Jesse Glass: Four poems

The Widower

The waves
smash the sand to gritty atoms,
strike like a jealous husband,
yet the lone man stands with eyes like rivet ends
ashy hair salt plastered to his skull.
Divining headphones
tag with ping & hum
the bottle cap tramped into silt
by antique instep or the salt-encrusted tooth
rasped from an errant jaw tumbling
trough to leaden trough. Children jeer him but he's deaf
to what they sing, like some queer tufted heron
he darts and bends and harvests the murk
rocking beneath the mirrors at his groin

to grope the blowsy sea, rejecting
whorls and gemmy horns. (A span of pearls
slaps his cheek). As boys scream home with wet towels
knotted at their throats, he scoops his homely treasure from the cold
and tucks the tortured gewgaw in a bag.
Then circles in his wildness once again.

Hell Money

Printed on rough paper pressed from poorest beggar's
rags, the spit sucked from
rotten teeth, fresh sawdust of
coffin boards pegged together on trestles
in damp rooms whose uncemented bricks
fall in escarpments of clay --

      A splash of gold
& red Chinese (piston-like compression of idea
recoils in meaning Long Life) stacked
in still moist ideograms
scumbled with blue bottle wings
will tumble when lit

down to the perpetually outstretched palms
of ancestors whose karmas
have locked them
within the bronze-gated steadfastnesses of death --

where glittering ash smudged on thumb-fat
of a horse-faced demon
barring the way to rebirth

may effect the grand pay-off many yet living
gap-toothed & leather-eyed scions
dream of daily in their noon-time hunker:

those who have only the twisted
sinews in neck & arm for inheritance --
the dislocated shoulder, spine knuckled
with arthritis -- those
stripped of every comfort & handed a hoe
by the People's Government --

pray for a future Cadillac in flames
easing effortlessly
past toll booths --

in the back seat a tower of oranges
in the glove box cakes of raman noodles
on the floor a carton of cold Pepsi-Colas

and ahead a Mao-jacketed Deity
waving them through the lines
of those who -- even in death -- wait
without voice, wait
with empty hands.


All day she squats
behind her tin basin

      Marl eyes & face
      hacked from cord wood

The shift she wears
barely hides leather paps

      Ankles chased with dirt
      filigreed with scabs
      thicken into toes

Sunk into human mud

      A fly ticks & stops
      & tocks along her brow

As before her
thicker than her wrist

      gray eel swells
      inches of water

Dragging reflected sky into its belly

      & Bulging sky out
      from gills
      neat as razor cuts

Buy her misery
for one black market Mao

      & Lift it, twisting in your arms
      wrapped in a filthy sack
      jaws snagged in the weft

For one Mao more
she will teach it patience
    with a stone

      she says --
            Easier for you to eat.


Dog skulls, monkey ribs, bear paws
smoke with flies. Caked cords
of desiccated flesh, leaf-flecked,
dense as winter marl
laid out on muddy quilts
by a bicycle-mad street
where the Mao Jackets hawked
& spat & cleared their septic throats
under a sky threatening rain
& dun-turbaned Northerners
with braided beards
& "not to be trusted" (translator
whispered) rehearsed
to noon loafers
the wonders of the Tao,
dragon bones, lion teeth cures.

Dressed in robes
the color of butcher wrap, one
pats his lower back
& mimes a cup of charnel tea

downed in a gasp. Another grabs
his thing & laughs! Good health! Pee free!
He sings the price in black market Mao,
then artlessly explores one nostril
with a subtle thumb.

One clacks two metal bars
to draw a crowd:
blue pigeons scatter in the factory yard
as housewives wonder.

He motions me near...
I shake my head.
The loafers grin derision.
All smirk the tongueless foreigner away
& at once begin to dicker for the dead..