searching out
a topographical map and understanding nothing
local vegetation cut away and piled high at the local market
for complete strangers to haggle over
and to build a profile of the killer without a killing
is to go to bed with thieves
so much depends on the body that the church
hands out wafer bodies for you to tongue
and I can’t whistle for hours after that
circling the want ads with a fading black pen
knowing the job is already filled,
that some poor bastard is being ridden around
like a mule for a pittance,
his wife off his back and his new boss up on it
taking turns
and when I throw the kettle on
the pipes in the walls creak and grown
and howl like the guts of
a sinking ship.

 


Head

The company commander
promised an entire case of whiskey
to the first patrol to decapitate a head
from the enemy and return it to him.

Two days later a head was thrown
at his feet.

He puffed at his cigar.
Looking first at the head
and then at the solider
who had delivered
it.

Get the man his whiskey,
he ordered.

To some private
who ran off in the direction
of the canteen.