Harp & Altar
Richard Kostelanetz

Lawrence Mark Lane

Charles Newman
from In Partial Disgrace

Leslie Patron
from The SeaMaids

Rob Stephenson
The Signals

The Signals
Rob Stephenson

. . . if by mishap the signal made no sense, and if it no longer had this great look of simplicity so essential to everything we call signals, where would we then be?

—D.A.F. Sade, February 8, 1779


The great evil of this war has been that I slept beside it.  My eyes closed.  Like curtains.  As if it unwound in shadows.


Every complex design is a compromise.


I could find no rest.  Horrible images.  Grayish-blue squares.  The opaque squares of windows too high to see through.  The squares of rhythmic unraveling.


There were wax flowers in the death cell, behind every rock, every tree, under the carpets.


My mouth was full of birds.


Prisons are full of liars and the delicate sounds of the condemned man's chains.


I am almost the only one in this room.  With me the memory of her tender perfume, a thin invisible thread stretched between her and me.


Her hands describe the gestures I make.


Everything seems to have wings. 


They put her letter in my hand and went out without a word.


Shut up in this cell without a mirror.  I never knew the glamour and charm of the criminal world.  So using my pen, I stuffed the priest's mouth with my full pages until my garbled notions came out his ass. 


Twenty days in the hole.


Or was it twenty-one?


The errors in my calculations can be found in the seriousness of my measuring.


She counts the days of my life.  The little darling sent me that beautiful boy.


There is no more need to invent stories in this moment of asymmetrical silence.


Against a backdrop of suffering I have made it my duty to write concealing nothing with the same sparkling precision as before.  A compass in my heart.  Not wrapped up in fake illnesses, but full of smiles.


The trunks in the grove remain like gaunt skeletons.  I do not heal like the victim of a whipping.  I feel only the softening of the surface, which is normally as hard as the fetters that hold me.


I relish your mind when you misunderstand my tales.  I use the ribs of the dead to pry the iron collar from around my neck.


She speaks of the cellars beneath me.  And as her voice changes the sounds come off in her hands when she tries to clutch them.  She explains the ingredients of a cake recipe with love.  They brand her forehead with a red-hot iron.  She learns to sprinkle words against a stone wall.  She looks somewhere down.  Her eyes closed like curtains.


There is no end to the counting.  All of her letters are written in dust and urine on silk.  It overflows into my life.  Inserted between visible lines.  They set traps for me.  Something hangs in the air.


That lovely boy she sent me was the last blank page at hand.  I covered him with a fetid prose.


Her voice remains here in such sudden impressions.  Over in a corner behind a tiny wire cage.  The feathers choke me still.  My throat bears the mark of the closure.  A false opening inside me.


There is no end to the counting.  It feels like so many knife thrusts.


Without friends I become an imaginary being.  Why did you say nothing for so long?




six ancient maps

eight pounds of candles

one puff of swansdown

one sleeve of her taffeta gown just worn

one Savoy biscuit iced all the way around its surface on top and underneath

two hundred birch strokes

one embroidered silk vest patterned on a green background without silver trim

twenty little grilled cabbages

sixteen farts

two packs of toothpicks

one very young puppy either a water spaniel or a setter

thirty letters in milk

one architectural plan for the new Theatre des Italians

eight streams of sperm on her backside

one prune-colored redingote

one toe from each foot

one large box of marshmallows