The Ascetics
                 (for Sarah, who got out)

If I could try managing not
to scratch at every fervid itch
that tingles in my scalp, back, ribs
like some dog pawing at its fur,
or gag skin’s cry for nails’ pleasure
(the brain’s so quick to mark targets!)
or teach my bladder not to need
to pee till, say, noon, I might someday

learn how to respect those petty
labors of the damned—their piteous
arts against squirming, so practiced
that the giveaway flesh might gleam
unperturbed as bronze, no hand’s jerk
baiting a guard’s shot, exquisite
disciplines of indifference
they mimicked to cheat an eyelid’s twitch,

those strangers dropped from kindred’s sight
who lure my far stare as they stand
at ragged attention, tending
their pulse-rates slowed through each long dawn’s
Appell, fidgetless: accepting
tickles of rain, rebuffing sleet’s taunts.