We met weekly- I'd bike off the peninsula in town here out to where she lived in the suburbs (all this is in quotes, this being Portland, Maine.) We'd drink wine and talk poetry, both hers and mine. My bus ticket to Seattle already bought, ready to be used the moment I finished these final requirements, my head wasn't as fully into the work as it ought to have been, given the rareness of the privilege I had before me. Still, a good line or two came out of it, here and there.
One day late in August I turned in the final drafts of that summer's worth of writing, and went home to pack to leave the next morning. I left the only copy of those poems at my parent's house, got on the bus, and never saw them again. As that was thirteen years ago, I assumed, after awhile, that they were lost for good, having written them on a word processor that ended up who knows where.
My parents cleaned off an old bookshelf yesterday and came across them. Not having seen them in over a decade it was quite a trip back to the year they were written, as well as to the memories which they were drawn from. Many were written for specific tasks she charged me with, which was helpful, since they never would have gotten written otherwise, not being anything I would think to try to do. I read them over a few times and found them to be exactly as I remembered them- a good line or two, here and there, surrounded by a whole bunch of crap. But I've always found that this is the best one can hope for from writing- pages and pages spilt to reach the satisfaction of one flawless phrase.
So I sat this morning and typed them up so that they no longer lived only on one piece of paper that had already been lost before. I intended to send them to a couple of you who are probably reading this right now, as they are as much about you as they are me, and some of them you've never seen, which didn't seem fair. Then I realized it might be easier to share them here, on the slim chance that someone else finds enjoyment finding those few lines here and there that I think are worth saving.
So without further fuss...
Some Old Poems
We're not usually this easy-
we tell you-
usually we would catch
a wave breaking steep and early like that,
we wouldn't fuck, greedily, unhappily
on a first date,
we wouldn't reach for the cigarettes
we carry even though we've quit,
we would have written a better poem,
but we're tired, lonely, angry,
alive and not up to the task.
Change for a Five
She clacked and clicked
and dragged her legs
behind her, reaching forward,
ape-like, on two canes,
as I strode across the lot
trying to preserve
the psychosomatic immortality
of the morning's run as truth
clacked and clicked behind me.
Montreal in the mirror
behind you and you
buttoning my favorite shirt
of yours slowly, thoughtfully,
the way you moved me
towards a lifetime
with you, and me seeing you
in that blue shirt
and Montreal behind you
and knowing- erroneously-
that it would last.
Among the hedgerow's quiet
and scraping of thorns
holding for a moment
half an orbit away
to bloom loudly and without
shame expose their most
precious parts we walked
and spoke of things
not to come to pass.
I saw the facade
of the Bank and Trust
become a playing card
balanced delicately in the pavement
tipping, waving, bending
in the wind that kept
the gulls floating
in great commotion
for they could see
what beast was to leap through
the gap left in the sky
when it fell.
Her tongue is dripping
in the August heat and her
white fur is being blown
away in clumps and then
she's looking directly at me
and I'm staring across the snow
into those dark rings
around her eyes and she held mine,
and my hand went tight on the shaft of my spear,
and we lunged.
The way she sat,
one hand under one leg,
upset the usual symmetry
of her breasts-
forcing one up,
letting the other fall-
but beyond that,
didn't seem to disturb her lunch at all.
The way she sat
didn't upset her companions:
the older couple, parents, presumably
or even, perhaps especially,
the man, neat, carbuncular, to her left.
It wasn't the way she sat
that bumped the table,
spilt a bit of wine
or knocked her fork to the floor,
but it was the way she sat
that shook me through the glass,
pulled me from my present,
and sent me, as I passed,
to a slightly possible future
where I reach across
with infinite grace,
and steady the wine
before it upsets.
New love, Same Story
a sycamore tree solitary
still on its hill
and a red flightless bird
searching for its burnt nest
among smoldering splinters
On another hill
another bird building
in another tree
Learn, little bird
and save yourself
History failed to leave us
Even a note: “Dear children...”
Our founders fled from it,
Denied it even, the history
Of spiritual failure.
Always the old pantheon is dissolved
The old gods left hollow, dry,
Wind-chewed, the mead and
Ambrosia spoiled and bitter
On the banquet table.
Love was no longer beautiful,
War no longer fierce when
Sprung from their loins came
Three squabbling children,
Life, Liberty and Happiness,
Top hats hanging to their noses
Jacket cuffs dusting the floor.
And now the ghosts of these children
Drag their sleeves through the halls
Of state, unaware of their own fate,
So certain of their immortality
That they won't speak the names
Of the bastard sons who slew them
To put an end to their bickering, Peace and Quiet.
When you see him waving you towards that off-ramp, with those two beacons like happy, glowing pricks, you'll probably curse, stammer, swear up and down you never did. If you're a real jerk-off you may even get out of your car and get right up in his mousy little face, right there under the exit sign, point and swear and he'll repeat calmly that he's only doing his job and if you'd please get back in the car and not cause any more trouble because you're holding up traffic. When you go to stomp on his toes and realize you're shit out of luck since you can't stomp on cloven hooves, you'll probably peel out across several lanes trying to take the exit sign with you, exit six-sixty-six B, southbound.
I loved you the morning you came to me
with the tube still in your thin wrist
even though you tried to hide it from me.
The charm of your insanity finally moved me
although I had to protest it;
you expected me to. You expected me to
condemn your leaving the hospital without
checking out, medical apparatus still
inserted in your body, vowing loudly,
like some anti-MacArthur, never to return,
finally stealing your dad's Lexus to come to me.
Me. Me in my attic apartment with only one window
still intact, which was a relief
since my roommate- who'd tried to jump from one of those
when he found I loved you and not him, yet still seemed sane
compared to you- never changed the cat's litter,
so we needed the fresh air.
Darling, that tube,
all they we're trying to do is feed you.
No, this isn't like foie gras,
it's more like death or life.
Spindrift disappears into the dry earth.
The waves wash over Jerusalem
Pull back, leaving the streets
Dry and empty.
The homes crumble, the windows
Widen, take over, consume the walls
Consume the stone, leave the insides
To the wind and the waves
Wash over Jerusalem.
She closes her eyes and moans.
Feed the giant men,
The corpulent bodies
Of the perverts we become-
We all become- the obese sacks of chewed shit
That crowd our sidewalks
And our sewers.
The men that mock our language,
Scoff without understanding,
Whose fat clogs the arteries of a people.
The men who jostle you late at night on the Red line under Boston, the men who jostle you because the own the streets the trains run under. They shove by and you grab their flabby tricep and say, “Remember. Down here it's dark and I've got nothing to lose and they won't find my fingerprints on a pile of shit that's been smeared by eighteen cars on the way to Harvard Square.” Remember.
You don't really say that
Because you're a chewed-sack-of-shit-
Just like he is,
And someday you'll jostle a kid
In the dark whose got nothing to lose-
Or maybe even less-
and he may not be so kind.
Feed me to the lions.
The bald man, stripped to the waist,
Doesn't see me as he raises the portcullis,
The pained creak of iron on iron-
As he doesn't see the strain in the walls, patient-
As I am shoved, red, bare, beaten down
Down into the dust.
Rend me bone from bone,
Tendon from bone,
Flesh from bone, flesh from flesh.
My flesh from your flesh.
Light a match and hold it to your flesh
And you will know sex and toil
In a whiff of carbon smoke.
And you will know death.
You will know me.
You will know nothing.
We will pose and we will strut
We will wear long scarves and black leather gloves
We will grow our hair long
Or shave our heads bald
We will sit opposite one another
In a noisy coffee shop
And concentrate visibly on our poetry.
Rise, urinate and, spit
Flush the wasted latex twice
Stretch and be proud
For she came with a grunt.
Cleanse me with hyssop
We will wear long leather coats
And men with carts full of bottles
Will pass us and mutter
“The Imaginary sustains us and shatters us.”
Once I believed
In St. Mary, Star of the Sea,
I didn't tell her, out of spite
Because she so desperately
Wanted me to, prayed even,
kneeling beside me.
Cleanse me with hyssop
And I will be clean.
Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lacish and Eglon,
Be brave, for this is what thy Lord commands.
You have known not toil and death.
You have not known me.
Five kings hang in a tree. Five fathers.
And the men who were to take them
Down engage in buggering and revelry.
Shed your locks, Samson.
What in me is of you
is what I have breathed
swallowed sucked choked
This familiar feeling of towards you
My mind already arrived
waiting impatiently for my body
as you wouldn't appreciate me arriving
Precious, precious lyric,
the bard-borne list of love:
the swan, raped and revived,
swims circles in the pool
behind the duckling whose home
is somewhere west where the blue-
birds are actually a black-
speckled orange, the breeze
circles low and the trees
drop sweet blue-green drops
onto the tongue of a small girl
with her hands clasped
around the small of her back
and her eyes squintedtightshut
until the swan, no longer revived,
but broken and blackened
falls limp from the cedar and
splays her flat out.
The suns body is swallowed
into the mulch and by worms
who raise again that lost
lyric of love
Often in the winter,
my moccasins would fill with snow
and I would hurry, numb-footed, through the cemetery
among the weighted branches of evergreens, some whose
tips were planted in the earth, frozen with the soil, and who
trapped underneath a swath of darkness. Painfully cold days,
I would wish to crawl beneath and sleep.
Often in the snow
I would stop to hear if the crunching behind the gravestones
would stop when I did.
Rarely on the gravestones
a name would catch my attention, but always Marion
who knelt, head bowed, at the foot of a rough oak
until the day I found her kneeling, mourning
the loss of her pretty little hundred-year-old head
just out of reach in a drift
tossed there by whoever snapped it off.
In Memoriam: Kevin J. Olas
We called you Oyster
because it began with O
and when you're small
that's enough to make a rhyme,
and because we also
called you Slimy
because oysters are slimy,
and because of the way the sweat
gleamed off that burn-scar on your back,
like the gloss on jiggling vomit;
and we also called you Boner
because you were one,
and because you knew things we didn't
and you laughed that hyena cackle
because you knew where your father
hid his dirty magazines.
poem without a title
a year ago,
we would sit, smoke pot
and drink earl grey,
listen to Miserere
and pretend that life had no meaning
and that allowed us to invent it.
invent and reinvent and read
and reread the four quartets
and that poem about the old man
and the boy. i am always the old man
and you always the boy. or is that yeats?
wait, i am wrong,
that was another time.
it was that year
that alfredo recipes were perfected
and we both complained our sexuality;
i no longer wished to be straight
and you no longer to be gay. just be.
the end was always there,
present before it was.
if it had been merely death,
we would have affirmed it
with laughter and a little dance,
but it was life without a death,
at least a small one, that terrified
us, and left us ignoring the inevitable
until you left
and i am left,
You left your shoes behind
my gray-eyed goddess.
Among the dust washed boots of weary men
and the sandals of gaming boys I found these.
One upright, the other
overturned they awaited your
return with enviable patience.
I carried them to my room
and placed them
beneath my hard bed
where you must return,
my gray-eyed goddess,
if you ever want your shoes again.