James Cagney


the promised land is quarantined. double plurals are discontinued
and our melodies hated. religious and destitute

orphans fitted for coffins then cloned to the capillaries
learn the slavery of slow finish in the metaphysics of the ghetto

who will govern in our year of sleep who translates these scriptures of fire
who will prevent this orchestra from diluting our emotions

hear how we walk among decibels remembered
intend something grey during the fireworks of flowers

rule your living room with an iron yawn*
(*except when apartments behave like nuns praying amongst flames)

study the radiant entomology of inconsistent skin; hammock it richly
its how we consume what’s most important

while the vocalist sings her scars a loose, the senator arrives by email
in your mind, he says, there is a question about the color yellow

in this rainforest of cotton lit by christmas light fireflies
we write letters to the dead on peeled onion skin

in your seawater room there are sunken alphabets
and languages unaccounted for

in the ecology of the warehouse there is a metric ton of unclaimed dreams
spinning and bleeding convex light everywhere at once.


Having picked little green houses
from the compost pile all morning
she stares at her palms, sneering

fingers stretched into ninja stars.
It is now hours later but she remains
disgusted as if her sparkling fingers

still drip in black sludge—gnats a livid
halo in the air around her. She stops herself
mid-story –everything freezes—

the pigeons, the car, the highway,
& she bounces back to her morning
spent plucking house berries

in the backyard, pronouncing this my
fault—me, the new roommate in the dog
house. That I didn’t know the garbage

can was not for garbage — so what? I’m still guilty
by commission & therefore can not
be trusted. After dropping into the compost

bin a calendar page of monopoly houses
tangled in dust what will I NOT do?
but this is not the end of the poem!

Her husband: “Now, honey– finish your
story about the birds…” And she says, “Yes!
In Montana, the pigeons think

they’re hot shit!”
In her story a whole flock
stood on the highway

like arrogant strikers daring her families
approaching car as if birds had rights!
Can’t you see them??:

bird chests heaving attitude
then fist sized bodies ping-ponging
beneath the grill of a Ford,

the sound like monster hail,
feathers in violent orbit coughed
out from beneath the wheels,

car exhaust drizzling blood
and feathers and feces, BUT!
This is still not as bad

as the little green monopoly houses
that had to be plucked by hand—
no other way—from the tilting soft cliffs

of blackened banana peels and fruit cores,
so sweet and hot and delicious to the flies
dancing carbonated in air around her

cheering over that
which we were too full to eat.

she says. Simply disgusting.

James Cagney has been trawling poetry in the east bay for more than 20 years.