In the cellblocks of the dead are chandeliers
big as elk. The nightly tango begins and ends when the sinner
in the short black tie takes his lover’s ankle to his mouth
and lips the bow of her fibula splintering like a wishbone.
The jailer runs his hands up and down the bars,
stains the palms with wet rust. He presses them to his throat,
his chest, scents himself in metal the way a dog would.
The innocent only watch. They take turns
flipping the lights on and off—announcing a dance
then the curtain. They chalk patterns on the walls;
they debate the migratory routes of extinct deer
toward Elysium. The jailer stretches himself over the cells,
ties his wrists to the top corners with torn sheets. He parts his legs
so the children there can perform their puppet show,
fetal hands making gasping shapes under old rags,
throwing shadows on the mud-packed walls. The jailer’s head
rolls shoulder to shoulder, his calves shudder and collapse
so the curtains fall. Let the music
be thin tonight. Let the freshly guillotined player
and his flamenco guitar hang in their shackles on the wall tonight
windless. The keepers of the dead left to their rest.
The children lift the jailer man with their fingers.
They spare their small cots for his separate limbs.
from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Tribute to Buddhist Poets
Louisa Diodato: “One night last winter, like most nights I spent during my two MFA years in Madison, Wisconsin, I found myself curled up in my grandmother’s old armchair in an even older apartment with three walls worth of drafty windows, a whole pot of tea, and a whole book ahead of me. One night that book was David Wojahn’s Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems. It turned out to be the very book I had been waiting for a long time to find—and after reading and rereading the phrase ‘the cellblocks of the dead’ in his poem ‘The Shades,’ I knew I wouldn’t be able to move on until I’d written a poem with his line in it. ‘The Keepers’ is that poem.” (website)