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Con Los Muertos and Other Poems by Mark Nickels

in Poetry by


I’m with the dead today. It is true they smell like
creek flow, mildew, church wood, & funny their
funny names, “Lord Byron”& “Myrtle Bump”.

And what to say about their faces that gel in darkness,
turning mineral in color, glowing blue in the mind,
flesh emblems in a dry box, distant, morphing

into a piñata in cold confinement. They don’t beckon
from the ground until you think of them,
even for an instant. Think of them but once

& they are on to you— you are on their radar, so to speak,
so lonesome they are, their faces lighting
the coffin lid, traces of love in a vast underground net,

batteries of love of a very low voltage, sensitive
to the living & the pitch of interest or ardor
popping off all over the globe. The blinking dead

sparking in the rain, like when Petula Clark goes down
town. Very nearly festive, this opulent blinking. How
they need us. How they need not to be forgotten.


From inside the blinking square, a black bloom of atomized steel
& gasoline, pieces skittering off into the schema of fields around Kobani,
like flies on a pizza filmed with a Brownie camera. It’s part of the world,
so I look: generally unsanctioned by poetry, embedding with barbarism
without being taken captive, & pacing the streets, leaning motionless
into the ankle deep winds of the cities, entranced by the warfare
between insight & surround. Poetry will tap its inked digits at a boardroom table.
Note the purple stains under its eyes, & then, surprise, a sustained warble
from its cell phone, the metallic burble of a wood thrush. Poetry
should be there in an orange jumpsuit while the man who sounds
like Michael Caine unscrolls global complaints with a large knife in his hand.
A poet can lose his head there, & Poetry will resume, in fact,
within seconds, just as the salts of his body seek a path over the huge
boulders of sand, the last view of his untethered eyes, inches away.
The executioner has no idea of the worlds there, the rooms in the surfaces
of the sand. He has no clue how the scansion of a line could support this,
or about the independence of a severed head that goes on speaking, even when
separated from the one who gave it voice. The words that hear go on, listening.


is everything and nothing, as correctly insipid as daylight.
The silver pot mirrors other faces, not mine, bulbous in its curve,

all nose in the metal, their sleeves appearing: embonpoint,
the zigzags of a djellaba, even army fatigues. It is something hot and sweet

swilled to the smell of cordite, the slung Kalishnikov smoking faintly
from its mouth on the back of a chair that complains like a casualty

when pushed back from the table, scracking on the stones in a way
that fails to bruise them, though the fibers on the bottom of the legs

have begun to split, and fray, complain more softly than they did
when they retained their structure, the discipline of the lathe.

The rain off the roof is tin-tasting, dropping into his open mouth
as he looks up, scanning the canopy for drones, a flavor so like blood

when the percussion of the bombs makes him bite his tongue.
The rain from the roof is a kind of tea of carbons, effort and intellect

atomized, and foolishness also, an infusion of the melting passports
and boarding passes of the jihadi, flung into the air, resting on said

roof, along with a sampling of the fluids that best remain inside
young men: from Indonesia, from Turkey, a thousand yards away,

all those veins drained of that distilment, those kinds of tea, thick
or thin, in glasses shaped like a woman with one hand on her hip

or in chaste maws of crystal where only the spirit roils, steeped
in the body, escaping as steam somewhere in Syria, into dry air.

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Mark Nickels works in the mental health field in Massachusetts, USA. His first book of poems, “Cicada” was published in 2000 by Rattapallax Press, and his work has appeared in Barrow Street, Literal Latte, University of Southern California Review, and other publications, including online at the website of the Poetry Foundation. Nickels was awarded a Fellowship in Fiction by the New York State Foundation for the Arts in 2006.

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