The Spirit of the Age

A tumultuous cascade

of middle fingers
     aimed at government

of sex and handshakes
     with no time limit
     with affinity for sweat
     with someone you care for
          and someone else

of genuine enthusiasm
     for green vegetables
          because you grew them, they’re there
     for opera
          because it’s not “stuffy” anymore
     for your shadow
          because it follows you like history redeemed
     for Dali
          because you can dream again

of breath
     that comes with labor you enjoy
     that blows smooth across hairs
          on your lover’s arm
     that comes deep from your diaphragm
          and feeds the greenery
     that carries your voice in songs about
          the beginning of the end

The Bill

​The Bill

By Stephen Severino
There were no bated breaths on this one. The victory had so thoroughly been assured that the majority had begun celebrating the moment they had entered the lobby. And the congratulatory handshakes, silver-haired smiles, and bullish posturing continued until each member had taken his elected seat. Many had not even read the bill. 
Mallory watched as the last few took their seats. Among the most jovial was Weller. Mallory watched him cackle and fawn and whisper conspiratorially with the others, as if in taunt of the opposition — they who sat stoic and silent and annoyed, resigned to their loss.
The gold-plated gavel struck the sounding block, and all attention fell on the Presiding Officer, who ended the lunchtime recess with the call to vote. The opposition leader attempted to delay by raising new objections but was shut down. The matter had been open for weeks and though the sessions were poorly attended, the Presiding Officer had had enough.
One by one, grey and balding men entered the booths casting votes toward a foregone conclusion. “Of all things, money is master,” Mallory mused as he watched them go, then rose himself to cast his vote in line with his party’s decree, which is to say the decree of real power.
When he returned to his seat, he trained his eyes on Weller and locked them there. All votes were cast, and the Presiding Officer announced that the bill had passed and was now law — the result was never in doubt.
Murmurs, laughs, handshakes returned in large measure, but the moment was more fleeting than would be expected for such a sweeping success. And gradually all faces turned toward Weller, just as Mallory’s had been turned the entire time. Silence fell. There were a few who looked about confused, and Mallory recognized these as the men who — like Weller — had not read the bill. 
Weller’s face reddened as one whose body had made a noise quite loudly and inappropriately and not escaped the scrutiny of others. This, however, was a flatulence of a more visceral nature, the blunder of a man too secure.
It was the Presiding Officer, leader of the dominant party, who finally broke the fallen silence. “Mr. Weller, we would like to thank you for your many years of service to your party and to your region. I promise you will be remembered fondly and with appropriate warmth. We bid you a fine farewell.”
Mallory winced. With his very first word, the party leader had communicated the relegation in status. Directness has its merits, but Mallory wondered if a more gentle approach was warranted. Weller, after all, was all in advance of eighty years. Could he not be addressed as “Senator” one last time?
A neighboring whisper drew a second wince. “What the devil is going on, Mallory?” Senator Carrington hissed.
Mallory had failed to mark Carrington as a non-reader, but his only show of contempt was a quick flick of his eyes at and away from the man as he replied, “Of all things, money is master.”
“Must you hawk and riddle so incessantly? Is it necessary?”
Mallory sighed. Directness has its merits, he conceded. “As you know, it takes a great deal to be a senator, Senator. Not the least of which is the material component.”
“And?”
“Among its many clauses and provisions, our newest law forbids associations that interfere with a business’s ability to maintain profitability by regulating wages.”
“And?”
“Mr. Weller…” Mallory was surprised by his own facility with the new title. “Earned his wealth insuring companies whose employees might strike, a business for which he was heavily subsidized to maintain his own profitability.”
“And?”
Mallory sighed again. Carrington’s daftness tried his patience. “A senator must afford a residence in both the region he represents and in the Capitol. A penniless man is no senator, Senator. And since striking workers are no longer a problem, there is no longer a reason to subsidize Mr. Weller’s company.”
Finally, Carrington caught on. “I see” was his only response. Both men returned their attention to Weller.
He sat stiff. Still flushed. Still not comprehending. “I… I… don’t understand,” he finally managed.
By the time someone had the grace to pass the man a copy of the bill, the Capitol Police were already standing by to escort him out. Weller’s face drained red to white as he read. And when he looked up, Mallory was disgusted to see tears in Weller’s eyes.
“My family…” he choked. 
A policeman grabbed each arm. 
“No, no! You can’t!” he cried. 
They half carried, half dragged him from the chamber. 
As the doors swung shut, Weller’s final cry of “You can’t!” was cut off.
The gavel fell again to the sounding block as debate was opened on the next bill, the bill Mallory had spent most of the previous night reading.

A Reflection on New York

I never saw New York till age nineteen. An Art History assignment and a teacher I crushed on brought me there with a girl who crushed on me.

The air clinging to the ground in the shade between stoop shouldered buildings was imbued with a particular cold, simultaneously dry and damp–like a laundromat.

Clubs and MDMA, concerts and alcohol, New York became part zoo, part playground.

For two years, it was home.

Then, a place to escape from.

But I never did escape, not really. And when I visit New York, if I look around at it instead of where I’m going, I tumble a little–like a wet shirt in a drier.

With Butter and Salt

WITH BUTTER AND SALT
By Stephen Severino

On Facebook,
she says she loves me
more than popcorn,
Thinks it’s witty and cute,
that others will buy in,
think she’s witty and cute.
My mother buys in–
Echoes the sentiment.

But I’ve seen my wife eat popcorn.

Late at night, she devours
Fiction on her Kindle,
Devours salted bursts
of white from brown.
They ride across her tongue
To be crunched happily
In open-mouthed chomps–
This piece of her day,
The peace of her day.

I’ve seen my mother eat popcorn.

On the reclining part of the couch,
She sits watching a film
Picked by my father,
Who sits on his own reclining
Part of the couch–
The bowl of popcorn
between them,
most obedient of children.

Hand and white,
Hand and white,
Husband and wife,
Husband and wife.
Munch, munching
In time;
Munch, munching
On time.

It’s okay that it isn’t true,
That husband’s and wives
Stop devouring each other,
that we eschew to chew.
But it would be better
if some nights we threw
aside the bag or bowl,
grabbed the other by the hair
with longing, and said,
“Why the fuck am I eating this,
when I should be eating you?”

For my Wife II

A park bench occupies

the flower bed

in a glass museum

above the city.

 

I sit there.

 

Everything I see is aesthetic—

is spirit—is you.

October

Though I know her well,
she hasn’t seen me since
October, and we don’t speak.

We pretend not to see each other.
I keep typing. She gets coffee–
sips it,
perfects it,
walks on to the elevator
cherishing the warm prayer
in her hands.

When she’s gone
(lifted to the land where everyone lives when they are not in front of me),
I feel like a feather
falling from the bird.

It’s not that I believe we won’t speak again.
I know we will.

But I know too
that the words will drip with formality,
that uncertainty will stop-start us in mid-sentence,
make us trample each other’s thoughts with the awkward eagerness of two people who just want things to be like they were.

And I know they never will be.

Haiku

Midnight. Kiss of moon
falling through gypsy moth wings.
Cricket. Tree frog. Sing.

Mucous

Spit it.

Thin it with endless bottles of water gulped down.

Smear it like butter on shirt and sleeve.

Curse when a sneeze punches it out of
you onto some surface for all to see.

Hide from work beneath its excuse.

Emanate its odor with every breath to the disgust of your lover.

Hoard it in the Kleenex vaults of a wastebasket bank.

Ward it off with pills whose name you wonder at the origin of.

Pray for your child’s exorcism from it.

Choke it down in a public place.

To lose a little, you must ooze a little.

A Private Revolt

Three years, I have carried him:
head on my bony shoulder,
bottom on my forearm cradle.
Sometimes chattering at the dark,
Sometimes fussing with a cold,
He fidgets with his father’s warm skin.

He sleeps no other way.
The softness of mother and pillow
incites rebellion
against unconsciousness and rest,
a discomfort at the prospect
of lost comfort,
and he dives around the bed
and into her
with delightful peals
of insomnia.

No isolated crib could isolate
us from his ceaseless cries,
from the anguish of causing him
anguish.
We run to him,
prison guards become saviors.

Is it our fault?
Are we to blame?
Had we been harder sooner,
would it be less hard now?
Or would there merely be
a hardness, consistently?

He is a loving boy.
I have hated him at times–
when my body,
racked with fatigue
with illness
would not allow me
to carry him with ease.
When that chattering voice
would eviscerate
my world of private thought.
When my weakness with others
made me use strength
against him,
I have hated him.

I have hated him,
when the question came back uncertain: Can I carry him
another three?

I picture an old man
being carried by an elder,
a knobbed back protesting
against a weight
it should never have had to carry.
Nurses in a nursing home
look on,
first with an awed concern,
later with indifference
over the pages of a magazine.

Until he finds his eternal rest,
I cannot rest;
I will not leave him
restless.

And, in my commitment,
it is god that I blame.
The lord of us all
is the lord of all pain.

For my son, I indict him.

With shotgun arms,
I cast nets of hell,
I will drag him where he belongs
and never let him rise.

The Proletariat Receives the Petty Bourgeoisie

Now, live with me. See with me.
The Newest Testament
is the oldest tenement.
Bring your book, your rosary,
the sorrow of capital loss.
I will help you cast them off.
Rest now in labor’s unity,
our only true divinity.

With sweat and fervor we build the light
of all that in human kind is right
and cling to it, as the moth clings
to beat back history’s dark night.

Observation 1

The mechanic
on the PATH Train
always tucked
Capri Sun
or Grape Soda
in the mesh pocket
of his black knapsack.

One day,
it was Red Bull.

It has been
Red Bull
ever since.

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