MP3 Audio File LinkHear Sean Bentley read “Self-sabotage” here.

          “As it is, you will easily perceive
          that I am one of the many uncounted
          victims of the Imp of the Perverse.”
                                            — Edgar Allan Poe

X insisted that a tree’s beauty lay
in its symmetry — was I just being 
contrary to say otherwise? If so,
I’ve made a habit of it: socks 
mismatched for thirty-odd years, 
grooving to discordance in 7/8 time.

What is it that draws me
to the damp wrack on sunshot shores, 
unhinged shack at the edge of a barren field, 
the missed note unmaking the song, the unbalance 
that speaks the charm of oddity? That Imp 

uproots the weed-slimed stone half-buried 
at the beach to reveal the twitching crab,
and rootles for a stink to underlie each memory, 
a shame or hurt or blunder decades past
stored away like modules of slugbait 
on a spidery back shelf 
to spread among the bright perennials.

Breaking the pattern of a hotel’s empty windows,
one displays far up a pair of trousers hung upside 
down as if the wearer jumped straight out of them. 
The image comes to me as quickly as 
“laundry” comes to others, and I look down
for the body pancaked on the sidewalk.

Perhaps the world has caught up
with my dark vision, and all our minds’ eyes
now regularly see bodies past and future
on pavements, bullet-riddled because
so often they do lie there in the present. 
We see cracks in a façade and think “temblor,”
see the cirrus like a cottonwood puff
on the horizon and think “squall,”
can’t see a valentine dust-drawn on a pane
and unsee the brief fiery trajectory 
that followed another, elsewhere, long ago.

Each night we look into stars:
as dim as they seem, the Imp waits 
for one to flare and fall.

Sean Bentley | Patchwork cloak
Contents | Mudlark No. 72 (2021)