Poetry - Dropping Balm, The Absinthe Literary Review

by James R. Whitley

Here’s the Rub, Beelzebub

That we arrive pre-tortured,

and thus numbed, inured,

thoroughly tormented long

before the hackneyed fall.


So all you acquire is dross,

limp ash once the bonfire

cools, cold meat left over

from a sumptuous repast.


Those tragic few among us

who abstained from all such

ardent enticements now find

themselves in danger, screaming


at the novelty of your

searing touch, but the rest of us

come as ragged survivors—

all heavy heads, heaving chests—


as slaves, marked and branded,

our stiffening muscles wearied,

accustomed to varying degrees

of abuse, well versed in the cruel


art, in the actual experience of

misery, our charred souls already

claimed, already the battered

chattel of some other tyrant.


The Red Door, Closing

This is the red door,

closing, the three flawed

notes trailing off.

This is the creak of

the hinges, rusted red.

(Perhaps this should

have been a warning.)

And here, this is

the birth of the blues:

Is you is or

Is you ain’t ma baby?

This is the wide arc the

door necessarily swings

through as the aperture

decreases, as what was

once entry disappears.

This is the terrible wingspan

of perfidy, the notable

grace with which it


cuts through the chilled air.

Were I the type to say “Fuck you”

I would.

This is the red door,

closing, and this is

the reverberation as it

slams shut, the dark

clang echoing away—

it, too, somehow red.

This is you, wondering

how you’ll ever get in again,

if you’d ever want to.


This is the exiting that

continues even after

the door has shut.

This is your mind, calmly

repeating its mantra:

assess, assess.

This is you, finally,


I am washing my hands between these lines.

This is the red door,

closing. This is you,

sleeping again on the

other side, untroubled.

This is you, once again

taking in the birds and

their music, your friends

and their music, finding

several reasons to.

I am washing my hands.

This is the red door,



This is the world,

becoming fluid again.


This is the point

you must believe:

you found this one;

there will be others.


(after Sandra Cisneros)

Linger here a while longer two-pronged

icon, alter me if you will.


Reorient my perspectives like

a change in gravity, a modified map.


Remain insolent and aloof, if you must,

but remain here.


And ruin me like sacrilege, blasphemy,

a blown tire, a broken hymen.


Stay and chide me, or disregard these scars if you like.

Haunt me like a poltergeist, a succubus, la chupacabra.


Persist like a rash, an annoying cough, blister

like a third-degree burn, but stay


entrenched in the very structure of the muscle.

Become myocardium, corpuscle, blood, beat, soul.


Or tug, pull, rip,

rend the whole damn thing apart if you choose.


Treat me like old underwear, ragged slippers—

worn, familiar, predictable—but keep me


dependent, and needed

like air, art, amor.


Rechristen me your Querido, Othello, Bozo.



Be diva to my aria, darkest bubble in my malta,

last sweet thrust before climax.


Make me a maudlin paradox: desiring death while

savoring the delicious agony of the slow burn.


Love me like a wealthy liberal with something to prove,

like an eccentric, a bohemian with nothing to lose,


because now I’m doomed—unbought mistletoe still

waiting in the market after the first of the year,


a burnt frijole you don’t want to ruin your rice.

Push me to the side then, but let me stay on your plate!


Because I am a man who loves you,

who implores you to do with me as you will,


just do.


© 2002 James R. Whitley

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