"The Moral Animals" & Other Poems

The Moral Animals

The moral animals were practicing near the stables again, inching between the slats of the horse jumps, crawling around on their hands and knees. Their leader slammed her head into a bucket of water, just frozen, and emerged bright-cheeked, blood trickling from her forehead and pooling above one eyebrow. She looked righteous. Though they would never admit it, some of them still fantasized about policemen and turnstiles, the weight of the silver bar against your stomach, the delicious click as it lets you through. Sitting on their heels in rows, the moral animals studied the blurry boundary of the sunset until it disappeared. Then it was back to mowing the fields of flowers so the sight-lines were clear, chanting, Diplomacy is a plume in the hat, what we need is war.




The Radio Animals

The radio animals travel in lavender clouds. They are always chattering, they are always cold. Look directly at the buzzing blur and you’ll see twitter, hear flicker—that’s how much they ignore the roadblocks. They’re rabid with doubt. When a strong sunbeam hits the cloud, the heat in their bones lends them a temporary gravity and they sink to the ground. Their little thudding footsteps sound like “Testing, testing, 1 2 3” from a far-away galaxy. Like pitter and its petite echo, patter. On land, they scatter into gutters and alleyways, pressing their noses into open Coke cans, transmitting their secrets to the silver circle at the bottom of the can. Of course we’ve wired their confessionals and hired a translator. We know that when they call us Walkie Talkies they mean it scornfully, that they disdain our in and outboxes, our tests of true or false.



Last Stop Dreamland

The Treatzcart rattles down the train corridor,
hoovering up the potato chip packets,
crumpled napkins like so many squashed
sailboats, the half-eaten muffin rolling south
towards baggage. Its wheels may need oiling,
no, do need oiling, but its heart—the vermilion
thermos of coffee stowed in its very center—
is strong as a song. The Treatzcart is careful about feet,
so careful about feet. Once someone slapped
it, and the cart thought, “this will serve me a lesson
to look where I step,” and in another world,
the Tinman was pleased. Through the window,
a flash of a horse nodding in the field (nose to
the hay, nose to the sky) and the chorus
of sugar maples above singing almost there, nary
a care
, as the passengers gather their reflections
from the windows and slap them back onto
their faces and chests, flex their feet, and
arch their backs to erase the shape of their sitting.
The ice cubes are all melted, the books are
stowed away, and as people exit the train,
they look dazed, hazier, as if their bits aren’t
quite put back together. The Treatzcart hums
along happily—soon it will start over, chugging
down the aisles offering bagels, coffee, juice.
It loves to watch the faces waver as they choose.



These poems have been drawn from the December issue of the American Reader, on newsstands now.