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Brad Liening

What Engine


I’m afraid the congestion in my chest can’t stand

another bright bouquet, all of us pecked and ringing,

assembling around the splashdown by the arsenal.


The multihued parachute collapses like a clownishly

big jellyfish, no longer given its shape by velocity and air,

which are but two things we routinely struggle against.


And it is a struggle, scale being the only variable:

the city rises from the sea in great gurgle and spume,

the retiree rises in the pre-dawn dark to prepare tea.


And it is a victory to reach that coda, I mean, I’m a mess

by the fifth measure and by the tenth I’ve completely

fallen apart, fallen to pieces, fallen to however you’d like


to describe childlike helplessness, I’ve maybe fallen

to orange cat in the branches of a weeping willow

bending low into the river. Most everyone I know


is made of sterner stuff, breaching moats and storming

castles before breakfast, but it’s a chemical reaction

I’m convinced somewhere in the dusty bottom drawers


of the brain, some electron dislodges and then bang!

I’m breaking eggs in the aisles, not paying for a thing!

Such moments of transcendent excess are in fact


paid for with the next morning’s pangs of shame,

oh why was transcendence tied so tightly to excess?

Is it because a human is a harp hopelessly out of tune?


When a moment of immutability approaches, of what

and to what end becomes quickly beside the point

as the sky inside one’s head ripens to a shiny shiny anvil.


A defenestration for the ages, for the aegis of actinism

sidelining us with radiance, our radiance by proxy only.

Given the whole hock and whorl, the goo in the runnels


and the goodness of this moment and the depravity

of the next, which is first a girder before becoming

milk, it’s foolish if not terrible to crave understanding.


The technocrat takes a long walk along the beach, my

second grade teacher lifts the voice box to her throat

and explains subtraction, the moths turn black with


prolonged exposure to flame. There I go again,

taking up space and letting my makeup run while

the cross-section of the new insect is blown up


to the size of a bell tower. To think it could be

living inside of you right now, curled up at the

base of your brain and rankling like the memories


of another you can’t expunge and in the end

probably wouldn’t even if you could, since it is

precisely this sort of shadowy essence keeping


us tied to this world, tied to each other, driving

us to skip stones across the water when we think

no one is watching. Those stones eventually sink,


of course, grow irretrievable down at the bottom,

but just once, after rearing back for the sharp side

armed snap, I’d like to see the stone rise and curve


out of sight, perhaps dinging off the orange crane

that hunkers over the construction site. Even that

crane has a kind of grace as it turns through blue air.


If left untended birds would build nests there, in the

slats and corrugations, like it was just another big

steel tree trapped in uninterrupted autumn. But it is


the world’s business not to leave anything alone for long,

not you or me or my second grade teacher or the little girl

in the scuffed pink jumper picking at her scabby knees.


It is a terrible thing to crave mystery, as this means

one suffers from a surfeit of the predictable, which

in most cases is worse than a buildup of poison clouds,


wilting the lettuce and lacing the juice, reminding us

that all we’ve lost constitutes a world of its own by half.

Here, jam this pin into my palm. Do something worse.


What we are is between what we love and what we

endure. Between what we apprehend and what we

can never know is an anvil, a ripening defenestration,


a cross-section of the new river, a bell tower big as

a jellyfish rising from childlike helplessness as the

conductors heat until they turn invisible, producing


a humming like the singing of our happy wounds.



Unthinking Zero


The soul flickers a bit when the candle’s

thumped, a fluttering in the left ventricle,


but this golden grilled cheese and crisp pickle

are proof enough for me there’s more than


the debris deposited on the high hills by the flood,

the wheelchairs cock-eyed in the dunes.


An iridescent rose fastened to a bell

becomes the sky. A kick ass drum solo!


Thus do I for a while forget the sinkhole

I can’t help but stand in, fungi taking root,


but still I move faster than the red thread

whizzing from my chest as each moment


is overtaken by the next like a wave

heaving through the spray and into the rocks.


Seagulls circle as they do because their bones

are hollow, and though much of the rocket


is too, due to atmospheric disturbances

the launch is delayed. The astronauts


go to sleep, curled around their helmets.

I pause for a moment, towel wrapped


around my waist and toothbrush sticking forth

from my mouth, thinking maybe I’ll be


good-looking today. The cosmos just sorta

hangs out, waiting to stop existing. Hey,


no hurry. The impenetrable moustaches

of the politicians will remain even after


each and every last one of them is dead,

but not even the tar pits of their hearts


can stop my stroll through the chlorophyll,

the pleasant declension. So large is the


machinery in which we operate the functions

will never be known, a star sizzling between


my teeth. The small plastic cars race around

the electric track till the air grows sharp and hot.


Morning light barrels through the window

and the crowd goes wild.

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