Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
You hold your hands up to the light.
The small mirrors of your fingernails
are painted over with blood.
You help me knot the black
tie tight around my throat.
Tonight we are going to dine.
We have a hunger that nothing has filled.
It grows large and rigid.
We stand in it like a room.
“The writer. It’s a cul-de-sac,” you wrote that
winter of our nation’s discontent. That first time
I found you, blue marble lying still in the trench, you, staked
in waiting for something, anything but the cell of your small
apartment with the fixtures never scrubbed, the seven great
named cats you gassed in the move. I couldn’t keep them.
You explained so I understood. And what cat never loved
your shell-like ways, the claw of your steady fingers, firme
from the rasping of banjos and steady as it goes
from the nose to the hair to the shaking tip. My favorite
tale was of the owl and the pussycat in love in a china cup
cast at sea, or in a flute more brittle, more lifelike
and riddled with flair, the exquisite polish of its gaudy
glaze now puzzled with heat cracks, now foamed
opalescent as the single espresso dish you bought from
Goodwill. What ever becomes of the heart our common
child fashioned, red silk and golden satin, the gay glitter
fallen from moves, our names with Love written in black
felt pen? Who gets what? Who knows what becomes of the
rose you carried home from Spanish Harlem that morning
I sat waiting for the surgeon’s suction. What ever becomes
of waiting and wanting, when the princess isn’t ready and
the queen has missed the boat, again? Do you still write
those old remarks etched on a page of Kandinsky’s ace
letting go? Like: Lorna meets Oliver North and she
kicks his butt. The dates are immaterial to me as
salvation or a freer light bending through stallions
in an air gone heavy with underground tunnels. Do you
read me? Is there some library where you’ll find me, smashed
on the page of some paper? Let it go is my morning mantra
gone blind with the saved backing of a clock, now dark
as an empty womb when I wake, now listening for your tick
or the sound of white walls on a sticky street. Engines out
the window remind me of breathing apparatus at the breaking
of new worlds, the crash and perpetual maligning of the sand
bar where sea lions sawed up logs for a winter cabin. I dream
wood smoke in the morning. I dream the rank and file of used
up chimneys, what that night must have smelled like, her mussed
and toweled positioning, my ambulance of heart through stopped
traffic where you picked the right corner to tell me: They think
someone murdered her. You were there, all right, you were
a statue carved from the stone of your birth. You were patient
as a sparrow under leaf and as calm as the bay those light
evenings when I envisioned you with the fishwife you loved.
And yes, I could have done it then, kissed it off, when the scalpel
of single star brightened and my world blazed, a dying bulb
for the finger of a socket, like our sunsets on the Cape, fallen
fish blood in snow, the hearts and diamonds we found and left
alone on a New England grave. Why was the summer so long
then? Even now a golden season stumps me and I stamp
ants on the brilliant iced drifts. I walk a steady mile
to that place where you left it, that solid gold band
thrown away to a riptide in a gesture the theatrical
love—so well. What was my role? Or did I leave it
undelivered when they handed me the gun of my triggered
smiles and taught me to cock it? Did I play it to the hilt
and bleeding, did I plunge in your lap and wake to find you
lonely in a ribbon of breathing tissue? Does this impudent
muscle die? Does love expire? Do eternal nestings mean much
more than a quill gone out or the spit? I spy the bank
of frothed fog fuming with airbrushed pussies on a pink
horizon. I scored my shoes with walking. My skill is losing.
It’s what we do best, us ducks, us lessons on what not
Thanks for the crack,
in my O.E.D. that 30th renewal when the summer snapped
and hissed suddenly like a bullet of coal flung from a fire
place or a dumb swallow who dove into the pit for pay. Kiss
her, and it’s good luck. I palm this lucky trade but the soot
never sells and I never sailed away on a gulf stream that divides
continents from ourselves. But only half of me is cracked, the
other is launched on a wild bob, a buoy, steadfast in storm. I may
sail to Asia or I might waft aimlessly to Spain where my hemp
first dried from the rain. My messages wring from the line,
unanswered, pressed sheets from an old wash or the impression
of a holy thing. But don’t pull no science on this shroud, the
date will only lie. She’ll tell you it’s sacred, even sell you
a piece of the fray. She appears on the cracked ravines of this
country like a ghost on the windshield of an oncoming
train. She refuses to die, but just look at her nation
without a spare penny to change. My wear is a glass made
clean through misuse, the mishandling of my age as revealing
as my erased face, Indian head of my stick birth, my battle
buried under an island of snow I’ve yet to get to. What could I do
with this neighborhood of avenues scattered with empty shells
of mailboxes, their feet caked with cement like pulled up
pilings? Evidently, they haven’t a word
Someday, I said, I can write us both from this mess. But the key
stalls out from under me when I spell your name. I have to fake
the O or go over it again in the dark, a tracing of differences
spilled out on a sheet. If I could stick this back
together, would it stay? It’s no rope, I know, and no good
for holding clear liquid. I gather a froth on my gums, and grin
the way an old woman grimaces in a morning mirror. I was never
a clear thing, never felt the way a daughter feels, never lost
out like you, never drove. My moon waits at the edge
of an eagle’s aerie, almost extinct and the eggs are fragile
from poisoned ignitions. I’m never coming out from my cup
of tea, never working loose the grease in my hair, the monkey
grease from my dancing elbows that jab at your shoulder.
But I write, and wait for the book to sell, for I know
nothing comes of it but the past with its widening teeth,
with its meat breath baited at my neck, persistent as the smell
of a drunk. Don’t tell me. I already know. It’s just the rule of
the game for the jack of all hearts, and for the queen of baguettes;
it’s a cul-de-sac for a joker drawing hearts.
I’m an actress in this movie and all my lines are “but I loved you”. I line up valleys of dolls to silence my barbiturate tongue.
I can’t figure out the earth, everything saying yes and no
at the same time, everything shedding its hair and licking
its teeth and waiting to be eaten. And then there are the
great wings of the galaxies I’m looking at as they shudder
through the wilderness like spirits until they stoop through
my garden of lenses and mirrors. What is the loneliness
of all those shattered islands, what is so lofty, so hungry,
so intelligent, so needy about them? I’m reading in a holy
book about how the color red shifts and retreats in this
sidereal world, as though the stars are trying to hide
their forms from one another, as though they are afraid
of their nakedness─they all race away, and only the distance
grows, only the distraction, as if that were the point. Now
the yard is so quiet I can hear the snails being pulled
through the long grass by some reckless force beyond their
snail imagination. There are sayings now that would help me.
They would be nothing by daylight. The words try to avoid
embarrassment too. How can you blame them? But in
these pure hungers of the night it is another story. Precisely
another story, and then another and another. Oh, there were
footsteps in the Garden, all right. There was a firmament
hung with lights. But that was then. This is now. That’s what
makes me ask for the next story. That’s what makes me curl
in the blanket on the shivering grass and stare outward. That’s
what makes tonight so safe for this one thing I’m trying to say.
Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer’s retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.
and for the lumpen bourgeoisie
We were so poor.
The air was a quiver
of thoughts we drew from
to poise, unsaid
in the ineffable
world we lived in.
Sun, scarcely a penny
in that dreary setting,
every night gave up
to a smog-strewn avalanche
of searchlights, crossing
the heavens, a bicker
to buy a new used car,
a four-door sedan, a six
month guarantee. I worked
the years through, thought
I could work my mind’s way
out of there, out of needing
a dime bag of uppers for the next
buzzing shift. We paid our bills.
We were brilliant at wishing.
Our dreams wafted over the sullen skyline
like crazy meteors of flying embers:
a glow in the heart all night.
It is a shame to watch
my face to see it
running through your hands
I am my own
a shadow set against
a darker shadow.
I hear a sound
buried in the earth.
The pressure of my feet
against the pedals
opens a flood.
A carrousel is bobbing
up & down.
The happy singer
with seven others.
“You have his eyes,” she’d say to me,
and then to my old aunt, “Those are
the eyes I saw!” And she would tell again
how Saint Francis caught her in the woods
when she was a young girl. Dominic,
her husband, would never sit still
when she spoke of it, would rise slowly
from the Morris chair and go outside,
down the rows of kale and corn
to his barn, his hammers and lasts.
“He took the breath from under my heart,”
she said, her thin fingers crooked at her breast.
“It was not what you think, He was a power,
a beast. And the rain came down, and he held
me there, my dress sticking, my body showing.”
When I wanted to wander out the door
and sit among the sharp-smelling hervas
in her garden, they let me go
and kept talking behind curtains
that breathed in and out in the slow air,
and they prayed the Rosary together,
droning through the Mysteries. “Don’t cross her,”
is what my mother said. “She’s a bruxa
and can give you the evil eye herself.”
“That kind of talk is foolish,” said my aunt.
Whenever we left, my aunt would take
my arms and lean to me─”Remember
that she is only talking about a dream!”
But I remembered Dominic’s hammering like a bell,
and how she said even the wet trees shivered.
via pasithee. (via tobia)
Today I’m thinking of all the people not in love: I’m with you!
I’d like to say, though one of the conditions
Of not being in love is that you can’t hear other people not in love.
You can only hear beautiful people, who have
Symphonies for faces: Grace Kelly, Dominique Sanda, Emmanuelle
Béart, ah, beautiful (can you hear the cellos
And clarinets?), but hmm, maybe not, they are beautiful but distant:
and what we want is not only the beautiful
But the possible: for what is love but an opening of the possible?
To be possible you must be new and nearby:
You must also look available, or the windows will inevitably close:
oh Alexs with an “s” at the record store,
Alexs so inscrutable, with your long blonde hair and Sanda-like face
and that Sanskrit tattoo on your wrist,
You died, you died that day I bought the new Tom Waits and said,
“Hi, Alexs, right?” and you said, “Huh,”
Nodding your head and not looking up: Jo Ann vanquished you,
Jo Ann of the perfect mouth and imperfect
Yoga technique, who gave me her number in the YMCA parking lot
but halfway through our first coffee date
Revealed she was married: now I’m struggling, really struggling,
to keep her alive. I walk around these days
And my footsteps go, Nobody, nobody. I cup possibility in my hands
like a mouse. Oh you out there not in love,
I know how it is, when you wake up in the morning and look down
at your body like an émigré looking back
Disgustedly at his homeland; when you peer through the blinds
and the world is nothing but a grey side;
When you feel each day is a dart flung at a target you keep missing
because who, or where, or what is the target?
The soul cannot live like this, the soul needs a cable, a clasp, its talons
are hungry for a peak, there’s too much space
And it’s thinning out like smoke: you step out of the furrow of the future
onto an asphalt present. Worse, there’s
A whiff of sin about you, because not to be in love with a person
should never stop you from being
In love with the world: and the problem is you’ve fallen out of love
with the world. You’ve come to hear
An underlying Goddamit! in everything, and never notice the trees
tossing their heads in the wind like conductors.
When they cut out my tonsils I hope they can cut out my heart too.
For a nickel, you can take a picture of me
standing just so in front of a wooden board
with a heart painted on it.
For a dime, you can take a picture with me,
you squatting behind and peeking through
like I’m one of those cardboard cut-outs
of an “Indian Chief” or a unicorn or some other
supposedly mythical creature.
When you offer a quarter, we move to the tent,
dim-lit and dusty, where I sit on the low
quilt-covered bed and pat the space beside me.
You are nervous. “Will it hurt? I mean, will it hurt you?”
I shake my head. “It never hurts. Not anymore.”
And then I take your hand and guide it up towards
the hole in my chest. You tremble for a second
as you reach through me, wiggle your fingers
around behind my back, disbelieving.
“Where is your heart?” you ask.
“How do you live without your heart?”
I don’t know how to answer, so I say,
“It’s amazing the things you can learn to live without.”
There is a line from a Tomas Transtromer poem that doesn’t leave my head:
“We are at a party that doesn’t love us.”
I am haunted by the truth of this.
A realisation while I’m
watching your face in the mirror
shaving a tired beard
all this time I’ve been
making love to a
sometimes I just need a firm hand
but it’s your tenderness
that will be
I have walked naked
the rooms of your family home
and put my hands
over the eyes and mouths of
to protect them from my shame
I’ve let a glass of red wine
spoil and chill in the Winter night
and found it half drunk by your bed
my tongue is blood red and ice
come to bed and
leave all the lights on
I want to see the look on
your naked face.
for Jessica Yen
Stuck in the answer of day,
all we’ve got are these people to rely on,
and trees, and the grasp of a river in the mind.
All the beautiful girls in the office are laughing and I laugh
along. And all of us good people, honest and clean,
And what puts the mean in some of us?
Sumptuous mountain, midnight milkweed,
come to the valley of neon and no-crying.
High hillside of home,
I’m waving from the cement center, can you see me?
I’ve got this big city in me. Pretty on fire, pretty high wired.
It’s been a year since Jess died, she said,
“I always knew it would come down to pills in the applesauce.”
And the house is not haunted, nor the office.
I wish it was, don’t you?
We were wilder before, see-through shirts
and model boys and bouncers in hotels lobbies
across the country.
Who knew it would be hard to get to thirty-two?
A friend says the best way to love the world is to think of leaving.
We’re all in a little trouble, you know?
Piles of empty stars we’ve tossed aside for the immediate kiss.
Push me around a bit, shake my pockets, I store everything
in my mouth, going to make an apple out of plastic,
going to make a real star out of the apple, then I’m
going to sell it to you.
I’m going to tell you it’s the most important thing.
I’m going to tell you I’m sorry, I’m going to crash
on your communal couch of unwanted.
Let’s say bloom.
Let’s say we’re a miracle of technology.
It’s harder to not say anything. It’s harder to admit
we are alive sometimes, isn’t it?
It’s all we’ve got, say it, pinch me.
You’re here. So am I. So there.
When Eve walked among the animals and named them—
nightingale, redshouldered hawk, fiddler crab, fallow deer—
I wonder if she ever wanted them to speak back, looked into their wide wonderful eyes and whispered, Name me, name me.
Then God said to me, stop
feeling sorry for yourself─isn’t it
enough that I love you? But I was
angry and sleepy in that indistinct way
when dreams linger like a fog in your head
all morning long, and I went out
to the work I grudged: God wanted me
to walk through the garden naming things,
but the wind was coming off the ocean six
miles down the boulevard, and a mockingbird
Sat on the roof painting the whole house with
polyphonies, and then the finches and
the gray doves and the parkway crows
began lighting up the eaves and the canopies,
and then God told me to be humble, so I trellised
the sweet peas and hosed the spall and whitefly
from the citrus leaves, and I was thinking
the whole time about love, how so many live
and die without it, and what that must mean,
but God rebuked me and bade me wrestle
with the tree, so I took the saw and hatchet
down to the narrow place along the neighbor’s
cinder blocks and prepared to cut and hack,
as I do each spring, this anonymous tree
that sends out its runners, and God said,
That tree will strangle your roses and
smite your false heather─
left alone it will crack the sidewalk
and rise up waving and whistling, and so I
attacked the saplings that had sprung up
window-high and wrist-thick along
its buried roots, and I chopped and I
sawed, and the leaves shivered green and gray
in the morning light, and a shower of small
orange moths burst up like hands dancing
all around my head, and I looked at them
and saw how they moved in the world, like
light bouncing from shadow to shadow;
and I saw their terror.
No blame. Anyone who wrote Howl and Kaddish
earned the right to make any possible mistake
for the rest of his life.
I just wish I hadn’t made this mistake with him.
It was during the Vietnam war
and he was giving a great protest reading
in Washington Square Park
and nobody wanted to leave.
So Ginsberg got the idea, “I’m going to shout
‘the war is over’ as loud as I can,” he said
“and all of you run over the city
in different directions
yelling the war is over, shout it in offices,
shops, everywhere and when enough people
believe the war is over
why, not even the politicians
will be able to keep it going.”
I thought it was a great idea at the time
a truly poetic idea.
So when Ginsberg yelled I ran down the street
and leaned in the doorway
of the sort of respectable down on its luck cafeteria
where librarians and minor clerks have lunch
and I yelled “the war is over.”
And a little old lady looked up
from her cottage cheese and fruit salad.
She was so ordinary she would have been invisible
except for the terrible light
filling her face as she whispered
“My son. My son is coming home.”
I got myself out of there and was sick in some bushes.
That was the first time I believed there was a war.
I can’t explain the rain’s attraction to my head,
though I’m touched by its will to touch me,
and I don’t understand how I got here any more
than a lobster understands how it ended up in a tank
next to a Please wait to be seated sign,
but both of us can read the faces of the cruelly beautiful
women pointing at us. I always feel eyes on me so
I apologize to insects after I kill them
and to the salmon on my plate, caught being
nostalgic for home. Everything makes sense if
you squint just right, and at least once a day
I realize that whatever I’ve been saying
isn’t the point at all. Like yesterday, I heard myself
say “Nostalgia” comes from Greek roots meaning
“painful return,” which is why your childhood
home is paved over, a bump in the commuter
path of your old classmates, the ones who have
never gone anywhere. And so instead of leaning
in for a kiss, I give my beautiful wife the umpire’s
signal for “safe.” And when I say “I love you”
she becomes red-faced, hits me with the back
of her fists, and calls the cops, because those
words no longer mean what they once did.
I smeared Aloe Vera on my sunburn. What is the best salve for my compulsion to burn bridges? How do I lick away the flames of a fire I started? My mouth is burning with, “We were so close but I grew to hate you.” My mouth is burning with goodbye.
James Hall: I love that you risk sentimentality in the poems. Can you talk about how you construct a poem’s emotion without letting that emotion subsume the poem? What tools are available to a poet to mitigate emotion successfully?
Richard Siken: I didn’t see it as risking anything, and I suppose the tool for mitigating emotion is undercutting, but I’ll try to answer the question sideways: Even if you don’t believe in God, you have to believe in narrative. Things happen, one after another, world without end. Just because you’re self-aware doesn’t mean you can change what’s happening. Eventually someone is going to break your heart. Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking “I am falling to the floor crying” but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it—you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well and when you’re having sex with your next lover on this very floor they will also notice that you didn’t paint it very well and they will think less of you for it. And then you think “Is that sentence too long?” And then you have to hold the contradictions of sobbing uncontrollably and wondering about grammar in your head at the same time. I think if you are true to the entire experience, not just the sad part, you don’t risk sentimentality because you’re not overloading the experience with fake, melodramatic feeling. I also hear that whispering helps.
leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he’s never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses,
you make him call before
he visits, you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don’t lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand. heart
like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas.
heart leaking something so strong
they can smell it in the street.
n. a mood totally out of sync with everyone else around you, from Friday night pensiveness to heart-to-heart snark, which is a symptom of emotional jet lag—caused by an inflamed suspicion of togetherness in an age of faceless anonymity—a condition whose only known cure is to perform the zombie dance from Thriller while openly weeping, which would effectively crash and reboot the collective vibe.
n. an emotion you haven’t felt in years that you might have forgotten about completely if your emotional playlist hadn’t been left on shuffle—a feeling whose opening riff tugs on all your other neurons like a dog on a leash waiting for you to open the door.