Five Poems

Something different for today.


One big reason I read and write poetry is to give myself an arsenal of spells I can cast to lull myself into a meditative state, calm my nerves, relax my muscles, lower my blood pressure, and otherwise endure unpleasant situations. Often “unpleasant situations” means “really bad comedy shows and poetry readings,” but sometimes it means national elections; on a rare occasion it means Thanksgiving dinner with my parents’ friend’s Medicare For All-hating liberal mother-in-law. In any case, poems are what got me this far with my head intact.

I’ve used this newsletter to share my favorite work by other poets. Today I thought I might share some poems I’ve published in the last couple years. They’re all to some degree about the moment we’re living in, or heading toward, or leaving behind. I’m a bit embarrassed to be doing this but I also think nobody’s going to remember anything that happens this week other than the big stuff, so, yeah. I hope they provide some use to you today.



The Basics

Originally published in The Breakwater Review.

There’s whales, which are big, and birds,
most of which fly, and humans, who
made all the good movies. There’s tragedy,
which is sad, and comedy, which is too.

There’s apples, the red ones, and lemons,
the yellow ones, and plums, the purple ones,
and oranges. Every two years or so the moon
does something crazy. There’s joking

around with new friends not yet attuned
to your particular sense of irony
and one million other ways to ruin something
good. There’s a world’s worth of glittering

cities before they fall and what’s called a slip
and slide. It’s honestly all so simple, even
simpler than it looks. What you’ll want to do
basically is run at it screaming

and let gravity do the work, not that you'll have
any choice. Oh, right, and there’s choice
perhaps. And sin. There’s so many answers
to get lost in. And minds. Once I was gone

for what felt like a lifetime and came back
the next summer, my old atoms
getting younger on the counter. There’s iron
and oak and a sort of dark sea

glass washing ashore, piles more every day
and there’s every day. Nothing makes
enough sense but some of it makes a little
flutelike sound in the right wind.

It’s like this: there’s at least five spaceships
no one uses and justice
eventually for what was done to us
centuries ago

and what we did. There’s this whole, I don’t
know, apparatus. And those ants
that farm aphids. There’s forgiveness
and toothpaste and bullets.



Your Failure

Originally published in The McNeese Review.

You have to believe that if you fail you will fail spectacularly, that your failure will itself be a kind of success. They will erect a monument to your failure in the town square, the mayor will read a poem in your failure’s honor, schoolchildren will look from your failure to you in hushed awe. You will describe this to yourself after the ceremony: “Hushed. Awe.” Later, when it’s all over, the buildings cratered, the children and their parents hacked to bits, your failure will stick sideways through the rubble and a bright blue bird will land on it.



Poem for Los Angeles

Originally published in Gaze.

At brunch Tess and Sarah got to talking
about cults. Apparently Tess had just learned
of a multimillion-dollar “personal development”
company run by her friend’s father, a theatre
producer with many respectable credits.
Meanwhile Sarah's uncle just published a book
about his time in the Rajneeshpuram
in Antelope, Oregon in the 1970s and ‘80s.
I was thinking about my eggs. I was thinking
about their little cubes of feta and that thing
where there are more stars in the universe
than grains of sand on planet Earth. It sounds
impressive but I bet it’s only one or two stars
more. Sarah asked if I could pass the Tabasco.
She said he left the commune before Rajneesh,
their guru, poisoned the local water supply
in a bold gambit to swing municipal elections.
I was thinking about Sam, whose father’s
soft drink empire somehow includes Tabasco
too. I was stupid in love with her for a spell,
a good spell, but it never would’ve worked
you see, we were like two ships, or I was
like two ships and she was like a human
person with her own inscrutable cabinet
of want. Still, how nice to be two ships.
Sails unfurled, dolphins leaping, everyone
in their white suits. I understand one comfort
of military service is you don’t have to think
so much. Some guy is always telling you
where to stand, they have a whole diagram
of acceptable haircuts. Lately I’ve been living
a diagram-free lifestyle—maybe that’s the problem.
Later we went to Malibu to see Josh's standup
show. Josh is Tess’s boyfriend, though Sarah
suspects their differences vis-á-vis having kids
will eventually prove ruinous. After the show
he and I got into it about his former manager, a man
of considerable influence who until recently
represented the latest sex predator. He had no idea,
Josh said. Are you kidding he had every idea,
I said. You can imagine how this might over
the course of an hour go nowhere. Driving
back Sarah told me what we often tell each
other: this is just what it's like. My contacts
were dry. The lights of the city unfocused
themselves, streaming past us into the dark
promise of mountains, canyons, vineyards
and the other worlds beyond. And these
their cratered faces turned lightward
and were made visible. And being real
finally they were allowed to take shape.
And taking shape they shed ribbons
of their former darkness. And they fell
these ribbons upward into a darker
darkness, the worlds behind them full
of new gleaming. And we moved
onward, my friend and I, into this new.



Quiet Ode

Originally published in The McNeese Review.

what make sense today
are soy milk simple arithmetic
honeybees & how the dog
grins at me wanting only
a few things so much
& everyone he loves loves
him back oh & the cello
playing downstairs takes
me to Vienna & Saint
Petersburg & the lost
catacombs of Paris finally
& my neighbors are small
vicious hummingbirds privy
to knowledge I do not have
of speed & what goes on
glinting from the mountain
to the palm tree goes on
diminishing the old books
tell me every second
& when it stops I imagine
there will be a sound
great wings quieting
as they do now & again
on my balcony awaiting
patiently what comes next



Tangelos

Originally published in The Raw Art Review.

Valentine’s Day again
and that terrible cloud
on the horizon I think
I must be disintegrating.
Due to my various optical
deficiencies I have blown up
the text on my screen
to a comical degree:

Sometimes referred to
as honeybells, tangelos
are the size of an adult
fist, have a tangerine
taste, and are juicy
at the expense of flesh.

I am obsessed with these things.
I like to bite into the nub
on the northern pole
opening a handy fissure
whence peeling may begin
without so much pith
beneath my fingernails
a technique I learned
from [redacted] whom
I loved terribly for this
and six other reasons.
Presently I love only
tangelos specifically
Orlando tangelos
a cross between
the Duncan grapefruit
and Dancy tangerine
created in 1911
by Walter Tennyson Swingle
also known for the limequat
barely a year after the succumbing
of his wife Lucie
to typhoid an infection
caused by the bacterium
Salmonella typhi
cruel pitiless enemy
to all the tangelo represents
goodness joy light
most woodwind instruments
clean drinking water etc
but it does no good
to think of cruelty
when you are eating a tangelo
or thinking of eating a tangelo
or reading a poem about thinking
of eating a tangelo
which I can say with certainty
because cruelty is all
I have thought of
eating four incandescent
specimens this last hour
texting no one from my past.
Specifically I am pondering
the cruelty of ticks known
to guzzle ninety thousandfold
the slow red blood of a single
moose found later dead sucked
dry too dumb or generous alas
to roam deeper these woods
piss-marking doomed trees
doomed ferns cold green
air gurgling ancient ground
water everything alive stalking
what moves eating its own
hungry in spite of being full
sobbing in the corner
a dark grey room
expanding
no tables chairs means
of egress or carbon
monoxide detector
chirruping like crickets
in the brown rushes
Moses sailed through
all hiccups and orphan
prophecy grabbing
instinctually anything
hand-like or hanging
hungry for one
still moment
before the world
isn’t it so sad
we were born
understanding
everything
it will take
to survive
first a little blood
then the rest
Regrettably
it is sixteen months later
I quit my job
dropped out of school
the bad senator died
the bad judge resigned
the bad judge replaced him
famine tsunamis drone strikes
tax legislation gun massacres
wildfires coup attempts
they raised the price
of my inhalers eightfold
the dog died
a sense of loss
so incomprehensible
you could almost
comprehend it swept
through everything
or was there already
waiting for me
to put my glasses on
and tangelos
are no longer in season.
Fuck that and fuck you
I want to say
to five people
maybe nine people
let’s say thirty to be safe
I must be discreet however
for career purposes
and basic courtesy
I will lie unflinchingly
still thinking of you
beloved stranger or friend
wondering what perfect thing
you will create and whether
it will make all this cruelty
worthwhile