Russell Zintel

Eating the Flower

1. Three months after my twenty-fourth birthday reading Jim Harrison
with my chin doubled in the dull carapace of one lamp’s light
I waited for the cars to stop passing.
Unreasonable as expectations go. Out the window in drunken vision
were the endless streetlamps which during late nights swirl
into the DNA of all of us
who have left the woods indefinitely. Hardly anything
has happened to me besides birthdays.

2. 2 AM. Fifty degrees in February. Yesterday
afternoon I was perusing the creek behind her
house, watching her feet disappear into the grass again
and noting the beginnings of unseasonable daffodils.
The end is now. Winter dies slow in neoliberal heaven, here
the flowers bloom early, and above that creek in a white ash tree we saw ourselves
a juvenile peregrine falcon
prospecting the dog. Then
meal and death were missed, avoided, respectively. And hardly a blink
later I was back in Manhattan
chafing my way down Park Avenue after another
hard shift in the restaurant, full of suits and smells
and beautiful food I don’t wish I could afford
for political reasons.
Time is provably circular, although it’s more
accurate to say that we repeat ourselves to create
that illusion. I cried and blocked
the Flatiron building
with my teensy middle finger.

3. Then chafed all the way home, the true wisdom in my ruined inner thighs.
At the bodega buying beer
an old dude argued with the man, a quarter
short for his beer, was bothered by two foot cops
and turned to me with eyes like overcooked lentils
and said, “I voted for Trump,” all in a moment.
I was not sure if he was joking or serious, but I gave him
the quarter anyway. I watched his back, wondering
what edified his blood, probably alcohol
but maybe pills. In some ways, I thought to look at a person
as a “lesson” is a fucked up
selfish thing to think. And yet in our culture
which is carved more ways
than is possible with a hog, “ask and listen”
equate to breath and drinking low
alcohol beer for sustenance, as when the purest
water came from the tears and sweat
of peasants. I asked, “Why?”
but he had already left
he moved up the street
weaving between a stopped cab
and a delivery truck
to the cracked sidewalk and gone.
Another gem dead in the night.

4. Morning. One eye opened to a new workday
the other still closed in a dream of burying a dog–
a friend I never had. My mind blistered like the funky
church band across the street. In the city we have lights
during the day and lights at night
and while some spiritual guides say
“look to the stars for answers”
we are unable to see them here. Looking at the tenfold twinkling of a distant
apartment high rise, all invisible lives
seems mysterious
as any stars. No more reachable. In one of them, nearby beyond
sight, slept the White Nationalist president so many of us have renounced, whose name and doctrine
warrant zero poetry beyond “Orange Blood Fart,” and whose existence
warrants resistance even in poems, which hardly
anyone reads anymore.

Later that evening, there was nowhere but my tiny room, and the city
began to take on the light of an improved
learning environment, a school whose funding
had slipped in the right direction, oops. Then I saw what you might call
my “self” drift away in a warped mirror.
In an alternate, truer reality I had begun to resemble
one of those amnesiac returning daffodils
on the graveyard bank
of the distant creek.

5. You’re not young until you’re old enough to see backwards.
Even the first gray hair is filled with a wintry promise
at the beginning of life’s unfurled rotary.
Today I saw a new street I was hesitant to enter
for fear of more restaurants with more
unaffordable foods that might save my soul. I saw towards
the end of it people disappearing into the adjacent avenues
which were like noisy serpents strung
in traps for as long as civilization would last. This became less terrifying
as I attempted to circle the Manhattan
of before the many buildings.
I drooled across a 19th century sky
in a cool clear balloon
waving my penis in circles
like a useless propeller–
the insignificant appendage
it has always been.

At age twenty-four, jealous, hungry and alone
you don’t yet know
what it’s like to look at yourself
in the eddies within rivers
across the facial features
of others. You don’t know
that knowledge begins in the future, which then rolls back
like Sisyphus
giving up. The old man, then
is the twenty-year-old boy
in loose clothing.

6. A weeknight, some weeks later.
I cooked a late dinner, fried rice with ginger
garlic, leeks and cherry peppers—
who knew the latter two would misbehave in the pan, so.
Ate in my chair, satisfied, although became distraught again.
Unwise, I could’ve napped like a French diplomat.
I wondered if maybe the problem was that I had
grown up in the wrong churches; those kitchens in which
real gods were involved and made their miracles palpable
in giant stock pots with the bubbling souls of animals
with perfect ricotta gnocchi and whole heads of garlic
in the sauce. These kitchen mercenaries drank liquor and soda
from plastic pint containers all day long, chain smoked
and told dick and butt jokes on breaks
outside filthy
white spring doors. Now I always want to be guzzling
or sucking something down, cracking jokes about my death
instead of waiting for it in a bunker.
A thousand stoves have been lit since, and the oil
still reaches temperature with a certainty unknown
to human relations.
The movement of the pan
and blade and fire is health-giving
always seeping into my bones
and blood in new ways, offering spiritual promise
plus future arthritis of the mind.

7. The first week of the third month
after my twenty-fourth birthday
had repeated itself three times by now.
I hadn’t learned much, although nothing
had gone wrong, either. Soon I would return
to her, and the house where we would walk along the creek
smelling of a two week reunion. At some point
while listening to the morning news, she would mention the possibility
of another Civil War.
The daffodils would be further along—proof only
that time had moved forward.
Warm, barefoot, Dexter Gordon beating
out the open windows like a savior
the dogs would chase one another across the yard
barking at the train that passed in the distance, every
hour a new hour.
Eating the petals, one by one, I would remember the way their
sprouts had looked like the teeth
of kids on a beach of long ago
old friends of mine, after we all partook
in so many
little green popsicle sticks.

Russell Zintel has lived in Vermont, New York City, and currently lives in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, where he makes his living on a dairy farm. He is working on a collection of poems, which he hopes to release by 2019.