Self-Portrait in Tongues

by Joshua Palmer

            after Lucie Brock-Broido

The dirty endlessness of language keeps me
Drunk in the tub beneath the temple and I

Have fallen down in the splash
Splash of it for the purpose of the show.

Upstairs it is feast day and the priests are gorged
on linens and the calendar’s meticulous carnage,

But their silence won’t stop doing
Judas with brass knuckles to my world-in-skull.

In this gaudy season when god has closed
His eyes, when the illness in a name

Like Violet is simply out
of my hands—I am reminded that I am nobody’s

Lace lampshade, nobody’s pump organ,
No tarnished sugarcane spread on the kitchen floor

spicy and devout, nobody’s cracked penitent,
nobody’s jelly cookies and tequila.

I know I shouldn’t pray over dead
People or they’ll write little poems that will scuttle

Into the light and get beaten, but I am culled
By the utterance, I am botched and seeping, I am

In the bathwater, nobody’s epiphany,
No wrinkled psalm. Nobody’s sin,

Nobody’s pincushion, not the buttered
litanies kept in the round gold dish. I have missed

A good deal of pageantry by being born
into such loud and bruiseless light.

The dirty endlessness of language keeps me
Crammed in the shaft beneath the temple and

The dirt below, nobody’s milk
Teeth, nobody’s steady congregation of one.

This poem first appeared in Muse/A Journal.

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