Mudlark Flash No. 114 (2017)

Misdirection: A Poem
by Stephen Massimilla


A genius said that without God, people would believe
in just about anything. But wasn’t God already almost anything?

If I’d gotten up earlier, the awful roar of the leaf blower
in the rented yard wouldn’t have jolted me awake.

Imagine how some fowl or Dickinson might have felt, or someone
even more birdlike. (Whoever came down the walk has flown.)


It feels safer in the city, in the improbable center of a vaulted
restaurant, all the feathery flames shaking dimly, the clatter

of cutlery, din of benign indifference. The knives face
inward; otherwise I’d be threatening my neighbor, not just

myself. When they served the bird, the skin was badly charred.
Being an artist is different from just being:


If poetry made people happy, then my mentors
would be happy—at least for having written alive lines suitable

for their eulogies. Even a novelist knows there’s no cure for death
in Venice. Though that’s a work of fiction, it inspired this real thought:

In order to express appreciation for the outside world,
you have to lock yourself in. That philosophy got


Mann’s protagonist into youth-obsessed trouble, but it provided material
for the author. Do we appreciate the actual people who have paid

that price so that others can benefit? Most poetry is at best
the province of such unprofitable questions, or something

even bleaker. I’ve often thought that writing poems could be a way
of imposing one’s inexplicable misery on others. It’s possible


to delight in that kind of misery? You can put a happy spin on what
I’m saying, but finding the words would take labor and patience,

and degrees are expensive. They don’t even qualify you
to keep writing. For instance, you can’t just back out by making

some fluttery case that people wouldn’t read what they didn’t
enjoy. Actions and attitudes are not the same thing.


Before the leaf blower woke me, I was on a roof under
some kind of pecked-up clot-job overhead; it was blocking

the Grand Canal. From the top of my palatial prison, I could see
past the Mediterranean. Hard to say if the flood was there unjustly,

or if it was I who had done something terribly wrong.
Even as I awoke, the tide fled with the sweeping shadow of a seagull

slashing the yard and vanishing over the trellis. It was late
summer and lots of birds were agitated. I thought I remembered

a choleric bard describing a crow as a vessel of depth that keeps
filling with vinegar and toxic purple oil. I thought

I could wind up with some overblown statement about God.
You come to that point in life where everything points


somewhere else.

Stephen Massimilla is a poet, scholar, professor, and painter. His co-authored multi-genre tome, Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016), won the Eric Hoffer Book Award, the National Indie Excellence Award, and others, and has received enthusiastic reviews in publications ranging from Foreword to The Chicago Tribune. His recent collection, The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat, was selected in the SFASU Press Prize contest. Acclaim for his earlier books includes the Bordighera Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday (CUNY); the Grolier Prize for Later on Aiaia; a Van Rensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch; and other honors. Massimilla has recent work in AGNI, American Literary Review, Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, The Literary Review, Poet Lore, Poetry Daily, Provincetown Arts, Quarterly West, The Southern Poetry Review, Tampa Review, Verse Daily, and many other journals and anthologies He holds an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University and teaches at Columbia University and the New School. You can find out more about Massimilla and his work at

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