Project Description


No, I don’t follow the weather anymore, or watch
the news. If something happens I need to know
about, they’ll tell me. I was turned away
from the polling station today—my letter
had gotten lost somehow, but it doesn’t
matter. The ground will freeze and swell,
a little alarm light on the dashboard
will warn me to watch out for black ice.
I never worry, falling asleep, that the sun won’t rise.
Things pile up: there’s no sense anymore
of what might be the center, never mind
whether or not it’s holding. I held
your hand when we crossed the street, once
upon a time: now you turn away whenever
I reach out to touch your hair. We stand
in line to reach the register, shuffle forward
when we see each number light up, when someone
leaps forward to make the long-deferred exchange.

She lay there for a long time simply listening,
her eyes closed, mouth slightly open, exhaling
through her nose. Her phone was muted,
buried down somewhere in her bag
so she wouldn’t feel it vibrate
if someone texted or called. Cars rolled by
a few yards off, beyond the brush and trees.
He was close by her—she could hear, even feel,
his breathing—but not touching.
A space of unearthly peace, aftermath
or epilogue. A caesura, fermata, some
sort of existential pause. The sun—
she felt it on her face—was just at that moment
when afternoon becomes late afternoon. A bit of chill
crept along her wrist, on the grass. Somewhere
a dog barked, a woman laughed. But still
she didn’t move. And if you asked her,
is this love? she’d say, I don’t know,
but I like it. They’re closing one of the last
half-dozen arthouse cinemas in Manhattan.
On the shortest day of the year, the lines
are longer than ever—around the corner, down
the block, stretching out of sight. Trickle-down
metrics, falls equivalencies. I am what
you tell me I am, what he tells me. Massage
the salt and spices into the meat, braise
through the day and into the long night.
One weather replaces the last. Succession of cats
in the household, like an Egyptian dynasty.
Check Engine. Maintenance Required. Outside
Temp 34º. No fewer than four police cars
crowded around that one-vehicle accident—
a blowout, I’d guess—the forlorn driver huddled
on the grass, head in hands, towels and sheets
and plastic bags of clothing scattered around him.

Rags to Riches was the next song on the set-
list, it began with the kitchen-boy theme,
then climbed the chord changes to sleeping
with the king’s daughter. I knew it couldn’t end
well, exchanged a skeptical look with the alto,
and played along gamely. Kitchen boys
don’t make it as headliners, they say, without
some bit of skullduggery along the way.

They’ll come to question you one day when you’re least
expecting it. A short ride in the back seat, then a bare
room: the requisite swinging light bulb. They’ll ask,
what were you doing in the park? why were you so happy?
They’ll ask, what reason did you have to act
so happy? They’ll ask, whose words are these
you keep saying? who told you you could say
those words? who gave you permission?


A crowd of trumpets at her arrival,
a fanfare of sparrows and star-struck,
swooning boys, the goddess descends.
They have brought her the keys to the city,
key-cards for the presidential suite, the key
to the mini-bar. She has stepped
down from the broad gleaming SUV, a shimmer
of silks and brocade, onto the ceremonial
red carpet, and the photographers’ breaths
have caught in their throats. Her stiletto
heels pierce their hearts, her gaze—but for
the sunglasses—would reduce them to ash.
The gala, we know, has been underway
for a year, demi-gods, celebrities, oligarchs,
and small-eyed money-men circulating
in and out at intervals impossible to predict.
The champagne flows like water, the pitch-soaked
martyrs—their screams politely effaced—casting
a vivid, almost electric light, periodically
renewed. It is Saturnalia, the Feast of the Fathers.
Around the banqueting tables the brokers
and sycophants shoulder each other aside
as a procession of servants, eyes downcast, bear in
the endless trays of unidentifiable flesh.
The goddess does not eat. Her champagne flute
is an ornament in her hand. She will leave
only images, photographs, painted shadows,
but no quotations for the morning’s newsfeeds.

Or something like that, a dream from Flaubert
or Pasolini or Andy Warhol’s salad Factory days.
Rapidly fading, but still vivid as the embroidery
on Ophelia’s bodice, just under the water’s surface.
Late afternoon light, punctuated by the blips
of snow melting off the tree-limbs, the eaves.
I do not recognize those tracks across the yard,
could not identify which animals left them.
Sun today, a welcome thaw; clouds tomorrow,
with a bit of a chill. The tire leaks air,
refuses to be definitively mended.
About that time the fever abated. He found
himself clear of head, if weak, his desires
subdued if not totally quelled. Ordinary
tasks, jobs around the house, occupied
him. He washed dishes, vacuumed,
made minor repairs. Changed faucet
washers, repainted the lares and penates,
polished the captured battered
Gallic armor over the mantlepiece.
Down the street a man has closed the door
of the garage, sits back in the driver’s seat
of his Subaru, rolls down the windows—
despite the cold—starts the engine, reclines
his head and waits, eyes closed.
A house away a woman methodically
washes down pills. She sits up in bed,
raises a glass of Malbec to her mouth
with steady hands. On another street
a woman tries the edge of each knife
in the kitchen block. A hot bath, shimmering
with scented oils, is running down the hall.

Mark Scroggins

Mark Scroggins has published three books of poetry, Anarchy (2003), Torture Garden: Naked City Pastorelles (2011), and Red Arcadia (2012); Pressure Dressing is forthcoming. He has written a number of nonfiction books, among them The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky (2007), Intricate Thicket: Reading Late Modernist Poetries (2015), and The Mathematical Sublime: Writing About Poetry (2016).