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Purgatorium

Purgatorium
by David R. Cravens


walking toward the sweet forgetting
I stop next to a girl in a kiosk
who only yesterday sold me a watch

she tries now to sell me Charlemagne’s iron crown
it is in a glass case
set upon a lavender cushion
and I begin to ask where she got such a thing
but a voice on an intercom startles me:

mention the dead body lying in the lobby
now through March 15th
and receive an extra 10% off
all previously marked-down items


I look at her in confusion
“is it me?” I ask

“the body of a dead enemy” she replies
“always smells good
regardless of who it is”

“I need to get to my car” I tell her

“go out the Penney’s exit” she says
“where you’ll find enchanted forests
harbored by ancient walls of cut stone
and gates of intricate grille-work”

another voice over the intercom:
(this one I remember from childhood)

I’m gonna lay down my burden
down by the riverside
shall we lay them down here
by the side of Guyana?


I look into the glass—
Charlemagne’s crown has become a bronze boar
with a magic nose
for which to rub and wish on

“a gilded cage?” I ask

“no?” she replies
“then go out the Dillard’s exit
and the dry leaves will sing you
the sad song of coming winter”

“I want neither” I say
“or perhaps some bit of both but…”
a new voice over the intercom:
(speaking not into it – but in the background
and as if on the phone with someone)

Eliot’s backing me
so is Frost…yes I signed it
Pound’s crazy – all poets are


“what you covet” she says
“are the idiotic certainties
of ignorant men”

“no” I say – and shake my head
“no it is not…
it’s the resonance of water after which I long
yes – the sound of water – only
because your purple rules are land rules
and there is strength in the unity of rivers
and an honesty toward which they flow…”

the same voice over the intercom:
(this time speaking to me)

La mar – they call her – in Spanish
when they love her


“I do” I say – looking up
“the Lethe exit please” I tell the girl
(her name-tag says Karen)

there is fire in her eyes
“you chewed of the fruit” she says
“and swallowed it”

“and it tasted of copper” I reply
“not of milk
and it is a taste one remembers”

* * *

David R. Cravens received his undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Missouri and his master’s degree in English literature from Southeast Missouri State University. He was the recipient of the 2008 Saint Petersburg Review Prize in Poetry, the 2011 Bedford Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for Ohio State University’s The Journal William Allen Creative Nonfiction Contest. His work has also appeared in Ontologica: A Journal of Art and Thought, EarthSpeak Magazine, The Houston Literary Review, Albatross Poetry Journal, The Monarch Review, The Interpreter’s House, Willows Wept Review, The New Writer Magazine, Poetic Diversity, Red River Review, Leaves of Ink,Liturgical Credo, and is forthcoming in War, Literature & the Arts. He teaches composition and literature at Mineral Area College.

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