sporklet 4
Toby Altman

S E X    S C E N E   (theory of tragedy)


scene: Theas and Foreman seal the deal.



If I am that name:



Applause and laughter. Theas lifts her dress and lies face down on the bed. Fade to black. After a long, liquid pause, enter Oedipus and the Sphinx, thus overgrown, thus richly mulched:



O: I want a verse that hurts the thing it says. In an infectious and unwholesome country, I sing love is good enough for what it does and check my make-up in a pocket mirror: I want a verse that shows its sex, delicate as a pair of loafers, to the mirror. I want a verse that makes a moist wound environment and plumps itself with sheets of fun and flirty teeth. I want a verse that eats a bonny bed pan, full of foam. O mournful river of hamburger meat, I want a verse that bathes its acne in vivid soda. I want a verse that weighs its heinie with apple pie and climbs into bed. I want a verse that brews its cancered fruit in the dead ground and rises through the living room to get a glass of water. Today the lawn is arrayed in lush hexameters to tempt the mower: I want a verse that comes to the mowing like a virgin touched for the very first time: pure bliss, no errata, unlimited text and data.


S: I want doesn’t get.


















Under her antibiotic umbrella,

a silky sheet of televised snow.

Where she goes, ecstasy and distemper:

she’s sick with knowing, not the thing she knows.

Behind the armor of deodorant,

I am abscess and respite, swerved:

the living joy that gives its government

to pleasure and its toxins to the nerve.

Pregnant with its lapse, I exact

the chewy marble buried in his eye;

I ask the spitting image—leg askance,

leaking muteness, for all the boys to ride—

to lift the past from the chemical thatch

of his underpants.

                          Can I quote you on that?







Q U E S T I O N   (and answer)


scene: the gentle officers have a few questions for their prisoner.



• “However, I stand for 8-10 hours A day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”



Principles of interrogation. To be projected throughout the scene:










what moves in the I / I / what gives its shape /

its shape / what labors in its circle

to give its circle weight / its weight / what takes /

it takes / takes what / it takes its fertile

what / takes where / its where, dredged to the crisis /

does the crisis decide its fullness /

its fullness is the early fruit / violence

in his diet / which breaks the illness /

disdain of body for itself / what self /

sweet self / or sugar self / the self that moves /

moves where / the fragile lens and the eye's depth

move / into what / into moving / for whom /

for moving, which makes its fortress in you / 

for what / to make a space of I in you / 








He may be forced to stand, to defecate

standing, until he collapses.

He may be forced to irrigate

his bladder until its content passes.

He may be beaten on the back and waist

with a regulation baton.

He may be isolated for thirty days

without food to force confession.

Deprive him of his religious comforts

and auditory influence.

Deprive him of light. Deprive him of slumber

by administering stimulants.

Remove his clothes. Force him to shave his hair.

And bind his hands behind a folding chair.




[When they have examined his case thoroughly and carefully, the officers return Steelman to his cell].





S O N G   (commercial break)




Scene: The poet licks his symptom and grooms his urge for a long, dogmatic slumber. The poem makes ready for his jelly. Farewell! Bon voyage! He goes delicate as a dumpster, celibate as a dumpster, into that good night. Probably for good.  






I have seen personal pizzas, white and grey. “Who’s gonna eat the sorrow off us?” they demand. Good thing I was born with the appetite of a major corporation! In my loins, it is still the time of year when the dead go door-to-door, selling evening. (Don’t be alarmed. I’m a stay-at-home-mom). “The muse rolls deep with us” the dead vaunt. This is their company chant:



A pain is little lawns of milk

with music in the grass:

cold pastoral in the mouth

which captures what it lacks.


And all throughout a threaded eye

could give its revenue to you:

try Venereal Linen (trademark) today,

at the ghostly heart of food.




Many people, just like you, speak of waffles but in a language that sounds like death. In the winter when the moon is pinched, you wear apostrophe in your breast. What you want is to have the author and eat him too. “Take the tequila from woman’s mind,” you demand. Alas, the author is unavailable for comment. The dead answer on his behalf:



The language is a frail ballot,

a glass of milk without the glass.


It gives under pressure

its absence to the grass:


the thing and its suburbs

armored against all sex.










A R C A D I A N   C H A M P A G N E   (statements and facts)


scene: a press conference. The C.E.O. of Arcadia Steel lays his obligatory bouquet for the fallen boys.






corporate elegy:


















Then swerved the work and all the mergers failed,

and poets with their fudgy numbers wept

as credit cards capsized from the mail.

Still the derelict corporation slept—

slept in the high immaculate presence,

the silence, of the invisible hand:

a sudsy head of clear, cleansing resin:

wild money, which sweeps the yuck from the land.

O the minty-fresh glades where he branded

his brother with jellied petroleum

will be expungèd with a sterile hand

towel and paved with cooked linoleum.

    Our lawyers agree: we dispense all legal cleanness.

    We apologize for any inconvenience.

















On behalf of the corporate person

and its subsidiary aisles of flesh,

we travel though antiseptic curtains

today, powered and pancaked, to refresh

our commerce with the dead. We plant a cube

of plastic lilac in the love litter

that the dead make. We sing our lawyers’ tune,

a music like money, legal and tender:


“As CEO of self, we always wear

your liability like an orchid

in the foamy meadow of you-know-where.

“As CEO of self, we keep orchards

of freshly laundered factory boys to share.

Just drop by. Our door is always open.”






A R C A D I A N  M U S C L E   (theory of tragedy)


scene: the abominations gather at the bar to hymn their fallen bro



• on a buoyant pillow of oooohs and aaaahs, their bushel of voice rises and




Enter Oedipus. He carries the Sphinx, like a mattress, strapped to his back. Her body is perjured and vacuumed, black blood threaded through her face and eyes. This quintessence of debt, this slim-fast youth with all her juice pressed to an elegant perfume! Her contract is up. Where she is not tied down, her body erupts like a drunken cop toward the tax havens in the poem. Oedipus, made light by love, sings to her in his surgical way: to bathe her in the soft weather of desire.


O: The dead do not eat the grave. They are out gathering orchids in far fields of Thessaly. They are eating combo meals in the basement of the Pentagon McDonalds. Today, I say—they have flowered! The hole in the heart of the geranium bed, which even yesterday I massaged with bleach and tanning oil, is bursting with body, liquid with feeling: desolate fences and frost-bitten apples which erupt through the navel, singing, “Your body is a wonderland.” O, I have taken too little care of this! I scare myself with my own dessert places. Am I not viscous and abundant, an ambulatory sludge? Don’t I sing in the marsh weeds on behalf of eternal love? Indeed, every fishmonger suffers thus. Every housewife keeps rigid potato salad against the day when, on a violent surfboard, someone silent comes to rinse the meat out of our language, first with his pearly taser and later with his gun—


S: Bummer.




















When all his fragrance unfolds on the bed

and the wet cement in his undershirt

gives contractual abundance to the lead

lined casket that we framed to house his hurt,

when the poet’s eye is a choral eye

and breeds a basket of fresh, toxic bread

for his language to lunch, and when he lies

undressed by all the eating hours, fled

from himself, with a shudder in the loins,

then—too late—he sets himself aside.

You set yourself aside. You lay a coin

upon your lips to pay the ghostly ride.

You light the bright, moral bulbs where you flee.

The poem harvests your transparency.






Toby Altman is the author of two chapbooks, Tender Industrial Fabric (Greying Ghost, 2015) and Asides (Furniture Press, 2012). His poems can or will be found in Best American Experimental Writing, 2014The Black Warrior ReviewThe Cream City ReviewDiagram, and The Laurel Review. Find more of his work at: wildwildwest.club.