Paul Guest


All those years an avatar of rage and fury:
my feathers gone in fits until I'm ink
and nubbled flesh, pink. A poor meal,
by my naked look. A long knife in a dark
drawer, my heart would open me
in an instant, a wet moment, nightmare.
Maybe then I'd begin to know
what sweetness is, if it is a revenge
upon the earth for all its grubbing and lack,
its insistence upon flight. And
for the denial of wings, I hate what god
made me hands. I make all fists.
Alone, I would have been fine.
Filled my days with model trains
and trees whittled down,
lowered my face into miniature smoke
rising from the locomotive,
at once acrid and sweet—
inhaling it all, a heaven to hold forever.
Or, a picnic, on a green hill.
Autumn sun, sandwiches stacked high,
and who I could love
with me on a red gingham blanket,
both of us fattened by time.
You would think a bone stoppered my throat
for how I talk, ridiculous clot
of babble and gurgle, impediment
as dreamed by the idiot or obvious—
and then writ large, screamed out
so no one with ears could ever miss me.
And for all that, who'd listen
but to the stilted music I make,
father of laughs, forever waiting
for the wooden mallet to come down,
tear open my mind, paint red
the whole world I looked on at dawn,
for a moment, with faint joy?
Call me a wrung-out dish rag,
a pin cushion infinitely pricked—
a stubbed toe, the funny bone’s compound fracture.
Is it too late to say what I want?
And if it is, there's time still
to want it all the same: this peace
I'm allowed just long enough
for it to be shredded
by the punchline's riot,
that tree rising up a thousand feet.
Only a romantic
would go, as I will go, to tear
it from the earth for ruining scale,
to stand among the roots waiting to be crushed.



I keep writing poems about cartoon characters who are generally miserable. Archie, Alice the Goon, Pinocchio—they've all received this treatment. I guess, deep down, I find their lack of free will poignant. Any ideas about the self are moot to a character drawn and erased, over and over again. And here we have Donald, in need of anger management, speech therapy. His natty blue sailor's suit is not enough to make it better.