- Birthday, Poetry, Reading, Writing

From the Archives: Two Poems, by Joe Milazzo

Happy birthday, Joe Milazzo! Celebrate by reading these two Milazzo poems we published in 2019! And then go read a Milazzo poem we published last year!


Sterling Morrison

The size of a sin,
the first ant detective
was cracked by the case
of the unsuspected wingtips.
The mystery being how they tripped
and skimmed, flying up phantom
staircases of their own
weightlessly bullying steps.
Ant detectives expire by a code.
They don’t sleep with the condiments
or disport their tails.

In pollinating drag, pre-consequential
(“Don’t mind me, sir,
and please.”)
a new ant detective
forages the big-time producers’
invisible grids of permissions.
Numbers grease these
garbage streets worse
than a utopian rain’s
solvent of malice.

Those soldiering days
he thought were behind him
drip off his dunked frame
like late-in-the-day shadows,
nightmare appendages
melting, turning quisling
with the dim twitch
of some scrupulousness
or nerve held back
from withholding.

(Misspelled sometimes
in the garble of breakneck
business — “wildholding.”
Stenography is a seductress
who’s liable to sap an ant
detective.) His tell
is terrible, a clowning
stammer more jugheaded than
the ears senescent
design denied him.
Juiced by the bait,
his antennae wave

at toe after toe,
the pickled quench
of fungal honeydew
asterisking those rows.
An ant detective, he likes
a hard hug but
he’s wise, he not so deep
in it that he can’t
level his own rhetoric
between his eyes.

(“Is that how you’re going to keep
them down on the farm?”)
Bare soles imposing sand or snow
where there’s only surface
is a crime as petty as
perversion, only more
profitable. An ant detective knows:
the treacherous gleam, vast and laky,
of granite slopes
where dragonflies slalom

and strike deals as though
predation never gave them a lift.
Palookas have a notorious ethics
and a weakness for delicate ankles.
And so a segmented gam come-
hithers around the corner
of the chemical crush unavoidable
with this many errant stiffs.
No one, not even a plotting queen
is a culprit, at least not necessarily.

Because the spaces between
their industrious densities
are indeterminate, the gum-smackers
and pool typists and taxi
dancers grind one and the same.
An ant detective harmonizes
another interesting name with
with the wire recorder’s
copper song and the words
“long” or “hard” refrain on him,

the labor-saver’s tongue as electric
as a dose of airplane glue.
How do the ones who
get so far in over their heads
save their eurekas from
the chopping block?
How do they keep sucking
wind after the gut-punch
of that “a-ha” lands and the guilt
pheromones rush in to scapegoat
(not-so-distant cousin
to the cuckold) the body and render it
individual? An ant detective
wishes he knew. But for all
his years, smarts just seem to him
a ricochet of acid, hysteria

scot-free. Speculations are the
worst of his after-hours willies
and joneses. An ant detective knocks
back with the bourbon
of sun-dried cola you can’t
get anymore, not even at
grasshopper prices. Maybe a press
of the intercom’s buzz
will remind him why he’s pursuing
this zaftig whatsis but

the factotum’s out checking
Wednesday’s night depositories. So
he chews on a preemptive hangover
as though instinct could lid
his dead giveaways with
a crisp Trilby. If an ant
detective could sniff at assumption
he would. If he could make duty
habitual, he’d be rolling in
glory: COD and DOA.

(An ant detective’s article
of faith: patsies are made and remade
in quantities that only make sense
once you believe that sacrifice
can go shopping.) An ant detective
has his strongholds, of which
focus isn’t one. Focus is
mumbo-jumbo, the death ray
bleaching the eyeless pursuit
that’s as narrow as any always.

An ant detective dare not dial
it in. The Hodges siren
churns. The golden scorch
of interrogating lights
will skew any straight line
and tie cement shoes around
the infinite tangle that fords
the state lines. (All cases
end up laundering their
sanctuary chase in one
river or another).

Dinners get deliciously wasted
arguing with the dark room.
Hatching is a ruse. Meanwhile,
the vamp sheds her spitfire girdle
and, with one claw ready
to shiv and the other cooing under
her albino John’s chin, she
induces the goon to
gobble down the evidence.
Deeds and wills, day and night:
so ravenous to crap out
the precious lacquer of exonerations

you’d think the squirt
were a mother.
An ant detective benchpresses
the biggest enigma. His six-pack
fat scoots towards his chest
and reminds him of his waist.
“Jerk,” he thinks he assert,
but it’s only “You know
what they say.”
(His old man said all bruises
are shaped like vaginas.)
No, he’s not cashing in that gauntlet.
Not until he can exhale and count
back to ten at the same time.

An ant detective can call checkmate
when he sees it. An ant detective
magnifies one and only one
conclusion, it’s fiery
automated letters parsing
him good in the grand read-off
“This, you mandibled
chump, is what it means
never to walk alone. You were
only ever a false cognate, and
you never were much for transcription

anyway. I’d hate to tell you
what a bakery or a meal ticket
looks like to me.” An ant
detective lies to himself
about his imitative crazes.
In time, an ant detective will
let his dime ring hard
against its fallen comrades,
the defenders of the biomass’
glandular secrets. An ant

detective uses his mouth
to make geometries
as he grooms his news
in the event of afterthoughts.
“I’m afraid,” he begins, and that
cues what’s dawning to flare
around the distant lens
and hang there in a clear countdown
to smoky self-destruction.
Awed at last by the ramparts
of his own progress
— how well they admit, how

widely or wildly or witchily
they exploit their immunities —
the ecology of his thought
reveals its leather
and scrap. All those expendables
his ascertaining slugged and dumped
in the backyard
until the whole works began
to smolder and leach —
they were faces he couldn’t recognize

for faces and, in that motif
of oafishness, a neon burn:
finally the ant detective catches
on to just how far the bucket
brigade of his truths has
strayed from straying.

Bink Noll

When her bonnet first scanned
his phylacteried letter, she didn’t realize
that what she had intercepted was any letter
— anything consigned,
anything sent
except into a last
oracular vow,
a sneer cut short
before it might
trail off into
its own secrecy.

Short as it was, a single side
of high-off-white stationery,
it’s bond slipped into a superseded
concordance shoved tight and shrinking
from embarrassment into the 220s:
prodigal errata punctuated
by a blurry shoe — unearthly
beige rainbow of a hot-air
balloon — captured in mid-flight,
the gray head in its path
smudged in ducking
and just in time.

Its words missed a harp,
or perhaps straight flutes. Sounds
gutty and chiming, yet seldom
whispery. The letter
spoke in quarters, turns
second-guessing their
snail-slow hairpins.
Some remnants
of an obscure zoology.
Some undiagrammable sprawl
making hay on sabbatical.
Some impoverished insults,
general and barely alliterative
like an embroidery
of baby — yes, yes,
she nodded,
prototypically troglodytic-—
birds gluttonous
with crickets.
The letter made her reel
into looking up, and not
to confirm the vaulted immensity
of open distance. It made her gaze
out, turn sentinel and atomic:
for a split-second, the cosmos’
only sun. For what’s a library,
she thought, except proof
that not every religion
burbles a people’s
history of people?
One nation, underwater.
Her sister was too busy
widowing besides.

The letter spoke of eons soon
to pass swift as dragons,
of rewards nested within rewards.
And, later, of the lukewarm crown worn
by everyone who had ever died —
who, in dying, had proven
themselves whores,
and sevenfold.

Her experience had been
worn hard and husbandless.
Her hands had only
ever held a broomstick
or a wishbone. Her anatomy
she addressed as “thou.”
To feel her shape shifting
above the tiptoe of her hem
(and above that, the lapsarian
isthsmus of her birthmarked calf)
her experience had to have been
almost pastel and assuredly broad.
Cheek-turned linens too starched
to shadow with dampness
yet salted along the seams,
a long count of hair-brushings
before bed and another day
cooking stone fruit down
to butter. But in every
smiling obedience, she clutched
back a mustardy
grain of rebellion. She fooled
them all with pictures
when it was the rest of the book
she truly devoured. Inwardly,
she stiffened before the dogma
pronouncing all learning
was in the keep of teachers, that
the familiarity of discernment
was prefixed, over and beyond
the height of pride. Like calling
down the street to a friend
far advanced on another errand
by their second name alone.

The letter carried no address,
only manly capitals, their holes
very publicly sheathed
and rejecting ornament.

She came back, week after week.
Although the dust grew thin,
as though it had evaporated
with each little bit of desert
admitted by the building’s beeping
turnstile, the letter was unmoved.
The Hell you know,
it kept repeating.
And later, inerrantly, I do.

Tempted to write back
to this no one in particular
not exactly pseudonymous
or mystically clouded or even
so blandly neighborly
that grace had sought fit their
likenesses should be fretted out,
she composed her good faith.
She began with the tatter
of a veil. It had never
once masked or imbibed
a semblance . Its fitness
as a replacement
for the flat missal itself
weighted her heart.
The longing to volley inspiration
had all but bewitched her.

In the vestibule, his letter
felt too good folded next to
the library card and date-due
reminder in her suddenly
stupid, kangaroo-ish pocket.
The letter’s thumbed
corners encouraged something
perilously close to false witness.
She ran, chasing
after the better exit
that had martyred turning back
the moment theft peeped
into her imagination.

Weeks later, after her interpretations
had exhausted their anger, she returned.
Her bosom was free to heave.
Her endowments bounced. The Chaldean
click of her referencing tottered,
grabbing at interruption’s soft
and dangling members, the ones
not so much vulnerable
as vestigial, nominally deadened.
And where had she been?
She’d been delving, indulging
in thesauruses, idling in their
gardens of morphological watercolors.
The not-epistle? Now lost to pieces.
There were places most
everywhere else and in them
explanations were plain.
There, the vulgarity of knowing
was its own kind of wholesomeness —
it meant the self was neither cause
nor proof. The self was just moving.
That flying shoe, as she saw it
now, unreconstructed yet recreated,
was impotence down to its last
weapon. It was the worst blackmail
a low-ranking wife might swing
at the bald scorning of her master’s brow.
However righteous its malice,
a dirty missile still travels
in the direction the world is turning.

She asked to use the old
card catalog, leaving the timed terminals
to the brethren of job seekers
and pedophiles. In the cool
of the neglect shaded by
compact shelving, she could covet
with a clear conscience.
She could wish something
different of herself
without upbraiding her womanhood.
If she could write, if she
could clean the epithets
of the new pandemonium clawing
back onto the tip of her tongue —
what more might she confess?

Taking down a volume
of “Consumer Reports”
bound in 1987, she tried,
in the margins, with tears
from both eyes. (A worse
curse than the cyclopean
one once knotted under her chin.)

that I
whose silhouette
bows at “both”
and “not.” I’m the I
of years at etudes
and hooded by
make-up rubber.
Not entirely the miraculous
“I” permitted to aim the saying
of “you” at you.
Please, I pray.
Don’t take every
break of our common
ground to tilt
tradition, lithe and green,
too far the way
of the clearing.
Sugar-soft and sugar-duped,
you would turn every going
if only you rigged sincerely.
Not every hello
is meant to
let the greeted supply
their family tree
with sparkly ore.
Led too far toward
the highs — high
as a blet, high as
guilt — of your
lone approach,
throwing swallows
its hunger and its
in triumphant puffs.
Hate knows love.
Love feeds its snaky
insides. Loves loses
hate in what that
labyrinth extracts.
But love forgets.
Absorption evolved
from extraction and
selection has to add
before it can subtract.
Not every receipt
is a confession
of the uneaten.

Having run out of woe,
she put aside her refractions
and her pencil. She sat
and flipped
through page upon pristine
page of pulpy halftones: baby
monitors, electric razors, wiper blades,
humidifiers, timeless
in their usefulness,
their aid. She wasn’t looking
for anything except that
very realization. Whereupon,
her eyelashes black and flaming, she
smoothed what had been most
Esau and Gorgon about her
and dowsed for another spring.
This time, she swore, she
would make it mountainous.

Note from the author: My concern in the “name poems” of ACROSTIC ASPIC is with the conditions of celebrity as they are lived by non-celebrities, i.e., “you” and “me.” Or: I suppose these poems are all about minor celebrity, as their titles, borrowed from the outer limits of fame, suggest. Our subjectivities so often cohere in the back and forth between narratives intensely our own and those widespread narratives with which we cannot help but make contact, or which are in constant contact with us. But the latter narratives are so much more easily represented, not to mention “relatable,” while the former remain largely untranslatable. So this self-exchange can never be equal. Still, people live as they live, and their names mean something to them.

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