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Ovid, Metamorphoses XIV, 223-319 Illustration by Graeme Zirk.

Ovid, Metamorphoses XIV, 223-319

I came to next to the guesthouse, 
Alex handing me a copy 
of Modern Man as we locked
on the first nude we’d ever 
seen. The pages stuttered: 
identical bodies distinguished 
by setting, pose, the fingers 
of boys whorled in Circe’s 
ink-smeared anatomy—
sacred heart, vasculature—
Alex and I transfixed, 
sitting stock-still as she bled out. 

Without clothes we were different. 
Offset at the waist, Circe’s skin 
fixed in laminate, cuffed, cold, 
more animal than our classmates 
standing ten-fingered and ten-
toed like unwanted dogs. They 
crouched, cannibals masking 
the stoop with pictures of women 
who resembled Saints
we were told could save us
as we turned towards new idols.
Their hair crowning like waterfalls.

I asked: let the sun burn my eyes, 
let it burn my back. If change 
were to come, it would come 
unnoticed, reddening my sight 
as smoke filled the parking lot 
behind the quarry. Now 
fourteen, weed demon inhaling 
the sky, I hungered for oblivion 
before I knew it as an island 
of housing tracts that concealed 
the dead, afternoons spent
crossing in and out of sedition. 

Day parole—restraint sapped
by an adrenal spell. Why not 
get high? Hash on hot knives, 
acid’s bristling tongue wagging 
where my friends surrendered 
to mutation: long snouts, the hair 
of swine, war paint bulging 
over wine-stained hides. Two 
tabs and I’d eat my entire family,
the twig and berry coverings 
that defined our colony. Free-
basing, bottomed out in a trough. 

Seen from a distance, each trip 
came on like a fever; injury 
and infection, their blessings 
limiting our capacity to alter 
the future. Tending to the ill,
only Alex was left to witness 
the retreat of the dragon’s tail, 
the blast and spray of need 
foaming in the corners 
of its mouth, our mouths, 
brothers and sisters in the word 
and the word no more than hunger. 

And when change came, it came 
with a crossbow’s bolt, 
Alex on the corner throwing 
shade, a quiver of police 
pulled from an unmarked 
van. He ran—a hundred tabs 
of LSD jammed against 
the hyperbaric chamber 
of his chest—and later, in custody, 
down the front of his pants. 
Dealers, defenders, friends—
we were blotted by his sacred hand.

He asked: let it sear through 
my tights, I’ll feel wide open
Alone, twitching while a flash-
light was held to the dark 
of his face. He’d hear us laugh, 
call out, our true bodies 
restored, replaying the first 
image he’d known—Circe: 
regal, flowering, spread eagle 
where they’d wed. She hovered, 
the remains of the day receding, 
leashed to the head of a bird.

Some hallucinations are stronger 
than others. The blue of five-
dollar bills becomes water, 
becomes waves, powder rimming 
the paper’s edge like salt 
seasoning a glass. When we’ve 
finished inhaling we’ll print 
more. When we’ve finished
inhaling, our money will bear 
the face of the new king—nettles 
and flame extending from his brow, 
Alex grinning in a fast food crown.