The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Michael McManus

The Poet Enters His Solitude


They were there: chair, paper, pen/the table
torn/from its freefall/hard-core-hand-me-downs/
anorexic ghostlings/the floor/—

buckled under/ the sound check/
there was/a mindful misogyny
towards the/ taxidermist’s rendition
of medusa/the big screen forever

frozen/CNN in still life/he wonders
if he will die beneath the rubble/
of Lego blocks/he sees/the river/
frozen/pinpricks/of lantern light
carried across it/coal dust

in his coffee/cup/Tourette syndrome
in a Petri dish/Starbucks/Doubleshot/
coffee & protein/the mausoleum
of his hand/that the dead rest in/

Chance encounter/with/a pinprick/
in a barn door/the quantum/entanglement
of a child’s hair/yes, he fears/these/and
many/other/things, including/this room/

the empty sleigh/waiting/for/the child’s
body/which will/never come/ vowels/
their footsteps/giving way/to consonants/
the laws/of thermodynamics/notwithstanding/
freefall/rain or ruin/but these things/

these are/what he loves/the forgotten mill-race/
one field over/all/the/hallucinations/vibrating/through
this open window/something/thrashing/in brambles/
the circadian/rhythms/between/heartbeats/
the narrow/gorge/in spring/filling with
wild flowers/white water/the great Arapaho

beating/in his chest/each year/the snake/
that always/returns/to shed/its skin/
with no sense/of yesterday/or/tomorrow/
the way/it/never stops/singing/

Michael McManus

Self-indulgent Elegy


On that morning just outside of Fallujah,
another Krakatoa exploded.
It blew Rico into pieces,
sent him spinning into the sacrificial
air where T.S. Elliot was
wrong—the mangy dog never whimpered
as it cowered and crawled
along the ground for twenty yards to Rico’s arm,
which looked like a B-grade horror movie prop
as the little pink tongue licked and licked
the bloody offering.

I emptied my entire magazine
into the what-the-fuck-has-happened-here,
the dog exploding into a bullet-riddled pelt,
my fear the skin on that
dying animal.

Back home in Millheim, Pennsylvania,
my parents were partnered with molecules
in their nightly still-life,
foregoing a chance to see the stars above
Paddy Mountain for the heartbreak
of the living room sofa,
where they hunkered in on opposite sides.
They wore Netflix T-shirts,
any and all of their desires muted by Keystone Light,
the cans cold against their hands.
Inside their molded cages they sat looking outward,
watching reruns of Seinfeld like aliens
on earth for the first time,
blissfully unaware
of this world’s unerring executions.

Scar on the tongue.
Scar that you can never swallow.
It’s far too easy
to slip away to nothing
but a name. There was no man
to hold after the explosion—not the expatriate
from Corpus Christi—
my brown-skinned esé, parochial school dropout,
winner of the trimester masquerade
in which the woman who claimed the kid was his,
disappeared after the DNA test
came back negatory. Rico was
the wannabe magician,
his fingers fumbling with the deck of cards
as he always failed to produce the ace of spades.

When we could not put Rico back together,
I stumbled back behind the porta-potties
where I found God
                             disguised as a battlefield grunt.
He was polishing his Campaign Medal,
                                                           and texting
lurid dreams to the other dreamers
that lived in a parallel universe,
                                               and off they went,
on his commands, dumping the ashes
of their battlefield friends on Fiddler’s Green.
I grabbed his neck and shook it
until a child fell out,
screaming as children must scream,
for the God that would never take it back.

I returned home from my deployment
on a headless stallion, riding it
up the driveway of my parent’s American Foursquare.
They remarked what a wonderful beast!—
well-muscled, yet perfectly balanced
on its delicate fetlocks and pasterns,
even though it could not see.
                                            I was too frightened
to show them the colossal ruin of the war
that I kept hidden in the saddlebags,
so they hugged the mannequin
I was, leaving me alone
in the falling snow
to look out through the store front
of the world.
                    I met a woman with terminal cancer.
We went into the graveyard
and together laid down in front of a tombstone.
The full moon was a detective investigating our lives.
He found painkillers in our pockets.
So this is how it feels after death? I asked.
Yes, she replied. Then she pushed me into the body bag.
Making love to her was like mainlining Vicodin and ethanol.
She breathed her comet-like flight into my body.

The next day she died and I navigated the earth
on a tab of acid. I filled the pine swamp with good whiskey
and drank it dry. No one saw me stumble
into outer space where I rearranged the constellations
until they looked like Rico in the chow hall,
or on the shitter, or cursing Jody
for stealing his old lady, or dressed like a priest
in a spaghetti western, giving last rites
to the tarantulas and scorpions.

The mountains were wise old men who believed in rituals.
I came down from them with rattlesnakes,
gave them to all the pretty girls.
                                                They fell in love
with the venom I had forgotten
the way it felt rushing down the train track
of my veins like a runway locomotive
riding on razor blades.

The girls named me a man in their myths.
Newly crowned, King of Klonopin,
of the necessary evils, of the flaccid penis
waging war with itself.
                                  I appointed myself Lord
of the bloody mattress after the virgin
went back to her day job.
I drove a taxi while wearing my synthetic halo,
maneuvering through the rush hour traffic of purgatory.
The dark cursive of my name appeared
in the window, the letters fluid
and shape shifting like a city of tar
melting in the sun.
                            Through all of this
the corpses in the backseat didn’t say a word.

On my better days I practiced Yoga
with blow up dolls, sometimes
dressing them in drag,
so they would know the power
of disguise.
                 They were lucky
little things, there on their backs,
mouth agape as I cut their throats,
their souls escaping in a rushing hiss
as their lives deflated.

Years later when I was watching the evening news,
it showed Bush cycling with disabled Veterans.
How ironic it was to see them
home from the war, sporting bionic arms and legs,
the best prosthetics our taxpayer’s could money buy—
so much titanium and aluminum gleaming in the sun!—
yet there astride their bikes,
they were sporting thin Polystyrene helmets
to protect their heads,
from the former President, I imagined,
who seemed to have forgotten his sorcery
that sent them out on patrols
in Humvees lacking sufficient armor.

I went down to visit the seer at the Water Treatment plant.
In the shitty water I saw Cheney jerking off
over his Haliburton stock,
and his daughter
drowning kittens and blaming it on progressives.
That night I sat by the open window
drinking beer, wishing I would fall
in love with a woman who could raise me from the dead.
She would make love like a tigress,
her mouth a siren at the local volunteer fire department
filling the air with cum-cries.
                                            Afterwards I’ll go on
reading about vixens and forgotten voices in Merwin’s poetry,
who, if he had gone to war,
could have waxed poetic about tertiary blast injuries,
high-velocity missile wounds,
fractures and traumatic amputations.
Now and Zen. Is it all in my head?
                                 And today I find myself
in a crowded mall just outside of Altoona, Pennsylvania.
It’s three days before Easter, or maybe Christmas,
or the anniversary of Rico’s death,
a moment in time where everyone is brightly dressed,
laughing, joking and kissing as if they will live forever.
Rico, you sorry bastard,
                                    why did you have to die
and leave me behind with so many vices?
God damn the happy voices.




MICHAEL McMANUS's work has appeared in numerous publications. He is the recipient of an Artist Fellowship Award from the Louisiana Division of the Arts and numerous Pushcart Prize nominations. He has received The Virginia Award and The Oceans Prize for poetry. He attended Penn State and The University of Louisiana at Monroe. He currently lives in Millheim, Pennsylvania. He is a Navy Veteran and 100% service-connected Disabled Veteran.



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