James Arthur

Frankentein’s Monster

I’m aging very slowly, because every part of me
is already dead. I spent years in the arctic, eating
seal fat and things better left unnamed, but now
I’ve got money, and a condo on the West Side.
I smell like formaldehyde, my teeth are grimy,

my limbs mismatched, but I’m happy in this place
where I’m one more person with panache
and an ugly face. I eat well. I can walk the bridge
Hart Crane walked, or get drunk, and not
conceal it. I’m not Boris Karloff, lurching
around, a mute—I hate that guy. I get laid.
Here, people suffer without believing

that every stranger should have to feel it.
The other day I walked from Cleopatra’s Needle
to the far side of the Harlem Meer, thinking
about the Rockefeller Center, and the gigantic
armillary sphere balanced on the shoulders

of the Atlas statue there. My pants
are fitted. My beret advances everywhere
like a prow. My name isn’t Frankenstein.
Frankenstein was my inventor.

First published in Little Star


Talking Song

Now that my work’s done and it’s Saturday,
now that my young son is out somewhere
with his mom, I might as well roam all morning,

spying on the filthy squirrels, and on the shapes
that disintegrating leaves have painted on the sidewalk.
I might as well spend the morning talking to myself,

hoping for meaning and unmeaning to braid
and begin teaching me what to say. Some days I feel
like a monarch at wing, meandering, not really deciding

where I go—as programmed as the dimwit birds
building nests of twigs and spit. Each bird pipes
the song that it was taught, and transmits the song

to its own offspring. Earthworms, driven up
by last night’s rain, have squirmed onto the asphalt
to slowly die. I save some, who glue

and wriggle, but there are just
so many—most of them, I leave to fry. There’s
fatherhood, in a grain: what love you have, gets distilled.

Into your own kin, your own kid, an eight-toothed
homunculus clutching an acorn in his fist, bewildered
that a paper plate set down in the grass on a windy day

won’t stay put, but lofts, and spins away. By the time
I’m downtown, I’m turning back—in thought, if not
yet with my feet. Before I’m back on my own street

I’ll have twice walked by the little wedge of ground
where people of this neighborhood bury their dead dogs
and cats. A rawhide bone. A ball of yarn, water-

logged by the frowsy rain. Animals have never meant
very much to me, but I’ve got them on the brain
these days—how magnetic navigation brings

spawning salmon home; how predation, variation,
and the winnowing-down of things gave shape
to a world of species, giving them gills, wings,

and feet. But I’d rather be dead than be a creature
of any other kind. I walk upright, practicing
the song of my species, by speaking.

First published in Little Star

James Arthur’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, Ploughshares, and The American Poetry Review. He has received the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton, a Discovery/The Nation Prize, and a residency at the Amy Clampitt House. His first book, Charms Against Lightning, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2012 as a Lannan Literary Selection. He is an Assistant Professor in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.