Poems by Lisa Wells






Clicked home an unknown way through the isle city
woozy with synapse, mortal exuberance

in the bread factory’s concrete nave
where conveyors parade whole white loaves
and acrid sweetness humps the air—
                   I squatted there, estranged the forms.

Lord, is this the waking world?
    Great tower blocks
clean as sun-bleached femurs

odor of syrup and sex unlocked
from hunks of perspiring mālum.

Which of our hands fingered this fruit first?

I recall, the shaggy seer said
                        truth is the god that wants it

Held that song in my ears to the exclusion of all others.


Mists, rolling over the headland,
bring trembling to the palm fronds

raise dysenterious floods
to the lips of bridges, ornately carved.

Tell me, who’s going to love us now
that we hasten the epoch?




Conceded, in the clinic, to a mask
         to bonnet my cough, and smocked
in paper bib I packed
             a rattle in my lung, bacterium
freaking fetid wind.

The delicate nurse spooned my soil into a vial.
It will culture in a day.

To think, something of me grows in silence
even as we speak.

                It’s a godly feeling
to flip the light switch
     watch the frightened roaches scatter.


Shake the roaches from my loafers and slip
into the corridor for refreshment.

Change jangling spooks the other patients from their rooms.

I love the way the can slams the vendor’s internal workings.


And the artifice of the rectory
impressed upon my eye a phrase:
        The fear of the lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Replace the days with such phrases
for one who tramps in the midst of illness
mouth blooming sores.

Turned out by the body.
Malignancy’s forced pilgrimage.

           First they will lead us to a stall
and fit us in their nightmare chair—tied off
to the metronomic drip of radiant chemical.

Friend, we die, but do not die alone.

It comes for all?
It comes for all.

Dirt nap began its beguiling lullaby


and we fear the hour of earth submerged in water
the string of rapturous woes

but this is just the gap between
the platform and the door, the dead are

at this very moment speeding back.




        It’s hot in the afterlife. Humid. Equanimous light
throws the flesh a steady glow, and there’s rarely ever wind.

I say, there’s rarely any sound at all.

Caterpillars inch along the tile
flashing with light from the refineries.

Pick up my ears at the lip and listen
to power whine through the grid.

Our houses built on stilts
to accommodate the floods.

  Strange vertigo at sea level.
        Nothing underneath the island

panic skips its mordents through my blood.
      My force cast backward and down
through the nerves.

Am I or am I not dead?

Place your lips close to my head.




Even so, I had complaints.
I wanted more than I was given.

In line at Loaves and Fishes for the paper sack allowance:
            ramen and Carnation’s powdered milk
and sweet white bread (green in a day).

Nevertheless, I devour my handout
and bareback my shadow on the kitchen linoleum.

One in a circle of hideous women
rumored to mate on the first date.

Here too,
Our Lady of Frosted Roots
Our Lady of Junk-Induced Sepsis       

                 (she has an easy way with proverb)
           In the land of gangrenous amputation
  the abscessed man is king.

So the seer said, “The Lord don’t like nothin’ too tall.”

He cut you down to size
He cut you down to size

All the world’s a game of limbo.

I never know how low I’ll go.
I don’t believe I’ll reach the bottom.




From vaca came vaccination.
From the smooth hands of the milkmaids came
this coterie of itinerant inoculators.

From the daguerreotype: sores
in precise succession
climbing the girl-child’s spine
like the buttoned closure of a dress.

            Take this image from my eye.
It is taken away.

Cadaver mugs for the observer
       (tucked inside a camera’s black accordion)
flies mobbing her menses.

Bad move to shut one’s eyes in this instance
for the gaze of the microscopist is
ever inward.

Arranged an audience with the deranged anatomist
to contemplate one transverse section of the soul:
collection of enzymes and substrates that make a man tick-tock.

The room was a butcher’s shop. Hooked flanks. Red wedges.

             A man moored at his mooring stakes
              suppurated flesh pulled away
          like yellowing rolls of gauze

as if, flayed
the man was more himself.




Nervous summer endured with the neophyte,
              dis-ease such humid zones attract.

I always assumed I’d be smothered in sleep with a hospital pillow,
an up-tempo monitor on the way to sustain

                not pacing the cage of a high-security campus
       locked-down in a stairwell with my demagnetized swipe-card

amidst the sirens and silences
cellular rupture and the spectacle of spring
          all mashed-up together.

            Stood rapt in the aftershock
worrying a comb of bone.




Is it Eden I long for?
A bayou at dusk, buoyed by fireflies
     where rising tides arouse the wharves.

Engirdled in the plastic rings of every sixer I ever shotgunned.
Reliving the all-day drunks,
            fucked thrice before sundown.

Nostalgia stumps me.

In life, I was rigid.
I had a treatment plan.

A prism bending light
I took for vision.

At last, peeled back the cataract
        to admit my iris this image
 of slender black branches stroked by lichen.

Lord, what I have loved was frail
but freighted with deep time.

My main language was memory.
The skin of my face: my manuscript.

Commemorated its moment of textualization
in a rumpled dress shirt
with pit stains
and some over-sized scissors.

When it came time to sever the cord
             taps bounded on the brick outside.

Who in the hell thought ahead to bring a horn?




And I was the mutt bitch proceeding
from a feldspar quarry

the finger on me removed.
I came upon the colophon of the underworld:

            You will meet, on the road, a man
            fast in passion
            whose right eye is a wild onion
            whose left is an obsidian flake
            whose eyebrows are beer foam

            whose companion is
            a stray coyote, guardian of the wash

            bringing news of the slaughtering block
                         as even the slaughterers abominate
            the maggots living on their heirs.

After several months disintegration
      the raiment proves obeisance to the corpse.

We will be tested by many mouths.


They have come to open the way
through a high gate
and fall us down precipices

and close our wounds with packing tape.