Queequeg Mask

In the shed I mix creosote & cumin.
Spread its thick paste across my forehead.

Light three sticks of jasmine incense
& inhale cords of smoke

as the tympanum rattles my skull.
I carve this coffin from oak.

Each night outside of time I stack
the letters on thin strips of glass.

I lie inside its contours—icon—still
waiting for the wind.

Listen to the harpoon’s rattle begin.
If a man made up his mind to live,

mere sickness could not kill him.
Make a life-buoy of the coffin, and no more.

CHARLES KELL is the author of Cage of Lit Glass, chosen by Kimiko Hahn for the 2018 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize. He teaches in Rhode Island.