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Riddle with Miniature Rooms Inside

Jasper Bernes

Each one a high desert mesa-scape in silhouette,
broken by sawtooth
hill clusters and hanging gorges—they swoon

over the phonebook’s edge, bound by a hoop,
like the fish of high pathos in seventeenth
century still life paintings, their dead eyes

wet with a still-lingering vivacity, open
to the keyhole stares of studious museum-goers
behind the closed doors of the twentieth

century, who walk on, also closed.
They point continuously, these do, they say these
and those, yours and mine, long after

their insignia have been smoothed away
by the intelligible whorls on fingertips,
so that they become like morals abandoned by their fables;

little priapic lonesomes that once held perhaps
a tawdrily human secret; custodians

of the Proustian junkclosets, the dusk-edged
dishevelment that fetters mind to its ball-and-chain
of belonging. They are dead mind,
what’s left after desire breaks itself off in the locks,

the unrhymed bit-ends of abused figures of speech,
          like the heart;
description’s zero-cal wedding-cake. In the lamplight
they cast a ragged alligator shadow, or a pair

of mutilated legs. But the rooms inside them are dark.

Jasper Bernes

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