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Karl Tierney

The Steam Room
Invasions by amphibians and reptiles signal the end
of lap swim.   With Roman grins, the snakes slither in
                                        from the peristyle pool
after forcing the newts out the fast lane.
The goggled and swim-capped pointy heads of salamanders
survey the empire by the steam-room door,
apprentices toward professional one-upmanship.
Occupation without exercise—a paradise!
And here come the frogs!   An old toad plops itself above
the bloated dinosaur fossilizing in marble but
who speaks!    And to the lone, lost chicken he says
“So what are you doing Valentine’s Day?”
Pockmarked crocodilians thrive on Pollyanna looks.
Starving India’s poor cousin to the alligator,
the gavial, have the sharpest teeth but thinnest beak
for breaking bones, another evolutionary mystery.   All varieties
of lizard fete and, with forked tongues slipping in and out,
invoke ancient arousals as the steam cycle turns on.
The Permian Period, when glaciers moved south.
Here the iguana’s night lasts eternally in subdued hisses.
And those legless, wormy lizards too have names.
Oh, San Francisco, I love you for being
so cosmopolitan even the caecilians visit your Y’s!

My friend Chuck, you spend your energies
envying the lover of beautiful blond Dane.
In your loneliness, you dwell on what you lack.
Count your blessings when alone in your room.
Your illusion’s better than their truth.
That Dane is incapable of faithfulness.
His lover owns the pain of knowing
what he possesses tonight
is second or even third hand.

Litany on a Perfect Ass
My disdain for acknowledging the two small nights
of our generous body
was not intended to belittle
the perfection of its constructed virtues so contained.
Let me explain.
Too soon the usual complications set in:
adolescent tastes in film
I attribute to a lack of instruction
and a preference for the biggest
pop stars with the least talent
I attribute to a working-class aversion to irony
and the painless opinions on issues of the day
I attribute to never developing an ideology
and growing up in a fledgling society
I attribute to not wanting to think
and the lack of reaction to my vocation
I attribute to never reading
and your fears of aging and balding
I associate with the most banal of brethren
and imagining yourself skinny
I attribute to a genetic fear of famine.
All of this in an age as terrifying in truth
as my age in contrast to your youth—
its disclosure always a mistake
despite which you come off heroic
if, or because, not absolutely pliable.
What balls!
As if by leaving the lights on you can sell more insurance.
The significance of those two nights reveals itself
in your intrigue with size—so American—
the one real compliment, the full circle
of physical attributes once meant to complete each other.

Karl Tierney was born in Westfield, Mass. in 1956 and grew up in Connecticut and Louisiana. He became an Eagle Scout in 1973. Poetry and cars fascinated him, even as a teenager. He took a bachelor's degree in English from Emory University in 1980 and an MFA in creative writing from the U. of Arkansas in 1982. The following year he moved to San Francisco, where he dedicated himself to poetry. Though unpublished in book form during his lifetime, his poems appeared in many of the best literary magazines of the period, including the Berkeley Poetry Review, American Poetry Review and Exquisite Corpse. He was twice a finalist for the Walt Whitman Award, a finalist for the National Poetry Series, and a 1992 fellow at Yaddo. He published more than 50 poems in magazines and anthologies before his death. In January of 1995 he became sick with AIDS and took his own life in October of that year. A number of Karl Tierney poems have seen posthumous publication. A book length selection of his work, titled Castro Poems, awaits its publisher. Those interested in seeing the ms. or individual unpublished poems should contact his literary executor, Jim Cory, at