What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 09 20 | Benjamin Welton

Benjamin Welton
Ten Poems

Sniper on the 10th Floor

Every time I’m on the tenth floor,
counting the freezers storing life,
I turn and look out the window.

I watch other lives being lived,
but most of all I look for you—
the hunter who hates me.

I know I’m in your crosshairs;
they burn my back when I turn.
But you never shoot.

Why?

Another Dream

Night—
I walk alone down the same streets
thinking the same thoughts
as every night before.

But on this night a scent
cuts through the clouds;
it’s the smell of a million rose petals.

It is feminine, it is beautiful.
It beckons to me with a hand fair and mild.
I eat the air like manna.

But then, as suddenly as the scent appears,
it is gone.
Reminding me that it is for someone else.

Cathedral in the Mist

February exhales fog—
it covers every corner
with a damp film.
It cannot be scrapped off by mortal fingers.
But the claws of God pierce and project north.
Stone spires signaling the end of the fog’s empire.
And behind the final curtain of mist,
against the soundtrack of rain,
are the stain glassed windows
dyed a mournful yellow.

Mukden

Hate cuts through the trees,
limb by limb.
The grass and bamboo are replaced by steel
foreign.
Cold bricks and blocks of stone
rest against the mountain.
Where once was wind divine
is now the plague bacillus
bred in the iron temple.

Priest-gods in white robes are masked.
They come with scalpel fingers;
they want to touch your inferior body.
Do you let them?
If they offer you cold,
do you agree?

Maybe the horror of it all
is that there was never a choice.
All of nature’s order could not beat back
the encroachment of a new religion.

Too Late

Pale rider, riding an iron horse.
Calling out in single-note warnings.
They drone from tower to tower,
touching all the glass all the way down.

You have no defense—
the rider is for you, but it’s not stopping.
You get to hear the warning,
but not heed it.
It’s time but it’s also too late.

The Misanthrope’s Philosophy

The worms eat at the periphery of meaning.
There is no center;
there is no holding back the march of insects.

Civilization? A civilization of bugs.
A civilization of disease worshippers,
with their hungry bodies cut wide open.

Blood, heart’s blood, gathers infection
for maggots to feast.
Watch how they dine so elegantly.

Once there were entrails,
but the seers went home early
for battered brains.

This is how the world ends.
Grotesque and apathetic.
Directing the desiccation to a new ocean.

Camp on the Cold Lake

Come up, conjuring.
She chants over the orange and red flames.
Resurrect and reassure
that this world isn’t boring.
Turn the cold water hot.
Bequeath ghost children,
ready to eat away all the Mondays.

She sings the blasphemy.
She hums the upside down hymnal.
She does everything to fill the nothing.

By midnight, the mass has ended.
No demons dared answer.
So she goes home to commit more pedestrian sins.

New Justinian

Bells ring behind houses,
sounding the end of days.
An empty tram scuttles on steel claws.
A yawn escapes into the night.
The city belongs to the walkers,
destined to go nowhere.

To Face Itself

Rather than sunshine on the sleeping swan,
these eyes see the moss on the cellar walls.
No pretty face or well-pressed dress
can impress like a miasma of menace
or the scum between the slats.

Pale and pallid are the figures
of this aristocratic form.
The rhymes rhyme with blood,
and have no trade with love.

The songs I sing are dirges all.
The notes hate the summer;
worship the Fall.
They are dirges all.

Pietro’s Castle

On the night we went to Pietro’s Castle,
the will-o-wisp on the lake
asked for souls to take.
We’d gladly offers ours now.

However, we were then recusants;
our knees un-bended
although our bellies were distended
through no fault of our own.

In madness not yet love,
we chased their yellow eyes,
all the while under the guise
of mocking their martyrdom.

The saints said nothing to us sinners,
but we know in a diseased way
that the little death lay
just beyond the hills.

I’ve since seen it as a suicide garden,
yet few memories remain so awake—
so eager to make
this old heart collapse with melancholy.

We both left too much at the castle gate.
Some that cannot be discussed,
others encrusted
with unmentionable feelings.

I wonder if you feel the same.
Can you recall the night in the fall
when insanity conquered all
and we just lived?

Benjamin Welton is the author of Hands Dabbled In Blood (Thought Catalogue, 2013), a study of twentieth century British literature and its relationship to revolutionary fervor. His poems, short stories, historical writing, and journalism have appeared in Seven Days, Vantage Point, Ravenous Monster, Schlock!, Death Throes, InYourSpeakers, Crime Magazine, Aberrant Labyrinth, and other publications. Welton graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University with a BA in English and history. He served in the United States naval reserve, and holds an MA in English literature from the University of Vermont, where he taught basic English composition. He blogs at literarytrebuchet.blogspot.com and benjaminwelton.blogspot.com.

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What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 09 20 | B.S.Roberts

B.S.Roberts
Weekends

Two nights a week
two and a half days
my daughter is seven now
I already feel I’ve missed the last three years
she wraps her arms around my neck in tight hugs
whenever I see and leave her
“I don’t want to go!” she always cries
I don’t want her to go. I try not to cry
fifty-two weekends a year
quarantined
the virus eats them away
51
50
49

B.S.Roberts does not put a space between his first two initials and his last name. He makes a living as a museum curator and an administrative assistant at the University of Maine at Augusta. Pursuing a degree in ethnography and folklore, Roberts lives in Maine with his fiancée, daughter, silver pheasants, turtle, and four cats.

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What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 08 20 | Alex Long

Alex Long
Turned Thing

VIRUS wings the wind outside, hunting air.
I hide inside, turning my house into a cocoon,
turning me from prey into a chrysalis.
Sometime in the future I will emerge,
a turned thing in a turned world. Blind to that
future I spin in my paste, weaving strands
of action plans, an eyeless pupa pulping in a
tiny pallid purse. Maybe the world will be
shrunk afterwards. Technology and trade might
get hacked back so that this sickness will have
less globe to grow on.
But what do I know?
I’m just a
butterfly.

Alex Long is a Midwestern poet whose work has appeared in Meetinghouse and The Wax Paper, as well as in the anthology Iowa’s Best Emerging Poets 2019 (Z Publishing, 2019), edited by Z Publishing staff. You can find him on Twitter @BiddyBiddyBum.

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What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 08 20 | Ashley-Devon Williamston

Ashley-Devon Williamston
Day 1: Denial

If our lives are indeed purposeful
Then I am not where I ought to be
I am supposed to be in the desert
A barren wasteland

With nothing but sun and lizards and
Cacti to remind me that “barren wasteland” is a slur to their neighborhood
They prefer me to use “hostile biome”
It emphasizes their resiliency
Instead, I am in my office
A habitat of my own creation
Where nothing ever dares to chide me

And I brood as I wonder if Creators ever plan vacations in other universes
If they also would pack with gleeful anticipation
Of respite from omnipotence
And rage over crushed dreams of diminution

Waves of rain thrash against the window
Of my tiny Midwestern home
Tornado sirens wail into oblivion
I am affirmed

Ashley-Devon Williamston is an casual poet from Cincinnati, OH. A cultural anthropologist by trade, they turn to the arts to express things that are not best stated in APA format, such as the delights of surprise homemade pies or perfectly symmetrical leaves. You can view those expressions by following them on Instagram @onerarecreature.

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What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 08 20 | Joe Imwalle

Joe Imwalle
New Days

I’m running
running
for health
for mental health
for mental health to keep
balanced emotions and mind
while we flatten the curve
of virus raising a flag
in humanity
new territory
to tremble terrible
eye contact with strangers
different I see
as we shift
to being aware
of what
is on all our minds
on mine
what to title this run
by the beach
with app tracking my route
miles & time
running through the world today
along a path for walkers
who like never before
are obstacles to skirt
cautious not to hug and kiss a stranger
strange how I’ve not wanted
this before but feel
a thin mourning
for the loss
of its possibility
I am panting
I am hanging in there
I have a name
for this week
I name it
Imagine The Relief
When It’s Safe
For The World
To Embrace
and now I fly
imagined banners
with the words flapping behind
and oh my they fly beautifully
around the folks
I do not touch
but feel touched
to be living amongst
through our strange
new days

Joe Imwalle is an MFA poetry candidate at St. Mary’s College of California, with work forthcoming in Beyond Words Literary Magazine. He taught elementary school in East Oakland for twelve years. He currently teaches Spanish and ESL. He lives in Oakland with his wife, daughter, dog, two cats, records, books, and plants.

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What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 07 20 | Mary Ellen Talley

Mary Ellen Talley
Public Service Announcement

Do not get into bed tonight without ignoring
Outbursts, overstatements, hype, and conjectures.
Never mind who complains about the maleficent media
And who has a hunch this will be all over by April,
to which families of the deceased take little solace as they
Empty their guts with grief that a loved one died in quarantine.

Be wise, keep your distance, give the “jazz hands” salute.
Let the youth stay in school so parents can earn health insurance.
Offer up this unexpected social sacrifice and hygiene frenzy.
Offer to others a semblance of hope to alleviate the next disaster.
Drop into your local blood bank, both red and blue hats are welcome.

Mary Ellen Talley’s poems have recently appeared in Raven Chronicles, Banshee, Flatbush Review, and Ekphrastic Review, as well as in the anthologies All We Can Hold: Poems of Motherhood (Sage Hill Press, 2016), edited by Elise Gregory, Emily Gwinn, Kaleen McCandless, Kate Maude, and Laura Walker; and Ice Cream Poems: Reflections on Life with Ice Cream (World Enough Writers, 2017), edited by Patricia Fargnoli.

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What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 07 20 | Tom McCauley

Tom McCauley
Two Poems

It’s Coronavirus, Not Coronavirme

Today I hear it
killed a lady the same age
as me. How quickly

the unafflicted spirit her
to a ventilator.
We’re sorry,

the shipwrecked doctors
serenade her
father, there’s been a change of luck.

Everyone she knows is required
to quarantine. It’s 1918, what then?
Stare out the door a spell. Listen:

the heart breathes, the lungs bloom
quite blue
with ceiling music. Now there’s almost

no food in the house. Tomorrow,
let us live by a river
and notice every jewel of the visible

shine off the broken junk
somebody left here.
Like that piano rising

out of the water. No, not that one. That one.
Yes. Give me a moment.
Let me play you something.

Will We Die If We Eat This

Little black stars
hatch
out of sacks of flour

like automatic moss
and you

same as me

bored of intercourse

go undaunted to the sink
wash your hands
roll the dough

pick away the little galaxies
spun
last night from water

I bag them upthrow them out

leave everything
on the porch
we used

to talk about the future

Tom McCauley‘s work has appeared in Superstition Review, Leveler, and the Oyez Review. His poem “People Are Not Lights” won the 2018 Joseph Langland Prize from the Academy of American Poets. McCauley holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He teaches poetry and contemporary literature at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

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What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 07 20 | Natalie Marino

Natalie Marino
Two Poems

Nowhere

The pastel colors of the blooming trees
gradually faded and our faces darkened
as the days passed. Disease monsoons
now monopolize our gaze but the
mansions multiply even as locusts fly
closer in. We realize it’s too late, after
every corporation sucked out the marrow
of our skeletons. The buzz was loud but
we could not hear until we had to lock
ourselves in our tiny houses hoping
the landlord doesn’t change his mind.
Only now do we see a black virus in water.

Your Boat

You want to row in a stream of sparkling
clear water rushing over glistening rock.
It can even overflow, as long as it still
runs in a simple line from A to B, but you
become surrounded by black air and bright
stars that make a never-ending circle tying
you to the past century’s coffins hiding
buried drawings of the past, and you suddenly
see how your shallow thoughts refuse to leave
the shadow of loss, the joy of moments that fly
away from your fingers as time’s tapestry
folds in on itself in layers like limestone.

Natalie Marino‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Haikuniverse, Royal Rose Magazine, and Mineral Lit Mag. She holds a BA in American literature from UCLA, and an MD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. A family physician, Marino lives in Thousand Oaks, Calif., with her husband and two daughters.

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What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 06 20 | Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison
Providence at Greywacke Arch

She stopped just out of view.
I snapped the picture with my phone.
I said it was okay and waved her on
and suddenly saw who went under the arch.
I called her twice before she stopped
and pulled away her headphones.
We agreed it was better not to touch.
That’s why we were crossing the park, after all,
not just because the day was beautiful.
I reminded her it had been three years.
And I thanked her for the first time
in almost three years. And I thanked her again
for stopping and remembering,
although I never thought to remind her of our names.
She turned away and hurried back under the arch,
my dead man’s oncologist,
another plague swelling around us.

—Submitted on 03/10/20

Editor’s Note: Greywacke Arch is in Central Park on East Drive between East 80th Street and East 81st Street.

Richard Morrison’s poems have appeared  in Provincetown Arts and Christopher Street, among other publications. He holds an MFA in poetry from Columbia University (1991) and currently serves as editorial director for Fordham University Press.

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What Rough Beast | Covid-19 Edition | 04 06 20 | Emily Winters

Emily Winters
Beware the Nineteen

Perhaps it all seems slightly tainted; truly, only humanity could open its doors
to panic and selfishness and dishonor
in the form of rolls of paper and chemical fluids that have since soared away—
but in the mass collaboration of fear and entitlement, surely a one-hit-wonder,
the birds still fly.

Many find hope between the fragile lines of desperate isolation
and even daring to breathe at all—
but always, magically, there comes a moment when one finally cannot tell
if the use of antibacterial sanitizer is for that of combating germs,
or simply just combating fear.

The headlines are plastered around the world, elegantly printed:
Beware the Nineteen, Take Covid Action, Don’t You Dare Step Outside—
no one shall gather, and now,
suddenly, a society that used to exist profoundly
must now learn to exist ever so quietly, daring never to breathe.

Still, slowly, as humanity holds its breath,
there seems to be a bittersweet knowledge that this is not yet the first
and this is not yet the last—and finally,
a quietly haunting comfort that above all devastating isolation and impending chaos,
the birds will continue to fly.

—Submitted March 20, 2020

This is the first publication for Emily Winters. She is the winner of the 2018 Literary Citizenship Award and the 2019 Forrest Preece Young Authors Award, both from The Library Foundation in Austin, Texas.

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