Is nothing real but when I was fifteen, Going on sixteen, like a corny song? I see myself so clearly then, and painfully— Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform Behind the candy counter in the theater After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me, Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt. Is that all I have to write about? You write about the life that's vividest. And if that is your own, that is your subject. And if the years before and after sixteen Are colorless as salt and taste like sand— Return to those remembered chilly mornings, The light spreading like a great skin on the water, And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges, And—what was it exactly?—that slow waiting When, to invigorate yourself, you peed Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth Crawl all around your hips and thighs, And the first set rolled in and the water level Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck The water surface like a brassy palm, Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed. Yes. But that was a summer so removed In time, so specially peculiar to my life, Why would I want to write about it again? There was a day or two when, paddling out, An older boy who had just graduated And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus, Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water, And said my name. I was so much younger, To be identified by one like him— The easy deference of a kind of god Who also went to church where I did—made me Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed. He soon was a small figure crossing waves, The shawling crest surrounding him with spray, Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise To notice me among those trying the big waves Of the morning break. His name is carved now On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave That grievers cross to find a name or names. I knew him as I say I knew him, then, Which wasn't very well. My father preached His funeral. He came home in a bag That may have mixed in pieces of his squad. Yes, I can write about a lot of things Besides the summer that I turned sixteen. But that's my ground swell. I must start Where things began to happen and I knew it.
Poems for Teens
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth. There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry. The librarian does not believe what she sees. Her eyes are sad and she walks with her hands in her dress. The poems are gone. The light is dim. The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up. Their eyeballs roll, their blond legs burn like brush. The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep. She does not understand. When I get on my knees and lick her hand, she screams. I am a new man. I snarl at her and bark. I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
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Listen with the night falling we are saying thank you we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings we are running out of the glass rooms with our mouths full of food to look at the sky and say thank you we are standing by the water thanking it smiling by the windows looking out in our directions back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging after funerals we are saying thank you after the news of the dead whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you over telephones we are saying thank you in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators remembering wars and the police at the door and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you in the banks we are saying thank you in the faces of the officials and the rich and of all who will never change we go on saying thank you thank you with the animals dying around us our lost feelings we are saying thank you with the forests falling faster than the minutes of our lives we are saying thank you with the words going out like cells of a brain with the cities growing over us we are saying thank you faster and faster with nobody listening we are saying thank you we are saying thank you and waving dark though it is
we let our hair down. It wasn't so much that we worried about what people thought or about keeping it real but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we'd blow our cool sooner or later. Probably sooner. Probably even before we got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left home wearing clothes we didn't think belonged in school. Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we passed every day on the way to Gym, we'd get old. Or like Mr. Lurk who told us all the time how it's never too late to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we could win everything for the team and hear the band strike up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk's hero turned teacher story. We had heard it a million times. Sometimes he'd ask us to sing with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin ironia, con sentimiento, por favor, and then we would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die and go to hell. Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon. With thanks to "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks
(after the spanish) forgive me if i laugh you are so sure of love you are so young and i too old to learn of love. the rain exploding in the air is love the grass excreting her green wax is love and stones remembering past steps is love, but you. you are too young for love and i too old. once. what does it matter when or who, i knew of love. i fixed my body under his and went to sleep in love all trace of me was wiped away forgive me if i smile young heiress of a naked dream you are so young and i too old to learn of love.
Rocket-shaped popsicles that dyed your lips blue
were popular when I was a kid. That era got labeled
“the space age” in honor of some longed-for,
supersonic, utopian future. Another food of my
youth was candy corn, mostly seen on Halloween.
With its striped triangular “kernels” made
of sugar, wax and corn syrup, candy corn
was a nostalgic treat, harkening back to days
when humans grew, rather than manufactured,
food. But what was fruit cocktail’s secret
meaning? It glistened as though varnished.
Faint of taste and watery, it contained anemic
grapes, wrinkled and pale. Also deflated
maraschino cherries. Fan-shaped pineapple
chunks, and squares of bleached peach
and pear completed the scene. Fruit cocktail’s
colorlessness, its lack of connection to anything
living, (like tree, seed or leaf) seemed
cautionary, sad. A bowl of soupy, faded, funeral
fruit. No more nourishing than a child’s
finger painting, masquerading as happy
appetizer, fruit cocktail insisted on pretending
everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced
tastelessness. It meant you were easily fooled.
It meant you’d pretend semblances,
no matter how pathetic, were real, and that
when things got dicey, you’d spurn the truth.
Eating fruit cocktail meant you might deny
that ghosts whirled throughout the house
and got sucked up the chimney on nights
Dad wadded old newspapers, warned you
away from the hearth, and finally lit a fire.
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title. It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now so immediately the poem has my attention, like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve. And I like the first couple of stanzas, the way they establish this mode of self-pointing that runs through the whole poem and tells us that words are food thrown down on the ground for other words to eat. I can almost taste the tail of the snake in its own mouth, if you know what I mean. But what I’m not sure about is the voice, which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans, but other times seems standoffish, professorial in the worst sense of the word like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face. But maybe that’s just what it wants to do. What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas, especially the fourth one. I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges which gives me a very clear picture. And I really like how this drawbridge operator just appears out of the blue with his feet up on the iron railing and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging— a hook in the slow industrial canal below. I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s. Maybe it’s just me, but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem. I mean how can the evening bump into the stars? And what’s an obbligato of snow? Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets. At that point I’m lost. I need help. The other thing that throws me off, and maybe this is just me, is the way the scene keeps shifting around. First, we’re in this big aerodrome and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles, which makes me think this could be a dream. Then he takes us into his garden, the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose, though that’s nice, the coiling hose, but then I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be. The rain and the mint green light, that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper? Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery? There’s something about death going on here. In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here is really two poems, or three, or four, or possibly none. But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite. This is where the poem wins me back, especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse. I mean we’ve all seen these images in cartoons before, but I still love the details he uses when he’s describing where he lives. The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard, the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can, the spool of thread for a table. I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work night after night collecting all these things while the people in the house were fast asleep, and that gives me a very strong feeling, a very powerful sense of something. But I don’t know if anyone else was feeling that. Maybe that was just me. Maybe that’s just the way I read it.
My father was an enormous man Who believed kindness and lack of size Were nothing more than sissified Signs of weakness. Narrow-minded, His eyes were the worst kind Of jury — deliberate, distant, hard. No one could out-shout him Or make bigger fists. The few Who tried got taken for bad, Beat down, their bodies slammed. I wanted to be just like him: Big man, man of the house, king. A plagiarist, hitting the things he hit, I learned to use my hands watching him Use his, pretending to slap mother When he slapped mother. He was sick. A diabetic slept Like a silent vowel inside his well-built, Muscular, dark body. Hard as all that With similar weaknesses — I discovered writing, How words are parts of speech With beats and breaths of their own. Interjections like flams. Wham! Bam! An heir to the rhythm And tension beneath the beatings, My first attempts were filled with noise, Wild solos, violent uncontrollable blows. The page tightened like a drum Resisting the clockwise twisting Of a handheld chrome key, The noisy banging and tuning of growth.
I’m almost forty and just understanding my father
doesn’t like me. At thirteen I quit basketball, the next year
refused to hunt, I knew he was disappointed, but never
thought he didn’t have to like me
to love me. No girls. Never learned
to drive a stick. Chose the kitchen and mom
while he went to the woods with friends who had sons
like he wanted. He tried fishing—a rod and reel
under the tree one Christmas. Years I tried
talking deeper, acting tougher
when we were together. Last summer
I went with him to buy a tractor.
In case he needs help, Mom said. He didn’t look at me
as he and the sales guy tied the wheels to the trailer, perfect
boy-scout knots. Why do I sometimes wish I could be a man
who cares about cars and football, who carries a pocketknife
and needs it? It was January when he screamed: I’m not
a student, don’t talk down to me! I yelled: You’re not smart enough
to be one! I learned to fight like his father, like him, like men:
the meanest guy wins, don't ever apologize.
You're seventeen and tunnel-vision drunk, swerving your father's Fairlane wagon home at 3:00 a.m. Two-lane road, all curves and dips—dark woods, a stream, a patchy acre of teazle and grass. You don't see the deer till they turn their heads—road full of eyeballs, small moons glowing. You crank the wheel, stamp both feet on the brake, skid and jolt into the ditch. Glitter and crunch of broken glass in your lap, deer hair drifting like dust. Your chin and shirt are soaked—one eye half-obscured by the cocked bridge of your nose. The car still running, its lights angled up at the trees. You get out. The deer lies on its side. A doe, spinning itself around in a frantic circle, front legs scrambling, back legs paralyzed, dead. Making a sound— again and again this terrible bleat. You watch for a while. It tires, lies still. And here's what you do: pick the deer up like a bride. Wrestle it into the back of the car— the seat folded down. Somehow, you steer the wagon out of the ditch and head home, night rushing in through the broken window, headlight dangling, side-mirror gone. Your nose throbs, something stabs in your side. The deer breathing behind you, shallow and fast. A stoplight, you're almost home and the deer scrambles to life, its long head appears like a ghost in the rearview mirror and bites you, its teeth clamp down on your shoulder and maybe you scream, you struggle and flail till the deer, exhausted, lets go and lies down. 2 Your father's waiting up, watching tv. He's had a few drinks and he's angry. Christ, he says, when you let yourself in. It's Night of the Living Dead. You tell him some of what happened: the dark road, the deer you couldn't avoid. Outside, he circles the car. Jesus, he says. A long silence. Son of a bitch, looking in. He opens the tailgate, drags the quivering deer out by a leg. What can you tell him—you weren't thinking, you'd injured your head? You wanted to fix what you'd broken—restore the beautiful body, color of wet straw, color of oak leaves in winter? The deer shudders and bleats in the driveway. Your father walks to the toolshed, comes back lugging a concrete block. Some things stay with you. Dumping the body deep in the woods, like a gangster. The dent in your nose. All your life, the trail of ruin you leave.
A 29-year-old stewardess fell ... to her death tonight when she was swept through an emergency door that suddenly sprang open ... The body ... was found ... three hours after the accident. —New York Times The states when they black out and lie there rolling when they turn To something transcontinental move by drawing moonlight out of the great One-sided stone hung off the starboard wingtip some sleeper next to An engine is groaning for coffee and there is faintly coming in Somewhere the vast beast-whistle of space. In the galley with its racks Of trays she rummages for a blanket and moves in her slim tailored Uniform to pin it over the cry at the top of the door. As though she blew The door down with a silent blast from her lungs frozen she is black Out finding herself with the plane nowhere and her body taking by the throat The undying cry of the void falling living beginning to be something That no one has ever been and lived through screaming without enough air Still neat lipsticked stockinged girdled by regulation her hat Still on her arms and legs in no world and yet spaced also strangely With utter placid rightness on thin air taking her time she holds it In many places and now, still thousands of feet from her death she seems To slow she develops interest she turns in her maneuverable body To watch it. She is hung high up in the overwhelming middle of things in her Self in low body-whistling wrapped intensely in all her dark dance-weight Coming down from a marvellous leap with the delaying, dumfounding ease Of a dream of being drawn like endless moonlight to the harvest soil Of a central state of one’s country with a great gradual warmth coming Over her floating finding more and more breath in what she has been using For breath as the levels become more human seeing clouds placed honestly Below her left and right riding slowly toward them she clasps it all To her and can hang her hands and feet in it in peculiar ways and Her eyes opened wide by wind, can open her mouth as wide wider and suck All the heat from the cornfields can go down on her back with a feeling Of stupendous pillows stacked under her and can turn turn as to someone In bed smile, understood in darkness can go away slant slide Off tumbling into the emblem of a bird with its wings half-spread Or whirl madly on herself in endless gymnastics in the growing warmth Of wheatfields rising toward the harvest moon. There is time to live In superhuman health seeing mortal unreachable lights far down seeing An ultimate highway with one late priceless car probing it arriving In a square town and off her starboard arm the glitter of water catches The moon by its one shaken side scaled, roaming silver My God it is good And evil lying in one after another of all the positions for love Making dancing sleeping and now cloud wisps at her no Raincoat no matter all small towns brokenly brighter from inside Cloud she walks over them like rain bursts out to behold a Greyhound Bus shooting light through its sides it is the signal to go straight Down like a glorious diver then feet first her skirt stripped beautifully Up her face in fear-scented cloths her legs deliriously bare then Arms out she slow-rolls over steadies out waits for something great To take control of her trembles near feathers planes head-down The quick movements of bird-necks turning her head gold eyes the insight- eyesight of owls blazing into the hencoops a taste for chicken overwhelming Her the long-range vision of hawks enlarging all human lights of cars Freight trains looped bridges enlarging the moon racing slowly Through all the curves of a river all the darks of the midwest blazing From above. A rabbit in a bush turns white the smothering chickens Huddle for over them there is still time for something to live With the streaming half-idea of a long stoop a hurtling a fall That is controlled that plummets as it wills turns gravity Into a new condition, showing its other side like a moon shining New Powers there is still time to live on a breath made of nothing But the whole night time for her to remember to arrange her skirt Like a diagram of a bat tightly it guides her she has this flying-skin Made of garments and there are also those sky-divers on TV sailing In sunlight smiling under their goggles swapping batons back and forth And He who jumped without a chute and was handed one by a diving Buddy. She looks for her grinning companion white teeth nowhere She is screaming singing hymns her thin human wings spread out From her neat shoulders the air beast-crooning to her warbling And she can no longer behold the huge partial form of the world now She is watching her country lose its evoked master shape watching it lose And gain get back its houses and peoples watching it bring up Its local lights single homes lamps on barn roofs if she fell Into water she might live like a diver cleaving perfect plunge Into another heavy silver unbreathable slowing saving Element: there is water there is time to perfect all the fine Points of diving feet together toes pointed hands shaped right To insert her into water like a needle to come out healthily dripping And be handed a Coca-Cola there they are there are the waters Of life the moon packed and coiled in a reservoir so let me begin To plane across the night air of Kansas opening my eyes superhumanly Bright to the damned moon opening the natural wings of my jacket By Don Loper moving like a hunting owl toward the glitter of water One cannot just fall just tumble screaming all that time one must use It she is now through with all through all clouds damp hair Straightened the last wisp of fog pulled apart on her face like wool revealing New darks new progressions of headlights along dirt roads from chaos And night a gradual warming a new-made, inevitable world of one’s own Country a great stone of light in its waiting waters hold hold out For water: who knows when what correct young woman must take up her body And fly and head for the moon-crazed inner eye of midwest imprisoned Water stored up for her for years the arms of her jacket slipping Air up her sleeves to go all over her? What final things can be said Of one who starts her sheerly in her body in the high middle of night Air to track down water like a rabbit where it lies like life itself Off to the right in Kansas? She goes toward the blazing-bare lake Her skirts neat her hands and face warmed more and more by the air Rising from pastures of beans and under her under chenille bedspreads The farm girls are feeling the goddess in them struggle and rise brooding On the scratch-shining posts of the bed dreaming of female signs Of the moon male blood like iron of what is really said by the moan Of airliners passing over them at dead of midwest midnight passing Over brush fires burning out in silence on little hills and will wake To see the woman they should be struggling on the rooftree to become Stars: for her the ground is closer water is nearer she passes It then banks turns her sleeves fluttering differently as she rolls Out to face the east, where the sun shall come up from wheatfields she must Do something with water fly to it fall in it drink it rise From it but there is none left upon earth the clouds have drunk it back The plants have sucked it down there are standing toward her only The common fields of death she comes back from flying to falling Returns to a powerful cry the silent scream with which she blew down The coupled door of the airliner nearly nearly losing hold Of what she has done remembers remembers the shape at the heart Of cloud fashionably swirling remembers she still has time to die Beyond explanation. Let her now take off her hat in summer air the contour Of cornfields and have enough time to kick off her one remaining Shoe with the toes of the other foot to unhook her stockings With calm fingers, noting how fatally easy it is to undress in midair Near death when the body will assume without effort any position Except the one that will sustain it enable it to rise live Not die nine farms hover close widen eight of them separate, leaving One in the middle then the fields of that farm do the same there is no Way to back off from her chosen ground but she sheds the jacket With its silver sad impotent wings sheds the bat’s guiding tailpiece Of her skirt the lightning-charged clinging of her blouse the intimate Inner flying-garment of her slip in which she rides like the holy ghost Of a virgin sheds the long windsocks of her stockings absurd Brassiere then feels the girdle required by regulations squirming Off her: no longer monobuttocked she feels the girdle flutter shake In her hand and float upward her clothes rising off her ascending Into cloud and fights away from her head the last sharp dangerous shoe Like a dumb bird and now will drop in SOON now will drop In like this the greatest thing that ever came to Kansas down from all Heights all levels of American breath layered in the lungs from the frail Chill of space to the loam where extinction slumbers in corn tassels thickly And breathes like rich farmers counting: will come along them after Her last superhuman act the last slow careful passing of her hands All over her unharmed body desired by every sleeper in his dream: Boys finding for the first time their loins filled with heart’s blood Widowed farmers whose hands float under light covers to find themselves Arisen at sunrise the splendid position of blood unearthly drawn Toward clouds all feel something pass over them as she passes Her palms over her long legs her small breasts and deeply between Her thighs her hair shot loose from all pins streaming in the wind Of her body let her come openly trying at the last second to land On her back This is it THIS All those who find her impressed In the soft loam gone down driven well into the image of her body The furrows for miles flowing in upon her where she lies very deep In her mortal outline in the earth as it is in cloud can tell nothing But that she is there inexplicable unquestionable and remember That something broke in them as well and began to live and die more When they walked for no reason into their fields to where the whole earth Caught her interrupted her maiden flight told her how to lie she cannot Turn go away cannot move cannot slide off it and assume another Position no sky-diver with any grin could save her hold her in his arms Plummet with her unfold above her his wedding silks she can no longer Mark the rain with whirling women that take the place of a dead wife Or the goddess in Norwegian farm girls or all the back-breaking whores Of Wichita. All the known air above her is not giving up quite one Breath it is all gone and yet not dead not anywhere else Quite lying still in the field on her back sensing the smells Of incessant growth try to lift her a little sight left in the corner Of one eye fading seeing something wave lies believing That she could have made it at the best part of her brief goddess State to water gone in headfirst come out smiling invulnerable Girl in a bathing-suit ad but she is lying like a sunbather at the last Of moonlight half-buried in her impact on the earth not far From a railroad trestle a water tank she could see if she could Raise her head from her modest hole with her clothes beginning To come down all over Kansas into bushes on the dewy sixth green Of a golf course one shoe her girdle coming down fantastically On a clothesline, where it belongs her blouse on a lightning rod: Lies in the fields in this field on her broken back as though on A cloud she cannot drop through while farmers sleepwalk without Their women from houses a walk like falling toward the far waters Of life in moonlight toward the dreamed eternal meaning of their farms Toward the flowering of the harvest in their hands that tragic cost Feels herself go go toward go outward breathes at last fully Not and tries less once tries tries AH, GOD—
He winds through the party like wind, one of the just who live alone in black and white, bewildered by the eden of his body. (You, you talk like winter rain.) He's the meaning of almost-morning walking home at five A.M., the difference a night makes turning over into day, simple birds staking claims on no sleep. Whatever they call those particular birds. He's the age of sensibility at seventeen, he isn't worth the time of afternoon it takes to write this down. He's the friend that lightning makes, raking the naked tree, thunder that waits for weeks to arrive; he's the certainty of torrents in September, harvest time and powerlines down for miles. He doesn't even know his name. In his body he's one with air, white as a sky rinsed with rain. It's cold there, it's hard to breathe, and drowning is somewhere to be after a month of drought.
One summer afternoon, I learned my body
like a blind child leaving a walled
school for the first time, stumbling
from cool hallways to a world
dense with scent and sound,
pines roaring in the sudden wind
like a huge chorus of insects.
I felt the damp socket of flowers,
touched weeds riding the crest
of a stony ridge, and the scrubby
ground cover on low hills.
Haystacks began to burn,
smoke rose like sheets of
translucent mica. The thick air
hummed over the stretched wires
of wheat as I lay in the overgrown field
listening to the shrieks of small rabbits
bounding beneath my skin.
Mothers of America let your kids go to the movies! get them out of the house so they won't know what you're up to it's true that fresh air is good for the body but what about the soul that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images and when you grow old as grow old you must they won't hate you they won't criticize you they won't know they'll be in some glamorous country they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey they may even be grateful to you for their first sexual experience which only cost you a quarter and didn't upset the peaceful home they will know where candy bars come from and gratuitous bags of popcorn as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it's over with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg near the Williamsburg Bridge oh mothers you will have made the little tykes so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies they won't know the difference and if somebody does it'll be sheer gravy and they'll have been truly entertained either way instead of hanging around the yard or up in their room hating you prematurely since you won't have done anything horribly mean yet except keeping them from the darker joys it's unforgivable the latter so don't blame me if you won't take this advice and the family breaks up and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set seeing movies you wouldn't let them see when they were young
From her window marshland stretched for miles. If not for egrets and gulls, it reminded her of the moors behind the parsonage, how the fog often hovered and descended as if sheltering some sweet compulsion the age was not ready to see. On clear days the jagged skyline of Atlantic City was visible—Atlantic City, where all compulsions had a home. "Everything's too easy now," she said to her neighbor, "nothing resisted, nothing gained." Once, at eighteen, she dreamed of London's proud salons glowing with brilliant fires and dazzling chandeliers. Already her own person—passionate, assertive— soon she'd create a governess insistent on rights equal to those above her rank. "The dangerous picture of a natural heart," one offended critic carped. She'd failed, he said, to let religion reign over the passions and, worse, she was a woman. Now she was amazed at what women had, doubly amazed at what they didn't. But she hadn't come back to complain or haunt. Her house on the bay was modest, adequate. It need not accommodate brilliant sisters or dissolute brothers, spirits lost or fallen. Feminists would pay homage, praise her honesty and courage. Rarely was she pleased. After all, she was an artist; to speak of honesty in art, she knew, was somewhat beside the point. And she had married, had even learned to respect the weakness in men, those qualities they called their strengths. Whatever the struggle, she wanted men included. Charlotte missed reading chapters to Emily, Emily reading chapters to her. As ever, though, she'd try to convert present into presence, something unsung sung, some uprush of desire frankly acknowledged, even in this, her new excuse for a body.
A youngest brother turns seventeen with a click as good as a roar, finds the door and is gone. You listen for that small sound, hear a memory. The air-raid sirens howled of summer tornadoes, the sound thrown back against the scattered thumbs of grain silos and the open Oklahoma plains like the warning wail of insects. Repudiation is fast like a whirlwind. Only children don't know that all you live is leaving. Yes, the first knowledge that counts is that everything stops. Even in the bible-belt, second comings are promises you never really believed; so you turn and walk into the embrace of the world as you would to a woman, an arrant an orphic movement as shocking as the subtle animal pulse of a flower opening, palm up. We are all so helpless. I can look at my wife's full form now and hope for children, picture her figured by the weight of babies. Only, it's still so much like trying to find something once lost. My brother felt the fullness of his years, the pull in the gut that's almost sickness. His white smooth face is gone into living and fierce illusion, a journey dissolute and as immutable as the whining heat of summer. Soon enough, too soon, momentum just isn't enough. Our tragedy is to live in a world that doesn't invite us back. We slow, find ourselves sitting in a room that shifts so slightly we can only imagine the difference. I want to tell him to listen. I want to tell him what it is to crave darkness, to want to crawl headfirst into a dirt-warm womb to sleep, to wait seventeen years, to emerge again.
i knew you before you had a mother, when you were newtlike, swimming, a horrible brain in water. i knew you when your connections belonged only to yourself, when you had no history to hook on to, barnacle, when you had no sustenance of metal when you had no boat to travel when you stayed in the same place, treading the question; i knew you when you were all eyes and a cocktail, blank as the sky of a mind, a root, neither ground nor placental; not yet red with the cut nor astonished by pain, one terrible eye open in the center of your head to night, turning, and the stars blinked like a cat. we swam in the last trickle of champagne before we knew breastmilk—we shared the night of the closet, the parasitic closing on our thumbprint, we were smudged in a yellow book. son, we were oak without mouth, uncut, we were brave before memory.
It was the summer of Chandra Levy, disappearing from Washington D.C., her lover a Congressman, evasive and blow-dried from Modesto, the TV wondering in every room in America to an image of her tight jeans and piles of curls frozen in a studio pose. It was the summer the only woman known as a serial killer, a ten-dollar whore trolling the plains of central Florida, said she knew she would kill again, murder filled her dreams and if she walked in the world, it would crack her open with its awful wings. It was the summer that in Texas, another young woman killed her five children, left with too many little boys, always pregnant. One Thanksgiving, she tried to slash her own throat. That summer the Congressman lied again about the nature of his relations, or, as he said, he couldn't remember if they had sex that last night he saw her, but there were many anonymous girls that summer, there always are, who lower their necks to the stone and pray, not to God but to the Virgin, herself once a young girl, chosen in her room by an archangel. Instead of praying, that summer I watched television, reruns of a UFO series featuring a melancholic woman detective who had gotten cancer and was made sterile by aliens. I watched infomercials: exercise machines, pasta makers, and a product called Nails Again With Henna, ladies, make your nails steely strong, naturally, and then the photograph of Chandra Levy would appear again, below a bright red number, such as 81, to indicate the days she was missing. Her mother said, please understand how we're feeling when told that the police don't believe she will be found alive, though they searched the parks and forests of the Capitol for the remains and I remembered being caught in Tennessee, my tent filled with wind lifting around me, tornado honey, said the operator when I called in fear. The highway barren, I drove to a truck stop where maybe a hundred trucks hummed in pale, even rows like eggs in a carton. Truckers paced in the dining room, fatigue in their beards, in their bottomless cups of coffee. The store sold handcuffs, dirty magazines, t-shirts that read, Ass, gas or grass. Nobody rides for free, and a bulletin board bore a public notice: Jane Doe, found in a refrigerator box outside Johnson, TN, her slight measurements and weight. The photographs were of her face, not peaceful in death, and of her tattoos Born to Run, and J.T. caught in scrollworks of roses. One winter in Harvard Square, I wandered drunk, my arms full of still warm, stolen laundry, and a man said come to my studio and of course I went— for some girls, our bodies are not immortal so much as expendable, we have punished them or wearied from dragging them around for so long and so we go wearing the brilliant plumage of the possibly freed by death. Quick on the icy sidewalks, I felt thin and fleet, and the night made me feel unique in the eyes of the stranger. He told me he made sculptures of figure skaters, not of the women's bodies, but of the air that whipped around them, a study of negative space, which he said was the where-we-were-not that made us. Dizzy from beer, I thought why not step into that space? He locked the door behind me.
For Carl Solomon
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated, who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war, who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull, who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York, who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls, incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time between, Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind, who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo, who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox, who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge, a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out of the moon, yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars, whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement, who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall, suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak furnished room, who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts, who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night, who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas, who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels, who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy, who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain, who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa, who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago, who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incomprehensible leaflets, who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism, who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also wailed, who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before the machinery of other skeletons, who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication, who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts, who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy, who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love, who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may, who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to pierce them with a sword, who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman's loom. who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness, who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake, who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver--joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses' rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too, who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams, woke on a sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out of basements hungover with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment offices, who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steamheat and opium, who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion, who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery, who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions and bad music, who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts, who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology, who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish, who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom, who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg, who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade, who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up and were forced to open antique stores where they thought they were growing old and cried, who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality, who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer, who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of colossal steamwhistles, who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation, who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity, who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes, who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each other's salvation and light and breasts, until the soul illuminated its hair for a second, who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible criminals with golden heads and the charm of reality in their hearts who sang sweet blues to Alcatraz, who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the daisychain or grave, who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury, who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy, and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & amnesia, who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia, returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns of the East, Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a nightmare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon, with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m. and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination-- ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're really in the total animal soup of time-- and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrating plane, who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head, the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death, and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks! Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men! Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments! Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb! Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities! Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind! Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch! Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky! Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous bombs! They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us! Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river! Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit! Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time! Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!
Backing out the driveway the car lights cast an eerie glow in the morning fog centering on movement in the rain slick street Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes a little raccoon I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did could not escape the cat toying with his life Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home . . . being naturally . . . slow her condition makes her even more ginger We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling neighbors: we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and railroad crossings All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs think themselves invincible and pay no heed to the rolling wheels while they dine on an unlucky rabbit I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it's not a deer or a skunk or a groundhog coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me and into the empty passenger seat I look . . . relieved and exasperated ... to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf struggling . . . to lift itself into the wind and live
Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.
Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico, I felt the life sliding out of me, a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear. I was seven, I lay in the car watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass. My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin. "How do you know if you are going to die?" I begged my mother. We had been traveling for days. With strange confidence she answered, "When you can no longer make a fist." Years later I smile to think of that journey, the borders we must cross separately, stamped with our unanswerable woes. I who did not die, who am still living, still lying in the backseat behind all my questions, clenching and opening one small hand.
THE POOL PLAYERS. SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL. We real cool. We Left school. We Lurk late. We Strike straight. We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We Jazz June. We Die soon.
for Aya at fifteen Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself upside down across the sofa, reading, one hand idly sunk into a bowl of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on. I think they are growing gills, swimming up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl, my slim miracle, they multiply. In the black hours when I lie sleepless, near drowning, dread-heavy, your face is the bright lure I look for, love's hook piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.
I divested myself of despair and fear when I came here. Now there is no more catching one's own eye in the mirror, there are no bad books, no plastic, no insurance premiums, and of course no illness. Contrition does not exist, nor gnashing of teeth. No one howls as the first clod of earth hits the casket. The poor we no longer have with us. Our calm hearts strike only the hour, and God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.
Patience is wider than one once envisioned, with ribbons of rivers and distant ranges and tasks undertaken and finished with modest relish by natives in their native dress. Who would have guessed it possible that waiting is sustainable— a place with its own harvests. Or that in time's fullness the diamonds of patience couldn't be distinguished from the genuine in brilliance or hardness.
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I whispered, "I am too young," And then, "I am old enough"; Wherefore I threw a penny To find out if I might love. "Go and love, go and love, young man, If the lady be young and fair," Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, I am looped in the loops of her hair. Oh, love is the crooked thing, There is nobody wise enough To find out all that is in it, For he would be thinking of love Till the stars had run away, And the shadows eaten the moon. Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, One cannot begin it too soon.
when my father had been dead a week I woke with his voice in my ear I sat up in bed and held my breath and stared at the pale closed door white apples and the taste of stone if he called again I would put on my coat and galoshes
Yes, indeed, that is my house that I am carrying around on my back like a bullet-proof shell and yes, that sure is my little dog walking a hard road in hard boots. And just wait until you see my girl, chomping on the chains of fate with her mouth full of jagged steel. She’s damn ready and so am I. What else did you expect from the brainiacs of my generation? The survivors, the nonbelievers, the oddball-outs with the Cuban Missile Crisis still sizzling in our blood? Don’t tell me that you bought our act, just because our worried parents (and believe me, we’re nothing like them) taught us how to dress for work and to speak as if we cared about our education. And I guess the music fooled you: you thought we’d keep the party going even to the edge of the abyss. Well, too bad. It’s all yours now. Good luck on the ramparts. What you want to watch for is when the sky shakes itself free of kites and flies away. Have a nice day.
The changing light at San Francisco is none of your East Coast light none of your pearly light of Paris The light of San Francisco is a sea light an island light And the light of fog blanketing the hills drifting in at night through the Golden Gate to lie on the city at dawn And then the halcyon late mornings after the fog burns off and the sun paints white houses with the sea light of Greece with sharp clean shadows making the town look like it had just been painted But the wind comes up at four o'clock sweeping the hills And then the veil of light of early evening And then another scrim when the new night fog floats in And in that vale of light the city drifts anchorless upon the ocean
The fist clenched round my heart loosens a little, and I gasp brightness; but it tightens again. When have I ever not loved the pain of love? But this has moved past love to mania. This has the strong clench of the madman, this is gripping the ledge of unreason, before plunging howling into the abyss. Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.
You meant more than life to me. I lived through
you not knowing, not knowing I was living.
I learned that you called for me. I came to where
you were living, up a stair. There was no one there.
No one to appreciate me. The legality of it
upset a chair. Many times to celebrate
we were called together and where
we had been there was nothing there,
nothing that is anywhere. We passed obliquely,
leaving no stare. When the sun was done muttering,
in an optimistic way, it was time to leave that there.
Blithely passing in and out of where, blushing shyly
at the tag on the overcoat near the window where
the outside crept away, I put aside the there and now.
Now it was time to stumble anew,
blacking out when time came in the window.
There was not much of it left.
I laughed and put my hands shyly
across your eyes. Can you see now?
Yes I can see I am only in the where
where the blossoming stream takes off, under your window.
Go presently you said. Go from my window.
I am in love with your window I cannot undermine
it, I said.
The only legend I have ever loved is the story of a daughter lost in hell. And found and rescued there. Love and blackmail are the gist of it. Ceres and Persephone the names. And the best thing about the legend is I can enter it anywhere. And have. As a child in exile in a city of fogs and strange consonants, I read it first and at first I was an exiled child in the crackling dusk of the underworld, the stars blighted. Later I walked out in a summer twilight searching for my daughter at bed-time. When she came running I was ready to make any bargain to keep her. I carried her back past whitebeams and wasps and honey-scented buddleias. But I was Ceres then and I knew winter was in store for every leaf on every tree on that road. Was inescapable for each one we passed. And for me. It is winter and the stars are hidden. I climb the stairs and stand where I can see my child asleep beside her teen magazines, her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit. The pomegranate! How did I forget it? She could have come home and been safe and ended the story and all our heart-broken searching but she reached out a hand and plucked a pomegranate. She put out her hand and pulled down the French sound for apple and the noise of stone and the proof that even in the place of death, at the heart of legend, in the midst of rocks full of unshed tears ready to be diamonds by the time the story was told, a child can be hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance. The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured. The suburb has cars and cable television. The veiled stars are above ground. It is another world. But what else can a mother give her daughter but such beautiful rifts in time? If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift. The legend will be hers as well as mine. She will enter it. As I have. She will wake up. She will hold the papery flushed skin in her hand. And to her lips. I will say nothing.