Three Poems by Charlie Bondhus
by CHARLIE BONDHUS
Besides Eurydice, frozen
by his faithlessness,
a half-said warning turning
to ice on her bone-pale lips,
and wing-footed Hermes,
who must have known
how this would all turn out,
what did Orpheus see
when he looked back
into shadows cast
by the shed hopes of legion
souls, stumbling towards
the forgetful river?
How he must have envied them,
those who had lost hope
yet gained the tranquilizer
From then on, the lyricist
who had seen himself
as a godly enchanter
would see nothing
but his undoing
by knowledge and love, reassurance,
the satisfaction of niggling curiosity.
Those simple, epic things
that mortals crave.
The only good man in Sodom
was spared. The only good man,
and his family: two daughters,
Some say sinful curiosity;
some say concern for her children
who had fallen behind,
perhaps swept up
in the pounding brimstone.
Others say punishment
for her gossiping
about the heavenly houseguests.
Or perhaps she wanted to remember
where she had come from,
see its fiery end, to understand
who she was, what she would be.
When she looked back,
she was turned to salt,
having seen God
the one way God
does not wish to be seen.
Near the village of Meya Saheeb
Ghulam Rasool hobbles over rocks,
his cane kicking up red dust as he listens
for the steady murmur of angels.
Looking up, he can’t see
the metal-winged Predator,
which the people call benghai
“the buzzing of flies,”
even as Hellfire falls like hail
behind him, leveling houses, schools,
a mosque, while at the US Air Force base
in Balad, a kid from Hell’s Kitchen
sits in green monitor glow,
looking back, twelve years,
to the burning towers
and the screaming bodies
that vanished behind black
smoke, reclaimed by the underworld.
Through the camera lens
he watches ash-covered
no strength to look back
at their homes, undone
by the simple, epic fact of war.
But if they did, they would witness
the work of a newly empowered god
thirsty to be seen.
by CHARLIE BONDHUS
Tell me what the day brings; another red sun, standing for war.
We seek fresh symbols among those icons not standing for war.
This is what we look for— sticks, a stone, water, textures of earth;
yet even these elemental things are means and cause for war.
Most say “not again,” but check with Koch Industries, CNN;
if you look hard enough, you can find enough applause for war.
The President affects sorrow: chest-bowed chin, downcast eyes; in
the cobalt sea, battleships turn their heads, preparing for war.
At home, the chemical earth poisons food the voiceless worker
consumes; and still the country storms overseas, tearing for war.
Eighty percent own seven percent of the nation’s treasure.
No one can afford sacrifices, yet still we must, for war.
Soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery
are whispering what it’s like to be remembered just for war.
The President pledges no ground deployment, only airstrikes,
to minimize the American lives bought and sold for war.
No funds for education, environment, or endowment.
Despite China and endless deficit, we trade gold for war.
When the banks are the ones identifying your enemies
everything that you do must necessarily be for war.
Look to nature, they said, the spear-like trees, the phosphorous stars.
Even here, there isn’t one thing that doesn’t remind me of war.
by CHARLIE BONDHUS
After years in the green world, you find New York a new city.
Lower East, you look for that hard, rash love which was your city.
A sagging, tissue-soft crocus blooms in a brownstone’s garden;
its sorrow is yours, today a tourist in your own city.
A boisterous group of rich boys horses by in freshly-pressed jeans.
Your loneliness is as large and as layered as the city.
Do you remember the bathhouse at 3rd and Avenue A?
So much that is free and gritty disappears from the city.
That includes you, who lived here twenty-one years, carving your way
through sweat and steam, pushing back and taking in the city.
Men’s bodies were like buildings, housing thousands of unknown lives;
until you lived them all, you felt, you’d never know the city.
Your favorite hook-ups were the Village’s amateur wrestlers
whose frames filled alleys, acting like their arms held up the city.
Rainy nights, after the red rush, you’d eat alone, greasy spoon,
fluorescent lights, fried eggs, runny, slightly cold, like the city.
In ‘82 you were mugged in Central Park, walking after dark;
your mother begged you home, but you shrugged and said “that’s the city.”
Later you’d bail for New Jersey and life with someone long gone.
“We betrayed each other,” chuckles the sleek and sexless city.
When’d you last feel manly? Ten years ago, wrestling that shaved boy
with tattoos and muscles; it felt like pinning the whole city.
Charlie Bondhus’s second poetry book, All the Heat We Could Carry (http://mainstreetrag.com/bookstore/product/all-the-heat-we-could-carry/), won Main Street Rag’s Annual Poetry Book Award for 2013.It was also a finalist for the Gival Press Poetry Award. Previously, he published How the Boy Might See It (Pecan Grove Press, 2009), a finalist for the 2007 Blue Light Press First Book Award, and two chapbooks, What We Have Learned to Love—which won Brickhouse Books’s 2008-2009 Stonewall Award—and Monsters and Victims
(Gothic Press, 2010). His poetry appears or is set to appear in numerous periodicals, including Midwest Quarterly, The Hawai’i Review, War, Literature & the Arts, The Wisconsin Review, The Alabama Literary Review, The Sierra Nevada Review, Cold Mountain Review, and The Baltimore Review, among others. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College and a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He teaches at Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey.
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