Gail and I talk
about how we are
on the periphery
of our own lives.

We are no longer
in the center
of things.

Now the "no place
but here" is
somewhere else.

We smoke a joint
in a townhouse
in Jersey
and listen
to old Dylan albums.

Our lives were once
We owned them like
a grunt his skin
flushed with battle.

Now time leaks out of us
like shrapnel,
too small to be noticed
by airport metal detectors.


On the night of but another
millennium, I do not know
where the god inside me is
as I enter another military base
and am waved along
by a woman in uniform,
a sidearm strapped
to a hip
made more for loving.

I pass tickey-tack
enlisted housing
conjured by gov't
contractors and
60's songs,
families round
the TV watching
Wheel of Fortune.

Around me
the frozen air lists
as fighter bombers gun
their engines
like hot rods.

The world is quiet
this winter evening.
The ignorant armies
only stand poised.

The Great Wheel spins
a sparkler of stars
and afterburners
above these darkened
chart'd streets
gouged from a
prehistoric sea
where monsters
churned in mating


Railings --
where once lovers' fingers
now skeletoned in dirt
in 19th century lust enchained
in lace --
now lie in beds of leaves
where spiders mate &
Diamond Backs writhe
in pink moss,
the color of a thigh.

Naked poles askew
we follow
this antique trail
to where once
the grand hotel had been.

Titanic slabs of stone,
a colossal wreck,
overgrown with graffiti
and junk food bags
where once
industrial sultans &
their mistresses
had lounged overlooking
a clipper-shipped sea
while matron wives moldered
and captains of industry
sailed steel mills into sweatshops
and hanged the Sioux
from railroad track yardarms.

It starts to rain. You
look utterly lovely,
even more so
because I know
you are unfaithful.

On one side,
the ocean forms a prison wall,
underwater guard towers armed
with Trident submarines.
On the other,
an entire continent
cowering like a beaten dog.


Even I, a Jew, sort of, in an enemy land,
Could believe in the God
This beggar is bowing to
In an alley among shadows and garbage,
The litter of taxi horns
And the silence of pyramids becoming
One day older.


for TLF

Instead of your grandfather's finger,
a claw caked with midwest mud,
I will insert the sound of sea birds
& the suppleness of dawn over Asia
into you.

I will summon a molly hawk
with talons of storm
to capture the sea scorpions
pimp walking in the fathoms
of your brain, their poison
the color of my mania.

I will fashion you a stiletto
as silent as the shadow
of a great blue heron
to impale your anguish.

Then— I will swab the inside
of your ribs with black gull feathers
& scrub your heart with holystone
of snow geese down.

Rudderless in dreamy gusts,
I will fill your emptiness
with magnificent frigate birds

From the Galapagos & giant petrels
from South Georgia Isle,
where Shackleton lies
in irons in his grave.

I'll hail plovers & fairy terns
to attack that Portuguese Man-of-War,
its tentacles embracing
your heart and coiled
round your womb,
their poison leaching
into your birth canal.

On your nights round the Horn,
empire penguins will man the halyards
& clew up so you'll ne'er
broach to or be brought
by the lee against Patagonian

Out of gray mist & sleet,
I will summon the albatross
from the shoulders
of him equally condemned.

That great bundle of bird
will wet his wings
in burning frigates &
carry the dross of you
to the Southern Cross,
where I'll crucify
your dregs with spikes
of song forged from
choirs of virgin starlings.

NB: In the days of the wind ships, holystone
was a soft sandstone used to scrub the weather decks.
On their hands and knees, ordinary seaman
cleaning the oaken planks resembled those
in prayer. "In irons" refers to a sailing ship
unable to move because there is no wind.


At the beginning of yet another millennium
we cuddle like twins in the womb
in the cooling water of your antique
bathtub, its feet, iron lion's claws.

I place my human hand, bloody with herbal soap,
upon your left breast, just as the last
incense stick from the Dry Zen Garden
of Roan-ji extinguishes, the final
remnant of Japan after my deployment
in the Northern Arabian Sea,
where my carrier's strike fighters,
assaulted the deserts of Mesopotamia
and what had once been the Hanging Gardens
of Babylon.

My forefinger lazily tracing a soapy circle
round your nipple, I lackadaisically
glance out the skylight of your cabin
on Thunder Ridge in the shadow
of the snow upon Mt. Abraham
and behold a shooting star, perhaps dead
a thousand million millennia before we were born.

After it's gone, I wonder if a couple billion years,
more or less,
another guy will spot our sun falling
through a pale pink night; and, looking at his lover,
just as I am now, say something stupid,
like: I just saw a shooting star. Let's make a wish.


I lean and loaf like Whitman
against the purulent door
of Yellow Cab 1134,
my yellow cap at a rakish angle,
a .22 strapped to my ankle,
a couple kilos of pot
in the trunk to be sold
to wanton school boys
on a lark from Michigan.

I smoke a joint at dawn.
The ocean is right there.
It will be here until the sun
blows up, but I am
not concerned about death.

I am out in this world,
still alive,
the smell of vomit,
Shriner and slut,
entombed in my cab,
Rexroth's Asian translations
concealed under my trip sheet.

I imagine the wet skirts
of Buson's salt girls
clinging to perfect bodies
that are now yellow dust.

I think of a girl I loved
last night,
whose name I can't
only the color of her eyes,
like this ocean in first light.

On the horizon I discern
the silhouettes
of a carrier battle group
steaming toward Vietnam.


It's exactly 0311
Christmas Day
two thousand and one
years after Christ
was born to save us
(I forget from what)
and all over America
not a creature is stirring
while where I am
   strike fighters
drawn by steaming
catapult into a wind
spiked with opium
   and death
from Afghanistan
each launch exploding
one deck above me
each plane snuggling
beneath her wings
laser guided bombs
that will follow
a far different light
than the one over
each weapon scrawled
with holiday greetings
not for the mother
of God's virgin eyes
as my rack vibrates
like a child trembling
in Xmas lust,
F-14 Tomcats
rectums afire
into darkness
while I try to sleep
through all this
my ears soldered
with plastic plugs
and flight deck
   head gear
me longing only
   to fuck
The Sugar Plum Fairy
and dream of tin soldiers
   that can hurt no one.


I share the second dogwatch
on the starboard bridge wing
of a fast frigate named after
a corpsman who died saving
his buddies in Vietnam.

A flack jacket and Kevlar helmet don't
protect an SN and me from the weather,
the sea confused, the ship's head
disappearing into indignant water,
the missile launcher on the
bow swaying like a drunken
   sundial gromon.

We are within binocular range
of Iraq, and if I'm lucky
when the light comes I will
see Persia again and smell the wild
white poppies of Afghanistan.

Overhead, enshrouding the hurdy
-gurdy of radar antennae,
useless stars, galaxies
smeared white blood
on a moonless sky,
suddenly reeling clouds,
all deck lights secured.
The smoking lamp lit,
we have disciplined the light.

Totally dark, we heave to,
with the wrath of a million
Roman triremes, while on
the fantail, a SEAL team
prepares for another secret

Again, my partner speaks
in a sultry whisper
of "The Rapture,"
when Jesus will return
to earth and bring the saved
to heaven with Him,
just as an unseen squadron
of strike fighters
from the night carrier
inundates his words.

Perhaps because I am
so exhausted, every atom
damaged, a revelation
appears: your face
breaking up in pleasure
as if Christ is fucking you.

Later, the sun dares
break military discipline.
At the other end of the world
under the barrel of our cannon
I observe that crown of pagan red
being born again and feel a rapture
the faithful will never know
in the reckless fire beating
   down upon us.


just after first light, a female sailor takes off her ball cap,
fertile sunflower hair finally unleashed from military fetters
falling below the shoulders of once sexless coveralls,
while oh-so-limber legs incased in heavy black boots assume
the lotus position as she crosses herself, such a strange silent
cacophony of prayer as the great vessel suddenly swings starboard,
as if assaulted by a wind of newly conceived ghosts.


I come into the wardroom at three in the morning,
again not able to sleep. I draw a cup of pure Navy
coffee, thick as sludge, from the machine and sit
at the one table where the chairs are not put up.
Even on the mess deck, under the hanger bay,
which is under the 02 and 03 levels below
the flight deck, I can hear strike fighters catapulted
toward the minarets of Baghdad. I imagine
JDAMs, guided by laser light, into my home
in the hills above San Diego. As if on cue, MS Diaz
comes in with bucket and mop, and I watch him swabbing
the ever so clean deck. "You see any of the ghosts?"
he asks. "Ghosts?" I say. "They come most nights, sir.
They're carrier pilots who died at sea. In their flight suits
and helmets." "What do they say?" I ask, without irony,
too exhausted to be cynical. "They can't talk, sir, because
they're just bones and skull under the flight suits and helmets."
I look at the MS. He's dressed in spotless white. Except
for the ridiculous paper cap, he could be an intern in a large hospital.
He's slightly effeminate, as if that matters to me. He is dead serious.
Yet gloating. "I'll be looking for them from now on, Diaz," I tell him.
"They'll like you, sir. I can sense such things."
I hope he is wrong because I help target each evening's air strikes.
I am the maker of ghosts. They live inside me. I am pregnant with them.
Later, I go out on the smoking sponson and have a cigarette with the living,
or should I say -- the not yet dead.

Elliot Richman has been published extensively and has given readings in
New York City, Philadelphia, Paris, Hanoi, and many other locations.
His books can be accessed on Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and various sites.

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