by Issam Zineh


1 | Your Mother Invents a Celestial Archetype for Your Benefit

There are several new names for God
according to what will later be known as the New Originals:

            1. Lexicon
            2. African Moon
            3. A Milder Form of Kindness

She soaps her thighs in the bathtub—
thinks about which subway worker flips the switch
that shifts the track. Some man with man
hands that could asphyxiate her in an eroticism
she’s only imagined as an appalling list.

2 | The Importance of Not Eating Before Bed (Every Dream is More Vivid)

a Manhattan businessman writes                      a poem about how pneumonia
killed his wife—calls it                                                Captain of the Men of Death
a chorus of redheaded nudes, a brood                   of chicks with lips for beaks
and the Harlem Boys Choir boys                         chant pervert, pervert, Prévert
Pygmalion ass-fucks himself with a          stone he’s fashioned for private use

3 | The Inherent Features of the Phenomena of the Physical World

[You. Black Forest, Germany. Future.]

You know nothing of botany. You name the plants.
This one, carnivore. This, pronoun.
That, foliage spasm, but barely.

A tree that bears fruit
in winter. Another with no top. 
Someone has been here before and scratched into the bark.

I am there before you.
I do it with your car key.

4 | She Who Will Not Be Named Appears from Beyond the City Limits, Sage

Says:      Alcohol is a neurotoxin. Yes,
               that does include the table wine
               transmuted in Sunday’s dream. I choose
               my chemical Christ — cis-, trans-, mute.
               You’re glorious in the rituals of youth.
               In a faraway future, in the resolutions of a love
               grown known, you’ll be remembered fond as fortune,
               some creepy old man’s ceremony of skin.

Warns:    Don’t listen to the preacher when he says
                 Come home. We don’t need for you to be perfect.
                He’s an earthbound repoman, hell’s bow-legged
                gambler playing a hunch. Not even something
                so romantic as a slow mechanic of the body.
                What he means to say is Take a small, professional
                 amount. Take a touch of the eyes’ dayglow, a trifling  
                 bit of dream from the common folk. Confide.

5 | The Importance of Bathroom Graffiti in Mending a Broken Heart

Jimmy from New Bedford is a cocksucker

*

Mud thrown to the ground is lost

*

While you’re reading this, your wife
is riding a guy who looks like Che Guevara

*

Milk the cow that’s closest to you

*

Dress sexy at my funeral

6 | Koi Death

A child sees their first koi.
They read later that an average goldfish gets as big as you let it. 
Placed in a tank, it grows to a size compatible with tank life.
In a pond, swims to a varied light like an orange banana.

They would afterward hear, over and over, about
big fish in small ponds, small fish in big ponds,
big fish in small fish, and other variations.
A certain recyclable truth.

They will become an astronomer and work late.
They know the sky in Oregon is prettier than it is here.
They understand the cost of achievement — the thing that saves them.

A kid points to their favorite koi in a restaurant known for its unusual dinners.

7 | Avoiding Literary Study as a Substitute for Life

You’ll come across the following:

                        Poem with One Image

                        (an occasional poem to be read before the consummation of marriage)

                        what you        have envisioned       control to be:
                        shutting off       not pleasure itself        but
                        the motives        for pleasure        common decency
                        in a room     alone       what is pure      uncut
                        adversity       as my body       lightly
                        smacks     up      against     your body

You’ll be asked to comment on determinacy/indeterminacy, rhetoric, gender, and desire.

                        Don’t.

8 | The New Originals

Word comes back from the temple in Malta.
One of the village girls has snuck in
like a beggar in a forgotten city. 
She lies like a house cat on the high alter,
witnessed only by the outdoor moon
and the naughtiest angels. They
pleasure themselves while the milk
is being heated in the kitchen. Elsewhere,
an engineer decides on the most efficient way
to replace the Sphinx’s current lion head
with that of the pharaoh. Any which way,
the dimensions will be wrong. What’s
left will only hint of premeditation.

All relationships are the same
in the beginning. As we get to know
the infinite technology of the body,
nature pares us back to the essentials.
The early billion-neuron burst
scaled to a relative handful
in pyrotechnical brilliance.
The brain’s cells: bushmen
with bouquets in their hands.
The invisible tropics that divide
our lobes and cortexes disappear
in the moments immediately
after our first apologies.

We still miss each other sometimes.
We look for the things that are irretrievable
in these minor folds of solitude. We fire,
we flood, we famine. We don’t know much
of petal or stamen, the easiest of metaphors,
the easiest sounds the tongue can make.
And still, God has set up its system.
Proteins are synthesized and sent
to correct destinations. The awfully
beautiful things of the body go on
happening. The feminists are tulips
in April. The embarrassment of the thighs’
musk is over. We are mutually exclusive.
There is one less secret to keep.  
You rethink your idea of God.

Lexicon        African Moon        A Milder Form of Kindness


ISSAM ZINEH is a Palestinian-American poet and scientist.  He is the author of the forthcoming chapbook The Moment of Greatest Alienation (Ethel Press, Spring 2021).  His poems appear or are forthcoming in ClockhouseFjords Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist)NimrodPoet LoreThe Seattle Review, and elsewhere.  He also reviews for The Poetry Café (https://thepoetrycafe.online).  Find him on Twitter @izineh.


Poem Note: The title was inspired by a tabloid newspaper cover from 2002. The concepts of determinacy/indeterminacy, rhetoric, gender, and desire in Parable #7 (Avoiding Literary Study as a Substitute for Life) are chapters in Frank Lentricchia’s and Thomas McLaughlin’s Critical Terms for Literary Study (University of Chicago Press, 1995).


Photo: “Hexed Glass” by pebberberryfarm