The Book of the Dead Man (Rhino)
Live as if you were already dead.
1. About the Dead Man and the Rhino
The dead man rode a rhino into Congress.
An odd-toed ungulate in the Congress, and no one blinked.
It was the lobbyist from Hell, the rhino that ate Tokyo, a lightning strike in their dark dreams.
A ton of megafauna, and nowhere for a senator to hide.
I’m gonna get you, says the momentum of a rhino.
The rhino has been said to stamp out fires, and the dead man hopes it is true.
He steered the beast to the hotheaded, the flaming racist, the fiery pork-barreler, the sweating vestiges of white power.
The dead man’s revolutionary rhino trampled the many well-heeled lawmakers who stood in the way.
He flattens the cardboard tigers, he crushes the inflated blowhards, he squashes the cupcakes of warfare.
Oh, he makes them into blocks of bone like those of compacted BMWs.
2. More About the Dead Man and the Rhino
The dead man’s rhino was not overkill, don’t think it.
He was, and is, the rough beast whose hour had come round at last.
The dead man’s rhino did not slouch, but impaled the hardest cases among the incumbents.
The committee chair who thought a rhino horn an aphrodisiac found out.
The dead man’s rhino came sans his guards, the oxpeckers.
He was ridden willingly, bareback, he did not expect to survive, he would live to be a martyr.
The rhino’s horn, known to overcome fevers and convulsions, cleared, for a time, the halls of Congress.
The senators who send other people’s children into battle fled.
They reassembled in the cloakroom, they went on with their deal-making.
They agreed it takes a tough skin to be a rhino.
“The Book of the Dead Man (Rhino)” appears in Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems, published by Copper Canyon Press.
Three books by Marvin Bell were released in 2011: Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems (Copper Canyon); Whiteout,a collaboration with photographer Nathan Lyons, (Lodima); and a children’s picture book, based on the poem, “A Primer about the Flag” (Candlewick). Since 1985, he has split the year between Port Townsend and Iowa City. For many years Flannery O’Connor Professor of Letters at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he teaches now for the brief-residency MFA based in Oregon at Pacific University, One can see a brief interview with him about writing in the literary video series “On the Fly,” and others at Drunken Boat, Arch Literary Journal, and Poetry Kit.