The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Anis Shivani



Religion is a plantation economy

burning big-eyed corpses in a cricket stadium,

burning Orwell’s hidden texts in plain sight of the rats.

Rats have been big in my spiritual autobiography,

which begins here, with an ego as large as the x

in the xylophone, as tiny as the bead-eyed danio

which you have for breakfast.



I was alive in 1984 as a prolapsed final solution,

so long past Iwo Jima that the guns blazed

in the movie theater while I planted traps, traps to

catch the primigravada chewing off her sullen womb

because she became anxious at the briefest sight

of me in my toe clips. Yes I am unconventional,

but what did you expect of a writer?




And I’m a real one too. Literature circulates in

my vital thumbs like a prognosis by Vivaldi,

the lead in the water in my house in my rotten borough

disappears because of gold, gold everywhere,

gold estoile hovering over my head like a spouse,

the only one I could be faithful to, Longinus and I

refusing to be benchwarming melodies.




It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call me a misanthrope

and a misogynist and a mistaken Melpomene,

heralding my polymorphous death in near rhymes and near misses,

seeking an audience that doesn’t yet exist. I

thought I was writing a twenty-first-century novel,

but what I have been producing all along is

émigrés holding hands emotionally.




Does writing ensue from an evil instinct?

Why do you care for my cheerless eminence?

There are candidates for autobiography and there are

candidates for cancer, but we must vary the tone

of the Beige Book once in a while, lest

the workers rise in a fit of articulation, and

arrive by mistake at true arson.




It is true I have only loved once in my life.

My mandarin appearance, amongst the stalwarts of

print, is a marshy blue flag in a meadow

of blunders, it is a blush the charwoman knows

all too well as the sin before the crime,

it is the hirsute Maine coon purebred

like the high comedy of pederasts.




It is not possible to be honest among capitalists.

I can only steal, it is the only thing left for me to do,

if I want to hold my head high, a hierarch

punished like Melos cranberries melting in the bizarre

nada sun, the mythomanias my parents acquired

as fallback (what if? what if it’s all true?) migrating

to my light-sensitive polypoid hands.




But all the world believes. Lightning, inverted snobbery,

hexahedrons, dysphasia, royal tennis, the roving eye,

tarweed, Tarzan, the Pearly Gates, Odysseus,

Moulin Rouge, infanticide, heteronyms, Eid, Egypt,
egg rolls, cyanosis, cybernauts, cypress knees,

dickey birds. Lots to believe in, lots to stuff

into the pzazz camcorder before baptism.




It is easiest to believe in nothing. What is nothing?

A banyan tree without the trunk, a barrier

in a holiday when you are trying to decide if

you want to be a fortress or a loading dock,

a woman who teaches you necromancy,

a press release for your medal of freedom, these are

the vipers in my bosom I coddle.




But when do you think I will stand vindicated?

I practiced higher criticism in my geodesic dome,

a form of dog Latin (no?), imagining dechristianization

among the crakes of brinkmanship, imagining

my recherché pyramids, imagining riding home

in a hackney made to my lexical specifications,

my past as a Lhasa apso no liability.




Who are the thin men in my population

of infantine reserves? They are literalist infidels,

who know the way I grew up among liquidity, went to

private school arguing for my wiry schnauzer,

the way I was appointed stationer to the unconscious,

all before fifteen, before I discovered

the foxhole to spend my life in.




We will form a consortium of love, once I take leave of

the butterflies surrounding the bylaws, once I exit

the Ivy League as a quilling restroom choked

with sixpence. How far-flung the countersubjects

obtainable by mere centavos, at the bottom of the barrel

axisymmetric aye-ayes, confirmation of the ordeal

via the rough trades of the rotoscope.




Always the problem of money. Money as

stenography. Money as Wallace Stegner’s foxhunt

for the Magnus effect, in the new Pax Romana.

Money in the pay envelope stuffed with second-

person sphincters. Money spelling the end of the

Colorado spruce. It’s as if I were born bucktoothed

and interbred in the rabbit warren.




I mentioned thieving earlier, a consistent pattern, a

leitmotif if you will, my own third law of thermodynamics,

which you can observe at any of my well-attended readings

for Thetis, for the housekeepers of information technology.

I carry in my ditty bag—everywhere from Trader Joe’s

to the university library—a coolie hat, not known to

knowledge workers, and my secret mantelletta.




I also studied the rational expectations hypothesis

as a budding economist. And I learned that earthbound

distress can be measured in units of scale. I was

taught my position on the color wheel, black velvet

or ash blond, depending on the duration of the financial

year. I wandered onto the playa with my Platonic

stenosis, and stepped out with the redheaded waitress.




The summer I read all of Molière I was already

sick of ear candy, I disbelieved in earnestness, I was

crumpled in my own fist of crown jewels

as a gruesome baby in Lin Biao’s line

of work. The Chinese communists are all dead.

In my time no one knew what existed in Mozambique.

Even now my mouse ear is tuned to percussion.




You were penciled in as stepbrother

just when the evangelists arrived at the doorstep

speaking of Cremona as the home of Stradivari.

Or am I thinking of the chatoyant Jehovah’s

Witnesses at our Queens apartment, back in the

blizzard of ’83, when we went all gnostic and vain,

like Melina Mercouri’s pump gun?




I keep coming back to the rhizomorph as the style

least suited to my form of cancer. Memories

are never recollected verbatim, at least not

in my case. What stems from having a prolonged

spell of kindheartedness is loss of suzerainty.

You play one practical joke after another in your

years of innocence, lulled by satiety.




I lived in California as satellite television. In Massachusetts

as juggernaut from Julliard. In Texas as oversubscribed

promethium. And there were many forgotten places

along the way, in each one of which the subculture

I inhabited was of my own making, stylized

for irradiance, hardened in frugality, degressive

according to the cosmological argument of the moment.




But there is only one place I have ever truly lived.

Once in Corvallis, as the bees sang evidence, and

forked lightning illumined hectic dead Bibles,

I gave you my octopus hand, proletarian

in my recapitulation, and I asked you to take care

of the streetlights, extend the synchronized night,

and try to think of me as diamondback terrapin.




ANIS SHIVANI's recent books include The Moon Blooms in Occupied Hours: Poems, Literary Writing in the 21st Century: Conversations, Soraya: Sonnets, and Karachi Raj: A Novel. New work appears in the Yale Review, Black Warrior Review, Western Humanities Review, Boulevard, Subtropics, Third Coast, The Journal, and elsewhere. He is a regular contributor to Salon, and his new political books include Confronting American Fascism: Essays on the Democratic Collapse, 2001-2017, and Why Did Trump Win?



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