I: Uneven Roads
It was in Vienna that I first became intimately aware of the game,
She said. It was weary. Coffee cooled before us.
I stirred it idly. I was in a fitful mood.
Things should die. People are just things.
No, that wasn’t it. The first sign was nausea.
I wasn’t sure I had ever tasted this before, so with delicate
Fingers, a trembling touch, the sort you would associate
With a hummingbird (you remember, don’t you,
Walking through the field, the abandoned house,
The Nintendo factory? The clouds were real and beautiful that night
Unlike your usual evening slump. Perhaps that’s the life. I lay
Next to him in the tent. Things can be exciting). Don’t.
She said. The retort reminded me of a cannon. I don’t know why.
There was nowhere to go from here, I thought. I sipped
The lukewarm coffee. It was awful. My throat constricted;
Do I need to tell you I wasn’t having a good time, that I wanted out?
Secrets kept accruing then. That was the big change. If I had been really sure,
I could’ve taken a chance just then, but what sort of a gamble
Is a sure bet? You can’t have it that way. People aren’t things.
They’ll do their own thing. Look at her. She doesn’t want to be here either.
So why did she call you? I don’t know, and not for the first time.
God, the afternoon wears away slowly.
II: Extraordinary Diversion
The cat slinks into a liquid puddle of shimmering black. Somewhere,
Out of sight, but if you know the neighborhood you can envision
That it’s really just beyond the garden wall, a car alarm goes off.
The air is as hot and oppressive as history. It hangs around my neck.
I wish I were the cat. I don’t know what that would be like,
But he seems to enjoy sitting in that shadow, eyes half-closed. He’s
Too far away, but he must be purring. He must be. Does he think
About mice or catnip or being petted? He likes to curl up next to me
When I read; maybe he’s thinking about that. Either he doesn’t hear
The car alarm or he doesn’t care. To me, it is disrupting the whole afternoon,
Therefore, the day, therefore my week, my year, my life. It has put me in an evil mood.
I’m thinking about beer and pool. I want a cigarette. Cats don’t smoke. Smart.
And they don’t read history, like that book about some old dead
President that no one remembers that I’ve been struggling through.
Is there a point to all of this? Is there a time when I get to sit
In a cool blissful darkness and just enjoy being me for a change?
What a pointless question. Nothing happens for several seconds.
That’s just the way it is. If it’s possible, it gets even hotter,
The air even heavier, the car alarm even louder. I know it’s all
Just me. I am wasting time sitting here. There was a point,
A reason I came outside, something I wanted to escape from,
An immediacy of engagement that I wanted to be distant from,
A disconnection, but I’ve lost it. Everything is connected. If there
Was a point like I thought, it’s gone too.
I look under the chair again where the cat was. He’s not there now.
He was so quiet I didn’t even hear him leave. I wonder what he’s up to now.
I stand. The car alarm finally shuts off. Where has that cat gotten to?
III: Extraordinary Discrepancy
I looked up then and she was throwing the salad away,
So I put the fork down and looked hard at the lettuce on my plate.
It didn’t do anything; it just looked like lettuce should look,
But a bit wilted. There was a rim of black around some leaves.
I poked at it with the tines of the fork. It resisted in that limp way
That pretty much dead lettuce would be expected to. I looked up
Again at the girl. She was opening a new bag of salad, dumping it
In the bowl. This was the girl that had given the dough to the two girls
In line in front of me, both of whom also had salad, this old or tainted salad
That I also had. They must know each other; surely she wouldn’t let
Her friends eat bad food, but maybe she didn’t notice. Maybe there
Was a context I didn’t know about—well, that much is certain. I’d never
Seen these people before in my life, but what could that context be? They know
Each other, but do they like each other? I called them friends,
But maybe they’re sisters. They could be lovers, or co-workers
Or team mates. Maybe she’s dating his older brother so that’s how
They know each other. Or maybe she’s the new girlfriend of her
Old boyfriend that she’s still pining for, but she doesn’t want to be
A psycho bitch, doesn’t want him to know she feels like she’s dead now,
So she puts on a polite public face, even appears to enjoy his new girlfriend’s
Presence, has learned intimate details of their sex life that she really
Probably doesn’t want to think about…and there are other possibilities
But I don’t think it really matters. They’re friends; that’s the easy story,
So it’s probably true or close enough to true to stand-in for truth,
But even that doesn’t matter because I’ve decided I’m not going to eat
That salad anyway. I’m not even sure now why I got it in the first place.
Was it because that woman in front of me was getting salad
And since I wanted her to think good of me, to maybe want to talk to me,
Get to know me—the whole familiar story, you know—maybe that’s why
I got salad. I’m not a healthy eater, usually, so maybe I was trying to get
Some green leafy veggies into my diet for a change. Oh, it doesn’t matter;
I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but I’m not going to eat it.
IV: Locks and/or Keys
The time has come for water. The days pass.
I used to cycle through the Ballard Locks.
I used to want to visit Key West. I read a lot of Hemingway
At that time in my life. Earlier,
I hated Hemingway. I walked a lot too.
I don’t do any of that now. I sit and play through chess games
Or I read. I’m reading a book about who killed JFK.
That should tell you the caliber of books I’ve been reading.
I’m slipping downhill. The news makes me sad. That stupid monument
In Alabama. How did it get so much press? Will the South rise again?
I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t care. It would take effort.
I’m so fine with disagreeing with you
You wouldn’t even know. I’ll start the conversation
By agreeing with everything you say, but it’s just
Conflict avoidance. You’re an idiot. That’s why
I won’t discuss politics or poetics with you. I’d rather
Sit and just listen, smile at the appropriate times. In my head
I’m reciting nursery rhymes. It seems apropos.
But the time has come for water. We always go back to that, you know.
I remember a time when someone seriously tried to convince me
That all life was really just a conduit for water. I guess he thought
Of water as sentient. A long time after that I read the same idea
In a book. I think it was a book by Vonnegut, but in any case
It wasn’t presented as serious but as silliness. It is a great silliness
Which the world needs more of. Terrorism bores me. Environmentalism
Bores me. Democrats bore me. Republicans scare me, but boringly.
When I lived in Seattle and did all those things
I wasn’t so bored. I don’t think it’s because of Seattle, though
The weather may be implicated. Lots of things are different now.
Lots of things, but not me. I was boring then too, I just wasn’t bored.
I pretend well. Perhaps I’ll go to Key West after all.
V: Storm and Quiet: Eyes
Mars is close they say. Is that a war or just a rumor of one? The
Desert is claiming us, everyone. It was foretold
On a little planet. It had no name,
The little planet. Things don’t really need names for anything.
We need names, but people aren’t things; we’re
Something else altogether. When we kill someone’s daddy,
We cut off a piece of creation, hand it to the creator
And say, here, this piece. It was a mistake. We take a piece
Of her away just as surely as the man in the car with the candy
We’ve all been warned about. So he worships a different justification.
How could that matter? It’s just a stand-in
For something else, something we’re all afraid of. We jump ship.
We ride the rails.
I knew a man who traveled cross-country with a piece of cardboard.
It was his bed, his blanket, his roof, his house and the walls. That
And what he wore were all he possessed. You may think
He had nothing and I’m not interested in arguing with you, so
I’ll let you think that.
A piece of ground, a little space, the corona of a lit candle.
Glow worm, glow. Into the dark night. Into the dark.
And from the dark beyond eyes gleam. The cat stalks into the frame.
Clearly, hands held up to form a rectangle,
The view a camera would have. I have a friend
Who has a new pacemaker. One day, he will die.
We were walking through the French Quarter
To where a man was looking at Mars with a telescope. We walked slowly
To let his heart catch up. I like this man. I will be sad
When his time comes.
I left him with the telescope man and walked up to Bourbon
And down the street to where I had parked. The people there
Were in a different space from me. They always are.
When I got home, I checked e-mail. And maybe it was that night
That my ex-girl friend wrote me again. I don’t know for sure. Things blur.
I don’t know why she writes me. She doesn’t say much.
I think she’s looking for something and I’m not sure I have it.
I’m not sure I have anything. Probably, I don’t.
“Mild to severe depression; mild to severe anxiety; alcohol abuser”
Like a bolt of red silk
I ride the rail of the El of consciousness
To morning wrapped tightly in the politics
Of the ghetto of my weird. Oh, Mother-Virgin
Let me lie in you longer. I, tailless dog, am my own Spector,
Pissing on the so-much-depended-upon-No. 5
Red—gives you cancer green makes you horny—fire plug.
It is a vet visit day, if you know what I mean,
But days here are life. Let me be in my own fruit fly innocence;
Take the cup of knowing, undrape all beads of responsibility,
Remove the mantle of shamanistic vertigo from hands and shoulders
Ill-equipped to struggle themselves into rising. Heal
Whomever, but leave me out of it. I snagged the first ride
To the nowhere of here. I took my brain out for a walk, sat
Beneath a tree of ants and played a dirge on the bones
Of a forgotten man—there were many there. When I grew
Weary, I fell into earth, like pebbles. Basalt. Onyx. The eye
Of Horus was on me. Fires were never put out. Meadows
Were never trimmed. Walls were never attended to. They
Will return to haunt this place, vampiric ghosts. Go not
Unwary under heavy trees for stillness of air
Is no indication of restfulness. The awful tiger of expectation
Is dragging her wounded paw and howling for you. Tigers do not
Howl, you say. Perhaps not, but I have no other explanation
For this sound that wakes from sleep and reminds
Like monkeys and hammers and seconds ticking away
That death is waiting, already waiting, for me to be done
With the nasty business of life and finally accept his long-standing proposal.
13 Ways of Looking at BJ’s Battleship
We awoke to Hell and all we knew forever was the firefight; men scurried the narrow passages, water splashed as the ship rolled sickeningly. No one knew where they come from, these screamings from the sky vomiting orange yellow red flames into the deck. Of course we fought back, our guns melting with the heat.
“Yessir, this here’s the finest warship in this man’s navy,” opined the General. We all nodded assent. He wheeled to face us. “why, if we’d had this ship in the big war…” he waved his hand and sighed, “well, no Japs coulda withstood us, I tell you. We wouldna needed that bomb either.” We continued.
The evening he approved the last plan for the new battleship, Jimmy felt rather down. He drove home, but growing antsy, he went to Taylor’s. Ernie and Schmoo were already there. It was late when he got home, the lights off. As he got in bed, his wife woke up. “Hey,” she smiled. Jimmy wept.
In 2087 we gave up war. All the tanks and guns and warships went to museums.
I took my son, Seth, to see them, and I tried to explain about war. When we were looking at the battleship, he got excited.
“Cool,” Seth said. “when I grow up, I wanna be on one of those.”
Like a heavy bouquet blooming, the USNS Jackson suddenly exploded with light. All around us, other couples were watching the fireworks too. I could hear the oohs and ahs. I hugged Rebecca closer, smelling her perfume and whispered stupid things in her ear. She giggled and elbowed me in the ribs, then leaned into me.
After 15 years in the navy, my first command! I approached my—yes, MY—ship. Grayson saluted smartly, pride swelling him. I returned it. And then there she was: the Manitoba, a beautiful still-life of steel, etched against the sky forever. I boarded her, hearing the old, old sound of boots clacking on decks anew.
Every 15th of June, she dresses in the black dress and stands in the widow walk staring out at sea. In her mind then, she can see him, waving so proudly from the deck and her heart breaks again, and when she can bear no more, she turns away and the sea is the sea.
“The boat is coming!”
We all ran down to see. And we saw it come, looming over the village, magnificent and stately. And the men came, the men who would spend money on anything to forget the boat. The men who next morning would be dragged back to the boat and leave. The men came.
He drew a battleship, took it home and gave it to his mom. She hung it on the wall in her office. At first, everyone said something, but soon we forgot it until someone new remarked on it. I knew she was proud of her son, the way she talked, the happiness in her voice.
Dreyfus made his first mil when he was 21. By 25, he was worth $25 million. After that, he quit counting. It was enough.
But he wanted stuff. He bought cars, planes…he liked things that moved. He thought he had everything, until he saw the USS Mohawk. He had to have it. He had to!
It was selfish he knew, but he didn’t care. He stole the sketch. He ran, first to Shreveport, then up to Oklahoma City. When he slept, he would hear voices that woke him. He couldn’t sleep. He sat up and stared at the battleship. Why was it so compelling? Why did it drive him so?
First there was a battleship, then there was no battleship, then there was. Greg steadied himself and looked out into the blazing. His mouth was so dry. Was it really there, the battleship, hovering like a cloud on the horizon? Please God! Please! The raft rocked gently, waves lapping. Time passed. There was no battleship.
To sink it. Nothing else mattered. Tomo studied day and night, every intricacy of the mission, of the ship. He knew every quirk of design, pried open every engineering secret. He ate, slept, drank, dreamed: battleship! And the night they blew it up, he cried like a man who’d lost his lover. Because he had.
What Some Things Are Worth
I can think of no reason to continue living;
I don't wish to explain. Hypocrite, Asshole,
friend and lover, let me share your soul. There
once was a man who lived like concrete and this was
his punishment for it, that all knew it was
better to learn Arabic and smoke than to be found.
It's a strange night that keeps happening,
a small unfolding of the letter of the world--
and he went to a well and it was in a bag
and he drowned the cat because that is what
you do with cats. We were raised that way
we came that way. I walked in streets
with her and it was all right, nothing special.
I don't understand--I found it I found it
I found it--let's not invite her. Oh, yesterday
the world was a lollypop. Can I suck you?
And a dog was barking. Bark Bark Barking
along. Boom. La la la. Screwtape is old
and decrepit, she sings like a slaughter—
Do you think I didn't know? I need a knife.
We are kites in spring—you have too many defense—
I don't want to argue, I just want to tell you
what to think. I wear black, ha ha! All the colors
of the spectrum are found in my ass. Would you like
to see my ass? I paint stripes on roads for fun
because I am stupid. Can we make fun of you?
Did you eat enough candy? As a child, did
you masturbate enough? Let's get naked, sexy beast
and fuck our souls into liquid. I love you I love you
I love you who are you? I love you I love I love
ice cream, but I wouldn't want to marry it because
And because the moon is hollow
And because chocolate is god
And because shame is happy
And because goats grow mountain flow and
down comes dangerous semen, boy.
"Static?" Grandshelf says.
Holding cause drunk smack smack smack
slut. Short crew dome pliers hard
And so, driven anvils worship sweet, as if
gripped by air, stomach and I fell before it all.
It was all my fault. I showed my wrists.
Shower. Crazy. He's fucked up. No man. It's
poetry. It's cool. Look like you understand and
you'll get laid. It's all about the pussy. I'm gay.
It's all about the pussy. I'm gay.
It's all about the pussy.
Oh shut the fuck up. So Jealousy comes along
and says—well you know by now what Jealousy says—
and yes, yes, yes, it's all true.
I'm tired. It's all true.
you have found me out, outcast.
Throw stones or bread, whatever
I don't care—he always says that.
I was drunk when I wrote this.
I was suicidal when I wrote this.
I was stupid when I wrote this.
I was self-involved when I wrote this.
God, it sucks fucking brilliant. Fucking
brilliant. Come home w/ me. Post-coital
conversations to raise the dead. I can outstare
your soul, oh simple. Geez, I don't get it,
just too, I don't know. Kill me with this spoon.
No more no more out out meow.
Some Stupid Thoughts About Women (and Other Things)
Like a dromedary in a land of camels,
I draw into myself a ceiling fan
and become my own spider-web—a fantasy
of being covered in lines of sticky mess—
and you are enjoying this, but he drove an SUV
through a wall to be here tonight, dear,
so you must entertain him—and all you wanted
was a fucking burger, but then, you know,
I was leering at her,
just had no—umm, whatever-you-call-it, well
I didn’t have enough to just go and grope her,
which God as my witness was what she wanted me to do, sir.
And so I think I left my brain in my other jacket.
That was a joke; you can tell jokes in poetry,
even if they’re not funny—so the other day, I put an ad
in the Times-Picayune that I needed a muse—well, show not tell,
they say, so: WANTED: MUSE. Aspiring brilliant poet,
voice of his generation, seeks nubile woman to act as muse.
Duties include: lounging about naked, saying witty things,
lying, hanging out with other poets, lying about hanging out
with other poets, treating me like shit, leaving, coming back,
leaving, coming back, leaving, coming back, crying (basically, lots
of emotional manipulation, but you gotta be sweet about it).
OK, so I’m lying. I never called that ad in. It’s just
an ad for my ex-girlfriend anyway, but you
never try to get into these situations; you find yourself
with this guy who writes poems to you,
and you probably think he’s great, because, well,
otherwise you could just “trade up”—everyone seems to,
you know, play the field as it were, as if we are RAF
and you are the Luftewaffe—I will shoot you down
and brag about it—“yeah, t’other day,
I bagged 10.” Holding up my finger as if he couldn’t count
and he guffaws—people still do guffaw
even if they don’t know the word. We do lots
of things we don’t have words for—but anyway,
he’s probably thinking, “lucky bastard”—oh, give me a slut,
right? That’s what guys want,
that’s what guys like—a lil bit o’ dick candy, baby.
Oh yeah, so
my mom says I write about sex in degrading way.
Probably I do. Probably I write in degrading ways
about everything; so there,
I’ve told you about my mother. Did you like it? Was it good for you?
And you’re still silent, sucking your thumb, bored,
thinking, Goddammit, it’s a pity party rant!
This sucks. No, I mean this really sucks.
And you thought you knew bad poetry, you thought
poetry couldn’t get no worster? Oh my God, are you stupid,
you fuck! There is an infinity of really bad poems.
I got a million of ‘em; OK,
I was like having a bad poetry day, OK?
Oh my God! And so like I like wrote these like lines,
you know? and they like didn’t like rhyme
and like the rhythm was sooo old school,
sooo 19th century, you know? And like I didn’t
even want to acknowledge I wrote it, it was so gross;
you don’t even want to know. So,
you like wanna go do something sometime?
You are a slut, you pansy, you wanker, you faggot,
you whore—please suck my poem, baby;
it’s hot and hard for you, my chatroom Venus…
oh yes, suck it down, oh baby, yes. Suck my hard poem.
I’m gonna write for you, baby, oh yes. Here it
comes, oh yes, I’m close, keep sucking,
oh yes, keep doing that. Oh fuck yeah, I’m writing:
Two bees or maybe wasps
that was the methodology
Weather spoons do fly at noon
or flies in ointment high or low,
my body feels the hot hot hot flow
oh, like lava through a dark dark grotto
at night, so all is hot fiery aglow
and she sits up with a know-
ing smirk, just like she did 10 lines ago
and I haven’t been told, but I know
all that shines at night must be snow
and like a tree I begin to grow
and like a tree I begin to mow
and like a tree I begin to beau
and like a boat I begin to row
and like a car I begin to slow
and like a tree I begin to show
and like a farm I begin to sow
in the night.
w/ a light.
but the lights go down in the city,
again. Peter Peter Pumpkin-eater
had a wife and he did beat her.
S o they gave him a mistress—a woman, on average,
will let a guy abuse her 5 times before she leaves,
so be my baby for the next 5 minutes—not even Irigaray
could dream of such a pleasing economics as I got in mind.
But I think I was a dromedary
somewhere, and I was feeling all clogged.
Or so, so I went to a strip club…
and what does money mean when you get naked,
prance around in your underpants
and get paid hundreds of dollars a day? The economics
of beauty are unrelenting; ugly women
just put out more is all—she’s really got a beautiful
personality. Her face scares children;
she’s a bloated whale; her tits are ant bites.
Legs for miles,
an ass to wipe,
really beautiful elbows. My love has sexy nostrils;
her nose hair excites me; her ankles
are perfectly bendable. You don’t know what’s it like.
No, I don’t. I wanna be your haircut, baby.
I wanna be your sweatpants, momma.
Boil me in your hot spring soul—a chaste
woman once went to church. She wore what women
wear in her naiveté. Guys ogled,
but she was in that transcendent place of “no Meat Market for me.”
It was a big secret, an in-joke, you’d see people laughing
and say, “what?” and they’d just laugh harder,
so maybe you felt like your ass was too big
or your nose too big, or your pride too big,
or your envy too big, or your despair too big,
oh, just hold me. I don’t want any more poetry.
Shut the fuck up. Just shut up; sit down
and, look, I really don’t care what you do,
as long as you shut up. Please just shut the fuck up.
It’s my turn.
What it takes
To cross a street in heavy traffic, a gentleman
Dressed in the old-fashioned way
Raised his umbrellaed arm
And proceeded. Just so. Great things
Or even insignificant always happen
Just like this, killing the world before.
We all kill as we love, hate and the many states between
Where we usually without effort reside. You’ve heard
It all before. It will never be particularly different.
I don’t know the guy; I hardly need to. It’s an
Organization of reality, fair or not—it’s really
Up to you and whatever it is you walked in with
To determine—and ready or not. It just keeps happening.
And maybe you’re part of the story or not
But that’s only a devil’s detail. You can’t justify
Or nullify anything…and perhaps we create
As we kill, whether we replicate past action or not—
The future needs a present to kill, too. And there
Will always be a future out there beckoning
To that gentleman, a street he is always just crossing.