Head Lice Circus: Shock and Awe 

                                            “Every act visible to the naked eye!”
                                                                           --broadsheet, Professor Fricke’s
                                                                           Original-Imperial Flea Circus, circa 1880

Is my scalp developing scruples, or worse,
a conscience pricked full enough
to hold a feast of eating souls?

Per molestias erudition, St. Augustine said,
Father of the Inquisition,

I wear a crawling crown.
Naturally, I am ashamed. Also weirdly elected: my blood brothers
could be made to pay blood, too,

with hair-fine wires tied to microscopic M-16’s
affixed to waving bug-parts,

trained to re-enact the fall of Dien Bien Phu,
or play Texas Hold ‘Em
if I can get these slipknots tight enough,

and all their coffins carved from one, half-cracked mustard seed!

If this is a parable, it’s a lousy one.
I am proud meat. I contain multitudes.
I am a moving diorama—
the bed, the couch, everywhere I look I see nations

spreading in a pin-speck’s burning democracy.
To the nits and seeds that
send things raging

I bow down, not humbly,
and say, Thank-you, friends, for your vote. For you
I’ll toss my pretty head yet.

Then I waltz to the cave door of the 24-hour pharmacy for poison
& a rat-tailed comb
toothed to the metal hilt

to clear away the bodies.

My Powers

Petition the drums I am doing things
with my bare mind alone I cannot
white fallow deer or glitter the air with birdcall links

but successes do pile up—who moves friends
great distances
just by not thinking of them?

Who pulls loneliness silking
from every cocktail conversation?

This poem is pathetic.
I made you think that!

Whereas tenderness is the force taken
to melt a silver teaspoon
back onto itself,

unshaping it
for anyone else’s use,
guess who escapes our mutual embraces
quicker, my dead mother or me.

At a certain age, one should be done disappointing oneself.
The trick is never explained.

“Call me back!” my phone machine winks
cheery as a bomb. I watch it

from the other side of the room, deliberating.
Connection, solitude--
when will the future just shut up?

I would no more look directly at a plane
carrying the mortal enormity of  flight & blue sky on its back

than stand under an icicle
depending from the eaves
with a baby in my arms, held up, in early spring. 

Dorothy Barresi is the author of four books of poetry: American Fanatics (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010); Rouge Pulp; The Post-Rapture Diner, winner of an American Book Award; and All of the Above, winner of the Barnard College New Women Poets Award.  Her invited essay, “Baby Boom Poets and the New Zeitgeist” was recently featured in a special issue of Prairie Schooner. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, the Emily Clark Balch Prize from the Virginia Quarterly Review, and a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at California State University, Northridge.  She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Phil Matero, and sons Andrew and Dante.

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