Poem by Dustin Luke Nelson

 

Court Dogs

Then they suborned men, which said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.” And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council. And set up false witnesses, which said, “This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law.”

— Acts 6:11-13

You are holding your opinions in too high a regard if you burn people alive for them.

— Michel de Eyquem Montaigne

I

It’s not here. And that’s comforting,
if we’re being honest. We are a fox,
a hare, and a head of cabbage.
And then it’s real, and that’s confusing,
if we’re being honest. I’ve been reading
The Hoyle Guide to Telepathic Mastery:
3 Easy Lessons in 13 Days
for 6 days and I don’t feel any different.
I close my eyes and focus lying in bed.
I’ve wondered how the states got their shapes
and even that isn’t getting any more clear.
The neighborhood kids don’t listen to me either,
and I don’t blame them. They say, You’re 
not my dad! And that’s true. I also
don’t know if they did the dishes last night
or if their brand of dish soap does the scrubbing
for them. I haven’t reached this part
in The Hoyle Guide yet, and maybe
it doesn’t exist, but I’m hoping
that somewhere between here and there –
you can’t see my hands but I’m pointing –
I can find a chain of molecules, glowing,
interior lit and bulbous, floating like lily-pads
over international waters, maybe starting
at my forehead, oily from too much sleep
and snacks between meals, and, drifting
like a dead serpent in the Mississippi,
connecting somewhere to something,
that maybe says nothing
more than I was here,
and I tried, for whatever
that’s worth.

 

II

Virgin Mary, mother of god,
be a feminist, we pray thee.

 

III

Virgin Mary, mother of god,
be a feminist, we pray thee.

 

IV

Virgin Mary, collective vision of protection,
we have asked for more,
for our own protection, we ask again.

Hallowed figureheads, not necessarily our own,
we have visions of your duties;
you’re giving in either way,
we point to this again.

Saints of unparticular makings, and origins
not our own, you do not owe us anything,
so we won’t ask again,
for this we beg your forgiveness.

Animals of the zoo, denizens
of foreign landscapes,
what is there to ask but that we learn
your language, our apologies.

Animals of the zoo, denizens
of foreign landscapes, ok,
we admit that there is much more to ask,
much more to this all, our apologies.

Author of the poem, author of the prayer,
we have not asked anything of you,
you have presumed too much for some,
please accept this criticism.

Janitors of our filth, volunteers
for money, we have said this is not our filth,
but you have washed us anyway
in hopes of repayment, for this
we have no payment.

Eaters of our skinflakes, invisible
and the same, if you must, we ask
that you are at least carefree and satisfied,
though you are not.

Bipeds and brethren, we acknowledge
the myth of one flesh, though some must believe,
grant them that.

Carnivores, those born sharp-
toothed, they need not be used,
but we are glad they are available when it suits us,
in case you change your mind.

Breakers of bricks, a mixed lot
are thee, we thank few among you,
but thanks are in need, protect us
from those who would have our heads.

Virgin Mary, and associated symbols,
we believe thee a fiction, but god
be an activist, we pray thee.

Virgin Mary, and arbiters
of hope, we know thee a fiction,
without useful evidence, we pray thee.

Virgin Mary, mother of god,
be a feminist, we pray thee.

 

V

There’s a scientific reality to women in glass boxes
and onlookers in multi-colored silks so perplexed
by this new unifying reality presented today,
shocked at the ease with which the problems of Greene,
Kaku, Tyson, and their brethren seem to have been solved.
It is the reality of dark matter, black holes, and supernova
being a perfect magnifying glass to gravitons,
neutrinos, and slightly separated slices of bread.
A glass house with nails in all the right places.
This house into which must be released the court dogs
in hopes of having time to think, time to plan opening
remarks, escapes routes, treat time, and the most
comfortable position for a nap on this hard floor,
is perfectly stable, for better or worse. Worse,
the dogs are in the room, seated, heads vacillating.
They sit in the middle of the room, sometimes
forming a defensive circle like panicked pioneers.
They look to the men in silks and their UFO friends
waiting for the nod, for their turn, or for the din
to get so out of hand that they can crouch
low, hiding the double chin they’ve grown in the meantime,
to bark until the room again becomes still with order.
The player pieces set back to go, the women behind glass,
the UFOs hovering in the sky outside windows
or beyond sight. The men in boxes around the world
begin telling the citizens that the dog’s teeth have been removed,
and the dogs nod their agreement, managing the balance
of the box men’s voice and the voice in our heads
that says they have not. The dogs gum at their chew
toys shaped like bones, giving us each our own fleeting
glance that says, now you understand, before reverting
to sad, wide eyes, all pupil. There is no court dogs
for the court dogs, they just continue their endless cycle,
here today, there tomorrow, and they’re just dogs, right?
So, what do they care, you say. And if you’re at least unsure
then they’ve done their job.

 

VI

Even though physically we are in a cage,
those people sitting there say only
what allows. Virgin Mary, banish
an adversarial system. I mean hear us.
Humans are beings who always make
mistakes. They strive for wisdom,
but never actually have it. The lawyer
was embarrassed, they make mistakes,
they call us the injured parties.
I don’t think there are even parties.
We just need to make contact
with our country. We can no longer weep.
We’ve forgotten how to cry. We’ve been robbed
of our voice. Mouths sewn shut.
I think every individual wants to attain
wisdom, not just people who happen
to have studied philosophy. Not
just Solzhenitsyn and Socrates and Pythagoras.
Someone can have a vast fund of knowledge
and not be human. Lawyers are constantly
accusing of not being sufficiently
well-educated. It appears to be for show.
In prison we can’t do anything. We can’t
make statements. We can’t make films.
We can’t give a lawyer a bit
of paper. The court outright refused
to let defendants speak, those who
for some reason, assume we are their enemies.
You’re disingenuous, they told us,
but needn’t have bothered.
We were always sincere out of childish
naivety, sure, but we don’t regret
that we are in desperate straits.
Do not despair; it’s easy to crush people
who are open. Let us enter into dialogue
with the country, which is ours too.
Words are not trifles. Words will crush
concrete. We like what can’t be understood.
What can’t be explained is our friend.
It happens that two rhythms will come
into your head, a good one
and a bad one, and I choose the bad
one. It will be the right one.
Gogol’s letter, methodically flayed,
packed with childish expressions
against the authorities. I desire
mercy, not sacrifice. There is a good chance
of knowing this nest of vipers:
Freedom is better than non-freedom
or Prison is better than stoning.
Even the air makes us ill.
The search for meaning on the edge
was ultimately realized at the cost of lives.
There is nothing left for our accusers.
We are angry that something beautiful
is being spoiled. We find it
painful to watch. Many would have liked
to write something different.
Their saint will escort
them off to jail.
Open the doors.
Off with the shoulder straps.


Paper-DustinDustin Luke Nelson is the founding editor of InDigest, an online lit mag, small press, and reading series based out of Minneapolis and New York. He’s been a writer for the live comedy shows Radio Happy Hour, which aired briefly on Minnesota Public Radio, and Geocachers. His poetry manuscript, Activity, Group, was a 2012 National Poetry Series Finalist, and his work has recently appeared in the Greying Ghost Pamphlet Series, Opium, METRO Twin Cities, The Occupy Poetry Anthology, the cassette-only anthology 21 Love Poems (Hell Yes Press), Shampoo, Evergreen, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere.