Needlepoint Roses · Jason O'Toole

The last of the rats scuff past
A fountain still shut off at winter’s end
To their homes underground

   Rats fat on farmer’s market vegetables
   & from the cafes
     table scraps

Golden haired and plump Poles
Already at their jobs
Serving blintzes and perogies
To ecstasy kids smeared in baby jane makeup
   Punks with arms full of dope
The counterman has an arm full of numbers
   Dachau tattoo

   Says “There’s a fifteen minute wait”

A boy in a disheveled wig tells a story
Of just how he got out of paying his fare

   “Did you wash your hands after?”
      “No?”

Opting instead for a bagel from the place
On the corner which is not the best
Ask the cashier why there are for sale
In his glass case
Examination gloves, surgical jelly,
Steel wool, and baking soda

   “People buy them”
   His sensible reply

March sun peeks through the gangways
Children comb the sidewalk cracks
Gathering empty vials and colorful caps
To sell back to the dealers, their brothers

   Not her again

She used to be pretty but that was last month
Abscesses, many mouths to feed
Undulate on exposed flesh

She doesn’t recognize me
Grimaces when I announce

   “I do not come to slay unicorns
    In this weedy hortus conclusus
    Or pluck you
    From among a thousand sick flowers
    Drying on greying tendrils
    We call streets”

(Might have chosen words less chivalrously)

Her folk curse stuttered through
   Toothless maw
Fails to land
I haven’t yet reached the curb
She is already boarding a station wagon
One like it will dump her cold body
Into the spikegrass, cattails and fleabane
   In the Salt marshes out on Long Island

This is not a love letter
To a dead girl
Care of a fallen world
This is a loom knocked over by a drunk
See by the fuzzy warp threads on the underside
A city that was always a beast full of beasts

   & ever in the background
   Needlepoint roses
   Stitched deep in the tapestry
   Of another junk sick morning


Jason O'Toole is the author of Spear of Stars (The Red Salon, 2018). He is a features writer for Heathen Harvest Periodical. He was the vocalist for the original NY Hardcore Punk band, Life's Blood. These days he collaborates musically with Alec K. Redfearn and Herr Lounge Corps.