The Devouring

The Devouring

Goya, “Saturn Devouring His Son,” c. 1819-1823

seventy three deaf teetering
on chairs his dining room
blacker than a consumptive
lung Goya nightmared

Saturn furring indefinite
space the hands biting
his son’s spine crippled
me in the rear row of Mazow’s

lecture as he clicked
the carousel let us
not dwell he said
on the late master’s late

horrors brilliant as they are

beside me a sorority
pledge plucked hairs
from her brush before
she twirled the living

strands knotless weightless
around a finger their brittle
ends she smothered between
lips shimmering balm

Jesus my father muttered
through his potatoes I should
turn this nature shit off

reddened frantic pumping the last
ocelot paw disappeared
inside an unhinged jaw

the next morning three
lunch tables end to end the nuns
assembled for the massive sprawl

of boa constrictor come lay
your hands children on its scales
the zoo guide said you will find them

surprisingly dry to the touch
the school save one a queue
writhing against the wall

Adam this is not Genesis
said Sister Theresa frowning my
heavens it cannot speak

can I say now how my teeth
that final drunken June
vised each night a throb

that woke into a lurching
stagger like the frog
my dull mower blades

scalped the breeze licking
the pink of his dim doomed
brain I gawked hungover

little pulse little pulse
for some seconds beatific
his halo burning sunlight

Goya’s vision a madness of eyes
wide as sink drains unstoppered

is it Saturn Spain gruesomest
himself gnawing the mangled
stump his son’s left arm

four syllables re-
the priest would
mispronounce his wafer
aloft the abstract
deliverance of a torso

later I held my pillow above
my head the way my glistening
hero raised his garish
belt Byzantine inside the ring
where some loser

masked unmasked I cannot remember

his face unconscious bled
beside the folding chair that held
the form his bashing gave

parched their bearded
father stoops delirious
squinting for drones

raping clouds again names
of friends blister between
his toes he has outlived

everything but the taste
of his sons’ hair when gently
he kisses them incessantly

at the altar of their sleep
though they swat his whiskers
back to shadows pacing

listen my uncle said why
Rwanda why peck this
extra credit shit instead
of an extra shift scrubbing
dishes for a car your girlfriend
isn’t going to drive your ass around
forever why at fifteen he said I
rebuilt engines blindfolded

he tapped my monstrous
monitor this was the nineties

our decade of quaint impeachment

if you had any brains at all
he said you would realize those
people over there have slaughtered
each other for centuries grinning
as if for emphasis he left
his pointer finger mashed
on the backspace my blurred
cursor a machete hacking
silence into itself

Trump duck-faced pouting
shrugs and says he needs
time to research the Klan
like they are a parasite
no upright citizen discusses
without first reading how
they latch lay eggs
build their little white
colonies inside the colon I’ll
understand my student signs
to her interpreter if now
I can’t make up the quiz but
they kept flicking my ears
three white boys kept flicking
my ears in the parking lot
so I’d stop walking and look
up at the confederate
flag there strung up
in their truck cab hanging

it is not a boy Saturn eats
legs buttocks biceps fully

formed frozen muscular
nakedness this manhood is

a terrible price to pay for being
born one morning

delirious with fever I heard
my eldest sobbing

again his dead grandfather
had died inside his dream

and though I held him so
close his tears and snot pasted

on my shirt I could not gather
the strength to lift him up

it passes into family lore the hunger
of a Vermont farm boy thrashing
in that fitful dreamless
Depression-era sleep his belly

rationed to ribs two handfuls
of popcorn his blizzard
dinner after shoveling
the barn path milking another
frigid monotony of pails

a Sopwith mobile spins
above his gaunt face
stubble-chinned that blitzkrieg
decade later plummeting

twenty four thousand feet dear god

when drowsy medics pace
from face to face and find
the whole crew obliterated

how they marvel at the ghost
trapped inside him still
pelvis left leg shattered
no pulse no pulse until
they see the death sheet breathe

let us go then you and I
down the cavernous
red throat echoing

down past epiglottis
our patient etherized
upon the table we will make

a human chain to the belly
we can hoist one morsel
tattered dripping inchoate

this memory of August
burning the White
House burning Dolly Madison

her carriage flees with silver urns
but the slaves Sioussat
McGraw and Jennings fifteen

years old find a ladder
and brace it up against
the plaster’s cannon-quakes

to trim our father’s portrait
from its frame while
drunken redcoat torches

somersault through
windows the capital a body
shrieking on its pyre

unfree they free his gaze
together terrorized straining
pilgrims in the blaze

Adam Tavel is the author of Plash & Levitation (University of Alaska Press, 2015), winner of the Permafrost Book Prize in Poetry, and The Fawn Abyss (Salmon Poetry, 2016). His poems “Where His Lines Run” and “Until the Beast Was Slain” previously appeared in At Length. He is the reviews editor for Plume and a professor of English at Wor-Wic Community College.


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