divine magnet





Dan Chelotti


Chelotti’s Inferno


Some time in the middle

Of our life, I woke up in

A gas station parking lot

Somewhere outside Scranton.

It was too bright. I opened

The door and a man stood

There, black suit, black shirt,

Trick daisy. Who the hell

Are you, I asked. I am

Max Jacob, and I have

Come to give you the

Grand tour of perdition.

But wait, I said, where

Is my dark wood, where

Is my gate? Oh, you passed

Those back in Matamoras,

But you were driving too

Fast to notice. That’s how

It is these days, he said.

Do I get to meet Charon

At least, I asked. Max

Shook his head. Lethe

Is dried up, he said –

You’ll never know

Which case you are in.

The cold wind pointed

To the crook in my neck.

I have to remember

All of this, I asked.

You have to remember

All of this, he said.


Here, Max said, put on

This amulet. He handed

Me a pink plastic circular

Pendant with a sticker

Of a princess on a string.

Does it have magical

Properties, I asked.

Do you think I would

Give you a non-magical

Amulet to protect you

As I guide your projection

Through hell, Max asked.

Of course it is magical,

He answered. I just

Bought it in this gas

Station. It was the last

One they had! There

Was a distant obelisk

On a mountain and

I held the amulet

Up to it and nothing

Happened. I see, I said,

This is the way the world ends.


We are surrounded by

Screens. Screens. Screens.

All matter of violent pleasure

Upon them. I  stop before

A video of a man shaking

And shaking his geranium.

One night I walked out

On the frozen gulf, I said.

I walked and walked

Until I called the lights

Behind compass. I got

On my belly and listened

For the water beneath.

I couldn’t hear it. I had

Never felt more desire

Than there on that frozen

Waste. I started reciting

The art of losing and lost

My way. A fog blew in

And shrouded the lights.

I heard the warmth

Cracking the ice.

What is happening, Max?

You are remembering,

Max says. But I am

Making it all up, I said.

On the screens

The man looked up

From his geranium

For a second, and

Counted, quickly, in a

Whisper, to eight.


How hard it is

To look at the world

And pay attention

To the way a wire

Doesn’t move all

Day, and then when

It does, you don’t

Catch the initial breeze

Because you saw

A tiny red bug

Climbing up a Ficus

Branch. And to find

Wonder in the fact

That you missed

What you were

Looking for to find

That an afternoon

Spent with these

Associations will

Lead to some soft ruin

And even though

It is ruinous even

Folding a shirt

The way you learned

To fold a shirt

Can make you

So sad and alive

All you can do is

Spill your wine

And try not to cry.

It hurts when they go.


Jim said that if he ever

Had an idea when he

Was writing a poem,

He would take a walk.

Jim was right, Max says.

So is the way of rain.

Move the picture

A little bit more

To the left. Let’s

Collect as many

Sticks as we can

Find and build

An alter to light

On fire when the time

Is right. Until then

We can hang

Souvenirs and

Bits of ribbon

From the sticks.

When it comes

Down to it, he says,

Every picture looks

Better on the volcano.


But Max, I can’t stop saying

It hurts when they go.

And by go I mean die,

And by They I mean….

Get over yourself, Max says.

Look at all the staplers.

These staplers mate for life.

They click and swim towards

Each other and dance a farandole

Until all the mice line the shore.

And then Fyodor Mikhailovich

Stands on the little island

And pronounces into a bullhorn,

There is no such thing as charity!

At this moment all the foxes

Who have lain in wait spring

And crunch up the mice.

The staplers begin to consummate

Madly as on the other end

Of the pond no other but

Catullus begins singing his

Epithalamium of the Frogs.

Max, I interrupt, when you say

Staplers, do you mean swans?

Poet, he says, when I say

Staplers, I always mean swans.


Max, I want to find the sweet

Apples of delight, but instead

I am weeping in front of a large

Mass of people on a stage.

There was music but it stopped.

We walked down the stairs

Into a grimy basement.

Then we walked up the stairs.

Then we walked down the stairs.

Then we walked up the stairs.

It goes on like this for a bit,

Max said. I was in the middle

Of writing a poem, I said.

This is the poem, Max said.

He pointed at the dangling

Feet of a large heron

Flying by in the absence

Of sky. Think of how useless

Those feet are when the bird

Is flying, he said. Think

Of how necessary those feet

Are in the water, or on the dock

At dawn when you were

Riding your bike on a morning

You got up a bit earlier

In the morning than usual.

Could the bird have been

There if it did not have feet?

Think of the earth flying.

Where are its feet?


Sonny Rollins could improvise

Forever. I once watched

Him take off for an hour and 1/2

On the simplest gesture

Of a melody. Why can’t

I do that? Because I am

Obsessed with crickets.

I know nothing and everything

About them. They even

Surround me when I sleep.

When I sleep, I let

Their songs in and they

Swim along with my dreams.

I can’t even tell the difference

Between a cricket and a frog.

And because of this I am totally

Full of shit. That’s right, Max

Says. If you can’t say that,

You can’t go on.


I’m afraid the timing

Is wrong. I’m afraid

I’m running out of gas.

I’m afraid of the face

Of the man that I sometimes

See when I wake up

Cemented in my body

As he whispers

All the different ways

That I am going to get it.

And somehow, someway,

Even though I try to kill

Him every day, still,

It hurts when he goes.

O'Hara says that pain

Leads to logic, which is

Very very bad. These are

My unpassable mountains,

My private tornados.


Before I started driving

I sat with Emily Dickinson

For a while. I told her

That another one of us

Had been called back,

Trying to move

The fact into words

So that words can become

A window over a still

Piazza at dawn, the distant

Sound of a train

Unstitching the distance.


There is a woman

Retiring from work

And so people are

Hitting ‘Reply All’

As it is the closest thing

To death that they

Can get their hands on.

Max says, you still have

A long way to go.

I still have no idea

Where we are going,

I say. That’s the ticket,

Max says. Never knowing

Where you are going

Is the sure way to get

Where you are.

And then he starts

Beating his left arm

Screaming, Avast,

Polonius! Avast!


We are walking through

The land of wasted cheese.

There are four strangers

Standing against the walls

Of a kitchen yelling at

A crying boy who is most

Clearly and beyond any

Doubt wasting cheese.

What did those cursed

To such a fate do,

Dear Max? That’s hell

For you, Max says,

My great granny,

Off the boat from Sweden,

Used to always say

It took me forty years

To call it yam and now

They call it yelly.

What you call hell,

I call an itchy belly.


My lover has a painful rash.

I tell her, don’t worry,

We begin scratching

On the day we are born,

And we can never stop,

As if the fact could cancel

The itch, as if my empathy

Could heal her.

Pain has an element

Of blank. It will pass.

I hold her as tight

To me as I can

As crows wild

About some kill

Circle out the window.

I imagine that I am

A crow and at the same

Time know that I am

Imagining I am a crow

So I don’t have to let

The words in, so I can

Stop myself from saying

How it will hurt when

She goes. And so if she

Is to detect my distance,

I will pretend I am crow.

And she will scratch

My crow’s head

Until I am I again.

You can say it, she says.

I say it: I love you.


This is the section

In which we fly over

Every massacre and rape

And pogrom and lynching

And beating and abuse

Of power to the section

Where those people

End up when they die.

God, Max, do those who

Do such things end up

Victims of an eternal

Gang rape? No, Max says,

Look at this one,

He makes burgers

For every meal

On a George Foreman Grill.

He makes burgers

For every meal

Because he doesn’t

Know how to make

A meal. He watches

Shows until late at night

Not making anything

But the two graves

They’ll have to dig

For him when he dies.

I want to give him

The keys to the city

That will collapse into

The sea. I want to hold

Him until he cries.


Once on the way out

Of Sarajevo I stayed on an

Island in the Adriatic.

I met a couple girls

And they said they were

Having a party back in Split.

We split and boarded the ferry.

At the party, they said,

Climb the shed and sit

On the roof. From this rooftop

In Croatia I watched a limo

Pull up to the stage

Of an amphitheater

And Ray Charles

Got out because

That’s how he rolled.

This happened

On July 26 in the year 2000.

I can’t remember if he

Actually played Georgia

On My Mind, but I’m

Telling you he did.

Waking up the next

Morning, my arms filled

With strangers, I promised

Them I would always have

Compassion for everyone.

Of course, no one had yet

To jump off a roof

And become a crow

Forever yet, but still,

I’m always going to try.

Compassion is an unstable

Emotion, Sontag says.

Georgia on my Mind

Is an incredible song, Max says.

I wish I’d lived to hear it.


Max, can you tell

Me a bit more about

What happened

To Charon when

Lethe dried up?

Is it that all is jumbled

And we can only

Intimate the existence

Of the gods, which

Were only ever

Names in us

For our desires, I said.

That is a good thought,

But still, it is only

A thought, Max said.

Just then a beam

Of light appeared

On the horizon.

Is that the green

Flash, I asked. No,

Max said, they

Are opening up

The corn maze.


I was watching

Elvin Jones grunt

Grunt as he played

Ride. His wet behind

The ears pianist

Took off up the circle

Of fifths so fast and far

Elvin got nervous.

His grunts lengthened

And his eyes became

Eggs. With just a couple

Graceful steps and right

On time the pianist

Landed the melody.

Escape from Alcatraz,

Elvin grunted. Escape

From Alcatraz.

What more can I add

To this? Max says, Bombs

And blueberries exist.


I was giving Jim a ride

To a reading. He asked

Me how I had spent

My day. I climbed a mountain

With a beautiful woman

And read her your poems,

I said. That’s all I’ve

Ever written poems for,

Jim said. We laughed.

It’s true. It hurts when

You’re sitting in a room

And a rook flies into the window

And dies before it hits

The deck. It hurts when

You have to shovel it up

All the while thinking

That something more

Than this bird’s life is ending,

That some tower you haven’t

Noticed before is about

To announce itself

With its shadow.

And all you can do is wait.

Alternatively, you can call

This waiting living.


These are the suicides,

Max says. I once knew

A girl named Carlotta,

I say, she helped me

Buy a new Walkman

On a day long gone

I slept on her floor

And she made us

Paella. Is she here, Max?

But this is not your

Mission, Max says,

This is Sergei Esenin.

I take Esenin’s arm

And walk the Arbat

A ways. Sergei Alexandrovich,

I say, the days are too

Long. He nods. I feel

Ironed. He hands me

A pen. It is the only way,

He says. Go ahead, he says,

While Max isn’t looking,

Write her in.


Here within the formal feeling,

I move my leg with my hand

Just to watch it happen.

The king has garnered the ramparts

With bowmen and his joker.

He banished the joker

From the throne room

For doing the stubbed toe

Routine directly following

A pronouncement of war.

The joker cannot feel his hands

And so he picks up one hand

With the other just to watch

It happen. He fires an arrow

And it falls impotently

On the plain. The bowmen

Laugh as the barbarians

Trumpet the signal to charge.

Who are these barbarians,

The joker says. They are

What we asked for, Max says.


Wretched numbness of July.

A woman in a tie-dyed sundress

Waving her hands at a man

In a baseball cap on the corner

By the bar. They are all worked

Up about something. I give them

The full attention of my apathy.

I’m exhausted, I say. I don’t

Want to go on, I say. Of course,

Max says. The road is at least

Two years long. Why don’t

You try masturbating.

Have you heard the story

Of The Masturbating Goat?

You see, the goat was high

Up on a mountain and didn’t

Want to go on. One of his kids

Had been taken by some

Quadruped of the night,

And the goat was so angry

He just wouldn’t budge.

Knowing that his family

Depended on him to lead

The way to the snowmelt-fed

Plain of green, he began

Masturbating furiously.

Of course Zeus was watching

And respected the shit out

Of this goat. He called to

Aphrodite. Hey, Aphrodite,

Do we have any Virgins

In that small village in the shadow

Of Gramos? Yes, Aphrodite said.

Wonderful, said Zeus. When

The goat came, Zeus guided

The sperm through channels

Made of sparrow’s breath

And into the egg of a woman

Praying at Aphrodite’s temple.

The woman cried for the rest

Of her life. All she wanted

Was a son and all she got was Pan.


Is that supposed to make me feel

Better, Max, I said. No, Max said.

It is supposed to make you angry.

It hurts when they go, you say.

Say it the right way. I hate when

They die, I say.  People die and

I hate it. People pretend to love

Death and I hate them. People

Try and tell you how long it will

Take to grieve when grief

Isn’t even a word like cow

Or boomerang or mug.

I want to be one of those

On the second circle

Screaming as they are forever

Ripped at by the winds of lust.

I want to stare up at the ceilingless

Void and yell FUCK YOU FUCKING




But no one is there to hear

You, says Max. I will hear me,

I say. Now we are getting

Somewhere, Max says.


We are put on earth to get

On our knees and love.

We are put on earth

To stand up and run

Into the open field

Fearing no foul. We

Are put on earth

To scream at umpires

And gods. We are put

Here to know we never

Asked for it only to ask

For it and ask for it

Until we go. And we

Have to watch them

Go, it is what we are

On earth for. To kneel

And stand and lie

In the face of the endless

Misfortune of love.


All those rabbits and chipmunks

And staplers. You have them

For a second, and you have

To teach yourself to remain

Unmoved when they

Move into some small

Hole, or around a tree

That takes the spotlight.

Trees live long if we let

Them, they do not run

And every spring

They rain blossoms.

They rain blossoms.

I have been crying

These nights as streetlights

Turn off and on

With indelible


I have been looking

At pictures of horses

In the winning circle

Posing with jockeys

And owners and families.

The voice of love

Calls me back to bed,

But I don’t go.

I walk. I watch

Dogs arch their

Backs and waddle

Towards shits.

I want to live

Long enough

To walk along

The ponds edge

And say a few things

That are hard to resist,

That you’ll want to say

With me as the fog

Rolls in, as good

A home as any.


Why are you doing this,

Max says. I’m not doing

This, I say. You are the one

Who brought me here,

He says. No, you are

The one who brought

Me here, I say. Hmmm,

He says. Let’s sit and

Watch that stag

That just wandered

Out of the heather

Seeking salt. Maybe

It is he who brought us here?

Or maybe nothing

Brought us here.

Sometimes when

A bee gets in the room,

You have to kill the bee.

Sometimes, you just

Have to open the window

And let it fly out into

The night, over the

Pharmacy, over the truck,

The lamp, the rippling canal,

And try not to regret your life.


I have travelled from

Not knowing if I could

Make it to not knowing

If I will have enough

Time to finish. 

There is no substitute

For imagination,

Barbara Guest says.

But I don’t believe

In it sometimes, I say.

Sometimes I want

To use plain language

To say one thing.

I want to say I’m going

Out for a sandwich

Without feeling

The weight of myth

Heavy on my shoulders.

St. Cyril stopping

On the side of the road

To eat some sausages,

An alphabet in his bag

On the donkey’s back.


She came to me in a black

Dress flaring out a bit above

Her knees. She came

To me holding a cup

In her palm. She came

To me and now she is gone.

No, she is not. She loves me.

She likes my lemongarlic

Chicken. We dance the

Cha-cha on Wednesday

Evenings and I spoon

Her to sleep. The ear

Dictates the truth,

And the truth has nothing

To do with anything

That isn’t right now.


Go into the dark, Woolf says,

You must go into the dark.

A great friend has died

And I don’t want that to be true.

Sometimes, an actor will resist

The role. Sometimes, an actor

Can change the character

Forever only because that actor

Refused to bend. Or is it

The author that is refusing

To bend? The character comes

Not from either actor or author,

But from the form that meets them

At the crossroads, at the last bend.

And so Max and I descend

Into the land past all endings

And I am so fearful that I will

Not be able to do it.

When I see him,

I will not have the words

And I will be ripped back

To my couch spreading

Peanutbutter on chicken.


There are only four more

Sections, Max says. You mean,

There will be 33 sections, Max?

Do we really have to have 33?

Yes, Max says. It is required

By none other than Jesus Christ,

May his name be written in the mud

That will be placed in the kiln,

May the mug that bears his name

Be held in the hand of Ron,

A postal worker from Minneapolis

Who has no choice but to every day

Deliver a letter or two to a museum

Called The House of Balls. And every day,

Allen, the weirdo who owns it comes out

To thank Ron personally, to ask him

If he would like to come inside

And take the polar bear out for a spin.

And every day, Ron says no.

Every morning, may he drink

His coffee from the mug

That bears the Christ’s name.

And every evening, may he wash it.

May he die in his sleep with the mug

On the drying rack. May the mug

Be wrapped in classifieds

And sent to the Salvation Army,

Where Allen is to happen upon it,

And purchase it, and turn it into

A nose on a robot named Jesus.


Max jumps on a stage

And beckons me to follow.

Welcome to the play within

The play, he says. But hasn’t

It all been play, I say.

Max: Yes and no.

Chelotti: What do you mean,

Yes and no? My voice feels

Purple when I see her.

I have to ask her, Max,

Will you help me?

Max: No Capulet am I,

Nor Lear, nor Rosalind.

I am simply Max, and you

Will do what you do not

Want to do.

Chelotti:               Why?

Max: Here she comes now.

Stand fast.

[Enter Elizabeth Bishop]

Elizabeth: I heard you were

Looking to ask me a question.

A silence willed by sunlight

Max: This young poet is wrangling

With the stag for the crown.

Chelotti (encouraged): Is there

Ever an end? Do we end?

Do we ever really end?

Max: Shall I strike it with my partisan?

Bishop laughs and touches Chelotti’s cheek.

Bishop: One never knows, do one?

The path was a road once.

The road a forest once.

The forest a poem once.

You must not dilly dally

In the bric-a-brac, get back

To the poem, Chelotti.

Go back home.


I was almost through

When the wind picked up.

I had three sections left

And hadn’t yet mentioned

The wind. I thought,

We don’t have a more lasting

Symbol of change and the end

Of desire than the wind pushing

Chalk through the promenades

Of the hanging gardens of Babylon.

But the truth of strong winds

Lies in the fact that you cannot

Be out in them for long.

You drive all the way to the beach

To scatter the ashes of your father,

And it is so windy and uncomfortable

You have to pull every word

Out of your mouth as if they

Were swallowed swords.

This is not the way it ends.

Damn, right, Max says.

This is section 31. This is

The section in which we

Scatter the ashes.


I don’t even remember where

We started. It was just a few

Empty words and now I have

To live with this. But what is this?

This is Our Lady of the Hand Grenade,

Max says, This is life. And then,

Out of left field, T.S. Eliot

Walks in. Go, go, go, says the bird,

Eliot says. Max pulls a mug

From his pocket and hurls

It at ole’ possum. Ole’ Possum

Ducks and puffs out his chest,

Holding out a cross in the direction

Of Max. Max hisses: It’s been you

All along! Max tackles T.S.  and pins

Him down, rips the cross

From his hand, shoves it down

His throat, and leans into ole’ possum’s

Eyes. The body of Christ, he says.


As Max does his goal dance,

I notice that I own

Stage right. I don’t want

It to be over but I start to sing.

We are here to point at things

And if we can, to name them.

To shepherd them.

And then the trucks and cars

Pass and just like them they go.

But not all of them, Jim says,

Not the words. They are rascals

And they will change on you

And you have to be wicked

Sometimes to keep up with them.

Yes, Max yells, you have to give

Them what they are. I look

To the wings but there are

No more actors. The director,

Who looks a lot like me, is waving

His hands back toward the audience

Mouthing, Look at them.

Look at them. I look back

And I am alone but for the sound

Of distant wolves eating wind.

And I walk towards the sound

Knowing my end is somewhere

Inside it, here beneath the heavenly

Cars once again, alone and full

Of grief for the passing clouds

That shroud them and reveal

Them, and will never be the same.