Joshua Bell has recently published poems in Boston Review, Iowa Review and Poetry Daily.


Ramona your only eyes
are river-traffic, are fast
and fish-tailing milk,
are troublesome

devices, are difficult
to mimic, but I will design
others like them, I have come
across the parking lot

to tell you this. The world
is dark with invention
and I have mastered
the variable machinery

which moves your only
mouth, I have mastered
the root-path and shad-blue
veins of your hands,

I have lingered awhile
the format of your spine.
I can reproduce you. I know

the river thought so
too, looping out
your living name
across Kentucky,

the foothills blotched
with Orphic vowels
and the consonants sticking
like trees from the river-

bed. All the pilgrims
of Kentucky came
to drink it, it was a name
suited for such

purposes, the flood-water
contrail of your R
slowing through the flats

of Georgia, picking up
an open red and trailing off
in salt. Like the river
I have worried over each

your every fingernail
but I have taken clippings
and you will grow for me
marketable, many-handed, green-

headed, whole and well
in the flower, and such
is my love that I will sell you
I will mark you up

and down and then
the river will be nothing
but an empty fist
and even that is not

enough, so I have had
to invent the river
who has never
known you. I had nothing

to go on. No model
to guide me. I am
a genius. I'll need
to burn you ten

more times. Twenty
more hands, please, ten
more mouths, your
hair dispatched, sub-

marine-like and prohibitive
through the gears
of axis, and you
have gotten into

everything, the cupboards,
the insides
of rocks, the water-
table, the compass

pulses slightly when
I read the sentences
you left behind
in books, the tree-top

Ts and Ls flat-
lining into
your anonymous
lower cases– you always

helped me feel so
sick, so poor– I cannot
wrangle with you in
my sleep, I cannot

spell heartache with
so much trouble in
the world or was it with
your church shoes

in my hand? But you
don't have a choice
you are coming back
regardless; there is

so much for you
to do. Penance. Time.
I've revised the blueprints.
I've sold the space

on the inside of your
left arm. I have registered
your coenesthesis – I
can't imagine that

your eyes will weigh
too much – and I am sorry,
love, that my science
will not fail me.

War Poem

My platoon is all gung-ho
about defilading and amassing,
about Bob Hope and Sun Tzu,
and yet we never met a rat-fuck wog
we didn’t like. Right now they’re creeping
toward us, through the mist,
like pilgrims. Often we are tearful

when we deliver them
with our incredible weaponry,
and when they cry it sounds
like chandeliers, crashing through
the trees. We’re at the fingertips
of so much force; it makes us
feel like singing. They have

such trees here! With their bark
peeled back, naked, they look
like sunbathers, cooking
in the heat. They would make
lovely fenceposts. Of course
I’m also talking about the enemy,
with their upturned faces and

the creaky, handmade bandoliers
which do not match their boots.
Because I notice such things
I’ve often thought I should’ve been
a priest, and my sister says that I
am too soft to be a soldier, that I
am capable of making love with harlots

on the flag. True, I enlisted for
the hair-cut, but I was simple, my body
accounted for, and when at last
I killed them in the trees and heard
their language, I was no longer afraid
since each word could mean anything,
could exit bigger than it entered me
and blossom out like milk.

Sheriff, You Forgot Yer Hat

Miss Claire, I can't sleep, I shot
too many Indians. I shot and shot
but they wouldn't fall down. Such as it was
I reached for the sky. I selected
my cactus of the hour. I recollected
fanciful things. Late frost last year
I watched you pull your long-johns
stiff and frozen off the clothesline
like a flag. Did I remove my hat?
There are whole days I'm ashamed of,
and riding no-handed through the saloon
I often think of them. Soon I’ll write
a letter to you, describing all of this.
When I reach for my pencil, it will be there.

Zombie Sunday (the dear reader version)

Gentle handed holy father, or whomever,
          must we both stay as far and beautiful
as we are tonight? You are the land
          and now it looks as if I’m going to land
somewhere in the ocean off you.
          Lately, I miss the orchestrated
feasibilities of earth. Down there
          (call it Nebraska) they read from left
to right, like Hamlet, and even the tires
          smell like spikenard, so maybe
I’ll make it, partially Germanic, weightless
          above the plains, reconfiguring
my window, zeroing in on the whatsit.
          Like the astronaut I am always
of two minds about re-entry, but you are not
          coming for me, there are no rescue
helicopters, no more sins beyond fruit
          and– Gott in himmel-zee decolletage,
and I hear you whispering, just off screen,
          like a silent film director, feeding
your scale-wage children the expressions
          guaranteed to make me flinch.
Zee world is lousy with zee extras.
          Zey are so shapeless, like zee bear.
It is so difficult, GHHF, to reconcile the stars
          with my day to day ebullience.
Perpend: I puked mint julep
          on the badminton court.
Apparently, I contain universes,
          these ill-born, constellatory pin-points
thusly supernovaed into grass.
          I saw you reaching for your high-lighter
like a samurai. Like a samurai
          I’ve got something for you
to explicate. What further strings
          must I pull to force you
to blast me from the local ether?
          You aren’t good for me,
and still, I have redistributed
          myself, according to the charts:
A) For Lent, I bollixed up my homeostasis.
          2) For you I blethered numinous
through reeds beneath a soft-core moon,
          me vaselined for the channel swim
(thank you) and footnoting beetle-trails
          with penmanship only a father could love.
C) I will re-enter the natural world.
          D) The world needs more light;
your atmosphere is thick,
          is gloomy, and I am well aware
that there are plates in restaurants
          with designs on the edges, that there
are miracles in the stream bed
          which make grown men blush,
that there is such a thing as cornflower blue.
          Also, I have these childhood
memories, crucified, esemplastic jellyfish
          sizzling against light-bulbs, or so
I have called them. Have taken
          to calling them. Yon blithe
teutonic heritages-skullduggery,
          bonhomie, illegitimate, all-and I promise
to allow these several objects
          their abhorrent and fetishistic
importance, if it so please you,
          though the spell-checker, whistling
like a bleached seal, has turned
          my esemplastic into eczema-have
your own sweet way, oh lord!-
          and 5) I wish I had a plywood
cut-out of your body in the giant
          mouse suit-minus the head-so I
could pose behind it, get my picture
          taken, put it on the book-jacket.
You made the amusement park
          taste like peaches. I’ll never be able
to trust you with the roller coaster now.

Zombie Sunday

Gentle handed holy father, or whomever,
tonight I only sent one invitation, so am relieved

when I arrive, bulling in post-verbal
off the crowded street, no more bowing down

before the goblin-lidded traffic lights,
my brain exploding like a pheasant

from my head at last, bursting harried
from the tree-line at your foot-fall

and whirring through the air, disconnected
from the messages you have left

for it on earth, game-bird, the bar food shiny, the rail tequila
aquavivid napthalene, and here

you are again, you're following me,
once that blind balloon man

who slipped a naugahyde bible
in my pocket as I slunk past,

once that heartless bartender
who gave my drink to another man,

but this time a woman, cast
in your weekend image, her reflection cast

off the bar mirror, my skull a cast
and it itches underneath, if I could just

slip the chopsticks right inside and scratch,
fetch the haywire nodal cabbage out

and snap it like a wrinkled towel
and fold it into something intricate,

an origami terry cloth crane, a crispy lotus
unperturbed, then might I gather up the strength

to tell you what I really think, which is a sentence
that starts convincingly with Stitch

and ends up lost in Tuscaloosa, land
of subject, where all used sentences come

to drown each other out, and Night will have its porterhouse
schadenfreude rare, so drink quick baby,

they don’t serve your kind in here,
big G gods with their superstructures

all carefree and ballistic, your hair adagio
(you are so small-you are a teleology),

and lo your mattress, true, the gamesome horse
which pulls this sentence through the park, O park,

O little GHHF-your mattress
tres fascistic-palomino-something-charger-

you are a need and nothing other, a guilty
midnight yearning for the reverse

cow-girl, the morning cigarette
lit wrong-ways at the filter, the illiterate

tumblerful of scotch a crystal kindergarten
in your continental hand,

and in this bar your face, her face,
the same face-get me?-and that same face

the face which is the club that drove
this sentence to the green, O green,

O in the shadow of such a face
in such a bar on such a night the days

live briefly, like houseflies, like those good ideas
you sent which slip away, in turn, like days

if I don’t write them down, your face, her face, the negotiable
flame retardant mask the kids all want

for Halloween, and your hand, too,
the means to diagram the declarative

sentence of my death, no assembly required
and likewise all the rage this year.

Zombie Sunday

Gentle handed holy father, or whomever,
they broke the mold before they made you
except on second thought you weren’t

made at all, they had to drill for you, they had to pry
your fossil from the jealous rock,
they want to carbon date you, to take you

for a spin, to hold your hand
and close their eyes when you lean in
because they love you, oh they love you, your hillbilly

swagger on the mound, the unexpected
side-arm wind-up, your teeth soughing
sweetly in your mouth, an albino

field of wheat, and you tried to put the I
in team, you tried the first prayer
out of the drawer of prayers, behind

the socks, back corner, next to the lubricant, oh you tried
your best with me, but forgot to flesh
me out, and for that last important bit

of skin, I would stand up on my hind legs,
suddenly evolved, gorgeous as your
barbered trees in winter, epiphanic

as a motherfucker, and I would eat
a cross of brick, I have filled your pillowcase with bees

so I can sterilize my mouth with gin
and suck the stingers from your neck,
for I am the loathsome chalk artist

reluctantly commissioned with the side-walk
outline of your body, and you’re the comeback
second-stringer, the player-to-be-named-later,

the first-person-omniscient who plagiarized
the Autobiography of the World and called out dibs
on the future flower box my skull.

Zombie Sunday
Gentle handed holy father, or whomever,
          the stars swing in like buccaneers
                    through the windows, and they are
beautiful, and they are yours, of course,
          ditto cherry tree, and wildebeest–
                    how many times must you remind me?–
and I am searching, now, for the French phrase
          for albino field of wheat. O mon pere etc
                    doux ouvrier sacre, your white teeth
are learnéd. They read much of the night,
          they go South in winter, they ripple loosely
                    along the pale gum-line like those spirits
on the haunted shore, which have elsewhere
          been compared to leaves, but are really
                    more akin to grease, also rippling
loosely. Oh asphodel! that something
          flower. Oh but we should be able
                    to walk said shore and name the genus
and the species. O GHHF, your coffee beans
          meant nothing. They kept me on the phone
                    all night. I am a burnt arrow now, loosed
from the Anglo Saxon bow your body.
          You dream like a battleship turns.
                    Your two hands blooming folded,
from a black vase, was an image
          I thought up, once, to help me get to sleep.
                    Oh but the sleep I lost, considering your sleep.
And I am mostly sure that loss is French
          (le terror-dome) and will follow me
                    as far as Pittsburgh, human sacrifice or no, but I know
for sure that loss transforms the delta, and is also how
          you change your mind. Even now
                    the Mississippi bend to your fuzzy will
and carves toward Jerusalem. I am the paraclete of loss
          in the House of Catalepsis. I am bald
                    as the wind. Or was it lorikeet, like Matthew said?
Matthew, patron saint of the poult-footed and the rain.
          Oh GHHF, you should read him, you might
                    learn a thing or two about yourself.
Thirty shekels is a lot of jack, anyhow.
          And I have failed your comprehensive tests before, oh lord.
                    I am searching, now, for the French phrase
for lorikeet of loss, scaly breasted and/
          or blue-fronted rainbow, Trichoglossus chlorepidotus
                    and Charmosyna toxopei, respectively.
I pilot the cuttlefish and tree the seeds.
          I will burn the very Latin from the world.
                    I weep for every cheating drink
I have forgotten, that hooligan wine
          in Cerbere, for example, who loved the carpet
                    so well, so much more than it loved me,
and I am circling over this your every sentence
          as you drive it, looking for the loophole,
                    but you will evade me in the driveway
you will leave me for the rumored
          carpet, you will ditch me cold forever
                    on the airless, sunspot runway where our bodies
made more sense. They called me
          the hyacinth girl. The ocean was my stepsister,
                    pregnant with a style of fish you dreamed
last autumn, but in any language, I am Isadora,
          zombie queen of the Appalachians.
                    I knelt beside you yesterday.
I bet you prayed for rain.