Artwork © Eric N. Peterson


Canto XVII

He, (The concept of I a vain thing, a grandiose supposition
And complete misnomer and misconception fully deserving
Pronoun supersession making a being, if indeed it was, only
          slightly more plausible
When from the elements arisen, decomposed to them again so quickly)
Wartime refugee to Odessa permanently bloodied
By the imaginings of the realities, heretofore experienced,
Of dismembered body parts and the sinews of discrete beings,
But in the haunt of memory, merged as conglomerate phantoms
          of essences
Of they who were taken prematurely by acts wanton and
          gratuitous–acts on
Men, some who might still be alive were it not for him (and yet
This coagulation of mass from putrification being so temporary
Any pronoun, even it, does not seem apposite for this quark
          of the only
Entity there is, the permanent forward expanse of changeable
Electromagnetism/mass in its trajectory, time),
Leaves briefly.
Diurnally clean externally,
Diurnally sullied by implosion internally,
To work/ from work he goes
Carrying out his perfunctory roles
As though death of what was born
Should have no shocking and devastating impact
On one’s psyche and deportment.
He carries on, although not quite right
This worker, this contortionist, with head
Looking over his back.

It is several hours past noon, June 19th,
Juneteenth, and now it is a brief cessation of his nondescript role,
A constant tedium of reflexive movements for hours.
He now senses the droll dulling of his stultifying mind as
He departs from work on this belated lunch break, of sorts,
His breaking a curiosity, for him, like the last dying embers of
          a deprived fire.

Walking along the street, sunlight reverberating off of
          the pavement,
He is toasted from above and below; and with heat in such
          a toaster oven
This intense, and parts of this desolate urban Environment,
Like elsewhere in Ukraine, usually, under the scopes of
          snipers’ rifles
And threats of attacks by Russian bought Iranian drones,
He is discombobulated as Odessa,
As the entire country, seems tilted and vertiginous.

Thus with mind heady, his steps are of one staggering along
As all who stagger along, barely able to walk and turn
In the field sobriety test of a life when
Captive on this spinning, revolving rock. In such a state
Sober assessments of his plight were scarcely possible.
The world as it is, from childhood onwards one seeks
The inebriation of movement, the spinning, and rolling
          down a hill
Rather than logical appraisals of life.

–I hear he has a job now – – Sort of. He works, volunteers really, at a soup kitchen set up by an internationally recognized NGO

–Helping an organization helping others seems noble enough. – – The pulp of man squeezed and imbibed by society at large, it is hardly noble.

–But labor, manual or otherwise, is what he wanted; and forfeiting oneself by allowing thoughts to be hostage to a singular extraneous task is his liberation from the streets. – – Exploitation hardly liberating, and he gets nothing from this work besides a partitioned corner in a shed, his home something less than a stall, and bigger shares of fodder than other strays that the soup kitchen serves. Washing dishes by day, and at night as their security guard, he scarcely ever gets more than several hours of sleep on any given night.

–He wanted to work so desperately and then when provided that opportunity he can’t stand that too–Yes. Well, with choices being to be made mad when living in isolation on the streets, the unreality of self in interaction no longer projected onto him, or to be an automated cog in the system, either way forefitures emasculate the man, making the opposite extreme always seem more alluring.

–Dishwasher, doctor, prostitute, prime minister, it matters little. All forfeit their private thoughts for social goals. Where is he going anyway? – – Sometimes there will be beer remaining in a beer can thrown in an outdoor bin near the convenience store. He goes inside with it and sits at the counter where people are supposed to eat their instant noodles or their microwaved dinners.

–And he is doing that now? – – He is, I imagine, as it is air conditioned there.

–How do we get in? – – Hmm… Good question indeed. When doors are several thousand times bigger, not the way of the masses for sure.

–Jump on that old woman’s parasoled umbrella after it is folded and this fly will fly onto her hat. – – Okay, we are in

–He doesn’t look well. Is it from the heat? – – Perhaps or the dizzying array of plates, silverware, pots, and pans that had been coming toward him for his washing. It is hard to get that out of memory.

–He is certainly slumped over – – Clearly he is tired. He wishes he could go back to childhood. He wishes there were more than just a singular timeular trajectory.

–Well, massive objects moving forward in space have strong gravitational forces that can alter it a little. But backward momentum despite the universe moving forward probably is a less frequent occurence. – – And of course he is tired from menial prostitution

–Menial prostitution, is it? – – Menial prostitution it is.

He sees this uniformed schoolboy opaquely despite
The turbid viscousness of self
Flowing ever so slowly, ever so
Perversely, into merger with other fluid souls, attraction,
In a time perceived as one’s lowest
Only to discover ever more extensive
Tiers of falling as though the falling fait accompli
Had never begun, deviance,
And he does not want to do so; and yet
Callow is the pallid two legged variant, who is now
Seated beside him
Slurping noodles,
Swatting away the two flies as he does so;
And as he does so, the teenage boy
Becoming increasingly, in his mind, a succulent viand.
          But he says,
Cognizant, fixated perhaps, on the fact that this boy
          has two legs,
Has innocence that, so far, is unblemished, inexperienced in
          horror of war as he is,
Legs and inexperience which others can no longer have–it is not
Perverse desire, his hungering to kiss him,
He says to himself,
To press against his skin, muscle, and frame.
The two bare legs in the openings of
Those dark blue shorts are far less sordid than it seems.
No, the master dissimulator of self,
More than others, says,
As he never had such urges before,
It is merely a bit of envy in loss,
Not attraction,
As though the concepts
When aflame in hunger
Were in any way different
From each other.


Steven David Justin Sills is a poet and novelist. A library procurement of his poetry An American Papyrus was scanned into the Internet Archive and many of his early works are listed on the Online Book Page at the University of Pennsylvania. After finishing his novel, The Three Hour Lady, the Russo Ukranian War seemed to call out a need for his return to poetry. He has now written 17 cantos to his war poem, A War Papyrus, which examines psychological trauma in internal and exterior conflicts

Eric N. Peterson is from Atlanta, Ga. He’s been drawing cartoons all his life. He leans towards the absurd, imaginative, and the surreal, as that’s where all the flavor is.