Carnage | Poems
by Marty Krasney

Close to My Stop

I continue to wonder whether
Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone,
whether any of us ever does.
That squirmy girl across from me on the F-Train
with the rhinestone stud in her swollen lower lip,
then the man: his sinewed right hand nonchalantly
circling her left wrist, swaying or trembling,
her faint smile, was it rapture or resignation?
What songs did she sing as a child jumping rope,
music I never heard, maybe no one else ever did?
I wanted to be helpful, but my stop was coming up. 

Diane Arbus at David Zwirner Gallery

Some of them still remember how to smile;
for others, she has masks to cover that.
Nineteen-seventies, when she produced these
black-and-white images, frontal attacks,
horizon lines cutting across their hearts,
Halloween hats and awkward plaids and stripes.
Doubtful that these people could still be alive,
maybe that Black dwarf child she shot from above,
hard to tell his age. Or anyone’s.
Primitive people (surely these are that),
we’re told, believe that cameras steal their souls,
and this suggests why they might think that way.
The photographer wrote to her husband,
according to the notes that the gallery provided,
“I’ve discovered my perfect subjects
and want to shoot lots of them.”
And me: glad to be here for this major retrospective,
but wondering whether any of them knew anything, 
even the photographer. The old question is right there,
as with any act of forced conversion:
Was this empathy or exploitation?

I, Minotaur

My mother was an ordinary woman, much like yours;
my father, her infatuation, was a bull.
I don’t think that she thought she’d get pregnant.

Still, I was just her baby boy.The horns came later;
and with them the rough hide, the face like my father’s,
that brutal face she’d loved, her mortification.

At first, she dressed me in blue velvet pajamas.
I nursed from the warm breast he’d caressed with his tongue.
I was a happy child, she a doting mother.

It was growing up that turned me into a beast.
My sweet little feet becoming hooves, hammers,
and my silky skin toughened to this leather pelt.

And most embarrassing to all of us, the horns,
emerging ugly in adolescence, like acne.
At first, I could hide them under my cap.

But I had grown sleekly muscular like my father.
I flexed and I rippled and I glowed.
I learned to rampage, to bellow, to stomp and gore.

Then my diet changed—seven maidens, seven youths.
The palace had them imported every year from Athens,
the choicest morsels to be found in all of Roumeli.

I knew there was no one like me in the known world,
not even the monsters carved on the temple walls.
She should have exalted me, but I was a residue.

So she built a special playroom in the basement,
though no one ever came down there to play with me,
except for the fourteen who entered but didn’t leave.

The bits I dribbled mired in their blood and my dung:
a stench, but my stench, and no one else to inhale it.
I unlearned the sunshine, forgot about the breeze,

then finally the Athenians dispatched their wily prince.
I too was royal, so we were perfectly matched:
The prince of darkness welcoming the prince of light.

Last thing I saw was my reflection on his slashing sword,
the eyes of my mother wide open above my father’s snout.

Kabul to Sausalito — August 2021

Noor, my Uber driver, seemed surprised 
that I knew that his name means light.
I said, Queen Noor, I worked with her father.
My turn to ask: Are you Jordanian?
He dismissed it with a snarl, a small, dry bark.
I nodded and asked then where he’d been born.
Asia, he said, and I, Afghanistan.

We’re connected just by a gig ride app.
young and brown, he drives me, much older, white,
my lavish green American suburb,
not worth his risking to name his birthplace.
When the ride ended, he’d grown less wary:
my brother, Noor said, works for your Army,
can’t find his commander, and can’t get out.


God must have known that Cain would kill Abel;
being omniscient, how could he not have?
It happened right there at the beginning,
thus would have required almost no foresight.

He could have coached Cain on the fruit he liked,
then called it a tie, blessed the two of them;
no one would have died, no one been banished,
same with not setting up Eve with the snake.

All the way back, God was clearly not both
all-loving and all-powerful, worthy,
so it’s no wonder that we the creatures
keep on looking for others to worship.

Or maybe he knew from the start that we’d
be better off doubting, as he doubted.

Marty Krasney’s poetry and short stories have been published in Areté, Innisfree, Marlboro Review, Missouri Review, Tricycle, and Witness, and he has completed a novel, The Bees of the Invisible. He has studied writing with Richard Bausch, Patrick Donnelly, Lynn Freed, George Garrett, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Edmund Keeley and Tom Mallon. His career as an organizational executive culminated with ten years as the founding Executive Director of Dalai Lama Fellows, a global network of contemplative young social-justice activist leaders, administered since 2018 by the University of Virginia. He has danced with both Allen Ginsberg and the Empress of Iran, beaten David Frost at ping-pong, heard Martin Luther King Jr. preach a Christmas sermon in a church in Philadelphia, and bungee-jumped from the New Zealand bridge where bungee-jumping was invented.

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