A Poem by Mark J. Mitchell

…voi il vostro Dio
Grete un incidente nel cosmo senza scopo
…you and your God
Are an accident in the pointless cosmos.
— Pier Paolo Pasolini
L’hobby del sonnetto 13

For Billy Bradshaw and Jason Neiss

With crippled oaths he paces, tense and cold
from one corner to another, not counting
his steps. The paper in his fist unfolds
maplike, marked like a map. He keeps doubting
the route. There are no windows. When they sold
him this page, that was a draw: Not much place
here—nothing to discover. When he told
them his requirements, they were met. Nothing
was hard. There are small faults. He can’t quite stand
upright and those tubular lights’ low hum
keep him up. Recycled air makes his hands
clammy. But it’s square and perfect. His numb
needs are met. He’s certain he’ll be replaced
by someone like himself. He understands

that she spends her time kneeling beyond that wall
because her blue heart desires something out there.
He can’t see—won’t see, she says. Her morning call
rises from cool lips and takes her elsewhere
he knows. He can’t care. For decades, he tried
to share her games, her stiff and foreign words.
But some knees bend. His don’t. He’d wait outside
looking bored in early light. When he heard
her chants—through acoustic accidents—
he did his best not to think of evidence.
He paced. Years ago, he smoked, walked long halls
but he couldn’t escape her relentless
prayer, her faith. He felt heartless. Cruel. Small.
Then that ad slipped through the door. The address

was off—two streets south or west. Directions
often failed him. Still, it was meant for him.
Even she knew that. Without corrections,
he placed the call. They sent him to a dim
corner lot. A tall man waited, static friction
froze leaves on his camel’s hair coat. He asked
leading questions about childhood afflictions
and lost colors. He offered his misplaced whims
and money. The deal was closed. Things moved quick.
The room itself—that was easy—choosing
his shields. The guardian panels were picked
but ate time for breakfast. He was losing
control but it got built. She never asked
questions until the day he woke up sick

with guilt. She didn’t diagnose him. No.
She smiled soft as a sunrise to herself.
She nursed him, tender, through his fits and those
night aches he didn’t understand. She felt
guilty all on her own for his real pain
and dark marks she saw growing on his palms.
Then she’d leave him, kneel down, recite the names
she thought might help. She had no secret balms
to try. He crawled back into his cruel room
after her touches. She would hum cool tunes
half-recalled from childhood. She’d try to sew
his shadow on his soft body but failed
again and again. He started to show
signs of healing, so she would bathe his pale

too-soft skin with soothing poison. His eyes
were wise to her. The shielded room called out
his name. He knew that was a personal lie
but felt smooth as her lotions. She’s his trout—
she’s snagged by his brave, heretical line—
He escapes her Annunciation pose
and her fundamental cures. No loose cries
breach his space. He’s safe in the arms of doubt.
He sleeps off his pains—and no concrete sins
exist in his elemental mind. Psalms
speak to her metaphysical poison
not his. This room is safe. His Marxist calm
is enough. One day he’ll choose and propose
an armistice. Before they can begin

she’ll need to give up her widdershins chess—
circling his room, rattling her cat’s eye beads
as if she could make her hard god undress
his iron mind. Boy philosophers need
hands held by girls who are built to save
their bodies from idol souls. He’ll return,
she knows—emerge from his custom-made cave
into her lowered arms. She’ll make him burn
for sins he doesn’t know how to commit.
She can wait. She knows how to kneel and sit
quite still. His pilgrimage will be a mess
that she’ll clean up, smug as a broken saint.
Then they’ll remind each other of real flesh
and she’ll win. But he knows her queen’s feint

hits king’s knight, folding at his French defense.
She understands black and white but he owns
power—crisp lines he’s mastered that entrench
her belief. He steals her prayers. She’s alone
outside his room. He doesn’t need a fence
to keep the supernatural away,
this ceiling keeps it an arm off—heaven’s
revenge. He was aware it was unknown.
So they kissed and he smiled. Her odd gestures
amused his proud pages. Her old contract
with blank haloes held no force. She demurred
before his learning, gazed hungry at his back
until words, like browning leaves, flew away
to bed. He let her dream, let her infer

a martyrdom from her unbleeding knees.
She smiles in restless sleep, dreaming holy card
tales, sure he’ll return to bed, learn to see
what she knows—That his hollow room’s empty
and her arms wait for him like patient saints.
Her pillow folds below her shoulders and slides
to one side. Her dream becomes a complaint
she can’t pray back. He sleeps deep as a tide,
not making trades of virtue for treasure
in heaven. He throws his arm around her
through his calm night visions. His ochre dreams
run downhill like water, flat as a tune
from some forgotten hymn. That’s how it seems.
He turns cards in his sleep and her fortune’s

skewed clockwise, disciplined by cold face cards
her prayers can’t command but his long sleeves
conceal uncounted aces and discards
she left facedown. She bet against her needs
all the time and couldn’t choose how to guard
her long hands from his all too clever play.
He grinned his poker grin. She looked forward
to folding her hands, to her devout please
and thank you. He would retreat to his small
non-chapel—perfect—free of holy ghosts
and disparate illusions. He’d fall
asleep and dream of her, her god, her most
delicious lips. His unconscious eyes played
their own card games until ringing called

them up and her sheets, pillow, blankets fell
to their padded floor. She rises, then kneels
while he starts coffee, heads to his own well
of solitude. She opens shades, reveals
an orange day, finds her way to a cup,
yawning with the weight of her efforts.
Then he flips a switch that powers shields up
and around the room. Her sacred comfort
seeps through pain and his walls begin to glow
in ochre tones. There’s no sound, no hymns, no
rigid men or archaic books to tell
him how to serve his time. His god-proof room
is sanctuary. Whatever tinny bells
she rings can’t reach to it. But very soon

spring rains will fall and both his angled room
and her angeled roof must begin to melt.
Soft earth and hard time construct green tombs
for what are imagined things. Cards dealt
in anger and games played by force empty out
into hollow memories. Her crushed prayers,
his firm numbers slide away, quick as clouds—
gray and heavy as rusted hearts. Repairs
will fail them. His one small hope is her eyes.
His very concrete, too-strong arms might save
her trusting flesh. She’ll laugh and he won’t cry
as seasons perform timely tasks and bathe
their upraised faces. They mustn’t move too far—
but stand still together, under cool stars.

Mark J. Mitchell’s latest novel, The Magic War just appeared from Loose Leaves Publishing. He studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver and George Hitchcock. His work has appeared in the several anthologies and hundreds of periodicals. Three of his chapbooks— Three Visitors, Lent, 1999, and Artifacts and Relics—and the novel, Knight Prisoner are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble..  He lives with his wife the activist and documentarian, Joan Juster and makes a living pointing out pretty things in San Francisco.

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