The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Scott Coffel

We Encountered Plagues of Stucco


What is realpolitik but a refurbished revenge tragedy
where evil runs riot beneath the drone of conciliatory endearments?
Never cede moral high ground without plans
to retake it via Special Forces dispatched from the Id.

It’s morning in Geneva, a city I urge you to visit, given your love
for glaciated vistas and your esteem for Calvin, who argued
in vain for decapitating Michael Servetus rather than burning him alive—
a leniency eerie in its resemblance to your own soft spot

for sacred way stations between extremes: Camp David
in autumn, casual Fridays, peaceful coexistence, simulated sex.
Though you despise the populace, it may be best
to soothe the ruffled before the next catastrophe strikes

(as if mere speech could commence our collective convalescence,
restore the city, restock the sky with songbirds—
all the choughs and jackdaws of public service dead, their attaché cases
of state secrets now stuffed with sheer undergarments).

I enclose the latest decrypted slander
from those two Jewish spies, Lewis and Clark:
“…we encountered plagues of stucco, licentious piety, and signs
mocking Greenpeace for offering to desalinate vast stretches of the Psalms

swamped by Tropical Storm Alphonse. Ever the naturalists,
we chased the dowdiest females into the panic grass, their whoit whoit whoit
the last cries of protest not yet silenced by a discredited regime
intent on plastering fiascos with the dung of praise.”

Scott Coffel



The Navy helicopter veers away,
having dropped its rations of praise from the homeland.
My gardeners, only two generations removed from cannibalism,
are a bit gregarious but gifted at mowing moiré patterns
into the lawn fronting my tropical estate.
No one here takes me seriously
but back home I’m a god to hundreds of doctoral students,
and a cash cow to their institutions.

Some of my best friends are critics, though even I grow fatigued
of their sycophantic flatteries, their lockstep esteem,
for in truth I’ve written nothing
scorched by the imagination for decades.
It’s not a war crime
but I do feel chastised in the evening
when the enormous sun draws even with the sea
then vanishes into that great gulf, eloquent in its silence.

Scott Coffel

Mountain Jews

When the lampshade revolved clockwise
its hand-painted snowstorm
buried a family of mountain Jews
and froze their emaciated horses.

And when it revolved counterclockwise
the snow returned to the clouds
and the Jews drove their horses
into the teeth of an ancient disaster

any number of times until the game
grew tiresome or the bulb exploded.




SCOTT COFFEL's first collection of poems, Toucans in the Arctic, received the Poetry Society of America's 2010 Norma Farber First Book Award. Recent honors include the 2013 Boston Review Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in Salmagundi, Ploughshares, Paris Review, The Antioch Review, The American Scholar, The Wallace Stevens Journal, The Southern Review, and other journals. He has been awarded artist residencies at the MacDowell Colony and the Anderson Center at Tower View.



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