Thomas Fink


              I couldn’t help smiling at
                               the lipstick smile on my 
                                            wineglass. Watching the slimy lizards 
                                                                among the ruins of the 
                                                              old fort. Many of them 
                                                         were delicious in the role. 
                                                         Yes, there was a sort 
                                                  of refuge which always comes 
                                                with the prostration of thought 
                                       under an overpowering passion. They 
                                had their initials significantly embroidered 
                         on their underclothing. That vice 
               went out of fashion long 
         ago. There was no indication 
that human beings had ever 
dwelled there. A human nose 
appeared in the dark doorway.
Several times he looked fixedly 
       up at the ceiling from 
      which he derived all his 
inspiration. Sends an imaginary object 
                              flying. His face is a 
                   blank picture of bewilderment which 
                              he never thought of disguising.
                                           Out of habit, if nothing 
                                         else. A ceaseless tattoo on 
                                     a darkly muffled drum. Beside 
                                     the interminable talk of ailments.
                                       Having come to the conclusion 
                                                    that what he was doing 
                                            was nonsense. A sorry ghost 
                       animated by someone else’s genius.
                      I can feel the floor 
                      shake when he walks on 
                      it. He should really have 
                           a cane. And his whole 
                           face seemed smeared with oil 
                                                           like an iron lock. Blocking 
                                                             my view the whole way.
                                                          How eager everything was to 
                                                            go wrong around one. He 
                                                          took the envelope out of 
                                                        his pocket. The zoning goes 
                                                  against little roadside businesses like 
                                                           mine. A rising sulfur reek 
                                                          of sewage. Where her hut 
                                                    had been, they found the 
                                            hill covered with weeds and 
                                        bramble. Is that the hook 
                                in his mouth? All 9 
                     legs are shivery and goosepimpled.
                       It’s just such seeming trifles 
                         that we’ve got to take 
                seriously. Smiles full of decayed 
                  teeth. May I venture, honored 
                         sir, to engage you in 
               polite conversation? He knew the 
                  gambler’s vertigo. A depth of 
                      moral isolation too remote for 
                      casual access. I was glad 
                      when my father took me 
                                       to task for my muddy 
                                      boots. The past offers no 
                                     lesson which I am willing 
                                               to heed. It serves to 
                                 make the basement a friendlier 
                                      place. The jackals must have 
                                           taken it; curse them. She 
                          clutches her money to her 
breast. Nothing remained but her 
ability to gape. Now nature 
was subverted. The donkey is 
              not ours. A swift current 
                            compels us to move farther 
                                                up the beach. But what 
                                                        about regular plain folks who 
                                                           were born in those places 
       and never left? The world 
outside their own direct experience 
was a region of vagueness 
and mystery. They stand in 
   the marketplace with a basket 
       of fish and curse everyone, 
  whether customers or not. Each 
               night I awake from dreams 
                 that I’m not even allowed 
                        to think about. They dashed 
                                      into the dark shadow of 
                                     the trees. The actual words 
                                     remain unuttered—in the silence 
                                             of the unconscious. The money 
                                                           was paid and her character 
                                                  established. She would rather be 
                                             burned alive than humiliate anyone.
                                                  We’re not lobbies or elevators.
                                          Cordial wishes for your prosperity. 
                                               She held a powdered hand.
                                                 Sit right down and thaw 
                                                 out. The animal in your 
                                             pocket will soothe your fingers. 
                                              The mystery and sunshine had 
                                             congealed on my palms. People 
                                        go into hiding when no 
                      one is looking for them.
                 Why not risk one’s little 
            point of view? You quite 
     understand without requiring me to 
        specify. I guessed simply from 
        your eyes. Empty your pockets 
              of the pretty coins that 
              will soon buy you nothing.
              Nostalgia is fatiguing and destructive.
                           Can any epitaph be adequate 
                                repartee? Has a dead man 
                            any use for money? His 
                            face about the color of 
                     blotting paper. Every story you 
                                   would like to tell has 
                      already ended before you can 
       open your mouth. You have 
             lost your freckles and golden 
             skin. The trap door. You 
  left it open. Didn’t you?

Thomas Fink is the author of 11 books of poetry—most recently A Pageant for Every Addiction (Marsh Hawk P, 2020), written collaboratively with Maya D. Mason, Hedge Fund Certainty (Meritage P and i.e. P, 2019) and Selected Poems & Poetic Series (Marsh Hawk P, 2016)—as well as two books of criticism, and three edited anthologies. His work appeared in Best American Poetry 2007. His paintings hang in various collections. Fink is Professor of English at City University of New York-LaGuardia.
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