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Three Poems by Charlie Bondhus

Looking Back





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

of Lethe.


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,

a wife.


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

as Himself,

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

refugees flee,

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.






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.



Return Ghazal



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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