Monstrum Poeticum

By Tom Mangione

Poetry, you are a monster.

I was told to stay away from you.
I was told to head for the safe and warm:
To dip myself into the safe and warm
Toes-first, testing the waters of the safe and warm
Sliding in up to my waist, warming my navel in the safe and warm
Letting the pleasant tingle work through my innards as I slid deeper into the safe and warm
Until I was submerged, cut off from air, sucking a tube to breathe in the safe and warm
Incubating for an entire lifetime in the safe and warm

But I didn’t.

I went looking for you, Poetry.

The ones who met you said you were radiant.
The ones who met you called you attractive as the sun.
The ones who met you said you’d stick in my eyes – an image impossible to blink away.
The ones who met you said I’d go blind – screaming, bat-fogged blind,
Blind from you, Poetry, babbling about you, from you, for you.
The ones who met you said you’d possess me.

I imagined you’d be a beautiful woman:
Body heavy and full with smooth curves
Eyes carved from the gems glinting in waking, bright-morning dreams
Hair flowing in an eternal wind on which you bounded
Legs smooth and slender dancing every step
Feet arched, giving way to symmetric, dainty toes

But your feet were anything but dainty.

You, Poetry, are a monster.

I saw your feet first, thousands upon thousands of them
Each foot had toes that were remarkably different
An infant’s tiny tootsie and an old man’s stinky pinky
A foot model’s painted piece of perfect porcelain
Never stressed, never stubbed, never wrongly rubbed
A day laborer’s fugus-fouled callous-cracked claw
Stressed with no rest, but capable and raw.

What richness! what variation!
I couldn’t help it, I was hooked
I looked more at you, Poetry
I looked, I looked!

You were sunbathing at the time.
You were taking in the safe and warm,
But you weren’t feeling safe and warm.
You were anything but comfortable.
You were curling your body, flailing your mismatched knees:
Two! Just two appearing miraculously from that tangle of feet
The right one as big as a bison’s, effortless in its strength
The left shriveling to a knot no bigger than a squirrel’s
Trembling, trembling, trembling…

Trembling as I did when I looked farther up
Not knowing if I’d see man, woman or both
In that valley where the legs meet,
The valley we share between the sheets.
But I found only a massive tangle of hair
Red, gold, black and brown
Each strand bent and curled around and around.

But then I heard you, Poetry.

You snored loudly in your sleep
And the sound echoed strangely
Syllables, words flowing in my ears suddenly
As if the air had mouth and teeth and tongue
Turning chords in my heart
As if the air had sung.

I looked at your face:
An amalgam of faces, mouths smacking within mouths
Eyes closed within eyes, nostrils snorting for other nostrils.
You were no visage of beauty, of symmetry, of song.
You were a hideous zombie cadaver;
Everything about you was wrong

But you stopped snoring.

And then everything moved together.
And then your face was one.
And then the skin was soft.
And then two eyes lulled in sleep.
And then one mouth shuffed breath.
And then you were an angel.
And then you glowed.
And then I loved you.

I loved you, Poetry.

Even as you began to snore again,
Rolling over ugly and brutal,
Showing me the back of your body
Where withered wings barely sprouted
In a sineuous sea, punctuated by islands of fat deposits
Rising above trenches of gangrene
And frozen ice-sheets of eczema,
I saw wondrous tattoos winding their way
Where they could on the scaley surface
Scrolling around as if animated
By a magic LED screen.
I was lost in their glow, lost in the sheen.

They were the names of great poets.

I wanted to touch them.
I wanted to have the names under my fingers.
I wanted to be one of those names.
I wanted to know you, Poetry.

I placed my hand upon the small of that awful back,
But before I knew it I was thrown back onto the ground.
You’d whirled around to reveal your face of faces
And you bellowed, voice crackling, centuries old:

“Who are you?”

“I’m a poet,” I said.

You laughed, bearing jagged, shark-jawed teeth
And filling the air with your breath of rose and mustard gas.

Then you said:

“Not yet, not yet.”

And with that you disappeared out of sight
Leaving my mind weary and my breath light
But still I was filled with a burning desire
To know you better, to be the one you’d inspire.

Since then I’ve pursued you on the streets.
Pursued you in lazy mornings between the sheets.
Pursued you in cramped and stuffy cars.
Pursued you in smoke-filled raucous bars.

You won’t leave my mind.