Voices from the Basement

by Howie Good


I'm bleeding quietly from somewhere. Black-eyed women in shawls huddle in the corner. I overhear them whispering that both my sons will marry. I lose track of time. The hand that stopped moving still holds a pen.


The angel who visited us was missing a wing. Scarlet and black issued from his stump. My wife covered her eyes. You can't doubt the existence of hell, the angel said. You live in it. What looked from this height just like a wing had washed ashore.


There was once a thing called the Cult of Unintelligibility. Oscar Wilde, long hair parted down the middle, wore velveteen and a wan expression, with an oversized daisy in his lapel as the final touch. Now everyone says we should plant trees to replenish oxygen.


I find the spoon my roommate stole from the college cafeteria. The handle has been bent, the bottom scorched. I'm seventeen. There are only ever short pauses in the incoherent rage of the night surf at Dead Horse Bay.


I wish I could identify the flowers by name. Some are shaped like the pointy hats of clowns, some like the dwarfs in fairy tales. Some remind me of Inca cities of gold, some of old young men. Some are the color of a bloodstained uniform, some of a case of rabies caused by a performing dog's bite. The closer I get, the louder the garden teems with revolutions and beheadings.


I study my reflection in the window of the butcher. The trains that leave the city empty return empty as well. Does the sound of sobbing mean what I think it does? People who were born here exchange knowing glances. Tomorrow's paper may carry news of a terrible accident--night, and rain, and lovers blowing smoke rings into the dark.


The moon is only thirty-seven percent of full. Who do I blame? Which of my forefathers wore a long, black cape as if hoping to hide a deformity?


Juries acquit mothers who have murdered their children. There are frequent dances at what used to be Potter's Field and the gallows place. Everything else that happens will happen mostly after midnight. Men without firsthand experience of hell but with large round eyes claim they can taste sun in the wine.


If I could, I would drink into the early morning hours with long-haired men and short-haired women at the marble tables of a sidewalk cafe. The proprietor, a Russian duke in pre-revolutionary times, would be spying on us for the Paris police. A poet would declare that we should write poetry with revolvers in our pockets, a painter that we should slash the oil paintings in gold frames. Everyone, I would stupidly realize, needs to have a philosophy.


God's son hanged himself with his belt from a rafter in the barn. No one knows why. I drive through town with both hands clutching the wheel, surprised to see seagulls hovering over roofs this far inland. The phone rings though I'm not at home. A strange voice asks for me by name. The weather was supposed to be clear today. It isn't.

BIO: Howie Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Dreaming in Red from Right Hand Pointing and Cryptic Endearments from Knives Forks & Spoons Press. He has four chapbooks forthcoming: Elephant Gun from Dog on a Chain Press, The Death of Me from Pig Ear Press, Living Is the Spin Cycle from Red Bird Chapbooks, and Strange Roads from Puddle of Sky Press.