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Head’s Up poetry column: Fleas


I form the light, and create darkness:

I make peace, and create evil:

I the Lord do all these things.

—Isaiah, 45:7

I think that I shall never see

a poem as ugly as a flea,

a flea whose hungry mouth is pressed

against a buttock or a breast,

a flea that spreads disease all day

and lifts its little claws to prey:

poems are made by you and me,

but only God can make a flea.

I think that no one ever made

a poem as powerful as AIDS,

or plagues that may in summer kill

half the bishops in Brazil

and share the good Lord’s Final Answer

with clots and cholera and cancer—

for God concocted pox to mock us,

staph and syph and streptococcus:

poems are made by bards or hacks,

but only God makes cardiacs.

I think that I shall never smell

a poem as pungent as a hell,

where grinning devils turn the screws

on saintly Sikhs and upright Jews,

giving them the holy scorcher,

timeless, transcendental torture:

poems can make you want to yell,

but only God can give you hell.

From Perfidious Proverbs and Other Poems: A Satirical Look At The Bible