/j palmer

Self-Portrait in Tongues
after Lucie Brock-Broido

The dirty endlessness of language keeps me
Drunk in the tub beneath the temple and I

Have fallen down in the splash
Splash of it for the purpose of the show.

Upstairs it is feast day and the priests are gorged
on linens and the calendar’s meticulous carnage,

But their silence won’t stop doing
Judas with brass knuckles to my world-in-skull.

In this gaudy season when god has closed
His eyes, when the illness in a name

Like Violet is simply out
of my hands—I am reminded that I am nobody’s

Lace lampshade, nobody’s pump organ,
No tarnished sugarcane spread on the kitchen floor

spicy and devout, nobody’s cracked penitent,
nobody’s jelly cookies and tequila.

I know I shouldn’t pray over dead
People or they’ll write little poems that will scuttle

Into the light and get beaten, but I am culled
By the utterance, I am botched and seeping, I am

In the bathwater, nobody’s epiphany,
No wrinkled psalm. Nobody’s sin,

Nobody’s pincushion, not the buttered
litanies kept in the round gold dish. I have missed

A good deal of pageantry by being born
into such loud and bruiseless light.

The dirty endlessness of language keeps me
Crammed in the shaft beneath the temple and

The dirt below, nobody’s milk
Teeth, nobody’s steady congregation of one.

Bathhouse #5 (Jerusalem Surge)

Just me and Saul drunk on pure drek, pounding ‘em
back in this dive heaped in myth. He’s facing off against the city’s screaming
pagans spouting prophecy like Roman bile—but we’ve got scripture
on our side. He lets loose a little Daniel in his slickest Coptic strut
and all the leather-studded gentiles come pouring down our throats. I am hopeless
save for this ancient, hijacked mode of tonguing. Febrile and circumcised,
the bartender knows my rot. He pours himself a Babylonian grenade.
He is of Jesse’s vine, he is the rock rolled back—Aramaic kitsch in assless chaps.
My head is lousy with mana, tinsel, and the haze of Newports.

“You’re a Christian martyr you know,” S. is getting handsy again.
“You’re my Mound of Deluge.” My skirt is hiked and rattled—the imminent
destruction of the temple gets him hot. “Attend to my sorrow. Is there any
quite like it?” But he has not seen my mother’s poinsettias stained
with Christ, my oppressortongue glossed with sacrifice.

Light ekes in from the street above like gospel exposing this gnarled
place of the skull. As if we needed it. The liquored gloom makes Ishmaels
of us all. Our Hagar mounts the altar belting her ministry—a parable
in how the moon sluts, all bursting white and eggs. The acolytes tear
at their sackcloth, douse themselves in ashes. The virgins cry
like virgins.

This is the great and bitter howling of the Lord.
This is why they call it church.  

Look at us.
We are so maudlin—
lapsarian throng, alive
with a simple, straightforward anger.
Old envious gay feeling cracking
like a soft and riotous stone.


Joshua Palmer is a writer living in Pittsburgh, but is from Texas the way windmills, dirt, and Dairy Queens are from Texas. He is the winner of the Jean Meyer Aloe Poetry Award and his poems have appeared in SPF Lit Mag and Burning House Press. He is currently writing a book about a fire at a bathhouse. More at www.joshuapalmerwrites.com