Monthly Archives: July 2012

“Part of my message is that we’re not central to the purpose of the Cosmos. What happened to me makes us all seem very small.”

Of course he didn’t love me or any word like that, don’t be silly
Still, there was something there. Nothing too grave. Belief, maybe,
though he was bashful & concerned & did not want to talk about the sky,
enough even to mention a single sparse, cosmological being.

One of these nights. I thought, not meaning much
at first, then slowly dreaming up a story. It ends
with a recollection of the tile floor of his hotel bathroom:
so white it had almost looked pink. In the middle of it, I wake him up
and put a coffee filter on his freckled stomach.
I act like a bully: crying out “So there!” & laughing
just a little before I turn back over on my side.

There, in one of those worlds.
“You know I’m not a rich man.” Carl said when I asked
if I could kiss him. He had the look of someone
who had just removed a hat. Of course I was confused.
I was young and felt pretty. It seemed
like we were having such a good time.

Even and especially when they lay beside us,
we so rarely know what other people are thinking.

“Carl?” I leaned over. He began to cry and apologize.

Just then, I got afraid for myself again. Nothing new, only that old
tautological one: held in the body but rarely exhaled out or finished

–Before that chance came, he placed
his head in his hands, shielding out all of the light.

“I will never go to the moon.” His voice was shaky but certain,
and filled with so much despair.
I tried to shrug this, another thing, off.

If I could explain, it might begin where everything seems small and deliberate.

I took my bag from where it lay in the weeds
and stood up, to clear my head and better think of which part
of this would become the story, and what other part
would be left behind. I wonder what has happened to it, that other piece, if it even
still remains. Out there, somewhere.


Reading Goethe during an afternoon rain.

The café has started serving wine,
and turned on each set of hanging lights

while a man is cursing the mist
that always lets itself in through some
imprecision or fixture—


How was that?

Did it sound like any of this was happening
in Europe? Was there at all the distinct warmth
of a small and historical place?

Well. For a moment, it felt that way.


Seltsam is the German word
for a peculiar feeling, though it is a term far too silly
to bring much out of us
when it comes to imagining the world shifting
as you gaze upon it: the very idea that all things
could suddenly appear foreign enough
to induce disbelief or fright.

Or even to speak of the way in which discord
can induce those we once loved to become almost—
but not quite, unfamiliar. The moment it takes
to remember some element of intimacy or knowledge

when one feels like an object suspended
between two kinds of motion that can be recognized
but not reached. That silence.


Unable to fulfill or renounce his desires
Faust despairs: In jedem Kleide werd ich wohl die Pein
Des engen Erdelebens fühlen.
Ich bin zu alt, um nur zu spielen,
Zu jung, um ohne Wunsch zu sein.
Was kann die Welt mir wohl gewähren?

Meaning something like: In every garment,
I suppose, I’m bound to feel the misery
of earth’s constricted life.
I am too old for mere amusement
and still too young to be without desire.
What has the world to offer me?

It is this preposterous, odious burden
that is, of course, existence: almost,
but not quite enough pain to quit.


But perhaps it is not so bad as this.
Outside now, a homeless man stands up

and reaches out his arm. Some of its lines
are wrinkles nestled together.

Others are too strange to be anything
but illustration: dim and many,
indistinguishable from afar. Look!

He is using the Internet on his cell phone.

The poems keep turning into other poems. They won’t stop
doing that.

All morning I have been thinking about Cuba.

I am told I have not yet written this fated “Heart Break Poem” yet,
though to me it seems that nearly every other poem I have written
has defiantly swollen into some incarnation of it.

When I brought it up last night, the bartender spoke of Cuba
as if it were an incandescent dream, stilled in time,
or an idea of time I have had for many days now.
Classic Cars forcing up dust, cruel men looking out
calmly from their porches.

Because of the embargo, if an embargo
is the right word for what it is, one is forced
to travel through Mexico or Canada. Too,
an old friend said her father bribed a man
not to stamp his passport and that there were gardens everywhere,
so it was not difficult to eat fresh things cheaply.
There was little need for fear or scrupulous choice.

I like the idea of a place that is possible
but very difficult to reach, preventing the worried
and dispassionate from entering. So it is. I cannot let go
of the need to return. Or of invention. I love it

because the word sounds almost to me
as if it had been imagined for a place that has not yet
been made. Cuba. How wonderful
it must be, since I am able to believe
it might not even exist at all.

At the end of things I held his hand and carried
a sack of my books and shoes to the train station.
Maybe I will decide to be a fatalist and believe
in the fated parts of things. Out of that pain
came the desire to go to an island to rest, where
I will find everything, or at least, find buried
some thought of where to go after. Oh look.
This one has done it too.

It was in the line at the market yesterday.
The checkout girl asked me about the pears
on my left arm. Surprised for a second,
because in Manhattan I am rarely asked
to surface out of invisibility, I came stuttering.
“Augustine.” As though it were
an invocation. “His first sin was stealing a pear.”
I explained, “Out of desire. Not because
he was hungry or in need
of fruit.” Her face was so still and confused:
her teeth interrupted somewhere.
I laughed.

Often, I laugh when I have nothing to say.
And I flashed my tattoo one more time
leaving. Maybe she laughed too. And
if that is true then perhaps it is also the case
that we were laughing out of understanding
the same strange discomfort.

To tell the truth I did not know that story
until two years after I had paid $80 for the taupe pears
and their stems next to my body, a bluer green
than the one in the drawing. The stippling
of blood underneath it was pink and convincing
but soon healed off. This was in Ann Arbor. I was eighteen—

No, nineteen, but eighteen when I remember it.
We had walked all day, my friend and I, speaking
to body artists as though we were litigators. We forced
them to draw sample sketches of produce
that we criticized and then refused. And kept walking.
Maybe selectivity is forgivable in context
of the permanence we sought after. Though too

I am sure that we had little sense
of time that wasn’t ours to spend
stuck with ink, pins or whatever was used
to penetrate skin, illustrate, alter it.
She got a beet. We liked the way these renderings
of produce looked. Their line detail. We were excited
to uncover them when they healed. I thought also:
embarrassing but true, of a girl I used to watch
use the elliptical machine at college
and her arm moving back and forth with colored vines
wrapping around it. How she managed to look complicated
even though she was going nowhere. But how to explain that?
We are born out of desire. Not need or reason.
Not hunger.

At my job I summarize a book for a forthcoming documentary film. It’s hard to tell what details are important and which need to be relegated to short hand. Last night I jumped into the East River while my friend and some people I had just met were trying to catch a fish. Everyone was very kind and the water was not too cold or unclean to bear. When I swam back to the rocks and pulled myself out, I walked back down the pier soaking wet. I was afraid of making a sexual spectacle of myself, but I had just wanted to feel the water, and where we were standing there were now also several Japanese fisherman, smoking cigarettes and watching an eel writhe on the concrete. They laughed and held it up. When they asked if I wanted to grab it, I did and it twisted back and forth with a desperate strength. Did it have teeth? They put it in a rope sack with others they held captive and sent it back down in the water to keep fresh. No time to die yet. Sometimes I speak too strongly. Nothing was especially cruel. There are some fish you catch just to cut up and throw back in the river to lure in others and make them grow large enough to eat or keep. On the walk home, my friend who had drunk too much spoke of how we should appreciate our hands. He almost dropped his guitar in the street. Today, James tells me he is sick. Likely he is reading in bed in a part of California that I try to remember to imagine when I feel awfully lonely. “I just don’t want any characters smiling, that’s all,” he says. His throat hurts. He is using berries to turn vodka into gin. Soon, I am taking a trip to the country to meet up with my family. They say I can bring anyone I like, but I know it will be best to go alone. And you know we only caught one fish the entire time: it was comic and toadish. I don’t remember whether we killed it or if we threw it back.