EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

poem

by
 

JOSEPH S. SALEMI
____________

 

MNEMONIC DEVICE FOR MILITARY PRO-SIGNS A-Z

Pro-signs are an alphabetical coding system used by the military for radio
transmissions or for the naming of various units, to insure complete
clarity of reference.

ALPHA is a top-notch male, the chief and number one—
BRAVO is the thing you shout when arias are done.
CHARLIE is a nickname that is used quite frequently—
DELTA is a plug of land where rivers meet the sea.
ECHO is a sound that comes reverberating back—
FOXTROT is an old-time dance for couples dressed in black.
GOLF is just a boring game that Scotsmen love to play—
HOTEL is a resting place where travelers stop to stay.
INDIA is a teeming land of sacred cows and caste—
JULIET is a Capulet whose first love was her last.
KILO is a metric weight that’s somewhere near a pound—
LIMA is a city where Peruvians abound.
MIKE is short for microphone, which amplifies your voice—
NOVEMBER is a winter month when voters make their choice.
OSCAR is a name that goes with Hammerstein or Wilde—
PAPA is your father when you were a little child.
QUEBEC is up in Canada, and English it is not—
ROMEO is a lover-boy whose plans all went to pot.
SIERRA is a mountain range that rises to great heights—
TANGO is a silly dance for hot Hispanic nights.
UNIFORM is what you wear to show you’re in a team—
VICTOR is a winner who’s unbeatably supreme.
WHISKEY is a potent drink that might go to your head—
X-RAY lets you see your bones although you aren’t dead.
YANKEE is a player in the dugout or the field—
ZULU is a warrior with assegai and shield.

 


THE GREEN MOSS ON THE COAL

               All coal deposits were at one time living plants.

Hard anthracite, as black as jet,
Darkly lustrous gem of coal,
With live moss clinging, green and wet,

Collect the unremembered debt
That life owes, as the eons roll.
Hard anthracite, as black as jet,

Hacked out by a miner’s sweat
Expended in some shaft’s dark hole,
With live moss clinging, green and wet,

You’re bone-dry, like some old coquette
No gaudy garments can console.
Hard anthracite, as black as jet

From carbon seams compressed and set
You come to us, an ancient dole,
But live moss clinging, green and wet,

Proclaims there is no finish yet.
Both must play the selfsame role:
Hard anthracite, as black as jet,
And live moss clinging, green and wet.

 

 

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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