by Carolyn Steinhoff
Evil is possessed, unlike mere misery,
of a dark glamour nobody pities.
Discover where the Lost Men,
JA, James B, Muddy, the others,
got their freedom and courage:
this is the assignment given
to certain members of the populace
chosen for their formlessness.
Their mission: put together
a tutorial on how to distinguish
between pitiful unhappiness
and glamorous evil, unhappiness’s
“most successful disguise.”
But the invisible shepherd
has driven this domesticated segment
into a pen called Distraction,
where they can’t work,
where the distinct ones,
who could once be stroked and punched,
who have never killed
their consciousness, their longing
for love that never comes,
have been rendered as 30-second
on-demand videos and shares
that no one shares or demands.
Words of love now leave their mouths
as bubbles the wind carries off and breaks.
When the words were sounds,
they acted like a hall of sound
down which the vague and precise alike
could stroll, between walls of sound
that neither reached to them
to entice them to stay forever,
nor spooked them into getting out
as fast as they could. Now, as bubbles
streaming forth and popping, their songs
create a festive atmosphere for the dying,
while the figures of the living
are being unraveled,
their ideas pulled from inside them
like a thread from a sweater.
The Lost peek out from behind a bush
in the wilderness. Are we horrible or sad?
the shaky white masses ask of them,
as they fill the once empty apartments
and pine for a cuddle. Here is how
you sort out the difference:
the Idea, justice for all, whose neck
is under the boot of the baby-man
with the sceptre,
wrests free and holds up a torch,
while the lowly shepherd cries
in a tearful tangle and we comfort them.
Carolyn Steinhoff’s poems have appeared in various journals, including And Then and Emerge. In the blurb the late John Ashbery contributed to her book, Under the World, published by Nauset Press, he said in part, “These are haunting plangent poems that reverberate in one’s consciousness long after reading.” Sulochana Mahe is an artist based in India’s former French outpost, Mahe. She dissolves herself day in, day out in social work, and art. Her work includes teaching painting to cancer patients, helping them overcome their sense of being doomed. She taught art to 150 prisoners at the Central Prison, Kannur, moving their minds to the softer sides of life. Teaching art to women at a care home in Thalassery gives her joy that colors can’t.