I Could Carry a Scythe
Emily Laura Costa
I stopped at a stop sign
and decided never
to move again. I rolled
down my window
and braced for the noise.
The whole world
From here I decide
to guide them with my voice.
I spend all my breath
shouting, You’re dead!
You should be dead!
They are all very afraid.
They did not start this way.
The next day I return,
and the next,
and the next too.
I am a blade
of grass, growing.
The fire became tall
and I wanted to
become a fire.
The blood does not
dampen the fire.
The apocalypse gathers.
The worms know the words.
We get used to life like this.
TOPOGRAPHY OF TORNADO
For a one time payment
the world’s ophthalmologists
to fit a lens over the eye
of the storm, at which point
the storm lifted itself`
from the ground, and finally
sure of its footing,
tornadoed the earth
with absolute precision.
The lake plays dead.
The price is right.
The blood does not dampen the fire.
I am siphoned out of myself,
the part that always seems to be there
holding up the rainbow
without a breath. I can do whatever is needed.
This is more the end of things than an accomplishment.
Tell me I’ve won
Erasure of Selected Poems in Evan Williams’ Claustrophobia, Surprise!
THE LIVES OF A TALL MAN IN A SPECIAL COAT
In my special coat, I am a Tall Man.
I am a special man in my tall coat.
I am a man in my tall, special coat
When I marry, I will paint my tall coat a special white.
I will attach a veil to its collar.
I am a man who enjoys beautiful face drapery.
I will be taller than the priest, who will be specially-picked
Each morning of my marriage, I will tell a tall tale to my special person.
Listen, I will say, of all the special me, n I have dreamed to be.
In my tall coat on the high seas, I am the Gorton’s Fisherman.
If I’m feeling shaven, I might be a maestro with my special coat.
I want to be Billy Joel. Without my coat
I’m just a regular man, who never learned to play the piano.
I started a fire and hid inside my special coat.
The fire became tall and I wanted to become a fire.
In my tall coat I ate a special pepper and breathed fire.
What sorts of men become dragons, and who are their tailors?
St. George gave me water in a tall glass to drink.
Lying in bed in a medicine coat, I am treated like a special man.
My love brings me tall bowls of special broth and irons my coat.
The gravedigger leaves sacks of dirt on my doorstep in his special coat.
I would want to be a gravedigger if I could carry a scythe.
The reaper would not be so grim were his coat a touch more special.
I had a portrait commissioned, of my special coat.
It was held by a mannequin, a tall one with shoulders like me.
I stood in the corner, especially naked.
In my naked coat, I am a corner man.
I am a naked man in my corner coat.
I am a corner in my naked coat.
THE DRAGON AT THE BOTTOM
The Tall Man runs down a flight of stairs in a fit
f valiance. There is a dragon at the bottom.
A dragon is nothing, the Tall Man is
St. George. He does not fear fire.
The Tall Man has eaten jalapeños for years.
The steps are coated in salt. The Tall Man slips
in his valiance. He is red and embarrassed.
The dragon at the bottom is sipping a margarita,
eating nachos. The beast curtsies and asks for a salsa.
The Tall Man has never danced a salsa with a dragon.
before: he accepts, removes his chainmail armor,
freeing his shaven-baby-body. The dragon takes his hand,
satisfied with The Tall Man’s forthrightness.
THE TALL MAN WANTS YOUR BIRDS
They are for his children: The Tall Man’s children are worms. They did not
start this way. The Tall Man’s children drink bird’s blood. This is how they
The Tall Man’s family lives in a pile of bread crumbs. He imagines he manages an imaginary menagerie. The Tall Man has never imagined doing anything else. His father manages a more successfully imagined menagerie.
The Tall Man’s worms think he is a failure. “You are a failure,” they say in unison.
The Tall Man’s worms paint their bread crumb pile with bird’s blood. The bread crumbs sing a bird song and the worms sing along. The Tall Man does not know the words to the bird song The worms know the words and everything else the Tall Man does not. The Tall Man does not know he is imaginary. The worms have created him out of branches. The Tall Man is a portal for bird’s blood. He cannot exist without your birds.
the Tall Man needs your birds.
THE TALL MAN
is a gardener without thumbs. Every morning
he walks into his garden and says hello to the soil. He rakes at it
with four straightened fingers until a small hole forms, into which he
a glove with the thumb cut off. Then he
sweeps soil over the hole and drips a little water on top.
Every night before bed, The Tall Man goes into his garden to
say goodnight to the soil and wish it luck.
He really is a very good gardener, that Tall Man,
always dreaming of something
sprouting. A garden of thumbless selves, maybe.
Someone should love the Tall Man.
How much love he has imagined
I ATE MY WAY BACK TO THE VERY FIRST WHEEL
The Tall Man made me eat an airplane. He said it would make me big and strong. I protested, knowing the gasoline would burn my mouth and the turbines, lest they be chewed expertly might claim my tongue. Being bigger and stronger than I, I had no choice, I was to eat the airplane, I was to become big and strong. So I chewed and crunched and the wings folded. The gasoline, popped from the fuel tanks like the juice of a ripe grape tomato. I swallowed the plane and imagined it coming together again and landing in my stomach. The Tall Man was right, it did make me big and strong.
After that I couldn’t stop. I ate a train. I ate cars. Sedans, mostly. I ate a zeppelin. I ate Eisenhower. I ate Carnegie. I ate power and influence and steamships and pirate ships and even Greek war ships. I ate my way back to the very first wheel. I was so hungry I said I could eat a horse and then I did. I ate a donkey for dessert and Jesus took a hard fall. He wept. I ate him too. I grew bigger and stronger until I spanned all of space and time. This was about power. no force could oppose me.
I had no choice. then but to eat myself. And in My stomach I saw the whole world come together again, and go on being.
DIVISION OF LABOR
The Tall Man makes yardsticks
at the ruler factory. He makes wax,
sculptures at the candle emporium.
the Tall Man makes fine cheese
at the butter plant. He makes sentient, living
cows at the steak joint. He makes autonomous,
monocled peanut men
at the peanut butter warehouse.
The Tall Man makes the peanut men do all the work.
COME ON DOWN
I do like the grocery store.
Nine times out of ten
the price is right,
and when it’s not, Bob Barker came
out from the frozen section with pliers
to remove my teeth
using chilled peas as novocain; he plucks one
at a time. When I am toothless,
the Tall Man taught me to eat cobbed corn
with gum only. Things get all stuck together
in the tooth holes: I am a waffle-
mouth-man who can’t afford syrup.
None of this would have happened
if I had no mouth, The stove would have woken me
with eggs; I would have reminded her in my teenage
years that I learned to kiss with my bellybutton by pressing
my tummy to the refrigerator. She would have burned
my omelette the next morning. I would have told her
with an empty belly dance, the refrigerator meant nothing,
it was the sign language of romance. I would have rested
my navel on the gas flame to say, “Honey, I love you
I love you?” Bob Barker asks the Tall Man to
tell me what I’ve won.
I stopped at a stop sign and decided never to move again. Cars lined up behind me and honked. They all wanted me to move. “Can’t you read?” I shouted into my rearview mirror. There grew such a commotion, that the Tall Man came. I didn’t know what to do, but I wouldn’t move. The authority of the sign took primacy. The Tall Man approached. I rolled down My window and braced for the noise of the other cars. “Thank you for stopping. You’re a good citizen,” the Tall Man said over the honking, “I’m proud to have met you.” He shook my hand and transferred his powers to me. More and more cars lined up. I stuck my head out the window to look at the jam.
At my appearance the honking stopped. There was a moment of perfect silence, Then the drivers chanted in unison, “Thank you. Thank you,” they all said, “Thank you for showing us the way.”
The sign smiled. my hands grew into octagons.
THE PAPERS SPOKES OF A DRAGON
First, the Tall Man lit himself aflame inside to see better his hard-heartedness.
Second, he went into the village and spoke a fiery speech until they gave him everything,
The next morning the papers spoke of a dragon.
HOW WE GET TO THE FUTURE,
With an opening and closing line from James Tate
A man disguised as a man appears, A man disguised as a taller man greets him. The man disguised as a man says to the taller man, “do you have it?” The man disguised as a tall man gives no answer. The man disguised as a man removes his man-disguise to reveal his man-identity. The tall man, seeing his true nature, removes from his pocket a small package. He too sheds his disguised to reveal the Tall Man beneath. The men are one another, each at a different point in life. The man formerly disguised as a man says, “thank you.” The Tall Man formerly disguised as a tall man nods, keels over, becomes a package-shaped death, The man pockets the package, disguises himself as a man again, but now he’s taller. A man disguised as a man appears.
Happy HAD Book Birthday, Evan!
The whole world is hissing—
The lawn mower is coming to give me a haircut.
I had no choice then but to eat myself.
All the pigeons popped like pimples
My hands grew into octagons.
The price is right.
Come on down
Honey, I love you.
I have an urge to beep in the end, but traffic cones are not allowed.
Every time you blink someone new has joined
The Dragon at the Bottom—
The dragon at the bottom is sipping a margarita,
Every time you blink, someone new has joined
The Tall Man.
Inside all this mutiny,
The whole world is hissing, popping.
+ an "Evan's Favorite" from the archives
(originally published March 17, 2021)
we should rob banks together.
we should be cowboys, lean as leather,
mean as hogs—we should own a farm together,
make a game of gutting pigs. i don’t want
to be a bad person but sometimes i just am.
we all are. we should hunt xenomorphs together,
soft butch Ripleys rippling.
we should be porn stars, lick
& stick & sob for $9.99 a subscription.
we should be cheerleaders, toned & blonde
& dripping in virginal sex appeal. we should
be virgins. the fly on my ankle
presents a form of intimacy.
i’m touching your lip with my lip.
once a doctor halved my tonsil like an orange
wedge & sucked pus out. we should be
doctors, inject each other with glitter
& egg yolks, just to see what would happen.
if you ask me what i’m most thankful for,
i’d probably say something funny, like tape measures
or castrated statues. you know, for the bit.
i can say whatever i want, as long as i say
“just joking” afterward. we should become serial killers.
just joking. we should unhinge our mouths
as if they were doors to step through, & step through
them. we should heave the cat like a bowling ball
through the air & see how many birds she knocks over. just joking.
when you first think of a hammer
as a tool of destruction, you’ve already lost.
this little theatre of gender bulges past its belt—
we should become playwrights, stage our own melodrama,
replete with engorged clitorises (clitori?) & white cotton
& foul-smelling herbs & guns that shoot milk & we’ll have
nom de plumes so no one traces it back to the source,
our bed, where i pretend you are as here
as i am. pornography precedes the death of art.
i’m hungry as a gun. we should be guns.
we should hang something in the doorway.
we should scale a giraffe’s neck & steal from it little kisses.
we should do so many things if we say we are in love.