The Education of Eric Norris
For Derrick Austin
I’ll weep all night, with stars I’ll fight,
The fray shall well become me.
—Anonymous English ballad, seventeenth century
This book is mine. The margins are full
Of little cartoons I doodled in school.
This is my Inferno. The light is by God.
This Beatrice isn’t my cup of cod.
B is D’s vision, his Heavenly joy.
Not mine. I prefer a kind of cowboy.
Here I have drawn her, a saint in stained glass,
Miss Middle Ages. I had to work fast.
She modeled by day. I worked at night.
I never quite got her Humanity right.
I found her cold. She told me I stink
Worse than Perdition. She’s dead, I think.
My love, in her eyes, had a turpentine smell,
Like Pablo Picasso, boiling in Hell.
So, I closed her eyes, whispering, “Love,
My love is like nothing, seen from above.”
Here, Dante drops in, smiling like the sun,
Until he looked down. He noticed the gun.
I stuttered like mad, I tried to explain,
“I f-found her like that, shot in the brain.”
Dante called Virgil. He entered the room,
All biceps and pecs. My heart filled with gloom.
I had heard rumors. I told my best friend
I thought they were lovers. My best friend told them.
The case against me seemed open and shut:
A V and a D adorned the gun’s butt.
Dante the Don, he chewed a toothpick.
“Son,” he said, “Love is my bailiwick.”
“I own all the judges, I pay the police,
I AM THAT I AM. Go, ask your priest.”
Sweet Jesus, I freaked! I’m screwed! This is bad!
The guy thinks he’s God! “Easy now, Dad.”
I shifted my feet. Inhaled. When I could,
I ran like forked lightning into a dark wood.
I scrambled through brambles. I hid in a swamp,
Under a lily pad, like a large bump.
Cautious as cream, trembling with fear,
When only insects were all I could hear,
I crawled to a log. “Whew, that was close.”
But in that dark wood, a problem arose.
I grew kind of lonely. I sat and I sat.
I wrote in the dirt, “You want to go back?”
For billions of years, I sat in this park,
Listening to crickets, ‘til I saw a spark.
My spark was a star that fell from the sky,
The smoldering Angel who taught me to fly.
Well, did he smell? Did he look nice?
Is Lucifer’s light worth the huge price
We pay for insight? Milton says, “Nope.”
And I have my doubts. My Devil is Hope.
The thing without feathers: tender and tough,
A saint and a sinner who likes his sex rough.
He picked me up. He dusted me off,
Like an H-Bomb, delivered by a dove.
This fist full of ice, all fiery white,
Ten thousand sensations he seemed to unite
In one giant flash, sky and hard ground,
A rogue comet shattering sound.
Triceratops heard it. Life on Earth changed.
Whole mountaintops moaned, ‘Home on the Range’.
Stones slid into rivers of lava, shards
Of rock bounced around in hot leotards.
(A chorus of Greeks, observing this dance,
Observed to the lizards, “Now is our chance!”)
The damage was vast. The scale where life lay
Vanished completely. I shouted, “Hooray!
We’re out of the woods!” One of my mistakes.
Dante returned, in a great squeal of brakes.
Ten sedans followed, black, full of thugs,
Each thug with a tommy-gun full of slugs.
What did we have? A couple of Colts?
Two cocks full of ammo? Twenty-odd smokes?
That log took a pounding. So did the dirt.
The bullets kept coming. Unfazed and unhurt,
We fucked with high spirits. The world was our bed.
And I felt happy my love never said
He had been shot. No, not a cry
Did I hear, ‘til he fell. “When I die,
What will you do?” He looked in my eyes.
“How will you face those bad guys
Alone?” I cried, “I don’t know!”
I cried and I cried, “I don’t know!”
I don’t know.
Eric Norris is co-author (with Gavin Geoffrey Dillard) of Nocturnal Omissions (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2011). He is also the author of the chapbooks Terence (Square Circle Press, 2011) and the collection Cock Sucking (On Mars) (lulu.com, 2012). His poems and short stories have appeared in Soft Blow, Assaracus, Jonathan, Glitterwolf, and The Raintown Review. He lives in Portland.
This poem appeared in Assaracus.