Joseph S. Salemi

BIOJoseph Salemi


Joseph S. Salemi teaches in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College, C.U.N.Y. He has published seven books of poetry, the latest of which is Steel Masks (White Violet Press, 2013). His poems, essays, translations, and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the poetry magazine TRINACRIA, and a regular monthly columnist for the on-line literary journal The Pennsylvania Review.


Government Issue

Found in a junkshop, nestled in between
Dark bottles and some ill-assorted scraps:
A battered thing, its cover (olive green)
Showed verdigris along the old brass snaps.
The maker’s stamp read 1942.
U.S. was stenciled on the canvas case;
And in the thick aluminum, ARZEW
Then SICILY and ANZIO—each place
The soldier-owner of this small canteen
Had fought was scratched in letters rough and square.
Yet how could he forget where he had been,
Those shrapnel-spitting landfalls of despair?

And then I thought “Three beaches—nothing more.”
There is a grim finality in war.


The Final Checkmate

No strategy with chessmen
(Deploy them how you will)
Can stop the Final Checkmate as
He zeroes in to kill.

Your knights and rooks and bishops,
Your pawns in rank and file—
Not one of them can hold him back,
Nor all your force and guile

Can stop the Final Checkmate
From clearing off the board,
And finding you alone before
His unrelenting sword.

You sidestep to a corner,
You zigzag left and right—
You try to hold a candle to
The fast-descending night,

But Final Checkmate’s steady
In his approaching tread.
He leaves no loophole for escape—
Your king is trapped and dead.


The Wiccan Table

Grant, we beg O Lord, that Thy people
may avoid diabolical contagion.

—Martinus Del Rio, S.J.
Disquisitionum Magicarum Libri Sex

A parchment strip that bears a charm
To bring an enemy to harm;
A lodestone, astrolabe, and bowls
Of pig’s blood, pitch, and half-burned coals;
Amulets, la main de gloire,
A musty leather-bound grimoire;
Fetishes of withered tares,
Pentagrams and backwards prayers;
The finger of a murdered child,
The Tetragrammaton defiled;
Potions made from noxious plants
To blind or cripple or entrance;
Waxen dolls and sulfur’s smell—
All the panoply of Hell.

Last, a chalice cast in lead
With which the coven toasts the dead,
While near to it, a blood-flecked blade
Awaits the victim to be flayed.




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