The Spire

John Penola


For Joe & Dad













Cover by Joseph A. Penola III




Prelude                                                                                                .4



The Mezzanine                                                                                   .6



The Spire                                                                                            .11      



The Photographs                                                                                .23



Their Echoes                                                                                       .31









unlock your door and forget

everything that happened


this is like the beginning

only with fewer goodbyes


sometimes the world

looks more brilliant blurred




The Mezzanine




you find him on the downbeat



stuck in staccato circles

like cogs in an antique music box

                        dragging the time between notes


the dented metal spools

                        and warped piano-finger prongs

                        plucked as rafters muted chords


he fell among their teeth

                        the rest which made the music



between conductor and captain


a curtain collapsed



while bare feet crush flashbulbs



you catch orange floodlight

and throw back constellations

            a zodiac cast in asphalt and glass


between the dotted lines

where gods and coins are lost

like reflections in fish eyes


where the shadows are

paved uneven as skinned knees

gliding twelve stories high



an archer starves in flecks


                                    within your halogen halo





they hammer the stage warm



                                    even without the spotlight

                        pulling trap doors out of focus


your slippers give like gums

before you sneak out the back

                        or slide from fraying toe shoes


pink threads in pirouette

                        to nails preserved in wood blocks

                        where knuckles knot upon grain



the ventriloquist screams


encore from the mezzanine





your name crawls like an infant



                                    to bottomless applause

                        his palms sting for days

                        locked and loaded soldiers left

                        with captains full of shrapnel


            behind glowing cut-outs

                        you count only empty seats

                        like sheep through curtains


the masquerade will be

forgotten by february             



those years of rehearsal


                                    vanish with the patrons




The Spire




the knotted conch spiraled out



he prodded the soundÕs source

                        turning back smooth pink folds


its echoes amplified and pearl

                        dampened by jammed knuckles

                        which used to funnel in like smoke

                        but now catch on shrinking curves


to carry three heartbeats

the hollow now a part of him

                        and he apart from the hollow



to smash the spire


                                    there will be no apology





long gone the color of wine



                                    the loose strands all that is left

                        brown arches reaching their roots

                        in tiny tin lock box mausoleums


keeping bandits from spoiled

                        words crawling from hong kong

                        slow as the moles below the ocean

                        committed too long to tunnels

built too narrow too fast                    


like a thread on his tongue

                        your hair not all that has died

in the still valley of his pillow



breathing deeper sleep


he follows their way down





awaking in someone elseÕs dream



                        sprouting from the backs of trees

                        pigeons carry postcards from ocean liners

                        blurred pictures from an open freight car

                        far from manhattan skyscrapers


a place where passing wheat

                        becomes a single yellow brushstroke

                        your filthy fingers reach for his

hands which hold no stains

                        though your bodies push the brink of rags


the order of frames rearranged

                        shifts his stow-away tenses

                        bursting hair back while trains

leave before they come



thousands of miles away


driven through low hanging clouds





although he was not captain



                                    looking over the vesselÕs stern

                        he waited for his stubborn compass

                        to cast its needle to a country

that speaks in tongues where throats

scratch from swallowed cats


swollen in adamÕs apple folds

                        treading water like the grit in his pocket

                        until layer upon layer coats it in pearl


an iridescent pair of lost keys

                        to the unseen apartments

                        where saucers of milk are left

                        so they can find their way back

                        to a thirty minute commitment



his spots cannot camouflage


                                    heÕs become hand-fed





no one else sees her



                                    and few feathers float intact

belly up by the breakers like a

swollen lily sprouting from sea foam


he pushed her back through cracks

where waves left catfish puddles

in crags and dents with tails tempting

fasting angels to slick black-top


beaks collapse in cut time

like hollow points on flak jackets


                                    how long they leech upon her

                        until another plummets and sees



her taste left in toothless mouths


                                    lingering like the tide





no one depends upon him



                                    aboard half-abandoned ships

                        his coughs spew powder bones

                        in storms of spore clouds

thick as horseflies above


bodies splayed as rainfall

their thin shreds veil

the smiles which shatter

seashells where air circles

a bird eating fish that ate her


they sing as suns set

the cat that made it out alive

the grit that was always cyst



pulse upon waves and current


                                    they wonÕt let their chorus go





he forgot to thank you



                                    separate skies catch the glare

between sunsets the paintings still

border both sides fixed in frame


                                    wrist flicks separate seagulls

from single lines that could have been

waves as easy as the street vendor

signatures from third-world countries


                                    youÕll mule them for miles

                        the light bulbs that drag her back

                        babies that stay bald and wide-eyed

                        with smiles as frail as fingernails


                        he pulls them out at once

            so they can grow back stronger

                        rolling their teeth like dice on tile



he canÕt be as lucky


                                    as those children dying





the snowflakes make no sound



            while they forfeit symmetry

driving jagged arms into jagged arms

bayonets that break windows

melt and blur to maintain the brink


                                    like leaves suspended uncertain

                        beneath every untouched snowdrift

                        where they wait on their mark

                        between the rotting and rotten


they can sleep no longer

                        charcoal outlines will remain

if summer is ever seen

                        each breath is an icicle

                        every icicle an hour glass



when earthworms stay stiff


                                    you wear autumn like armor





before he can chew it off



                                    the ratÕs own snake tail

                        drags the sandpaper feet

                        of those who forgot how to hunt

the ship where footsteps


                                    could have stopped

the buzzards who became

the bullÕs eye of her body

                        a spotlight which pulled in ripples

                        until tidal waves erased horizons


                                    the sunken-eyed procession

spirals like a black hole



the center of a still ocean


                                    feathers in frenzy





he should have listened



                                    when more than pavlov and poe

                        rang in thatched tin patchwork

                        where she fed dogs over him


their echoes filled the capsized craft

                        and called the emaciated to mass

                        against sinking hull and soaring ash


with cotton lodged deep

                        there is a funeral of paper

                        there is a one-match prayer



shock waves through earrings


                                    the anvil claims another hammer





their bodies continue to wash up



                        fur and feathers hang in antique

curtains over slack mouths

while buzzard tongues decipher


the sand beaded braille

                        in limp eyes that turned

to flotsam in throats left unfilled


cripples feed upon cripples

where surf softens the lines

between a cracked hourglass

and piles of scales unclaimed

as the biographies of burglars



before they have the chance


                                    he chews off his own legs




The Photographs




the photographs developed

long after the shutter blinked

burning evidence to film

she found as an observer

an accomplice but no culprit


the pictures taken to ensure

something more than memory

would survive as a reminder

once the drug store presented

the remainders of the past


they are scratches on china

only visible when tilted

so the light hits them wrong

and the public can see that

they are ruined and used





she heard this storm before

past the cellar door reflex

set like dusty mouse traps

in the violet glow of television


it lit his back like arson

leashed by blown speakers

with old dogs locked upstairs

her teeth sank in that sound


and branded him a black eye

he swept under concrete

canyons carved with sweat

for the cells that survived





she found things that could not be

written in your second-hand sparklers


before their soft walls collapsed

in the creased stages of her palms


a harmony of halos flared

their spirals above his head


you should have heard the fire

they set to her hands like applause


he brought them back together

into a fog of forget-me-nots





when she pulled him from

a warm bath of paper cuts

into an ocean of cameras

he could not help but turn


the bombs of his fingertips

lagged like horse hooves

snuffing silence like newborns

after the curtain receded


he forgot he was hungry

when he saw those photos

stuffed into familiar bags

like unfamiliar letters


the rhymes between them

that she never heard

until his fingernails chipped

into thick pieces of shale


breadcrumbs which sank

like fossils beneath him

as the wallpaper of her

painted dress peeled back





it could have been his guernica

if he painted by numbers

collaging awkward pauses

which shed from muted nods


the new american sign language

inside his sleep cycles

the size of movie screens

where cousins suicide like seeds


snow-lined and sand-eyed

these medicated meditations

drawn out like dŽjˆ vu             

before aesop gave to grimm





words left his mouth

as tape rewound

his fists around himself


she whispered for him

to crane his neck down her

throat lined with headlines


the stale newsprint

smoldering like perfume

from cherry-tipped sticks


skywriting against the static

in flat sounding circles

fingerprints fathers left


inside their mothers

they cried like lost whales

found within fish bowls


filled with formaldehyde

to breach the soft spots

between memories





his eyes paint her blue

spreading perfect circles

in white space that used to be


her name and its history

pulled out like weeds

all of it frail as make-believe


a thin strip of a hand

flung chivalry to shore

the nights he soon forgets


legends stamped with stilettos

maps abandoned at their x

where she cannot hide


behind one-way mirrors




Their Echoes




while his camera lies bedside

a deer stamps jewels out of dirt

with a single silver hoof he heard


when rabbits were bunnies

dad was daddy and not

marble below an inch of snow


when prosthetic percussion

only glimpses his alarm clock

before falling like their conversation


he remembers more and more

things that never quite happened

the street pressed to her face


part of him must have known

it would have been better to watch

before giving them someone


jigsawed from billboards and bus stops

the face of everyone he never met

a martyr who is above all else

            not her





every year without her grin

spread slow as arthritis

through each jetty and delta


the veins in his fatherÕs hands

brushed dust from spines like snow

that fell from tree branches


like a chain-gang of runaways

who orphaned one another

but got locked to knuckles





a blind sparrow with a red blindfold

runs thread through his lockjaw

the same red thread over his eyes


lost in something more heroic

the last stands of his sons

who managed to swim through

the arrows in their hollow bones

stretching up from sinkholes


he rubs them out like sleep

insects packed behind his eyes

scattering when light strikes soil





the things she will never see

like the millipede coil in her iris

shudder within oval frames

until he finds himself

five years older in a wheelchair

from the type of car accident

people recall when they hear

words like irony or karma


he has watched their echoes

traced them with a railroad spike





two outlines of evergreen peaks

spread constellations in widescreen

forming his silhouette


like fatigued cassette tape

he renames them all after

cancelled sitcoms and suicide bombers


dented pennies beside the tracks

caught on needles and branches

and incense ribbons unraveling





the muzzle of her chest

was as jagged and hollow

as outlines where pines stop


her kiss became her signature

and crumbled like paint chips

inside a book she did not write


with the creases of her palm

hidden behind his hand

pictures of burnt pictures


that thick-cracked furnace

which shot hot gusts of words

until they lost all meaning


like blowing out the candles

when grandparents could not

muster the breath to wish