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MS

Prose Poem Ending With A Line from John Ashbery

I did not know if he was dead or alive. In the wind, like a pack of wild lemurs, a tiny crippled heart was born. I could not raise my coat to uncover what my heart so long desired. My dear friend I am walking toward ancient mountains and meditating on the parrot, the jacket, and the roses. I am packing a picnic basket with the world of things for the revival Polish town. A rude horizon close to the zoo and near the sullen forest. Is this the sound of hunger from loss or a mere gesture? I walk through these old mountain streets with Nordic ski poles, attempting to warm up my bones, attempting to find a karczma. I do not know what my eyesight will reveal but my hand falls upon one lover when I am thinking about another like the murmur of an absurd rebel on a sunlit road. Like a stiff tune the days grow dim. I try hard to avoid my face, this cloud, this crime. My brain wants a brush more subject to nature than to art. I needed to get there (like all of us) even when where I was going was not far, or not far enough. I walk the algebraic mountain town with the centaur. Merely being here means something. Like the oscypek I have left half eaten at the breakfast table or the cranberries that surrounds it, I am my mind. I have been painfully stitched. A wish defines the mouth around these ten-part intervals.

JE

25 Sentences Ending With a Question

Not every line is imaginary; not every world the case in point.
Some, for example, assert zero allegorical value.
Others get tangled into skeiny knots, as fishing wire does, and then cut free.
We are the best worst judges of our own utility.
This job of work, like any heartbeat, has a variable frequency and finite span.
Some act as if Mencius were right, that wisdom can protect an empire from decay, for a while.
Others proclaim the watery faith: everything worthy is recorded somewhere.
If Tolstoy had owned a word processor he might not have found God at the end of revision.
If Nabakov had possessed an internet connection who can say what he could have accomplished.
Nothing from this angle goes straight, though what we straighten we call true.
Take Blake’s idea of genius: a crooked road without Improvement.
Now that we know what history is we cannot build server farms fast enough.
The news that some die needing lies among all that’s uncompiled.
Still, for now, at any given location night ends at sunrise.
When the power went out, my father would gather us on his lap and read to us by kerosene lamp tales of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood or a Kipling Just So Story.
My father lived by a code according to nature: he carried a knife, he kept his keys under the car mat, he voted for Goldwater, we argued about how to interpret The Fountainhead.
In his study full of books, in his study of history, my father every evening after dinner sought the uninterrupted, the incorruptible line that begins and ends in glory.
He would be disappointed to read that a son felt dispossessed of any sense of home.
He would be disappointed to read that a son fell in love with another man’s son.
Although, arguably, he had the bead on these facts.
Arguably, the obvious way, contra Mencius, lets love transgress the proper and the right. To not succumb, as Mencius called it, to ‘Ignorance of the relative importance of things.’
What we know is the case, sometimes the camera keeps hidden.
Yet we wake up one day and suddenly it’s summer.
Heaven bars nothing, yet heaven, always allegorical, consists of the maintenance of its image.
Was he right, I wonder, when he’d say, ‘John, life doesn’t get any better than that.’?

MS

THE IMPORTANCE OF INVISIBLE THINGS

Money has no personality and lacks feeling. It is like the relative importance of the menu, full of colour and splendour and a description of the thing that can be eaten but not the thing in itself. Am I the Ding an sich? Are you? The nous has been tied around my neck. Nabakov said the cranium is a space traveller’s helmet. Stay inside or you die. To walk to the precipice is to move a knife to the throat of your only son and be called back, to always be called back. This is only a test in the event of the real your real father will not slit your throat, or he will. I am in love with the feelings of fathers. To fall in love with another father’s feelings is to fall in love with the importance of invisible things. I have found out long ago that love is a borrowed voice and in the same spirit I am committed to you.

JE

C’est Une Pipe

The book that aging technology
This is my copy of Sebald mostly unread
My Portrait of The Artist
My Psychology of Fire somewhat more worn
On the train in Manhattan
I read Whitman when the old woman
Connipted into a convulsion
And we all struggled to help her
We wanted to be good citizens of the earth
I looked down at my page
I swear to you I’m not making it up
And read

For shame old maniacs!…
Bring down those tossed arms, and let your white hair be;
Here gape your smart grandsons…
their wives gaze at them from the windows,
See how well-dressed…
see how orderly they conduct themselves.

You might praise my quick orderly conduct
I’d not refuse a letter
This is my one-off clay coffee mug
Pressed with the shape
Of a long sharp-clawed tail-whipping lizard
My unopened tax bill
My day I’m about to live through
The light task of cutting open its uncut pages
The sum total of my todo list
The scripture whose lines
I’ll scratch out and through and forget
As I go I cannot forgive myself

 

MS

Get This

last night at the Centre
for Creative Collaboration
Eileen Myles read a poem
about holes it was a long
poem about holes holes
in her clothes and I thought
about imperfection and that
tug for perfection that back
and forth between holes
and no holes I fell in love
with her voice and later
she read from a memoir
inspired by the relationship
with her dog Rosie and I
loved that too it was all
about the sea and how
we came from fish we are
thirsty we are always thirsty
for the sea and how alcohol
is not the sea it is far from
the real sea the memoir
was called Afterglow and
she used a biblical voice like
‘here this’ and sometimes
‘get this’ it was the voice
of a prophet and god was
named dog and dog was
the god of the sea and I
thought about the sea in me
and the alcohol in me
I thought about the middle way
and how in England there is

a tap for very hot and a tap
for very cold but in England
it is mostly very cold
I have bills that are unopened
I guess it might be called karma
and I am living it
I am still learning
the psychology of fire
the need to steal
is there a good stealing?
is there a bad stealing?
I am stealing all the time
at the end of the night
on the train to the Docklands
on the DLR I met a man
who was visiting from NY
and he spoke to me
a complete stranger
after four years
of living on and off
in London it was the first
time a stranger had spoken
to me and it made me think
again of that American voice
from the so-called NY School
and Eileen Myles
and how I craved that kind
of warmth that kind
of Americanism
it rained all day today
it was very cold
but I kept talking to myself
and I thought one day
I will become
like the American poetry
I keep reading

JE

The Road to Heaven

I didn’t ask to be here among the faithful but I came anyway
I am not a man for the choir and question on principle
The efficacy of people singing in harmony (but out of tune)
But then gratefully we no longer believe like Malebranche
That God is the only cause of all motion and collision
Though Stephen from Liberia who can use an example of lions
In the jungle (from experience) makes me realize how little
I know because he believes all of what begs to be believed
He would not understand me if I quoted Jude the Obscure
(My namesake) when Arabella after the pig gets slaughtered
Objects to the notion that God is thankful the pig died quickly
And says (Stephen should know this) Poor Folks Must Live
Because in showing mercy to the beast Jude ruins the meat
Most jobs (like doubt itself) are better left to professionals
Who by definition must abstract themselves out of the work
And then abstract themselves back into the work to be done
All without loss of soul or time (without the line going down)
I remember walking with Rachel in Newport Rhode Island
Looking at the mansions telling her about Jack Gilbert’s
Useful image (from a poem) of the gift of the white elephant
The King would give (out of contempt) because the animal
Required so much ritual care it would ruin you in the caring
For it but you’d let it ruin you because you would not let
It die (you are a person after all) and the King gave it to you
This burden of work is true of big houses as it is of poems
As it is of standing in this room singing Holy Holy Holy (Holy)

MS

ON THE ROAD

I’ve just eaten goat curry from Africa and it is holy and I’ve just got myself a wooly
with hood, a green one, like the many green ones in the Camden Town markets, my
mind coming back round after three days of doubt. I am in need of a new look. I am
on the road even when I am off it. Someone is singing Pooooo Bear, or maybe it is
ohhhhhh bear, it is some kinda oldie, it is the marketing of nostalgia like the old
black and white photographs in a shop in Trieste Italy that made me nostalgic for a
time before the war when I wasn’t even born. I am finishing up my green tea and
correcting my student’s tenses, the continuous and perfect tenses, and thinking of
how everything is a perfect tense, that most annoying of tenses with a bearing on
the now. Yeah whatever. The green tea is fine but some loud French came and
roughed things up and not in a good way cause now my tenses are getting harder
and harder to focus on with the French and their sudden nasals and guffaws, these
particular French with their pink and light blue upturned collars. Culture culture
culture makes me think of the bacteria that grows in my forever upset stomach.
That is true culture. I am a true culture of one. We are walking along the Camden
canal and slow down for the tunnel. The sign says please honk before entering. We
find the cage of the giant bird aviary build by Lord such and such and the birds are
happily perching, on the outside, looking in. There are wild cats with stripes and
bushy tails running up and down in the zoo across from the canal and young
teenagers from some London language school visiting from Spain. They are excited
to be in an alternative centre, now mostly a museum with band t-shirts and
expensive punk clothing, but with all the current drugs to heighten the experience.
There is a man on the bench with gray silky hair and a face of 22 and Ewa says he
must dye his hair or maybe he is older but keeps his face fresh. I think of the road
the real road that leads to nowhere, but sometimes somewhere, for a little while at
least.

JE

The Yellow Wood, and Other Poems

Here, the duomo, closed during operating hours for renovations, across the street from the vendors selling miniature replicas, spoons and swords and flags and tickets to the real thing. The holy spirit has fled for cocktail hour, where she likes her Campari spritz and antipasti. As if it’s not enough, to wander the ancient via with a burning haemorrhoid, to wind the narrow bricked roads in search of gelato with a heart on fire for amateur porn. We praise the European pace of life, their humane and commonsense instinct for pleasure. The idea of the aqueduct inflames our thirst just as the sacred woods, whose hidden caves are clearly marked by signage, signal the awe to kick in. And all the married men, whose identities as such preclude the blurring of lines long settled into place, order another round amidst the buzz and hum of students drinking. As with the scar of Odysseus, as with any telltale mark that presages the closure of a journey, the ghosts of dead hopes are tested.

Georgia O’Keefe, writing to Jean Toomer, describes why despite her passionate attachment to him she must stay on her own: ‘My center does not come from my mind—-it feels in me like a plot of warm moist well tilled earth with the sun shining hot on it—-…It seems I would rather feel starkly empty than let any thing be planted that can not be tended to the fullest possibility of its growth… I do know that the demands of my plot of earth are relentless if anything is to grow in it—-worthy of its quality… If the past year or two has taught me anything it is that my plot of earth must be tended with absurd care—-By myself first—-and if second by someone else it must be with absolute trust—-…It seems it would be very difficult for me to live if it were wrecked again just now.’

Here, the picture booth beside the train station, tall grass growing through the platform’s cracks. Across the tracks a rusting backhoe rots away as we sip down cappuccino and check our watches. We speak of Beatrice and Georgics, of Ohio, Rome, and last night’s lamb and Chianti, of an artist’s love that is by nature partial. Away in America the same sun feeds the catchweed in the garden, the same thorny cleaver whose fruit can nourish the sick or invade the beds of inattentive breeders. It’s the same sadness that smothers us, those of us who cannot make room for visitors, despite how well received we are and we owe them. In his prose poem called ‘Karintha,’ Jean Toomer writes about a woman desired all her life by men but who would not, could not, yield. It ends:

Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon,
O can’t you see it, O can’t you see it,
Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon
…When the sun goes down

Goes down…

MS

HIGH DEPENDENCY UNIT

The status quo is the celestial scream of the cockroach hinged to no definite purpose or surface in the fast darkening world. I am cancelling my debt, returning the check, ripening my heartsick heart with a map quest for the bone dry earth of my childhood. A poke and a puddle, a UVF father, a heart that no heart can make clear. If I am the torturer’s apprentice then who is the torturer? The ambulance outside my flat says: AMBULANCE HIGH DEPENDENCY UNIT. To panhandle a future, to confuse the Confucian between what we have and what we owe. A wandering back below. It is a sidelong ordeal and I dream only of Ireland, in darkness, in barns. What is made holy? Why are my hands shaking? I should know better. I hold a coffee in my right hand. I am 39 years old.

JE

High Dependency

I remember how it was, loving her. Exploring the caves at Blarney with a lighter on the blink. The flavour in my mouth, black currant. The port of call, a rocky sea wall outside a seamy hotel in Dublin. I was 21. We must have kissed, we both remember. Now 43 (now 15,910 days), it’s irresistible, if unwise, to try out, like a friend’s borrowed pipe, those alternate lives, some offered and refused multiple times, that a younger version of myself—-no more trustworthy, in fact, than the one sitting here—-didn’t take on for a reason. I’ve always wanted to believe in that fantasy of the future self, the one always becoming, who beckons us forward or bars the way, although I rarely stop, in moments of despair, to recognize, much less thank him, if thanks is what he deserves. The faulty logic, I now can see, is an assumption of understanding in that distant spectre, who now is me, at this very instant, 6:07 a.m. on October 6, 2013, and honestly, what does he know? He would undo everything back to some crucial instance—to some yes or some no, some act or non-act—on that Kansas trail, in that Illinois hotel, that Virginia cabin, on too many couches, in too many cars to count, leaving Santa Fe, not decamping for Oregon or Washington or hell even Harrisburg or Jackson when the chance appeared; every instance of staying put, like that moment in St. Augustine’s when, before the icon of the Holy Mother, I knew I couldn’t forsake the world or more accurately women. All of it justified, all of it mistaken. How many lies, I wonder (I’m not going to count them) did it take to get me here? My only anchor hold is the cold fact of those two warm bodies sleeping up the hall. I would not undo my children. But even they, if you made me map it, could point to their origins in fear as much as love, my lusts as much as anything noble toward which I have aspired. ‘We are born between faeces and urine,’ Augustine said, but so what?, I want to say. We are animals. We protect what is ours.

MS

SPECIAL MISSIONS

I had left for my special mission
from Hurricane, Utah
after landing in Vegas
and went to Boise, Idaho
for my special mission
but back in Milton
Keynes my parents
had chickens
and the chickens
changed into a horse
and my father changed
his accent from Manchester
to American western
when I left for my special mission
the crawdads came
into the creek bed
while I was on my special mission
in Boise, Idaho
I touched my bum
I did cartwheels
in the garden
of my special mission
in my bedroom
of my special mission
I found a curly red hair
I read Whitman
and we kissed
in the toilets
of my special mission
the voices of my ancestors
staring Tom Cruise
wondering about being
and watching Far and Away
in which an Irish
falls for a princess
who was really
the landlord’s daughter
and he was the stereotypical
boxer who reclaimed
his land in America
this was his special mission
and Joey with shellshock
who went crazy
after his special mission
riding his bicycle everywhere
in Portadown
and being egged
and collecting newspapers
trying to hold onto
time and so on
felt the ghosts
in the backyard
of my special mission
a voice said the others
were coming
staring Nicole Kidman
the ghosts haven’t seen
her heavenly descent
in Hurricane, Utah
on the frontline
of my special mission
I was born on the real birthday
of Jesus I thought I might
have been Jesus or
at least his best friend
but I wasn’t
I read the missionary guide
every morning at 5
my hair wouldn’t part
I got a perm
this was 1995
what is the purpose of life?

JE

Elegy with Laughing Buddha as Dead Man

In the local idiom X is what X is
Except when X isn’t
As X usually does
We want X to stand in for
The richest plausible grain of possibility
But of course X usually doesn’t
You know the drill
How the disk gets scratched
In just the right
Places and so
Insert Disk is what you’re told
Even as it tries to play
And doing what we’re told
Is what they teach us
Life is good so long as you don’t weaken
The old lady liked to say
Who lived one condo over
Drove an elderly baby blue Caddy
However long gone now
She would beat me at backgammon
As we chatted over beer
A man can go broke six times before he has to make it
She’d quote her dead husband
An oilman who finally
Made a fortune neither lost nor squandered
I think on that
When my account goes red
As it too often does
I think on my friend Darrell
Who lived back and caddy-corner from my place
Which once had been his place
Who wasted away
Without me anywhere near
He would not have known me anyway
They tell me
I tell myself
Who wore his money in
Gold upon his body
The way he liked to say a fat-cat Chinaman would
Who made a fortune six times over
Never lost a single dollar
Never failed to make a dollar
Not once on any deal
He liked to boast
Tied up his wealth in married
Antique lamps and primitive butter churns
And silver anything
Gold and leather everything
Mended copper pots and canes and turquoise galore
A garage full of Mercs
Buried cash forever to go unearthed
I can see him now
His ashes in a Japanese jade and pewter vase
To be scattered
Who taught me what a man is
About the hidden grain
That must be found
Before it can be worked against
Even as you saw the rough-sawn board to assemble
A house fit enough for two
But made for only one and one other
Whatever that X

MS

Another Kind of Mission

I have been watching
the dead in American
Horror Show it takes
place in an Asylum
there is a Nazi
doctor and some
kind of aliens
that keep showing
up as a bright light
and I am thinking
of bright lights
I came to bright
lights from Northern
Ireland I landed
in Vegas the origin
of bright lights
that surface
excitement
of American
culture with
cheap steaks
and eggs and the old
playing slots
forever
I was taken
to a summer camp
age 12 I was
a boy scout
and it was a week
long
I lost my shoe
in a cold creek
and walked around
with one shoe
for three days
when I returned
to the bright
lights of Vegas
I was glad
to be back
I’ve heard
of the bright
lights that people
see when they
are dying
and I can imagine
the bright lights
as the light
from the surgeon’s
table
but sometimes
I want to imagine
I am heading
there
to the light
with all the saints
with all the aliens
death is the big
x I was never
good with the x
in mathematical
equations
I couldn’t
add anything
up
my life is one big
x
and sometimes
that’s OK
and sometimes
I want it to add
up
I made it add up
to a mission
age 19
a Mormon mission
what is my mission
now here in this
flat in the Docklands
of East London
the sun has returned
to London
it is a rare sun
it is full
of light
outside my window
the sirens
have gone quiet
I am going
to mop
the floor
and count
my breaths
I don’t believe
in Buddha
but I believe
in breath
we are all
one big breath
I want to breathe
better
I don’t want to
tie up
my wealth
with my life
my life
my life is in
books
my life
your life
whose life
is this anyway?
sometimes
form wants
to get sleazy
with content
and my name
sounds like
it might be sleaze
I want to be
more than what
can be squeezed
into my tupperware
I don’t want
to squeeze
a lid
on my life
the blue
sky in London
today is expansive
I don’t speak
British English
anymore
I am learning
to become
American
expansive
I am learning
to be OK
with the light
I used to hide
from the light
I wanted to be
invisible
this is my wood
shop
I am looking
for the grain
as I am working
with and against
it it is
my life
this wood
but that’s
wrong
I don’t know
what I am
making
it is messy
it is a lot like life
maybe
I don’t have a grain
or it is
invisible
I am closing
my eyes
and watching
the light
flicker
around behind
my eyes
I want
the aliens
to come

JE

All Your Base Are Belong To Us

You may just be the thing-as-such, like you think, the cup as cup, the table as prototypical table. When the angels descend and take it all back, the joke that it is, without, as we expect, cancelling our debts, then you will be glad to be the glad in gladiola, the will in will o’the wisp, the money in moneybag and brain in brainpan. Who would protest this apotheosis, this consummation of backdated promises? The longsuffering cockroach, who’s all in on himself, holds pretty good odds; the gypsy (there are gypsies) panhandles and swindles and breaks his bad back just to make a way and does not know the future. But in that future, when wheat still ripens off wheatstalk, bones still rot under bonedry earth, the days themselves still daylong ordeals, well, what’s that to you? The status quo is an unlocked door. With all things made visible, they will nakedly praise the heartsick heart, the godless god, or even, if stars still matter, the mapquest map of the multiverse, complete with dusty fingerprints and colour-coded key. Won’t they? The torturer’s apprentice, the one to whom we most owe gratitude for this recovery, does not wear a hood.