This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features an excerpt from Joseph Fasano’s book-length poem “Vincent,” which is based loosely on the 2008 killing of Tim McLean by Vince Li.

from Vincent 

                         I saw this boy sitting next to me
with his duffle bag       and it was yellow        and        orange
                                   and I felt I was sniffing the edge of a photograph 
  in a crate
of my mother’s linens      I felt
              I was folding away a great flag
for the last time
under the bed my father died 
                         at the foot of
            vague as a twin
                         who’s survived his blonder half
                         it was so heady
       I knew that form is deaf
            that it is a great deafness radiating
      once        I knew my mother was keeping
her body
                             from me        to give
            to that moonbaby my brother
     so what did I do                    I went right out
            and removed the ears from her precious 
      silver rabbits         and hung them
over her eyes while she slept
                        to remind her who I am
they took me                no I would say they
transmitted me in the front seat of a hearse
             to a new house with no silo and no 
moonbaby and no
idiotic rabbits or corn mash
              do you know the look on an individual’s face
      when he is about to say his own name 
for the first time
                           after waking from a long sleep in fall
        that is the mask I chose 
                                                    when I met
Yolin and Betsy and Claire and Imago in the new rooms
        on the third day
                 someone left        my old bed
  in the foyer                     like a girl clutching a locket
           with a drop of my blood in it
              I remember                               there was this bull
           it carried its stupid face everywhere 
and then Betsy told me
it had five stomachs
               and that was the last straw
        I let it fall asleep one night and then I lit its ignorant 
on fire with tufts
                           of my own hair
                           do you know how much I had to work
    to grow that hair again            which felt so exact
             to pull out and mash 
between my teeth
while the matron was speaking     like
                                        perfect ignorance
      when they found Roger in his stall he had tried to gnaw 
the flames
                         he had not won
        I don’t remember the difference 
between the solstice and the 
equinox but I remember one of them cleans me
                          and is for doing things like that
which help                  the system remain
                        once      in the middle of a ball game
            at school
I had all my clothes on and the ball 
            came ringing at me and I lifted
my hand to it and I knew         I was holding it all together
         do you know what I did
                             I caught the ball and I buried it
right there in the field              like a bird
                                                  and I know what everyone
       was thinking
                          why is he so good to us
       they forgot themselves         they tried 
to get at the lode-stone of it
I’d captured and denatured
                   but I was a good wolflet
        I gnashed at them
                            for hours       seizing       my hair
                                                      until it was all finally over
        and they were safe again
                            and they could touch it
and touch it and touch it
I must have woken in the sacristy 
           because my hands smelled
                         like holy water
            when I boarded that bus
it was all happening again      and I knew
           I was going to have to keep them safe 
      I remember
            the first time     and I know it is trite
      I howled at the moon
      I said
why not                      try this
why not                      let the season do its work
     but there were horses
drifting through outlandish weather
     their bodies blocking out the light
my sister came to me
                               and whispered
           something into my temple
we were lying on a field of ice
           I knew she did not eat          I knew
                     she would not be caused
but she had her language too
           like purblind garter snakes 
                      flattened on a bare highway 
             during sleet
           like the shadows in a deaf boy’s diorama
buried with him          standing up     in a cotton field
        like butter pecan ice cream 
                  you stick      to the roof of your mouth when
you are falling asleep              in August
                    it was the winter I stared at her hands
            while they slept
     they were like birthmarks       on the bodies of the blind
  the loudest call in a language of birds        too tall 
                                 to remain with us
            like the smell behind a Catholic nun’s
     neck            like counting the quasars 
when you are young and lying
       on the roof of your house         until you can feel
                          clean enough to sleep
            inside your family
I remember                once I found
            a mare giving birth      under the porch
                                 of a blind man’s home
            she had fallen through 
the cedar planks
            a week before             and that man was too damned
            senile to believe that singing
                            anything other than some Algerian whore
                       he’d lain with      beside a team of pintos
            during the second world war
                               but I had heard
  so there I was
            standing in that ignorant room
         with her
                          something had let her do it
                                                  I felt narrow
            like I was buried under a river with a mask
of my mother’s hair on
            with a mask of my own 
under my arm
            like a squire who has burned with the castle
                                         for the last time
                                   a mirror       in a river
                                             I walked up to her
                        I took her monstrance of a face            in my arms
            like shallow water
                                     I don’t know if it was I
            or the wind that lifted her forelocks but
what a mess her face was                    what a
            traveling elsewhere 
it was not here
            I wanted to squeeze her face         to make it stay
and maybe I did                       and maybe I helped her
                                    but it just kept drifting
            farther out           like barge lights to sea
                I saw her child              trying to duck
            into the clear cathedral of her milk
                 I went out into the field that night
with my mattress                    with a crate
                 of my sister’s dolls
             she had carved down in the greatest hours
of her sickness
                  carved off the little nubs
            of their breasts       like ticks
on the feral        or the dull
                after they’ve walked through tall grasses
 (in one of them           she had           inset
a winding long piece of yellow yarn
                                like a Romanov tapeworm)
           she had shaved them down 
under the ribs
with a carpenter’s plane 
          how many nights        did I hear that music
humming from her room
           like the breathing of an animal
           on a heurtoir 
           but she had whittled them down well
                             I still don’t know what she did
           to their hands               that winter
                              they were like ammonia
           whatever wetness darkened 
the hind legs of that mare
                     I took the dolls
           all twenty seven of them
                            and laid them out around my mattress
                       I peed in their hair
I made them listen to the woods breathe in
                       they looked like the song of an owl
right before death                  sitting there
                       in their ring
                                         as though winter would slip them on
           and be wedded          to what it owned
when I woke           I realized I’d walked
                            fifteen miles or so     into the forest
                      and could have gone farther
           had I not heard them rubbing up against one another
in that crate as I dragged it
           had I not heard
                      the voices of their bodies
        trying to give up     their embarrassed mysteries
as when the light                   falls in your left hand
            as it dismantles your zebra finch
                                 the fleas on your back
                        holding up paper lanterns of your blood
by morning someone has always buried what remains
                                   in the earth
            elsewhere         quietly    
                                   and language goes on
like a boy crouched in a hallway
                                  casting no shadow
                       muttering into his underclothes
                                   oil     on his forehead
                                   oil     under his fingernails
                  I remember                     mathematics
how I would let the constellations do their best to me
                                  when I discovered
                          dividing a thing by zero
          makes it impossible       makes it suddenly 
I let this fact ripen in me
                       for days        and seasons
                       let the wind   hang in my veins
           like a drag-net           over a door
           like a wasp nest         in the hands of the dead
I knew the time would come
                                 and then my sister
thinned herself                      and was lying there
                       in front of the family
             like winter in a walnut coffin
                                     I walked up to her when the deacon
was saying something                unmathematical
                                and unfolded an enormous piece
          of poster paper      from my indigo 
                                                     velvet jacket
          (my favorite indulgence)
and taped it under her body
                        I had drawn a huge line across the top of it
like this

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