Philip Roth

“Crossing the line”

by Mark Vogel

The habit of their lives is never to recognize
that they have irredeemably crossed the line.
~Philip Roth, Exit Ghost

When the intuitive gropes, seeking to act,
there can be beauty in creating change,
in turning from habit, though by definition
time is insufficient to judge as the spontaneous
and innocent push forward. Elsewhere
a plotting determined cabal collects this morning
under florescent lighting, ready to force
confrontation. Those living for sustained
destruction are parodies of professors
so professional as they walk a poisoned
trail cultivating their degree-ed outrage.
Arranging damning labels that cheapen,
documenting sources arguing for pain,
they breathe as one glued group,
with hair in place and words arranged.
They know to whisper propaganda—
respect, justice, community—
and catalogue in notebooks the spreading
sin of others, and visit suited authorities
to test rhetoric, to weaken their enemy
and drive her away. Then, when noticed,
they swarm and sting because they suffer
so much, o tears, living so long as grey ghosts
powerless to strike. They pick at wounds
in spare arranged moments, then explode art
and refuse to see the rubble. When their victim
appears to confront, they stand together
erasing plotting smiles, and speak innocently
of love for pedigreed dogs. They can’t
help but hold hate tight like a hardened turd
until a persistent chill curdles their blackened
blood. When exposed blemishes fester,
they build the inevitable stroke, waiting
impatiently to see what they have built,
to get all they are due—blind to seeded
karma already growing roots down
in the trampled ground.

Mark Vogel has published short stories in Cities and Roads, Knight Literary Journal, Whimperbang, SN Review, and Our Stories. Poetry has appeared in Poetry Midwest, English Journal, Cape Rock, Dark Sky, Cold Mountain Review, Broken Bridge Review and other journals. He is currently Professor of English at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and directs the Appalachian Writing Project.