Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2019  Vol. 18 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Pain Is Never Done
—John Keats

What you do is pin it to a block of
wood so that when you stand back to
study the relief, you see translucent wings,

red and yellow merging into a mosaic,
antennae conducting invisible orchestra,
eyes black and blind above proboscises,

miniscule brain not realizing it has found
an eternal home on a foreign stage
and there’s little left to do but free the ghost.

Speaking of which, have you seen Hamlet’s father,
shape-shifter, rising from the trapdoor, arms
like deformed wings, sneak back and curl

up in a corner while outside stinking Denmark
burns, walls coming down in slow motion?
Have you watched destruction as if it were

a picture one holds underwater, the clouds’
reflection parting, revealing what was veiled?
A door in the ground means nothing.

A door in the throat means everything.
Just ask the man whose face blew off
in the war, or ask the vets who gather daily

at the library, who moan like a chorus of sea lions
perched on rocks, who read the newspaper
and doze, who wake to a newfound love

of the world, a world without people that is,
a world stripped bare as the bride by her
bachelors, even. Remember the young

beauty she once was, her garland of flowers,
pink lips pursed to kiss the drapes.
Don’t die too quickly, the old men beg

while somewhere a miner, stuck in a collapsed pit,
finds the perfect rock—jagged, sturdy—
to smash his coal-stained head against.

Before that he pretends to dance with a shovel
or maybe with our bride, Vanessa cardui,
painted lady, brandishing her Catalan colors

as she flamencos down the Avenida.
What grace, what elegance, what duende,
what yearning to plunder, to devastate!

I’ve tried to tell you, the poem about pain
is the poem about control, the way dynamite
releases snow that clings to the ledge,

the white slab primed to spill and stifle
everything, it’s inevitable, so let go, and in
so doing allow yourself to be let go of.  

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