Why Birds Do You Awake?

Why birds do you awake when that stagehand

Morning grasps rope to unfurl the land?

Have you not heard what the gremlin told me?

God bestows no reward for poetry.

Each sweet voice from its cage is doomed to fly,

A moth to live upon the night, and die.

 

Why, mockingbird you ask, am I awake?—

No harsher than one’s own advice to take.

Did I declare the ugly scamp’s word right?

Then I must banish even Truth from sight,

A boy exhaling into Winter’s air;

the joy—for a moment—it hanging there.

 

 

Byron Kai Bennett

Prayers to an Empty Room

 

“Frenchmen conjured the exquisite corpse

as a parlor game;

An American hobo mistook the grass

for the uncut hair of graves.

And how will it ever end?

Unless the day finally arrives

When we have compared everything in the world

To everything else in the world.

Who cares if some oneyed son of a bitch

Invents mosques in the clouds?”

I.

How many nights have I fallen on my

Knees mouthing prayers to an empty room

As I considered the color of silence?

Unaware faith is hinged like a Dutch

Door with only the lowest portal unlatched.

 

I imagined the voice of God

Possessed the furor of Lions;

Yet I heard only the broken tongue of Sparrows.

 

II.

 

This morning I witnessed an Angel

And knew him by three signs:

The dark tone of his complexion

(If stories speak of alabaster,

why not ebony?)

The screaming color of his clothes

(If stories speak of radiance,

why not gaudiness?)

And by the wild contortions of his body

(If stories speak of grace,

why not ungainliness?)

 

And as he maneuvered his

automobile through the intersection

The Angel told me this:

“Do not despair of praying to an empty room

Any more than the sower despairs of planting in an empty field;

For the clearing of weeds and thorns is the long work of many hands.”

 

Though he spoke with the voice of God

He possessed not the furor of Lions,

But instead the broken tongue of Sparrows.

 

III.

 

If Truth wears a shawl of cold astral

Flame, then I am a pinprick in the side

of a box. If I am filled with Holy

Spirit but refrain from Hallelujahs and

Care not especially for Jesus,

Resist the temptation to expand me;

A wider lens would be blinded by the Sun.

 

Let me drink from the dirty washbowls of prophets.

My bowels expel what is unclean from me,

as the water expels what is unclean from me.

 

How the space between our words is as

Incalculable as the space between Atoms!

The physicist describes the universe as stretched fabric

Bulged by balls, so it might fit in our heads;

What reality matches the cipher of my skull

Escapes my mouth like breath in winter.

 

So I speak of the voice of God

Possessing not the furor of Lions

But instead the broken tongue of Sparrows.

Joseph Byron Bennett

All Through The Long Summer

 

pharisees

robed in green and gold

flock from the courthouse grove

to which they shall return for evening prayer

in interim assaulting with pious declarations

 

hard fruit

they roost and eat

from the underside of a frond

why he is perched upside down?

one demands of the Groundskeeper

 

below

in the schoolyard hedges

tomcat is forgetting night terrors

eaten out bellies of strays that hang

in black jaws like crescent moons

treasure!

polyethylene-encrusted

so engrossed in struggle

you are forgiven for thinking

he was wrestling an Angel

 

dawn

a child on christmas

turning a loose glass bulb

illuminating dewey orbs

hung on leylines of spider’s silk

constellations

strung between disparate space

each lattice vibrating gently

it seems to the fly

with the force of far-off Knocking

 

unseen

in a nook of sheet metal awning

hen bows her head

upon a manger of twigs and trash

awaiting the booming voice

june

and its implications further than alpha centauri

heaven closer than the Principal in his garage

rearranging courses on the master schedule

all through the long summer

 

 

Joseph Byron Bennett

 

A Well Awaits a Where

 

A well awaits a where:

A chameleon concealed with an eye all askew

Stone-lidded rims ascending terrace rings.

 

Note the warm jellied tongue:

The interstate vanishes between hairless lips,

A boisterous room silenced in a slurp.

 

You imagined you were:

Hand-painted celluloid in the breath of a frame

Liquified by the belly of that gaze.

 

Foolish to have assumed confidence in a where:

Tailights, the attractive ends of women

Only winking will-o-wisps.

 

A sacrificial slip; a cry, a fall:

Fetched to that iris altar

To nightscape and a boulevard lined with lampposts.

 

Gravity’s inversion mirrored in energy:

Every little lighthouse radiating

A reassuring cold.

 

As if to celebrate an arrival:

Suspended paper motes

Drift in eddies intimating a jostling crowd.

 

Yet the street is silent, still but for a pale wind:

An air at home in caves.

Your footfalls provoke a hungry slant.

 

The patient churning of intestinal muscles:

Hastening your orbit around that sluice

Beyond the lamplight’s edge.

 

Joseph Byron Bennett

Bibliomancy

 

Giggling little girl, her pink feet stomping in sand

While Ocean winds up into a striking coil.

He knows she will squeal when spray soils her strands of loam

Persistent in roots of her Zeus-furious hair

As she releases the unshelved missile at him

In an abbreviated tumble of Scripture.

He will look for signs in how the page has fallen

On a verse confirming the playful strength of God,

Crushing the shoreline holes where dwell little creatures.

 

Joseph Byron Bennett

Joy and Thrill

 

joy to the Strollers

who watch Morning straddle the hills

bow-legged from the burden of revelation,

or catch the wrack of Mockingbirds

tussling over a Corn of truth;

even the streaks of Condensation

resemble Stretch Marks as if

a confined prophet were exhaling Breath.

 

thrill to the Poets

who amble without Notebook or Pen

leaving those wives with gendarme eyes,

and let memory sleep about with Day’s trinkets

shameless Animal trysts;

especially the Jeweled

elation of entering into

a woman wearing Nothing.

 

Joseph Byron Bennett

Principal’s Statement Re: All the Feral Cats

 

I would like to correct several pieces of misinformation that have been circulating

over social media

in the lunch line

in the public square where the Chaldean grandfathers congregate to discuss their lost lands:

 

The staff is not

as has been reported

abducting cats from the school’s sizeable feral population

nor are they taking these cats to the sagging portable sheds

which all agree are reminiscent of a witch’s hovel

to eat them.

 

The midnight sleuth will certainly not hear wet sucking noises

the plink of small bones spit like pits

nor will these activities be punctuated by the squealing laughter of Boyd Andersson

beloved member of our Math faculty.

 

I confess that the image of that partially decomposed calico being exhumed

from the basement of the English building

as captured by the students of Ms. Gutierrez’s excellent yearbook class

several of which are still at large

does not paint the school in a flattering light.

 

Nothing about this unfortunate breach in the administration’s

normally Stygian operations

provides any incriminating evidence

w/r/t the mysterious culling of this pest population.

 

No

the sad truth is that the school administration is working with the appropriate authorities

to ensure that the little gremlins are removed from the campus in a hasty and humane manner At least

until the next crisis

or budget shortfall

or the Governing Board becomes bored

whatever it is, it will happen soon.

 

Then

we will abandon this Children’s Crusade

the little padfoots will return

the anonymous staff member can continue their clandestine practice

laying out kibble.

 

Joseph Byron Bennett

Rosemary

 

Her name is Rosemary;

Her mother shouted it as the girl squatted in the lawn.

I later confirmed in passing with my dog,

Peeping in the lacey window where she often sprung like a stalk,

The stuttering streetlamp losing a contest to her kerosene eyes.

Many different dogs I have marched down that way

And watched the girl with a water hose,

So solemn and still she must be the font of one of Dante’s infernal rivers,

Or folding her lank legs into a mud patch

Which seems to crawl from her waist to her crown in strands of filth.

What is the hue of crooked light that must emerge from hearts of men

For her to bare her teeth and recoil at our approach?

 

I have committed all my dogs to dirt;

But a woman in a Sunday dress heaves the trash cans to the curb

First one house then the next, all down the long street.

When she crosses the road I see the hair,

The way those flamekin eyes disavow reciprocation.

 

The entry in the clinician’s textbook seems too small for her;

The Greeks might have seen her as a speaker for the gods.

A memory of white pear blossoms emerges with the final flinch of solar light

And I wonder at the shroud Mary must have discarded

To make this plant bear such bulbous fruit.

 

Joseph Byron Bennett

Shelter Island

 

Listen—

The sail flutters and hulls rock

Casts of fishermen whistle their lit lures into the kissing lips of black

In the public lot, an RV encrusted in the style of a Mughal elephant

Who knew the egret could make such noise?

Intrusions without pattern, malsynchronous waves crashing together—

The acrid-sweet sip and the mellow strum of the Polynesian

Dead dog foaming and the girl too frantic to notice her nakedness

A photograph, the lingering scent of the photographer

The ocean smells of lovesickness at night

More and more, gulls gathering for baubles—

Helen’s cheeks: the ass of a woman draped across the bow of the Saudi’s yacht

Glass across the bay, at the appointed hour, imitates lighthouses

Shifting pitches as the Navy helicopters go from far to near to far

Circling around an anchored point

I submerge and am nulled by water—

And for a moment the senses are

Toys strewn about a child’s chest.

 

 

Joseph Byron Bennett

Hound

 

Even our tall grandfathers may be entrusted to strangers;

for each hound that graces us,

primal wisdom compels us

to rise in the heatless dark of morning

and shovel earth for a grave.

 

Joseph Byron Bennett