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Nothing Now Not Happiness
                                      for Nathaniel Tarn

Amid the storm, a phantom

formerly Coronado remarks:

“I was the beating heart inside

that insidious breastplate.”

Between bursts of hailstones

his companion confesses,

“I was the low-level prelate

sent to raise a clay church and

ring the altar with paintings

of the most fantastic torments.”

The rain’s fierce silver slashes

red hills above a spatter of cactus.

A fringe of lightning, unfurling

from a black cloud, tears apart

some first and final place.

Old ghosts fade out, become

songbirds at the cusp of

the mating season.


With the raw, red, pierced-with-swords

heart of the suffering Jesus floating 

above our mortal palpitations,

on T shirts from a cafe named for

the crowned-in-thorns divine heart,

hadn’t we returned to the world just to taste

the most delicious sopapilla, puffs of

bread in butter and honey,

mid-afternoon, on our pilgrimage

to an abandoned sanitarium, built inside

the cone of a volcano, where the wealthy

once bathed in the pooled heat

of the first moments, now an asylum

where lunatics study the source

of their delusions, the sea of

their multiphasic crises, floating

over them, the night sky so clear,

Jupiter, Saturn, visible, the

moon so close they feel the force

of the beyond in their lives?


At night within a sky-high lava field

the recently arrived lie down in boxes of tinfoil.

We, too, feel the light of the elsewise

farthest god seep into our being,

bringing thoughts beyond all

other thoughts, the thoughts

always at the edge of the head,

never, until now, entering,

now that our heads are cut off

and dropped into the blood of

the volcano. (Nothing in the

mind not happiness.)


And so, the region has become an abstract

painting by a spiritually minded

painter depicting bursts of

light in the dark, mirrors hung

in the night sky, the frilled insignia of

some hidden order, ethereal beings,

there, in self-absorbed perfection.

(At this exact moment a glowing

wire is passing through my past,

both ends looping back into

an immense, ghostly heart,

not mine.) The body becomes

an alcove of soft colors within a shell

floating where wavy columns of light rise.

A feather free of any bird absorbs

the sunset. To the left the sky

is a greenish gold mountain.

To the right, lightning spangling

the ground more than ever in life.

How limited the living are even

in their ecstasy of union with the one,

which is not, really, for them,

much more transportive that

the morning news, in a breakfast

nook in a once radioactive blast zone,

eating waffles with ex-Luftwaffe

pilots, grand in their leather

flight jackets, courtly, gregarious,

former adversaries at peace

in their new life at Braniff, each

flying a different colored plane,

along with girls in mini skirts

and futuristic headgear. But for

us spectral revenants to reach paradise

the sky is a serpent, and we must,

in the end, be swallowed by it.


Though the words of a state park

tour guide petite, flirtatious,

in leather shorts, ring in what we

have for ears: “In the end,” she said,

“Every civilization is a bonfire.”

The whole time before our return

to the non-world it was like a beautiful

art historian was spreading a tapestry

out on the bed, a gift, just received,

long hung on the wall of an

unknown and unknowable giver,

and the swirl of the seeds, flames, vines,

the welter of colorful threads dazzled all there,

amazed that it was given, was then

shown, a vision entrusted to us

as if we were already the age to come.

A boy beside her queries: “What if,

in thousand years, what if they

find this, find us here, find us

still looking, what’ll they think

we spent our lives thinking about,

having found the image of our hearts

in the folds of this hypnotic fabric?”

I answered, if only to myself:

“That heart would not be mine.

My heart is a brackish lagoon in

Florida where dolphins and alligators

mingle as my father’s fishing boat

motors out at dawn, where he 

chooses, each morning, between

saltwater and freshwater. My

mother headed off to work

as a mathematical calculator

at Cape Canaveral, long before

the first space flight. Rockets,

some on the launch pad, some

overhead, kept blowing up.

Us kids saw their flash from

atop the playground jungle gym.”


Black clouds filled the foothills

of the Sangre De Christos.

Before dying yet again

I thought I had time to walk to

the liquor store and back

in advance of lightning strikes.

But walking home rain came fast

and hard. The arroyos gushed.

I could hardly read the sign that

intimated upcoming further

posthumous forays of the soul:

“Don’t drown, turn around!”

Hailstones tore apart the bag

that held the liquor which I then

tucked close, a football to my chest.

The sky racked me with blows,

pinged metal garden Buddhas

along the way, whacked the saints,

salvoed the Virgin, beat down

the dancing Siva my landlord set

by the garage door, because he

says, destruction and restoration

must occur before all is at last over.

For a moment I thought I recalled

seeing wild dogs devour an ox.

Within moments, nothing left

but bones. Muzzles, chests, all

drenched in blood, they lapped

creek water after their feast,

before in a cave, hacking up

fresh chunks for hungry pups.

Walking back in wet dark wind

I despaired. I held my bottle

so tight to my heart it became

my heart, full of liquid fire,

distilled from a great harvest.

I felt my heart thrum amid

the gathering gleam in the grass,

and was sad to see the sunflowers

beaten down by the hail.

Joseph Donahue’s most recent collections of poetry include The Disappearance of Fate (Spuyten Duyvil), Wind Maps I-VIII (Talisman), as well as his co-translation (with the author) of Zhang Er’s First Mountain (Zephyr Press) from the Chinese. Two volumes of his ongoing poem cycle, Terra Lucida, are forthcoming from Verge Editions.