Poems

Jet

Sometimes I wish I were still out
on the back porch, drinking jet fuel
with the boys, getting louder and louder
as the empty cans drop out of our paws
like booster rockets falling back to Earth

and we soar up into the summer stars.
Summer. The big sky river rushes overhead,
bearing asteroids and mist, blind fish
and old space suits with skeletons inside.

On Earth, men celebrate their hairiness,
and it is good, a way of letting life
out of the box, uncapping the bottle
to let the effervescence gush
through the narrow, usually constricted neck.

And now the crickets plug in their appliances
in unison, and then the fireflies flash
dots and dashes in the grass, like punctuation
for the labyrinthine, untrue tales of sex
someone is telling in the dark, though

no one really hears. We gaze into the night
as if remembering the bright unbroken planet
we once came from, to which we will never
be permitted to return.
We are amazed how hurt we are.
We would give anything for what we have.

- Tony Hoagland

How Much

A boy drowns in a lake. Another opens
his head against a steering wheel. Another
goes downtown. Into a boardroom. Into
leveraged buyouts. Into Italian shoes.
Into spearheading something. Hi, you’ve reached 
Victoria Chang. I’m not at my desk right now.  
Please leave a message at the beep. 
Never mind 
the kickbacks, passing the sound barrier in
the Concorde, its needle-nosed body. How much 
mahogany we all had. Cheese stabbed with 
sticks our teeth tugged on. How many drivers 
in black cars we said Happy Valentine’s Day to.

                        *

Each morning, I put on those shoes, legs, 
nylons, sex, black briefs with texts. Each
dusk, there were martinis, drinks that said
Cocktail! No choice. Of course, starters, soup 
& salad, main meal, dessert, coffee. Always 
in that order. Business models. Pigeons on 
ledges I watched. Dimmed rooms with white 
screens, a man with a pointer. No one stops 
him. Someone make him stop. My watch gets 
tired from looking up at me. The next table is 
once again pioneering something. I can shake 
a hundred hands in an hour. Watch me.

                        *
Thirteen dollars a share. The man on the phone line 
has a rope in his throat. The closing price is 
rouged. We can believe in God again. The banks 
are full. The streets are hungover. The man on 
my left is rich. The man on my right is a month 
from dead. The Champagne ditches its bottle.  
The London air free-falls in the hotel room.  
There are plates of carved fruit. New York is 
cheering through the phone. Heaven must
be this way. Tomorrow, Germany. Then Paris.  
Hello. Goodbye. Where’s the bathroom? I don’t 
understand. I am lost. How much?

                        *
A man carrying a tray of sandwiches.  
A woman on a cell phone. The doorman 
on California Street. The cable-car driver.  
No one knows how beautiful the check 
looks in my wallet. $94 million. Tomorrow, 
$106 million. From: IV Drip. To: Bob 
Dahl. From: Ivy hiccupping up a wall.  
To: John Hedge. Everyone is drunk today.  
Everyone is preparing for sex today. Little 
turquoise boxes with white ribbon are hand-
delivered around town today. The smell of 
beef is powerful. The cemeteries are still full.

                        *
Tired of the stitched ball, line of breeze.  
Tired of the corporate seats. The Samsung.  
The Solectron. The Synopsys. The Pitch. 
Positioning. Presentations. Tired of summer 
that can’t stop its inverting. Of the cartoon ball 
under the cartoon hats that keep moving.  
One, two, three, the crowd shouts. Someday 
the big screen will dangle in rust. The headless 
field will become untethered. Someday 
the rain will withdraw from the sleeping dog.  
Somewhere in a kitchen, a mother will watch 
the last piece of beef fall off a bone.

- Victoria Chang

Return

Quiet as is proper for such places;
The street, subdued, half-snow, half-rain,
Endless, but ending in the darkened doors.
Inside, they who will be there always,
Quiet as is proper for such people--
Enough for now to be here, and
To know my door is one of these.

- Robert Creeley

The World

I couldn't tell one song from another,
which bird said what or to whom or for what reason.

The oak tree seemed to be writing something using very few words.
I couldn't decide which door to open--they looked the same, or what

would happen when I did reach out and turn a knob. I thought I was safe,
standing there
but my death remembered its date:

only so many summer nights still stood before me, full moon, waning moon,
October mornings: what to make of them? which door?

I couldn't tell which stars were which or how far away any one of them was,
or which were still burning or not--their light moving through space like a
long

late train--and I've lived on this earth so long--50 winters, 50 springs and
summers,
and all this time stars in the sky--in daylight

when I couldn't see them, and at night when, most nights, I didn't look.

- Marie Howe, from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time

Students

You see me here smeared
with chalk and pressed against
the slate-gray triptych from fear,
white as paper, white as a flensed
seal. Sometimes I can step outside
myself and listen
to my voice in its best bedside
manner reassure with glistening
lies, with cool purgatorial lies,
that although this is fall
we are not complying
and my heart goes out to myself.


I think when I go home of the syllabus
of love and horror movies
you’ve sat through in the Very Rich Hours
of your summer. The corpses are gorgeous,
and the books just begin to be
the artifice we need to begin.
To begin: to cut open. To love:
to be cut open and to heal and to cut open.
And I thought I could be above
It all—professional, textual, sacrificial.

- Bruce Smith

Illness and Literature

In those cold rooms with the blue plastic chairs, sometimes the human condition is an old Texas redneck with a brushy mustache reading a Louis L’Amour novel while waiting for his chemotherapy; this tough old man who ran an auto-parts store for years, then bought a whole chain of auto-parts stores, who sits now furiously reading about fistfights and saloons, as the cattle drive heads up into Wyoming to the summer pasture in the big sky country. The schoolmarm buys two yards of calico in the general store and the drunken sheriff gathers his nerve for the public gunfight in the dusty street, while the cancer keeps plowing, plowing, plowing on a small piece of land just west of town; while the owner of the valley, and of the whole darn territory, is this leathery old Texan in the blue plastic chair who shifts from his left buttock to his right, tugs at his mustache, and turns the page. He has a long way to go — he’s got to get to Abilene before they hang the wrong man. Now, hearing his name called from the clinic door, he stands and walks into the hot dry wind, his spurs ringing on the polished floor. - Tony Hoagland ( - 10/23/2018) / originally published in The Sun

Low Tide, Late August

That last summer when everything was almost always terrible
we waded into the bay one late afternoon as the tide had almost finished
pulling all the way out

and sat down in the waist-deep water,
I floating on his lap facing him, my legs floating around him,
and we quietly coupled,

and stayed, loosely joined like that, not moving,
but being moved by the softly sucking and lapping water,
as the pulling out reached its limit and the tide began to flow slowly back again.

Some children ran after each other, squealing in the shallows, near but not too near.

I rested my chin on his shoulder looking toward the shore.
As he must have been looking over my shoulder, to where the water deepened
and the small boats tugged on their anchors.

Osip

It's hard to comprehend
White horses
Did not arrive
In the end

Across the seas
Across the Urals
To where you are standing
Dead

But these days
I can tell you

On my word
I hear them

Clop      clop      clop

Tramping for you
The distance
Over these
New Soviet cities

Sighing chrome and silver
And coughing up nightsticks

Breathing in black windows
Breathing out white ribbons

- Alan Jude Moore