The Manchester Review
Josh Bell
Two poems
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Vince Neil Accompanies Josh to Luncheon w/ Scholars, Poets, and Others — Gets Cell-Phone Number of Grad. Student Sitting at Far End of Table — Orders Cheeseburger, No Tomato — Borrows Josh’s Cell Phone — Calls Grad. Student Sitting at Far End of Table

If I’d been born a girl, like you,
I wouldn’t have lived any longer than I will,
and whether I’d be waiting
in my new longjohns, or in the plus-sized version
of your blouse and Target pumps,
still the ancient boyscout Death would sidle up
and find me in the boathouse,
compliment my penmanship, my knots, and then
he’d lead me to the minivan, never to be seen
with this hairstyle again, the handsome scalp
and blond fringe now worn
by seagulls, who hit the high notes like it was nothing,
who think in unison, though they never
seem to fly that way, instead go dropping singular
from the squiggled flock
after breadcrust and fish eye, blip-blip
down from the sky, rogue threads of EKG. I mean to say
what’s globbed is globbed for good
and even John Keats will not unfuck it for us.
Though maybe you have this feeling
about me — good — and maybe then
you paste that feeling down with words
and I do the same, and then dreaming in our beds
we get the lonely message from each other,
just in time, just as the jackbooted soldiers
come rushing in, over the picket fence, with every fourth beat
of the fearful heart gone pulsing out its tracer bullet
into a potholed DMZ of sky — I’m not sure
what your dreams are like — the moon
now a cross section of bludgeoned tomato
over the schoolhouse, and now a white pants button
lost on the highway asphalt. Learning is strictly
for girls, the guns still going chop-chop-chop,
and John Keats, in those remaining years,
he kept sending up his test obituaries
like weather balloons, poems still floating even now
over Tulsa and the like, their comely
bivalved pentameter interfering
with radio signals, just the reverse
of the way a beautiful, living body
can scan so vibrantly it zones out
all the ghost code, can get between me
and the important messages
I should be getting from the underworld,
one code for another, the dead only interfering
with the living who’ve interfered
with the dead, and along those lines
I really think I’d be suspicious
of that veggie plate if I were you. It’s strange
how rarely the meat they serve us
resembles an animal, and strange how the vegetables,
despite their cleanliness and grace, so often do:
a tail or torso of zuchinni, and once I saw a rat-shaped eggplant,
hunched feral in a kitchen off Hermosa.
Look to the sea, as always, for echoes:
of course the many benthic cousins
of the turnip, spindly fruits morphing up their bodies
for our inspection in unsounded caves
filled with various see-through creatures
easily mistaken for prostitutes,
and finally the sirens plugging up their ears
against what new songs we have to offer.
My latest begins with a simple verse
about the girl with one lung and one gill,
how she loved me, how she sang
and how I never kissed her more than twenty feet
away from a swimming pool, how
she answered the phone and how
her phone voice made me feel
like running away to the forest, rebuilding
the old treehouse, then interrogating
the lilies of the field. And I promise you,
whatever your name is, I’m going to ride this feeling
all the way to Target. Because eventually all voices cease,
and — if I’ve been reading these poems right —
there’s a handjob waiting for us in the clouds.