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Vanitas Mundi

ISSUE:  Spring 2007
To make perfume from an iris,
you have to mash the roots
but leave the petals intact,

as in vanitas mundi, skeletons
are made of fruit and flowers,
not the dour bones.

It’s this way with any form
of pleading: please begins
with plea—linguistic insurgency

driven by a sense of urgency,
not the sort of error in logic
a “war on terror” implies.

Hidden inside: the ornamental
edge of understanding,
returned to us through language—

moving, but rootless,
like spent blood
circling the veins.

The consolation of physics
is art: scoliotic curve
of the earth, cello

that was Adam’s
first knowledge
of women’s pinched waists,

gland of a mussel that dyes
the emperor’s robes
imperial purple. Like hell

or hello, homonym
or homophone, who prey
on each other’s predicate,

what can we know
of the world
but every measure of regret

carried in a word
with the gravity of air:
begot, beget, begin.


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