In the purple zone I am royalty, leniently treated.
This is off the corridor of smudged plum, where
King George haunts the day room and Ludwig
of Bavaria won’t stop building castles. Flashes
strobe outside our windows as damp bullets shaped
like raindrops pop! Someone hands me a candle,
thinks my clothes won’t ignite, thinks it means
an end to darkness. Voices shuffle across tiles. When
the screaming game begins even the paint on
the walls hurts my skin. It doesn’t matter if I don’t
know what’s real, a fluorescent flick watches over
me. Some nights it hums hymns; some nights the
room expands like a lung. I may have a fever. I may
reenact my own burning man. I have a story to tell
starring the silhouetted trees beyond the fence.
At sundown they fracture the fine sky with cracks.
In which saints wired upright along the walls
bless us from their shawls and faded shrouds.
Their skulls list and lean as if remembering
their dried tongues. I can’t recall if this
is a nightmare or our vacation in Palermo,
a crypt thick with anxious dead. These vessels
show us how we are an operating theater
with popcorn for the show. A beetle chews
on the strings linking breast plate to spine.
Have you read the reports? The physicists
are helpless. A man touches the thin web
of one’s hair. Without their flesh they’re the same,
he says. Sometimes the truth is an exit ramp
next to a gas station selling peanut brittle;
sometimes a fist of thirsty starlings circle and
circle a beauty we have to tilt our heads to see.
SM Stubbs is the co-owner of a bar in Brooklyn, NY. He grew up in South Florida and received an MFA from Indiana University. He is the recipient of a scholarship to Bread Loaf and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for the Best New Poets anthology. His work has appeared in The Pinch, The Normal School, Jabberwock Review, Cherry Tree, Poetry Northwest, Opossum, Atticus Review, and The Bookends Review.