The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Anne Harding Woodworth
You wait there on the brick stoop, almost ready.
The knocker is embedded in the black gloss—
but a house like this never loses its sounds
You anticipate eyes blackened with charcoal,
lips big with waxy vermilion,
tongues sliding over. They sit
cross-legged on red velvet chairs,
lean against Georgian pilasters.
The barkeep offers you a drink. Gas lamps
gurgle and there's heat in the house,
chill being quieted by the chimney's warmth.
A birdcage hangs from the high ceiling,
large enough for her whose song
you listen for, the desperate words
that breathe through the metal bars.
See yourself walk slowly now on figured rugs
over to the wide staircase.
The dark-stained bannister will lead you up,
on up to the lonely room
that looks out onto the front,
where you stand now in a late-night London rain.
Try knocking. Methinks the lady . . .
Beware of meat that's hidden by the water bottle
in the refrigerator. Forgotten, it's turned to green
and exudes an odor of marsh-weed, like breath
of one whose organs now are shutting down.
Beware of rats that come in during night
and chew the telephone cord. When you call for help,
there is no tone, no sound to link you
to the spreads and spits of land outside.
Beware—after a rain—of slimy bricks
that pave the garden path. You'll slip and cut
the ribs that've kept you intact these years,
given to your torso form and frame.
Beware of burial grounds, plots where bones
are laid, where secrets rest and then begin to stir
from deep within the ferrous earth,
seeping upwards toward the light of day.
Beware of ponds overrun with water hyacinths
that will suck you into their mesh of stems,
into their underworld wet and cold and teeming
with orts of swimming things.
Beware of crocodiles, who bite with jeweled teeth
and sparkling mouths. They eat the sun in all their greed
and bring about the darkest hours. Of crocodiles beware
till daylight comes again and opens up to danger.
Welcome to our wonderful smiley country.
We want your stay with us to be joyous
and filled with sunny memories.
In case you plan to offer a friend
a chance to hallucinate or to mellow out
or to make you rich,
remember we can kill you for that.
We've killed lots of human beings
in our happy country.
But we treat the condemned with kindness.
Some have even married before the deadline,
in spite of being shackled, two to a cell.
How do we kill them? you might ask.
With a handgun. We love handguns here.
They are so easy to aim at close range.
And the condemned are drugged
with something not unlike what got them
into our hands in the first place.
We kill them in secret. No press is informed.
No family. Not even the condemned knows
when it will happen. Sort of like life itself,
or rather death, which the rest of us will go on
to experience with our loved ones
and according to our religion and our bank accounts.
The condemned leave money in their leg irons
as a tip for the executioner. That's just a quainttradition we have here in our cheerful land.
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