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Our poetry editor, Joe Pan, has selected a poem by Josh Bell for his seventh in a monthly series that brings original poetry to the screens of Hyperallergic readers.

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Sign for the Safari Inn in Burbank, California. (via Wikipedia)

Or bring along an extra shovel
for me, a map of the area, some new
interferences, we may
need to plant something. Normally I’d leave
the important digging to you
because I am afraid of tools and how my fingers fall
to rest so easily on handles, of the earth
when it’s been opened, and furthermore
I’m afraid to close it
when I’m done with it,
there are baby teeth down there, beetles
in the hollow of a doll’s head. Though let me say
I am hardly ever done with it,
Earth, or whatever it was
the first ones called it, even when it’s signaling
that it’s done with me. The timeline unwinds,
weeds firing up from the window box
like rockets, the rowboat sun
somewhat closer than recorded. Additionally
we may need to capture something
in advance of burying it: a wild animal,
a wild animal, I am almost certain
we have been commissioned to capture
a wild animal, ears like radar dishes
turning always toward the racket
we are making, despite how quiet we must be
stacking tools and tent-poles
in the bed of my pickup truck. Or at least
that’s how I’ve drawn it
here in my sketchbook. Or first it was
the tools, and then it was our hands
were built for them, and they were built
with other tools entirely, over whose wooden bodies
and crooked metal heads
they never let us speak of the weather
or of the day our bodies will disappear, taking all their secrets
and favorite paintings along with them
toward the sun. Long and thin, your hands
are for the removing of beetles
from a doll’s head, which is why
I am so happy you are here with me
even though you’re far away,
it’s just your voice on the cell phone
which confuses me. And as if I thought of it myself
I say this thing about your hands
but I had to read the story of them
on them, while you were walking down the street
and of their own accord
they spun your hair in pigtails. I always loved
that painting. You always got
a signal, even in the jungle. Also the photo of you
held here by static to the center of
my television screen, so that your face plays over
the roles which flicker there
behind it. On one channel, you take the stage
at the Apollo. On another, you’re crying
because your husband’s in a coma.
I’d like for you to take him
off the respirator—it’s
the kindest thing to do—then bring yourself
and the respirator over here
to my house, we’ll take it on
safari, don’t forget to pack the respirator, or maybe on
a picnic, don’t forget to pack
the blowgun and the radio, the one that plays
the song forever, the one
with the list of rejected names
for the planet Earth, the one with the darts made up
of Detroit steel, the one with the giant voice
and the pretty wraith inside, exactly
how many blowguns
do you have in there? Many radio signals
go all the way, clear into the root system
and the water table, where they pick up other trees
or re-emerge as these giant flowers
we are busy hacking a path through
on the way to our room
at the Safari Diner Motel Inn. I love that picture of us
they hung above the coffee maker:
forty is the new death
and we’ve been up all night dealing
with all the wrong satellites.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the author of No Planets Strike. He has taught in the MFA at Columbia University and is currently Briggs Copeland Lecturer On English at Harvard University.