Original image by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Death & Demons: How Souls Mediate Existence

How do we come to terms with death, injustice, the artistic impulse, family, the past, and — most difficult of all — with one’s own demons? Each of these poems represent a dialogue between the heart and the mind as mediated by the soul, which tries to reach an understanding of life. Isn’t that what the human condition is really all about?

AIN’T NOTHING MISBEGOTTEN

not me, not you, not, trees, goats, rabbits, birds,

  beggars in the street, students failing class, artists

      losing talent, poets losing hope, defendants, plumbers,

           nurses, lawyers, prostitutes, migrants, the diseased, the

               addicted, confused, wounded spirits

exiled, questioning how to live. and why. well dna            

  is cheap when [xx] and [xy] tell you they would rather

      have had a hundred things over you. never forget, they

           said, their life-altering sacrifice to keep you, how your

               very existence hurt their plans, the forever strangeness.

acid-corrosive words spoken to a child, digging a

  chasm between you and yourself all the way down to the

      marrow-center of the earth. someone (their very name is

           stricken) said that you were misbegotten. you were unclean, 

              you were trouble, a sordid effigy.

so that’s what you became. venal, skanky enough to

  make faustian bargains to feel alive, to feel begotten, 

      but evoking sneers, sass and spit, making it seem right to

           sell your soul for the right chemistry, pharmaceutical or

               carnal, to never leave the floor.

until years later you spoke with the ghosts of

  everyone who ever lived, and everyone who will

      ever live, the sheep, black and white, the rebels

           who are really just dreamers, and the faces of angels

               in alleys going all the way back.

they said no such thing as mistakes, the trouble you

  cause, the burden you think you are is just the fulcrum 

      to tilt you up and lift you right where you need to be, one

           of us, no better no worse. ain’t nothing misbegotten they said.

               you better believe it.

Original image by Taryn Elliott from Pexels

TO CROSS A DESERT

my once-pale skin
burns red; parched i thirst;

feeble strength fails me
conscience strangled
completely alone in these vast

desiccated wastes with
only sun and stars and shifting
of the sands to guide me.

O God, this foolish thief
is lost in a soul’s desert with
neither oasis nor bedouin caravan,

with neither date tree nor fig,
within two days journey through
this scalding landscape of hell.

i would trade all the riches i took,
every ruby – every amethyst that
was never mine, the stolen scimitar

which burns these greedy hands…
i would give up what freedom i have;
i would barter this dying body

for just one
sour mouthful
of water.

Original image by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

THE NEW GUY

wouldn’t give his name or
shake hands. snot drizzled
from his nose. he sat alone
mechanically swaying back
and forth in a chair by the wall,
eyes empty, grey-faced, wearing
all that he owned, scented with
the street. he weirded out
the room as he alternated
rubbing his crotch and
freezing in fear like an
abused creature with a
robotic stare. you could see
the ghastly nebulousness of his
lost mind through the telemetry of
his abrupt gettings-up, scraping
chairs, changing seats, muttering
to himself and disappearing
into the warren he had prepared
in the men’s room. during the
speaker’s pitch, the sound of rattling,
addict-sobs, primal moaning and the
flush of the toilet punctuated by
a guttural heart-rending cry.
unmanageable as his animal
emotions were some distant part
of his human mind was still
sharp as a razor.
and i still don’t know if the
ambulance got there in time.

Original image by Harry Tran on Unsplash

THE IMPERCEPTIBLE COLLISION

join me, you said, rest on the
rusting grass next to what
remains of me; instead of
tears remember how I told
you the truth of life, how
earth-time is scarred by
the imperceptible collision of
conflict and patience.

as the mountains grow they
are weather-shaven, you,
the living, eat what they have
sloughed off; as the sea
recedes, it fills your arteries;
its salt decorates your meals,
the chemistry it leaves behind
seasons your sweat, your tears,
the very osmosis of your cells.

pray with me, you said, sing into
my crypt knowing that in life I was
of your world. that I grew in geologic
time, bit by bit by bit, the passage
of each eon chiseled into me. with
each tectonic pulse of growing I
lost and gained and sea-changed.

breathe, you said, move on from
grief. if nothing is wasted, if all
is conserved, then something
– or someone – consumes a piece
of what we lose. hair. skin. ideals.
shame. fear. nothing of you
is wasted. Nor of me. I
do not fear eternity. I
grow still as I
erode into the world.

Image by Prawny from Pixabay

HOW TO SLAY DRAGONS

Damn you, Dragon, how you repeatedly maul me
trying to consume me into my end! Cunning,
reptile-toothed, you lick broken shards into my
wounds, you breathe poison fire into my brain,
you burn the flaps of skin which cover my muscle
and bone. You sneer-threat my very sanity.

Do you imagine I will taste good, Beast, when you
eat me? Your destructive soul rains vile scales
upon me like dead brown leaves from some
enchanted alder tree laced with malice. Your dark
agenda strangles me, infiltrates my mind, tries to
slither inside like witch-bred coital rattlesnakes.

Damn your claws! To hell with your fire-breathing!
You know me not! You think you’ve won but I stand!
I shout! I banish you! My throbbing bruises mean nothing.
I invoke the countercurse. I deny you space in my skull.
I deny you my joy, my identity, or any part of me!
Confutatus maledictus! Begone you horror! Banished!

At last, at last, I sit silent and neither phantoms nor
phantasms disturb me. I can breathe. I have ointments
to apply. Bandages for dressing. For even psychic
wounds may heal. I look in the mirror. I am content.
Proud, even. I am from a kingdom whose banners
have not yet been unfurled.

Original image by Carla Anne on Unsplash

THE MALICE OF BOTANY

leaves of the manchineel tree: veiny and
varicose; ferns – spidery, jurassic, vertebral.

the primrose warns with claws, the venus flytrap
seduces with mouth and tongue; and belladonna

sweats poison. no one need anthropomorphize
nature’s botanic diabolism – it excels all on

its own. it is dark poetry by edgar allen poe, a
surreal triptych on oak by hieronymus bosch, a

lush, deadly world
ruled from macbeth’s heath.

this chlorophyl world feigns an offer of hope, but
cemetery grass and ivy suffocate her grave

and grant me no comfort. just shock at their
indifference, and fury at their corrupt

insinuation into sacred space. pollens and spores
signal their relentless drive to dominate and

mask death by malicious euphemism. i cannot
speak of love or grief in their presence, they who are

collaborators to mistletoe’s vampiric dance
with weakened spruce, who celebrate the bromalide

which parasitically demands but offers nought
in return. i abjure guilt over the olive tree that we

nurture only so long as it yields, when all earth
is suffocated by a vicious empire of floral vice,

of green betrayal.

Original image by Jonathan Petersson from Pexels

ORION ABOVE MULHOLLAND

he is there even when hazy nighttime
is fraught and the blares of rushing traffic
outshout the sounds of the wind. he

is there as filtered water pours into tubs, pennies
tinkle landing in jars, ties come off, jacarandas
drop purple and the l.a. times swirls chaotic

down the unreal boulevard like tumbleweeds
in a western. you cannot see him for all the neon.
but orion floats over us high in the opaque sky,

past the greek and over the hollywood sign.
hidden by the city, obscured by false civility,
by glaring streetlights. by billboards pushing

plastic surgery, one-minute life-changes, fast
food; shrouded by skyscrapers, by unthinking
self-indulgence, by gentle nebulous cruelty.

just knowing the celestial hunter is there
helps, even if our urbanity blocks him as much
from sight as the million arguments behind

locked doors, the ten million windows slammed
shut, the masses chasing all that they claim
entitlement to, shouting their demand to be seen.

a hundred million trespasses occur beyond our
vision, each one infinitely more dangerous than
orion’s perfect stellar sword. the city lights obscure

our vision, but what if we stop struggling and view
the headlights and spotlights and neon as avatars
for the constellation we cannot see? what if we

lift each other up, use better eyes, and remember
orion’s unseen beauty rising above mulholland,
his hidden order waiting to light our way?

Original image by Pixabay on Unsplash

JOURNEY TO BERLIN

For me to see the place where she was born
Is what my mother begged before she died.
A pilgrimage of sorrow to be borne;
A sacred task I dare not push aside.
My journey to her past had to begin
So I could come to terms with Old Berlin.

Berlin before the Wall, before the War;
A place of cabarets and Weimar art.
Culture-rich yet rage-filled at its core,
Poised to tear all decency apart.
Berlin – that broken place where evil thrived.
A miracle a Jewish girl survived.

In this strange place I cannot ease my loss.
The tourists come in droves to see the sights:
Here the Reichstag, there the Kaiser Schloss;
Smiling photos, entertaining nights.
Am I to bear this burden on my own?
The Gate of Brandenburg feels built on bone.

The home of the gestapo long since razed,
A monument to victims in its place.
The hauptmarkt where a Jewish temple blazed,
Where last my mother saw her father’s face.
Hardship built on anguish built on pain
This world of hurt caused by the rule of Cain.

But then…an old frau in Potsdamer Platz…
She asked me why I’d come. Then we both cried.
She too had suffered from the führer’s plots,
Yet fought. Thank God some goodness never died.
This ancient woman’s courage calmed my rage.
Still…there are tears that nothing can assuage.

Original image by Lukas from Pexels

TRANSFIGURATION

You strip me naked then
dress me in gilded finery.
Flatter-shaming me, you
sneak in, dragging your fingers
through my mind – neither
stranger nor friend but something inside
me, struggling to be revealed so bad
it makes my TMJ hurt and my eyes ache.

You rekindle my incompleteness,
demanding these burning things within me
burst free, not like the xenomorph in Alien,
nor the pus-swell of a splinter –
more like that caged bird that sings, and
somewhat akin to the spasms of climax,
energized by that first desperate inhalation
from trying to hold my breath.

Luminous-dull, you cajole me like a hazy
forgotten poem that has been repressed
into an amnesiac’s lost memory. Yet, you
fizz inspired and carbonated, almost rabid.
You ache like the tender child heart
so beaten into submission
it doesn’t realize how much
it wants to love again.

You who inspire me…
You have outrageous power to produce
images that hurt, soothe and strike me
alive! Your voice coos, caresses, arouses,
coaxing the dormant seed in me to sprout.
You assure me I am more than a sculpture
trapped within marble waiting for the chisel
in a blind artist’s paralytic hand.


Brian Yapko is a lawyer whose poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Grand Little Things, Society of Classical Poets, Poetica, Chained Muse, Garfield Lake Review, Tempered Runes Press, Auroras and Blossoms, Showbear Family Circus, Sparks of Calliope, Iris Literary Journal, Rainbow Poems, Parliament Literary Journal, Light Poems, Apricity and as a first prize winner in the Abstract Elephant. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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