Epistle to Elsner on the Eve of his 34th Birthday

I think of your sore spine—
a green-bean bent over the old computer monitor,
cheeks sucked in the oozy fish tank glow
and fluorescence of the back room.

You do shorthand and long division down
a yellow legal pad, as if it were 1918, and now
you turn down the light’s nasal aria,
each workaday nerve snuffed out in turn.
This is the small grid you live on,
in the back of your mother’s shop,
where plugs are scarce and one switch scares
the twenty-first century into darkness, complete.

From the still shelves, Nordic knickknacks
watch you slip out: red-capped gnomes
hear the locks turn in their wooden ears,
Carl Larrson yawns goodnight.

You shrug down the cold sidewalk,
a brazen nighthawk stretching your rangy frame,
tail of smoke fanned sleek and ruffled in turn—
you swoop down on the waterfront, unsuspecting.
Your small town squats behind you,
all sleeping Scandinavia and tourist taffy pulled shut.

You take a bottle of Chianti from your coat:
one slug for you, contender, armed with a pool cue in pieces
—each wooden part unscrewed, smooth as a penis,
elegant and tapering in its soft case—pointing,
in its quiet way, over the tip of the peninsula.
The mainland bends down at the corners like an iron mouth.

But certain, soft—the sea air here
peppers your hair with salt and a stoic resolve.
One gentle slug for each grinning gingerbread house,
happy as a hen on its haunches,
ruffled full of small, white concerns which revolve,
pass, break over skillets of hot fat—
You are malcontent, and overhead, the gulls murder
each muttered wish like a winged cake.

This is a place, you have said, in which to be born
and in which to die,
but not to live—the whole of it winks at your feet tonight
like Lilliput—a fairy circle caught in your shoelace,
a thing which shouldn’t be able to hold you,
yet rings out like a flung dime when you try to pull away,
brings your huge body crashing down upon it
like the Sound when it truly wants to speak.