Two Prose Poems

by Nate Maxson

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Riverbeds

Following the Dog Star out, a light in the west/ seven magi this time though their wisdom is under question and six have already been left behind in their sleep: three times the breath of Tunguska turning a mechanism of escape and expectation

The bosom of Isis, call it what you want to/ I try to tell everyone I meet about my big ocean dream eventually but there’s no patience for false preachers these days unless they came bearing gifts for the occasion

So it’s west, and there’s a gift shop at the entrance to the river: Lethe, river of forgetfulness whose wet leaves sway under my bare but meticulously clean feet but I don’t know what trees those leaves came from

Obviously they forgot where the river was, several candidates have emerged: in antiquity the river Limia between Galicia and Northern Portugal was rumored to give those who drank or crossed it amnesia and to prove this wrong a Roman general crossed it and then had his soldiers cross it one at a time as he called them by their names

No one remembers what happened to them after that, and many years later Spain invented the concept of Los Olvidades or The Forgetting to avoid formal discussion of General Franco and his regime after his death

Also in Spain the river Cadiz was originally named Lethe by Greek colonists who upon diplomatic avoidance of a war with the natives changed the name of the river to forget their past hostilities

And wouldn’t it be sweet to drink such a blanking of prior insults?

I propose a different location for the River Lethe

Look, aren’t you getting thirsty yet?

I have a cure, just drink from this

Perhaps that’s what Christ meant when he claimed the wine was now his blood and that his disciples should drink of it: forget me

I propose we forget all of it, starting now: blank out the preconceived landscape, knock down all the snowmen and scatter their parts without asking why they never melted, this would be a blissful reunion

And it’s almost like music, the moment of release

Almost like the future, that theoretical forest’s disappearing treeline: event horizon always equally distant

Oxygen tubes snaking out from a vanishing point: the way certain Cold War bombs were never tested because of the possibility that they would engulf the plane dropping them

It’s a dry river, little stream of black fluid providing nourishment from one mouth to another though both are too far to see

And oh isn’t it suspicious, all the snowflakes are shaped like elaborate sleeping pills, pluck one from your hair and see what I mean

Don’t the ashes sometimes taste just like aspirin?


Oblations
Previously published in Shadows and Light 2015

And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row
-Bob Dylan

Tomorrow we commemorate The Sacrifice and I would like to play my part/ put on my makeup, shine my dancing shoes and gargle lemon-water for it/ while out there I can hear their boots moving in a rhythm that almost mimics the weather, and I’d never realized before that footsteps were capable of rhyming/ I would like to play my part, I really would…

But I’m a student of history so I need to have something more than a meager burning to fill my belly, something more than all this showbiz/ perhaps a lucky number branded on the skin, the door’s locked now and a little shimmy in front of the mirror shows that I’m confident (but not overly confident)

I’m all too aware of certain ancient societies’ ritual elevation of a fool to king for a night/ give him a microphone and all the wine he can drink, karaoke night and every vote counts/ every mother tells their sons it could be them if they study very hard and go to bed when they’re told

Oswald’s scope was Occam’s razor, after all/ was a thermometer in a leg of lamb/ towers of Babel built to tumble for the insurance money, shaking the romantics off like fleas or someone else’s teardrops with which to flavor the stew

Not the first now, oh no/ come summer we thaw them out, pull out the founding grandfathers from the permafrost: wakey wakey (here’s how you achieve world peace in one fell swoop)

Consider the Roman Emperor Valerian The First, he was captured in battle with the Persian king Shapur The Great (of the Sassanids, one possible origin for the word assassin) and then what happened to him is unclear though the fact that he was a pagan, post-Christ emperor did not endear him to the people who would appreciate his end the most either way

One account is that he was flayed alive and then had his corpse stuffed with straw and turned into a scarecrow or that he was made to drink molten gold after being used as Shapur’s personal footstool for a few months but it is also possible that he was sent along with his captured sons to live out the rest of his life in peaceful and nonviolent captivity

Now, if you were a Roman citizen, which would you prefer to hear?

It’s almost time now, the streets have been cleared and all the college kids have been locked in their bedrooms/ those who didn’t stand a chance, that is

Which would you prefer?

That the emperor was tortured to death or that he is under house arrest?

Which one gets you more riled up?

An either/or situation, the masquerade and so we wave our checkered flags and eat hot dogs in the park while celebrating the last moon landing (the last man to walk there did so in 1972)

Let’s be honest, sometimes the sacrifice is just what the word implies: a choice, no matter what actually happened and this is why we make up rumors of JFK and Elvis and Jim Morrisson hiding out in retirement communities and then angrily refute them: oh no not my guru

Tomorrow we commemorate the sacrifice, Easter Sunday when it rains though it does make some people angry to imagine Jesus drinking coffee the morning after or nursing a hangover/ domestication or authentication, choice is about more than black or white or on or off and it spits in the faces of the unquick or those who don’t engage with the spectacle/ almost ready, it’s bad luck to see me before/ one nation under god and my god, is he heavy/ one namecheck for reverence and one for a measurement of heaviness but where’s the third member of the trinity?

The whole year is marked by this sacrifice or that sacrifice, something to throw on the fire, a way to keep warm/ calendars full of tiny tombstones calcified there in time and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, remember to pick a sliver of ivory from the gallows for good luck

Opened up wide with surgical instruments and night vision goggles to gauge the response like Ouija boards and ipecac/ lifetime membership to a choir all dressed in white like bad luck in Chinese/ almost time, and to each home we bequeath a stage

Valerian was a great persecutor of Christians and it is possible that his more terrible endings were given to him in hindsight and unknowing to get back at his utter rejection of martyrdom, either way again, he certainly must have appreciated the irony

And out in the city the sky goes anticipatory gray, a light rain but not enough to disrupt any planned activity, all in all a great day for reenacting Macbeth in the park and I do mean reenacting so maybe today’s the day, maybe I’ll be chosen this time if not next time for the pageant, for the empire, for the lead ahh. If I close my eyes and focus hard I can almost hear them out there cheering for me/ I’ve got my lottery ticket, my lucky rabbit’s foot and I’m almost ready to go/ a second layer of drugstore lipstick smacked on and I’ll be out in just/ a moment

 

Nate Maxson is a writer and performance artist. He is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently “The Age Of Jive” from Red Dashboard Press. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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