Hornets’ Nest

“I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.”
James Foley (1973–2014) from his last message to his family

Recovered now enough to scrub the deck,
which has turned dun brown with dirt
and cobwebs in the months I twisted, hurt-
ing in one more hospital bed, my spine a wreck,

my sick brain awash in static bubbles
instead of what I told myself were my tough,
astringent thoughts. Oh, Lord, the troubles
I’ve seen. Well, get over that self-pity stuff.

Your sweet wife has a job for you to do,
so do it. Soap & water (warm works best),
a sponge, & a steady stream of water too,
and voila! Progress. Until you spray a hidden nest

of hornets, who come after you, each a fighter plane
zigging this way, then that, to catch you by surprise
as first your left wrist, then your right, erupt in pain.
And now they’ve found your face, and now your eyes,

and you make what the books call a hasty retreat.
But dammit this is your porch, your house, your home,
and if these S.O.B.s had just remained discreet
or—better—stayed hidden in their aerodrome

you might have done the “live let live.” But no! Not now.
This is war, and one or the other will have to go.
And so it’s two cans of mustard gas. And POW!
Right in the kisser, as Gleason used to say. Hello!

And so I’m back again, ready for a fight, and I keep
hitting them with all I’ve got. But they too hit back
with all they have. And the sad truth is they have deep
reserves, as one winged fiend multiplies by twenty, Jack.

And soon you’re like Cuchulain swinging at the sea
as wave on wave keeps coming on. And you know that in the end
you cannot win, though you win this day. Lord, be
there when they swarm above me. Be there, then, my friend.

From Ordinary Time (Slant Books, 2020) by Paul Mariani. Copyright © 2020 by Paul Mariani. Used with the permission of the author.