HOW TO OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY (circa 1978)
1. Think of yourself a medical specialist, puzzling how to diagnose a machine's stubborn silence.
2. Dip the doughnut of your torque converter into a steaming cup of black oil. Stainless steel carbide bologna sandwiches. Fan belt licorice.
3. A bowl of lug nuts bubble the red milk of transmission fluid like tadpoles. Brackets and spark plugs breach the greasy cookie jars on your automotive spice shelf.
4. Examine your patient through a stethoscopic sheet of Marlboro smoke, an x-ray on a light-board. Translate the fevered gibberish of an engine in idle.
5. Let the sun pause before your workshop and hang stars above the door. Ignore the son and its failing starter. Consider you might be a better god over a fickle society of steel. Know how to put them in their place.
6. Give yourself a fuel treatment. Lunch of bourbon on kerosene rocks. Brake Fluid ice cream. Backfire of kick-started beer cans spewing.
7. Witchdoctor with a ratcheting wrench through your nose – Your ignited blue hands assemble metallic dreams.
8. There is no better mattress than cardboard on a sidewalk or
patterned in oil, a crunch of sand sprinkled as before a tap-dancer. Your wife and son know this, too… Stranded on the porch,
ready to run.
I WAS A HERO ONCE
A dead satellite in a room
with children bouncing like atoms
off the walls. They are faceless,
sweaty & every storm-based verb.
I corral them before the television—
an antique microwave cooking
colorless cartoons. As the constellation
of them settle, I move to the next room & see it.
The ceramic planter which held
a tittering ficus
had been kicked into slices.
This sight weakens me.
I pull shards from the black
custard soil as if harvesting tombstones.
I caress the roots squiggling
in my fingers, the hand of a dying grandparent—
my heart cursing, pouring itself empty
thru disbelieving eyes.
& to think I was a hero once.
I followed a pack of thieves
hiding in a darkness unnamed by science,
yet I could still see them—
& felt sorry for them
as I levitated above the yard.
The stitching in my palms itched
emitting ophidian beams of flame
igniting every wet, incombustible
thing, synthesizing everything else
to greasy ash.
I could not be defeated.
I was so alone.
Look at me now.
Stacking broken pottery,
pawing through soil as hissing
tears drop like dead moths.
Only a ______ can be bested
& crushed within by indifferent
A TASTE OF AMNIOTIC FLUID
milky floral buds
pistil pores pop
a porridge of sautéed cells,
melted to malted—
globules of grease
molded to the body
sends me further
down the street
than I'd ever gone before
dizzy with questions
my brains compass
petals / spinning
over estates of skin
boiling in upheaval
itch of cascading petals
primer of tongues’ tickling touch
tearing like a lucid dream animal
through the black chaparral
James Cagney is a poet from Oakland, Ca. He has appeared at venues in throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Vancouver, and Mumbai. He was profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle and on KALW.org. His first book, Black Steel Magnolias In The Hour Of Chaos Theory, is available now from NomadicPress.org. More of James' writing can be found at https://thedirtyrat.blog/