Outwitting Your Angels

by Dave Mehler
Third Place, June 2008
Judged by Patricia Smith

Use every animal ferocity be fierce as fire lovely fire
they are made of and as willful use blood cunning
fear shrewdly corporeal rightly and against them.
They will not expect it either hate or applaud you.
You require oxygen fuel sheltering sleep, you change in time–
alien, they do not–but twinned to you nonetheless.

Use that. Be the compact wolverine squat underestimated
harried by hunter pursued across tundra over rises
who turns and charges knock him off his high loud horse
the snowmobile his white wings over cloud froze high
even before he can pull rifle from sheath stare him down unscratched
unbitten till he will not no cannot shoot you even in war
as you turn away make him admire you ashamed of himself.

Be a virus relentless soulless machinelike repetitive
producing like kind impervious fruitful godlike and love strange
like that–no antibody will withstand no death touch you for long.

Certain light heat lightning hot white quick or black black black
he will shapeshift he you the muddy cornered pooch pathetic
you a mutt pup pissing down your leg neck up back down saying here take it

always outnumbered outgunned before you were born unable
unchosen without gift of speech a vague dream a bark a whimper
only canine teeth no power of thought really no imagination
as it should be truly understood they understand yet know
in the Presence even they must cover their faces
with haughty wings still they superhuman cry they other
laugh hear music you must be deaf to you uncomprehending

sniff the air circular back leg scratch at an itch unreachable
only skin deep. But think remember did He identify with
did He die for them? He outwitted he became the wedge
between you kyrie kyrie to your angel eleison you must look weak

must but the secret is weak is the weapon they in hoary anger
mirror horrible harbinge dark ancient awe guests, unwished for,
unanimal yes the doorway you put off opening the facade
hot cool cool hot layered the dog dressed up like death
but you couldn’t know didn’t imagine death and everything
you lost every buried bone come back to greet you.

The relentless meter, the urgency, the unyielding pulse of this poem was immediately addictive. I was hooked on its inevitability, the way it hurtled toward an ending that left me me short of breath. --Patricia Smith