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
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.