Lee Rossi was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He studied 5 years for the Roman Catholic priesthood before leaving the seminary. He is the author of three books of poetry, Wheelchair Samurai (Plain View Press, 2012), Ghost Diary (Terrapin Press, 2003) and Beyond Rescue (Bombshelter Press, 1992), and has appeared in various anthologies, including Don’t Leave Hungry: 50 Years of the Southern Poetry Review (The University of Arkansas Press, 2009) and The Mysterious Life of the Heart (The Sun Publishing Co., 2009). He is Staff Reviewer for Pedestal and a contributing editor for Poetry Flash.He lives in Northern California.
One August bagworms lit my father’s
evergreens like Christmas lights, thousands
of gold cocoons. Simple materials,
needles and something like spit
to hold them together. He told me
to get outside and pick them off the bushes.
I see myself standing there hesitant,
a tin pan dangling in my hand.
What was I thinking? The nuns at school
were always reminding us of the pains
of hell, the fire, the darkness, the worms
that ate but did not consume the sinner.
Or maybe I was thinking about Aunt Marge
in her beautiful cherry box,
cushioned by velvet on all sides.
The worms would be halfway through
the wood by now. In less than a year
there’d be nothing but holes.
When my father came out to cut the grass,
he yelled at me, I remember that,
above the roar of the mower,
so I started, the heat like a fur coat
turned inside out, the sweet smell
of clipped grass, the choking smoke.
The pods were sticky, prickly.
As I worked I saw the inchlings
crawling from their sleeping bags
like kids waking at camp.
When the pan was full, he took it
and told me to come with him out back
to the trash pit where we burned
newspaper. I loved watching
each sheet as it blackened, curled,
and revealed the unburnt page beneath
just before it caught. But not this time
when he poured my little captives
onto the charred ground,
shook gas onto them—
I thought of the priest at High Mass
sprinkling us with holy water—
and lit them like charcoal.
Oh, they curled too in the sudden heat,
blood-smoke rising sideways in the pit.
What must he have thought, seeing me
staring, fists clenched, the moisture
boiling from my cheeks and eyes,
trying to read that fiery script?
She wears her shrink-wrap skin like Venus
wears her toga, revealing, not concealing
the pure marble of her muscles.
For two acts she tantalizes,
seated on her tiny garlanded swing,
with fawn-like looks and legs
chiseled by the daily conquest of gravity,
this not quite human girl
who seems all hydraulics
and tubular steel. I wonder
at the will that produces such compact
concentration. Even her breasts
are miracles of compact concentration.
Perhaps the gods adore her too.
I can almost feel their jealousy,
as finally in act three she throws
herself on air and soars
so close to their realm, this Icarus
who has pared her body
until it lifts like an aileron
in the breath of our attention.
How can they face their own desire?
Is that what makes them gods,
the knowledge that immolated
in the fire of the moment,
they will somehow survive
to suffer the next?
Who else can face that blaze?
And yet we try, faces upturned,
dazzled by the spotlight
as she grips the rings with one foot,
spreading her arms to receive
our embrace. We give her wings,
who fear for her, who ache
at her ascension. Too late
the memory of our roots, buried
safely in the ground—
the quickening in our skin,
the knot in our groins.