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BRIAN HENRY is currently working on an anthology of James Tate essays. His poems appeared in Slope #1.


I have conquered many fears
the thought of which scare me
beyond "beyond words,"
and this creeping sensation on my spine
but adds to the fright.
"Debits and credits be damned!"
she said, and then there was light,
a flashing blue on the wall.
Tax evasion is a crime.
Tax avoidance employs
card-carrying accountants and other crunchers-
a column that won't foot or cross-
foot. Her expense account was up,
her number biting dust,
she sold me down the hall
with the rest of the monkeys.
A mastermind at declension,
she plastered the office
and wallpapered the town.
Her bathroom carpet began to raise suspicion,
then the leather toilet seat covers
and mahogany medicine cabinet
full of alibis and prescriptions.
As a pharmaceutical informant, I knew
her aspirin was potentially poisonous,
but when threatened with the authorities,
she stupefied me with her paperweight.
So yes, thank you, I could use some painkillers
before I cop a plea.


I made known to my host my troubles with his hosting
several shades below the local average
by burrowing another centimeter into the tissue lining
his intestine, so often a corridor of plenty
but now less cornucopia than reminder
of an absence, a leg reached for and missed.

My efforts, alas, led nowhere but further
into a flesh growing somehow colder
my resolve weakening from so much bother
body aching like a rotten tooth for a mother
(a sore issue, that of one abandoning another).

Starved insane and reminded of balmier days
days where nourishment positively surrounded me
shivering along passages bereft of any company
but my own soft and spineless thoughts
I will myself to wander to the end of this tunnel
narrow and narrowing. Of course it's harrowing.


They called me atavistic, something of a throwback
to bygone times and genes, and the term stuck
in their throats when I stoppered them with cotton balls
soaked in isopropyl alcohol.
                                       The matter of violence
seems salient if you bow to the paper chasers,
images and stories that revel in the glory
of mass destruction on massive scales, infernos
in forests and churches, potential intruders lurking
in mall lots and driveways, your excellencies
packing heat in all but the most private of places.
Such exposure diverts us from the true subject
and object of violence, being pleasure, the pleasure
obtained from a leisurely application of venerable techniques
of administering pain.
                               But back to the point
of how to silence your enemies: asphyxiation,
while effective, has unfortunate side-effects,
death the most common. The threat of suffocation
is preferable, especially when your hand is firm around the neck,
the cartilege flexing under your fingers, the moons
of your nails craters in that tender skin.
Adjust the voice to reedy, set the eyes to narrow,
and see if what you're holding doesn't tremble.