— for Brent Williamson
Every night the train rattles along the West 4 Street platform
like some futuristic bull pushing archaeological trash
through the catacombs of the city.
I walk out mid-station past the many times I’ve died,
looking back years later, with the edge of a knife scratching my cheek,
to the rooms where it happened, inches away,
on the other side of a dusty window
where I am sitting, crumbs on my shirt,
watching it all unfold and thinking
how easy it is to get tired of new places and new people—
I mean how everything gets old as a nine-to-five
and the more people talk about it the older it gets
and it doesn’t get any younger than the glass in your hand,
just the same drinks and the same meat on fire,
some Phil from accounting and his woman
or some Mrs. saying “Oh, sweetie, you’re just too much”.
It’s not even a lie anymore when we enumerate
everything that’s been done.
And the stupid grin of some accomplishment
makes everyone else catch the same stupid grin like a disease
because we’ve accomplished nothing,
we’ve done nothing out of the ordinary,
we’ve tied our shoelaces twice and flushed the toilet
on our way out as the room fills with the stink of our own shit.
Some even set their alarm clock forward
just to have more time
I watch from the same dusty window
as I tell myself that I need to get away from myself.
I cannot stand how alone everything feels
when I don’t even look up anymore as they pass me,
the regular bums on the line whose lines I’ve memorized,
the painted eyes of a would-be lover
each downward-looking face
going home to some kind of crime against love,
hating myself for doing the same—
how all of us alone are dreaming of different parts.
Our poverty in the hundreds.
The sense of despair crawls into even the most intimate places.
Into the dense fabric of it.
In the dark I imagine how the whole world
tonight is fucking on a really tight schedule.
How the plates and forks are in the sink to soak until morning.
A good rain climbs through the window when you least deserve it.
When a ten-minute friend asked me once how I do it,
what he really meant was how can I do this,
night after night,
chipping away at the world
like some deranged animal who knows nothing else
but the perimeter and its soiled corners.
I’d always said I was much better suited for something else,
anything where a cinder block on top of another
means an end in itself.
I’d be damn good at it,
slapping on the cement, staggering the lines,
wiping my hands on a stained pair of jeans,
standing back and charmed to death by the stonework,
throwing the lunch pail in the corner s
oon as I walked through the front door.
The percentages were all in my favor.
But that never happened, I told him.
Instead I told him that I’m terrified by the ordinary.
Fucking terrified by failure.
Coming home too tired to grab your lady’s ass
because you’ve poured out all of your blood
and all you can think about
is the home team and yesterday’s leftovers.
I told that friend, who I imagine
is now lying in bed with a magazine, and she with a magazine,
the lights, out of mercy, an arm’s length away,
that unless you’re going to go all in into this
you might as well do nothing at all.
Unless being honest means that you might fail
but at least you haven’t failed life,
then, I said, you’ll make love only if it fits into the program,
you’ll put it down on the calendar and you’ll get through it,
Which is probably better for people like you anyway.
And the forest will go on in the skulls of dumb birds.
The insane will arrange their shadows in ascending order.
As the good rain begins to come in. As I turn my back to this.
Which is a word that means ghost, as it wanders, so much
blown trash, soulful only as you make something of it, interrupting its
leanings, a physical event and vulnerabilities, of buildings and populations.
Budgetary allocations are patterns, they originate in the popular will and the dirt
pressed back, or down, it’s so much work, or did they count, or
did they use materials to distinguish speech from bricks, trusting bricks a little
more? Which are of course passage making devices, where your
dead friends exchange notes with the rest of the dead world.
As you hear about what went wrong you think what you want
are ghosts that have to stick around, complimenting you and your presidency.
As I was walking through the Springdale Mall
somewhere outside Pittsburgh
down into the belly of the world,
I made a word my friend
with my breathless mouth.
No one knows why
it all turned upside down
to keep both of us amused,
and capable of saying anything —
as to make us seem magnificent.
Galloping through bubbles
of any brave new world–
and everybody passes
with his practical black eyes .
This was our marvelous punishment:
to learn something about loneliness
Tell her goodbye when you see her
because sometimes it’s best to start
with the ending & work in reverse.
I know a thing or two about phases
said the moon after no one asked it
anything at all. I feel bad about
the things that I said but also whatever
I didn’t. Tell her there are better days
ahead. Tell her sleep mostly eludes me.
Tell her you’re not looking for sympathy
on my behalf. Don’t forget to bring a map
when you set out on your journey.
Try to write a series of declarative sentences.
Afterwards you can worry about whether
the tone is a drone. You can freely add
more details, clauses that help the reader
understand you are ambivalent
about the emotional state depicted. The sun
I heard over the phone is a sun I’d like
to share in. Inexplicably, there are lots of cars
driving by. I have to look back to see where
I started. I don’t really remember what I was
trying to do. I have to close one window
in order to open another & check if you’re
trying to talk to me. We don’t like to make things
easy for ourselves. Everything I need
is in plain sight. It’s so sunny in the park.
It’s dangerous when it’s like that so late in the day.
Their pilot Mulligan was only crazy for golf, practicing his swing whenever he could:
on the tarmac, in the air, and even while fleeing North Korean groundskeeper cells.
Otherwise, plenty of rest and fluids made his world go round, granting the energy
and mental acuity to tackle each day’s tasks, like diversifying his retirement holdings.
Their conman “Hands” was an artist in the fluidity with which he communicated
with his arms and fingers, mesmerizing men and women in security uniforms
to give up their goods, which is how they obtained the ancient Dodge Ram
van, HQ for the group’s epic, scandalous and sometimes illegal adventures.
Their driver, strongman, and mathematician A. B. Abacus could bench four hundred
pounds and recite pi to the thousandth digit, often simultaneously, sometimes while
also filling out the team’s expense reports. Forger of iron catchphrases, he inspired
millions of boys to recite, “I offer my deepest sympathy to the intellectually benighted.”
Their leader John “Patton” Doe ran an Army Navy surplus store and pawn emporium
that spawned many of their adventures on long runs through the night to pick up
howitzers for customers with erectile dysfunction and military grade glow sticks
for the tweaker ravers on the boulevard. Clenching a peppermint stick in his teeth
and spouting, “I love it when a gambit reaches fruition,” he organized the most
raging underground chess tournament in the Southland, one marked by the rescue
of a eighteenth-century antique ceramic set and the seizure of twenty kilograms
of bootleg Adderall peddled by Geert Van Wafel, that evil Belgian grandmastermind.
That was nothing compared to the recovery of gold medallions crafted for the KKK,
hidden in bunkers at Masonic lodges, where former athletes from East Germany
guarded the bootleg coins along with a super-soldier formula rumored to endow
the user with the verve of a hundred teenage men. The B Team dared not guzzle
much because half of them were taking blood thinners, but enough sipping occurred
for a great midnight cow-tipping escapade to coalesce, one which could have ended
in tragedy or, worse, capture if Mulligan’s remote-control helicopter had not masterfully
distracted both a shotgun-toting farmer and A.B., tonic-drunk, dancing with phantom
scarecrows that turned out to be Jack Mormons posing as corn-belt Amish outlaws.
The closest scrape came on a fishing trip in Appalachia, when Hands got caught
holding a pair of supple rattlesnakes as he taught a preacher’s daughter to speak
in tongues, the caterwauling from tent flaps an alarm for Patton, facing impossible
truths about aging and reaction time, coming a little too late, two punctures in an arm,
ministerial father on the prowl, sprinkling consecrated water from the sulfurous nearby
hot spring on all parties, the B-Team’s leader fumbling for antivenin, razor blades and
whiskey, Mulligan and A.B. out of earshot at the rushing river, three trout from the limit.
The close calls brought them to a relationship counselor who suggested that the Army
might not really be after them, but ex-wives might be, that the gun and knife shows
were not havens for smugglers and assassins, and the man bouts and whiskey shots
created a dance for them to lock fists and horns, a solitary animal bleeding its love.
Even if I did not dare invite anyone, I still wanted
a party—the fountain downtown to change
times, a saxophone to start noodling out of nowhere
as I crossed the street past mine or simply
a friend to sit me down at the table of pressed-tin under
the striped awnings where chestnut trees bloom,
a girl reciting from a book of dead poems:
holiness, danger, and the smell of lime.
The waiter bringing me coffee the way I like it—
scalding but not too strong, the tiny metal pitcher
of chilled milk. I would eat pie—hot with a small
dab of ice cream, the crust shattering as it should,
the fruit beneath sour enough to pucker my lips,
and I would remember what you stay alive for–
the days like merry-go-round horses— pretty,
painted, circling. I would know better than to wish
any fairground tricks, no jolting ascents or
swooping falls. Only a long dullish novel to read,
a train ride where I might stare out at fields—
hayricks and children playing in mud, a town
confettied for some minor regional festival which
would be my party, the one I throw myself, in
which I whisper to a stranger one true thing–—that
I know how far I have gone, that I am glad to be
returned, pulled from that blue edge—knife-flat
or turning wheel— what it is to be torn, paper-light.
And I would tell this person—this stranger,
yes, this world is glory, but always the
dust-bunnies under the bureau, the parts of yourself you
long to wrap up in old t-shirts and hide under
the bed, a book you are afraid to read, why I
need this small private celebration—still me, still
here—the mornings and middle–of-nights when
I am the cricket sawing its legs to sing.
She was three, maybe four years old, ages away from maps
and schedules, timers set to govern how late or lost she’d become,
how partially found among hours that went by dark and undiscovered.
However, her touch mechanism was already fully formed, activated
at birth—the rest of her life would be fine tuning the handicap of pulling
back, withholding, finally touching only the part that was once hidden in
the overcast of a newborn’s brain. Oh, they could’ve been anything—
guides to something historic like a birthplace, battlefield or prison, maybe
brochures of a theme park. The reach was toward many of the same,
what she’d later call a sense of security, no memory of this early impulse,
that primitive version of truth we don’t have to think about but do now.
I set my alarm for that moment some nights, some nights negotiating
an uneasy peace with what I’ve touched too long, too much. Arrivals.
Departures. I miss their quick kiss. I wish for that rural strip of air where
my eyes first took off, their hands full of time and place. I want them
circling my bedroom with all the colors, to watch while they invent
themselves, approach the black and white of my parent’s radar like
a balloon held up to the sun by its own fire.
Through autumn leaves that lift
and drop like birdless wings,
the Public Garden, my daughter
cartwheels and sings.
Tourists and policemen on horses
tap their feet, clap, toss coins that tumble
through the brisk air like brass and copper
buttons popping off a worn coat.
The attention makes her sing louder.
In this place ablaze with bare shoulders
and midriffs at the first sum of sun
and warmth, will she forget Chinese
operas, their coy heroines? Will she
forget the high-pitched Cantonese,
the hurried drums and gongs
marching warrior and dynastic lore?
What about the two-stringed
ehru’s hungry melody?
Already, my girl blends English
with hand gestures, using puppetry for words
she has no vocabulary for. One day, maybe
we won’t be able to talk at all.
And those rotting teeth, they grow
when she laughs or holds a note, but
what some call cavity, others may call
sweet tooth. But I won’t stop
buying candy that sticks,
disintegrates bone, the way
new language eats the old.
I’ll buy her records
of patriotic songs
performed by the Mickey Mouse Club,
and that Strawberry Shortcake album
on pink vinyl with pictures
of houses made of cupcakes.
By the bagful she digests
berries and Pez, a pill-shaped candy
proffered from another’s mouth.
Donning paper crowns,
she licks tartar sauce
from fish sandwiches,
and like royalty, sure
of another meal, and another,
she tosses both bread and fish.
Sometimes, I think
she’s a burgeoning emperor,
but is she conqueror, or the conquered?
All I know is this: Leaves fall,
and new ones will appear.
She’ll have no trouble
My little chanteuse
will sing and forget
dialogue and dialect,
with new, delectable melodies,
enough to feed the most roaring
appetite, so much there will be
leftovers enough for three
pet lions, three lions answering to the name
of Genghis Khan.
Acting on the belief that anachronisms are talismen, he rode Helvetie’s
old elevator (3 people max) up and down at least three times
Once he got off on the wrong floor
Another time he got off to ask the night porter to uncork a local bottle
(bought down the street at Mosca Vins)
Anachronisms don’t always work
Of course chance plays a part
The following day he visited the Château de Chillon and there was a temporary
exhibit on witch-hunting in the Pays de Vaud
Passing through a forest of names and dates, he scratched his shoulder on an angling
Apparently that was enough
“Welcome to the Vaud,” said the man
Though he was bleeding on his right shoulder, the man ignored it and stuck a needle
into a dry patch of skin just below his navel. Unfortunately it didn’t bleed
“Found it,” said the man
After putting him through some calisthenics on a contraption with a pulley and a noose,
the man and his fellow-thugs decided to forgo the usual wood and straw
and use a guillotine
“Brand spanking new,” said the man
Anachronisms sometimes work when you’d rather they didn’t
“The so-called pseudo-problem of mind/body is still bugging me,” said the man.
“Let me illustrate.”
Before he knew it his head (eyes lolling) disappeared behind the clouds, and his body
(legs like slogging clay) was flopping in the parking lot
[CHATEAU DE CHILLON: 9.00 – 19.00]
Take myself. To know coeur. As us. Tonight. The thorn of to have—
What was done before the knife’s plunge. Without breaking the I am for you. That is no pain.
Before the sting of flesh, imagine—
To be played in the round. Plosion into fragile am, nor along the slightest edge: forsake our collaring debt, our lovers, our apologies. Never the spill after making.
If you are disinterested. Guess—
You is there as place. So, knife my I. Then my bowels. But continue the stitch. And come: palais of your Godliness.
As we are—knife edge sharp, as of yet untested. That is my foolishness: to call for my mother, my father; for you, my lover; my holiest God.
All worse than anything you might imagine—this, the making of a family: footing alongside the grave, first spill of earth.
We will ourselves. Already c’est inévitable. So, be tonight, sharp against the knife’s failed sting—
Blade plunged in lavender, bevel edged with honey.
Then, everything calls to you alongside the spill of clear desire.
I am becomes cold, unbearable. We is shaken out over a pit of hungry earth.
C’est inévitable. The moment before the sting, before our undoing—garland of palm fronds
Twined around our throats
My own death at the margin’s edge—years’ scattering of debt a wrongful apologia: voices Of lovers and of the closest of friends, last letters never sent
Afterward, you remain, reveling in God’s godliness, while I am cast out to weep
To shake, to spill my bowels over the ground’s sweet song
Take the knife, mon coeur. Always, the inévitable surrounding us. Here is the edge—sharp, as of yet untested.
Then, our foolishness caught in my throat, chambered with hesitation.
Grandma didn’t always
hang with a football team,
sometimes she played hockey or
ice-skated with Chinese waiters.
It was rumored she went
skating on a date
twenty years after her
She was a tall, peculiar
bride to Louis
who strolled near
who came to her house
to perform miracles.
Ida lived with Mrs. Grossman,
who wore makeup over skin cancer.
Ida worried if Julia, Mrs. Grossman,
stole her cottage cheese.
Grandma—pale, thin and hunch-backed at 80—
was no Leon Trotsky,
nor was she Michelangelo’s David;
and never wore pants.
In all her years,
“I will never wear pants,”
didn’t stick her hand
in the daughter’s closet, hoping
for polyester inspiration to
enter the 20th Century.
while her children went to England,
her children’s children, that is,
the burnout Jimmy Hendrix fans
who did acid and smoked pot,
drank a few beers and made
fun of the queers,
the incarnates of New Jersey,
sophisticated and aesthetic culture,
decided to have a party.
But they did not
they locked her with
a hook in the lock
Ida in her nighties
while the boys in the band
and the girls in the boys
went rollicking through the
kitchen where Ida,
twenty minutes before,
ate gefilte fish.
She took off her stockings,
letting the long toes rip,
when in came Lakewood, New Jersey’s finest
like a herd of erect penises
to celebrate with a woman whose heart valves
were rustier than old bicycles.
the dog Shrimpy got high
goyisha weight lifters
made love to Brooklyn Zionists.
The skinny woman
with a full head of grey hair
and bumps on her head
in her flowered nightgown,
where you could see her
flabby breasts bouncing,
yelled, “Eleanor! What’s going on?
Eleanor—I have a heart condition!”
“We’re having a party Grandma,
would you like to join?”
“Vey’s mir!” she whined, screaming in Yiddish
to the Polish, Irish and German quarterbacks.
Smoking a joint, one went up to Ida,
“Would you like a hit?”
Ida’s grandson, in a veil of pot,
led her to bed,
where she snuggled under a
while the pot shone through
like a vapor against the window.
So many substitutions in this story:
stepmother for mother, brother for father,
morsels of muffin for little white stones,
and once the oven is hot, witch for boy,
and in earlier locations, Gretel for pearl,
girl for teeth, take my thumbs for chicken bones,
grandma, take my babies for wolf meat.
I’d give you my incisors, my mother said
when I knocked out my own, carrion for crow,
cave for castle, ogre for goat who suddenly regrets
he didn’t eat the damn kid when he could have.
It’s a wonder any of us get back home.
Begin with the equation: wood = bone. If bone,
a rib splintered, branch in fragments. Fabricate
from these pieces, the parts for a miniature ship
—delicately assemble her through the narrow neck
of an oblong bottle (if glass, then skin) to be corked
and kept. From bone, bone; skin, skin.
This is the beginning, so it goes in certain versions.
Others have a different first. The one forgotten
abandons the expected narrative, replaces, yes, yes,
with southern storms and thunder claps,
holds the desire to determine the fate of all things
in fingers closed to palm. In the earth beneath
a willow tree, she plants the handle of a broom.
In a decade’s span, attempts to harvest—
finds a serpent in the crop and… forgive us
our trespasses, those who trespass against us, lead us…
All those s’es. The sound of the snake with second sight
and the skill to see through reflections. A convicted spy,
seductive. Amsterdam, Shanghai—follow her
from a kiss in the aquarium to a climatic shootout
in the Magic Mirror Maze, take images in shards
—“With these mirrors, it’s difficult to tell…”—
replace with even more deceptive ones
—“You are aiming at me…”—
on to the next and on—“…aren’t you?”
Does he need to ask? He’s her target; she’s his.
The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection
(Ɵi =Ɵr) an infinite loop: looking glass inside looking glass,
repeated from this point to the next morning.
“Put on some lipstick and dumb yourself down,”
he says. The sound of gunpowder exploding in the chamber
of a small room: her deafening response.
A spider web of glass, shattering. The impact of bullet
on his reflection, on hers. Killing me is killing you.
Me killing you is the reason the sun will rise, my love.
We made fun of him when he was young
and we made fun of him when he was old
It’s because he was so beautiful when he was young
interestingly enough, beautiful when he was old, too
I am not talking about an inanimate object.
For example, this candlestick here.
The wick is fresh.
No, but I cannot tell you of whom I speak
for if I did you would say to me
But he was beautiful when he was young
and interestingly enough, beautiful when he was old
You would believe me
I don’t want you to believe me
because then you would believe
That we made fun of him when we were young and beautiful
and fun of him when he was old, and beautiful, like in this photo
that is so difficult to really see
in the candlelight
Now that I have turned off the lights
and cannot find the candle
It was that minute in the elevator,
that moment when we
careened through floors
with only a gap of words between us.
It was then that I knew
the way we watched each other
would have to end.
It would have to be untangled,
like a skein,
a section at a time
until we could stretch out in parallels,
the space growing wider and wider
until we become only dots.
Before the endless cups of black coffee, you dreamed one night of a plump man the shape of a pear hanging above your bed screwing on a golden penis. “It wasn’t the fact that it was gold that made me wake up in tears it was the fact he was turning it to the left and it was getting tighter.” She told me she hated things involving force penetration, but loved watching Law & Order. The montage of banana rapes and the most famous person who done it kept it real enough with a tinge of fairytale, like she likes her coffee: dark & sweet. After black rings paste together cup and table we exit in front the cha-ching of a register then through doors chiming with golden bells, “wait, can you smell that?” She had often stopped me to smell things: fresh cut cold cuts, smoked fish, all reminding her of a place she barely knew. The night carried more than honking cabs wrestling for uppity travelers. “That’s Poland, right there, breathe in deep.” Pacing over Queens Village’s empty nine dollar Georgi Vodka bottles, our feet crunched on broken glass, onto the lawn of an abandoned house, it came: firewood burning. “That’s the Poland I know, but New York strips people like a butcher skinning a pig, all that’s left are bones.”
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