Friday, October 4, 2019

Three Poems by James Cagney


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
           driveway Rorschach
patterned in oil, a crunch of sand sprinkled as before a tap-dancer.  Your wife and son know this,                  too… Stranded on the porch,
watching you,
ready to run.


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


milky floral buds

snap open
traps broken

pistil pores pop
pushing out

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
unspeakable, unanswerable

my brains compass
a helicopter
of dandelion
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 His first book, Black Steel Magnolias In The Hour Of Chaos Theory, is available now from More of James' writing can be found at

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