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Michael Heller

Two Pieces

Some Anthropology (prose poem)

And yet poems remind me of the tribe of the gentle Tasaday who some regard merely as members of another tribe taught to fool anthropologists with false primitiveness and naiveté, to be blunt in their manners and infernally innocent. No one is sure, as with poems, whether they are real or a hoax, whether the dictator, in his munificence, created a forest preserve to shelter them as he might set aside an apartment for a poet in the palace. Forests and palaces, such utopias are mostly exclusionary, like hotels for the rich, and needn’t concern us. It is rainy for a rain forest to house our myths, to shelter our lost tribes, who, one by one, gather in a clearing. I sometimes think about my lost tribe of jews, American Jews, also part hoax and part invention, whose preserve is sheltered under brick where limousines hum and one hears the faint, familiar babble of the homeless. As it happens, the Tasaday are being declared “non-existent” by government scientists so their hardwood forests can be transformed into chests of drawers. Strange, then, the anthropology of the poet who must build his poems out of the myths he intends to falsify, who says, look my friend, you are laying away your laundered shirts in a rain forest.


When the slight rasp in his throat starts up
My nuclear war-time goes interior, fills the whole head.
The shock-waved halfway house of hope de-domesticates to splinters.

The stores on the mall are so much bought hambone of desire,
Rorschachs of the mental wobblies, the local sales centers of sex,
Ingestion, degustation flattening in the in-rush of punched air,

Uplifting the fear bird’s white wings, the smothering clutch
Of feathers that cram gullets. And the young boy
Whose sweet life is a keep, is my bank overdraft, my

joy vault, he, who is not yet even historical, and so
Expends himself in file-throated shout, in play over
The junk-food city, the toy torture of the TV

That makes an idea as political as sliced pie
Or Psyche’s credit-card sorting of seeds, laying
Down diet, health, avarice to store coin for

The dim video game of winter. And the child’s
Cough, not the madman’s speech, is so irrational, so contrary,
That black squander of air, that thick squalor

Where in this century most air is stolen.

Yellow Bus

Michael Heller lives and teaches in New York City. These poems are from his Wordflow: New and Selected Poems, Talisman House, Jersey City, 1997, ISBN 1 883689 49 X.

Photographic illustration: John Tranter, New York City

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