Rigorous
Volume Four, Issue 1



Jemshed Khan


Aubade for Planet Earth

Let's not count frigates of sin
where our harbor faces in,
where Inuit sisters frost twinkies
while Polar Bears slurp warm cola.

The circle of fire cracks like a joke,
ashes leap and haze the air.
When gunfire strikes at night,
lead your children back inside.

This hedgerow's a thorny bush.
Caravans pushing at the border,
rattlers sunning on the rocks.
SeƱor, mas agua por favor.

Hackers fritzed the power grid,
now Amazon is on the blink.
Ragweed's worse this time of year.
The cloud is only bits and bits.

Sipping wine in shiny places.
Immunizations are popular gifts.
Break beat crews twist and spin.
Two turntables scratch away.

A cocktail waitxrx serves sparkles.
On the floor we danced the Macarena.
In a dreamsicle summer of plenitude.
our tiny planet knows the cycle.

The stylish princes/s rescue/s geldings.
We shall name our scars.
Gentlefolk, start your engines.
Let's dance, dance around our star.




Dead Boys

Title and last line after "Dead Girls" by Kim Addonizio

The camera pans hillside jungle
before zooming to our hero,
face up, body splayed,
and stubbed by a missing limb.
Next, the signature close up:
angled handsome jawline,
blue eyes snuffed and clueless.

In another film studio,
buddies find their missing brother
on the road to Kandahar. Someone drops
bloodied dogtags in a Ziploc baggie
to be delivered to the house
where he grew up playing Call of Duty,
where death was an internet hiccup.

Nothing grips a theater
like a busted-up hero. His platoon's
gonna 'copter what's left of him
to medics who will trundle him
upon a reddening stretcher,
cut & stitch him back to life,
unsever
his arteries unless he dies first.
Who would want to be him?
Any Johnny raised on YouTube

and spaghetti westerns who can pocket
a few Glocks and enough rounds,
strap on some Kevlar. Even plain Joe
who feels he don't amount to much
and likely won't, already convinced
that his kind can't get a fair shake.
Except that he can be that hero,
glittering redeemer of the race
thick in the fusillade of gun and riflefire,
the special, dead, dead boy.




Sonneto

She dazzled those courtly palazzos
where Giacomo bespoke her charms.
From Sicily she then departed to woo
and keep in thrall the continent's bards
for a stylish half-millenium and more.
Then that nasty slip into black abyss.
She surfaced muscled, sinewed, slick
with tales of Kraken lurking deep.

Now arrived to modern soundscape
with her portfolio of rhythm and song,
and beset by twittering millenial thicket,
by turntables, and virtual dust jackets:
she shuns Milton and dubs her beats.
For this latest venture she claims

by writ, by her ancient rhyming blade,
the centuries taken and more to take.




The Leaving Wave

We squint across sunbright sand
as four wild horses gallop past.

Past the surf a swimmer crawls.
Shore for miles around.

Barefoot we test the whetted edge,
hand in hand we enter.
Ankle deep. Then the knees.
Until our thighs slosh
belly-high into
silvered ocean. Into breakers
churning foam. With each calm,
a brief
floating
lace
through which
she drifts a hand.

We turn
from our shadows,
our faces
lean to the sun,
listening as the ocean speaks,
gathers
up its surging draw,
then takes the grains
beneath our
feet.




Where Love Goes

Love spikes the fairground
past the edge of a farm town,
spotlights night sky

& spins cotton candy,
feeds horsemeat to the tiger
pacing its barred room,

then drags down a blunt
while one-handing the big lever
that turns the Ferris wheel.

Love's a gypsy trailer
past the diesel generator,
open if the door's ajar.

She's inside, twice my age,
looking better than when
she took me the year before.

I love her city of sugar & light,
mattress springs and tandem axles.
She undoes her buttons.

We unbuckle, unzip, disrobe
until we lie naked in bed. I know love
would keep me if she could.

Come Sunday, she's pulled stakes,
her red-striped tents are stowed,
the Ferris wheel is on the flatbed.

She loves the clink and clank
of her village hungry for the road,
never says where she goes.




Workshop Notes

I paid sixty dollars
for three hours
around a conference table
scribbling notes, cribbing secrets
about starshine and immolation,
about tense, sound and diction,
about how to enter a poem
at an angle.

I can save you a few bucks:

First, fill your harvest bucket
with weeds, roots,
tangles of words and phrases,
at least a page or two.

Then sort through
the ugly and the darling.

I tell you this: the first draft tangles
around some hidden root.
Those bucketed words transmit,
the shape, the earthy form
so easily crushed
by adornment.

Carry this freshly
uprooted thing

to the kitchen sink
for a brisk rinse.

Wash off dirt
until it gleams

like a radish
or turnip.

No need
to nick
or slice.

Do not peel,
or quarter
or dice.

Now.
Step aside.
Step aside.

The reader comes with knives.



Jemshed Khan: "I was born overseas but live and work in Kansas and Missouri. I have published in diverse magazines including Unlikely Stories, Chiron Review, shufPoetry, Fifth Estate, Coal City Review, San Pedro River Review, I-70 Review, TheHypertexts, Writers Resist, and califragile. I have served as a guest editor for Glass: Poets Resist, was nominated for The Pushcart Prize XLIV, just completed a chapbook manuscript, and am mulling a book length collection."




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