The Agonist Journal

Lion’s Den

I switch off the sludge of headlines (Brexodus,
Mortar bombs dumped in the North Channel,
Nursing strikes, writing scratched on the wall,
Consecrated graffiti, prophecy too dire for prose)
And in the hallway, chest hollowed to a pit,
Switch off the heaters (though we pay a flat rate),

Delete emails, sift through the buildup of rejections
That snowballed over the weekend, scour Jobs; that is,
Recall I’ve only two weeks left to go ’til my last payday.
Hours slash down to zero at the Department of Social Protection,
Ends seem met and then quickly unravel, savings drip
And all the small sins necessary to survive pile up

Like lions waking at my feet, a low-rumbled growl
Stirring from gullets as they forget their pelts
And sweep their tails from side to side to prowl
Towards me, shaking fur from their manes’ molt,
Eyes dilating and narrow, the flexed claw
And canines gritted behind a tightly-poised jaw—

This is what it’s come to. Whatever point or purpose
I had melted in ether. With this profusion of time,
I find ways to occupy myself and ignore how close
To the brink I sit. I’m well past knowing shame
For saying, the job is the life raft I clung to, that I let rob
All that fury, collared to a routine, ’cause having a job

Is bad enough, but having none is far worse.
All that wasted time before a computer screen,
I dust off my CV, recite glib interview lines, force
Myself into industry-standard levels of keen,
Fix my game-face grin ‘til it’s positively glowing;
But really, I’m drained of all I need to keep going.

I’m back walking on air as if on water, while
The last Linden Village sours in the fridge.
There’s no room left for error, courage
Or even improvisation on my LinkedIn profile
And though the lions seem to sleep where they lie,
Once I turn to leave, they’ll pounce on the sly.

Violet Gibson*
for Annemarie Ní Churreáin

The jammed Lebel 8mm as a principal of reason;
history hinged on a mere second of dead-eye

and all around her, the crowd’s fawning reverence,
a bundle of Roman sticks, the open-palmed salute—

Il Duce’s skull ripe for a bullet. The shot misses
by inches as he averts his head, leaving the Lord’s work

unfinished and yet fully executed. She pulls the trigger
a final time, her target seeing her fully now, a shawled

vindicator aiming to send him off, glory hallelujah
of fire and lead; something like sacrifice, units of beauty,

measured in impetus: better to die for God, with a hymn
in her ears, than to smash car windows, draw a better bead,

seeds of a wild notion rooted in her skull. She wonders:
aren’t we all fascists by instinct? It’s worth asking. Sure

who among us wouldn’t prefer the world to comply
with our way of thinking? The worst outcomes result

from the finest intentions, after all; hence why she left
the convent that morning, gun cradled in a black shawl,

hand stretched out like a message from the Lord, varicose veins
lining her hand and wingbeats unheard between earth and the

heavens. From his nose bursts bloody disdain, but no testament
in her name bar psychiatric reports, a bastard distance kept.

*Irishwoman who attempted to assassinate Benito Mussolini in Rome’s Piazza del Campidoglio on April 7th, 1926.

As Leaves or Thieves

They’re lying low in the back garden
light as leaves or thieves;
you’re spooked and stock-still
and six years old again.
Eyes stare you down
from the untrimmed box hedge
without blinking, vanish
like asterisms. Wink of tattoo
and warpaint, axe-heads
knapped from flint
could gently tap the outline
of your skull forever.
This is how it happens at night,
in half-sleep or barely any: switchblades
of grass flick open, a welded
fence curls its black ironwork
into rust-gilded hooks
down the garden path’s snaking stone,
feather-finned arrows nock
in the dark, leaves sizzle—and under
your feet, grass slurps dewily.
Out in the waste-patch beyond the estate
a stolen car burns like funeral pyre,
molting sparks skyward, and
the moon, ripe for ambush, lights up
your hairless veins, its lotus cool
catching—kindness unspilled.
The mind peels back,
soars and splinters like rubble.
Is there life out here? Is there mercy?