Precious as Porcelain (or, Bathtub Virgin for a Shallow Grave)
Heard she joined a convent somewhere in France or
Spain when she was just a kid. Thought she
wanted to be a saint or something.
Heard they were a front for the mob or the CIA or
even the Illuminati, they say.
Heard she got recruited into the inner circle of the
organization, to be trained as an elite,
Heard the headmistress told her every day that she
was as precious as porcelain, that she’d be perfect
because no one would ever suspect her.
Heard that’s the last thing you heard before everything
went black, with a foot on your chest then two
in the face: why, you’re just as precious as porcelain.
Heard she did that for twenty years, until one day
it became one kill too many and she just
Heard she disappeared from it all, went on the run and
off the grid of an underworld that was already
off the grid.
Heard there was a price on her head.
Heard there were sightings in Mogadishu, Bangladesh
and Bangor, Maine.
Heard anyone who went looking was never
heard from again.
Heard some hotshot looking to make a name
got a hot tip.
Heard this fool came calling one day, looking for
vengeance or to claim the bounty or maybe
even try to pull her back into the life.
Heard she invited him in for tea and cookies and a
little talk about the weather, and now that
sorry son of a bitch is buried in her backyard
garden, in a shallow grave beneath a bathtub
virgin, feeding the worms and microbes
and thirsty shoots and rootlets of Marigolds,
Tulips and Daylilies …
Precious as porcelain.
The Gift Of Fire (Or, Kansas City To Raleigh In 24 Hours Or Less)
for Will Leathem, Ed Tato and Mark Hennessy
The night is long and in full-effect
and there’s nothing but bad radio, stale coffee
and a bright, five-battery-flashlight of a moon
that’s been keeping a steady pace with us
ever since it came out from behind the clouds.
Sometime around 4am we barely miss
most of what must have been a buffalo or bear:
a meandering trail of animal and automotive viscera
visible, here and there, for nearly a mile along the road.
But we keep on keeping-on, anyway,
with a suddenly renewed and invigorated sense of purpose,
the radio low and everyone in the car suddenly
adrenalized, awake and alert for anything else
the universe might unexpectedly hurl our way
(be it deer, cop, phantom hitch-hiker
or 24-hour truck stop).
But, inevitably, we are forced to answer
nature’s shrill and relentless call
and pull our (clearly ill-advised and
poorly planned) cross-country pilgrimage
over to the side of the highway
(where there surely must be
all manner of nightmarish caricatures
and creatures lurking just out of reach
of the lone, guttering torch of our dome light).
And it would appear that we have
officially arrived at that time of night
(inversely proportionate to however many miles
one is away from home and how many miles
one still has left to go)
when the far-off / way-out voices
of hell-fire preachers and UFO abductees
crackle and whisper, in and out,
of the troughs and peaks of static
foaming from the car’s stereo speakers,
out and out into the great, starry firmament
when the icy breath of the cosmos whispers
dirty jokes and grand unifying conspiracies
at the backs of our necks,
when unsettling thoughts and inexplicable intuitions
of eternal recurrence begin to smolder and smoke
inside our minds and we just know, somehow,
that we’ve all been here before, right here,
on this very spot (or one indistinguishable from it),
same time of dark, eerie, pre-dawn morning,
pissing in a ditch by the side of a highway,
and everyone of us can’t help but contemplate,
however briefly, at least some of the great,
existential / metaphysical mysteries and conundrums
that have stalked our species ever since that
evolutionary leaping-off point of no return
when we discovered that for all its many gifts,
fire is still the orginator of the long
snaky shadows that it casts
and causes the dark around us
to grow only
Jason Ryberg is the author of twelve books of poetry, six screenplays, a few short stories, several angry letters to various magazine and newspaper editors, and a box full of folders, notebooks and scraps of paper that could one day be (loosely) construed as a novel. He is currently an artist-in-residence at both The Prospero Institute of Disquieted P/o/e/t/i/c/s and the Osage Arts Community. He lives part-time in Kansas City, with a rooster named Little Red and a billy goat named Giuseppe, and part-time somewhere in the Ozarks, near the Gasconade River, where there are also many strange and wonderful woodland critters.