Carcinogenic Poety : Top Ten No. 7


Thick, white breath-fumes
creep slowly over a cold table –
a thin arm stretching
into the steady suction of crisp air
nears a warm mouth,

displacement like a long argument
overheard between thin city walls –

and the tense adrenaline extensions
of an unknown anger,
accelerates and decelerates
along uneven spaces,

the syllabic blur of black faces
in the vacuum of imagination
around passionate bodies,

permeates like that old frozen breath,
dissolving into the widening pools of memory,
dissolving into the widening masquerade of words.

So Much Ash to be Blessed

Sick bodies in a long, orderly
line before a single closed door –

the declining dignity of faces
overcome by the elongating shadows,
the flow of sunlight into evening –

heads rocking to the intermittent
music of low moans and staccato coughs –

There in the silence of distance
too far for the steady hum
of weak voices in whispers,

it is clear their bodies are shrinking
in the decay of gravity and time,
and the heartbreak of charity
from a cold building that doesn’t open –

The line of bodies persistent and endless
ashes over layers of ashes –
the needed blessing,
and no words but my regret.


Bright sun-meadow sky,
the reversal of gravity in warm flows,

and a vertical body travelling the deceptive
horizontal passages of atmosphere,
held there between buildings, cupped
like breath over numb-frozen hands –

the unknown handshake of old memories,
when the historian’s today is discarded
and his obsession with the shallow
footprints of old paths renews –

like the author rewriting the same story new
and marveling at the coincidental, replicating
flow of life –

that retouched
blue sky of morning
and the long clouds of fading dust.

The Memory of a Hand

Flowing bodies line the thin parallels,

the gray-scarred sky shadow
is a cool gloom of imperfection

and the escape-fear of being witnessed
deflects our slow steps away from
this looming shade of failure –

this hue slightly reminiscent of memory
like its tepid wind that marks the cheek
slightly cooler than the memory of a hand,

the comforting cradle of a warm mother
leaving that last touch of darkness

as the reality of our eyes
ended in that swift, smiling fade
of eternal contentment.

Jeffrey Parker currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area. One of his poems will be published in the Fall 2011 issue of The Midwest Quarterly, and his first volume of poetry, Downturns, is currently in search of a publisher.

Carcinogenic Poetry: Top Ten crystallizes the journal between 2009 and 2015, sharing the most read posts to date. Presented from final poem to the top of the set, Jeffrey’s poems were published on Saturday, January 29, 2011, and was the fourth most read post at Carcinogenic Poetry.

Carcinogenic Poetry: Top Ten No. 6

The Slant Of Seasons

I. Strange Dandelions

While all of Rome burned
Caesar was heard to yearn–
“I’ve come to terms with my germs!”
Nice Jewish boy from The Bronx
grew up on top Masada, going
out with all the bad girls with
the Borderline Disorder, while
as a child acted-out and couldn’t
make sense, or deal with any
of the drama, nor take it on
himself to throw out his beloved
snake which he stashed in his room
for a year straight in the corner.
His mother and sister didn’t
seem to mind much either.
I guess they just got used
to this bizarre behavior, or
maybe they were all in denial
if that’s at all possible (One
might even say he had a whole
mess of guilt and anger, a hope-
less romantic, or symbolically
his soul had recoiled just
like this sad reptile) Things
really didn’t change much
when he got older, spending
his formative years in detention
hall, terrorizing his teachers
pushing the buttons of his
betrothed, begging to be
absolved (He would get
bar-mitzvahed and make
out well, get married,
make-out and have a kid,
have a briss out in Bing-
hamton with bagels and a
babka, have a mid-life crisis
and flirt with all the high school
girls in the Home and Garden
department, deny this and tell
his wife they were looking at
him first and she would snap–
“No they weren’t!” A self-made
something, who got into publishing
somewhere around The Flatiron Building
with the best sushi bars and souvlaki in
the city. Only once did he find the need
to improve his status and test out the free
market and moved from Simon & Shuster
to Backer & Spielvogal and shuffle like a
soldier, discarding the murder and rape
and sports section and scandal into the
rush-hour receptacle to recycle, then the ritual
of a highball of scotch & soda with all the other
wasted wheeler and dealers, passive-aggressively
snapping their papers, a self-absorbed
New York tradition, taking the train from
Grand Central to the suburbs to pay off
their mortgages. Later on, when he got
much older, becoming something of
a consultant, probably around his early-
seventies, he would only go in a couple
days a week, taking the 11:17 or 11:46
depending on how he was feeling, no
longer carrying a briefcase, but rather
a valise, as he could not break with
the daily ritual and routine and would
hobble in nobly in his mothball-reeking
houndstooth, bent over, bowlegged, silver-haired
into air-pressured doors to meet his destiny.
He still had the same old hobbies and loved
to make eyes at all the pretty young ladies
who he idealistically viewed as priceless
pearls in a deep dark sea, and couldn’t
see the harm at all in simply looking
as this he knew was as far as he
would ever stray, never cheated
or betrayed, nor was unfaithful and
would even stop to wonder if intrinsically
and empirically this really had anything
at all to do with ethics or morals, as this
was as surreal and natural as the streets
and trees and buildings and homes that
were casually and mutely passing right
in front of his window, taking catnaps
like a tired old dog, always awoken,
startled and stunned, by the muffled
catcall of the conductors, then all of
a sudden, stumbling onto the platform)
He would eventually write a heartfelt
letter to his behaviorist thanking him
for all the good work he had done, the
sacrifices and patience and humbly admit–
“I’ve come to terms with my germs”
Back to the origins of fatherhood
dog sleeps in the same old corner
blind with asthma and the aroma
of red wine and fried chicken
leftover in the kitchen…
(Hearts warmed by the scents
of red wine and fried chicken…
Who’s heart would not be warmed
by red wine & chicken?) soothed
by the sound of the dishwasher’s
silence slipping off into the distance
before the stripped child would
defiantly stand in his crib
naked like a proud colonel
with his hand on hip posing
after a brutal and bloody battle
Father regresses, baby’s mind takes over–
“I’ve come to terms with my germs”
Mommy reads an article on
what to do when you travel

II. Intermission: The Spirit

Music keeps you going
most especially
rock ‘n roll
Europe ’72
by The Grateful Dead
borrowed from my
sister’s boyfriend
in the Summer
and never returned.
Crumb did the cover
which is still a little
faded and coffee-
stained and smells
like wine and weed
and man when I hear
the wild wispy guitar
solo to “China
Cat Sunflower”
flowing out of
nowhere like
a river to
a rainbow
into “I Know
You Rider”
bopping and
skatting towards
some lovely delicate
freight train Nirvana
cross between
Country and
Blues and
Jazz and
the brilliant and
keen Kerouacian
influenced lyrics
and Jerry Garcia’s
sweet and somber
voice chiming in
gets me high
all over again
makes me want to
break down and cry
part from sadness
part from happiness
(Even if I shut
my eyes feels
like I can
get high
after meeting
that fine sweet
southern belle from
some Catholic School
getting nice off Hurricanes
in the warm dripping sweltering
courtyard at night at Pat O’briens
in The French Quarter of New Orleans
then in the moment suddenly deciding
to just take off and race under the stars
to Biloxi to skinny dip in The Gulf
of Mexico innocently kissing
making out then climbing
back in to head reflective
pensive through the warm
drowsy deep southern
wind with a bleary-eyed
sun rising over the dripping
skyline of the dew dappled
Big Easy) From what I
remember my sister and
boyfriend had a pretty
bad breakup and treated
him like he never even
existed and everything
all of it the relationship
and plans and promises
and record exactly how
he left it–Oy vey!
Gimme a break!
“The sun will shine
in my back door
some day…
Steal your face
right off your head”

III. The Old Garden
“Hey baby, what is that
radio station, I love it!”
“It’s easy listening”
O no, I’ve become
my father which
really’s not that
bad at all who
was like some
dentist with
Post Trau-
matic Stress
(which he
claimed most
of them were)
who used to
in the dark
of morning
like some
phantom or ghost
and always return
home to the groan
of garage doors
barking dog and
kiss my mother
then like some
coal miner blankly staring
off into the distance hum
all the muzak he had heard from
the day before drained and dazed
as though some nitrous-oxide
had secretly slipped from the tank
not even knowing what the song
was and us being the wise-ass
kids that we were trying to guess–
“Blue Bayou? You Light Up My Life?
Mona Lisa?” and then always with
the same ritual would go on to ask
her when he was done with dinner
the exact same question–”Honey
are my gowns ready for tomorrow?”
“Yes dear…” and then disappear back
up the stairs to stumble in the shower
as all you’d hear resonating through
the household was this weird and wild
cacophonous echo of him clearing
his throat and nose which sounded
like some out of control kid on kazoo
or stampede of some barreling team
of rhino from The Motherland that I
don’t think we ever quite got used to
and still got startled and learned to
accept (my mother always claimed
that she believed he had an extra large
oral cavity of which when we brought
this to his attention a little later
on he simply denied and
silently shook his head.
This seemed to me like
the perfect metaphor
for marriage) then
the insane vibrato of the water-
pic which shook the walls taking
care of more bills the ten o’clock
news back into the car in the dark
of dawn to his practice way out in
Whitestone to hear all about traffic
or as he put it bum-pa-da-bum-pa
The Hostage Crisis going into its 66th
67th trimester of blindfolded captives
endless gas lines garbage and grave-
diggers strike of America suffering
from a mild form of depression–”If
you give us 22 minutes we’ll
give you the world…”
and would listen to
this over and over
and over again
until he knew
more about
the world
than any-
one would
ever care
to know
3 times
over and
throw on his
sky-blue gown
or crime-fighting
uniform snap on his
goggles and head with
the drill towards Mrs. Diffazio

IV. Denouement

It came as no surprise
to us how much later on
in life he fell so madly in love
with the enduring transcendent
beauty of trees as they seemed
to provide in him a certain amount
of comfort and certainty while similarly
think we share so many of the same
beliefs for when it starts pouring
I too feel a similar sense
of respite and relief
dreaming of cherry
blossom blooming
up and down
my driveway.

Joseph Reich is a social worker from Massachusetts. He has a wife and handsome little son with a nice mop of dirty-blonde hair, and when they all get a bit older, he hopes to take them back to play, to pray, to contemplate in the parks and playgrounds of New York City.

Carcinogenic Poetry: Top Ten crystallizes the journal between 2009 and 2015, sharing the most read posts to date. Presented from final poem to the top of the set, Joseph’s poem was published on Monday, February 22, 2010, and was the fifth most read post at Carcinogenic Poetry.

Carcinogenic Poetry: Top Ten No. 4

Grey December
with apologies to Chet Baker

Santa is out of sorts
he knows he can’t fulfill
the children’s wish list
nor his own wish for
better times ahead

Even the sneaky sheep
and the whimsical
candy striper trying to bum
cigarettes on the corner
of 7th and Chestnut look frustrated

And look at all the demented
snowmen dotting side street lawns
in front of boarded up homes
where spillovers and crack pipes
seek shelter

On this Grey street
December runs throughout
the calendar year

And there are no kindly frost giants
or fairy tales with rainbow endings

This is the place
where Mother Goose was added
to a missing persons list
and all the flowers ran away

Rave On

All those lascivious boys
surrounded by breasts
and ass swinging beehives

The overly painted spectacle
and fake eyelashes covering
every inch of the dance floor
was truly amazing

And for several minutes
we were in kid heaven
until the long-armed boot
signaled: “come back in 5 years”

But it never was the same
after that one time

When Buddy died
everything changed


the night burns
between cold stars

a leaf falls center
and the pond breaks

look close
something is stirring below surface

flow with it
let yourself descend

find the space between the lines
—you hold the keys

Dead Cigars

There is an endless stream of cars
moving in both directions on the avenue

I have been counting the ones that are missing
one hubcap as they drive by

Eventually, it all slows down
as the sun drops over the treetops

This day has been spent
sitting on a bench facing the street

Returning to the garden level
where I cohabit with centipedes, spiders,
seasonal steam radiators, pipes, and other
unmentionables; the silence caves in on me

There’s too much clutter
and a growing number of dishes
are piling up in the sink

The neighbor girl will soon be here,
she likes the vinyl records
and the cobwebs covering the bookcases

But I’m becoming more self-conscious
about my surroundings and clear a spot
for her when she arrives

She picks Hank Mobley’s, “No Room For Squares”
from the racks and digs it

I tell her it’s from a 1963, Blue Note session
and that Mobley was unappreciated in his time

She’s blown away and tells me
the record is 25 years older than herself

I talked about the day it was purchased
but felt it best not to mention the year 1964

Richard D. Houff has had over twenty books published in both poetry and prose. His work has appeared in Cage, Gargoyle, Midwest Quarterly, Parnassus, and the Wisconsin Review.

Carcinogenic Poetry: Top Ten crystallizes the journal between 2009 and 2015, sharing the most read posts to date. Presented from final poem to the top of the set, Richard’s poems were published on Sunday, November 11, 2012, and was the seventh most read post at Carcinogenic Poetry.