:: Article

Metropolis & other poems

By Matt Cox.


The rewards materialize
slowly, if at all. It’s hard to tell.
Experts sift scattered data, the graphs
cryptic jumbles of dots and lines.
My daughter says
one looks like a bunny. Another,
a crocodile chasing a bird.
She deciphers them like clouds.

Every job has its perks, and
the agents like to humor her. It helps
them unwind.

They smoke pipes on the couch and sip
gin from tumblers, work a bit,
play tea party or
dress-up with the girl when she gets
restless or bored. She’s our
secret weapon, salaried
off payroll with funds siphoned through
various concealed accounts. She
spends it on candy and ice cream and
video games,
research trips to the zoo.

This one looks like a monkey. This one
a flamingo perched on one leg.


A murder of crows perched
on parallel wires like the black
notes of a requiem.
On the field, a group of first-year
medical students plays
a spirited game of dodge ball
with hearts, lungs, kidneys, brains,
all harvested from formaldehyde jars
during this morning’s lab.
Young overachievers on scholarship
hurl vital organs at rich girls
in lab coats. Clouds blanket the blue sky
and the crows fly off as it starts to rain.

The students scatter to clandestine
haunts, leaving guts to seep into the grass,
the city a fever of petroleum and
trinket stands, of palm oil and
diminished kings, neon
in suspension along the smoke
of cigarettes, whispered allegations
of an improved adolescence.

Microphones are hidden
in the rafters. The girls dance
while the boys drink red wine
from the bottle like poets and talk aimlessly
of genetic sorrow, the strain
of entitlement, the sickness one gets
breathing pressurized air.


After all that good news, I thought,
What a day for severed tails,
although she didn’t seem
to mind a bit, batting the thing around
like a toy mouse
on a string before sunning herself quietly
on the window sill.

Still, we never know when
what we know
will do us in. I searched for clues
under the bricks, found none, then
pressed my palms to the burner.

Skin flaked off like flour.
I fled the scene,
my hands gloved in damp socks.


The mission had to be abandoned.
We were lost. Neither of us
had enough clothing to keep out
the high-desert cold, and my partner lost
an eye when hail started falling
like shards of glass. We bandaged it
with pomegranate leaves and guano.

Then we burned the map,
which had been supplied by
a formerly trusted friend, and I recalled
a piece of advice my father
had given often, usually late
and after consuming his daily ration
of whisky: “Never trust
an amateur cartographer or his lackey.”

The coyotes had trailed since dusk. They
gave us their undevoted attention,
only the odd indifferent howl
alerting the pack to our movements. The plain
was still but for the dogs and the waiting
and us, now soundless and shivering
rhythmically against the cold.


The worst part is the wait, which started late
and is scheduled
to continue indefinitely. Bored children
struggle to fill the time, their parents
ill-equipped to govern the rise
of general mischief since the announcement.
Requests for a formal inquiry ignored,
some frustrated citizens speak of revolt, secession.

Things are getting unpredictable:
intermittent mail service,
growing food shortages, disintegration
of vital infrastructure,
random and fantastic suicides. One city official
lopped off his own head with an axe
at a press conference
called to declare his intention to resign.
The footage replayed repeatedly
until we became numb to the horror.

The king has been missing for weeks,
years, decades, no one
knows for sure,
the date masked in conjecture,
insinuation, rumor. A few hopeful congregants
ecstatically predict his return.
They witness signs and keep underground,
paranoid and restless,
like hoarding addicts before a bender.

Matt Cox was born in Oakland, CA in 1979 and lives with his wife and three children on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where he works as an electrician. You may find his poems in 2River View, In Posse Review, and No Tell Motel as well as the anthology The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, July 13th, 2013.