Two Poems

by C. Derick Varn


Lost in the desert, amongst
Joshua trees and ground-down
bones of prehistoric whales, bleating

for its burning throat, slipping off the ledge,
hooves losing traction, falling into a ravine
of silence and sand. Scapegoats go, but

don’t come. In a room with
no natural light, only iodine
and mustard of a tarnished bulb,

there sits a woman counting debts:
the ledger shifting from black to red
with pen strokes. Her hands calloused

by the rubbing of the pen, her fingertips
stained like bruised grapefruit with ink and
age. One knows what is owned: natural

and unnatural, unnoticed as breathe
until the passages are cleared.

Old Worlds

New reports from another
bombing in Afghanistan flickering
on one screen and a mortar fire
in Jerusalem on another.

As I child, I was not
sure on which side of
the wailing wall I stood–
to daven, to duck, or,
mostly likely both:

Hadrian or Bar Kochba.

Since Josephus couldn’t
decide, and Akiva tortured
into the dust, I figured I kept
the safer company
with my truant
eyes on television.

Although Antinous
and Jerusalem lingered
as dust and statuary
when the left
the province breathless.

All I can do is imagine
the blast as if I herald
of Seraphim:

If one sees halos around
the head, one knows our
works are blood-soaked
hospital rags crushed into

a canister to be incarnated
in the eyes of the lord.

I knew that Jewish angels
had six-wings or none, icons
in Orthodox churches were
winged faces, looking like
limps after an IED.

Two wings messengers showed
the unquestionable taste
of gentiles—mostly Protestant
but still carrying swords
and trumpets.

Later, alone in the lamplight
in my study in Seoul, trading
mountains for deserts, I
pretend to know the answer.

I remember the mullah I met
who said: this world
is a harvest field for
the world beyond. I wondered
if he remembered the
thresher rips the soil.

All in all; it’s chaff
and mulch, and no
Cassius Dio to execrate
the numbers. Dead
Essenes littering
the red dusted fortress
did not serve as
a warning for long
enough, and even

now we forget as
helicopters chop
the sky over Kandahar.

There is more, there is
always more. The page
black then written on
with blood, the fig tree

cursed by Jesus,
withering, still without
fruit, the Korean Gingkos
denuding themselves
of leaves. Trees

seem blurry in memory
as if the heat of a blast
distorts the air. So I look
at the wisteria blossoms
whose sole purpose seems
biting the peripheral
vision and bluing
the fact with lust,

I wonder if
reading the Jewish
wars made Roman
lovers shiver in
their cramped,

humid apartments,
or if the zealot had
a woman whose
tangle kept him
twined, or

if in a vision,
I saw an angel
if that would be
The very last thing
I saw, beyond the
news cycle’s manic
energy; this is the sensation

of being, of is, of all
I can’t take, I can’t stand,
picking itself apart, light
cut through an aperture,
davening until I

become nothing. I look
away and see an egret
in the near-by window
from my 13th story apartment,
the wing raises like gossamer

in the air, only two wings
to take flight, like drone
confused as a message
from God.

C. Derick Varn is a poet and teacher now living in Salt Lake City. His first collection, Apocalyptics, is forthcoming from Unlikely Books. He is a poetry reviewer for the Hong Kong Review of Books. He also reads theory and nonfiction for Zero Books and is a podcast co-host and co-producer for Symptomatic Redness and Alternatives.
He has spent most of the last decade in South Korea, Mexico, and Egypt. He traveled with his partner through Asia, Turkey, and Mexico. He studies the history of socialism and alternative political movements.


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