Joseph Wood

Joseph P. Wood is the author of I & We, Gutter Catholic Love Song, and the forthcoming Fold of the Map. Recent work can be found in Arts & Letters Daily, BOMB, Boston Review, Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, among others. Wood teaches at University of Alabama.

Excerpt from “YOU”

—and perhaps the same can be said of laughter:
the invalid’s diaper, the stock broker’s window,
the airport pilot given commemorative 9/11
socks—Augustine lives in our exhibitions
with his illegitimate son, they hear the children

laughing again, they turn to the page in Paul
where the Apostles roll their eyes as John
babbles like an invalid, “The Word is the
Bird, Bird is the Word,” and that is the story
of their conversion. I’m not converted to you

as much as convected, left in your little oven
and brought to a high frothing. Your cookies
toss my cookies, your tunnel of flesh implodes
Plato’s cave, and even though I’m a little dumber
tonight, I’m eternally grateful. I tie my bindle

and stick out my thumb. I ride the Southwest
in a 1990 Ford Festiva named Pigdog—the right
wheel has lost its bearings, the painted desert
is being blown around, the Hopi mailmen gallop
past on their horses. The letters are woefully

constructed—in a count of no less than fifty,
not but three understand how to employ parallel
structure—no, no one saw their lives as parallel,
rather a grain of sand caught inside a petroglyph
of a man giving a hand job to his horse, the equine

shifting its weight from one side to the other,
the left flank in spasm, the hand feverishly milking
the prostate, and then the man brings his face
underneath, and that, my friends, is what’s wrong
with our race. We are monstrous infants

with insomnia, we ride the white line
and call from where our oil has drained,
we shiver in the breakdown lane, we pulse
midnight troubles and grotesqueries: we give
our dogs a good time, the dogs don’t like it,

we throw out our backs, we smell monsoon
about to hit the desert—the dog retracts
his lipstick, the salad days retract their glean,
no routine keeps us upright. The meth house,
we joked, always appeared about to explode

until it did and the police in hazmat suits,
one by one, loaded scorched toys into vans.
It didn’t matter: the drive thru liquor store
still sold whiskey and cunt, and the police
waited a block away, 10 am, to round up

the transients, give them one way tickets
to San Diego, as if all the homeless needed
were ocean air and agency. The city is
one grand marina. You’d never know Mexico
is a stone’s throw away—the fake abode,

the leaping whales, the boats lined up
like great Centenarians. I make love
to your hip replacement. I make love
to your goiter. I make love to your
sister to know how derivative

your model is. Loving you is like a sailboat
on fire in the bay breeze, but the anchor
has gotten lost, and now all the caviar
is about to spoil. Your underwear between
my teeth, your head thrown back against the aft,

we’ll pawn the tape to the highest bidder.
O former greatest celebrity single mom,
let’s grind to a schizophrenic bubblegum
anthem, let’s put your kiddo in a combine
and hear the blade scrape on the bone,

let’s don For Sale sandwich boards
during lunch in Central Park, let’s spread
our ass cheeks and slap marmalade inside,
let’s ride our asses back to the inn,
point to the manger, and ask the innkeeper

have you lost your fucking mind? Vacancy
is peril in these parts, the car in the scrap-
yard holds every two bit artifact the widow
can’t bear to bury, and anyways, the owner
won’t relinquish anything until the balance

settles. The gulls neurotically circle.
The metal of the past meets the drizzle
of the present. Children on the wrong
side of the tracks wear gold chain
clock faces around their Lilliputian necks

like albatrosses—the birds didn’t ask
to be named. They minded their flurry
and nature, the objects of our folly,
the business of the speaker. You’re not
here to object. My window reveals

December’s stripped deciduous, branches
weighted with ice, and in the morning,
the nurses, arms full with charts and bags
by Vera Bradley, clack clack on the floor
below my floor, which is where the river

Hades rests, the gondolas of human skin,
the hard wind a demon orifice relieving
itself—or is it reliving itself, how the mind
plays back each trauma in techno-color,
how the seasons raise their hind legs

onto every statue you’ve made of yourself,
and the face of the statue, a forever solitary
dignity, looking out over a mesa or camp
of the massacred, the face slowly fades as
the elements do what the elements do

by their own natures, and you turned
to me, our car rounding the mountain pass,
a friend’s house now clear of our view,
and you grabbed my arm on the wheel
and belted out like a hog caller: you

name yourself Abscess McBoil, you fill
your family albums with Bosch prints,
you conjure the Last Judgment when stalled
in the fruit aisle, you orally service your inner-
child. I ask you, what is an interrogation

and the apple-bob bucket should never
serve your waterboarding. The telescope
is pointed the wrong way. It filters the stars
through the lens of hope, and the stars
are just blobs of light, you fool—now lower

the telescope and observe the debutante
who vomits into her toilet, and don’t you think
beauty relies on mystery and one hard flaw?
Later, I circle your labia with my tongue
and you toss like a bad dream out a window—