TOM PAINE’s poetry is upcoming or published in The Nation, Glasgow Review of Books, The Moth Magazine (Ireland), Blackbox Manifold (England), Volt, Fence, Forklift, Ohio, Epiphany, The Common, Green Mountain Review, Tinderbox, Hunger Mountain, Hotel Amerika, Gulf Stream, Tampa Review, World Literature Today and elsewhere. Stories have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New England Review, The Boston Review, Best New Southern Stories, The O. Henry Awards and twice in the Pushcart Prize. He has won fellowships from Sewanee, Yaddo, and Bread Loaf, and written for Francis Ford Coppola. His first collection, Scar Vegas (Harcourt), was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Pen/Hemingway finalist. He is an associate professor in the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire.
The Infancy of Worms
A scientist gives ecstasy to octopi:
will they be a little less anti-social?
A second scientist gives ecstasy
to melancholy mice: will they sing?
A third scientist needles a gene
from photosensitive jellyfish
into a worm, and melds a new
In a flash of lithium-light worms
in a lab gyrate madly backwards.
Civilization with a jellyfish gene
retreats in an inquisitorial light.
We need a gene from the corpse
of St. Francis. Worms in infancy
all sing in ecstasy in the night soil
In the Twilight Room
A ninety-year-old drinks in cold antibiotics from a lettered plastic bag.
She was a stewardess for American Airlines, size two, with hip padding.
Vogue did a photo spread on the ladies. Everyone back home saw.
Mom sees that stewardess clear as day. “People were always looking.”
At some point a week had passed. A week of a son seeing his mom.
We watched the dead fall on D-Day and she said it was so strange.
Near the IV needle’s purple island she stroked a quiet fingertip.
“Look right here,” she said. “It’s so silky like a baby’s bottom.”
An ambulance with lights off passes convertibles with love songs.
Two Dead Sailors
A man sailed from Germany
here, fifty years ago. Yesterday,
when his daughter didn’t show
up for Father’s Day, he drank
and floated dead by the dock.
He didn’t know how to swim.
He sailed the Atlantic but didn’t
know how to swim? I love him.
And another sailor, who knew
this sailor, who sailed all over
the world, when his hip broke
for the third time, took to bed
on a cliff, and we sailors came
to a party and he waved to sea.
His wife fed him ground up
tranquilizers, put a plastic bag
over his face, lay with him,
peeled the plastic off; we sailors
know so many die wretched–
this sailor’s face was becalmed.
My father chased me nightly,
screaming he wanted to put
my head through the wall.
A van with no brakes flew
dead at me and I dropped
my groceries and ran again.
Dreaming of a wild celebration,
a woman in a sari was vomiting
blood into my chaliced hands.
Can we talk more about this cold
love in the universe you have felt,
this exquisite cold, cold love?