Lucifer in Las Vegas

tortoise (noun): from the Greek, tartarchos; ‘god of the underworld’

i. The Fall

As I fell, I burned
through shame and grief
and disbelief and love –
words that trail like smoke,
like broken wings.
Only rage was left –
its silken tongue, its
crystal shell. I fell
through night and time
into the morning
of this world, and
kept on falling.
Once, I lived
by passion’s flame,
but I learned

cold blood
is better.

ii. Shell

It’s been six thousand years,
give or take. This shape’s as good
as any other. I am fortress,
island, rock – a treasure chest
with a living lock no thief
can pick. I walk in armour,
plastron thicker than a tank.

The only mark of then
is a reflex twitch, a flinch,
a body thing I still can’t shake
beneath the fear of wings.

When I heard what happened
to Aeschylus, I laughed so hard
I nearly split my shell. Well,
I see He hasn’t lost His sense
of humour.

iii. Sand

Once, all this was sand. Sand and cactus,
sand and yuccas, sand and black brush,
gila monsters, sand and sand. Hell
of a place to land in,

a dried out basin
in the mountains. Not a blade
of grass to graze on, not a flower
without thorns.

I listened
to the blood-song of the desert

and dug down.

iv Vegas

I built this kingdom for myself
from memories.

The dry-bones chatter
of dice from a rattler’s tail, and the girls
pink and gold like gaudy birds.

The cardshoe started out an empty
tortoise shell (I bear no rivals),

baize-covered tables for the cropped
green fuzz that gave this town its name.
And the one-armed bandits – sheer genius,
like teaching cows to milk themselves.

The gambling chips began as skutes, then clay,
then plastic.
Now I use men’s souls.
Why not? They’re light and plentiful, and have
no other value but my mark.

We do it all – the wedding, the divorce, the
post-loss suicide. If you want it,
you can get it.

At a price.

v. Lucifer

In the desert, the night sky
was endless. In the desert
the night sky was achingly near

but now it feels empty.
Abandoned. Mere clouds of dust
condensed into stars and space.
I stopped searching
its blank face for signs
of forgiveness aeons ago.

Look down.
From the high-stakes room
the glitter of money
puts starshine to shame.
Look down. All the people
who flock to my shepherds, who pray
at my temples …

Look down.
I hurl a handful
of orange chips into the air –
watch the sheep scrabble
and crawl at my feet.

At night, look down
from space and Vegas is the
brightest thing on this world.

Look down, damn you, and see.

first published on
The Tuesday Poem