it looked down my face set
two fingers on my shoulder
two on my knee as
well all places
where it kicked off the sheets nightly more
everything it felt
like my head worsened beside
wrinkle water poured
in mussel shells
out it put my mouth around my ear
without pronouncing it
correctly found my thumbs on
my nipples head on
the bed it looked
into past my shoulder curled mattress
my shoulder it sat in
my underwear looking at
the morning wall it
put the colors
down to look at what it managed it
leaning out of windows
the white siding betrayed none
of the cold it stood
in all yellow
the lights stairwells hotel pillows bright
my fingers were sticky
so it covered them with fruit
it wore an a-shirt
that was ribbed and
a belt buckled it had a torso
plastic sheets of it to
be pretty when it opened
up a shirt round my
wrist red muscles
the water ripples opened on a
a circuit of colors
in the sleeve of my black coat
or a peek under
the shirt it rode
on top the yellow and red letters
what it is blurred beside
the blur passing the moment
off as reunion
but it wasn’t
in definition on the side of
it looked more pictures than
fingers stuff into mirrors
my hands behind my
back the sun on
my black jeans then at once it straightened
skin and fabric light a stack
of books like a box
under the arch
flower it was my backyard after
it wanted stood stretchmarks
out for you to see a light
in my eye like it
let it drift from
its stem it was a kitchen outside
to live in it smoking
maddening an open mouth
the black sands it laughed
someone else standing on the towel
it lifted my fingers
through it the marble almost
leopard in the john
it stood naked
in the green pool with my hands on my
over the low coffee
table with drawers and little
the shelf around
them it let my eyes slip greenly in
was moving back in time
with waxy slips it lifted
below my leg with
my body on
the counter it quickly receded
form all the golden light
but still a little blue in
the shadows and it
to see someone chalk purple it pumped
warmed rooms the speed it was
driving made a cinema
and mirrors it pulled a bow behind
of hair my hand the wall
my foot under my leg hips
a spread of letters
in square lines my shoulder lay to keep
the sweat on my forehead
like a grudge gone cold it found
black a-shirts between
my flesh my flesh
it wrapped a blue white towel over
it took the clouds for sky
in the distance the island
would’ve been blue if
it could see it
it turned the pillow blanket to a
the mess was endless in
the bedroom laughter motions
in faces and hands
where they meant it
there was so much green it looked where it
my whole body outside
the blue blanket over the
pillow a city
two floral dresses one visitor
a nipple in the clouds
lining the outline of a
face with seawater
the days shifted
across a bed with red flowers it
peach in the crook of my
elbow wrapped my arms around
my head the iron
bed it put a
pile of money into my camo
where a body lay it
my hands together in park
grass when looked at it
it turned into
me naked with a finger in my
falling backwards did to
squares lost their definition
in the flicker spread
slickness over like
clouds in the sea the beauty it poured
Samuel Amadon is the author of The Hartford Book and Like a Sea. His poems have appeared recently in The New Yorker, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Lana Turner, A Public Space, and elsewhere. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of South Carolina, and edits the journal Oversound with Liz Countryman.
Snow in both our dreams—what
does this mean? Some sort
of presage, I
I was never too
Always too present
say, and I do
like some kind
I won’t concede anything
Not the weather that grows
Nor your shattered hands
Not the perfect whispers of my husks
I am the woman-always-noon
The one who can tell you
About the sky when it was aged
(I liked it better than wine)
It was some sort of resplendent
I keep remembering the moon
Fingering the brush for something
To settle on--
I won’t settle on anything
Although I will confirm
Our elbows came armed
With an almost-dooming ability
To knock each other love-struck
E.C. Belli‘s work has appeared in AGNI, Antioch Review, and Caketrain, among others. The Nothing Bird, a selected volume of her translations of French poet Pierre Peuchmaurd, appeared with Oberlin College Press (2013), and her translation of Emmanuelle Guattari’s short novel I, Little Asylum was released by Semiotext(e) in 2014 as part of an exhibit for the Whitney Museum’s Biennial.
A small improvised explosive device,
it went right through me, but I didn’t feel
a thing. When the plucked pin missed the fabric,
how could I move? I was boot-black careful.
“Stand up straight,” whispered Father as quiet
as tripwire. He ground his teeth, bone-army,
as another line was sketched where my
body should have been. “Sorry, he isn’t
built right,” Father told the tailor. All tots
know to stand like their dads in old war shots.
The tailor drew more hemlines, pinned new seams.
In the mirror, Father ordered me to lean
up straighter. I was a map—the lesson
of some conquered country. I’m no one’s son.
Tommye Blount currently lives in Novi, Michigan—thirty minutes northwest of his hometown of Detroit. A graduate from Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers, he has been the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from Cave Canem and the Bread Loaf Wrtiers’ Conference. He is currently at work on his first manuscript.
I Want To Be The Kind of Man Who Smokes
Slow down the shock so it sounds
like lightning, a wheezing kettle, space heat.
Fingers as tines stabbing at geodes, fruitless.
Down in the valley of discontent, a man
clubs his ball in the hole. A man kicks his ball
in the goal. A man throws his ball in the net.
A man runs his ball across the line and out of the park.
A man bones his ball into the sun and it explodes
in an ecstasy of fever and light. Two men volley
a ball back and forth, a midwinter tale. One man
victorious wears an item on his head, perhaps
a symbol, perhaps for smoke, for mineral light. The caves
are darker than ever before. Luminosity
is fruitless with all these fingers stabbing blindly
at anything dark, anything female. One no longer makes
paint from ground mineral, but buys. He pays cash and pours
the single color over the whole damn town. There is money
to be made, and lack-valleys full of holes and pitch.
Emily Brandt is the author of three chapbooks: Sleeptalk or Not At All (Horse Less Press), ManWorld (dancing girl press) and Behind Teeth (Full Court Books). She is also a co-founding editor of No, Dear, Web Acquisitions Editor for VIDA, and a contributing writer for Weird Sister. She lives in Brooklyn, and online at emilybrandt.com.
[A name is an offering. I call you:]
elsewhere passenger, future aperture, eater
of ruin & fruit. Behind the abandoned cannery
copper wire, peach pits, false teeth
& from these we fashion
a bear trap. We hum & we wait. After many days
& realizing you’re unable
to pronounce me, I open
my jaws & I clamp & I shake.
[You descend upon the motherless]
city & climb the trellis for you are
lithe & light & the city winks
her lamps on & off for you like a coquette. You are hungry
for her. For her orchards of stone
fruit. Wax bloom. Choke cherry. I know
where you hide
the pits. When you open
a plum falls out.
These poems are part of Caylin Capra-Thomas’s second chapbook, Inside My Electric City, due out from YesYes Books Vinyl 45s Chapbook Series in 2016. Other work has appeared or will soon in journals such as Bat City Review, Crazyhorse, Fugue, Willow Springs, Sixth Finch, ILK, and elsewhere. She lives in Missoula, Montana, where she recently completed an MFA. You can find her online at caylincaprathomas.com
Self-Portrait in the Glare of a Self-Portrait
My daughter with a handful of worms,
the grass greener somehow overnight.
Each day feels like our moment
to make something of the sky,
a sky that almost dares us to do without it.
The roads that stretch out from town
imagine a life without us too, I imagine,
but why must we go anywhere? A head
of garlic in a pot of peas on the stove--
or a heart left behind for the sake
of saltiness, of memory? My mind takes
the place of a single cloud chalked
in the sky above. I keep trying to invent
a way of exiting, but it always leads back
to existence, my words a minor
reminder of what it took to arrive here.
Confession in Passing
I have been the memory of a seashell entirely
independent of the mind. Happily conscious.
Certain of exhaustion and nothing else need be
reported because after all the windows apologize
to the light all day long. There is a lion. Here
is a possum. There are some candles destroying
themselves in a sullen and deplorable act
of enthusiasm. Where would you prefer
these inquiries be placed? In the light of day?
We didn’t choose any of this, but we did choose
some of this. I like the lovely fact that the only thing
alive is the only thing worth deserting. Who made
this up? Like a photograph’s ability to make you
seasick, each day presents its own narrow name
along the back of your throat. And then they’re gone
and then they’re back again. Of course this repetition
isn’t dragging us downward, but movement in any
direction is dragging, by design, or it should have been
if it isn’t. And like this movement, we demand
starting and stopping. Could a child be the best reminder
of any movement, sensible or not? Think of the plow
destroying a sentence that has yet to be constructed,
imagined, or engulfed by those around it. There
goes the train you should be on. Isn’t this what impulse
is all about? I used to know. I used to know something
other than weariness, but mortality manages to memorize
our patterns with so little effort. I like that. And I like
the quality of every single assurance we feel
tempted to articulate out toward an atmosphere
we know is little more than happenstance,
little more than taking care of what needs tending to.
Adam Clay is the author of A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World (Milkweed Editions, 2012) and The Wash (Parlor Press, 2006). His third book of poems, Stranger, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2016. He co-edits TYPO Magazine and teaches at the University of Illinois Springfield.
You — Zombie
You—zombie—felt a century passing
and you loved it, having seen what there was
to see, as in your state you saw only
what would elicit continuation.
You had to debate what was important
to you: the television, the photo
albums, the incontinent terrier?
The heart of your son, the heart of your mom,
the hearts of strangers frightened in the night?
Despite illness, it remained possible
to engineer complex analogies
regarding the fundamental nature
of the human condition. A fact, though,
was that even on your very best days
you yearned to eat all the flesh you could find
though you’d long ago recognized that’s all
it was: just flesh. Not life. Not truth. Not love.
In the village of zombies we zombies
pull limbs from the living because we are
lonely, because it is what we must do.
Nick Courtright’s second book, Let There Be Light, called “a continual surprise and a revelation” by Naomi Shihab Nye, came out in February 2014, and his debut full-length, Punchline, a National Poetry Series finalist, was published in 2012 by Gold Wake Press. His poetry has appeared in many literary journals, including The Southern Review, Kenyon Review Online, Boston Review, and The Iowa Review, among numerous others. He lives in Austin, Texas; feel free to find him at nickcourtright.com.
The I Have to Die
after Alice Notley
Champagne sugar gin, Vermont summer night
and Claire in the morning “I have the Fear”
I knew what she meant because I had it too:
the where did I go hand-on-the-neck fear
We tore our legs through Jamaica Kincaid’s garden
and I was belligerent about the pink moon, I made everyone look.
Mornings I wake and invoke I must change my life
but never do. The summer I swear to quit drinking
is the summer I work at a bar.
The owner Gary tells me “Gary works really hard”
or he’s closing the bar early because little Gary has plans tonight.
I think he means himself in the 3rd, or his dick, but it turns out he has a son.
My best friend Claire is sweet with me, words cotton-edged
when I implore her really, say what’s wrong with me.
“Your purse is messy, you spend extravagantly and you text too much.”
In the Hamptons I take her to the ocean at night.
She’s scared of a man in the dunes while I’m distracted by the waves
like a girl throwing her hair at a guy who doesn’t give a shit.
Claire is resisting her boyfriend for the time being.
In a week she’ll give in, but for now she let’s me
tell her the same story again: a wrecked love affair.
A bad habit. My family quotes Werner Herzog’s
Grizzly Man and cracks up. He spiraled downward
is something we’ve been saying for years.
My father moves to LA, takes up Kabbalah, quits drinking.
He carries a book in Aramaic to ward off the evil eye;
the belief takes all the fun out of my tarot pack.
When I tell a poet about the bar behind my house
he’s surprised it wasn’t wedged into a poem already.
But nothing ever happened between the weeds and bottle caps.
My sisters and I called it a graveyard
and when our dad was in there drinking we’d buy dusty
peanut m&ms by the handful from the old gumball machine.
That bar is the reason I was born, where my parents met.
Now all the nights I work are dead. The regulars, Lou and Lou and Jerry
and Phil, live upstairs. They help me close and buy me pizza
but when they ask where I live I gesture vaguely.
My friends stoke a fire on the beach with boys here to work the season.
The one on top of me groans mi amor – my father calls me that –
my skin recoils on the sand you’re so good so good he says
though I won’t let him fuck me and I’m barely kissing back.
Why he mistook me for goodness I don’t know.
You won’t know water is sweet until you wake up
parched. I almost drowned in shallow water:
I fell into the bay and it didn’t occur to me to stand.
Two-years-old and the look of my red jelly shoes
underwater, deliciously magnified. If the lifeguards shout
mermaid! to each other it means shark.
We nearly hit a deer in the Jeep but three stars
shoot the sky so I call it breaking even.
I was on my back for the last meteor shower,
my first winter in Vermont, lake cold
to mutely reflect the firmament. We peered over the edge
as if we’d lose hold of Earth. Stars bright from below,
the dock rough in frost, I lay with an old friend,
my platonic. We never confuse affection unlike the rest:
we slept together like children, which is to say almost innocent.
Laura Creste is an MFA candidate in Poetry at New York University, and a graduate of Bennington College. She is the Web/Public Relations editor of Washington Square Review and a coordinator of the NYU Emerging Writers reading series at KGB bar. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in plain china, Control, and Bodega Magazine. She is a book reviewer at Full Stop and has written for Bustle.
Cento of Top Chef and The Blue Flower
I think about cutting my heart.
My approach is
very quiet. There will be perhaps 18,000 mornings.
It is not an infinite number.
I wish there were a little more salt.
The doctors did discourage
the sea air. But I am not sure
what they say these days. And the autumn
is always a dangerous time for young people.
I’ve never worked with heart
before. For what we waste,
we’re held accountable.
Aran Donovan’s writing has appeared in linebreak, Barrow Street, and Best New Poets 2013. She lives in New Orleans.
In Want of an Image
I am trying to reconcile my want of an image
with my insistence on only that
which is immaterial and wind up oscillating
between it’s time for breakfast and the world
is coming apart at the seams. Yes,
the asparagus stalks still shoot up every spring
but all that remains of them is their taste
and their magnificent green. I think
my real fear is that the brain is not a tool
for obtaining knowledge but for actively
misunderstanding it as in the cartoon
where Wile E walks off the edge of a cliff
and doesn’t fall until he looks down
and this is me looking down. Sometimes
I miss the days when cars used to speak to us.
Sometimes it seems there are just too many clues
and it takes until we assemble everything to realize
we should have been doing the opposite.
The clouds reincarnate themselves,
but always nimbus, cirrus, cumulus, stratus.
What I mean is that maybe knowledge
is like zero, useful so long as we pretend
it’s something that it’s not. Like how the word soul
sort of bums me out, but still is necessary
to explain this itch I have to pound
everything so thin it cannot be understood
in a three dimensional world. When did we start
to confuse truth with honesty? When did the real
become a cloud that cloaks the really real? Finally
we can zoom in and see the smallest molecules
of meaning, and I for one want only to marvel at the gaps
between them. The door is ajar, says the soft
mechanical voice and I close it without thinking.
Originally from New Jersey, Josh English spent the first part of his adult life working as a songwriter and performer while living in New York before shifting his focus to poetry. His work has been recently published in journals including Sixth Finch and Word Riot. He currently lives and teaches in Columbia, SC.
I approach the edge, the edge greets me warmly
the way sleep sometimes does, sleep so precarious
I dream of the kitchen of a stilted house over a bay
of jawed leeches. Rain pummels the skylights and I stir
a pot of tomato soup. The surface of the milk dish
tilts and the chives roll down the countertop
and the birds topple off the birdfeeder and I wake.
When I wake, the edge is asleep in my bed, in my bed
clothes, and I curl up closely, the day almost upon us.
We never touch, but the edge breaths like I breathe,
and I know we shared that dream, the edge in my tipping
ladle, the edge in the creaking of the slogged dock wood,
the edge in the act of waking. In the pleasant equilibrium
of waking, the edge is less flirtatious. The steeple
does not toddle on its mantle, the shutters do not blink
one eye open, the bed, on its cast-iron wheels,
does not swing like a gurney. The edges sleeps. I watch.
The sea beneath laps a tongue, tries to know us but cannot
fathom edges. Unlike the sea, I greet him.
Jane Huffman’s poems are featured or forthcoming in Radar Poetry, Word Riot, RHINO Poetry, Cold Mountain Review, and elsewhere in print and online. She is an editorial assistant for Sundress Publications. Jane has a BA from Kalamazoo College in Theatre Arts and English, and is a MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She blogs at thisisthedeepend.com.
I have a friend whose daughter,
upon learning to speak,
confessed,“ I come
from a blue country.”
Let’s suppose she did.
An inscrutable landscape where
bower birds & Leadbelly
sing of Atlantis
& the very sea itself
insists upon the dignity of whales.
It must have been something—suede or velvet
pushed right against the gates of heaven.
A blue without any other
& cloudless skies.
Blue—just imagine . . .
The houses & trains! The peacocks!
At times decayed . . . then burgeoning again.
Blue speck. Metallic blue. The robins
egg blue of youth & then,
Born in Baton Rouge, Austin LaGrone is the author of Oyster Perpetual, winner of the 2010 Idaho Prize for Poetry (Lost Horse, 2011). His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, Poetry International and elsewhere. He lives in Stockholm.
We arrived when the birds
went extinct. Without models,
we could not learn to fly.
We were more or less
indifferent to our groundedness
as we could never be about
conjugation. Too much
indeterminacy leads to
too vivid dreams--
the potential phoenix,
the subjunctive lynx:
One day, our eyes sparks
of royal flame, we might rise
against those who weaponize
our caring against us;
were our hearts so engulfed,
we could do more than
withstand trespass. But
there are no birds here, no
fireflies, no bull-throated frogs.
Winter returns every year.
With so many indicatives,
hope begins to look like lie.
Brianna Noll is a poet and critic living in Chicago. She is Poetry Editor of The Account: A Journal of Poetry, Prose, and Thought, and her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Georgia Review, Hotel Amerika, Passages North, Puerto del Sol, and 32 Poems.
[Scene begins with ‘indistinct chanting’]
Indistinct for Other, seen-Arab—as when Olive whistled her path
across earth & towards desert (to meet Hagar, she said).
She was often checked at borders: You shall die before you see a desert--
Olive dragged when she fell, on a leash put;
she turned all camel-like, became a camel--
Ali Baba’s purple scarf did not impress Gertrude Stein,
she thought it, inscrutably undiced.
Mostly, Olive is wearing a yellow, dirty gold shirt. Her hair a thick mess.
[& Uniforms of Snow]
Between picking & choosing prisoners there is
a differential equation struggling with
variables of innocence. Seedling
inside that howling head of yours,
Olive—do you hear?
Every time you come near
peeling: braid of skin
off your chapped feet--
Blue jays I will imagine
swirl around my ear.
Siwar Masannat is an Arab writer from Amman, Jordan. She is the author of 50 Water Dreams (Cleveland State University Poetry Center 2015). Her poems and articles have appeared in The Denver Quarterly, New Orleans Review, VOLT, and 7iber, among others. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
I wake an angry beetle and the cows across the street shiver.
Just as the leaf above my head shivers.
The world is about to see a tornado.
Or maybe just a little bit of rain.
It is hard to see where the line is.
Fishing trip / No fishing trip.
Where are you? How are you?
My legs are trapped and I am happy / happy.
Rush Pittman is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His work can be found in The Knicknackery and Toad. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
from That Which Comes After
I’ve got to stop thinking
In status updates
Cut the avocado before
It turns I read this poem
I wanted to tweet about
The right or left brained
Quiz but I wasn’t surprised
The result came back positive
For night terrors in childhood
I’d wake up screaming I still
Remember the storyline
But I’ll keep it brief
The night you held me
On the floor was the last
Time I let you hold me
I think violence might be
More intimate but it’s not
Sustainable sometimes it scars
Spices were used to cover up
The rot can you imagine
Life without refrigeration
And I think I have a tender
Belly now I’ll touch myself
Briefly & maybe breathe out
Your name is very ordinary
Have you ever met someone
You’ve never met before
Alexis Pope is the author of Soft Threat (Coconut Books, 2014), as well as three chapbooks. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bat City Review, Denver Quarterly, Powder Keg, Poor Claudia, Sink Review, and The Volta, among others. She lives in Brooklyn & is a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative.
Failure to Redress
Pile of shoes, pile of bodies. There’s a pile
of coats separate from bodies. I know
where each train goes, even if I never leave. I have stolen
apples in my pockets. My fingers
will be razors just for you. I left once but I was only
trying to sharpen pixels. Not my teeth so
I need to go back to that café. In Berlin
where once afternoon went white-wine light. Stopped
panicking long enough to write. A postcard
in a sidewalk cafe, sitting. On cobblestones
seven invading armies marched over. I have
to go back to Berlin to kill a girl, but I haven’t figured
out yet if she’s me. I won’t know until I get there. I have
no apples. Today isn’t ruined, it’s not, it could still. Be shining
oil rubbed on a forehead. Yes I made
my legs too weak to stand on. I’ve known
and know why but fail at brunch. Familiar
shade of murk. Press my spurs deeper
into the bed I made. Until what bleeds out clear. My beds
the shiniest piano keys. When those rich girls
still thought I was on my side. Took my
elbow as we tripped. Across the
prairie into dawn. Tongued out
the earring ringed with pearls. Stolen
from Forever 21. Broken shears
and hulls and oil. Winged seething
fill my cold lap. Fill it up with good. Pilgrim hands,
good pilgrim rags. The tracks
where we could cross. Into
the bells above the liquor store. I’m phoning in
my agency. Violence never knew
how good we had it. I could stand
in the supermarket, deciding which body
to have. Violence pushing a shopping cart. See
what I did there? Yeah,
me neither. Slide a coin under
your tongue. We’ll be pebbled
with glass chips. The machine
whose lung we sleep in is the prettiest. Blue curved
soap. I put on my coat. I hope I’ve
guessed right about which girl I’ll kill. I hope
I shut her up for good.
Nina Puro’s work can be found in Guernica, H_ngm_n, the PEN America Poetry Series, and other places. A member of the Belladonna* Collaborative; the author of a chapbook, The Winter Palace (dancing girl press, 2015); and recipient of a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony, Nina cries and works in Brooklyn.
Were You Lying Then or Are You Lying Now
To be, he said, an American, is to find you have lived
your whole small life on the back of some
starving and saber-toothed creature that has,
all the while, been killing and killing and killing.
No wonder we do so much drinking.
H.’s father went too soon, a suicide.
BETTER TO ASK FORGIVENESS THAN PERMISSION.
Of her partner, Elizabeth Bishop wrote
I DON’T THINK SHE HAD CONSCIOUSLY
PLANNED THIS BECAUSE SHE BROUGHT SO MANY
THINGS—12 KILO BAGS OF COFFEE, ETC.
I remember taking a shot at conversing in Spanish.
When someone mentioned a candidate
for high office, I began to tell the story of going
to see him, in an uncovered field on a hot day
in crucial Ohio. It was noon,
security lines ran long, and people got sick
from the sun and had to sit down. But I didn’t
know how to say sick or sit down, so I just said
everyone died. That’s just like death, to creep in
wherever it can, to huddle in wait
in the dooryard of every story. Death is the best
of the lurkers. Death is the worst of the whores.
It hardly ever refuses anyone’s offer.
The Mind of Popular Pictures
Special sign in the terminal line: NO SNOW
GLOBES THROUGH SECURITY. It’s a major
issue these days, all the trying so hard
to bring the city home. Want to hear what
I never believed? In a movie, if a man
gets x-ray vision, he can see a woman naked.
He can see through her hooded coat
and then through her button-down and
then through her bra, and he does not
overshoot. He does not see through her
skin and then through the flatness
of her sternum and then through the acid
in her cells. In the mind of popular pictures,
the body is like this: it won’t be breached.
I do like that idea. But I’ve been harmed.
I know the movies aren’t real.
Natalie Shapero is the author of the poetry collection No Object, and her writing has appeared in The Nation, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Progressive, Boston Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and works as an Associate Editor of the Kenyon Review.
Elephant Man: A Pretty Child
Joseph was born to Joseph and Mary Jane and was called John.
He had the feeling he had done something wrong
but couldn’t quite understand the entire context, or what
he had done, specifically, that should cause him to feel
shame that did not hold up to the hot light of his own
investigation but was exponentially aggravated
when his audience was cruel or drunk, and so his own mind’s eye
transformed his shame into a mythical beast with giant
bat-like wings. He was often in hospitals, and ended by
living in one, like a hotel. I myself thought of Joseph
when I began to go once a month to hospitals
to have my face examined. Men and women wearing white coats
like some kind of washed out, antiquated British army
said things like ‘presentable’ when referring to my face,
milling about the room like puttering vacuums collecting
any dust or decay or unpresentable faces. I enjoyed being
ugly but am ashamed of this because it makes me feel
as though I am normally a pretty boy and I guess I am
and I do feel ashamed. Joseph-called-John was not pretty
and because of this he thrived in his hospital home
where he could finally live in his ugliness.
There was a doctor who eventually learned to be human.
There was a businessman who ran the hospital.
There was Joseph, unable to sleep in a reclined position
because the weight of his head drew his blood
and he would die during the night. There was Joseph
knowing to prop himself with pillows. There was
the hallway and his room at the end, where sometimes
he entertained visitors whom he loved as though
they were his very parents who had loved and cared for him
all his life, as though he were a pretty child. He could not
have been comfortable at aristocratic functions but accepted them
with a kindly smile. My face was not what I had done wrong,
but it felt like a simple solution to my guilt, like easy karma applied
by extraterrestrials. I don’t know if Joseph took any pills.
Likely there were no pills then. Joseph-called-John became famous,
and I hope he was okay with that. It would have been nice
not to be famous for being physically hideous, having either a good
or a bad light poured over him. There’s a scene toward the end
when he goes back to his handler, having no one else.
Now the lines remind me of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”:
she would have to cling to that which had robbed her,
as people will. I had so many handlers, I cannot remember
their names. Some of them have even stuck around, keeping an eye
on me and my blood ﬂow, my lipids and my whatever else.
One doctor who was very good, and also kind, would pinch
around my face for thirty painful minutes, but was too expensive
and didn’t take my insurance. I thanked him over the phone
from the back seat of a car and I felt a kind of love toward him.
Soren Stockman’s poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in The Iowa Review, the PEN Poetry Series, Tin House online, The Literary Review, and Narrative Magazine, which awarded him First Place in the 2013 Narrative 30 Below Contest, among others. He performed the role of John Merrick in “The Elephant Man” with Built for Collapse at the Wings Theater in 2010. He is the Administrative Aide at the NYU Creative Writing Program, Program Coordinator for Summer Literary Seminars, and Curator for Springhouse Journal.
Leaving New York
I was leaving New York with a certain sadness and with
profound admiration . . . it had given me the most useful
experience of my life. I must thank it for many things . . .
The day I left New York
it was pouring rain like
the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s
(the movie). Fitting--
my idea of the city
had never been realistic.
I said goodbye to Ira and Byron
in the downstairs loft.
Byron had seen my suitcase,
knew I was leaving. It
took me by surprise,
seeing him so upset,
and woke me to the reality
of the moment. I
started to cry. “Are we
making a mistake?”
Ira had asked this two
or three times since we’d
broken up, and here
it was again—at the last
minute. He was crouched
down, holding onto
Byron, who was trying
to squirm free. I was
worried about getting
a taxi in the rain.
“No, this is for the best.”
He looked up at me.
“I felt taken advantage of.”
“That was never my intention,”
I replied. Still crying,
I hailed a cab, sat drenched
in the back seat as it
pulled away, rain pounding
the roof, streaking down
the windows. Right
turn on Houston. I
was off—almost. A few
blocks east, at Lafayette,
we hit a big puddle;
the engine died. When
the driver couldn’t
get it started, I tried to
hand him some bills
through the partition.
He refused: his fault,
he insisted. I let them fall
into the front anyway,
got out, flagged down
another taxi, and made it
to JFK with time to spare.
It appeared New York
wanted me to leave
as much as I wanted
to leave it. At the gate,
I called Ira on my cell
phone (my first) and burst
into tears all over again:
I’m sorry. Thank you for
our life together. I love you.
Goodbye. Still crying
as my Xanax took effect
during takeoff, as the plane
rose above the storm
and I floated in blue
toward the future.
Of course New York
kept calling me back--
for readings, to research
Tim’s, then my, life.
(I’d sold my papers--
thirty years of letters,
to NYU before moving.)
It’s a strangeness like
none other: revisiting
your own past in the
hush of the Fales Library
reading room. My
first trip back, after a
massage with Jeffery’s
therapist, I walked
down Seventh Avenue
in a blissed-out daze,
and it came to me that I
should thank the city
for all the opportunities
it had given me, for
all it had taught me.
So I did. I talked to it.
And prayed for Jimmy
as I passed St. Vincent’s,
where I visited him
the day before he died.
That night, introducing
me at a reading at
the Bowery Poetry Club,
Karen Weiser said,
“New York misses you,
David.” It felt as if
the city was talking
to me, too, through
her. A sadness like
none other: returning,
time and time again,
to the place that had
inflicted such confusion,
such pain, then leaving
(often after a magical,
whirlwind trip) in
a cab speeding up
FDR Drive, the East
River glittering in late
Only to arrive the next
time, at LaGuardia,
wait for your suitcase
(with the black leather
Eiffel Tower tag) at
the carousel, wait
in the taxi queue, then
drive in silence toward
the Midtown Tunnel.
Skyline comes into view
—no Twin Towers--
and the cemetery (I never
did learn its name)
directly underneath it--
the eye following all
into the jagged line
of skyscrapers. In this
way, New York always
reminds you of your
irrelevance: death awaits
all this teeming of life.
Once on the island,
dissolves and you return
to the streets, prisoner of
your own self-importance.
The Washington Square
Hotel, close to where
I once lived, became my
new headquarters. I
loved that each room had two,
sometimes three framed
headshots of iconic movie
stars, with full-blown
lavender roses decaled on
the glass. You never
knew which stars you
were going to get. Clark
Gable and Norma Shearer?
Katharine Hepburn and
Jean Harlow? Joan Crawford,
Gary Cooper, and Myrna Loy?
In the cramped restaurant
downstairs: an omelette
in a booth below Klimt’s
The Kiss—a kitschy tiled
trees in Washington Square
cloaked with snow, after
a fresh snowfall. In all
weathers, the perpetually
young NYU students,
the drug pushers, the
ancient lady walking her
terrier. It hobbles after,
wearing a little coat.
I didn’t really leave
New York until ten years
after I moved. Elaine
brought me back to read
in the Poetry Forum at
The New School. The circle
was complete: a decade
later, a reading at
the school where I taught
for seven years, where
I learned to be a teacher.
And it was spring!
Introducing me, Elaine
said, “In the poems of
David Trinidad, the TV
is always on.” Afterwards,
Mark Bibbins told me that
as I was reading, in the
window behind me, there
was a striking pink sunset.
My parting gift. The next
day, in a taxi on the way
to LaGuardia, I was at peace
with the skyline: beautiful
and still, beneath a clearing
sky (it had rained in the
night). “If I never come back
here again,” I thought, “I
would be fine with that.”
When all is said and done,
my most enduring memories of
New York have nothing to
do with people or poetry.
Just a few private instances.
Driving one morning at
5:00 a.m., late in the nineties,
in a car with darkened
windows, to the airport--
off to read somewhere
or visit family in California--
and seeing a purple sunrise
begin to break through
a bank of black clouds.
I was being driven into
a watercolor. And aware,
as the car clip-clopped across
the Williamsburg Bridge, that
half my life was behind me.
(Definitely a glass-half-empty
feeling.) Walking down
Sixth Avenue carrying a green
and white Balducci’s bag
(the only time I ever
felt like a New Yorker).
Bunches of parti-colored
tulips outside a greengrocer.
A glimpse, at dusk, of pink
at the end of street. Still
relatively new to New York,
getting caught in a downpour
without an umbrella near
Tompkins Square Park. I
stood in a doorway and
smoked a cigarette, waited
for the deluge to pass. Or
desultory in the back of a cab
watching Fifth Avenue,
deserted on Sunday morning,
whiz by (on my way to meet
Jeannie to go to a doll show
in Hackensack), but perking
up when I saw the facade
of Tiffany & Co. and, the
wistful strains of “Moon
River” stirring in my
dispirited mind, pictured
Audrey Hepburn sipping
coffee and munching
a croissant as she gazes
into the store, comforted by
(and here I quote from
the book, not the movie)
“the quietness and
the proud look of it;
nothing very bad could
happen to you there.”
The radiator is clanking
as if someone’s hammering on
the pipes (time to get up) and Byron
is at the door, barking: he hears
Obie Benz climbing the stairs
to his office (the loft above us). Obie
made a documentary in the late eighties,
Heavy Petting—in which celebrities
like Allen Ginsberg, Sandra Bernhard,
Laurie Anderson, and William S. Burroughs
confessed their first sexual experiences--
that did quite well. “Byron!” We
never properly trained him, so such
pleas are pointless. Still, we yell
Shhh! Quiet! Shut the fuck up! Byron
looks at us, baffled for a second, then
goes right on barking. I finally
pull myself out of bed. Blessedly
I don’t teach today. Ira sits at
the kitchen table, reading the Times.
I am no longer interested in the news.
From the left front window of our loft
(facing Spring Street), we can see
part of the Empire State Building--
a reminder, when I do notice it, how
lucky I am to live here. Lucky? Amazed
might be closer to the truth. Often,
walking down the street or hailing
a cab, I think: “You actually live here.
In New York City. Where you always,
since you read Valley of the Dolls as
a teenager, wanted to be.” The glamour
instantly disappears when the next person
bumps me (intentionally?) without
saying “I’m sorry.” Nothing makes
me angrier. Laura, my therapist, says
it requires constant negotiation:
too many people crowded into too
small a space. I try to imagine myself
old in Manhattan—walking a different
cairn terrier (Byron would be gone
by then), sitting alone in a brown booth
at the Knickerbocker—but can’t.
This city is for the young or the rich.
I’ve never really liked it, would probably
have left after graduate school if I hadn’t
met Ira. I tell myself (and others) that
the relationship is all that’s keeping me here.
Everyone who is going to die has died--
for the time being, at any rate. Many
I once counted as friends are no longer
in my life. We still give dinner parties.
Who comes? Wayne Koestenbaum.
Susan and Philip. Robyn and Stacey.
Ira’s publishing partner from London.
Gary. Betsy. Linda. Lynne. (More
Ira’s friends than mine.) I see Elaine
on my own. And Jeffery. My therapist.
Is there no one else I can count on?
I’ve quit smoking—the hardest thing
I’ve ever done, harder than giving up
alcohol and drugs—and started collecting
toys from my childhood. Firmly
in my mid-forties, there’s plenty of time
to waste. (Somehow I know this.)
When Ira launches his own agency,
he leases the loft below us and sets up
his offices there. Obie rarely works late,
so at night we have the building to
ourselves. I read how Elizabeth Taylor
and Richard Burton, at the height
of their stardom, booked the hotel rooms
above, below, and on either side
of theirs, to ensure privacy. I pretend
that Ira and I are the gay equivalent
of Irving Mansfield and Jacqueline
Susann, the Sunday Times (I do read
“Arts & Leisure”) strewn all over
the green pin-striped duvet cover on
our queen-size bed (not enough room
for a king). Byron is our Josephine.
At the kitchen table, I write a long
skinny poem in Byron’s voice—“Every
Night, Byron!”—a week in the life
of an urbane canine. Byron sits at my
feet whenever I work on it, as if he
knows what I’m up to. His vigil ends
as soon as I finish the poem. Ira objects
that I refer to us as “one for-the-most-
part-happy little alternative family.”
“That’s how Byron sees us,” I say.
A lesbian couple, both named Debbie,
that we used to hang out with, once
told us they’d made a vow to always
stay together. In my heart (but not
my head?) I know Ira and I will not.
While Ira is in London on business
I read a book on the Zodiac Killer--
a garish yellow, red, and black true-crime
paperback—that keeps me awake: I
obsessively check the locks on the door
and the windows, the fire escape gate.
Must I, for the rest of my life, bar
windows and doors against the Manson
Family, the Zodiac, Richard Speck?
Byron would be no help: he’d probably
want an intruder to throw his pink
squeak-toy. Yet he’ll wait at the door for
Obie’s footsteps, run to the front windows
to bark at a motorcyclist revving his bike.
I sit at the middle window and watch
them film a scene from Sex and the City:
Sarah Jessica Parker and her redheaded
sidekick walking down West Broadway,
talking about their love lives, no doubt.
SoHo has been transformed (overnight,
it seems, though it must have been gradual)
from a relatively quiet neighborhood, that
came alive nights there were openings at
art galleries, into a teeming mecca of
high-end clothing stores. The sidewalks,
especially on weekends, thick with tourists
and shoppers, street vendors hawking
tacky T-shirts and third-rate paintings.
It’s impossible to walk Byron, when it’s
this crowded, without some kind of
altercation. I don’t leave the apartment
all weekend, if I can help it, and suffer
when Ira isn’t around to take Byron out.
Nights, too, are noisier: every brute
from Jersey, Long Island, and the other
boroughs comes into Manhattan to let
loose. On St. Patrick’s Day, the Empire
State a lit emerald encased in mist, revelers
yell, smash glass, and get into fistfights.
The big reading at St. Mark’s Church for
the Norton anthology of postmodern
poetry approaches. I dread being in
the same room as Eileen. The morning
of, I decide to burn all her letters to me.
Why should I cherish them when she
clearly has no regard for my friendship.
Destroying them will free, secretly
empower me, I think. Ira eggs me on.
I fill the kitchen sink with years of
correspondence: letters and postcards
with her sloppy handwriting and scrawl
of a signature (which I used to treasure),
photographs, manuscripts, poems I asked
her to write out by hand, the downward
squiggle on the blue cover of Sappho’s Boat
that she drew for me and signed (which
I always meant to have framed). I light
the match. Ira fans the smoke toward
the open window. How I loved receiving
word from her, first in my studio in
Hollywood, then, after I got sober, my
studio in Silver Lake. When she stayed
with me at the latter, she ruined my yellow
teakettle while I was at work: turned on
the burner underneath it then forgot, went
out to the courtyard to sunbathe. I didn’t
care about the teakettle at the time, but
ten years later, analyzing our friendship
with Laura, I did care that she didn’t
apologize or offer to replace it. Once,
I sent her a magazine with two of my
new poems; “Tim’s Stolen Sweater” was
one of them. She wrote back: “the best
of David.” That had meant so much to me.
Now as I feed the letter to the flames, her
messy black handwriting crumples to ash.
I wake with a start from an afternoon nap.
Byron curled at my feet. I’d dozed off
while reading Seth Speaks—just a few
pages of his “you create your own reality”
channelings make my head heavy. Byron
growls, jumps off the bed, runs barking
to the door as Obie Benz descends the
stairs. I don’t know (or care?) where Ira
is. It’s beginning to get dark. As I fall
back asleep, Byron’s barking fades. This
is how I am creating my middle age.
David Trinidad’s most recent books are Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems (2011) and Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera (2013), both published by Turtle Point Press. He is also the editor of A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos (Nightboat Books, 2011). Trinidad currently lives in Chicago, where he teaches at Columbia College. These two poems are from his new book, Notes on a Past Life, forthcoming in 2016 from BlazeVOX [books].