"Relentless Is the Order," "The Soul of the World," and "Gift Wrapped"

Relentless Is the Order

Queued in our stockings and socks before TSA,
its familiar mechanism for scrutiny enfolds us—we meek, we patient,
we mild jokesters for whom officers pretend ease as ice gazes
appraise old photos, beardless visages—familiar too
the uniform memorialized instructions wrung above a human hum
conveying our luggage, our wealth, icons, joys, our meds, odd shoes.
We rush—we meek, we halt, we limp, we pissed, we ordered
in this primal relationship—bag-lugging queue and guard,
a comfort in a way—willingly to herd behind the gesture:
enter the device, valuables belong here, pockets shall be empty.
When did this begin? Was there a border to cross with our immigrant
impurities into Egypt? A line of soiled beseechers and attendants
at the Emperor’s gates subject to pat down? Who’s to say whether
with our smeared passports, we meek, we loving innocents arrive
at divine gates scanned by wand, humbled to exhausted tears,
the child led away by stranger’s fingers as we step into the next
line, we travelers eternal, inured, in shock, we wait.



Soul of the World

A silhouetted man, a small yellow flame in his chest,
chops a snake to wriggling sectors
which turn the ghosts of heads to lick or bite his hand.
Guillotined heads kept together in burlap bags
were found to have bitten rather than kissed
one another's cheeks; a body flopping
along the guillotiner’s large platform
reminded the history teacher of a chicken
in his neighbor's back yard, World War Two,
in search of its obnoxious personality or soul if there is one
for hunger, lust, mothering soft-boiled eggs, hatred of pecking,
impatience for her turn at the taste of meal,
or hierarchic complaints to the Spiritus Mundi Chicken
bottled up till you took the cap off.
That nameless thing, the spirit of the whole spirit,
sculling in its little shell, its subatomic prow upon the river,
gets the soul drunk – who knows what's more enduring than wine –
my eyes closed, the doors nailed shut.



Gift Wrapped

This tool off a shelf where it dropped onto saw dust
is forged in battle, stories held by tribal women
to pick and play, centuries hearing of bone heroes
who fled the slave ships on fire. Dahlias open
mauve and gray-leaved to this green-blue sky.
The alarm tings above my love’s bright ear,
her sleep a house where linguists fool no one,
their ornaments fill a careless dream.
She wakes in a cloud-skimmed room
to make her first choice of the day.
I wince at the artistry of finance,
but suffer without suffering for my gift-wrapped
photo: all the village women tote bright heavy
jugs down a shaft where water awaits
farther and farther away. As is their right,
they spin with us, the buyers in this orbit.



Michael Daley

Michael Daley, a retired high school teacher, is the author of several poetry collections: The Straits, To Curve, Moonlight in the Redemptive Forest, and Of a Feather. Pleasure Boat Studio published his book of essays, Way Out There, and his translation of Italian poet Lucia Gazzino’s Alter Mundus. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Hudson Review, Ploughshares, New England Review, North American Review, and elsewhere. Dos Madres press is bringing out his fifth collection of poetry, Born With, in June and his sixth collection, True Heresies, from which these poems are taken, is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. Michael recommends the International Rescue Committee.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Monday, April 13, 2020 - 12:15