Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning

By Elton Glaser
Feature image: The Simoniac Pope,  1824-7 by William Blake

I pay my sin tax
On cigarettes and booze, keeping afloat
The pious aspirations of Ohio.

A good smoke will corrupt the lungs
Just as sweetly as
London gin will weaken the liver.

There’s always a tangle of implications
That riff on the ineffable
And the strange banquets of the flesh.

I’m posting these dispatches to you
From my little boondock of the damned,
Eking out my last days

Among the living dead of the heartland,
The frightened corn farmers
And all those overdosed on drugs or Jesus,

Dope brewing in a duplex
Where the kids sleep in crusty diapers
And dogs wheeze on the fumes,

Three doors down from smalltown messiahs
Who vote against the liquor license
And for the blowhards and the jackboot.

Sometimes my mind is
The ripe green of late April, and sometimes
A dinge of old snow.

If you can stand it, what’s better than
The ammonias of intuition,
Which snap your head back

And make you come alert to
Everything around you,
Like a blind man in a minefield?

I may be among them now,
Those grandmas and grandpas
And all the other rheumy galoots

Sipping their rosehip tea,
Or raffling off at the county fair
Their doilies and crocks of boysenberry jam,

But I still like my evening skies
Sumptuous and hair-raising,
Like a diva on smack.

I still like those abrasions of speech
That scrape everything down
To the clean quick.

Have I taken up the Bible
By the wrong end,
More beasts and blights than paradise?

Is my true father
John the Revelator in a crow’s coat,
Burning his words on the page?

Father, keep on a-prayin’.
I’m dressed and I’m ready for service,
For this old world is almost done.


Elton Glaser has published eight full-length collections of poems, two of them in 2013: Translations from the Flesh (Pittsburgh) and The Law of Falling Bodies (Arkansas), winner of the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize.

Feature image: Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported), Photo © Tate

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