The Charm and The Dread

by Rodrigo Toscano



And suddenly, the words are gone again

The globe’s entire surface of meaning 

Has been wiped clean, what lingers is absence

Tightly banded around your mouth and nose

Making its way to the next waiting spot 

Procession in a cadence of silence 

Choreography of the miasma

Something in the air, separate from the air

Something that can seize you, make you its own

Offer you to the spiky mothership

Intelligence of no intelligence

Impervious to all arts to name it

Though we name it, give it a million names

And witness a million names flicker out



The world of women 

is ending, as is 

the world of men 

children’s worlds 

are on the wane too

animals still thrive

though, to us, they are

quite done, as is the sky

and the oceans too

fading from view

along with the stars

long gone, the moon

was the first to go

and amazingly, the sun

went with it, gone 

are grasses, to us

meadows murmur 

in utter darkness

forests are forgotten

houses, neighborhoods

cities and nations

poof – gone

the arts, humanities

fond fountains of hope

flaming out, as are 

‘critiques of power’

‘interstitial freedoms’

smoky afterglow, ash

music, of all things

remains, is unfazed

by this psychodrama 

of absence, disappearance

and dance is – a hop away

science, what remains of it

is like the animals

unruffled, and in it
the whole bloody way 


People will forget, or want to forget

All this rubbish of masks, all this haggling

The so-called “tough” non-masker, the said “weak”

You can see some here! young, at river’s edge

Fully masked quartet, likely monster free

With shield and sword, phalanx facing the foe 

Someone else’s death – not their own, they stand

Stoutly defend their people – all people 

While popping, or trying to pop, pink champaign 

Spilling over muffled conversation 

One springs up to take a gulp, six feet off

And here comes a fifth! black, bloody fanged mask

Completing the quintet, soon forgotten

Save for this sonnet straining against it

Rodrigo Toscano’s books include In RangeExplosion Rocks Springfield, Deck of Deeds, Collapsible Poetics Theater (a National Poetry Series selection), and The Disparities.  His poetry has appeared in the anthologies Voices Without Borders, Diasporic Avant Gardes, Imagined Theatres, In the Criminal’s Cabinet, Earth Bound, and Best American Poetry. Toscano has received a New York State Fellowship in Poetry. He won the Edwin Markham 2019 prize for poetry, and his work has been translated into seven languages. He works for the Labor Institute in conjunction with United Steelworkers, the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, Communication Workers of America, National Day Laborers Organizing Network, and northwest tribes (Umatilla, Cayuse, Yakima, Nez Perce) on educational / training projects that involve environmental and labor justice, health, & safety culture transformation. He is currently working on essential worker Covid training networks nationwide. Toscano lives in New Orleans.