the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Dean Kostos

Human Blockhead

     Sideshow, Coney Island

Mustachioed Mr. H. Blockhead
sports a bowler hat. Believes
he's a dandy: striped shirt (no blood bled)
& garters like waists on voluminous sleeves.
Hammer in one hand, nails in the other—
is he a carpenter? Is he building a boat to sail
or a casket, plank-by-plank? Neither:
he slams nail after bloodless nail
up his nose. Couldn't this be fatal?
As if replacing something
vital he lacks, he inhales the metal
and is healed! Or is he killing
his own fear of death, delighting in audience
gasps? Pen to page, I hear the paper wince.


Chamberlain of Tars

Black disks spin. To revolve among revelers, I step
onto Saturn's nimbus.

Spinning gathers speed. Boys
and girls press into each other, melt

in chaperoned halls. Music swells and skips.
I… I… I

fall from a faulty
noose, plunge through a break,

plummet into melancholy's
tars. Walls slam shut with the finality

of the boulder rolled against Christ's tomb.
Winding sheets tighten,

Rorschach-doves fan their muddy wings

into hands. The door to the adolescent ward

I listen for the world's distant throbbing.
Watch from safety-glass panes: faces

fracture, syringes hiss air
into veins. Coke-bottle shards carve a constellation:

Scents of ether and disinfectants.

After a shaman cauterizes patients'
temples, he sprinkles medicinal words

over my head, turns screws through my soles.
Commands me to dance, vexed

by my stillness.
Far from the padlocked doors and stone wall, the dancers continue

to orbit,
studying New Math and a ferocity that churns

dust and ice into rings.
Classrooms slide open windows—

students tilting telescopes toward oblivion
like voyeurs.


How the Blue Intrudes

          Tat tvam Asi (Thou art That)
—The Upanishads

Loosen self from self in the sweep
of green unknowing,
          in leaf-web,

branch, bark, loam. Once
there were names: mockernut,
          elm, hornbeam.

But today my eye strays
from language, past
          branches' Linear B,

past their etched crosshatching,
their Baroque cartouche,
          the bronze disk

sinking into darkness.
Now, sky ignites sapphire.
          Give in

to its velocity of blue,
its bewildering



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