Mudlark Poster No. 37 (2002)

Issam Zineh

a.m. Sestina
God and the American Spiritual
St. Patrick's Purgatory
The Beginning of Verse

Issam Zineh is a cardiovascular pharmacogenomics research fellow at the University of Florida. Originally from Los Angeles, he has lived in Cape Cod, Boston, Durham, NC, and Gainesville, FL. His work has either appeared or is forthcoming in AMELIA, JAMA (JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION), NIMROD, and PARTING GIFTS among other magazines.

a.m. Sestina

Pork is heretical in heart failure.
Now, in its absence I have turned
To eggs, hash, and Mountain Dew.
Hunched over in breakfast I am thinking
Of you—how unyielding your hatred of salt,
How you have grown an angel in neglect.

This load is the child of years. Neglect,
Failure, salt—the turning of think into do.
Hunched over in breakfast, I think of you.

We do what we do.
We live for this dying. I have neglected
You for sleep, known innocence in thoughts
Of you leaving—my failure
To wake to the television turned
Way up and your eyes of fallen salt.

No one is here to pass the salt.
There is much less for me to do
Now in this kitchen dark as a dog turned
Elegy, put down after years of neglect.
The walls are the color of failure,
The empty plates are thinking
Of other places to be, thinking
They deserve better. The salt
Shaker waits for the sign.
                     This failure
To make myself laugh is dew
On a neuropathic toe. Neglect
Is memory with nowhere to turn.

Still, I have done this before—turned
Away from you, changed my name thinking
You wouldn't notice, neglecting
To change anything else, not this love of salt,
Not this need for a good night's sleep. Do
What you must. I know this swan's song like failure.

Nothing is different.
Same salt. Same dew. Another failure.

God and the American Spiritual

Nothing I do is good enough for you.
I have given it all, folded like protein
And hidden in half a clue.
All I get is “God is mean.

Old Testament beast, go
Fuck yourself in a small corner
Of your wacking world.
” Slow
And steady wins this, O Lord.

We are stir-crazy, brazen and full
In our fitness. If it was up to us,
We would stretch toward you until
Our necks spread through the grace

Of trees, giraffes of the prophets.
But it is not that easy. This is not
The natural progression of what
We meant to get right. It is hot

In a far-off Africa and it freezes
Here at night. Affliction is in
The genes. And evolution teases
And teases. What have we gotten

Ourselves into, God? Send
Us a little something that speaks
Of the God of big heads,
Casualties of life, freaks

Of nature, things like that.
Until then, we will raise
Ourselves, the latch-
Key kids of the Messiah.


I. Linear Analysis

In a scientist's math: a straight line through points,
Then more. In yours, something entirely different,
A collapse of hours, a galaxy backward in time's
Stormy eye. Common to both is this law of pars-
which keeps it simple. For example, I say
“Be my wife.” You say, “I have already done that
And you made me sad.” I look for answers
In the kinetics of memory. I simply don't remember.

II. Building History

We could have been architects. Hopefully we used
Our hands, and only the two of us knew what difference
It made. We, no doubt, erected something—the years
At very least. In a tent of sense, I built pyramids
From your pores. I grew grain from the order of your
Hair. A thousand thousand lives later what's left
Is still truth. All I know is this face, sometimes
Egyptian, sometimes Anglo in the worst way,
But mostly dream. What's left is a tower of truth,
A flower of proof, an infinite point of contention.

III. Rebuilding Mystery

This brings us to the present. I most certainly will
Not mention the bed. Help me against the word
I've used so well, the one that starts with L.
There is nothing so new as to make me gentle
In my rules. I have seen you use the bathroom.
I have known a playground child's obsession
With spent rubber, the secret that is to come,
Of course in bed, in little Ls or Os, mouths suspended
In a series of slang. You cross your legs. I uncross
My fingers as we sit amidst the whisper of toast
And oranges in this breakfast confession. We wait
For the kitchen to blink some thing in concept.

IV. Basics

Count up everything you have given or lost.
Calculate the price of will, the net balance
Of having and not. Call your years x,
The independent variable. The y will be
Blood, worry, anything you like. Make
Your point. Repeat and you start to see some-
Thing. Whether a plank, a flat blade for
Division, a study in handwriting. For me,
It always looks the same: the beginnings
Of a strange ear that starts to accept my words,
I will pass through this. I will speak my syllable.
I will this.
Then, what is on graph paper is out
Of sight as quick as thought. There is no
Landscape left, no hope for the mind.

V. The Rate of Change

How many times can you say you are ready,
This time it will be different? You try to find
Answers where there are none, to act normal
While your head crumbles and your body says,
“I do not agree with any life philosophy you
Might have. You must change. Please go.”
All you might mean is life is half an ellipse:
In the curve of development, we are more animal
Than anything, deaf mostly, dumb usually.
As for speed, the seed travels who knows how
Fast—maybe 186,000 miles per second,
Like light, like the light in this room and how
It is barely enough. The human face is all space
And spittle. Desire is tough. There is something
Terrible about the joining of bodies and minds.
Do not ask how you are doing. You are fine.

St. Patrick's Purgatory

After one runs the serpentine, the slither
Of black tongues in droves off the island,
Then what? Maybe turn to talk of the weather:

The accumulation of cumulus like sand
On the shoreline, pushed up to hills
And castles, the glory of green, the bland

That threatens. At home, you hear voices in the hall.
They say your mother is getting worse. Your
Father grows heavier as the hands haul

Him to rest, heavier than you had ever
Imagined. This is what they call dead weight
And it's on you to say something clever

About suffering as everyone waits.
Somewhere else, the ground is opening.
The purgatory of St. Patrick, still, sedate

And slate as a hoof, calls like a string
Out of place. Pacify by your papa's face.
Quiet life to nothing but a thing.

In aerial rites, you put him in his place.
It's not as easy as watching someone sleep.
And now the earth in pucker leaves a trace

Of the remembered. From here on in, it gets deep.
To say amen means to swear, and the silence
Coming on is a gospel singer rising to her feet.

The Beginning of Verse

Addling in the sum of your voice, I know of something beyond mouth.
Next to a lone loop of sound, the action of light sweeps over me:
Xerography, the surface is your paper grasp of the world.
In time, I'll begin to forget you. Your lips luscious trinkets
Easily exchanged for a used camera, a set of oil paints, a pound of
Tiny cherries, pits to spit by the bundle into a pit of ashtray.
Yesterday, you were an empty grave in Palestine, the umbilical coast of Africa.

Only, I was half in love with you.
For all of yesterday, I was half in love with you.

I waited by the window for some small sign.
Neither the flattening of streets nor the cerulean spread of night
Fading black brought you back toward me. Not in mind, not in a
Lack-luster flow of memory through the alley. Not in sight,
Under the loose sprawl of the city. Not even in a sound above this
Edge of glass, this slow ledge that would offer its space for your tone.
Normalcy is knowing I'll never see you again. That I might be
Cradled on the shore of Oceania, the sea playing down the octave of your absence,
Erasing you in song by my devotion to this liquid life.

Copyright © Mudlark 2002
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