These three poems by Jennifer Urbanek appear in the highway’s heat mirage — right before the uroboros consumes itself into a singularity…
by: Jennifer Urbanek
30 Somethin' run Away If something is difficult is it molten? Is it obsidian? Can it be halved into twin spears? Volcanic origins in the dust on the desert sage; the phoenix rises and grabs a fire spark from the corners of my skirt. If something is difficult can I trade it in for the next best thing? A pony or a new refrigerator? Oh, the American dream hums so fast in the breast of every officer’s baton. Fourth of July fireworks come streaming out of the twin needles of the taser. Ultimate freedom to be surveilled. The freedom to be dropped to the ground by lead when you try to retrieve your wallet as asked. If I crawled over the line and left society and all its trappings to live in a red canyon, by a cold stream, and to eat apples that tasted like cherry candy -could I survive? Out away from it all. Away from things I love. Away from museums, nightclubs, film, and the cities' sin. Scrape off civilizations film. Scrape it off like peeling off layers of a polaroid. Oh, to play with the emulsion. Skeet shooting all my dishes, all the fine china, hand cut Czech. glass dipped in gold. To create a layer of the memory of past meals, and to eat only what I can procure myself. Rabbit and coyote roadkill, what I can lick off the stamen of a night blooming cactus. The rain of bat guano trickling into my eyes while I sleep under the yucca trees. I will sculpt figures out of clay, not for utility, but for geometric study. I will use the skulls of long dead animals for cups. They husked dry in the desert and I fill them with water from my silty stream, and I drink their thoughts. The thoughts of fullness the thoughts of needing to be hydrated. Needing each cell to fill with moisture as my hair grows heavy from the turquoised iron I whip it around to ensnare hummingbirds. Just a bit of discarded hair and one can lasso a little bird and turn it into the most delightful jewelry. But why jewelry? Will I ever stop being so bourgeois? Will I be content to etch my art into the sides of a mesa with the obsidian blade of my travails? Will I be content to lie entwined like secreted mountain lions, right before the queen has her cubs? Will the sky lose its pull, and will I fall into the bedrock? When they find me, will they dissect me? Shucking off my fingers and prying my ribs apart like a child with a June bug’s wings. Will archeologists bring me in for carbon testing and find out I was a creature of the millennium? A millennial with birds tied to her fingers and tucked between her breasts. When they find out will they smile, or will they be aghast? They will wonder how I got lost in some hidden part of Arizona. Was I part of a cult? Was I a hiker who lost her mind? Was I the tip of a drill ready to rip apart the veins of society’s pulsing center?
Neon Boneyard Phosphorous coated glass tubing bent into photon misting efflorescence Pollen-less pulsers, crowning krypton-fueled fencing leaves. Serration replaced With curves: confusing the moths. It flickers through the channels of pop consciousness. The light trick buzzing under celestial fragments Illuminating us from beyond the planetary nebula grave. Back to the drafts of the 1940’s advertisers The skilled hands of Yesco manufacturers With their crossfire and cannon burners Kissing the lead – the metal jacketed electrodes Connected to the vacuum pump. The fractional distillation of liquid air. The introduction of rare gasses in a spectrum of 50 colors. The aging of the tube with a drop of mercury The god of travelers and luck welcomes the restless. When the tube is asphyxiated comes The bombardment process. The high current Shouts through the wires and the artificial Succulent -she is alive! Lofted above the motel pool on South Las Vegas Blvd She shone for the man who lost it all And slipped through the yellowed blinds To trip the light fantastic on his stilled breast. The ebb and flow of winning and losing like a stuck Second hand on a treadmill of time. Boethius’s wheel of fortune’s fall, as consistent As her nightly resurrection. When the transformer burst through. The gold arrow pointing ever towards destruction. Quick riches being as deadly as poverty. Hard to say which kills quicker. A woman taken to the cleaners hung in the closet. An overdose, limp in the heart-shaped jacuzzi Framed by broken champagne flutes. The gun rattling against teeth As the magic finger massage did its coin-operated Magic. Giving energy to the inert body. Soaking fluids gentled through the synthetic Fibered mattress. All under the watch Of the great flower concretion. The neon yucca had seen its cousin, the century plant. It saw the bats sip the nectar. It saw its regenerative death. But the sign would never die it could only Be forgotten and crushed into smaller parts. At best it could give birth to ideas A longing for the untouched Mojave, Chihuahuan, and Sonoran. Now that the motel had devoured itself, She stands above sand in an outdoor museum With her dismantled brethren. Her arrow points to the Chief Hotel Court An out of place, plains Indian Chief In the homeland of the Paiute. His arrow points to the west promising “Steamed heat” and “Vacancy.” The more the landscape fills with people The more vacant it becomes It moves away from the natural currency Of sun and water. Everything now runs on self-destruction. Fossils are extracted at high environmental cost The planet swelters in its fumes 200-year-old saguaro cactuses melt In Phoenix suburbs As the air conditioners breathe their last. Rare earth metal mining creates Toxins, habitat destruction, and radioactive poisons. Wind power that explodes the lungs of bats Each turbine requiring as much metal As a commercial airliner. The Southwest will soon be pock-marked With more solar power panel plains. The sign was transported past one – a broken Disco ball of endless mirrors. Concentrating rays; it projects them on passing Birds. They fall burning to the ground: Streamers, they call them. The hydroelectric dams stopping the river From meeting the delta. The commercialized Colorado nursing Their once plentiful fish now endangered As the warm and muddy water is rendered Cold and saline. Developers question if they should leave patches Of desert in the cities To struggle under the thick ozone. Soon humans will seal themselves in. All seven continents will quiet. They will seal themselves in with greed and stupidity. No foresight. No long view. It is not certain who will outlast the other. The biological version or the mechanical. I think, that when all life has expired The neon yucca will witness our indirect suicides. For a while, the sign may flicker in the ruins. When everything else is gone.
The Hermit # Breaking Code Silence The cinder blocks are a map to a story of desperation. No padded walls because residents can hang themselves or so I was told when I complained about the sound of girls bashing their heads into concrete. Once I was shoved from a restraint position into the pink room – with white walls of invisibility. Pink rooms are for girls. Quiet rooms are for boys. I put my arms back for support as the magnetic locking door closed on my ring and little finger. I screamed until someone peered through the cross-wired slit, and saw blood Jackson Pollocked on octagonal walls. When they opened the door, my fingers were flattened like a gecko’s toes – bulging at the tips. Distorted like wire through a rolling mill. Sticky with blood, but useless for climbing out of there. Each nail shattered like a stepped-on snail’s shell. Doctor – “If she were not so young, it would have meant an amputation.” Now, I am back for up to 45 days of “contemplation.” (The longest allowed without some outside approval form.) My parents would not know. Later, they would not believe me. If I relieved myself on the floor – a mop or bucket would be provided. I could ask to be escorted to the bathroom- but I often did not ask. Food would be brought in, and I would eat it as slowly as possible. Drinking milk with a plastic spoon. Chewing each morsel into a watery paste. In a sandstorm of endless white, I fought against erasure. In the geometric confines, I determined to keep shape. A sense of self eroded with blank time. When Saint Jerome was in the desert, he had scripture. I had the imagined Morse code of the florescent lights. Sickly evanescence wavering. Spots in my eyes filtering light into a billowing lion’s mane. I combed through my hair. Staring at reddish strands. Feeling coarse, matted fur. I savagely bit at the blonde hair on my arms – plucking them – A sad entertainment of sensation. A task to complete. The lion swung above me. His mane petting the floor. I walked along the corner creeping like the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Endless tedium. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and the 8th wall was a subterranean grotto. An empty mausoleum. A bas relief of a man materialized. Hunched in the center of the room. I watched each wall unfold. Jerome kneeling his shucked cardinal robe, a rosy exoskeleton. I removed my green sweat pants with the emblazoned motto, “Island View RTC. We Demand Greatness, not Compliance.” A stunning irony demanding the powers of doublethink. I knelt in my underwear with my chin pointing Like his arrow of a beard towards a blocked exit. I have no grateful lion, but somewhere in a crack of moldering mortar, is my ant. I would watch him trail across in labyrinthine patterns. He ate from my plate. Leonardo’s unfinished painting showcases the lion’s tail a question mark springing from the golden rump. His mouth open in a yawn or prayer. Facing his chiaroscuro master’s contorted sinews. Reassembled pieces patched the “Praying in the Wilderness.” His incomplete torso, a mass of spider webs with a fist-sized gouge in it. Always a Doubting Thomas, I explored the fissure. Looping eruptions belch behind him. Eternally regurgitating and consuming earth’s fire. His face hollow from fasting. I longed to fast, but they would ram a tube through my nose and force-feed me. The bad boy, Caravaggio’s “Saint Jerome Writing.” glows into frame. I had no writing utensils. I could chip away painted cinderblock with my nails – leaving channels of white within white. Much of that canvas is filled with “help” and “Fuck Island View,” Other teen’s lover’s names. Jerome is writing the vulgate under the vigil of a skull. I pressed into my face and traced the orbital sockets, the jawline felt the cartilaginous nose melt away. This was not frightening. The loss of freedom rendered the Memento Mori a symbol of relief. Bellini’s Jerome sits with a lizard at his bare feet in the shelter of a cave. Campaniles punctuate the distance. If I had escaped the pink room, there would be another unmovable door. I would leave in socks. Our shoes taken away and kept in inaccessible cubbies. Running across the empty cow pastures with their giant spools and blocks of hay Towards a cage of mountains. Macro Zoppo’s panel depicts the saint with his leg and curve of buttocks Visible through his cinctured rags. Meditating at an altar of bones, books, crucifix, and a red wide-brimmed hat. The rock edifice as curvy as a body with secret passages. One out-cropping suggests Jesus. The moss and lichen, his crown of thorns. Spindly cemetery trees rise like candles through his halo. as he dances, the flesh – his flesh – all flesh becomes more evident. Not cloaked in the trappings of “civilization.” The next to rise out of the ghastly cinderblocks was Bartolomeo Passanotti’s Jerome. He was heavily muscled with splayed Grecian toes and a thick cloud of hair. A Zeus with haunted eyes. A little bird considers the god-like man of God. Propping up the bible with a skull. I began to do jumping jacks and push-ups. Just because you are a hermit does not mean you can’t be ripped. I feel ripped. Something is missing. Something important. Strips of something that made me what I once was. The final wall is a mosaic of his face comprised of miniature portraits in ivory, porcelain, metal – all studded with garnets. A magnifying glass of dust mites bring features In and out of focus. Until everything is clear. I knew that I would make it in this pale wasteland. All my visions are my own. All the artwork from my confiscated books are in my mind. All the essences of poetry and novels – philosophy, science, all of that is alive inside me. The door opens, and a cot is brought in. It must be night. A summer’s night. The fluorescent lights are left on as always but now I can project anything on them. Masterwork after masterwork, and then I am in the sea I am in a lover’s arms. I am riding a horse through the Vatican. Only the flesh is imprisoned. I feed myself cannibalistically. The mind feeds the mind. on rations of recollection.
Dr. Jennifer (Cimmerian) Urbanek is a poet, professor, activist, and madwoman who is currently skirting the edge of the lacuna that we call life. Cimmerian can be found under a raised scale — arranging mites into letters — arranging letters into gut bellows. Previous publications include Ar Li Jo, The Bennington Review, Helix, and Coastlines. Urbanek is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Tulane University.