Rigorous
Volume One, Issue 2


Poems by Armin Tolentino


The Second Pass of the Scythe

I never see the ferryman come but find the bottles he leaves on the beach
stuffed with the New York Journal so I may read the world. There’s war bursting open
the seams of the globe; I’m waiting my turn to fall in the fault lines. If he’s ferried survivors,
I’ve never seen them. Footprints are swallowed by the black suck of mudflats.
Refugees vanish in the maw of the jungle.

              Preparing for the final blow at Cuba.
              The rain and the Lord are different here,
              heavier both. Daily they bless me
              whether I worship or not.

When flocks of Pteranodons are grounded by wind shears, I strip their wings
for roofing. Gingko bark braids make durable snares to snap the necks
of Compsagnathus that run like pheasants, their flesh when smoked a firmer trout.
Rock pools gather the springwells and rain. My stomach now knows this country’s particulars
and doesn’t turn from a bite of raw fruit.

              125000 Volunteers are Assigned to War Stations.
              I’ve stowed away on the Ark of Extinction.
              A lost battalion, colossal beasts deployed
              to the warfront of amnesia.

I too am a species cast out from Ohio; primitive hominid, a bloodline fetid
with scavengers, snakes. After the War, pulled chickens from farms and harvested pigeons
by millions. Plundered crypts, dug bones, grabbed at whatever the Gold Hoarders wanted
dearly enough to pinch off a bit from their pots for me. Anything short of shooting a man
to sell his still fresh heart.

              Awful Slaughter—Our Troops at Manila Killed the Filipinos by the Thousands
              God knows every inch of His world,
              but the cartographers are closing in
              drawing the borders the predators haunt.

Every species is the Chosen One until God’s gaze turns cold. The world still has pockets to hide
but less and less each day. Does the Angel that loosed the Tenth Plague on Pharaoh
return the way he came? Does he double-back, swinging the scythe of his touch to cut down the stalks
he missed at first pass? Does he answer to Olympia now? To Warship? To Ironsided Wings?




Growing Old in the Ribcage of Extinction

              “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge.”
                            Psalm 91:4


And these are the twelve tribes of therapod:
Tyrannosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Valkerie, Whiptail.
Gargoyle, Blue Adder, Gharial Toad.
Egg Thief, Bug Hunter. Sickle-Toed Thing
That Wails Like a Woman. Mouth of One Hundred
Pike Bayonets. The last, no name but Devil.

Today starts the season their feathers shed
baring lust plumage beneath. Molt chokes
the air; my lungs are all torn by this grey hazy punk.
Needle-tipped filaments, like sulphur on fire,
like volcanic ash.


***

              Moses, did Midian haunt you like pigeons do my dreams of late?
              Did their ghosts mop your brow as you died at the door of God’s promise?


***

Long ago, the bottles stopped coming. I don’t know
what it means, but I’ve spent a score searching
for answers while my knees rotted through,
while my teeth fell like snow.

On the hillside I chiseled a stone for the ferryman,
filled a grave with ammonite shells. But rain and seeds
infest the inscription. Roots take hold and break his name.


***

              Noah, I’m lost. The doves of my life have all been shot down. The ravens have left me forsaken.
              Your refugee blood courses thickly within me, but slower one pulse beat each day.


***

The Dry Season breaks when monsoons make landfall,
but this year the weather is a gathering storm-front
of bullets. Pteranodons crash with tattered wings
like Autumn mallards shredded by buckshot. What manner of being
is manning these guns? How keen is his sight? Does he see me
hold my breath as he passes, strafing the moon?

My refuge, the hull of Leviathan. When will be my turn,
slayed and hollowed for sanctuary to shelter what God
chooses next for His mercy? The angels have charge—
a thousand on either side fall—but the walls of the storm
are collapsing, shrinking the eye.


***

              Jesus, you hungered in wilderness with only the Devil to talk to.
              Angels wait for me at the foot of the hill, but they won’t show their hands. They never smile.


***

In the last bottle the ferryman left me, I collected
my cracked teeth. Because I never took a wife,
because I haven’t a son to bequeath
what I saved, I left it at the shore to be taken by tide.
Each a precious stone I had to pay to survive extinction,
a lifetime of war.

On the final day, I’ll journey once more to the shore and lie
in the delta, wrapped in mud, a richer shroud than silk.
Whatever walks this world next can unearth my bones,
arrange my ribs, place a penny where my heart would have rested,
and guess the name of the god I prayed to before my throat
was filled—as with grace or penance—with silt.


Armin Tolentino received his MFA at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey and has appeared in Arsenic Lobster, New Millennium Writings, and The Raven Chronicles. His manuscript, Welcome Home, Spaceboy! was a finalist for the Kundiman Poetry Prize in 2016, as well as the Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award. He's an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship recipient and works in anti-poverty and education programming in Portland. When not writing, he spends way too much time fishing and rooting for the Knicks, both futile endeavors.




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