POEMS: Gavin Adair • Claire Becker • Daniel Becker • Julia Cohen • Simon DeDeo • Eric Elliott • Charley Foster • Noah Eli Gordon • Eryn Green • Timothy Green • Matt Hart • MC Hyland • Becca Klaver • Robert Krut • Brad Liening • Chris Martin • Lauren McCollum • David Sewell • Lori Shine • Peter Jay Shippy • Brenda Sieczkowski • Leigh Stein • Chris Tonelli
Artist’s Portfolio: Fumiko Amano
ESSAYS & REVIEWS: David Saffo on Charles Olson & Antonio Damasio • Gina Myers on some chapbooks • Jen Tynes on some chapbooks • Matt Dube on Gabrielle Bell • Monica McFawn on Rachel M Simon • Timothy Bradford on Paige Ackerson-Kiely • Tom Dvorske on Adam Clay • Zackary Sholem Berger on Sean Thomas Dougherty
When I first learned about techniques like erasure and collage I got all excited about what happened to the language within the poem. I started writing all of my poems like this. But something changed. I grew frustrated with its meaninglessness, or at least, its meaninglessness to me. I started to find these poems boring. A cute line here or there and that was the end for me. Eventually it all started sounding the same. I still love the techniques and believe they have the potential to reach parts of ourselves we can’t reach by staring at a blank page trying to write a POEM. The limits of the form allow us to dig deeper, if we’re willing to put in the time. For these poems, I used collaged. I chose words slowly. Answers aren’t laid out, but if I succeeded, then there exists something in the layer underneath the words. These poems are my battle for intention, while still adventuring in language.
from Your Trouble is Ballooning
We conviction machines, raise through the dry to cave under agents—high,
even after the back address, programming still weathers off rice & down into the
revolution. This time, move houses from movie-like doorways, those scalpels
so broken, the incisions hostage, their shouldered stairways of dashing laughter,
watermelons—Chinese restaurant— with whatever sexual positions jack-wedged
into exclusion under the passive hardware of delay & arbitrary, & bereft, & you know
what I mean. Until China scratches, we briefcase ourselves—transaction shrunk critical:
the sheaves corner back insights, reveal civilization, the clasp in blonde operations
of submitting, rising through the appetite like a curb likely, or a skyscraper imbued
with election— all the drown & tiring, those iron arches, just gathering back—
that limpid pool, masked upon the night of draw, repaired of all woodpeckers, as if
by copied blunders— how remote the tenderness removed from the snow
of this forgetting, like remembering and forgetting—the divided, jack-hammered
I travel to Caligari
the mistakes, who teased
our bony cherries
in this playground?
we only reinvent absorption.
I am Married and Insubstantial
as a stain
to this field,
a skirmish and flyswatter
It tousles with suitcases, a stowed everything
flung in fifteen interesting lives
and put there, and business to your Chinese,
to your Madrid—startled waking, curse
meeting to fell you. From purse, the balm
of coupling. From the sips in the row,
the pages of being. Alcohol gets up
and goes into the hotel, wondering home.
My room grazes your stadium. The flyer
is underneath to us. And the bells lead.
Burning Town; Starlight
Roofs calm in fields and night. Towns can be blood-stained or tiny.
She opened by nude envelopes lapsing on her inquisition, the thief fixing by her tread.
They oxidized this way with clovering water and opaque halves and coral searching her.
The body of the moment she seeks: only stained glass. The land a dying village.
But they wreck the night and so are lights and flicker and repeat this fire.
Men may not watch history, a summer execution as it is, and they passage.
She fails her star as wide-eyed field: burning, measured by water.
then said individually
to twine music in
plaster cackle: quietly, character
to borrow a parrot maybe or
that footnote there, that collarbone
now fleeting never believed
to taste some fists or
a letter even. An aquarium of
heroes muted (god blurs like)
“Mother voice dirty porcelain.” Or
the hem that gullies in only
my gulping pockets. Or, “wrong” not
wrong, all interrupted, the century
days of diagonal dust in
library creases, at puddle
sanded widows on a staircase in
suspension. Birds concealed
and leading measured chalk.
Each circle is sharper today. The feather is against the laundromat and the cherry is
against the satellite dealership rakishly escaping in air. Your trouble is ballooning. Too
slick this knocking in the refrigerator, these orgasms between mixed ankles like play
commandos. Animals devour like capitalists glinting beneath designer button lint,
hanging by pedagogy and ring fingers. Whistling and bees scar the city. Each branch,
like promises bearing above classification. Humming this sincerity. Humming this
deadened commentary for all that bewildered grief and structure. Willed in the driver’s
seat is a companion.
I scold myself into offering up my big sadness,
the piece I’m not telling, but the only thing to say
is that my life-grip was always like iron, that I’ve
crushed joy like grenache, never knew the dance
or my own goddamn strength, have woken up all
these mornings with stains in the cracks of my lips
but no memory of the toast. I’m not some
run-of-the-mill masochist, never wanted to hurt
myself or anybody else. All I’m saying is that it
can turn on you, so that all your staring out
the window counting blessings in oak and peony,
all your unbolting the door for every droopy-eyed
soul who drops a knapsack on your stoop, so that
every warm room where you gave up holding your
breath, all those tiny wunderengines can quit turning
over, all those little joyfruits can shrivel up and say
Sorry, you’ve squeezed us out. Sorry! We are citrus
rinds at your pitcher’s base. Sorry you loved us empty.
And you are twenty-three, four, five, and you hide
in the pantry afraid to ask for anything at all, not even
pass the salt, not even salt in the wound, please—
You ask for nothing more, until all you have becomes
an abstraction of itself, prim boxes of everyone else’s
Love! Family! Success! Your little robot nod admits
nothing, you keep not-asking but still accept each delivery,
signature required or the buzzer keeps up its buzz.
Gift boxes pile up, look at all you’ve been given,
it is the wedding day of your self and your wonder
is not invited, sits up in the attic with highball, cigar,
photo album of the days when you were all together
and there is just one face, and it is yours.
It is mine.
This is not about you, general, not about you, reader,
though I wish it were, wish I could shrug it all off—
would rather someone else’s sob story, rather point
a finger at everybody else, Generation Who? Here, let me
tell you about you—In that case I’ll be over-simple and
brutal-true. In that case you’ll hate me but sort of love me,
too, and I’ll wipe my hands clean, harmonic, frou-frou.
Alas, alack, it is mine—the face is a sad-sack
sandwich called Slice of Self with Wonder, called
my life. That was my bread and that was my knife.
Self-imposed—the real tragedy, I suppose.
But, oh—I wanted to take us places: down Highway 40
in a metallic pink Cadillac, hair flaming, spirits snaking
like smoke, like the way mine used to. I did, I did, I do.
These poems are collages of sentences I felt compelled to write. The sentences come from a lot of different places. Some are from the feedback loop in my brain. Others come from the mouths of friends or strangers. A number of them are about events that have happened to me or people I know. Some of them were about events that happened around me as I was writing each poem. Some of the sentences come from my TV. Some of them are totally made up.
After I type the sentences on my computer, I like to mess with them so they seem more interesting. I mess with some of the sentences to make them less interesting. I leave some of the sentences alone. When I get the feeling that the poem is done, I don’t mess with the sentences anymore.
I feel a little dew beneath the window. I will never walk there. I wouldn’t want to be my own argument. I remember being approached by a professor beneath a lime tree. That was a beautiful moment. The desire to be drafted into the Army Against Death was everywhere. People were taking TXM. I was in an orgy but couldn’t get it up. I have no other name for the Eye of God that was looking away from us. Incrementally, I found a way to live with myself. I drove a hybrid. Ate locally grown greens. Large philosophical thoughts eluded me. I’m learning to tell people what I want, who I am. I never got a job at a bookstore in Berkeley circa 1995. I felt my excesses were paying off. It gets easier every day. What’s the use of groceries? A lilac object bends to touch the light. The typewriter is eating a poem. That seems appropriate. What will happen next? It’s raining out. Put on your shell. Let’s grab a bite to eat. The seasons are coming awash in the smell of basketball. Send me your pictures of the Albany Landfill, I’ll put them in my ‘zine.
One thing leads to the next. I can’t look at a tree without waking up. I don’t even want to mention my X. Traces of twilight cling to my beard. I crave the attention of cloud-machines. Why is dream better than think? I yearn to feel the exhaustion of the escalator? My waves go out and never return. My waves go out and never return. I find no inspiration in quasars. I step out my front door and hear the music of cars. I eat a sandwich in a land I’ve created in my mind. The pain of the last one, unable to find me. The archer in the screen, the starlight in my spine. A ship floats across the leaves. I peel off a disguise. I peel off aqua marine. Further down Van Ness, a briefcase appears. My lungs are spelt lings. A ghost in my writing hand. The promise of nothing in my pen. What kind of university is this? A leaf falls on a shadow. A TV flickers in my heart. Snow-white my disintegrating voice. Bone-white my tablet of air. Next up, the fourth ventricle. And then, maybe hydrophobia. The wind in my hair, the rain in my eyes. The days tick by and go unnoticed. A suit of armor does no good. I can never touch the same breast twice. I can never revisit a forest.
You should never call me Little Man. Nor should you call me Red Heap or the Elegant Tooth. I am practicing Pitonk, day and night. This will be as difficult for you to hear as it is for me to say. Every leaf is a listening device. Every tree is an excuse for glass. Every page in my dictionary is black. I turn to the page where portal should be. Please address all your letters to the Lone Wolf. There is no other way to put it, I am combing the Earth for sacred fleas. Do you have a hand in this? Have you tried the Cote de Boeuf? Today is laundry day and I’m pissed. A light beam scans my brow. Do you know what I’m saying? Do you ever feel horny? Are you passionate about dominoes? I know I’m wasting away. There must be a better method but I can’t speak. I‘m wading through English like a ski-bum. There’s a tree in my mind and every night I climb it to see Allen Ginsberg’s face. Once in a field of my own composition, I came upon a young couple sleeping. It was a wonderful feeling. Purifying and debasing all at once. I left my sleeping bag by a tree.
I can write this all day. I buy shoes I’ve been thinking about all day. Things go on and trees. I roll over my hard-on. It’s cold and damp. We make out until I stop talking. Do you want my long drawn out opinion? Not in love with it. Less Lolita and more Shopgirl. I don’t know how I got my hands on it but it was a waste of my time, fersher. Whatever it is it’s a plank. I don’t fuck around with laces. It’s time to think in small discreet packets. He looks at me like I care she’s on his lap. Who folded the blankets? I barley understand Old English in the kitchen and some crackers. It makes her look dikey. So this is why people come to the Mission. Can they drink? Can we be more uptight? Can we listen to New Order? I’m filtering down. It’s the best movie I’ll see all week. Next week is the boat. Please let him know that I am interested in all types of writing that might be called poetry. I need an intelligent woman to read a story. Why do I kill you? I feel the same way. The part about the horses and the poles is cliché. I try to get published elsewhere.
I don’t know if a salve was applied, or what. I crawl through the crevice and panic. I come upon the egg and wolf it down. Who was chasing me through the brush? He’s staring at neon graffiti and doesn’t look away. He looks just like a rich kid on acid. He turns into a duffle bag. The man I have sex with is me. I don’t dream about you. I find your feelings’ cloud. It doesn’t end with Brian and Jeremy at Delirium. It’s better without music and then dark. If I could, I would check your text. No one drinks Tanqueray with three rocks. No More Bad Dreams in kid writing with pink and yellow torn up pieces of paper. You’ll love me when I have a book in my hand. I sit next to her because I feel awkward. I didn’t know about their files. Everyone should go upstairs. I don’t wake up because I can’t see you. I replay last moments. There is a field and a sheperd and no dream. I step back inside. I never wrote what I meant to say. I can almost reach my keys. I’d like to bury a forty. I’m sorry about your year. I will never reach my keys.
I go to bars and don’t know. You should be Oakland looking for jokes. I can tell when a relationship bends. It’s the last thing that happened. People begin to walk. There’s no jacket for weather. Beneath everything is a conscious mind I’d like to play. Your email made me feel like I’m piling time. I wear a hood into the station. I come out of BART with headphones and memory. It’s great to see you on the street and not go along. We back off the record label. No show at the Hemlock. I like what you’ve done with the lettering. I’m afraid to tell you little letters. I stand on the street like every car is you. I stumble around until I get home. I post a picture of the Silver Surfer because I’d rather no one saw. I am working with a friend to design the site. Every breeze is fixed. Every shadow touched. I hope I‘ve managed to assuage your fears about the poems. It should be a fun thing for all of us. It should be done by now. Drew comes to get me and we go to a party where I talk to Ellen. Thanks, Cedar.
I’m afraid the congestion in my chest can’t stand
another bright bouquet, all of us pecked and ringing,
assembling around the splashdown by the arsenal.
The multihued parachute collapses like a clownishly
big jellyfish, no longer given its shape by velocity and air,
which are but two things we routinely struggle against.
And it is a struggle, scale being the only variable:
the city rises from the sea in great gurgle and spume,
the retiree rises in the pre-dawn dark to prepare tea.
And it is a victory to reach that coda, I mean, I’m a mess
by the fifth measure and by the tenth I’ve completely
fallen apart, fallen to pieces, fallen to however you’d like
to describe childlike helplessness, I’ve maybe fallen
to orange cat in the branches of a weeping willow
bending low into the river. Most everyone I know
is made of sterner stuff, breaching moats and storming
castles before breakfast, but it’s a chemical reaction
I’m convinced somewhere in the dusty bottom drawers
of the brain, some electron dislodges and then bang!
I’m breaking eggs in the aisles, not paying for a thing!
Such moments of transcendent excess are in fact
paid for with the next morning’s pangs of shame,
oh why was transcendence tied so tightly to excess?
Is it because a human is a harp hopelessly out of tune?
When a moment of immutability approaches, of what
and to what end becomes quickly beside the point
as the sky inside one’s head ripens to a shiny shiny anvil.
A defenestration for the ages, for the aegis of actinism
sidelining us with radiance, our radiance by proxy only.
Given the whole hock and whorl, the goo in the runnels
and the goodness of this moment and the depravity
of the next, which is first a girder before becoming
milk, it’s foolish if not terrible to crave understanding.
The technocrat takes a long walk along the beach, my
second grade teacher lifts the voice box to her throat
and explains subtraction, the moths turn black with
prolonged exposure to flame. There I go again,
taking up space and letting my makeup run while
the cross-section of the new insect is blown up
to the size of a bell tower. To think it could be
living inside of you right now, curled up at the
base of your brain and rankling like the memories
of another you can’t expunge and in the end
probably wouldn’t even if you could, since it is
precisely this sort of shadowy essence keeping
us tied to this world, tied to each other, driving
us to skip stones across the water when we think
no one is watching. Those stones eventually sink,
of course, grow irretrievable down at the bottom,
but just once, after rearing back for the sharp side
armed snap, I’d like to see the stone rise and curve
out of sight, perhaps dinging off the orange crane
that hunkers over the construction site. Even that
crane has a kind of grace as it turns through blue air.
If left untended birds would build nests there, in the
slats and corrugations, like it was just another big
steel tree trapped in uninterrupted autumn. But it is
the world’s business not to leave anything alone for long,
not you or me or my second grade teacher or the little girl
in the scuffed pink jumper picking at her scabby knees.
It is a terrible thing to crave mystery, as this means
one suffers from a surfeit of the predictable, which
in most cases is worse than a buildup of poison clouds,
wilting the lettuce and lacing the juice, reminding us
that all we’ve lost constitutes a world of its own by half.
Here, jam this pin into my palm. Do something worse.
What we are is between what we love and what we
endure. Between what we apprehend and what we
can never know is an anvil, a ripening defenestration,
a cross-section of the new river, a bell tower big as
a jellyfish rising from childlike helplessness as the
conductors heat until they turn invisible, producing
a humming like the singing of our happy wounds.
The soul flickers a bit when the candle’s
thumped, a fluttering in the left ventricle,
but this golden grilled cheese and crisp pickle
are proof enough for me there’s more than
the debris deposited on the high hills by the flood,
the wheelchairs cock-eyed in the dunes.
An iridescent rose fastened to a bell
becomes the sky. A kick ass drum solo!
Thus do I for a while forget the sinkhole
I can’t help but stand in, fungi taking root,
but still I move faster than the red thread
whizzing from my chest as each moment
is overtaken by the next like a wave
heaving through the spray and into the rocks.
Seagulls circle as they do because their bones
are hollow, and though much of the rocket
is too, due to atmospheric disturbances
the launch is delayed. The astronauts
go to sleep, curled around their helmets.
I pause for a moment, towel wrapped
around my waist and toothbrush sticking forth
from my mouth, thinking maybe I’ll be
good-looking today. The cosmos just sorta
hangs out, waiting to stop existing. Hey,
no hurry. The impenetrable moustaches
of the politicians will remain even after
each and every last one of them is dead,
but not even the tar pits of their hearts
can stop my stroll through the chlorophyll,
the pleasant declension. So large is the
machinery in which we operate the functions
will never be known, a star sizzling between
my teeth. The small plastic cars race around
the electric track till the air grows sharp and hot.
Morning light barrels through the window
and the crowd goes wild.
This is the year I start liking beer again. This is the year I fly
to Taiwan and light paper lanterns
with my student loans. I set perfectly
good furniture by the side of the road.
I buy tickets to operas and forget to go.
This is the year I fall in love again.
I draw eyes on the back of my hands. I eat French fries
with chopsticks and baked beans
right from the can. I leave dollar bills
pasted inside washing machines.
This is the year I forget what you look like.
Here it is. And here. And here.
I’ve got a rented fishing rod at my side and the end of the pier all to myself. A shitty place to fish, but a fine place to think. I walked the couple of blocks down here from Ocean Drive (O. D.) Memorial Hospital. They’re keeping my daughter overnight—in a room where all the light is green and wavy and comes from a respirator. Caren’s got pneumonia—a weird strain they can’t draw a bead on. She’s only one and breathing like she’s underwater. Elise, my wife, is watching her for the next eight-hour shift, midnight to 8 a.m. Me, I’m on break.
The waves are little numbers rolled tightly as Havana cigars. I’ve heard that the moon tries to tear each wave off the earth. From here, thirty feet up, you can watch the moon try and fail, try and fail. You could watch all night.
When I slide a shrimp onto the hook, I catch my finger. Suck on it to get it to bleed. My blood tastes like a knocked-down wrought iron fence with rust blooming over it.
I hear whoops from the shore-end of the pier where the real fishermen hang, those who love fishing or those who need to catch tomorrow’s breakfast (three pan-fried sunfish and a leftover cigarette), or those who can’t do anything else right. I head their way, over the planks that roll just a bit with each big breaker. The real fishermen are in a small circle, and I work my way through pretty easy—I’m tall and not smiling. Somebody’s pulled in a baby hammerhead about the length and size of a woman’s forearm. With the hook cutting back out through the skin about two inches behind his wide head, blood is running on the wood. He keeps trying to flip himself. The pier lights seem latched to his white belly.
Hammerheads don’t have eyelids, so they get 360 degrees of all this. Day and night, underwater and out of water.
Some guy with urine splashed on his pants, beersmell, and slit-eyes: Why’ont you club that mother to death? Before the guy can grab a cooler, the fisherman who caught the shark cuts his line to save his line, leaving in the hook. Then he kicks the hammerhead toward the far end of the pier, nailing it right between its wide-set eyes, over and over. A fisherman can do whatever he wants to with his catch: that’s the code of the pier.
I hope he don’t do that to his wife, the one woman there says.
My shark, slit-eyes says, but he stops kicking it.
I pick up the hammerhead, go over to the rail. His blood pools warmly in my palm; his skin is deep-ocean cold. The fishermen go back to fishing, talk soft. When I drop him, I remember the old saying about dead bodies falling faster. With his wide head and fins as wings, he glides down. I stare at his wake in the waves.
We stood watching the sea and
Poking fingers into pizza after
We noticed the sea
Let’s get pizza,
But the sea
Had a smell all its own
And contained turtles
As far as we could tell
It was awkward
Sitting there poking fingers into the sea
But sometimes the skeleton of a scorpion fish
Would dart between our fingers
And it was like we were back home
In our pajamas climbing
Out the window
To escape a fire that was
Shattering glass somewhere.
After that we were stared at
But the people were nice, really
And gave us hat racks
With cow hooves for feet
And horns on which to hang the hats,
And jars of Vaseline for the kids.
In the end it saved us a lot of time
Popcorn pieces drift to the theater floor -
Little pacts with the devil.
Roosters scream out in the night like murdered women.
They call to one another across the night
Like murdered women calling to one another.
Popcorn cascading into a glass case
Is shoveled into paper bags and cardboard buckets.
WHO CAN REMEMBER
We used to enjoy hobbies.
Sketching life-sized caricatures of motorists at the stoplight
Who stared straight ahead, uncomfortable, angry, unable to drive away.
Some exploded, leaping from their cars to chase us.
We retreated on all fours, bobbing up and down like meerkats.
You had that gun and we’d play Russian roulette into the night
Laughing so hard our sides burst open
Spilling out great piles of dusty newspapers and horsehair.
We no longer have the time or the inclination.
We’ve become like your father sending angry monologues
From his ham radio set. Scanning the road for discarded gloves and bungee-cords,
Removing our glass eyes for no other purpose than to cause upset.
Our appetite for mussing the hair of homeless men on the bus
Is no longer a part of who we are.
Who can remember when we carried cattle egrets on our backs,
Their droppings leaving long white streaks?
Coming out of
The tunnel from Carroll Street
The graffiti reads CHOKES
HIS CHICKEN EVERY NIGHT
And we the passengers
Convene momentarily, our anonymous lot
Suspended slant as if
Preparing to nosedive on some
Futuristic and ad-laden
Rollercoaster safely blasting
Through the patently everyday
Landscape of traffic
And ruin, rivet-studded
Girders grumpily trellising
Sky, May and too
Many mornings have I spent
This week observing
The recumbent figures
Of capital tragedy
Their scaly ankles dangling
From soot-soured Wranglers and likeness
Is likewise suspended in favor
Of a proximity, our teetering off
And on pattern of tapering
Parabola shapes arbitrarily weaving
Depths and it depends
On the curious phases a face
Makes wincing at nature, the maturing
Content of cells, can you see this
Sound collecting there in spastic
Syllable growths? It’s cyclical
The way one devours his own carefully
Tended ignorance, a slow
Canceling of accumulated skew
As the mutilations fall
Off and are just as quickly
Replaced by others, the spells
Forgets, the mask one
Tries on and unobservantly
Absorbs, the train’s
Sibilant burble hurrying
Forth as the signal greens and I
Barely beneath this
Concrete, no lurid node
The sky’s stately
Dome, I say fuck this forever
Grope after the mysteries
Of a sphere eaten by worms
Regurgitated by birds
Paralyzed by windowpanes, we are all
Forced to mourn at the outrageous
Tombstones these towers make, rifling 100%
Cotton clouds as a little girl
In a purple sweater chases a brown
Pigeon along the platform’s orange edge, believing
Is a form of expectation, tonight
I shall dream of newspapers
Wrapped in fish , of smog wrapped
In skin as sometimes
I tremor at the way
The world seems so vigorous
One second and the next
It’s swimming, each dumb leaf
Resorting to metaphor
As every winking turn traps
You into thinking that life
Is a meticulous plot dimly allotted
To you alone, people
Fails, we fall into knowing before
We know that
Knowing is not enough.
If I am to be committed
To transcendence, to merely say that
There is a body is not
Yet to deal with it , if my looks go
Everywhere they are
Selfsame slaughtered by the manner
In which they snag, a car
Illuminates in panic every thirteen
Minutes or so and it’s driving
The neighbors nuts, while the socioeconomic
History of golf pollutes
The branch in the hand of the kid
Swinging at an imaginary
Ball, the handshakes
Here are reversible, we touch
Touching the way these fall dragonflies
Flee the invisible weft
They sew into the air that unites
Above our heads, today’s weather
Report calls for abundant
Sunshine as a man with a limp
Plods past the girl
Asleep in her tiny camouflage
Bikini and if she dreams
Of the secret blackness
Of milk , it’s only these pinks
Her back as a sigh
Descends over the scene, all the girls
Putting on their shirts, we must
Recommence everything just
Moments after it’s begun, the sun
Shines abundantly down
Upon the clouds, or briefly
Breaks on the totality
Of a dog, or the simple impression
Of the totality of
A dog and there’s something
About lived life that leaves
Itself in intractable
Tufts upon the heart, it’s tough
Being a thing
Which understands enough
Of what it means to be
Seen to see others in the nightmare
Of consciousness, which is nonetheless
A dream, which is nonetheless
A choice without choice, spiraling
Like the intertwined black
And white on the disc
Of the hypnotist, whose colors
Remain fixed, we remain
Unconvinced by the spectacular
Passing of modes, want
Our ears near the frequencies
Of I hear myself
With my throat and what the throat
Thinks we drink , let
Each cell in your body bulge
With song, there is room
For more, a mouth, a moon, again.
The Science Fiction of Color
At Delancey a man
Babbles with his neck
On his chest
Like a bib, a teenage girl allows
Her leg to dangle over
A startled teenage boy, both laughing
Their window in the twenty-second
Commercial of childhood, our attention
Wavering as the world
Of neglect shedding
At the periphery
Of the eye, knowledge subsumed
By our desire for desire, only
Today I discovered John McEnroe
Owns Gerhard Richter’s Girl
On a Donkey , the nature of perversion
Perpetually shifting as one’s dream
Dwindles in the lens
Or is lost adrift
The swifts’ delirious plunge
As gentle earthquakes pervade
As the little tear gland
Says tic-tac and petty octogenarians
Crowd the Lexington
Storefronts where white girls
Spill their blank
Guts between pages in the cloud
Book, waiting for Max
Ernst’s Science Fiction of Color
Course to begin, each
Benign conscience quietly plagued
By the interregnum, it is not trivial
This death we die not
Dying, the blur of sexuality
Metastasizing in blinks, I never
Imagined I’d marry
An aristocrat, nor quote
The adages of some thickly accented
Bavarian, some stupidity
Is heroic , some heroes assume
The village children
Are blind, I can’t
Count the number of times
I’ve thought the world
Different only to find my fingers
Twittering in their familiar
Way, the reflective scallops
My nails make shaking
Like gusts furrowing a sail
And so I am too
Fraught with this calligraphic
Landscape we speed
Too sure these unsteady words
Are like a frowning woman who wants
Desperately not to sleep
Here tonight, if reality
Is temporal why not write
Poems the size
Of cathedrals, at 4th Avenue
The conductor howls, the dreaded
Man sings Ain’t no
Sunshine as the sunshine
Streams through keyed plastic, a mother
Gabs on her phone as her baby
Bellows and that’s life
In the ten-second
Opening of train doors don’t
Be afraid to give everything away.
An Actual Hawk
after reading Sampson Starkweather’s “The Hawk”
I’ve filled my cubicle w/ postcards of paintings.
Before I read Sam’s poem, I just assumed
it was because I was an art lover, that I was
artsy (see: poems, etc.). I was wrong. It turns out
that I have some innate desire or need or whatever
to look out the window even when there is
no window. Maybe especially when there
is no window. Out this window, I see two pink fish
dead on a white cloth, carefully placed on the sand
(my cube overlooks the sea). Out another, I see
a wedding taking place. Over here, a nude woman
toweling off in a parlor chair. A Boston terrier
posing for a portrait, an angel visiting a penitent maid,
a train pulling into a covered station
guffing clouds of smoke. This doesn’t make me
like my job any better. Maybe it would if they were
actual windows and I could see an actual hawk.
The Room In The Elephant
Right now, I’m supposed to be editing a section
of a science chapter about parasitism.
Which is funny, because just last night, I went to a lecture
on how ideas can cause this same kind of harm
in us. Watch an ant, the speaker said. Notice if it climbs
to the highest point in the field. Flick it off.
Does it race right back up? Then it most likely
has a parasite that can only complete its life cycle
in the belly of a cow. So it drives the ant
(like an SUV, he said) straight to the top of a blade
of grass, increasing its chances of being eaten
by a cow. Point being that organisms who
harm themselves are typically infested.
He explained that toxic, or parasitic, religions
act similarly. People are flying planes
through the tallest blades of grass, because they too
are infested. What small thing is piloting them
away from their genetic fitness? Or maybe
they have a whole country inside. Our country.
I wonder what’s inside of me, not doing
a damn thing. Here I am, at work, not wanting to be.
The speaker mentioned that susceptibility
to hypnosis used to be selected for, since it
guaranteed you health insurance. I wonder if this
still holds true. Today is one of those days
when ideas seem to unravel themselves
right out of existence. Justin just emailed me an article
that says the newly found Gospel of Judas
may reveal that Jesus told Judas to betray him.
What to believe. I wanted to believe that philosopher
last night—I was so ready to deconvert.
Maybe I believe that poems are mutualists
and should drive us to the highest point of ourselves.
But instead of perishing in the belly of infinity,
we would thrive. Here. Now you’ve got one.
I hope you start a scourge.
I Decide to Be Alone With the Versions of Myself Who Accompany Me, Not the Versions Who Accompany You
We agree it’s important we can
Then at the establishment,
begin to feel unpleasant.
Staring at the menu screen,
I say, Life’s a minute,
series of minutes, spent any way.
He says, But they have context.
But my context is in transition,
the minutes before & after parting.
What do I reply? A murmur
to the journalist. We get obliterated.
Was I forgetting the possible?
In the former, we were hiding
our embarrassment & looking.
Now as I said, the after unthinking.
I had written on an envelope, Ahab
feels but God thinks. The physical fact of being
one person + the psychical fact
of being more + the physical impossibility.
Next to napkin & packet of soy sauce on the table.
We know it, I remember on long days
when I’m several. Feel it, Ahab.
Think to shake them. I’m a God.
About “The Abridged Version of Self-Made”
I woke up one day and was thinking I’d like to write a novel, maybe, but I quickly realized I was either too lazy or impatient for such an undertaking. So instead, I decided to settle for an abridged version of whatever I had in my head (as I guess everything is, to some degree). The following is the first of two of abridged pieces, and, like many popular and unpopular contemporary novels it is slightly meta-contextual, slightly autobiographical, slightly fictional, and slight on any actual plot.
The Abridged Version of Self-Made
4:20 as I begin and another version of my self
reaches into the time machine and pulls out
a joint, lights it up, because in one of these memories
there was fire, and in one of these lifetimes
I found I was speaking to someone through the smoke.
After school at the junkyard breaking windows
out of an old bus because it is the bus that transports
and it is the window that holds and we are the creatures
come over the fence to free your soul. I’ve spent
a long time on chain link. There’s something mythic
about a landscape cut up into diamonds. And I
remember the diamonds on some fat, anonymous ring,
sitting at the counter, turning it around and around
on his finger like he was winding up some better version
of his future-perfect self. In the future we were all
perfect. We were astronauts and doctors and race-car drivers
and husbands and fathers and children at heart.
I begin to watch my self sitting inside a tractor tire
singing Black Betty. The rubber tread has stamped out
its own record of oblivion, and late tonight I will
call my friend on the telephone from the other side
of America and do the same. Hey, you, out there.
They’re dancing tonight at the dive outside town.
We tied the dog up with a leash to the trailer ball
because there were no trailers those days only the memory
of metal holding hands. Every time I close a hook
and eye latch I feel at once an amazement and perversion
at simple technology. The bigger machines only have
bigger vocabularies. So the dog slept under the tire
and I dreamed of sleeping under the tire but there was
that kid at the rodeo once who passed out under a truck
and was run over and dead before he could even come
out of the heavy sleep and into a dream. Or maybe
he was dreaming already of the ocean, of a woman
with long brown legs and a bottle and a beach towel
and a bitter lime with which to chase things away.
It always happens this way. I start with a story
and you tell me it reminds you of this other person
who died tragically. Chapter Two begins to contemplate
the larger questions of the novel. In Chapter One it was
usually just Hi, how’re you doing, pleased to meet you,
I’ve got something to tell you that you won’t believe.
Sunny-side up and I take mine over easy. Coffee, hash-
browns, silverware in a wax paper bag. You’re trying
to tell me about a thousand things going on in your head
and I’m trying to listen. All we’ve accomplished so far
is making eye contact, and noting the approaching storm
and respective haircuts. More coffee, and if we get warm
enough we will blossom into talk show hosts. With red
cheeks, perfect manners, and a hundred questions
that can take up a half-hour without really going anywhere.
What I want to ask is Does it ever stop hurting? Do you
like to stand outside in a hard rain? Have you ever dreamed
of making love right before the end of the world?
The fork cuts through the egg and the egg cuts through
the toast. And the toast cuts through my nostalgia
for good white bread. Music and laughter behind us.
Laughter and music. It should be what we all ask for
when they offer us that one wish. Who knows,
maybe we already have, silently, since we know that a wish
can never come true once entering language.
The sound of a dog barking and then a chorus
of dogs barking back in the distance. The line
and refrain. I’m standing beside an old shed behind
the grocery store. The smell of old produce.
Washing machines. Dryers. Big fucking refrigerators.
In spite of their owners and shock collars and fences
the dogs are making music. This is one of my theses
supporting the value of art. Dogs, too. I’m talking
with a mechanic while he raises my car up for an oil
change. I ask him how he got started working on cars,
and he tells me that if you get stranded on the highway
enough you’ll be surprised what you can learn.
I am witnessing a town in progress from here.
I am watching life. Cars move in and out of the bank,
people move in and out of the store, dogs move
in and out of song and I am moving in and out
of conversation and a lovely silence with a man
I’ve just met. His hands are so dirty I want to shake
them until our guards drop off. I want to ask him
everything he knows about an engine, and if he had
only one story to ever tell how would it begin.
A bed of crosses and flowers at an intersection
on the side of the road. A song somewhere on the radio
to mark happiness, and then grief, and then both
and more time passed. I will stick something in the ground
in this place to remember you. I am stuck in the novel
again. Which means I need to be going somewhere,
and likely I’ve still something important left to learn.
There are a thousand people walking to my left
and my right, there are almost as many books on the shelves.
I want to read them all. I turn right onto a state highway
and let my motor run its course, past the houses, past
the trees, past the corn and past the cotton. Cotton itself
is a very long story. If you’ve ever picked it you understand
that time is a relative bird. And I’ve got relatives all over
the country. We the Matthews and Mitchells have stretched
our names over America like a tight white shirt, threaded,
these many little histories connected by telephone wires.
Clay Matthews, born of a father and mother. I could
pull this yarn a long time. If you are to get to know me
then part of knowing me is knowing from where it was
I sprang. Where it was my feet first touched the soil, where
it was my legs first headed in another direction. There is a grave
in a graveyard to which I owe a visit. There is an obituary
in the paper that needs to go on much longer.
I helped her out of her dress and asked how she felt
about being my love interest and/or romantic sub-plot
for the rest of our lives. Then I went to the kitchen and made
her a coffee with three spoonfuls of sugar, and brought it
back to bed while we stayed awake dreaming about everything
we’d categorized as the future. There would be children,
of course. And houses, and more coffee, and dogs, and jobs,
and exotic vacations to Italy and Puerto Rico, and marriages
and funerals and music and laughter and bags of groceries
on the dining room table. What is it about a promise
sometimes that makes it so easy to keep? Maybe this is
one of the things in life for which it works better just
to believe. Because I have all this faith left over
but sometimes I’m not sure where to put it. So I sip
my coffee and listen to the birds outside. And pull
the sheets over my head where underneath everything
is white. And I stay this way, and think I could stay
this way forever. But in the next room the answering machine
goes off, and on the other end it’s the family calling again,
because there is work to be done, and still things to say.
Plot construction. Pathos. The path to righteousness
or loss after the fact leads past your front door. I stood there
for a long time just thinking about knocking. Welcome
home. Smalltown, US of A. Where the old gas stations
have died and turned into graveyards for tires. This is where
we get caught up in place. Fridays and fried catfish.
Motor oil and spark plugs. Soybeans, Milo, another crop
name finding its way into your heart. It is dark and pleasant
here and on some days otherwise. I know of a wonderful
woman who collects spittoons. I know of a man who carries
in his pockets small jars of salt and pepper, because a table
without good manners is no sort of table at all. Then the way
the diagram of a plot often looks like the Arch in St. Louis,
and all the stories of getting there, of crossing through,
of finding yourself in the top and looking out. All the old
things. I went to a casino and put my money in a slot machine
and wanted to cry when a speaker simulated the sound
of coins hitting the pan. The grease hits the pan and the chicken
hits the grease and I am hungry for something fried
out of self-respect. They’d put your name in the telephone book.
They’d bring fresh bread over to your house. In the in-
between you might feel like you’ve known somebody.
And I would be running my finger through all the numbers
and closing my eyes, envisioning a long and slow conversation.
Motorcycles, front wheels, the shoulder of the highway
baring itself in a soft red light. They should never make a road
this sexy. The chapters move on. In the abridged version
of my life I am allowed a voice-over narration. Down the street
glass packs rattle the windows, while inside people are holding
each other, and screaming at each other, and wishing
the other outside would quiet down. Then at the junkyard, high
again and drunk, too. This time I asked him what god was
and he answered by skipping a stone across the black water.
I walked up a lane and down a lane and crawled into
the cab of an old combine and tried to get the radio
to work. Because the beautiful thing about the radio
is that the music is always there, even when you’re sleeping,
even dead, it’s still waiting for someone to find a way
to turn it back on. The wind was blowing through
our hair and in the distance we could see the rain taking
one bounding step at a time, over a tree line, over a field,
over a house and headed towards what we then called home.
The thunder was back-talking the lightning and I went in
the house to lay with the woman and watch another movie
about the Stockholm syndrome. If you stole me, I said,
I’m not sure if I could ever forgive you. And I wondered
how long you have to lock a person up before they love
you in spite (of). I went the next day to visit my father in prison
and we sat outside and fed squirrels and talked about
baseball, and I looked at the squirrels and wondered
if it is better to feed or be fed, and rhetorically what was
the difference between the two. There is a difference
between chain link and not chain link. And there is a difference
between old barb and razor wire. And there is a difference
between the difference. And these things I refuse to discuss
at greater length. Number nine. Number nine. Repeat until something
terrifying fills your consciousness. I swallow a sleeping pill
and close my eyes. And in the darkness I have bargained
for a dream about bulldozers and hunting escapades,
an albino deer in the middle of the road, bowing
a great white rack of antlers and allowing me to pass.
Fiction and memoir. The first person in a long list of persons.
I start to try and hold them together like a bouquet
of dreams grown wild. In the beginning I was fond
of dandelion necklaces. In the mornings sometimes now
I spray the yard in order to kill the weeds. And I run
the lawnmower back and forth in lines, in squares, in perfect
geometrical patterns to set-off the shapeliness of nature.
She had a dress once, with lines, that made me hold
my breath. And now sometimes when I see her
after work, it’s like I’ve been assigned to remember
her face and body again. If you close your eyes you will
still hear me, inside, but I will then cease to be
the same form. If you’ll hold out your hand I will lead
you through the room. And if the stereo still works we can
maybe turn it on, and listen while we slowly start to dance.
Because it must end, it will. There are trees in places
and other places where the trees have left. Even plants
sometimes lay out migration patterns. Outside the fall
is spreading its cool hush over the beginning, and as
the beginning it makes promises for what will never end.
On the other side of town I can hear the marching band
practicing, as the invisible drum beat beats out for me
some pattern of life. I kiss her goodbye, and with the windows
down a leaf falls into my lap. What began with fire
ends with something just dying to burn. And if the novel
closes then it closes without much of a thud. Who wrote
the book of love? For starters, nearly everyone I’ve known.
And still I have almost a thousand other questions.
And still I haven’t spent enough time watching life grow.
The wind blows and the radio fights against the silence.
I leave myself to drive for a moment, and blank out
to the tune of discord and harmony that surrounds me.
Fumiko Amano was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1968. Her atmospheric paintings, created as visualizations of sound/dream/organic forms, have been exhibited in San Francisco, New York, L.A., Berlin, London, Spain, and Korea. Her recent works were exhibited at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Lawrence Asher Gallery, LACMA Rental and Sales Gallery, Another Year in LA, Salon Oblique, and Claremont Museum of Art.
Claire Becker lives in Oakland and teaches at the California School for the Blind. Her poems are forthcoming in H_NGM_N and Tarpaulin Sky. She holds an MFA from Saint Mary’s College and is the author of the chapbook Untoward from Lame House Press.
Daniel Becker practices general medicine in central Virginia. He has a chapbook, Chance, courtesy of H_NGM_N.
Gabrielle Bell writes and draws a bi-annual comic series called Lucky. Her work can also be found in various anthologies such as Mome, The Drawn&Quarterly Showcase, Kramers Ergot and Stuck in the Middle.
Zackary Sholem Berger is a poet, blogger, and journalist in Yiddish and English (http://zackarysholemberger.blogspot.com ). His publishing company Yiddish House ( http://www.yiddishcat.com ) publishes Yiddish translations of English children’s classics, including The Cat in the Hat and Curious George. Look for One Fish Two Fish, coming this fall.
Joseph Bienvenu lives in New Orleans, Louisiana where he teaches English and Latin at a local high school. He is the creator and editor of the online literary magazine Mustachioed. His poetry has appeared in many online and print publications, including Cranky, the Tiny, Gutcult, The Hat, and Can We Have Our Ball Back. He is currently working on a translation of Catullus’s poems, some of which have appeared in a recent issue of Fascicle. Joseph attended the University of Loyola, Chicago and received a B.A. in Classics; he earned his M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Timothy Bradford’s poetry has recently appeared in CrossConnect, Runes, and Softblow. He received the Koret Foundation’s Young Writer on Jewish Themes Award in 2005 for his novel-in-progress, based on the history of the Vélodrome d’Hiver. He is currently living in Paris, and his novel is still in progress.Julia Cohen’s chapbook, Who Could Forget the Sensational First Evening of the Night, is out now from H_NGM_N B_ _KS. Other chapbooks, When We Broke the Microscope (collaboratively written with Mathias Svalina, Small Fires Press), and The History of a Lake Never Drowns (Dancing Girl Press), are forthcoming. You can find more links to her poems on her blog www.onthemessiersideofneat.blogspot.com. She lives in Brooklyn.
Simon DeDeo is an scientist and poet. He lives in Chicago, where he edits rhubarb is susan and co-edits absent magazine.
Sean Thomas Dougherty
Darrin Doyle’s fiction appears this year in Night Train, Puerto del Sol, and Cottonwood, and has previously appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Antietam Review, Harpur Palate, Laurel Review, and other journals. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife and their two trained monkeys.
Matt Dube teaches writing at William Woods University. He is the fiction editor at H_NGM_N.
Eric Elliott was born in Chelmsford, England in 1980. In 2003, he graduated from the University of Toledo with a B.A. in English/Creative Writing. In 2005, he began graduate studies at Louisiana State University where he is currently in his third and final year as an MFA candidate in Poetry. In 2000, he was awarded Honorable Mention in the AWP Intro Contest, and in 2006 he won the William Jay Smith Poetry Prize at LSU. His poems have appeared in Whirligig, The Susquehanna Review, Albatross, and H_NGM_N.
Dobby Gibson ’s first book, Polar, won the 2004 Beatrice Hawley Award and was published by Alice James Books. His second book, Skirmish, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in early 2009. He lives in Minneapolis.
Noah Eli Gordon is the author of six collections of poetry. His most recent books are Novel Pictorial Noise, which was selected by John Ashbery for the National Poetry Series, and Figures for a Darkroom Voice, a collaboration with Joshua Marie Wilkinson. His work in this issue is a dub version of material from his book The Area of Sound Called the Subtone.
Eryn Green is a graduate student in the creative writing program at the University of Utah, where he also serves as an editorial assistant for Quarterly West. He was a nominee for the 2007 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, awarded by the Poetry Foundation. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eclipse, the tiny, Bat City Review, H_NGM_N, Word for/ Word, Rhino and Denver Quarterly.
Timothy Green lives in Los Angeles, where he works as Editor of the poetry journal RATTLE (www.rattle.com). His first book-length collection, AMERICAN FRACTAL, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2008.
Jessica Hagy is a freelance copywriter. She has won a Silver Clio, Creative Best Award from the Columbus Society for Communication Arts, and more than a dozen ADDY awards for her writing. Her blog, Indexed, was named a 2007 Webby Awards Honoree and was a recent addition to the BBC Magazine online.
Matt Hart is the editor of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety, and the author of Who’s Who Vivid and three chapbooks: Revelated, Sonnet, and Simply Rocket. He lives in Cincinnati.
John Hyland is a graduate of the University of Maine (Orono) and currently serves as a lecturer in the English Department at Assumption College while working towards a graduate degree in Cultural Production at Brandeis University. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Modern Review, horse less review, Dusie, Puppy Flowers, and Tarpaulin Sky.
MC Hyland lives in Tuscaloosa, AL. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, LIT, and elsewhere.
Charles Israel, Jr. teaches creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. Previously, he worked as an indexer at National Geographic Magazine, a small-town newspaper reporter, tennis coach, business proposal writer, and president of a dot.com. His most recent work was published in Field, JAMA (Journal of American Medicine), South Carolina Review, Slipstream, South Dakota Review, North Carolina Literary Review, 2006; Nimrod, and Crazyhorse.
Becca Klaver was born in Milwaukee, WI, and graduated from the University of Southern California and Columbia College Chicago, where she’s currently Assistant Programs Director of Literature and Poetry. A founding editor of the feminist poetry press Switchback Books, Becca is currently editing, with Arielle Greenberg, an anthology of poems for teenage girls. Recent work has appeared in Coconut, Avatar Review, and MiPOesias.
Robert Krut is the author of the chapbook Theory of the Walking Big Bang (H_NGM_N B_ _KS, 2007). His work has appeared in journals like Barrow Street, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and The Mid-American Review. Recent poems are also available online through Blackbird , poemeleon , and 42 Opus .
Brad Liening ’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Mustachioed, The Sonora Review, Rock Heals, Forklift, and elsewhere. His chapbook Ker-Thunk is available from H_NGM_N’s FLIP/CHAP series.
Chris Martin ’s first book, American Music, will be published this November by Copper Canyon Press. He lives in Brooklyn and uses videos about prehistoric mammals to teach learning disabled children experimental playwriting.
Clay Matthews has recent work in H_NGM_N, The Laurel Review, LIT, Court Green, Forklift, Ohio, and elsewhere. He has two chapbooks: Muffler (H_NGM_N B_ _KS) and Western Reruns (End & Shelf Books), which is available for free online. His first book, Superfecta, is forthcoming from Ghost Road Press in 2008.
Lauren McCollum has published poems in Poetry, New Millennium Writings, Willard & Maple, and other publications. She lives in New York City.
Monica McFawn is a writer living in Michigan. Her poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Exquisite Corpse, Conduit, Conjunctions, and Poetry Salzburg Review, among others. She moderates Litandart.com , a forum dedicated to tracking the state of both visual art and literature. She also trains dressage horses and teaches humanities.
Ben Mirov is 26 years old. He used to live in San Francisco, but now he lives in Manhattan and attends the New School’s MFA program in poetry. You can see some of his poems at (http://shampoopoetry.com/). Some more of his poems are forthcoming from (http://www.coconutpoetry.org/). His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He would like to talk to you.
Gina Myers is the author of the chapbooks Fear of the Knee Bending Backwards (H_NGM_N B_ _KS 2006) and Stanzas in Imitations (New School University 2007). She lives in Brooklyn where she makes books for Lame House Press and co-edits the tiny with Gabriella Torres.
Amber Nelson has recently moved to Boise, Idaho where she rides a 1978 metallic blue Schwinn bicycle. She is the poetry editor of alice blue and has work in or forthcoming at Dusie, Juked, Past Simple, Word for Word, and Cab/Net.
Michael Piafsky is currently an Assistant Professor at Spring Hill College. He received his PhD from The University of Missouri- Columbia and his Master’s degree from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. Michael also worked in advertising and served as an editor on The Missouri Review. He currently lives in Mobile, AL with his wife and two children. He has stories forthcoming in Meridian and Bar Stories. This is his first online publication.
David Sewell has poems in jubilat, Poetry East, La Petite Zine, Mustachioed, Good Foot, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.
Lori Shine ’s chapbook Coming Down in White was recently published by Pilot Books. Her poems have appeared (or shortly will appear) in 6x6, APR, Boston Review, Conduit, New American Writing, and other places, and in the anthology Isn’t It Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger American Poets. Her MFA is from UMass Amherst. She is Managing Editor of Wave Books and lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts.
Peter Jay Shippy ’s verse novel, How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic will be published by Rose Metal Press in November. New poems appeared in The American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, and Shenandoah, among others.
Brenda Sieczkowski ’s work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Subtropics, The Florida Review, Poetry Daily, Gulf Coast, The New England Review, and Poet Lore among others. She currently co-edits Quarterly West.
Leigh Stein ’s work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Diagram, Ocho, No Tell Motel, MiPOesias, and Barrow Street, among others. Her manuscript, How to Mend a Broken Heart with Vengeance was a finalist in the 2007 NMP chapbook contest. She lives in Albuquerque.
Craig Morgan Teicher ’s first book of poems BRENDA IS IN THE ROOM AND OTHER POEMS was selected by Paul Hoover for the 2007 Colorado Prize for Poetry and will be published this November. Other new work is appearing in NEW ENGLAND REVIEW, A PUBLIC SPACE, JUBILAT and TYPO.
Chris Tonelli lives in Cambridge, MA where he runs The So and So Series . He has work forthcoming in Cannibal, Good Foot, and Drunken Boat, and poems of his will be included in the anthologies The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel – Second Floor and Outside Voices’ 2008 Anthology of Younger Poets. His chapbook, WIDE TREE: Short Poems , is available from Kitchen Press .
Jen Tynes lives in Denver, Colorado and edits horse less press. She is the author of The End Of Rude Handles (Red Morning Press 2006), See Also Electric Light (Dancing Girl Press 2007), and, with Erika Howsare, The Ohio System (Octopus Books 2007).
Nate would like to thank The Editors, Sonic Youth & The Thrills for their help editing this issue.
I got married in June of 2006. Beginning about a year before that (when my wife and I got engaged), ideas about marriage, couplehood, partnership, and privacy began to seem like good, useful subjects for poems. I wrote a whole manuscript about the ways my relationship with my wife and my practice of writing had become braided.
When that was done, I spent some time writing poems and fables that were not about my life. Then I began getting interested in a bunch of poets—Robert Creeley, the Waldrops, Blaser, Spicer—who, in one way or another, advocated a poetry that responds to itself, even self-consciously generates itself as it goes along. So I thought I’d try letting them poems think up their own next lines.
Coming off the fables, I had characters in my head, so it made sense to let the lines in these poems talk back and forth with, to, and at each other. Marriage being still very much in my thoughts, the poems that came turned into explorations, or so it seems to me, of the ways two people who are intimately sharing a space do, and do not, succeed at communicating by talking, the ways that the words being used and things being said are rarely the same thing.
What did god tell you?
That he is scared.
He is lonely.
What did he mean?
That the naked man in the
apartment across the street
knows that I am watching.
What will happen to us?
We are all going to die
but not yet. Only some of us
are dying now. Most
have more time.
What should we do till then?
My bed is cold. I wish
What are you going to do?
Even if I publish
my thoughts across
the sky someone
them for clouds.
What do you want?
The feeling when
a dog looks at me.
What’s the next question
you want me to ask?
What is pain good for?
Even apple cores count
in the vast catalogue
of particulars of which
universe is composed.
But does anything stop? Will it end?
That feeling of stepping
into a patch of sunlight.
I don’t know how much
more I can take and
no one will tell me.
Would you like an apple?
What can you do
for someone else?
I fantasize about keeping
a tiger for a pet, the
way it would nuzzle me,
its soft cheeks and lips.
I feel overwhelmed
by others’ expectations.
Would you like
to have sex
on the couch?
What does it mean
when you take my hand?
I have two
People’s minds are crowded
by received ideas, but
between them, in the crevices
between thoughts, are a few
visions of a world before.
Was it fair to ask
for both the ring
and the hand
that wore it?
the playground of children
and their demons.
Will you remain
the night, even though
If I wash my wings
they will be too heavy
with water to fly.
I could learn to suffer.
Won’t you wait with me?
Shall we go
down to the water and dip
our fingers into
the rippling moonlight?
I want to be at the mercy
of music as subtle
and complex as the patterns
made by windblown grains of sand.
But would you spare
your teeth to save
I would row my way
I’m feeling young
Would you like me
to rub your back?
Soup would be nice
or chamomile tea.
I want to lose myself
along the inevitable walkway.
What would a bird say?
Flies are already hovering
around our heartbeats.
I can’t even tell
whether the mirror
or my face is cracked.
I can’t tell
a zebra from a horse.
I can’t tell
a spoon from a moon.
I can’t tell
you how to live your life.
I will walk down
to the river’s edge
at the time of year
when the current
I will learn to
play the didgeridoo.
I will race the
river to the sea.
The cat is tiny
to the point of hardly even
existing. What time
the apartment for landmines.
I’m drawing a picture
of the two of us holding
while the crayon house
is consumed in flames.
I’m waiting for you
to come home.
It is raining
What does it mean?
That the world
No. Outside—the world
where everyone lives.
At first he’s nowhere in the computer.
His wife is on her way from work.
Their sons are waiting in a waiting room
next to patient registration.
I had wandered down there
to complain about another patient
assigned to me who wasn’t mine,
but down there they had worse things
to worry about,
like the man who worked upstairs
whom they’d just finished
After hearing his name and looking him up
by adding Sr. to his last name
and reading what I had and could have done,
I offered to tell the boys
who are young men not boys
and call their grandfather
and try to reach their mother
and greet his colleagues,
now filing in to wait.
Pretty soon I was in the middle of this tragedy
directing traffic the way I had been taught
and can’t stop.
The older son acted older.
He must be named for his father.
The wife and mother told me
how much her husband liked me,
and trusted me,
then she thanked me.
When I came home from work and my son,
visiting for Christmas,
asked how was my day
I talked about what happened
as if explaining a photograph
tucked inside a wallet,
someone who reminds you
who you used to be
and who you thought you’d be,
something you carry around for years and can’t
throw away and sometimes
don’t think about.
I chalk her corpse into the dimpled pavement under Hell’s heat lamp, where no cars dare pass on this day. Her angelic death, my final version this Backless Corpse (Un)Dressed, I work toward until my bicep is tight and my shoulder burns. Chalk to pavement, I push and grind like I’m sanding skin, then pucker my lips, puff puff, and scatter colored dust piles with rum breath. When my sweat makes puddles, I blend the red, green, and yellow pools with my fingertip. The sun bites my shirtless back. It must be afternoon, and I must be a piece of bacon. Or a piece of shit, if you ask the dead, or the Dad for that matter, although to the Dad I am one of the dead, more worthless than a piece of shit because at least shit will fertilize.
I keep working (How much time has passed? Fuck time.), working through the pain.
Joe and Judy college professor throw their shadows onto coloring book chalkings that give them orgasms. Mabel and Marty khaki shorts with athletic socks punish me with their children’s squeaky voices (mice with broken spines pinned to wooden slats). Grandma and Grandpa pension plan glide like clouds past my Backless Corpse (Un)Dressed for reasons I care nothing about. I only see the pits in the pavement. I only chalk.
Then, the inevitable:
“What’s this one, Mommy-Mom? It’s a funny-bunny colory-color.”
“Umm…That’s a…What? Oh MY. Avert your eyes, Billy. Avert them with the aid of my hand, or your brain will liquify and drain out of your ears.”
“That looks like a donut!”
“Billy, for the love of humanity come with Mommy, away from the man with the gnarled teeth and bird’s-nest hair who is so out of his mind that he doesn’t even notice that his knees are blistered because he’s so wrapped up in drawing a naked woman’s corpse, behavior that is both repulsive and strangely compelling and might make me leave your father for a life of wild-dogging I’ve never gotten at home…COME, BILLY! BEFORE HE TURNS YOU INTO AN ART LOVER.”
Yes, go Billy. Go before I drag my lobstered body to the curb, light my cigarette, and allow your 2,000-day-old eyeballs to view in uncensored grandeur the lifelessness that awaits even Christian soldiers like you and your sweet, under-penetrated mother. Go, Billy, to the other lane of the street. Dance around the colorful vomit stain of chalk that more or less resembles a tree, a river, and a bridge with a cat on it, and which was created, if you can call it that, by Greta VanDerBilmenn, Judge Garrett VanDerBilmenn’s long-legged only daughter, who before today has never created anything other than one shredded heart, thousands of Dentyne bubbles, and a pair of amateurish renderings of an unplugged computer monitor. Enjoy Greta’s super-sized vapidity, because I have no time for you, and she has no moving blood in her veins.
I, meanwhile, am living my wedge – this baby blue wedge – into her lips.
This man’s voice is not for me. It can’t be. Blue. Puff the blue dust. Scatter it. Puff.
“Sir? SIR?! Jasper Goodwin, I am required to talk to you? I’m Burt Farmer, Head Executive Director Chairman of the Street Art Panel Committee Board for the Artistic Advancement of Street Chalk Artists and Their Fellow Artists’ Art.”
I lift my face to the retina-scorching sun. Somewhere up there, a shrimpy shadow inspects me.
“You are required to change this drawing,” he says. “You are Jasper Goodwin, aren’t you?”
No need to answer. It’s a rhetorical question.
“Say,” he chuckles. “You’re not related to Jessup Goodwin II, founder of Goodwin’s Laser Plastic Surgery Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are you? I really wouldn’t ask (judging by your hair, flip-flops, and odor, you and he are as different as butter and milk), except you do resemble the Great God Goodwin in profile. He and I shared box seats at the Chicago Opera House in 1992 for a performance of the three tenors, while his wife was still bravely battling the cervical cancer that eventually – ”
I yell at the cement, hoping my words will bounce upward, hit me in the face, give me amnesia: “Call me President Drone Grunt Clock-Watcher of Dead Beauties Incorporated, Established 2005AD, two days after the One-Time Coming of the woman in this chalking, sir!”
My outburst snaps him out of his reminiscence of a woman he doesn’t deserve to have known: “I’ll have none of your bullroar, Mr. Goodwin. You can’t leave this artwork the way it is.”
“I don’t intend to. I’m going to finish her.”
By puffing his chest, Mr. Whomever throws his machismo into the air, where it dances away like a sheet of fabric softener on the breeze. “You’re planning to put some clothes on this thing?”
This “thing” is the woman who hugged me to her naked bosom so many times (okay, only once, but for many seconds) during her brief life.
By contrast, this dwarf, this seven-thousandth slave of the Judge, this coincidental lacky to Laser Plastic Surgery Barons, this delicate (slouching under the weight of the soft briefcase slung over his shoulder) who mistakes power with the ability to crush a cardboard Pepsi cup in his fist, knows nothing of the ways art can both destroy and resurrect a human life.
His beard is red, twinkly, spooged-on by the sun. “We’ve had eleven complaints, Mr. Goodwin. I’m not sure what sort of family you grew up in, but families here do not wish to view filth. Your cartoon doesn’t come close to the sketch the Board approved, which, conveniently, is here in my hand. This is a unicorn.” He points at the joke I mailed to the Advisory Board last week under the influence of King Cobra, depression, and Costbusters baked beans. “That, Mr. Goodwin?” His finger droops like a dead caterpillar.
The corpse’s flesh form, meanwhile, stands across the street in the shaded gap between Tink’s Café and the brownstone, pulverizing her Dentyne, peering surreptitiously to make sure her portrait artist is skillfully, and with an abundance of humiliation, destroyed. She sees me seeing her for the first time today, even though we’ve been coloring the same pavement since 9AM. Her eyes are vivid even at thirty feet distance. That bright, watery life. How could I recreate it, if I ever had to, on this scabrous surface? It’s a good thing she, and others, are dead with their lids closed. If I had to capture her eyes in life, I’d need more than chalk. I suspect I’ve known this all along, which is why I waited, like I always do, until she passed away.
Then, “Mr. Goodwin!”
Then, “Mr. Goodwin!”
And so on.
A few minutes later, the annoying man is gone, and Cheyenne Lovely’s bare toes are an inch from my face.
“You’ve got guts,” she says.
I keep chalking. I’m nearly finished.
“They’re coming back, you know,” she says. “But I’m behind you. It’s bullshit.”
A final touch-up on the collarbone, one last trip to the appendix scar…it is complete. I’m a pile of sore flesh with pebbles lodged in my knees, ready to witness my creation. I push myself from the pavement, rise.
“Wow wow wow. It’s amazing,” Cheyenne says. She lays her bare arm across my shoulders.
I scream. “AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!”
She apologizes in four languages, rubs lotion over my burns. We smoke her cigarettes on the curb and talk about My Dead (my new, more accurate, more inclusive title), all eleven feet of her: her majestic, heavy breasts, parted legs, fluffy flower vagina. Cheyenne calls it disturbing and primitive. I ask why primitive. She doesn’t know.
We turn our heads and see a guy dragging a hose toward us. He’s a dark black fellow with close-cut carpet hair and a fuzzy mustache. In his green jumpsuit I don’t recognize him until he winks at me. It’s Montel. I give him a nod, feel the urge to hurl him to the ground, rifle through his pockets, and steal the limousine keys. He tells us: “Watch out.” The nozzle is turned, and she washes quietly into the sewer. The other chalk drawers (Dead included), along with Joe and Judy college professor, Grandpa and Grandma pension plan, Marty and Mabel athletic socks with khaki shorts – and yes, even the hydrant-sized victims (the children, with uneven haircuts) – stare and lick their lips while the street bleeds.
Cheyenne puts her face on my shoulder. I absorb the pain. My Dead is melting, melting, melted. I want a burrito, and I want out of here, because my living Dead is no longer standing between the buildings.
* * *
Cheyenne and I feed our faces at the Latin American place down the block. She’s a describer: in literary detail her love of urban art (“Graffiti is so meaningful”); her disdain for the design academy that flunked her (“for political reasons”); her happiness at breaking her poverty-induced diet of rice cakes fried in cinnamon butter (she actually sold a drawing to some blind man); and finally, touchingly, her intense description of the clinging curl of spiced beef in my beard.
“I’ve seen you around,” she says. She tweezers the beef with her thumb and finger, offers it to my lips.
“Not surprising,” I say, chewing. “I’m around.”
“Everyone knows who you are.”
“Not quite everyone.”
But how do I know you, Cheyenne Lovely? Have I listened to the tinkles of your ankle bells as you answered the call of the coffee shop ladies’ room? Have I overheard your name mouthed by your gaggle of college-dropout friends? Have I noted your furrowed brow as you chatted on the five-dollar-an-hour public computer? Have I internalized such visions while I pondered, oh so uncomfortably, what level of familial privelege might allow your sub-rudimentary art to “sustain” you?
She says: “I could never ever draw like you. I can see the thing in my head, but it comes out all wrong.”
“See it other ways.”
“I try to see it with my heart.”
“I meant your goddamn eyes.” I suck down the Corona, exacting my small revenge on the sun. “Buy me another.”
She does. Then she does again. And again. We get drunk and full on her dime. I’m belching into my hand. Her hairy calf is making friends with mine. “I’m peaking,” she tells me.
“I’m way too much for you,” I tell her.
She pouts like a phony.
“Fine,” I say.
* * *
Number 17 takes us to Over the Rhine, where buildings are burnt matchbooks. In the entryway of my brownstone an empty (gotta lift and make sure) forty stands on the floor in a sack under the row of metal mailboxes. The compulsion to return the bottle rages impotently, even after a decade.
Turns out I don’t need the dime (that I wouldn’t get anyway) anyway. It’s pay(off)day! My bulging baby boy, the 5x7 manila in my mailbox, gives me, as usual, a hard-on. But Cheyenne doesn’t even question the fatty I withdraw before her eyes so giddily. Her barely-there ass leads me up the steps. I follow, rip the “Notice to Quit/Nonpayment of Rent” off the #202 door, key us inside.
I tack the notice on the wall beside three other lovely notices Lovely notices. She sees words where I see only black lines. “You’ll get evicted,” she warns. “It happened to my sister last month.”
Maybe she wants to be a hero. Maybe she’s already in love.
I tell her to lose the clothes if she wants to be captured. She drops them, drops glances. My duds join hers on the carpet. She is patchouli-fragrant, the age of an infant if I call myself twenty-one. We walk into my bedroom, two nude binaries.
She screams, “They’re everywhere.” It’s a quiet one, a whispered one, but still a scream – of wonder, awe, ecstacy.
She means my Dead drawings – my wallpaper, carpet, bedspread, clutter, snowfall. Fourteen minutes of grotesque bliss had inspired chalking like never before, ten pieces a day. I dripped as much blood and plasma as the center would allow, visited the Kinko’s, relieved a construction site of its staple gun, and began the Artistic Initiative for Spreading Beauty to the Uncultured Masses Via the Branchless Trees of the New Millenium. Even before the phlebotomist plunged his needle, I’d tapped a vein for this art. It was too good, too important. I needed to let humankind touch it with its eyes.
Cheyenne ’s not frightened. These are a window into my passion, and she wants me to know that she knows passion is a cool thing. She rolls in the drawings, whitewashes her unfleshy flesh.
The telephone brrrrings. From the floor, Lovely frowns my walk to the nightstand. She wants to be more important than this call.
“Tell me something,” I say into the receiver.
“Jasper Goodwin? Greta VanDerBilmenn here: long-legged chalk-artist daughter of Judge Garrett VanDerBilmenn and admirer of all things colorful except, of course, you.”
“I wish I could say this was unexpected.”
“Cheyenne Lovely’s in your bedroom?”
“You’re both nude?”
“Mostly,” I say. My brown socks, feet intact, agree.
Cheyenne pretends she isn’t eavesdropping. Warms herself by breaststroking in my art.
“Leave the phone off the hook so I can record it for posterity.”
“Impossible. I’m burned over most of my body.” I hang up.
“These portraits are haunting,” Cheyenne says, seated on the carpet, holding Treatment of a Future Corpse I and II. (Two of my lamest from just after this Dead died, when Officer Billups gave me a warning.)
Still, I didn’t invite Cheyenne for her taste. Her eyebrows are untamed. Her legs, drawn up against her barely-bigger-than-mine breasts, are neglected by razor and treadmill. Teeth and gums don’t fit in her mouth. In short, she’s picture-imperfect. A living negative of a dead positive. Binaries again.
“Model for me,” I say. I arm-sweep the bed, spread drawings across the floor like seeds atop other seeds. Cheyenne mounts my single mattress and sniffs the sheet. I grab the tin of chalk from atop the disconnected computer moniter, assume the stool, face the easel. Many thanks that my cheeks are unkissed by the sun today.
“Legs,” I tell her, gesturing.
“I’ve never modeled,” she says. Her eyes are canisters of worry, fear, and hopes of string-free, acid-soaked sex with a local legend.
I swipe, swipe, swipe – my initial attack, my mountain-lion-on-the-sheep-of-the-canvas method, my decade-without-a-father fury – and the colors morph into an orderly nonsense before my eyes.
Lovely is on her back. Her pupils open like tiny throats as she addresses my ceiling: “I got Honorable Mention in last year’s Street Drawing Chalk Festival for the Families of Recently-Scorched Firemen.” As if this will excuse her for the damage she and all of the other ‘artists,’ especially Greta, did to my eyeballs today.
Yours was a coyote portrait, and for that, Cheyenne, you should be violently educated.
She believes we are engaged in foreplay, that this session will end with a slapping of damp groins, a few bowls of grass, and a shared gaze out the cracked bedroom window at whatever stars are strong enough to penetrate the forcefield of Cincinnati’s lights. The phone rings. Her eyes study my mound of unwashed clothing, my caseless bugle tied to the corner by spider webs, my closet door off its hinges, leaving visible the full brown garbage bag within. The phone rings.
“I’m digging your ceiling,” Cheyenne says. The phone rings. “The trick slopes up there. I feel like a total mustard ball.”
I chalk. Smudge the shit brown of Cheyenne’s hair, a chocolate shake upset on the mattress.
The phone rings. The phone rings.
Then my recorded voice, groggy and hateful: “If you are one of my dead, leave a message. If you are anybody else – ” Beeeeeeeeeeeeep!
“I’m already lost,” comes the voice.
Bravo to that growl. I can taste it in my mouth.
Cheyenne flashes eyes at the machine.
The voice keeps coming: “I’m lost, and so are you, Cheyenne Lovely.”
Lovely bolts upright, covers her breasts with her arms.
Dead: “If you don’t want to end up like me, you will get the fuck out of there! Now!”
Lovely’s bewildered, broken expression is probably the same one I showed Dad when he killed me. Except she’s giving it to a telephone. She paws near the edge of the mattress for her clothes.
“I’m not through,” I say.
“Go, Cheyenne! Get help! Find the police and bring them to his apartment!”
“Who is that?” Cheyenne’s arms are bursting through her shirt sleeves. “How does she know my name?” Her skirt she wraps around her. Everything else – panties, sandals, bandanna, hipsack – is gathered into a hasty bundle.
Her second question is valid, though easily explained since Dead’s father was on the committee that chose this year’s chalkers, and since Dead, morbidly afraid of making public her love for me, couldn’t prevent me from being selected (though to my shame she did stop me from immortalizing her) and was therefore within viewing distance when Cheyenne Lovely escorted me to my first burrito of the new millenium. Those goddamn burritos are not cheap. Lovely deserves better than this.
She arms herself with the lamp from the top of my dresser. She swings it. “Keep away!”
She runs from my room, her face gray.
“He’s done this before!” comes Dead. “Look under the floorboards!”
I pick up the phone. Uncradled, Dead’s rant stops abruptly.
“She took my lamp,” I tell the mouthpiece, “before I could tell her I love her.”
“Enough screwing around, Blump. The Judge is in Boston, and Montel is on his way.”
“You’re dead,” I say. “Officially. They – or you – even sent an underpaid African American man who bore a strange resemblance to Montel to hose you from the street, which means I am purged of you forever.”
“Pack it all into a sack,” she says, being carefully aggressive, or aggressively careful, like she’s convincing a lion to eat a basket of cheeses. “Every drawing, doodle, napkin splotch, pencil sketch…every goddamn semen-stained blanket. I’ll show you what a purging is.”
I keep listening. It takes a few seconds to distinguish the dial tone from her voice. She’s a demanding corpse, just as she was a demanding lover.
Twenty minutes later (enough time to prepare), there’s a buzz. I buzz back. Then the knock. Montel has swapped green jumpsuit for tuxedo. I’m happy to see him.
* * *
“What’s your problem? You need to clean yourself up. It’s a matter of personal pride. That ain’t hairstyle, that’s Grizzly Adams.”
A lecture is what I get, from eyes in a mirror. No concern that a fellow human being’s most sacred art project is crammed like common junk mail into a trash bag. Not a care that the stench of leather interior makes me nauseous, or that my father pays me – like it’s a vocation! – to stay out of his life.
“How bad do you want to go to jail?”
“I’m already there.”
“That’s offensive.” His rear-view eyes shoot me. “I am personally offended by that statement. ‘I’m already in jail.’ If you were black, you’d be in jail last month. Pictures in a trash bag, getting off no problem…”
“She loved me.”
“Okay. You proved it. You need to be institutionalized.”
Without Montel’s scrutiny, I slide the manila envelope out of my cutoffs’ pocket. Open it. Two-thousand in fifties so new they could slice tomatoes. No note. Why would there be? The stack says enough: Keep out of Michigan; Do not attempt to contact me; Pay your rent and feed your bloated face; If you must self-destruct, do it under a different name. Ten years ago, at the Kent County lock-up, Dad resembled a zoo visitor as he watched his $400 Italian leather Raffaellos get splattered by withdrawal puke.
I open the garbage bag. In go the Grants. Seeds on top of seeds.
Montel is talking: “Listen to me, Jasper. YOU CANNOT KEEP FOLLOWING MISS VANDERBILMENN. Do you comprehend that? I’m trying to help you. I got three little girls. Financial pressures, all kinds of new shoes with red lights on the soles, softball mitts. Lunchables, Munchables, Crunchables – no end to what crap I got to buy. When was the last time I paid more than four bucks for a six-pack? You think that’s fair?…”
It’s not Montel’s fault. He knows the facts that paint me as enemy. They’re all he’s paid to know – my name, for example, but not my NAME. He knows I’m a word-of-mouth chalk and charcoal legend in the Gaslight district of Cincinnati because Greta told him so after he limousined her affluent ass to the coffee shop on Ludlow two months ago so she could slum with the local color. He knows (he stood at her side) that Greta:
1. spotted my Fanciful Dagger Self-Portrait with “Bride” series populating the coffee shop walls
2. spotted my tanktop and beard (and the haunted loneliness in my eyes)
3. spotted the work-in-progress on my lap
4. practically begged me to give her lessons at forty bucks per half-hour
(To her credit, tears did fill Greta’s eyes, and she sniffled into her kerchief. She later blamed these secretions on seasonal allergies aggravated by smoke, but such an elaborate excuse couldn’t hide the fact that she’d recognized my most serious, most moving work: a series of portraits of my cancer-ridden, half-dead mother, begowned in traditional bridal garb and being given away, by me, to the skeletal, somber groom – the Grim Reaper himself – whose bone structure was modelled upon Daddy’s, of course.)
Breaking into my sphere now and then:
“…She’s the daughter of a judge? A fucker with a gavel? IT IS NOT MATH, MY FRIEND. He’ll drop that hammer on your head if he knows you’re stapling his naked daughter to telephone poles, creeping her out when she wants a manicure…”
One apprisal at the coffee shop, and I thought that even my dreams wouldn’t allow me to bed Greta. Her form, clothing, carriage – all were sickeningly familiar, as if my drawings had stepped off the walls. Still, I agreed to teach. Montel couriered her to her lessons. Like clockwork, my ears suffered the pleasurable zzzzzzz of the buzzer, the soft knock at my door. My eyes suffered her expensive eyebrows and aquiline nose. Thrice she wore the velour sweatsuit that hugged her midriff and accentuated her jiggly little behind – only once the backless black dress in which she was (supposed to be) buried. Ordered to remain in the hallway (leaning against the wall, tickling his Blackberry), Montel never witnessed Greta’s eyes floating upward to meet mine whenever my hand covered hers to demonstrate the swiping motion of the chalk.
On the fourth day of lessons, Greta seduced me on my bed, leaving me nauseous.
On the fifth, she called to cancel her lesson, citing a “blinding migraine.”
On the sixth, Montel informed me by phone that Miss VanDerBilmenn would no longer be needing my artistic services from now until Satan’s warts were nitroglycerined off his ass cheeks, and that Miss VanDerBilmenn was requesting my utmost discretion in this matter, and that if a few hundred dollars would be necessary, this could be procured…I hung up on him.
* * *
The world stops rolling. A gate swings open. We crawl like a beetle up the driveway. Outside the tinted window is everything I imagined – golf course lawn, shrubs like rows of teeth, distant grove of trees violated by a dirt path.
Our deepest dream is not that Heaven smells of fresh-cut grass, but that it stinks of rotten apples.
I haul the trash bag to the mansion’s front door.
“No chance,” I warn Montel. He wants to take the bag.
First it’s an I’m-not-kidding glare while we tug. Then he relaxes, probably because although I’m a flabby guy with unruly body hair who possesses little in the way of combat training to compare to his security guard certificate and Tae Kwon Do orange belt, he knows I’ll beat him on passion alone. I’ve never thrown a punch but also never received one.
Even Dad couldn’t lay a hand on me. Even his 600K per year laser surgery empire couldn’t paddle me into Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, or any on his laundry list. Even his obese stock portfolio couldn’t paddle me out of jail three times, or out of a heroin enslavement followed by a series of heroine enslavements. The collection of landscapes scabbing his walls prove(d) Dad’s inability to truly see art (and also, therefore, with the slight extension of a fingertip, death).
“Blump,” Greta says – smiling, but not sweetly, not like Mom – with a pistol pointed at my face, but not sweetly, not like Dad – when she opens the door.
“You’re aiming wrong.” I heft the garbage bag up to my chin.
“I tried to take it,” Montel answers. “He’s being uncooperative.”
Her pistol becomes a maraca. “You had no cause to hurt me. Just because I showed a moment of weakness while I was in a fragile state after I got rejected by the University of Michigan thanks to reverse racial discrimination, you cannot prey on me. You have no idea what it’s like to have a reputation and a future that is tied to that reputation.”
Montel suggests that she lower the gun and eat a blueberry muffin. “Your blood sugar,” he says.
She’s wrong about my understanding of reputation. This is precisely why I decided ten years ago to construct my life in chalk even if it meant food stamps, welfare checks, and stolen art supplies. Only occasionally have I sold my art. Five pieces in as many years. If I am honest, my legendary status is based upon my Sasquatchian beard and habitual street-roaming. I am everything my father hated. My failures are my success.
I am Jessup Goodwin III. I would tell Greta everything – who I am and who she is to me, and that it was a son’s love that drew me to her – except there are body parts in my arms that need a proper burial.
I speak: “Greta VanDerBilmenn, a.k.a. My Dead, I certainly admit the possibility that I walked near you on public streets during a few of your trips to the post office, hair salon, bank, petting zoo, and workout gym. Perhaps I walked near you to an unlawful degree. But you must remember that you died to me those long weeks ago when you stopped caring about my artistic method. After that point, I was only doing research for the purposes of – ”
“Give me the bag,” she says.
“It’s too heavy for you.” (It weighs eleven pounds.)
“Give it to Montel.”
She wants to evacuate my cranium, but instead she tells me to bring it inside. And in we go.
Hello, vestibule with unbearable cathedral ceilings. Greetings, vulgar spiral staircase and four way-up-there windows that turn daylight into an overhead airplane which might or might not be worth craning to see. You are no different from Dad’s house.
Greta leads me to living room, or parlor, or whatever she deems this soulless chamber.
“Drop it there.”
Thirty-eight steps later, I squat, depositing my treasure in front of the fireplace. I study the garbage bag, so full of something other than life. I lift my face to my Dead/Greta/Mother.
“The problem isn’t me.”
“You don’t know when to shut up.” Her voice is as hollow as the room. She cocks the gun with a click.
“We’re water from the same faucet,” I say. Forward steps. Leaving my brown lung alone within distance of the tongues.
“Cell phone, Montel,” Greta says, “and dial nine, one. I’ll tell you when to hit the other one. We’ve got an intruder. I have the right to blow his head off.”
“Miss VanDerBilmenn, this dude is not violent. I got kids. I don’t need any bullets flying in the same room as me.”
She turns on Montel. “Did you get stalked like a gazelle? Did you have to wonder if your father would discover you’d slept with a hobo?” She points the gun at the bag. “If my father knew about even one of those things, this asshole would never see the sun again.”
“The judge,” I say, my non-threatening trajectory bisecting Montel and Greta, bisecting the scarcely-furnished chamber, “passes judgment even when he declares your innocence. He sets his watch by your errors. I’ve met his kind before.”
“Keep talking,” she tells me.
I can’t prove it, but I know she’s leveling her gun at the back of my head. I visualize her one squinted eye and her other bright, watery eye. It feels good to be in somebody’s sights.
I’ve visualized death many times in the past ten years. Perfumed, it stands behind you in the mirror. It helps you ride your bike without training wheels. It shows you how to straighten your bow tie for prom. Pink flowers from its kisses remain bloomed on your cheek even after you’ve gone AWOL from the Army, even after its lips turn blue.
I’ll walk ten miles. My apartment may not be mine. Days will pass. I’ll sleep, shit, and eat. Another envelope of art will find me, somehow. Another bag will begin its filling. I’ll meet Cheyenne Lovely again. My chalk tin will open for her.
I feel free, floaty. My brains might come barfing out of my forehead. I might collapse, bleeding my epitaph across the marble. Montel mutters prayers.
It’s my best work over there, that brown lung stuffed with five thousand mini-canvases, each bearing the stern patrician, the green Grant who grants nothing but obedience.
Greta will open the bag – there is no doubt – but will she recognize My Dead?
Squirrels for Peace
I haven’t been wearing lavender shoes
long enough to know how to make
love fall from the air like an injured sparrow
I can reach only so far into the cereal box
and anyway hair has no discernible taste
today I’m merely differently sane today
I’m not sure how tall I am but do know
I require exactly two and one-third pillows
to go unnoticed in the snowstorm last
night syntax was fun but not as a party game
leaving through the window after the pause
just seemed like the right thing to do
all around the morning the air smelled
like ice cream which is why I was screaming.
Do You Hear a Harp?
In truth I was making up about the sweater vest
it wasn’t sewn of fireflies it wasn’t on fire even
I on the other hand have never been one
to return from the cloakroom with enough
contraband to pay for the window that broke
when I threw the grapefruit through it in truth
I didn’t actually move my lips in my mouth
the comparison to a salmon was inaccurate
I have a new avocado I am tired of all the dying
the wearing scarves the unnamed goats loitering
about in place of the furniture therefore I’ve
lain on you throughout a night made wholesome
by the window being open and talking
about soup it’s not easy to make so little sense
so near the mirror the eyes in it seem to follow
me wherever I move whether or not
I’m wearing a top hat it’s weird I admit but
I’m merely a belly-itcher who looks good
in velvet I am not qualified to answer
to only one syllable or to found a religion
with my hair I am here because you are dear.
Who Will Carry My Strawberry?
I’m only trying to situate the weather
nearer the weather vane. In order
of similarity to the monsoon:
a steady girl, a steady hand, a steady life.
I’m believing in you so you don’t have to.
I’m learning to play the double-crested cormorant
because the ocean’s been looking desperate
and moony these passing afternoons.
Armed with a finely appointed mustache,
I’ll enter the gentlemen’s club,
unshelf a book from the reading room,
calmly ingest its table of contents.
Then I’ll be worthy of the crown
of pamplemouse, the cereal bowl
of being upside down. But there I was,
alone in the bathroom stall, with only
my problems and an indelible photo.
I’m like this, I’ve said, attempting to kick
the sparrow that is never successfully kicked.
I’m like that, I’ve said, pointing to
the woman on the subway carrying
a strawberry on a small plate.
I’ve connected the dots on giraffes
maculate and not, yet parts of me insist
on posing the rain impossible questions.
So much I’ve wanted to be the one
in the top hat, instead of the one eating
the refrigerator box. But, oh! And, oh!
My head’s become stuck in a platypus’ burrow.
The platypus is waking up.
Fortune (What It Really Means to be a Weirdo)
The art of fortune telling, once the domain of charismatic shamans and mysterious savants, is now largely a practice of neoconservative Wall Street analysts and half-baked loonies with crystal collections and too many cats. In this way it is not so different from the art of poetry.
Not exactly true in the Far East, where in many places fortune telling remains a discipline as highly respected as medicine. Once illegal in communist China, it has been regaining popularity as state controls relax. There, fortune telling is not done by self-proclaimed “intuitives” who take Visa or MasterCard, but instead by men (mostly) who combine scholarly tools (calendars, charts, maps) with acts of chance, like the throwing of sticks.
The very language of fortune telling is wonderfully poetic: prognostication, sorcery, oracle, soothsayer. This probably isn’t a coincidence, considering that fortune telling is at its heart, storytelling. If you’ve read MacBeth, you know that the Wyrd Sisters, who foretell of MacBeth’s doom, take their name from an Anglo-Saxon antecedent to our own word “weird,” which once meant “fate.”
In name and deed, the Wyrd Sisters remind us that strangeness is our destiny. It could be argued that our ability to perceive “strangeness,” in fact, is first dependent upon an awareness of our fleeting position within the space-time continuum. We imagine the experience of entering another dimension would be bizarre, yet that sensation might be impossible to experience there. Weird!
Tom Ridge, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security: “There is much we can each do to remain vigilant, to be on watch, to be aware of unusual patterns or vehicles, and to report suspicious activities. And so this afternoon, I ask our citizens for their watchful eyes…”
I don’t know if any of the above theorizing holds up. Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, while avoiding information and interpretations that contradict prior beliefs. This is a concept critical to fortune telling.
The first card in any tarot deck is always the Fool.
The poems that follow are savage premonitions of 2001-2007 wyrdness, hastily bound together with a patriotic roll of Tom Ridge duct tape. Read on and “dree your weird,” as the Scots still sometimes say, meaning “suffer your fate.” For you can’t escape strangeness any more than you can time, or silence, or the painful wooden chairs of a poetry reading in an academic auditorium. And so you have been warned. Soon you will reconnect with a long-lost friend. Your lucky numbers are 7, 45, and 23.
Your luck for today:
The desire to have any is your first mistake.
The second, knowing this, is to hope
to be somehow outside of it all,
and this will set in motion an architecture of great consequence.
Rivers will vanish into rivers.
Sunday will bring half-price bottles of wine, cruets edged with light.
How many times have you walked at night,
sheaves of gloom precluding a neighborhood
singing in its own intense, quotidian silence?
A single dog will bark.
You will get your wish, but it will arrive too late.
We think we are little gods.
Yet the one thing we fear most is to be left alone.
So we carve one another’s names into the desktops,
drop rocks from the trestle.
We invent and overuse the long vowel.
To be loved, speak with your hands.
To learn how, simply open a magazine
and try to catch the little cards as they flutter to the floor.
Some numbers come with secret powers.
Some secret powers come with no power at all.
The stylist steams the silk blouse,
dressing her mannequin in silence.
The plot unfolds into mystery.
The couch unfolds into a bed.
You buy gasoline from a man who sits
behind shatterproof glass.
He has a special slot for the twenties.
The priest stops at the cleaners
to retrieve the robes of his Hallelujah chorus.
He swims in lakes, but he makes sure
to never touch the stuff at the bottom.
You wear expensive shoes,
which you sometimes use to kill spiders.
An iceberg calves and drifts
its first few feet toward destruction.
The motel hallway carpeting just goes on and on.
A cigarette is flicked from a speeding car,
a farmer files his horse’s teeth—
how is it that we can ever fall asleep?
There’s an infinity inside even
the shortest storms of our seen lives.
A Finn ladles water in his sauna.
He’s never met you, and that is why
he has to make himself feel better
by going someplace very small to be warm and alone.
There’s only one horizon,
yet it can be found in every direction we look.
You’d think it would be easier
to get the hell out of here.
Just ask an iceberg.
In any Chinese restaurant, never order the 42.
Never answer your door, it’s probably another little shit peddling Snickers.
The mannequins remind us of their absent stylist.
This is all hero worship.
This poem ends the same way they all do—
list everyone you’ve ever had sex with here:
You are the very stranger your mother warned you never to speak to.
And yet here your life’s most rewarding conversation continues.
It comes with old songs you can’t shake,
and directions to the homes your friends haven’t haunted for decades.
Cartography: who needs it?
You’ll know you’re separated from the herd
when you hear the neighborhood chant its ancient requiem.
The whole place is bugged.
You may not be able to recollect how you got here,
but you wake up every morning, don’t you? So wake up.
Fall asleep on the courthouse steps until a nightstick prods you.
You will find happiness in a lost friend.
You will never find your lost cat.
A single broadcast frequency can hold
1.2 billion conversations simultaneously.
Toothpaste, first invented by the Egyptians,
contained sand and caused immense pain.
Your neighbors know more about you
than does your own mother.
The man across the street
who you think is reading the newspaper isn’t.
You have a bright future in computers.
The neighbors have spread their evil potluck before you.
Dressed in period garb, they wear sandals with socks.
They subscribe to Life magazine to experience
the present as if it were already the past.
They plant flowering trees engineered to never drop fruit.
Constellations of stickers glow from their bedroom
ceilings as souvenirs from a time when life was lived outdoors.
All conversations end in silence. The trick is to make it purposeful.
It’s not going to get any easier, for these are the Cliffs Notes.
The surface lot spreads out
its all-u-can-eat buffet of convenient parking.
No nation’s children will inherit more asphalt.
Mattresses sleep in their discount warehouses.
knowing they’re running out of places
to underpay teens to serve expensive coffee.
The neighbors are eavesdropping,
if only on the faint hiss of your morning shower.
A man unwraps his morning paper
and hopes for the best.
Truly desperate acts are rarely witnessed,
except by truly desperate men.
Some love thunder, others bored after the flash,
there’s silence, then silence, then several more tons
of ice fracture from the continental shelf.
Maybe these very thoughts literally are God.
And we’re not so much having them, as God is having us.
I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best.
The department store lights flick out,
and the mannequins vanish onto the dark side of zero.
Your neighbors have neighbors who distrust their neighbors.
The rich wife adjusts her marriage’s Super Bowl ring
and rises from the bath, reliving the horror of her own birth.
The rich husband begins another surgery by leaving
his signature incision in the abdomen of an anaesthetized patient.
The police cruiser idles in the alley like a shark in a dying coral reef.
There’s a street beneath this street, a city beneath this city,
inhabited entirely by empty tunnels built for trains that never arrived.
We fold our laundry into shapes that help it remember.
It takes just one blood test to know us.
You have to be careful where you bleed.
Sometimes, at night, you walk past
the neighbors’ windows, hoping to catch just a glimpse.
Sometimes you climb back into your PJ’s and start the day again.
The stuntman, set ablaze, stumbles across the set.
The splinters of destruction fall from the mannequin’s spine.
A thousand bouquets of gas-station roses
are left to die upon the graves of a thousand veterans.
Don’t step in that puddle.
You never know who that might have been.
Don’t give up on this just yet. The insomniacs are fighting
over the blankets. They are under the impression
that their religion versus science conflict is new,
a result of their own cleverness, perhaps?
But we’ve suffered far longer atop these sandals,
amid this pilgrimage from inn to unassuming inn,
the sound of last night’s rain still enduring its downspout.
It was this place we stopped
to surrender our affectations.
It was here, gnats clinging to the screen,
that we finally slept.
Sunday, five hours north of Mississippi, my friend says Cop in a hushed voice.
Glance at the speedometer. Lose the needle somewhere past ninety. Shit I say. Shit, shit.
I turn the radio off and tap the break, nervous with a pill bottle in my pocket.
The cop merges onto the highway behind me, gets left, pulls up beside me
long enough for every god to battle in the thick sky following us home.
I imagine the lights animating the peaceful sky in the rearview as the cop flies past.
We are fine until the pinging. Let off the accelerator, the noise is gone
accelerate, it’s back. Then we’re on shoulder, hood up, oil tank empty.
Above, a jet slices the eastern sky, leaves a single white scar
thin as a year cut from the whole of time.
I wonder if the sky has ever confessed as much for so little ceremony—
two stranded travelers and a hungry dog begging to be walked.
There’s a Chevron at the next exit, I say—my voice someone else’s in the twilight.
Was it my voice all those years ago that split the pastor’s sermon on demon possession?
I stared at the cross until even the wooden Christ had life—
jut of the nail from wooden palms and ankles, painted blood, thorns big as my fingers.
I was too young to know about symbolism, stared in fear, like I stare at this dead car.
We start walking for the gas station. My friend asks if we’ll make it home on time.
I say we’ll try, expecting the flock of satanic angels from that old sermon
to carry us back up to the wounded sky.
We’ve gone four thousand miles in two weeks to break down half a day from home.
How many millions of years of light have we passed through on these highways?
What do we catch up with when get home at last—
a kingdom, a pit, a long and satisfying dream?
We’ll stop every hundred miles to oil an engine we know won’t make it.
I want to re-call this house with pebbles
from the ground—honestly, beautiful enough—little round dream of
thirty years—a winter’s hat— no sound when you call—expecting
love to be love—/ disappointed until not—/ grapes peeling, body whispering
yr impossible—me too—a diver’s chute
failing—again, falling—into a church
parking lot—radio blaring // under water—soft
white freight trains—deep
light—choked on snow,
scenery—cheer up dear, it wasn’t always so bad
for me—rain knocked out power lines—
you wrote mountains across my tired back
in sheets as still and as whole as white sails of straw air—
couples carrying umbrellas inside-out—wind blowing boats
over scattered arrows of frozen wheat
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“Which is more musical: a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?”—-John Cage
Every city is filled with sounds that combine to form a sonic landscape. I have spent time in many different cities and have always been interested in the sonic landscapes of urban areas. I grew up in Tokyo during the smoggy 70’s and was annoyed and depressed by the yellow flags that signaled dangerous pollution levels in the air. But along with the pollution came a sonic landscape of cars, sirens and trains that I truly enjoyed. It was an environment that seemed natural to me.
I began taking piano lessons when I was three years old and feel that classical music provided a sound structure that helped me decode the sonic landscape that was evolving around me. I didn’t realize at the time that these industrial sounds were being incorporated into modern musical scores.
Sound is my inspiration. Sounds fill my canvases. I turn sound into color. Many classical composers have taken a similar route and have created charts that assign colors to notes.
I decided to create visual images inspired by urban noise after I saw Michiyoshi Inoue conduct a performance by a symphony orchestra by pointing at different parts of a large painting. The colors and textures of the painting became intertwined with the music. I was also inspired by John Cage’s use of notation in Water Music. His musical score looked more like a drawing than a traditional score.
All of my recent paintings have been composed using collage techniques. I feel like a modern DJ when I am painting. I cut and paste from various ready-made sources to create a work with new meaning and a sense of history. I have incorporated architecture, Japanese comics, dreams, beat poetry and sound into my latest series of paintings. Enjoy!
Fumiko Amano, Artist