THOMAS PALAIMA, "Visions of Desolation: Cleveland 1965 Austin 2012"

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Visions of Desolation: Cleveland 1965 Austin 2012

POEM BY Thomas G. Palaima

Ecce homunculus.


This new blank document

could remain blank

for all I care

to reveal or conceal.


Ask me.

I ain’t sayin’.

Coax me.

My lips are sealed.


I could turn myself inside out.

My soul could slowly spin about.


Spin? Turn? Rotate? Whirl?

Like a chicken on a spit?

Like coffee in a microwave?

Like a top? A dervish? A compact disc?

A vinyl record from my youth?


What would you like me to play?


The needle in the groove works

its wonder in high fidelity,

but faithful to the max to what?


The songs from cheap speakers,

two-bit, sentimental,

still sound good to me.


But who cares?


If I stood naked, who would hear?


My dried voice

is more than quiet

and less than meaningless.


Not a whimper.


“Peanuts, here, four bags for a quarter.”


“Buy your rags from Daddy Wags!”


A naïve young

Roman Catholic boy,


thirteen going on ten,

by way of the CTS

(Cleveland Transit System)

Number 35

—“Trowbridge next!” —

after eighteen miles

and fifty minutes

of fading storefronts

run-down bars

reading the same


lexicon of Polish,

Czech, Hungarian,

Irish, Croatian

and now Puerto Rican


steps off

at Lorain Avenue

and 25th Street,

walks from the West Side Market

five blighted city blocks

to the red-brick Jesuit high school,

and sits among other boys,

among, but not with.


What was that shell,

what kind of envelope

kept him sound,

and soundless?


Move, move, move,

you splendid little machine.


Not quite a robot.


What did Eliot really know

about the butt ends of days?


Who can count

the butt ends

of the ways

that life can play

blind man’s bluff

with your soul,

and for keeps?


There isn’t even any key chain.

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