Saturday, August 31, 2013

31 August 2013

pill bug, Armadillidium vulgare [Discover Magazine]


When my bicycle wheel
found itself caught between the rails
of trolley track I recall
thinking I’m going to fall, the bike’s
going to crash, no — no brake —
my chance is to make like a pill
bug, launch myself & roll
into the street, a spill the crowd
will think I staged, I’ll bow
to regain my feet, wowed to find
only one orange rind
of knee left behind as toll.

[this poem is a lục bát, thank you Phebe Davidson & Robert Lee Brewer for teaching me it]

Friday, August 30, 2013

30 August 2013

If Only I Weren't So Lame

I could be handy —
dispose of the hot tub,
dismantle the carport,
assemble the shed
instead of asking Mike
who’d rather play bridge,
sit in his chair
as I sit in my chair
because my body
is weak & broken down 
& aches. All I do
is chop out more ivy —
by evening a rash,
by morning it’s
down my right leg,
also the other.
Why don't I wear
long pants?
Because it's common
ivy. My wrists
my hips ache,
my legs itch a little,
my back itches
from earlier hives.
Now my son tells me
he was excused
as a child 
because ivy chopping
gave him a rash.
Why don’t I remember?
But don't forget —
I do a drop-dead
dive-tuck-roll dismount
before my bicycle
crashes, plus this —
the kitten has mostly
stopped biting my arms —
wailing like Ophelia
works its charms.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ben Marcus

Ben Marcus [shelfari]

from Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet:

Esther’s allergy to ceremony was predicted by all the guides we’d half read about teenagers. We saw it coming, then put our heads in our own asses. We were warned, but still we insisted on basic politeness as part of some dim instinct we had to remain in control. Esther abhorred all the functional vocal prompts one bleated in order to stabilize the basic encounters, to keep them from capsizing into awkward fits of milling and hovering. Hello and good-bye and thank you to strangers; good morning and how are you. These phrases were insane to her. She would pick the simplest rituals, the most basic behavior that people keep in their back pockets and whip out without a fuss, and wage dark war against them, scorning us mightily for caring about the exchange of niceties.

What have you learned, Samuel, when you’ve asked me how I am?” she sniped once.

Maybe I’ve learned . . . how you are?”

Right,” she nodded. “And you can’t tell that by looking at me? Is that really your best way to find out what you need to know?”

Sweetie, talking to you isn’t just about gathering information.”

Apparently not, because you don’t remember a single thing I say. Your gathering mechanism is fucked.”

Had Esther just said mechanism?

She seemed in her element during these conversations, glowing with the power she had over me, as if I should enjoy it, too.

I’d parry with oily fathery lameries. “Doesn’t it feel better to say things to people?”

Feel better? It feels like shit. It feels entirely like the worst kind of shit.”

Little did she goddamn know.

Okay, darling, I’m sorry.”

And thus a rhetorical marvel was engineered: I apologized to Esther, regularly, for her refusal to be queried on her well-being. I regularly failed to mount cogent justifications for any of the human practices. They turned out to be indefensible to her. In the end I was a poor spokesman for life among people. Such were the victories of language in the home.

29 August 2013


​We sit on rocks at riverside
in five o’clock sunshine,
remark on people
walking across the railroad bridge above us,
a little boy who doesn’t wave

because he doesn’t look,
a teenage girl who might be a railway worker
but probably isn’t,
a bicyclist guiding his upright bicycle
as if it’s a circus bear.
We search for fish — little ones —

notice clumps of kelp
bloated like camelback bladders,
wonder whether or not
the water will rise to cover

the rocks & us,
talk about mountain springs,
winter rain & deltas & brackish water,

how once a year the steelhead —
big fish — run, how for sure
we will return to watch them
& maybe fishermen will catch them,
how only this morning
a fisherman walked
to the slough behind my house,
how the kitten & I saw him set his pole
but didn’t see him land a big fish,
we wonder whether
the birds beyond the bridge
are ducks or gulls, whether crabs

wash up the river from the ocean.
Then I notice the man

walking up from his car
toward our orange stroller
parked off to the side, not so far
from where we sit, my granddaughter

between my knees at the start,
then alone on her own
smooth white rock in her red flipflops.
I watch his hand reach out
to take the stroller. My HEY!

surprises him, startles her.
Clutching my hand as we scramble
up to the stroller, she cries,
then curls into a snail
beside her pretend cat —
lets out a long forsaken wail
& begs to be taken home.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

28 August 2013

André Breton

from André Breton’s Earthlight, tr. Bill Zavatsky & Zack Rogow:

The Vertebral Sphinx

Patient and curved the beautiful shadow takes a trip around the cobblestones
Venetian windows open and close on the square
Where beasts run free followed by traffic lights
Wet streetlamps hum framed by a blue-eyed storm cloud
Which covers the countryside upriver from the city
This morning prow of the sun how you’re engulfed by wonderful songs crooned in the old 
         style by naked women watching behind curtains
While giant arums wind around their waists
And the bleeding mannequin hops on its three feet in the attic
He’s coming say the women as they crane their necks on which bouncing braids unleash                slightly pink glaciers
That crack under the weight of a ray of light falling from torn-open shutters
He’s coming the wolf with glass teeth
The one who eats time in little round boxes
The one who breathes the all-too-penetrating aromas of herbs
The one who gives the third degree all night in the turnip patch
The columns of marble and vetiver state chambers cry out
They cry out they’re caught up in the motion of coming and going which until then had
         driven only certain colossal rooms in factories
Women motionless on turntables are going to take a look
It’s daytime to the left but night completely night to the right
There are branches still full of birds which pass by at full speed blocking out the casement 
         window opening
White birds that lay black eggs
Where are those birds now being replaced by stars surrounded by two strings of pearls
A very very long fishhead that’s not him yet
Young girls shaking a sieve are born from the fishhead
And hearts made of Prince Rupert’s Drop are born from the sieve
He’s coming the wolf with glass teeth
The one who flew so high over the empty lots that reappeared above the housetops
With sharp plants all turned toward his eyes
Green enough to challenge a bottle of foam spilled on the snow
His jade claws in which he admires himself as he flies
His coat the color of sparks
He’s the one snarling in the ironworks at dusk and in abandoned linen closets
He’s visible someone touches him as he walks out with his balancing pole on the tightrope
          made out of swallows
The women watching lean out lean out of their windows
With all of their darkness with all of their light
The day’s bobbin is jerked a little at a time in the direction of the sand paradise
The pedals of the night keep on moving

Bill Zavatsky
Zack Rogow

28 August 2013


earth compacted
under a shed
for a decade
deaf to the sun
a weave of ivy
yard-high fig
earth ignored
yet partial
to flora
calla sprout
Mexican sage
bearing peach
supine fuchsia
the cat’s nose
flares forward
roots a rock-
strewn stretch
clods of dirt
pill bugs & bees
glittering flies
a slat fence
to squeeze under
up to now
a too small plot
not prone to
a purloined sprig
all-season greens

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

27 August 2013

Io moth, Automeris io

Solar Construction Has Detained Me Up to This Point

I dwell savagely in a little house in the Vaucluse
choose life with its conspiratorial sheets
like the wild donkey that feeds on trout
suspended by rings from the curtain rod of the world

individuals are car jacks
shoes of endless birds on horses with algebra nostrils
chewing the smile’s rye
the rain and the diabolo of times gone by

slash my wrist with bits of brown earth
you’ll feel the black and white sun rising in your hair
great water-thoughts covering the pond
despair rolls its big beautiful arums toward the sky

thyme of my dreams, rosemary of my extreme pallor
the space between certain letters
despair of the lampshade around four o’clock
my heart is a cuckoo for God

— gathered from André Breton’s Earthlight, tr. Bill Zavatsky & Zack Rogow

André Breton [Man Ray]

Monday, August 26, 2013

Norman Rosten

George Annand's drawing for the endpapers of Norman Rosten's The Big Road [George Annand, 1946]

from Norman Rosten's The Big Road:

Big road coming
Don’t you hear that sound
Bulldozers smashing
Through rock and ground

Start from Canada
Go way up past Tanan
Glory road building
Called the Alcan

Pick her up boys
Try her on for size
Boston to Omaha
As the crow flies

She’s a high-rolling baby
With the right of way
Not much to look at
But here to stay

Call her the oil-can highway
Call her sweat and mud highway
Call her sweet-Jesus highway
That’s the one . . .

Wheel turning, not upon stone but saga,
Endlessly between the dead and the living.
Rider, you have begun long ago.

From coasts which knew Ulysses’ oars,
Compulsion of commerce, stirring of migrations,
And how man did move upon the surface of his world.

From out of the groin of Asia, the savage tribes
Crossing an isthmus, spill down the hemisphere,
Their paths enlarged and leading to many wonders.

Like Janus with his faces, be multiple,
O rider as you journey between cities
Hear the thunder of wheels on the hard Appian,

Lanes connecting, the myth of miles,
Can you hear the hooves of the caravan:
Listen to eras sing beneath your tires!

Navel of earth
                       feed back
                                        origin and order . . .

           From a given point on a straight line
           to erect a perpendicular
To plot outside of the natural contour,
Raised from the ground.
                                    From a point outside
                    a straight line to drop a perpendicular
                    to the line
                                    Given the earth’s surface,
Problem to secure a right angle . . .
                                                       To survey.

Groma, instrument to align a distant point.
Ferramentum, the iron part which supports;
Stellata, the square frame resting upon it,
Carrying the names of the four directions;
Four lines from these points suspended,
Becoming plumb lines, the true vertical of sight;
From its center a fifth line touching the ground,
Vertex of angle laid upon the land.

           Having balanced the ferramentum,
           you drop from the center a perpendicular
           to the point of the stone.” (NIPSUS)

Norman Rosten, Hedda Rosten [Cursum Perficio]

26 August 2013

A Place in Montmartre

I eat the best meal of my life
in Paris, a small bistro.
We order the flank steak —
it must be cooked rare
the owner says,
guiding us to the kitchen
to gauge a bloody slab.
Rare is best, I say.
To start, my friend
chooses crab with egg —
too rich for me, I say,
but when the owner
arrives with a steaming crock
& waits for my friend
to taste, he apologizes —
we made two, you needn’t
take it — such aroma
of butter, crab, & egg,
gold against cream
& scarlet. Let me taste,
I say & am taken.
Later our steak comes,
still bleeding, & despite
my strong intention
I eat that, too.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

25 August 2013

fire in the Andes

Stealing Certain Things from Men

despair, for one
arrogance, intolerance, desire
desire is where the damage comes

she fills your shoes with dal
socks withal

the girl can’t help it

whatever made you think you had any right to
occupy this stretch of cow land

trans trumps cis
boom, sis

serfs knew history
everything about doomed

how they must have laughed at your failure to
know who the rulers are

any fool child

spoken by a true pelican
how the birds must laugh
to watch you wash

oily, oiliest
butter & the taste of iron

Saturday, August 24, 2013

24 August 2013

Denis Johnson [Arts Fuse]

from Denis Johnson’s The Throne of the Third Heaven of theNations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New:

Checking the Traps

the door opening, changing
into a doorway, half

the night i stayed awake and smoked
and watched the mousetraps.
the mice were there, nudging
into cups and plates, one fell

into the toaster, but escaped.
they waited until i gave up and slept to die.
for these mice
the night will be long. i heard

the iron snapping
in my sleep and dreamed my wife was
closing the door.

two mice are dead, for my wife.
mice make her legs
go watery, as they do sometimes after her climax.

one mouse’s head is barely
in the trap, one eye probing
toward the ceiling where i could tell him
there is nothing.
the other mouse is flung willingly under the iron

bar. i wonder, were they
married? was she pregnant? they are
going out together,

in the garbage this morning. it was
morning when we were married.
it has been morning

for a long time. that mouse, with his
eye. did he hear the iron snapping,
and dream it was his

wife with her stretching, laden tits
closing the door?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

George Hitchcock

Squantum @ 3 months


The kitten’s chin on my wrist
fevers with purring,
all night his weight beside me,
half the morning drowsing my lap.
Sit is what an old lady does —
tablet & pen, books perched
& tumbling at every side,
laptop on chair arm
threatening to slide
onto the pot of cooling tea.
In fractious moments
he bats the pen, doodles
ink on upholstery,
leans on the trackpad,
glosses a word in the line.
Other times, like now
he wriggles into the story,
wraps the poem around him —
comforter to my muse.

George Hitchcock [UCSC]

from George Hitchcock's Wounded Alphabet:


The piano-movers come in the morning
the piano-movers come in the afternoon
the piano-movers come to the house of Pak Yip
their bellies filled with roses.

          In his gloss dome, over his comic book
          sits my insouciant brother.

The sky fills with teacups
and doorknobs
the tibia of children
with ashes
with needles
& floral rembrances

          What do you think, my brother?
          Awaking at four sweating, the sudden erection?
          The fat man at the hamburger stand?
          The death of Mickey Mouse?

The sky fills with spoonhandles
Fire engines scream in the forest.

          In the house of Pak Yip my sister lies,
          flaming rosebuds in her loins.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

21 August 2013

John Hollander [Thomas McDonald]

from John Hollander's Movie Going, and Other Poems:

Off Marblehead

A woeful silence, following in our wash,
fills the thick, fearful roominess, blanketing
      bird noise and ocean splash; thus always
           soundlessly, rounding the point we go

gliding by dippy, quizzical cormorants.
One black maneuver moving them all at once,
      they turn their beaks to windward then, and,
           snubbing the gulls on the rocks behind them,

point, black, a gang of needles against the gray
dial sky, as if some knowledge, some certainty
      could now be read therefrom. And if we
           feel that the meter may melt, those thin necks

droop, numbers vanish from the horizon when
we turn our heads to scribble the reading down
      on salty, curled, dried pages, it is
            merely our wearied belief, our strained and

ruining grasp of what we assume, that blurs
our eyes and blears the scene that surrounds us: tears
      of spray, the long luff's reflex flapping,
            crazy with pain, and the clenching sheet,

and, looming up, Great Misery (Named for whose?
When?) Island. Groaning, jangling in irons, crews
      of gulls still man a rolling buoy not
           marked on our charts. Overhead, the light

(impartial, general, urging of no new course)
spares no approving brightening for the sparse
      and sorry gains of one we hold to
           now, ever doubting our memory. But

no matter -- whether running before the wind
away for home, or beating against the end
      of patience, towards its coastline, still the
           movement is foolishly close to one of

flight, the thick, oily clouds undissolving, crowds
of sea birds, senseless, shrill, unappeased, no boats
      about, and, out to sea, a sickening,
           desperate stretch of unending dark.

What John Hollander answered when I emailed to ask him what "dial" means in this poem:

The whole image in question derived from watching the rapid, almost choreographically concerted, movement of the long black bills and necks of a lot of cormorants on the rocks at the edge of a Massachusetts harbor. In the poem's general air of anxious alarm but not quite terror, I fancied them as the needles on a whole group of instruments, gauges, meters, all failing at once and hence moving identically; the sky itself, against which the birds' bills might somehow be "read." I thought of the needles as being in a "gang" only because of another, purely metaphorical use of the term in simple electronics of the pre-transistor era — the inter-shuffled plates on a variable condenser (used, e.g., for volume controls on radio sets, etc.). At least I think this is what I had in mind when I wrote the poem about 50 years ago.

21 August 2013

William Bronk [Kelly Wise]

from William Bronk’s Life Supports:

The Destination

This is not the place we meant to come,
our eyes in alien places, lost, unknown.
And the mistaken ways we entered from
are not, on any map consulted, shown
as different from the route to another place.
We watched the waiting signs and recalled it when,
as though we saw an often photographed face,
we came to a town where the mind had already been.
But there is nothing here we recognize
or only some, like the incongruous things which, found
in newly discovered ruins, have given rise
to thoughts which circumstances prove unsound.
And their equivocal presence can only say
that this is a place where things do lose the way.

My Young Nephew Sends Me
His Picture for a Present

You have had even to tip back
your head a little, lest there spill out
that wild glee you can barely hold until
the shutter clicks. Up-tilted, your face
is as though a bow, and the tense string
pulled back and back, your glee — oh back
so far, millennia make you a kid in the Land
Between the Two Rivers, or even earlier
in such a time as when, as now for you,
there was no other world but that world.
But we remember, are reminded, all
the Gods, the costumes, all the building styles,
ah, all those worlds since then: the lost
arrows from that bow, the clutter of time,
the dull debris. Dust from these ruins dirties us.
What, searching there, will anybody find
could have drawn its makers on, or, even then,
could have been called worth it once they reached it? Our
young glee drove us, heedless, and we went,
heedless, and dropped down where the force was spent.

At Tikal

Mountains they knew, and jungle, the sun, the stars —
these seemed to be there. But even after they slashed
the jungle and burned it and planted the comforting corn,
they were discontent. They wanted the shape of things.
They imagined a world and it was as if it were there
a world with stars in their places and rain that came
when they called. It closed them in. Stone by stone,
as they built this city, these temples, they built this world.

They believed it. This was the world, and they,
of course, were the people. Now trees make up
assemblies and crowd in the wide plazas. Trees
climb the stupendous steps and rubble them.
In the jungle, the temples are little mountains again.

It is always hard like this, not having a world,
to imagine one, to go to the far edge
apart and imagine, to wall whether in
or out, to build a kind of cage for the sake
of feeling the bars around us, to give shape to a world.
And oh, it is always a world and not the world.

Monday, August 19, 2013

19 August 2013

Santa Cruz 

In this town there’s a riverwalk
of paved paths & naturalizing weeds
where dirty needles
push promises into foundered veins.

The sun is shining
but the homeless haven’t shed their layers.
There’s a sleeping bag buried in rushes,
barnacled with mud.

As I push her stroller across the bridge
my grandchild shows me
how inside it lies a ponytailed head
& next to it a puppy’s tail.

— after Akhmatova