Robert Campbell


What sort of beast
will I make of myself?

On the rack: sea monsters,
wizards, glow-in-the-dark

bones, roman armor. Life,
friends, is unfair. The party

supply store is closing
now. Bottles of champagne

pose like onyx busts.
Bags of tinsel just

hang there. I want to pick
the cloak purple as scorn,

the hook-shaped hat.
Instead, I snatch

the googly-eyed black
glasses, thumbing quarters

in my pocket. If history
is the victor’s footprint,

the rest becomes
a pantomime, a drawn-out

disappearing act. Abra-
I’ll say, then pull

white flowers from
my throat for a stranger,

for the elderly man
at the counter, held

too many times
at gunpoint. Alakazam,

I’ll exclaim, then vanish
into blue smoke.


The office reeks of tuna: someone’s
awful lunch haunting the maze
of cubicles, the mauve dividers.
Davy opens the window, half-
remembers a line by Thomas Hardy:
What does this vain-gloriousness
down here? He mouths the word
vaingloriousness. He imagines
his co-workers typing at the bottom
of the ocean floor, his tie-choked boss
drifting gracefully among the mooneyed
fishes, heels dragging sand
like smoke, undisturbed even by eels
that shiver across his vested shoulder.
Davy is smiling big. His chest
feels wide as a ravine accepting all
travelers upon the gray-waved, lolling
deep of plastic push-pins, linoleum
halls, muzak. His socks feel wet.
Something wired in the back
of his head squeals joy. Vainglor-
iousnesssss, he croaks, now audibly;
What doesss thisss vaingloriousnessss
down here? He does not know
if he’s awake or dreaming, if the old
receptionist has become a mermaid
singing opera over intercom, or if
he really is clutching the boss’s tie,
lifting him off the floor by his hair
with the other hand, Davy’s rancid
death-maw widening with green
heat, teeth inching closer to
his throat, pouring black perfume.


Robert Campbell’s poems have appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, River Styx, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. He is currently an MFA candidate at Murray State University and serves as Reviews Editor at DIALOGIST.