:: Article

Four Poems

By Steven Breyak.

Forgotten Marx

He didn’t always have the beard. Before his bushy locks
there was a boy’s smooth face. His lovers would smile
(as did he) when they brought a milkmaid’s hand to his cheek.
As his stubble grew, his lovers diminished. When only one was left
they married. Though he trusted her love, he would never shave
his face again. In part a challenge, in part gratitude.

Like Bach, he was fierce in a fist fight. On a night soon after
his arrival in London, he leveled three coal-workers
over a disputed wager at darts. Once they discovered the identity
of their opponent, the three approached him late one night as he left
Oxford Library. They wept over their cheating him. He glared, searched
each man’s eyes before turning to the direction of his home.

The day he raised the dead, the sun shone fire as he studied stevedores
extracting a ship’s load with a new machine. Well into their work
a young man was crushed under a crate of china marked “Fragile.”
Marx, still young, ran to the docks. But the act was quick,
and for a long time he watched, not knowing what to do,
as the men emptied the crate. Then, with the others,
he carried the dead young man to his people.


Ludwig’s Sleight of Hand

When I was five my Uncle Ludwig would
pull his thumb off his hand and put it back.
Within two shows I got to know his trick
was in the clumsy way his hand had held

itself, a lack of grace to be the soul
of his show when a buzz saw stole his thumb
over stray thoughts and a knot. The clean trim
through clay skin worked from this hack bit a spell.

In awe I saw that headless nub and thought
he had reached the pinnacle of his act,
studied with Austrian masters secret
hand gestures to make his knuckle forfeit

its tip to enchantment. It must have been
stashed in a drawer or slipped behind my ear
where it waited for his signal to reappear,
an impossible snap of the fingers when
his young audience had all but lost hope.


Decay Products

A thick Pennsylvania August. I was seven,
picking strawberries with my mom and dad when
three drunks pulled in and idled a car on our front yard.

One stepped out and began pissing on the mailbox.
When my dad yelled, “What the hell,” the guy shook
his balls and said, “Why don’t you come down

and I’ll show you.” “I’ll be right down,” he called
from the porch as he led my mom and me inside.
He held the forty-four behind his back as he walked

down the driveway. The drunk again danced
his dick in the burning air, laughing until the gun barrel
hit the side of his head. He fell back into the car,

pants loose, a whimper escaping him. As they sped away
my dad fired three shots into their wake. Unscathed,
they drove through me shattering only an idea

of order into an idea of discord. Example:
I know I should hate my father–risking death,
prison, us over pride–but some

something in me wants to be him for that moment: to hold
that gun to some fool and his mistake; to shed love
in defense of love; to be right

the way certain elements can exist in perfect situations
for only pieces of a second.


After Reading Tanikawa’s Notes from ‘Starvation’

A cycle of poems on starvation
will not even feed the guy who skipped breakfast.
And it certainly won’t keep grocery stores
from throwing away day-old bread. Poems couldn’t
prevent the A-bomb. Poems were around in plenty
during the Inquisition. All we have left of Homer
are his beautiful descriptions of destruction.

Do we expect too much from our words to put so many terrible things
into them and on paper? Maybe making a college student cry
is enough. Maybe softening one heart is a good start for this old
beast dying in the corner. God knows it will never pay for all I owe.


Steven Breyak‘s poetry can be found or is forthcoming in Gargoyle, 42opus, Poets and Artists and in other journals on the Net and on paper. His work has been chosen for Thieves Jargon’s Editor’s Picks and Flying Guillotine’s Apocalypse Anthology. He lives in Japan.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, August 12th, 2010.