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Solar Plexus

By Michael L. Smith

i Tropic of Capricorn

Let me count the ways.
No, better not.
Henry's imaginings
were never meant to be taken literally,
at least not in that sense.
Of course, cosmodemonic worlds do exist
and warp through creation with blood-sucking powers
and only the sons of the bitch can perceive
their tentacles encroaching in our hearts
and grab the truth by the throat.
Miller's hot-blooded incidents
in succulent detail are his way
of telling the public he's alive and kicking --
in full possession of all his faculties

And like a billowy cloud of black tobacco,
Galois or whatever brand he smoked,
that dirty old man blew death
in my face.

ii A hard act to follow

He was leaning, book in hand,
addicted as he was to printed matter,
poised at the edge of the bed, halfway up
to putting the book down,
when the Master Magician
-- a Jackie Gleason type, rotund and jocular,
rigged out in black tights and top hat --
strutted in from behind a curtain of air,
scrutinized his mark pondering in an alphabetical bliss,
then whirled up his cane to snap out the bronze dagger,
and with a playful jab,
He cut the cords of sense that knotted
around the kid's solar plexus;
chuckling in His aphonic way, He soft-shoed His exit.

"And away we go!"

Elsewhere bound, his limbs and guts flew off with centrifugal force
that left a void in the center,
springing the trap door to the anti-world,
a blankness without substance, without sensation,
without words:
the ultimate proof that he ceased to exist.

iii Variations on a scene

Not one look before you jaywalked the main drag and
wham! the highballing diesel slammed meat, by the time
the ambulance pulled up, you had
swallowed the Kool-Aid
swarming with grubby microbes and spent 48 hours sweating
out your guts
fell, the switchblade ripping up from your groin
to your ribs, you stared blankly forward to see
the muzzle
of the .38 held in your own hands, pointed
up your nostril, trembling
with old age, you blink once too often
and doze off to your last afternoon nap.

Yes, they all seem right. They all ring true.

iv Putting it all together

(The Master Magician leans back on the couch, the leather creaking under his weight)

It's like this, Doctor. I'm not the sort of guy that plays practical jokes. I'm a professional, the best in the business, but I get fed up with running through the same number, night in, day out. So I try to work in some variations...

(Gestures vigorously with his hands) keep the spunk form drying up... Now, about this mark, you should have seen his face when he opened his eyes and swatted away the clustering flies. He's got this vacant look plastered on his face, as if he's suffering from vertigo. The first thing he does, he pats his arms, legs and all that, like to see if they're all there in the corresponding place. Now that pissed me off, why should he think I don't know my stuff? The bastard! Then he stands up -- and get this -- he sticks his hand in his crotch, probably to see if he's wet his pants.

(Laughs, but then nods)

Well, it's been known to happen. Then, he goes over to the mirror and examines his face. What he expects to see, I don't know. Another wrinkle, a gray hair. So he opens his mouth and out come some gurgling sounds, as if he's never spoken before. He grabs his stomach.

(Imitates the gesture, and double-takes)

Uff, I really don't know why I eat so much. Maybe it's because I'm basically insecure, afraid people aren't going to like me, afraid they'll reject my approaches. Am I right, Doctor?

(The sound of pen against paper)

Listen, are you sure you're listening. A sign. Some sympathy.


Well, where was I? The sucker grabs his gut. A pensive look on his puss, like, he's thinking about calling the medics. I could have told him it was nothing serious, nothing worse than after a sucker punch -- pained breath, a dry ache around the diaphragm. I mean, it's not like I was trying to kill him. No irreparable harm was done.

I'm not such a bad guy, you know that, don't you, Doctor?


Why should he stand there pouting. Who does he think he is, the jerk. I've played by the rules. Fair is fair. He's there in one piece. What more can he ask? What d'you say, Doctor?

(Swivels around to face the other man, leather creaking under his weight)

Listen, doc, put down your damn pipe, and look me straight in the eye. Now tell me, do I look like the type who would hurt someone unless it were absolutely necessary. Well, do I, Doc?

(Fade out.)

iv Small revelries in an afternoon

you find a park bench
under the vigilance
of a caudillo
knocked off by History
and allow the sun
to wipe clean the goose bumps
from your chilled flesh
while the swallows
swoop in suicidal antics
above around
his antique head
feather surpasses bronze

the light turns green
and your feet venture out
to project steps
on concrete, grass
and chewing gum
the streets are a pageant
(the carcasses were
collected earlier)
churning with people
beggars and burghers
hawkers and merchants
courtesans and cops
this horde of faces and figures
rocks your mind
with the lives and versions
contained therein
medieval tarantella
high stepping

a moment of devotion
among the volumes
hardcover and paperback
(you've long since given up
your adolescent vow
to read all the books
in the world
-- ah, the innocence of the novice! --
but still clutch
to the hope
of adding one of your own)
paying homage to the scribes
leafing through a novel
coming into contact
with the alchemy of the page
(firm resistance to your fingers
an edge slices your skins)
reverence for the monastic order
of print and binding
and protracted calculations
to steward out
the coming paycheck
to afford
just one more

you grab a seat in a cafe
a cigarette over an expresso
a magazine to camouflage
your impudent glances
at the swaying asses
the taunting breasts
the pursed lips
that parade before you
like the pigeons
that dodge their feet
a voyeur's pleasure
with margin for extrapolation

from the brink
of the crumbling cliff
you overlook the sea
far away
150 meets below
farther out among the swells
the mountain outline
of the imprisoned island
with its ghosts and guardians
yet the children, the surfers
and the lovers make merry
by the waves
between the precipice
and the island
and only the gulls
soar up to reach you
and veer away on the wind

you're back at your place
seated on the pot
another cigarette
how all this movement
steps into
the danse macabre

vi Death squats on the bidet

After a fitful hour of mulling and another of tossing in bed,
he finally slips off,
or rather, sinks into a consciousness of darkness,
the pressing confines of the room
and the rustle of the world outside
that agitates the branches,
that obstructs the moon and stars,
that rattles the door.

Crackling behind the door.
"Mike, that alley cat's at the chicken bones again."
For her, perhaps, it's the damn cat,
but not for him.
It's death incarnate, crunching on his tibia,
teasing him with its presence,
not quite ready to stalk through the door and bear its fangs,
content to gnaw at his leftovers,
flaunt its supreme disdain.

He gets up, places his warm soles on the icy floor
and feels a shiver rise up through his spine and cramp his neck.
His chicken heart pounds with a spasm that chokes his breath.
A slight tugging at his solar plexus.
Shaking, he approaches the bathroom/kitchen
(it's a small apartment)
and hesitates before the knob.
Why bother to flip on the light?
To see it better in all its gory splendor enthroned on the john?
Yes, teeth grind on calcium, crack!
The door swings wide,
and death's shadow hightails it on padded paws
to haunt the roofs and rafters,
to lay in wait for the propitious moment
to jump its meal/prey.

vii Nuts and bolts

At this juncture,
we won't bother to go into detail.
Even I have enough decency not to butt in
when they're making it behind this curtain of air.
It's not what you think,
nothing of sexual gymnastics or foreplay,
no passion or lechery; not even love is involved.
Instinct merely introduces the member in the appropriate place.
You see, after the hassle of his death-defying experience,
he's bushed, just plain tuckered out,
but his body knows better.
Deep down in the pit of his stomach,
it knows that he's rattling like a '49 Packard:
what holds the thigh-bone to the hip-bone, etc., is loose;
so ol' Mother Nature goes into action,
not for propagation,
but for preservation of the organism,
a little bit of magic and explosions
to tighten up the nuts and bolts
that secure his frame and spirit.

But even with this hocus-pocus, the story is not to end.

viii The Magician's postscript

Morning crept in through a rip in the curtain.
There the two of them lay,
wrapping each other in their sleep.
They notched together,
nose to nap, chest to back, knees to thighs,
an asymmetrical coupling among sheets and disorder.

In her belly rested their first child
who would see the light in two months:
boy or girl?
Flip a coin.
Such certainties and others would be known in the fitting time.

Meanwhile that question mark lay curled in its liquid state,
pure potential which arched her abdomen,
waiting to burst out,
a fullness which at times cramped her breathing.

Through his drowsy awakening,
he extended a hand over that swollen vessel
and awoke with a start at the touch of her taut firmness.
Impulsively, his hand fumbled over her belly,
checked her measured breath,
recognized the features of life.
Confident she would survive, he dropped back to sleep.