A Poem By Josh Bell

Vince Neil’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, As Transcribed by Josh, in a Crowded Hotel Bar One Afternoon, Being a Poem Spoken in the Future, During the Upcoming AWP Conference of 2014, in Seattle, Washington

1.

Of the latter heroes I was most
supine, handed out
warnings to women who were pregnant
or were likely to become pregnant,
hope tucked bloodless
into saddlebag, neither hunter
nor borrower, sometimes
referred to myself as It
as in charity is
its bird machine
—a strap-on fashioned
out of bits of the foregone cross
coming at me from the future
in the tiniest and the most
lineal of dreams, my preferred
haruspex pondering
her retirement and my new
address as quickly
dirty as the last, in times of war
immune to alarum,
at least fifteen minutes away
from sword and armor, the valves of my heart
opening and closing slowly
like the wings of a new butterfly
at rest upon the battlements
of overweening Troy, and all
the maidens and immortals

2.

and the handful of princes who,
in those days, took time away
from their own troubled narratives
to stop and save me from myself or from
the ancient boy-scout Death
are now themselves long dead
by natural and/or
mythological causes. Don’t mention it
they seemed to say with their great
careful bodies
as they turned them from me in departure.
Don’t mention it and drifted leonine
and smooth toward the assault
on their promised
constellations and perhaps
the foreign-funded rebellions
of their homicidal children,
got upon or beneath majestic animals
and graduate students, ears crisp
but not always white
as snow. And where was I—year
of the jellyfish, cossacked,
bowing feastless
before capital—when they
in their turn required me

3.

and I heard them cry out for me
from the dust that their fallen bodies made
in the dust, even better
and taller destroyers looking down
upon them, their lives an end-note
of snuffed out goat-bone, free-range
angels slumped out
on conveyor belts, felled
by slotting bolt in a rusty hank
of factory-light, and by the transitive property
and a million miles away
a flower of blood popping
from the dashboard
of my Camaro? No, you haven’t

4.

heard all of this before,
dirtlings. Moreover
there’s something not quite real
about sex dolls. They can’t
be strangled to death

5.

and the conditions for such
an act, the aura of its chance, like
gravity, makes the minimalism
of the vestibule
a possibility. If you don’t like
the vestibule, then what about
the service elevator, where tonight we’ll strangle
down so easily? Also, the zombie prostitutes
and hustlers, who have laid up
like sandwiches
for hours beneath heat lamps
in order to trick me, with their customized
temperature, that they are living beings to kiss
when they arrive at my hotel door
is one of those bad dreams
spoken of, above. In those days
of the dream, and of the various
kingdoms of conscience, I was set on taking
only baths, as in the shower
it was too easy to cry
over the specifications, and kept track
of war and politics
as one does the deeds
of distant cousins. Who’s the blond
is what I said to myself, then, when I saw
my picture, for the first time
in the record store, wearing my stage-clothes
and the wig of Viking sex-goddess

6.

on the cover of the first album
and winking back up
into my face. It was the me
before, it was the me
pictured, and then it was the me
confused and aching for me
after realizing I was me, that it
was me, that charity was
its bird machine, that its soul
had been lifted from out of its body
as if borne up between
the teeth of a giant
black wolf. Like a lot of goddesses
I spent much of my youth
avoiding rape. It wasn’t a soul, really,
but how else, like a penitent, to talk
about the way the wolf
was eating it? I don’t think it’s true
that you owe a debt to those
who’ve saved your life, that your life is theirs
until the favor is returned. The chance
at favor rarely comes
unless you’re in the movie
of favor, and no matter, as once
someone saves you
they can no longer exist
truly for you, you a check
in the win column, it is like they are suddenly

7.

a whale now, shooting between
exoplanets, it is like making out
with a galleon, it’s a problem to have
a decent conversation or a lunch
with those who have
delivered you. If you’re not into
the vestibule, then what do you think
about the Holy Roman Empire? And when
the witches say be you full of Jove
then be you full of Jove. Don’t make me repeat myself
in front of the poets. Who wouldn’t want to stay

8.

the same size forever
and in successive contexts, so much better
the love object dead
than alive and unable to speak to me normally
in the manner of things
that marry with the other things
and without debit. I can’t go on, Josh,
unless I’m told if that bartender
is a woman or what? And this is also why
I will refuse to save the rest of you,
you Richards and you Kimberleys, notebooks
holstered, chipping like you said
at the lexicon. But also I would
like to focus on another you, that’s right

9.

you with the feather in your teeth out there, you
breathing in the dark beyond
the mis en page, future you, first-person-
limited-omniscient, maybe living
in the lunar colonies, where you weigh
the pros and cons of making war
against the empire
of the planet Earth. You don’t
want to pay your taxes either,
and you are fortunate
to be reading this, thumbing it open in front
of your face, holding inside your chest
and hidden far from my eyes
the vulnerable power-core
of your secret wished-fors, time’s
quilted darling, why are you so strong
out there at the edge of minutes

10.

looking back at me
so dead? You vivid
and gazing out of the bright, blue windows
of Castle Fuck-Me, you considering all of this distraction
like it is wrist-watches
or the faces of the swept-
of-fish-free-seas of your former
home the Earth. You are all
that can be thought of, like a wedding reception
after the bride and groom
have retired for the night, so dangerous
and explicit. It’s not paranoia. The entire universe
is out to get you pregnant. Ramona, Ramona,

11.

why is it me
pretending to be Josh
this time around? Josh, writing up
his inaugural poem. Josh

12.

in the kitchen
with usura. I can feel it, the blood he donated
to me, yesterday, in the blood-
mobile, that blood skipping new
like a little colt inside me. Some people believe
that the name we give
to the planet Earth
is too plain, but the plain-ness of the title
makes the planet easier to miss. Another strategy
is to wear the same clothes, like
a uniform, day after day, so that those days
seem like one day
which will never end. You won’t believe it,
but I used to be alive
outside of books, in a life which crossed
uncomprehendingly
between two centuries:
in the first century, some things happened
which were too far away
and in the second, some things happened
which were too close. And once in there,
when I was young, more hungry
than patient, I thought I bit into
a carrot stick, but instead
and growling bit into my finger, both predator
and prey. Shame is a big part
of being eaten alive, and because of it
I have been dining at home now
for 1001 nights, not mature enough,
conceptually, to have
any dealings with the true
human body. Now I think you’re getting a better sense
of what my being is. Yes officer, I was angry.
All life not within my immediate survey
was a lie. Little horse, little horses,

13.

I swear the Earth
was still breathing when I left it.




Josh Bell is the author of No Planets Strike and is Briggs Copeland Lecturer on English at Harvard University.

You will find more poems here. You may contact the editor at poems@theawl.com.