Mudlark Flash No. 7 (2000)

James Bertolino

Assault Charisma | Returning to the Valley

James Bertolino teaches Creative Writing at Western Washington University. His latest books are 26 POEMS FROM SNAIL RIVER (Egress Studio Press) and GREATEST HITS: 1965-2000, a chapbook from Pudding House Publications in Ohio. Last year the Contemporary American Poetry Archive at Connecticut College reprinted, online, his book MAKING SPACE FOR OUR LIVING (Copper Canyon Press 1975). Earlier volumes include both FIRST CREDO and SNAIL RIVER in the Quarterly Review of Literature Poetry Series and NEW & SELECTED POEMS from Carnegie Mellon University Press.

Assault Charisma

Assault weapons have achieved tenure.
Assault weapons make my follicles
tingle. Assault weapons are the answer
to those who press you to speak, but then don't listen.

Assault weapons are faster than air bags!
Assault weapons would have made short work
of the Great Buffalo Shoot, and the neighborhood
StunBoys would have won the Viet Nam War.

When will the latest in home security systems provide
assault weapons that run on your personal computer?
What does it mean to be really safe? Think of the lamb
that licks the hand of its butcher. Think of a smiling man

named Ollie. Being without an assault weapon
is like dipping a single finger into the darkness
and pulling out a thumb. The assault weapon, carried
lightly in one hand, undermines forever

the Western hunger
for the huge.

Returning to the Valley

As a small procession of mourners
we descended into the flagrant valley.
Along the roadside, where once
there were toney homes and expensive

automobiles, we now passed three
shattered toilets–none of them ceramic
of common white, but rather in decorator
colors, chosen to complement handsomely-

designed bathrooms that surely had included
the range of facilities the wealthy
would proudly call "The Spa." Such details
were hardly disturbing. We knew well

what had happened there. No, what caught
our interest, and continues to cause tremors
in the more delicate among us, was a large
television on its side in the ditch. Foul-

smelling sewage curdled around where
its edges pressed into the whitish mud.
The screen was shattered into a knife-
edged V. That is where we found it.

None of us knew what it was. The most
accurate description might fashion it as
half a monkey, part hanging outside
the broken glass surface and the rest

inside, within the chemical-smelling
darkness that had produced millions
of images, had brought stimulation and comfort
to some emotionally-diminished family

in this now disassembled neighborhood.
There was no blood, no matted fur, just
a humanoid form missing a head, one arm
and one leg. Where there might have been

a tail, we found a perfectly round aperture.
The hand that remained was clutching something,
and to retrieve it from the prison of rigor mortis,
we were forced to further damage that sad

tiny body, that sweetly-muscled form which once
might have danced and climbed and given delight.
The precious item held close and taken
toward death in that beautifully articulated

nest of fingers was, we instantly knew, one of
the knobs to the television. We were stunned.
Several of our company became nauseous
and turned away. I took the initiative and

pulled two badly soiled blankets
from a nearby mound of debris, then covered
that sobering tableau, that odd arrangement
reminding us of the civilization that was no more.

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