Poetry - Hyssop and Hermetics, The Absinthe Literary Review

Arlene Ang

The Czech Chemistry Teacher and Miss Greta

Even on Sundays a murder of girls
broods in Susan’s bedroom. The curtained
fifth floor window overlooks his backyard,
the benches weathered by constant friction.

Every hand is busy stroking binoculars,
elbows bent to combat for space.
The new Chemistry teacher has become
a burning house to female stoppers-by.

Marie intimates he plays the piano.
She doesn’t add how his notes hole her body
with will-o’-the-wisps as she crouches
outside his fenced lawn at night.

Lorraine boasts he hand-stoked her arm
while explaining the law of thermodynamics,
Claire still exhumes that day she pressed
pushed-up breasts against his shirt.

But everyone knows about Miss Greta,
that bilge water in stagnant janitress uniform.
Who does she think she is—snaking around
with a younger man, slithering kisses behind trees?

In silence, they vulture over the old sex act:
rivulets of sweat on skin, fired cries,
wet-warring tongues, the radiation of orgasms 
—all devoured by sickle-sharp eyes.

Afterwards Julie, ever the straight-A student,
smokes over how oil, when heated enough,
propagates fire even through sewage.
He taught them all about combustion.


Breathe Now, Breathe

The convalescent in bed 361
ticks like a faulty clock,
his pulse a chartreuse cursor
counting down the night.

Like dendrites alerted to pain,
his neighbors cold-stir in beds
hard as coffins before
the invention of satin cushions.

Equipped with bedpans,
nurses are bleached nylon turners
in charge of urging
each flank to flip over,

perhaps negotiating a shower
leashed to an IV pole.
Their gummed soles are proof
of non-stick efficiency.

The patients are mostly free-rangers—
old bulls that horn each other
for TV control by day while studs hoof
about cows on greener pastures.

Still there is something delightful
about convalescence. Behind closed blinds,
the terminally ill relive Vivaldi’s
Four Seasons, one breath at a time.


Death in the Afternoon

Walk slowly.
Enmesh yourself in the crowd.

Gnats lay eggs on his face—
on the dumbstruck eyes,
in the rolled-up mouth.

You hear murmured:
Coronary thrombosis. Indigestion. Even constipation.

Sirens weave into open space.
Gnats disperse. The ones left behind
are zipped up in a black disposal sack.

A gnat settles on you
and you suffocate with it—or wish you did.

The bags are packed. Back doors open and close.
Actors are spirited away. The show is over.
No credits given.

When you leave the crowd,
don’t ask for your money back.

(Previously published in Dandelion, Canada (Vol 25, No 1, Dec 1998))



I confess that something about
clean sheets sullies me,
leads me to cross my legs
in fear of unstopping steam.

Secretions if aroused enough
can burn—and I badly need
legs since my mother’s modesty
requires that I try at least to run.

It is not a matter of silk.
Ironed cotton stretched
on a mattress already
bloats bed with sex.

My therapist tells me
to turn a blind eye,
that four-posters are
not the enemy; guilt is.

I dare not say that I’ve been
sleeping unrecorded in the nude,
that the smell of tumbled wash
is enough to lick me warm.

From the couch, I watch abstract
office paintings form multi-colored
sheets. Primly I cross my legs
to cover the sweat of orgasm.

(First appeared online in Clean Sheets (18 December 2002)

© 2003 Arlene Ang

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