Mudlark Flash No. 33 (2005)

A.J. Rathbun

Desire | Hand | In Ithaca | Fracture

A.J. Rathbun has had work published in Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Poetry Miscellany, Sonora Review, Southeast Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Sulphur River Literary Review, Taint, Third Coast, Tin House, and other such magazines. His book of poems, WANT, was published by ZYZZVA. His pie, Totally Tofu Coconut Kareem Pie, won "Most Creative" at's ETK-Edit Pro-Am Pie-Off (or, EEPAPO) and his book of drinks, PARTY DRINKS: 50 CLASSIC COCKTAILS AND LIVELY LIBATIONS, came out in October 2004. Rathbun edits and publishes LitRag, a Seattle-based literary magazine that has an online component at


What Desire forgets defines us.
I can’t ampersand myself out
of its room. On its wall, is the cloud
eating the mountain or the mountain
embracing the cloud? I’m alone,
in a gray truck, in upper Kansas.
Figure that out, that Desire.
It’s a small fracture, a small
mouth on the small tattoo
on the small of the back.
They’re just lakes and meadows.
The stars fake as a plastic moustache
worn to court Desire
during an open-all-night
night. It’s a redeemable jackpot,
realizing Desire's prize
is guaranteed only between appled
fifteen minute breaks. What’s
with all the asterisks
in Desire’s dress? Like
little confusing nails
visibly behind each sentence
that Desire speaks with tongue
tickled into ear. Words spoken
by Desire are a contingent language.
Thank god for the air conditioning
coming on like a god
when in a hotel years ago with Desire
and someone in a ritzy haircut
and not much else. The window's 
brown and blue and brown 
as the train takes and gives
sky and no sky. It’s a short 
window, and not a great train
I no longer believe I can 
believe in. Everyone has a ride
on Desire’s iron horse. Everyone
wears a beard. It’s enough
to make clean-shaven men
feel alone, leaving a town
where Desire masquerades
among poets discussing desirelesss
poetry. At least, their jeans
aren’t tight enough for Desire.
But forgive, forgive, I’m talking
through desire, and Desire and I
smell like a gin harvest.
All I can handle this late is Desire
mixed lousy with seconds
of lousy love, florid
heat and hand, poise, locomotive.
It’s every truck away from your
rail of red tails. It’s not
the getting there, but the leaving here.
It’s not the reverie, but the smell
of despair and urgency,
burnt tomatoes in lunatic garlic,
Desire serving the planet’s
spiciest cocoa, bought tart in Kansas,
posted from Mexico. Desire travels
like tomorrow night.
It’s good. But not as good
as her finger placed light
like snow on my wrist, my knee.
Desire gets the picture. Impermanent,
cold, unforgettable. The only gesture
that’s ever mattered when driving
unequivocal. Desire’s face turning
alone into aftermath. Anything beyond
is gravy. Ah, what’s beyond?
C’mon in the cab with Desire.
It springs the door
with an oath. Of course,
it forgets even a promise. Today,
the promise is a flightless bird.
A slightly different engineer.
Ruthless, unfair, inescapable.
Tits large as horizon and ass
that won't quit applying,
miles away from lips
like a thin fire. Desire thrusts
away the sweet talk version.
Every second with Desire
is a second without.
Desire’s a rental,
like night. Desire’s dark, Desire
and I are alone on a two-lane
year forgotten, a highway on the make
ever since I scooped hitchhiking
Desire up. Desire, Desire, Desire.
Never forget me. I can’t ask Desire,
O, angel, let me loose.


My hand is born
as I span stomach, angular beneath
another’s Egyptian cotton, an escapade
where the hand bequeaths nothing
but skin after our earlier embrace—
the 83’ Omega cornering 12th
and Freemont’s corner, nervously
dependent on the hand’s fugitive
desires and Big Star simmering
the stereo. Trust opens the hand,
the wet mouth, the fingers spread 
in four directions, the scherzo
finishing Beethoven’s tenth symphony,
the main object observed by Hubble’s
telescope, the soft road leading
me to forget the hand is younger
brother to fist, discarding war
with socks and shame and knuckles
attendant. Reeling water past
warm, your hand reaches for soap,
a soft washcloth, my hand. This is after
the wave but before the drunken kiss,
a shhh at the lips, a bursting
of applause, the aces dealt, the ship’s 
helper, the possession of a neck’s nape,
the leisured deployment of my hands melancholy
and maple scent.

In Ithaca

Before arriving in Ithaca, pass
the whatever river, whatevering
around the dusty credit spring
loans summer, where men off
ante meridian to relieve water
of any but the wiliest trout.
Sweat drips as simple syrup down
gawky morning chins of lost tourist,
invited visitor alike as they amble
past the poetic Wendy’s, sing
of how five gorges cater breeze
over hot May noons. 1942’s
Comprehensive Pictorial Encyclopedia
in the public bathroom on Seneca
says scenic beauty expands
out of nightingales and bees
and a picture of John Wayne.
Lunch is orange and sweet. Porches
restrain sheep, become kernels
of early Iranian cinema dialogues
for the burled tri-state area.
In Ithaca, no one calls Ithaca
the Switzerland of America.
Deer multiply into stars, stars
replace deer, but evening light,
nostalgically golden brown, is hard
for me to remember, once borders
are crossed. The Cayuga dreams
of Tioga, from a distance, and, 
as an heiress to an empty estate,
State Street woos New Jersey state
while iced Italian Soda served
under fans at Home Dairy want savoring,
if the flavor is Kiwi, the tropical
component of 4:30, here, in Ithaca,
where astronomical observations
reveal to even jaded passers-by
a street, a city, a moon, an ocean
papier-mached with glacial confetti
from a million legendary parades.


More, you say, over breakfast, more
people have died today, here are
two couples that died in car crashes,
another 10 from natural causes, 10
from causes that seem natural, except
for stopping someone so young, another
just a kid falling off a tall cement ledge
without knowing he was about to fall.
It almost makes the fact that you’re
going home without me not a fact
at all, going home over trees and lakes
made of salt and tar, going home to walk
a dog without me, going home dry
and kept, going hawk-high and precious,
precious as any hour spent together.
You see the difficulty in even waking
up. There’s love like a wire and regret
like a wire and the appalling self-loathing
wanting you brings like a wire wrapped
around my thick ankles, realization
that it’s selfish to even breath the air
as the world turns and turns and hardens
into a ball of flames, ball of coal,
with no idea of this sour sound 
I’m making to drown out all 
your rescinding sweetness.

Copyright © Mudlark 2005
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