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Poetry

O Three-eyed Lord

Marie-Elizabeth Mali

1

I know he was just a cat, Jet Boy, but I chant 108 times—
asking for his soul’s liberation to be easy as a cucumber dropping
off the vine, point of attachment scarcely marked—
the Death-Conquering Mantra, in praise of Shiva, whose eyes
open to create the universe, destroyed when they close.
All bodies hurtle toward the exit sign. Before breaking
the sound barrier, a plane rattles as if splitting apart.

2

A cat leaves a dead mouse by the beloved’s bed, no sign of blood.
Mozart’s on the stereo, Aeolian scale—natural minor,
no alterations. A symphony needs the minor keys,
like sainthood needs hunger. Even torture has been holy.
What if God is the cat who bats prey about the room
and grunts with pleasure? Or maybe we’re the cat and God
the one in bed who tosses out the offered mouse with a hint of pride.

3

Nothing is not God. Nothing? If true, then Abu Ghraib
guards’ victims were offerings, an impulse holy and blind.
The desire to please turned river of red: still God?
How hidden the universe’s linea alba. How veiled
its interstices. So many killed in one city, one civil war—
not collateral damage, but aimed at and gunned down—
the funeral home ran out of letters to spell their names.

4

All night after 9-11, we waited at Chelsea Piers for bodies
that never arrived. Where else would I be? said a doctor
from Argentina, on this, the first day of her vacation.
Around 4 a.m., firefighters came, skin and eye checks
required at shift’s end. Easy to view them as God,
or me, their answers mumbled, eyes on their shoes.
But terrorists? In what way are they God? In what way, me?

5

Pulling out of Union Square station, the subway’s frequency
sounds the first three notes of There’s a place for us, somewhere
a place for us. A woman sits on me, shoves her dim
planet-face at mine and blames me for not moving.
My face half numb—post-root canal. I want to incinerate her
with a blast from Shiva’s third eye. But she is Shiva, too.
Give me back the luxury of blame.

6

How to walk through the world as if it’s me
when radio broadcasts incite Hutu to kill Tutsi like roaches.
How to see others as myself and forgive like the woman
who cooked dinner for the neighbor who killed her family.
Three men dragged my friend into a Brooklyn alley
and raped her. Is my heart wide enough for this? To know
the guiding hand’s absence, no plan, God one with the careen.

7

When my great-aunt dies two weeks after Jet Boy
and I can’t fly to Caracas for her burial, I chant 108 times—
the same mantra—asking for her soul’s liberation,
her photo on the altar next to my cat’s ashes,
though their deaths aren’t equivalent. When a plane
going supersonic rattles, strapped-in passengers
white-knuckle armrests and hope bolts will hold.

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