Poems by K. A. Thomas

Dahmer Suite

I.  Dog Day Afternoon

                ...I was always interested

in how things worked underneath

                  the skin....


        They came when called

— from the start — roadside strays,

tail tucked, splay-legged & begging

for a hand out-stretched, a stroke.

        I killed the first

two days before I turned twelve

— if you’d caught sight of us

boy & dog sporting twin sloppy grins,

you’d have half-lifted your hand

        —  waved us on our way.


        When I split it

                                groin to gullet

there was  only a whimper,

even when I thrust

into flaccid tissue.

The pyretic engine of belly

spread wide— a holocaustic gash,

an open invitation

— an invocation—

an Anubis to jackal me

through the hours of the nights

to come. That’s when I came

to the conclusion

— that’s when I augured

a future that lay somewhere          else.

        Only later I determined:

a light hammer strike to the temple,

if handled right, anesthetizes

& doesn’t ruin the head.

II.  Ahead Of My Time


        ...Maybe I was born too late.

  Maybe I was an Aztec....

        It takes 100 muscles to smile.

It takes one week

& a fifty-gallon drum of muriatic acid

to render soft tissue tender enough

for the wire brush.

        I once heard that clumps of raw meat

soaked over-night in Coca-Cola

would dissolve by morning.

That’s just not so

— at least, not the striated muscle.

        But it’s a fact

Aztecs prized a dish called “Man Corn”

— human meat & maize

a cassolet baked in the brain-pan.

        It’s a fact

ancient Bactrians kept carrion dogs

to feed on the flesh of dead relatives,

but only after the heads were removed.

        It’s a fact

in the Templo Mayor

seven structures

housed 100 skulls —

gnawing evidence verified by bones....

          I once heard the one faculty

that separates   us

                          from lesser creatures

is risibility — our ability

          to laugh.

What a joke — a bone of contention.

A human skull consists of 22

— collagen, calcium, phosphorus

hinged in hallowed symmetry:

Supraorbital, Parietal, Zygomatic...

an ossuary of cranial obsecration.

The Greater Wing of Sphenoid

unfolds the Mystery —

sows a sutra in Coronal Sutures:

                  Buy black blocks of granite

                  construct a temple


                  tempus ludendi.

III.  Dahmer Edax Rerum

        ...My consuming lust was to experience

their bodies....

If only one had stayed.

If only one had stayed on its own.

If only one had let me

do whatever I wanted

I might have...

                      I might not

have seen that message etched in acid, there

in the pyramid shape of occipital lobe

— might not have heard it speak

to me once in Creole, or Caribe,

of unspeakable appetites:

Zumbi           (it loves you)

Zombi             (it loves you not)

Zombie             (it will love you —  forever

stay    with)  you

        know, an ice-pick really is too big

— an upholstery needle works just fine.

You must wipe it with Clorox,

(draw the upper lid away

from the eyeball)

insert it          carefully

into the tear duct.

One solid tap

(use what’s handy)

is pretty much all you need

to punch the point through the orbital plate.

Stir till white matter

churns soft as butter.

        Injecting ammonia is overkill.

If only one had lasted.

If only one had lasted more than a day.

One everlasting to do

whatever I wanted.           

                                      I am consumed by my work

at the Ambrosia Chocolate Company....

Dolores shows a photo of her grandson

& the women bleat:  He’s so          sweet,

I could just eat him            all             up....

Ambrosia is the food of the gods

— did you know that?

    Did you know

that it imparts immortality?

                              Did you?

The Frugal Gourmet says:

Take         Eat 

                                    For this is my body.

I’d been swallowing that all my life,

digesting His message of Love:

                                    To eat is to appropriate...

                                        How appropriate

                                    You are what you eat.

                                    If you kill it, you must eat it.

                                    One man’s meat is another’s...

                                            Food for thought.

(The Texas Review)

Fall River, August 4th 1892

And when she saw what she had done

she gave her father forty-one.

It must have been the August heat,

its steaming iron sky pressing you

for months that year. Calculations

later concur: it is the year of the dragon

— inspiring every searing

breath. Heat coils & howls,

singes your lungs,

& dense air perspires,

expands, like serge suits

bloated by scalding water,

& monthly flood of blood

cramps your frame, groans

hormonal, inflammatory elegies

to your body burning infertile

eggs & the sidewalk’s

infernal, hot enough to poach

soles right through the shoe.

And you cannot breathe.

You are suffocating

in yards of over-starched cotton

drawn over long drawers & woolen

stockings, a silk chemise & whalebone

corset — your carcass trussed & dressed

made ready for the oven of your father’s

baking house — snapped under the thumb

& nail of the coffin king, Procrustean

in his attempts to fit them

in their last narrow bed

— one size fits all —

rumors of limbs lopped or bent

to accommodate. You are the good girl,

still daddy’s spinster princess.

It is 1892 & you are thirty-two

& just back from Italy

where girls must be at least twelve

to marry legally.

And you just spent

this trying morning trying

not to inhale fatal phosphorus

from newly booked safety matches.

And it is not safe.

It is 11:15 am on August the 4th, 1892;

there is a Depression going on.

Your family lies

dormant, glutted on mutton.

You are dreaming over a scorching hearthstone

sweating over freshly split logs & a demon-lover;

the grave & cryptic man invented:

whose hands ignite your flesh each night

whose heels strike sparks in humid darkness,

inciting ruts in asphalt roadbeds.

Cleaving to this image,

you go upstairs

        to wake your parents.


X Marks the Spot

Amelia Earhart piloted Eleanor Roosevelt, in evening dress,

to Baltimore just after she became First Lady.

She was so enthusiastic about the flight

she wanted Earhart to give her lessons.

The president said no.

                                    Fact a Day Calendar, January 22, 1999

If Dana Scully got her wish

to be Eleanor Roosevelt for one day,

let it be: March 7th, 1933.

She is a knockout

in Chanel’s black box-jacket suit.

She has a matching Glock in her handbag.

She’s not yet a delegate to the UN,

not yet chairman of the Commission

for Human Rights —  has never been

a special agent.

She’s just niece of Theodore,

wife of Franklin —

the First Lady who wants to fly.

She tells Amelia she’s been alienated

from the President since 1921,

since the poliomyelitis. She explains:

inflamed motor neurons,

& her dream, where a man

called Mulder tells her to believe

that the truth is out there

somewhere in the gas-pressured air

of a turbine engine’s whine;

that she would like to take Noonan’s place

in 1937, co-pilot & disappear mysteriously

between New Guinea & Howland Island;

that Franklin will die in office

—  a bull’s-eye for the Cancer Man —

after breaking the “no 3rd term” tradition;

that in 1992 a search party will find

remnants of Earhart's plane in Kiribati.

She promises to call: Amelia, it’s me...

She swears to dispute their claims.

She will close that file, rejoin her in the area

between Melbourne Fla., Bermuda, & Puerto Rico,

where any number of planes have vanished

& investigations to date have not produced

any scientific evidence of unusual phenomena

involved in any of those disappearances.

(Dark Planet)

Post-Mortem Mother

        after Denise Duhamel


My post-mortem mother glides

on gurneys, slides through each

fluorescent basement, skims

Our Lady’s cool corridors

counting acoustical tiles,

keeping time to the turn

of rubber’s drub on linoleum.

She scorns the M.E.’s hymns

to her beauty, spurns his frigid

slab of thumb as he strokes

each rigorous limb.

She slights his catalogue of parts,

his clear-cut measurements

— lividity & arteries,

circumference of heart

— loathes methodic matters.

But how she loves

the body bag

in basic black,

the time of knives

& sowing of bone-saw,

when her cracked ribs

flower between her breasts.

(Dark Planet)

Working By The Light of Burning Bodies

      for Kathe Koja

Call them corpse candles,

or noctilucent lanterns;

humans burn hot as carbon-arcs,

incandesce into calcium’s lime-light,

scintillate phosphorescent self-generation

at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit

in just under 2 hours.

After a few hours the heat

shimmers into being,

ignites Ignis Fatuus

flame-thrown Fata Morganas,

& Radiant Boys.

I punch fists into sockets

& love the sensation

— the retinal excitation

when eyeballs are pressed

with the ball of a thumb

through closed lids

— the way it changes

the physiopathology of light.

The scientific study

of the behavior of light

is called optics, but

in Quaker doctrine, The Light is

that divine presence in each person

— so what does it mean

that Debbie Boone once postulated:

you light up my life....

Newton understood light  

as composed of corpuscules

exuded from luminous bodies.

As I understand it, Romans practiced Crematio,

a punishment reserved

for deserters, counterfeiters, & arsonists.

Law specified the guilty must burn alive

become combustible Catherine Wheels

— the  aboriginal Roman Candle.

Saint Paul, a Roman citizen, believed

it was better to marry than to burn.

We don’t get many couples —

well — once — a woman requested

that her urn be placed amid what remained

in her long dead husband’s coffin.

True love, that.  And how

I love my work.

It is not the etiology

of electromagnetic radiation

that appeals to me

— not even the psychopathy

of a statement like: let there be light.

It’s the intention

inherent in incineration —

the purifying properties of fire,

my desire to light the way for the dead.

Do you think Tomás de Torquemada knew?

Do you believe an auto-da-fé was his way

of lighting heretics through the darkness?

I don’t know....

I don’t know much about luminous flux

the rate of flow of light per unit of time.

I cannot calculate the refractive index

the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum

to the speed of light in a medium under consideration,

but I do know the average human cremains

weigh approximately nine pounds.

They are processed into fine particles

then placed in a container.

The entire process takes

about three hours.

For eight hours each night

I keep the lights burning

burning the midnight oil:

amber, copal, myrrh

a florescence of resins

— prayer smoke set alight

to soothe my olfactory perceptions.

Once, I pushed camphor

soaked cotton balls

deep into my nostrils,

but they gave me headaches,

& seemed to make me photosensitive.

Besides, the Director claimed

it showed a certain insensitivity,

& anyway, he couldn’t smell a thing.

Most nights it’s reading:

palms, Tarot, the pyromantic

messages found in the flames.

I pry open each cadaver’s hand.

check their life-line against my own;

my fingers climb the seven mounts,

twist along each wristlet.

then I set my mouth upon the table,

right in the middle

where all four lines intersect.

I‘ll lay  out three cards

for every one of them

I arrange.

Rods are good —

provide vision in dim light;

coins are even better —

they activate color, illuminate

the neural pathways.

I stuff a card into

the lucky stiff’s mouth

before I pull the lever.

I remove Judgment

from every deck.

The laws of Resurrection

don’t apply here.

Only bodies harvested

from the ground

will rise at the last trump.

My mother told me once that she feared

for my immortal soul — that ashes to ashes

did not mean what I thought it did;

that God did not feast

on fat & fumes —

did not flare his nostrils

at the perfume of human

flesh flash-fried…

Fear of the Lord is the beginning

of knowledge.  Only fools despise

wisdom & discipline.

I do not fear God,

but I am not a fool.

I fear the notion

of  the resurrected dead —

— corpses worming their way

up & out of the earth.

They are immune to the light.

You have to burn them

or they keep coming back.

(Dark Planet)

Mythical Mother

        after Denise Duhamel

My mythical mother never bothered        

to weave a basket of river rushes,

hide from him who conceivably fathered

me.  She never had intimate brushes

with the Gods; no gravity of judgment. . . .

She wore grief on her cheek, could sink lushes

under the table, swore he came hell-bent

seeking a semi-divine concubine.

He took her in a tenement — low-rent

daddy, no shower of gold, valentine

cupidons — not a single swan feather.

Left her humming the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine.

If he were mine?  Our umbilical tether

would writhe — a cobra of blackest leather.


        Highway Side: Five Minutes to Midnight


        We ride the road to the City of the Dead,

mouths full & spitting Chewing John’s juice,

ears pierced by Wolf’s howl: We gonna pitch

a wang-dang doodle....  All night long

down Highway 61, Blues Alley, you can run

— you can run from Memphis to Clarksdale,

past Smitty’s Red Top & Sarah’s Kitchen,

past the now collapsed & wholly moldering

Riverside Hotel on Sunflower Street

where Bessie Smith came to grips

with the ultimate epistemology of the Blues.

You can run on through, past Rosedale

— you can run till you come to U.S.49.

Never mind the Fuel Mart & Church’s Fried Chicken,

never mind Delta Donuts & Abe’s Bar-B-Q.

        Robert Johnson, tell us, if you know

what waits in that place outside the borders of town,

in that place where two roads cross at right angles,

where Mercury dimes dipped in Van-Van,

dusted with ashes, & wrapped in red flannel

might still due your bill in some juke joint

where a drink of whiskey’s always a risk

for a man with the mojo. Hands

down, your good-girl wasn’t there....

Old man, if you’re on this road tonight,

thumb out, boot heels clocking 12 beats

to the nearest bar, come on.

We’ll turn our strings to open tunings,

roll our bones past Morgan City

We won’t stop at Three Forks Store,

we won’t rest at Mount Zion.

We got to keep on moving

— keep on moving. . . .

(NPR Rhythms)


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