Lee Rossi
January 2019

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. 

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