SPOTLIGHT: The Red Glass Cat by Matthew Ussia

Werner Herzog

When it comes down to it, we are
really just tubes, or free-standing holes.
Things tend to go in one way, and come out of others—
though variations on this theme do occur—
as if the human body is a pinball machine for nutrition
made out of decaying organic matter.
The friction created as these things fall through us
keeps us alive. Do what you want with this information.

After the Graveyard Shift at the College Radio Station

After turning off the last light in Schwab Hall
I see through the front door
a crescent moon of semi-nude luminescent glory
surrounded by falling frozen stars
reflecting sickly orange security light
a satin white upper-thigh—
product of eons of evolutionary perfection
and three glasses of Lambrusco
with a dinner two decades past—radiates

I stand transfixed
my ears still ringing from the monitor speakers
my mind wiped clean by the sight of
the full glory of youthful indiscretion
Speaking to someone beyond the hedges
until she feels like she’s being watched—
our eyes meet
a candid moment
punctuated by a brisk sprint
as tense arms hoist unfastened denim

my trance broken
by the soda machine compressor
I spill onto the sidewalk.
the building breathes with a blast of winter air
funneled through antique windows

between two footprints
I see a glistening black abyss of
wet asphalt sidewalk surrounded
by a phosphorescent yellow hallow in the virgin snow.

Beaver Fever

It starts with a text from a friend
one that makes me instantly regret my last two refills from the water fountain
the enemy snaking through the walls of the house
the plate of food in front of me is now suspect
the glass of water next to it, poison with a lemon wedge

News-releases and instant panic—
some say it’s coal mining waste
others, the brain eating amoeba—
washing one’s hands after going to the bathroom is now a pyrrhic victory

The next day
panic at the Costco,
the specter of giardia—

I’m reminded of an AP newswire story
hurricane in Haiti,
“aid trucks mobbed”
“food riots”
the subtle coding of racism in objective reporting—

The pallets of water are right in the front of the store
a woman repeating, “I need more bottles for my cats!”
my own adrenalin rush because they opened early
disgust at the man filling up the entire back of his Range Rover
shame, because I’m doing pretty much the same thing

The quickened steps, glassy eyes of casual terror—
the fragile membrane of civilization, so easily torn
welcome to the new normal.

Previously Published in Winedrunk Sidewalk

“Iron Man”
(With Apologies and Reverence to Paul Zweig)

Yes, the Giants were playing
but I found myself longing
to push around acid snow
already shoveled off the driveway
because I craved
the New Jersey suburbs’ cold winter air

Not yet a teen
all I knew of my body was
it was trying to send me to Hell
among the other sundries of evil
I learned about in Catechism

Under a perpetually grey winter sky
the icy streets were dead
except for a primer black Bondo Camaro
belonging to the guy who
dropped out during junior year to change tires
slush and fiberglass fringes dripping off
as the exhaust churned and rumbled

In the passenger seat
sat Jennifer with Aqua Net hair
in a black Naugahyde miniskirt
who will be in my 7th grade math class on Monday
I’m not sure her eyeliner-ringed eyes
caught the red pom-pom at the top of my Giants cap

But I saw her when
girls’ bodies were a greater enigma than my own
here is when the mysteries deepened

The glass hatchback vibrated with that iconic Iommi riff
as they drove around the corner
to do the things
people were rumored to do
in the alley behind the 7-11

Seven years before I bought
my first copy of Paranoid, I only knew
the people who made such a song
took drugs and worshiped the Devil

My mother the TV told me
this was the soundtrack to teen oblivion
and I believed her
it was the 80’s
we all had our own little satanic panics.

“Children of the Grave”

My first deathmachine was painted electric blue—
four barrels of natural aspiration
and no catalytic converter
for 455 cubic inches of
carbon-spewing
polar bear death

The strait before the long sloping curve
between civilizations—
the game:
seeing if I could get the speedometer needle
to disappear into the dash
somewhere past 95

To win
meant to do this
and get home without using the brakes

Life is more interesting if you don’t care if you live or die
but only if one is afforded the luxury of reflection on such times.

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