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About this Poem 

“The slightly annoyed, slightly curious, slightly amused, slightly envious question of the title was a way into imagining who and what was going on behind the wall of a motel room. The love or murder or poetry reading that was being performed next door provoked a fugue on relatedness, an extension of sympathy from the poet to the other. It reminded me somewhat of Frost’s notion in a letter, ‘The best place to get the abstract sound of sense is from voices behind a door that cuts off the words.’ There was a way in which the predicament or unbridled joy of those others rhymed with mine, hence the form.”

—Bruce Smith

What Are They Doing in the Next Room

Are they unmaking everything?
Are they tuning the world sitar?
Are they taking an ice pick to being?
Are they enduring freedom in Kandahar?

Sounds, at this distance, like field hollers,
sounds like they’ll be needing CPR.
Sounds like the old complaint of love and dollars.
Sounds like when Coltrane met Ravi Shankar

and the raga met the rag and hearing
became different and you needed CPR
after listening and tearing was tearing
and love was a binary star—

distant bodies eclipsing each other
with versions of gravity and light.
Sounds like someone’s trying to smother
the other—a homicide or a wedding night.

The television derives the half-full hours.
Time exists as mostly what’s to come.
Losing also is ours…
I meant that as a question.

Is I the insomniac’s question?
Are you a dendrite or a dream?
Between oblivion and affection,
which one is fear and which protection?

Are they transitive or in?
Are they process or product?
Are they peeling off the skin?
Are they Paris or the abducted?

They’re reading something after Joyce,
post modern stuff that can be read
but not understood except as voices
rising and falling from the dead.

Do they invent me
as I invent their faces?
I see surveillance gray wasted
with bliss at having thieved identities.

In the AM, when turns to usted,
the sun clocks in to overwrite the night
with hues and saturations and the red
hesitates for a second to be incarnate.

Copyright @ 2014 by Bruce Smith. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2014.

Copyright @ 2014 by Bruce Smith. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2014.

Bruce Smith

Smith is the author of six poetry collections, including Devotions (University of Chicago Press, 2011), which was the recipient of the 2012 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

by this poet

poem
I saw the body of the jack fruit fall. I saw the body of the hero
fall, his armor clanging on his body. Then the juice and sutras
of the little spell of emptiness or the greater discourse of seed
and ovary. I saw the place ransacked to find a substitute
for the succulents—the lychee, the peach, the
poem
Beheadings, slaughter of the innocents, suffering
and sorrow say all the stabbed, ecstatic art
of the museums and more of the same
says the news, the glowing, after glowing now
what, but also in the crowded galleries babies held
by mothers looking at babies being artfully held
in the celestial rain, the fat
poem
after Alice Oswald

Take away my engine and I shall engineless go
to find you. Take away my bees
and I will flowerless walk the vectors of sweet
nothings until I’m face to face with Monsanto.

In my doomed town where small mechanic skills
make the evenings strung out and shrill
with compressors and vapors, I