Sky’s pinprick: orbiting satellite. Signals retrieved on the radio.
Lit candle: a yellow jettisoned piece of moonlight in this bedroom.
Air from outside twisting the curtains. Everything works
to dismantle you, then glue you back together.
If egg again, I’d move in every direction and promise to always
stay unchanged. In sleep, your face clusters like molecules big
as punctuation hanging in the wind. Meanwhile, I surrender
myself under that sympathetic music of moths bashing all heads
against the rainy window. The automatic twitch in your sleeping
face, car tires on a wet highway.
A horse in the city
without its rider. Police officer
in the leopards’ cage screaming
for the keys. It gallops
into the coliseum
where Olympians sparred.
Bruised ribs, broken jaw and all, our cop admires
the Greek Orthodox saints in bronze
that crown the mausoleums.
So few stars burning on a night
with scant city light. Our mare
races the airplane taking off
at LAX. What’s next? Wallace, Officer requesting backup…
Baby in a basket on the beach
by itself, with hands already dirty.
Epistles from the Guild of Lost Angels
To think of suffering, etched
in a tree. To think of our sins,
etched in stone. As you recite it,
the crowd forgets
the anvil we call
earth, where the winter years grow oblong;
a cave swallows the sun;
life’s layers are little more
than calendar flaps that whisper
how older gets nearer and snow gets familiar.
To think of the friends you visit
hung like a charmed witch named
Time. He died as doves sprayed from his liver.
The man’s face
reminds me of volcanoes.
He sells scalped deer heads in Santa Fe.
His blankets are filled
with bugs: how the lava
forms animals and faces
that eat themselves alive.
This does not prevent them from blanketing
cities, nor oceans.
His name derives from a pigment of sky
except pigments create no sound. With his people,
he sells trinkets by the highway
where the government tests nuclear weapons.
Even if it required work, genocide
seems easy to explain. A heat beyond reckoning.
Till the river. Break rock. Skin the animals so we can eat.
The prairie is soft as fur and holds you in its palm.
Before he abducts the child, the child
is a sack of sugar. If you believe anything,
the human race is finite.
Cody Todd (1978-2016)
What I have always admired most in Cody’s poems, along with their humanness and emotional amplitude, is their range of emotion, diction, directional changes, attention to detail, and perception. One of the opening poems, “Dream of the Ordinary,” in his forthcoming posthumous collection is anything but ordinary. It is in fact a series of hyperreal and surreal volleys suggesting all of our human weaknesses. Consider these stanzas beginning with the phrase “Watching a butterfly”:
admiring the eternal present.
without the mind. No drizzle
of Pollock’s paint
without the scarlet nylons
and the butterscotch guillotine. On television,
I recognize you only because you
failed. Does that mean you
will run for office? I hated last
February, when the trees were skeletal
and seemed to rake the music
of winter over your body.
What does it take to pull your own head off
in a dream and put it under your arm
like a basketball or a purse?
Yes, it’s all there, and once again that surreal Cody Todd gesture, his signature at the end of the above passage in which every reader becomes implicated. Yes, “What does it take to pull your own head off”? –A question every good poet should ask along with every good reader.
Or consider the attention to detail and directional change in “Greyhounds Racing”:
They sport colorful vests like those on the cigar-smoking
men who own them. If quick,
then imprison a small turtle with one
of their muzzles…
Here the directional change surprises as the speed and image move from greyhounds to turtle. One observes this again in one of the most moving later poems, “More Fields and Full Moon,” a self-fulfilling prophecy for the poet and meta-elegy for us all:
as when the parents in the backyard cooking food
want nothing, and the hound chained to the tree
wants everything. Like the helicopter, despite
its heavy-hearted growl, and despite
its dragonfly’s indifference, wants everything.
University of Southern California
Cody Todd (1978-2016) was the author of To Frankenstein, My Father (Proem Press, 2007), Graffiti Signatures (Main Street Rag, 2013), and forthcoming, his posthumous The Invisible Man Inhaling a Cigarette (Tebot Bach), edited by Mark Irwin with Alex Lemon. His poems have appeared in many literary magazines including Descant, The Gettysburg Review, Hunger Mountain, Bat City Review, Salt Hill, Columbia Review, and TheGeorgetown Review. He received an MFA from Western Michigan University and a PhD in Literature/Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. He was the managing editor and co-creator of The Offending Adam.
Header photo by Protosov AN, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Cody Todd courtesy University of Southern California.