EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

poem

by
 

JOSEPH S. SALEMI
____________

The Breathers

Breatharianism is a dietary cult that preaches complete
abstention from all food and drink, permanently. Serious
adherents to this cult die after about a fortnight without
sustenance, but the cult still manages to attract converts.

I’ll call them breathers. That’s about correct.
They think that air and sunlight, by themselves,
Provide you with the nourishment for life.
All else is dross and roughage, worthless stuff
That no one needs to take into one’s guts.
Where does this nonsense come from? Don’t they see
Their fellow cultists shriveling like leaves
In the late summer’s turn to browning fall?
Can’t they remember photos from death camps
Where inmates walked as ghostly skeletons
Until they fell, like string-cut marionettes,
To be stacked up like cordwood for the fire?

Thus does fanatic impulse crowd out thought.
These breathers have a notion—what I call
A sick fixation that a fevered brain
Uses to tyrannize the helpless flesh.
Visions, ideas, conceptions, foggy dreams;
Fancies, delusions, goofball fantasies—
These are infections of the human mind,
The plague of our existence here on earth.
When someone affronts me with “a new idea,”
I want to put a bullet through his brain
And hang his bleeding corpse up by the heels
As warning to others who might do the same.

But breathers are the sickest of them all—
Persons whose new idea propels them forth
To final and irrevocable ends.
They think that air and sunlight make them live,
And, loyal to this key mistake, they fast
Until they are transformed to nothingness.
It’s not like prisoners who refuse their meals;

It’s not like mystics focusing their minds;
It’s not like Buddhists longing for the light;
It’s not like faithful on their holy days
Commemorating sacred past events—
It’s just the wet dream of an anorectic.

 

 

 

 

 

Browning M-2 Heavy Machine Gun
                       
 (.50 Caliber)

A knife may open envelopes, spread butter,
Cut a length of string, carve wooden toys,
Slice meat at table, or de-bone a fish—
Serve other simple, salutary tasks.
So does a rifle, when it brings down game;
Helmets might be planters; ammo cans
Serve as convenient tool chests, and recall:
The scriptures say a sword becomes a ploughshare.
Most combat gear can be turned round and used
For purposes nonviolent and benign.

But you have one aim only: to deal death
Impartially to all within your range—
You send your heavy bullets to rip flesh
As dogs rend helpless rabbits limb from limb.
Incendiary rounds spat from your mouth
Tear vehicles apart, make them explode
In flaming fragments. Those inside are scorched
To lumps of charred and blistered meat. You smash
Great holes in concrete walls and armor plate.
Nothing withstands the hot blast of your muzzle.

Browning M-2 (called “Ma Deuce” by the troops)—
You were conceived to do this single thing:
Kill, and kill as fast and brutally
As an unthinking engine does its job
When stitching cloth, or punching index cards,
Or minting coins from rows of shiny planchets,
Or striking cancellation marks on stamps.
You swallow endless belts of ammunition
While empty cartridge cases fall in piles
As thick as corpses heaped up on the field.

You are the emblem of our modern wars:
Mechanical, impersonal, devoid
Of honor, chivalry,
esprit de corps,
Or any martial swagger of
beau geste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

               

 

 

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