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Published: Sun Oct 15 2000
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
AGNI 52 Illness Journeys
The Tree Rings in the Surface of the Butcher’s Block

The white sketch of the moon these hot June nights
tends inward like a virus: ribboned lights
flicker on across a city square, where smoke

gusts from a copper barbecue to cloak
the couples strolling in an acrid wind.
A virus riveting the skin and mind

connects the close-watched second-hands to the drops
beaded on the panes of butcher shops,
that swell, edge, burst, and run in a thin crest

whose warp distorts the sweetbreads as they’re dressed.
Like weights sewn to the steam curled off red tines,
our viruses slip past our medicines

and flatten our pleasure’s cruelly inverted curve.
Don’t base your trust upon a singing nerve;
select her by the red catch in the stones

looped at the base of her throat—experience,
which teaches nothing, may slow you with a thought
of blood thinned like a church façade by rot,

but the precision of those branched, clasped stones
whose doubled helix spins with radiance
will send you strolling, light-headed as a ghost;

confused, but, as before, an eager host.

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The first poetry collection of Joe Osterhaus, The Domed Road, appeared in Take Three: AGNI New Poets Series: 1 (Graywolf, 1996). His poems also appear in The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology (Middlebury College Press, 2000) and American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000). He lives in Washington, DC. (updated 2000)

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