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Joseph Bienvenu



These poems were written in that strange orange phosphor glow of post-apocalyptic New Orleans on realizing that the city in all her tatters, even in her clouds of arsenic powder, could not abandon her mysteries. It was startling how beautiful the empty streets were—the skins of the buildings contracted and squashed, their discs reflecting blue and green light, and everything became a decoy, a means to escape from predators. Of course, life here has taken baby steps back towards normality and New Orleans has returned to being what it always was: a figment of our collective imagination where mutant vines sniff at the moldings of dank dive bars while garlanded statues of forgotten and invented saints roll down the streets in secret parades.



Galerie des Machines

What a moment! No one will ever again stoke the flame of uncompromised wonder. No seraphic swan will find the grey cornice to roost on. And yet I am only killing time, waiting to find the inevitable baleen buried in the sand, the shattered scrimshaw. If I had been asked then, I would have wanted to be remembered as some insignificant molecular shimmer, as if that would be French enough! I remember only those brief moments in vegetative corners of darkened patios. The Hotel Le Cirque wanted to shake us out of our heavy sleep on these streets forever tattered now. What spectacular blue bug might awake from within this rotten pile of accordions! How gleefully we might welcome him and all his baroque pincers. The past holds some vague memory of a rescue at sea, but now the glisten of wet gravel is the sequin festooning our sorrow. It’s no personal abyss I know! Collectively we rebel against it: the poignant splicers, the clutch of vertigo from the heights of the spinning hotel bar. Yet below me alone stretches the delirious landscape of dead stone. I am condemned to scale flight after flight of marble stairs, a torture designed by some cruel urban planner, no doubt. My heart could expect no less in this land of dodos, my concrete casket. But perhaps I only swoon to strike that final pose of pale and heartless beauty. It rains… rains. I am a creature who cannot rest until I disrupt the camouflage of my fevered raincoat. The clouds finally explode into an orange spider that dips its feet into the swollen river. Downstream, the streetcars shed their green metallic wrappers.



The Makeshift Screen

In those same bake shops where we used to get drunk—the newspapers powdered with cocoa dust—I would pray for the smoky petrol stink of the underpass: trade a desired state for an undesired one. The lacy gathered shoulderstraps took on repulsive shapes. That pale shadow of a neckline, dimly shot from blue benzene backdrop of a loaded pistol. One last traipse across the rollerrink into the nightmare of an antarctic childhood. I am almost at the mesa of Manhattan, the feathered coastline of an ancient and misgotten trust. Did we walk through the garden of an apartment complex to get there, to reach the restaurant in an abandoned subway station? The black skin seemed to expand almost endlessly, pushing its radius one bubble further at a time—seams tightening with soot. Our footsteps melded with the rubble. Which shoes were separate from the pile of boots beneath them? The window frames were lined with the pulp of softened wood. In the middle of the display a book bound in a purple wrapper. Is it only a forgery of the book I want to read? Some bird of prey might peek out from a lamppost to nuzzle me, flash the blood-stained muzzle of its calloused foot. Should I try to part the bangs and force my way into the unlined forehead? Like the surface of a lightbulb we are lit from beneath. O vague twilight of the half-lit stubbled chin! The litany of whitish lips until the street unloads its dark Pentecost. Oh, it’s a situation that presents uncertainty. I see the wreckage from the corner of my eye. I will grind the fine powder where the faces start to reemerge from the wet wood of the shingles.



Wave After Wave

I am afraid of the heavily polished stone. It is as if I am shipwrecked on an abandoned cantilever bridge. Abandoned in violence or delight. By violence, of course, I do not mean the brutality of the circumlunar haze of light. In 2004 Luna Park too goes up in flames. So we all must wound what we love. The aquarium grows more debased with every new season. How disgusted I am of the garish penguin exhibit. My fuselage is all that remains. How I long for a propeller or a bit of cockpit! I am lost! Camel through a needle’s eye. True bubble and squeak of my heart! How Biblical! I see smoke rising above the corpses of secretaries. I bend to kiss their beautiful waterlogged fingers and salvage what typewriters I can. What else can I do among these landlocked lighthouses? Ships are guided into the porticos of cathedrals. City hall is split by the mizenmast of an antique schooner. Perhaps I am only involved in an oblique way. When I think of the bowling alley, buried in sand, the stripe-necked pins floating out to sea, what has it to do with me? The salted air is bitter; must my tongue now meet its winter? O beautiful fortress of bottle caps, you are almost up to my kneecaps. The Sirens lure me to a junction of highways and decaying filling stations to slowly anesthetize me with their Icelandic song. I will not a drop to drink. I will drink only of the skyline’s neon pediments. I am waiting for the Cadillacs to rupture into bloated metal stingrays.

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