3 poems by Ben Riddle

Poetry, Punk Noir Magazine

 

Kissing is Extra

 


I had bribed a security guard
 to leave open a side door, so we leapt
 a fence and entered the museum;
 
 Your mouth dry, as we half-waited
 half-hoped an alarm wouldn't ring, wouldn't sound;
 wouldn't heckle us like
 
 They very walls of the establishment
 spitting at our nerve to make art that didn't
 please it;
 
 loathing like literary landlords
 looking down on small press, small voice
 looking down on
 
 the grotesque, the decadent,
 the everything that does not belong,
 tonight
 
 my lips lap against yours
 licking the laughter from your tongue,
 we shatter the glass
 
 above an old Bible, change it
 to a book by Tao Lin, staple Beach Sloth
 to the fucking walls;
 
 fall against them,
 our hands writing subversion as we pull
 at each other,
 
 half-drunk on adrenaline, on privilege,
 on tonight we are immortal and
 fuck the morning,
 
 tonight we spit on the floor of
 a building that tells a story; the great
 lie that
 

the only art that matters lives in museums,
 like the best poems you ever read
 didn't piss diapers in
 
 half-hearted zines printed at local
 libraries by people that saw what didn't exist,
 and made it;
 
 by people that saw beauty in
 the aching, dripping disaster that is
 humanity;
 
 that is our humanity,
 or yours, and in the upper wing where
 classic paintings hang,
 
 I take your humanity in my mouth,
 kneel before you and watch the art that is
 your head thrown back, your back
 
 arching; your eyes dancing between
 the ancient tits of girls someone said
 looked like gods so
 
 they could paint them; an ancient kind
 of grooming, an older incarnation
 of asking
 
 "So when are you getting onlyfans?"
 I wonder what you see when
 you look up,
 
 when your legs shake and barely hold you
 as I write poetry with you in my hands,
 my spit, my lips; you are
 
 dripping down my chin in a museum, and
 in the moonlight you are a Roman
 statue made manifest,
 
 standing over me; eyes half-closed,
 mouth half-open, moaning like you are the one
 speaking tongues,
 
 and it is not my clever mouth wicked, and
 beneath you. The staccato bleeds into crescendo,
 your fingers clench as
 
 the paintings bless you; as you are filled with
 holy spirit, fire and righteousness,
 I watch you
 look deep into the eyes of Ares and his hands
 caressing Aphrodite's lips while longing
 for Apollo,
 
 I watch you try to remember who
 we are; whether we are Achilles and Patroclus, or
 Menelaus in love with Helen and Paris,
  

I watch you try to remember who
 we are; whether we are leaving or staying,
 fleeing or loving; dying together
 
 or apart; I feel your heartbeat come
 alive again after your little taste
 of breathless death;
 
 resurrect. We escape the museum.
 We will never go back again. 


 

From Edgewood to Arizona



From Edgewood to Arizona,
 I don't know why we fought a war
 at all if we were going to
 come home and play
 at being Nazis.
 
 The only right way to spell Ivanka
 is with three Ks, the way to cough Drumpf
 is with phlegm and a German accent.
 Klansmen look like ghosts at
 the best of times, but now
 
 they look like spectres
 screaming their intolerance,
 prophesying the Q,
 shrieking treason
 from Confederate flags
 
 over the Capitol.
 They made Jim Crow dance on stage
 in Tulsa, then burned the town
 to the ground using crosses
 as matches.
 
 We brought the war home with us,
 cut open our hands to pledge
 brotherhood, but found
 only disease,
 pestilence; hate.
 
 Hate is a most virulent disease,
 highly contagious, carried
 on the air, on airwaves,
 carried by fibre optic cables
 by tics, fleas; pamphlets and quiet
 
 handshakes. Democracy dies
 in darkness, but intolerance
 grows like black fungus
 lurking beneath
 wallpaper like a stain;
 
 patiently waiting to bleed
 through the walls, cascading filth
 like from the mouths of men
 in confederate flags,
 vomiting hate like a siren
 
 blaring. I thought we fought wars
 to stop fascism, to stop
 authoritarianism.
 We must not
 stop fighting now.
 
 In Arizona, they are strapping men
 to chairs and killing them
 with Zyklon B, and
 I don't know why
 we fought a war if
 
 we were going to bring it home
 with us I don't know why
 we pretend that this
 whiteness
 doesn't look like
 
 it's bred in tanks underground;
 kept secret from the sun until
 our boys turn translucent,
 beauty is subjective,
 and someone
 
 had to preach that a bus full of
 white boys was beautiful
 before anyone believed,
 there is no innate
 human response to skin,
 
 children smile at one another
 while they think of new ways to play,
 we do the same with weapons,
 with definitions, with spot
 the difference
 
 between extrajudicial killing
 and assassination. Rumsfeld and Cheney
 were squares cut from the same
 cloth as the Dulles brothers,
 and it will be a quiet
 
 day in Hell before I believe any of them
 believed in a God besides cash;
 the only crusade they cared
 about was Jerusalem,
 the only preachers they heard
 
 spoke of how it is not a sin
 to kill a Muslim, rather it will carve
 you a seat at the table of our Father.
 I don't speak to God much,
 anymore.
 
 I am estranged from my family because
 I flip tables after too much water
 turns to wine, spit in the face
 of secretaries of state,
 I'd rather
 
 break bread with whores and tax collectors
 than tax hoarders and militia.
 No one expected the
 Long War to last,
 or maybe they figured
 
 the world would have burned down by now.
 We used saren in Korea, and pretended
 that the chemical burns kissed
 into the faces of farmers
 were propaganda
 
 propping up Communism, and
 maybe it was that too, but we declassified
 our own papers and promises to
 burn down Korea with
 weapons we took
 
 from Nazis, refined at Edgewood like
 that place was a distillery for the
 whiskey we pour down
 the throats of
 young men until they feel okay, no;
 
 From Edgewood to Arizona, I am tired
 of throwing hands, or throwing up hands
 like they have holes in them and
 preaching like I was baptised
 in a river
 
 or have any authority but poetry.
 I am tired of putting up my hands, my poems
 like this is Kent State and I am
 waiting for bullet holes
 in my hands, or
 
 for anything to change. 


 

Northstar



Sailors once used the north star for
 navigation, putting their faith in its light
 to guide them home.
 
 I am standing in an ocean, and I am adrift.
 The world makes no kind of sense
 to me,
 
 The ice caps are melting, tensions are
 smelting; great me stand at
 podiums with
 
 fist raised in salute. I can hear the drums
 of war playing behind my eyes; no one
 thinks of love when armies march,
 
 no one counts broken farms and family
 when they cost the casualties
 of war,
 
 no one thinks. There becomes only
 action and inaction, only survival, only
 step left or right,
 
 only blind faith in brotherhood, in flags,
 in bulletproof righteousness, and
 I have seen the echo
 
 of dead men coughing up their faith
 in the eyes of people I love as they confess
 what death looks like,
 
 what the reaper said when it passed over
 and took the soldier to their left,
 to their right; in front of them.
 
 There are no more Simpsons with
 their donkeys, we killed
 the saints of
 
 the ANZACs and buried them beneath
 budget costs, beneath forever
 wars and long deployment;
 
 we gave back war criminals for peace
 with the Taliban and for what?
 For pigs to rattle
 
 swords in scabbards knowing
 they will never use them, putting faith
 in the blood and bodies
 
 of brave young me stupid enough
 to decide for country.
 Faith is dangerous.
 
 Faith is dangerous, and somewhere
 along the way we let it be tainted,
 let it taste like
 
 royal commissions and cardinals
 that wouldn't come home to face the
 choirs of angels asking
 
 questions; we let it taste like
 dripping molten candlewax on
 choir boys;
 
 we let it taste like boarding schools,
 stolen generations, like thinly
 veiled eugenics, like
 
 everyone knows, and everyone knew
 but the breaking news is that
 it's being talked about.
 
 I am tired of power corrupting faith.
 I used to be a man of faith,
 I still talk to God,
 
 sometimes. I worry I am leading Him on,
 giving him just enough to believe
 in a relationship
 
 when I just need attention, and
 maybe my silence is just another millennial
 ghosting someone who
 
 would love them. Maybe I am trying
 to stay in orbit, liking profile pictures and
 going to confession
 
 when my hands get too filthy. When I am
 too lonely. I have long thought
 my problem
 
 was with the church, with authority
 or establishment, and not God,
 but maybe
 
 I have a problem with me, and how
 I am stealing time, and selling
 my body for stories
 
 to whore out as poetry. Maybe I need
 to find my way home, or find faith,
 so I have started stargazing.
 
 I am not on a first name basis with
 stars, I don't know if I could ask them
 for directions,
 
 their neighbourhood feels unfamiliar.
 So does their peace. I am spending
 late nights staring through
 
 a window looking at stars like
 I am a pervert and they are beautiful,
 like I am stalking
 
 a fantasy where they and I
 sit together at a breakfast table
 quietly and content.
 
 Late at night, I think about you, and
 holding on to you like I trace
 my fingers across
 
 a telescope; pretend that stars
 are just the tips of your hair falling down
 your lower back, and
 
 I have never tired of finding constellations
 in your eyes, or tattooed across
 your skin;
 
 Perhaps I should call you Polaris,
 as loathe as I am to whisper anything but
 your name in my broken sleep,
 
 your name tastes like magic;
 like an incarnation of good fortune,
 or a prayer I actually believe.
 
 Perhaps we all find God somewhere, and
 maybe beneath the rivers that run
 beneath your eyes,
 
 that drip into secret galaxies of light
 and dark matter, of suns and moons and
 stars and faith and
 
 sailors once used the north star for
 navigation, putting their faith in its light
 to guide them home.
 
 Today is different, we are always
 rushing, trusting GPS coordinates instead
 of heart, and instincts, but
 
 perhaps in some ways,
 it is little different. Perhaps
 trusting satellites
 
 to find my way home to you
 is the same as trusting
 my spirit to know
 
 where you are; that you're safe.
 Perhaps that is its own kind of faith;

to find God in your eyes,
 
 and to remember.



Ben Riddle’s artistic practice involves looking wistfully at trains, and writing stories about the people on them, yelling poems at people in the backs of bars while holding a microphone, and muttering something about how he’ll “show you one day,” every time a conservative politician is on the telly.