from THE DEPRESSION
A man sits down to dinner with his husband, their plates full of meat & potatoes & vegetables. He
eats greedily, another spoonful rising before he finishes chewing. He pants & sweats from eating.
But when he looks down he sees that his plate is still completely full of meat & potatoes &
vegetables. His husband’s plate is empty, licked clean & his husband is leaning back in his chair
with the button of his blue jeans open. The man again eats from the plate, but no matter how
much he eats the plate remains full. Though he is not hungry, he forces the food into his mouth,
swallows with great exertion. He eats so much that his stomach flattens all his other organs &
still he eats. He eats so much that a gall tree begins to grow in his stomach. The gall tree
emerges from his navel & grows quickly. Soon the gall tree is pushing through the ceiling & the
roots have trapped the man. Relieved he can finally let loose his endless humanity, the man
opens up & all the mechanical pencils & phones & batteries of his life tumble out. The gall tree
grows so large that it traps all the humans in its roots & they are stuck to the raw dirt, muttering
the things trapped people mutter, eating first the skin off their arms & then the flesh & then
gnawing the knotted plastic grocery bags that once held their bones together.
I was born lost on the river & I will always be lost on the river. The river goes in two directions,
but neither lead to destinations. A sidewalk runs along the river & people jog & walk their dogs
there. They wave to us & we wave to them. When we ask them how to get somewhere they point
up the river or down the river & say keep going, that we’re getting closer. Each morning we
whip our shoulders until the skin is all flayed off & by evening when we retire to our cots we are
healed. Sometimes one of us will die from sickness or from drowning, but then we are suddenly
not dead or even ill. I used to know everyone’s names, but after a while names molded like folded
linens in the humidity. We pass port after port but there is nowhere to stop. We trace our fingers
along each map until we rub the blue ink off. Thank god, though, for the constant presence of
the surveillance cameras. Everyone knows everything about life & death, but why won’t anyone
talk about the third choice?
Each night the man comes home & crushes his day into a tight ball & tosses the ball in the trash.
He works at the confidence factory. He trains the dogs.
These mouths keep growing on me. It takes a lot of duct tape to keep them closed. They wake
me at night, squirming out of the tape, lips gummy with adhesive. They choke up bits of spine &
meat & spit them out with blood-pinked drool. They tell me about the taut skin of my father’s
blackened feet, my mother rubbing them each night to circulate blood. How she still rubs them
each night, though he’s three years dead. They tell me about the mes bottled & lined up on
presswood bookshelves. How wide my smile is in each bottle, how closed my eyes. What I hate
most is languorousness. I like a good fence circling a property. I like the blue holes in the ocean
floor where water has no oxygen. Each morning I mummy myself with tape to keep the mouths
closed but when I reach the bus the first mouths squirm out & their tacky lips stick to the
windows. What I hate most is when all the mouths gape wide & the breeze moves through my
body like a wheat-field, all belief. This morning when I woke & rubbed my eyes I felt slack
tongues pressing out my eyelids. I can’t remember if I was born with a mouth. I mean, what is a
poem for? When I remove my mask from my face, beneath it sits a plain white cardboard box
containing a melting ice cream cake.
A man opened his mouth to scream but instead there was a lite-brite behind his lips.
The colorful pegs like bickering stars. This is an annual death amid the dry dead leaves. This
spring from which emits the glowing water.
MATHIAS SVALINA is the author of three books, most recently The Explosions from Subito Press. With Alisa Heinzman, Hajara Quinn & Zachary Schomburg he co-edits Octopus Books.