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RJ McCaffery: Three Poems

The Angel of Sleep | Inbound | Schoolchildren in the Kriminalmuseum

The Angel of Sleep

May you come. May you drop through turbid air
bearing Apollo's lost head. Come with your black wings
to my prone form. May you brood yourself down,
shimmer like a midnight poplar. May you take me from my body
and its pains, with the necessary language of your wings closing.
Make me a stranger to arms and feet, with rhythm and soothe,
with your long linked vowels as soft as a cat's ear.
With your warm weight and your gentle haze.
With land breeze carrying pollen to the water,
and the volley of my breathing. An air into weight and haze,
with your pressing breath carrying me from land,
may you take me. May you shape myself after you,
my animal brain unmade, with limbs lost
in the soft call of your wings. May you settle and rest,
may you come through turgid voices
with your single hum. Come with fell hands
and your single command. May you come.


Past the walls of flesh,
the choreography of sex,
past weightlessness, the breath
of the bronchial angel, 'round
the stringy heart unbound,
which from gust to guest
begs its news along,
one throbbing thing
unrestable, its tongue in
the vale of the mute, its
singular voice muttering
its darkly iambic forgive,
, as for
Give, for
. Listen. With tips
of fingers at your throat,
feel for the second pulse,
the Give, which you've
gotten wrong before.
You hear it shift
from word to word,
mistranslated as Live,
some other singular
command, and there —
it shifts, like music
fading from an afternoon,
the house empty, dead,
the piano long sold, but is
such less than
the concrete records
of words and watercolors,
that which can be stored
in attic trunks, passed down,
diminished, from the is,
the now, the moment
which is this one beat
and this one beat,
and this one. And this.

Schoolchildren in the Kriminalmuseum

     Rothenburg ob der Tauber

They have dutifully skimmed
exhibits of seals and civil contracts,
the dusty tax rolls and marriage laws,
to arrive, at last, at the executioners' swords,
now dull as breadknives. What
could be more exciting?

Two mime the killing stroke: victim
on knees — a horizontal slash.
Another pair argues: all fours —
a quick down chop. More efficient.

I shoot them a quieting look,
and return to the executioner's mask,
worn to avoid the eye-locking curse
of the dying, feared,
potent, even from those justly
butchered on the block of legality.

As if cloth could turn such aside.
As if a mere glance could stay
slaughter disguised as order.

Poet's Biography:
image of RJ R.J. McCaffery's collections of poetry include Anchor Ice (2003), The Hymnal Week (2002), and Chaos Theory and the Knuckleballer (2000). The former Editor of Eye Dialect and a graduate of the M.F.A. program at Sarah Lawrence, his work has been published in such journals and anthologies as Ploughshares, New Books, The Atlanta Review, and the online edition of The Norton Anthology of Literature. He is currently a J.D. candidate at the Georgetown University Law Center.

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