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ED FALCO | Five Poems

Essay: On Delacroix’s The Shipwreck of Don Juan

Delacroix, now that’s one bleak take on things. My dark perspective

Has been criticized again and again; or, never mind me

Think of a writer like Charles D’Ambrosio in The Dead Fish Museum

A killer collection of short stories mostly ignored

Because he’s just too damn dark. But look at you, Delacroix!

In The Shipwreck of Don Juan I count twenty-four disheveled

Bodies crowded onto an overloaded lifeboat surrounded by a broad

Expanse of sea and sky: dark, cold, mercilessly endless

Sea and sky as implacable elements, neither waiting nor caring

Merely there, unobserving of the shipwrecks’ struggle.

In Byron’s poem, Don Juan at least survives, swims ashore to find

Love with beautiful, seventeen-year-old Haidée

The slave-traders vivacious daughter, and thus desire once again

Saves us and makes a heartless world habitable.

But that bit of evasion is not for you, Delacroix, not where sea licks

Gunwale, and the sheer strake of a fragile wooden vessel

Rides inches above turbulent waters beneath a fast-moving sky:

Here the shipwrecks gather in an anxious circle

One man reaches into a hat and draws out his fate as others watch

In gaunt anticipation, fearing the sound of their name.

Because of course they’re going to drink the blood and eat the flesh

Drained and peeled from their fellow shipwrecks.

Now that’s cold: an insensate universe where brutes and savages

Will slaughter sons and daughters to hold off starvation

To survive another day where the sea roils and a bleak sky threatens.

Myself, I prefer art that’s uplifting, as long as it’s not the usual dreck

Boy meets girl and lives happily ever after; kindness

Triumphs over cruelty and avarice; decency over greed, ugliness

All manner of viciousness, of violence and human

Depravity—because, well, that’s just not true. I’m sorry. It’s just not.

At the Met, I take a seat on a bench and contemplate your painting.

It’s raining outside. In here, a lifeboat full of shipwrecks

Struggle to survive. In a moment I’ll get up and go find your tigers

Those sleekly muscled hunters you obviously admire

Stretched out luxuriously on the ground, lazing under a maculate sky.

About Our Affair . . .

--for ______

It was only after that I learned someone had died

In the bed where you threw yourself down

With a coy smile and hiked up your dress.

A long, lingering illness, years and years, cancer

I believe, great suffering and distress.

But I didn’t know that then

Only that you had found this empty house

Belonging to a friend, in-between owners, and it was ours

To use when we wanted, to do whatever we wanted in.

It was only after that I learned your husband didn’t know

Things had reached an end, though it was true

You hadn’t been intimate for many years.

Your marriage may well have been dead

But you left out the details.

Now when I think back to that time I remember the bed

And a mattress soiled with blood and sweat

Where we took our pleasure as if the past were nothing

Deserving neither honor nor recognition or respect.

Three Transmutations of a Memory


After Christmas, Brooklyn, Night

In an abandoned lot gathered Christmas trees are set on fire.

Older boys swing a younger boy toward flames.

Overhead, stars flicker through a smoky haze and the boy


Heat pushes against his face. His hair is singed. In the blazing

Night, he’s transformed. Look! Look! How high the flames

Leap! How the trees explode and roar! How the night



Boy, After the Holidays

In the lot where they gathered discarded Christmas

Trees and set them ablaze, the towering big boys

Swung him toward the fire, where shrieking angels


Holy voices crackled in his ears, wailed beneath

Stars dim in a smoky haze, while the big boys

Danced like dervishes, their laughter echoing



Where He Finds Revelations

In the black hollows of the heart, where the dark animals

Reign, where keening rises up like lamentations

Whipped and fretted until a sleek skin sheer as a birth caul


Light pierces smoke and shadow as injured creatures

Scatter in the presence of what emerges blazing to reveal

Boys as towering angels, the fire their frenzied ecstatic


Three Views of a Lake


Body of water where a child has gone

Missing, where bathers in a line

Search step by step, wading through


Mouth reflecting a cobalt blue

Sky. Maw of Nothing, swallowing a child

Whole. Craw of a baffling



Body of water raucous with children

Swimming, where a field of hungry bodies

Bathe in the heat of a brilliant late-morning


Mirror of a powder blue sky, dazzling

Sunlight skittering across the surface of its glacial

Depths, emerald green spaces of shimmering



The surface of the earth under a retreating glacier

Eroded, an excavated emptiness cavernous

Deep, a gaping hole filled with a flood of icy


Body of water under sun under cloud under

Sky, body of water where life scurries and slithers

Fish in its murky depths, plankton and weed




Shithead, you must be the devil’s origin

The way you talk so miserable at times

Busting into whatever X might be


Lurking in the back of his mind

Voice for everything unspeakably

Ugly, conduit for all things



X calls you Evilhead, Shithead, Uglyhead

Ignores the nasty crap you utter, shuts you

Down, and still you skulk anonymous in the dark


Speaker for the opposite of what is good or just

Spokesthing for what shouldn’t be spoken, shouter

Out of the sludge, out of the foul excremental



Voice of the devil, or the origin of the devil

Myth, fetid aspect of mind that shouts out

Counters good with bad, speaks up for all things


Nothing is too horrid to be conjured, spelled

Out, leaving the shocked heart ashamed, X

Appalled that such a voice is his and unbidden


Ed Falco has published poems and stories widely in literary journals and is a recipient of The Robert Penn Warren Prize in Poetry from The Southern Review. His most recent book is the poetry collection Wolf Moon Blood Moon (LSU, 2017). He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Virginia Tech.

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