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Ralph James Savarese


Remember Solomon from The Bible?

Well, he was wrong: anything

can be divided, even a mother’s

body, without prompting virtue

in at least one of her children.

She’s dead, of course, unlike

the infant in the story, and in theory

no more damage can be done

to her, but her memory is whole;

her spirit is whole. Who wants

another round of motherhood,

being ripped to shreds

by the snarling wolves of want?

Who wants to spend eternity

in so many dens at once?

The crematorium is king now,

dispensing its fiery wisdom

or what passes as wisdom: the body

without blood. Like cockroaches

after the apocalypse, acrimony

shall prevail. Bring in the lawyers.

“You will each get one-fifth

of your mother’s remains.” Although

every child says he should get all

of her, my claim—I know, I know—

seems more reasonable. After all,

I protected her with my skull,

with my ten-year-old bones.

Would that she were a fifth

of Jack Daniels! We’d sit at a bar

until we were toast, burnt

beyond recognition, which is

just how she liked her toast.

She was the one who taught me

fractions, a family’s improper ones.


It almost has the word “fine” in it,

as in, “My mother was so fine.”

Like a ghost, the “e” is present,

though not in person.

“Finial,” too, that ornament of love

on the roof ridge of sorrow.

“Up here! Up here! Look at me!”

cries the wanting “i.”

How my mother could fashion a house!

(A decorator never calls

anything decorative.)

Black walls in a living room!

And “fail,” though it isn’t lacking a letter.

A coffin, like a narcissist, never pines.

The word is short on life;

it always makes a killing.

Marriages fail, businesses fail…

Never trust a broker—

Cupid, oxygen, E.F. Hutton—

that alphabets against you.

Walking in a Cemetery

It’s a little bit like watching bad TV

and enjoying it all the same,

enjoying it because it’s bad TV.

The asinine plot—from life to death;

what a cliché!—and under-the-bottom

acting. “Speak for Christ’s sake.

Don’t just lie there.”

You’d never want your friends

to know your lapse in taste…

I was getting in my steps—

we mortals want to minimize

our weight and maximize our time--

when the deer sought

the counsel of the dead

or maybe just the counsel of the grass,

which had suffered,

like the deer themselves,

through a drought.

They appeared, the four of them--

coats thick with burs and brambles.

They looked like children

eating without a bib.

They had traveled to this clearing

and to these granite whitecaps

on a prairie—or what used

to be a prairie and is now a lawn.

I smiled, knowing that I aspired

to avoid this place in body.

My mind was like a balloon,

looking down on death

with so much frightened arrogance.

The deer at least were baffled

by the pageantry—the flowers, the flags.

Perhaps from another perspective

I was already dead, for the doe came up

to me without a care in her nose.

A Wing and a...

For Carlo and Pilar

The cabbies in Rome have gone on strike.

They’re like disgruntled angels

in the heart of St. Peter’s,

little bits of plaque that cause a stroke

and paralyze the streets.

These days, even God’s a capitalist

keeping wages down.

How in heaven will I get home

if I can’t even make it to the airport?

5000 miles from Iowa

and running a temperature of 102,

I’m hardly Marcus Aurelius

spouting stoical thoughts

on his own pandemic death bed.

No, as is typical of me in a pinch,

I’m flying panic colors

and erecting gallows in my mouth:

The airline, no doubt, will lose

my rollaboard carcass…

How strange to ride with the luggage

in the plane’s undercarriage…

Only the living need oxygen at 37000 feet…

My son, who has advanced

degrees in loss—my wife and I

adopted him from foster care—

begged me to return.

“Do anything, Dad. I need to see you.”

COVID protocols be damned.

And so, donning two masks

and throwing a coat over my head,

I made my passage to the overworld,

everyone around me coughing

and on their own errand of need.

(Only the dead follow rules.

Only the dead behave ethically.)

When I land, it’s straight into isolation:

a run-down college rental with a ratty bed.

I want to say I’m Keats in Iowa City,

but, of course, I’m not. I’m no one.

This must be what prayer is like

for the believing when someone dies.

The deceased takes up residence

down the street, remaining close

but refusing contact—they do not want

to give you what they have.

You cannot touch or talk to them,

yet every day at 3:00, you drive by.

All of you, even the deceased,

waving frantically...


It’s a deadly sin

and perfectly alive

on my face:

a pet tarantula,

climbing the granite

ridge of my nose,

pooping in my eyes,

those murky


those acorns

that only a pathetic


would prize.

I want to be young!

I want to be rich!

I want to have

my words printed

on the sun!

The tarantula—

let’s call him Terry—

appears to be searching

for my hair.

“It’s gone,

you son of a bitch!

You’ve landed

on the moon.

Call NASA if you want

to come home.”

Envy, that mad

counterfactual, is

a chef’s kitchen:

the dishes piling up,

the pots getting stoned.

When the oven

opens its mouth,

an aria crawls in.

“For too long,”

Terry says,

sounding like some sort

of consigliere,

“you’ve kept me

at virtue’s length.

I will bite you and

you can taste



Ralph James Savarese is the author of two books of prose and three books of poetry. His work has appeared, among other places, in American Poetry Review, Bellingham Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Seneca Review, Sewanee Review, and Threepenny Review. He lives in Iowa.


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