Joshua Corey

MATERIAL

groin        water
meeting minds
shock of the Pacific
redistributing
electrons        stands
up        lasers like skin
the light conceals
visible ocean
here a lake lone
and level
coast        lets the I
go off leash to hump
and snuffle and get
its fur wet        cold
put a price on it for price
requires a field
intelligibly
there are no Atlantic
salmon        pain
convicts us
victory with
you        you want fries so
that        pressure’s on
Lincoln
pennies        state
of siege surprises
a seat        one
hundred nights        fifty
ten        reason not the
righteous
man up at dawn
wakes in the cell
on wavering green
stems        fallible
rushing in
from weather

WITNESS

hides trash from
climate modeling
cubic miles of
gold        whaleshit
to reason both        get
lost in what
in                an unaccountably
scaled body delivers
unbuilt and unerect
landlocked        the e coli
consuming vampirically
the future tract
digested and released
bitter organ
tags boulders and sand
like human graffiti
fallible        fishery
waves of mutilated
nouns verb
the visible
maps of no one’s mind
no one decided
to frame the empty
license plates        pretty
secrets ventilate a time
children need
to grow        to sleep
flatbed dreams        one
need for
deathlessness        uncanny
until the itch itself
to find intellectual light
fields questions        leans
back to life
the gap I knows        is known
is level water


 

TWO CITIES

Two cities separated chiefly by disastrous water, overflowing the canals of our good intentions. I rode the ferry with the other ghosts passing over drowned wards and into the Bay, our substitute for heaven. The captain circulated among us with his swagger stick, touching some on the shoulder: these went down weeping, pressing the hem of his garment to their lips and noses. Concealing my disgust I joined the gangplank queue, sea bag on my shoulder, and went down. The new city was a series of candy-colored layers and phallic towers with single eyes turned inward. Bull dykes and femmes called to me, these are other words for men. In those days I carried a key round my neck and I tried it in all the doors: this was my substitute for social ease. I found my apartment in the sky where I could deploy my sextant and tsunami alarm. I took a job, and another job, and by day sat in star chamber doodling while my workmates snickered. One foggy afternoon there was a knock on the door and my ex came in unannounced. You think it’s as easy as that, she murmured, sliding the pen out of my dead fingers. I was buried at sea between the cities, one provincial one immortal, one burning invisibly one drowning in plain sight. People swam to work, they kept their cool, though the dogs could only paddle and the fish turned belly-up. We stood at the lip of the tower holding hands, watching the wave roll in with its weight of bodies, as big as everyone living. I think she kissed me. I think I remembered my eyes.

 

MASK

It arrived yesterday in the brown cardboard box with the little grin on the side. My wife brought it up and it was waiting for me on the dining room table. I carry a little knife. When the box was open and the shrink wrap removed I sat there for a while looking inside the box and thinking. Then I forgot all about it and went about my day.

Later that night my wife asked me about it: please don’t leave your crap on the table, is what she said. I went into the bathroom and turned on all the lights. The fan whirred. I looked into the mirror for a long time while touching my face with my fingers. I pushed and pulled the skin on my throat to bunch it up and make it taut again. I lifted one eyebrow: both eyebrows. I squinted manually by pinching my eyelids nearly shut. I turned my head slowly from side to side, the better to manipulate my ears one at a time. There was nothing to be done about the nose.

When I came out again my wife wouldn’t look at me. She was watching tv and then we both were. I watched the faces of everyone on the screen. Some were pretending to be cops and doctors and some really were. Some were pretending to be themselves. The realest ones wore masks. These covered their eyes or their mouths and noses. They changed the tones of their complexions with cosmetics. There were no old people. A man had died in the street and they were trying to decide what was wrong with him. Another man and a woman squatted by his body with their instruments. Her lips were an unnatural shade of red and his face was stubbled with the illusion of texture. They were kissing, fondling, dry-humping the corpse. The woman dug and dug at its chest with her long sharp nails. The man had a hammer and was striking the corpse in the skull with it hard, repeatedly, making wet sounds. I looked at my wife next to me on the couch. She was flipping idly through a magazine and glancing occasionally at the screen. Then her phone glowed and she excused herself and didn’t come back for a long time.

In the dark I can feel it hardening on me, encasing me in something clear and pure. If I wore it on my chest you would see my heart going through its routine of churning and pacing, all the hours of the night. If I lifted my shirt, if I let you see.

In the morning my voice echoed and echoed. The box was still grinning on the dining room table. I broke it down and threw it out before I left. “I have a job to do,” I said to the apartment, and I did it.

— 

Joshua Corey is the author of several books of poetry, most recently Severance Songs (Tupelo Press, 2011). With G.C. Waldrep he co-edited the anthology The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta Press, 2012). He lived in Evanston, Illinois and teaches English at Lake Forest College.