No Salvage: Motel Poems for Johanna

Johanna, my trainwreck lust unfolds
against the blunt shore where your heat jettied
or like mistletoe, my mother’s last jagged holiday
& bones, my salt-water taffy childhood.
The banjo string wound sharper,
my shame-filled adoration!
The way Tuesdays always lend themselves to weeping. 


It was ok, an ok shoe-fuck in the grease pit shade,
the way we choose our saviors from flea market jetsam
till language itself solves the pressure point of lust.
Two swans, drifting their miracle.
The weathered nurturings of history: birth, death & a fine inexpensive salami.

No salvage like the savage kind—
the mind’s technicolor hoedown.
Dear child whose name stumps this folded quorum,
night of cactus we wasted crooning “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.”
Could I say your name? Did I tag your toe?
Sweet Yorick, we lift your jester’s skull a little higher
like the fistula mash, sloping east-north-east.

Listen: I sold your psalm at the beaver post
thus one contract denied that boot-licks.
Goddamn your niece, that flibbertigibbet.
All whores pretty-pretty, a princely stain,
a room of poseurs drunk with black-light.
Bell-ghosts, the final bleat.
Hitch the wagon for arrow fangs, our dirty gold Nevada.

The motel bulb’s harsh distraction.
The motel merciless as the keyhole.
The motel ice-rattle shimmered, our mute purgatory.
The motel where Mercy fucks Piss-stream as baby Melancholy licks the ashtray.
The motel is my Hitchcock terror.
The motel of a single lunar line.


On the day I chopped wood with my foul ax—
this is the part where I pretend,
& the water home in its sour bucket….
Whose voice calls us from the lighthouse?
So like a knife that seeks the wood side,
photon spelunker,
to cut open what is—
a dollar thirty-seven, give or take.


Bow Athena, your crimson grace,
you God of Magic Fingers.
A palm peppered with bird shot
then highway hum again.
Our last conjoining, the hay-loft,
& the dime-store trick devalued—
lips, Johanna, our small shudder.


And then went down to the bar, slots, sluts &
stems in your graveyard vase
with all the death-dead bastards in tow.
Hay-penny gutter, the blank clerk toothless
like a wayward pig—
Two eggs scrambled without oregano.
Rain. So what?


Sepia: your breasts, soft galaxy,
to be kissed by bitter mothers.
Blue afghan draped across the hamper—
that noise, flower in a skull-vase.
God is just an echo in the vestibule.
I plumb & plumb, I go.
Loss—our Magna Carta.


Do you recall when Father dragged his hanging eye?
Cold lentils, Johanna, your torn kerchief
beside an onion river curved 
the way an eight-track spools its thin intestines.
How mother loved to ring the open shell—
another midnight in A minor.
This bloody thing held, held—
Hacksaw these goddamn handcuffs. Grind.


Blessed, pebble-shattered lake reeds—
of berms and the half-pipe I sing,
but this is the way hair works caught in the light of wanting
like the bill of lading held by the pervert’s fly.
Johanna, can you hear the sirens, can you hear their cruel flirtation?
Fang, tooth, beak and claw, Black Angel sleeping—
The taxi leading nowhere: hail it.

Adam Tavel recently won the 14th Annual Robert Frost Award and was a finalist for Four Way Books' 2010 Intro Prize in Poetry as well as the 2011 Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry. His latest poems appear or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Phoebe, Redivider, New South, Cave Wall, Ellipsis, and Folio, among others. He is the poetry editor for Conte and an assistant professor of English at Wor-Wic Community College on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Jon Cone earned his MFA from Vermont College and is the author of several chapbooks, the most recent being The Plesyre Barge (Greying Ghost Press). His poems have appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Elimae, and The Cafe Review, among many others. In the 1990s he edited the journal World Letter, the archives of which are now housed at The Ohio State University.