by Bonnie Schell

My friend, the Tibetan Buddhist, sends me
an electronic greeting for the New Year.

                                         The Year of the Iron Snake

Late in February when dark comes
before pork chops can be cut in pieces for eighty year olds to chew,
my friends have had black dysentery; flu shots were rationed.
Hail fell last week on the beach coast town of Santa Cruz
pelted the plastic ponchos of homeless men
crouched unwelcome in aluminum doorways.
Affordable housing is $500,000 a box without a tree.

Charlene, Lana and Trudy hide their keepsakes in cardboard boxes,
prepared to run. They swing open the gates to this year.
Only the disabled have a safety net on loan from the government

Tall Charlene travels the state for the Department of Mental Health
preaching Recovery and Use Your Wellness Plan. She believes
her own extreme possibilities: Talent, Beauty, Intelligence
She throws out her mood stabilizer for Chinese herbs,
thinks her sweet heart’s partners stole her transparencies,
took a music box from the head of her waterbed.
Charlene moves to a hotel so cheap the manager wants favors
She decides to marry the bellhop from Haiti
calls her boss to shout “Au Revoir. You only see my symptoms!
You don’t know me! I can still sing and dance.
Damn the Department of Rehab.”
Twirling in a rented car on Highway One, the scenic route,
a snake appears across the road, her daddy’s penis over her pale little navel.
Charlene swerves. Blunts her escalation with a hard crash. The hospital
puts her back together with artificial joints
recalled for not bending. This is the Year.

The dancing woman on the card, sweet daikini,
has flowers in her hands, roses at her feet,
with an Iron Snake. She looks stoned on marijuana, Vicodin and alcohol,
drools slander and curses from her fatted cheeks.

Lana has a five week-old puppy,
beats it when its rambunctious body topples her plants.
She needs the dog to treat her loneliness
since the court took away her daughter at age two.
Lana pushes her old tan body into purple Lycra
smears lipstick around her four upper teeth. Shakes
her bleached frazzled hair because she wants to party, baby.
They shun her in the bar and the puffy dog hides under the bed
when she returns. “Thief! Thief! Someone has slaughtered my baby”
she conjures while dialing the police. Used to her persecutions, they
keep black Billy sticks on their hips, quiet her yelling, pat
the little puppy, whimpering. When they leave she cuddles the dog,
then comforts herself with sobbing tears.

The Iron Snake wraps the hips
and curls around the upper arms, tricking the weak and hysterical
into the illusion of power.

Trudy coaxes her henna bob to edge her cheekbones.
Transgender, she likes tight clothes, Tallulah Bankhead’s voice.
Surgery at 50 to become a She, she still pays on the bill, is unemployed.
Trudy serves cookies after the church service, but contradicts women in meetings,
longing to be elected chair of the Disciples Council. She offers to hold
babies longer than new mothers like,
wants to see if her breasts might try to let down some milk,
wants to see if she can feel that elusive bond women have that
is not ownership. She is learning to whisper in women’s ears,
not to rush to lift and carry. They are just polite and she is enraged.
She daydreams of herding the cows into a barn and setting it ablaze.

The Iron Snake has a rigid backbone. Amenable people assert themselves,
push the envelope, but leave off the return address. The President pardons
bad people for money simply because he has the Power. The Iron Snake
is ravenous, gobbles the berries and leaves from every flower stalk.
Turn-taking is dead; children are armed. No good deed shall go unpunished.
We are left with intermingled twigs, harsh words, one-upmanship,
dog turds,spilled garbage, busted plumbing pipes. Hysterics will say
the iron in old pipes accounts for the rise in crime.
Yet did not Cain and Abel fight, each wanting to be the
apple of Adam’s eye, the only begotten son? And didn’t Cain
pick up unsmelted ore to smash out his brother’s fire and brains?

Fear the coming year. Be vigilant. On the sidewalk, look over your shoulder.
Prepare to turn the other cheek until you are dizzy. All seatbelts are off.
If you go to the theater, don’t sit too close. The flowers presented
to the lead may hide an iron pipe bomb. Stay near the exits
and the edge of the page. This is the Year.

{2028 is the next Year of the Iron Snake}

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