My images are
not tied down heavily enough, an anchor needed, like breeze
through cinder block eye sockets, like wind pressed through
your clothes-pinned socks or threaded through the flag on
your brick façade. And maybe they’re mechanical at best,
ornithopteresque: like faux avian forelimbs—when my images
should spread genuine feathers to lift the skeletal idea.
But may they be useful:
Grandmom is allergic to flora and fauna, so I describe daffodils
from sheets of sunshine. Thus she avoids the grasping phalanges
of bulb roots sucking minerals through dirt-rust and lime streaks—
caterpillar pipe-cleaner for a stem. I describe for her a puff of
seeds swirling up, sticking to my idea with the transverse moths
and desiccate, cocooned flies.
Listening to the radio is the only time of the day I can really enjoy myself. I sit in my car and listen. I am listening to a movie review about a movie I have no interest in seeing.
My peace is interrupted by a taping on my passenger window. At first I see a stranger, but as my mind wakes up and my eyes adjust, an old friend is staring back at me.
We are both parked in this parking lot, in our home town, but for two different reasons.
It is cold out, and windy. I don’t want to talk long, but I get out of my car and we do anyway. My jacket is too thin. What do my friend and I talk about? Mainly he wants to know how my brother is holding up after witnessing a murder: My brother saw his own best friend killed.
“As good as can be expected, I guess.”
I am picking up food at my favorite pizza place. My friend can’t find a job after graduating with a degree in History. So he is in that parking lot to head inside the Marine Recruiting Center and sign up. Then he asks me how I am holding up. I had been standing on a bridge made of toothpicks and spit. My little bridge wasn’t holding up well, and his question was unexpected.
“Me? I’m great.”
My brother should be dead, too.
I try to talk to my brother about what happened, but I keep fucking it up. My brother is a junior in college. He was robbed of a cell phone, and his friend was robbed of $4.00, not including his life. My brother was pistol-whipped and ran. His friend ran, too. They were both track stars. They could each run a quarter mile in under sixty seconds. His friend only made it a few feet until he hit the pavement. My brother hit the pavement, too. But it was because he tripped. As he got up to continue, he left the skin of his hands and knees behind. His body replaced the skin with scars.
I am about to eat my favorite meal, and my friend is about to join the military out of necessity. I hadn’t been killed, nor had my friend. In fact, when my friend goes to open the door of the recruiting center, it is locked. They are closed. Considering all of this, I am fine.
Looking in to the back of a spoon (as Parmigianino did it)
Trying to pronounce elliptical French at four in the morning
(Or was it German? Or Italian
It was one of the Modernists’ stolen tongues, anyway,
And I think that might have been the point
As the sun rose like the moon, or
Like a yawning man’s bald head hugged by
The parentheses of the clouds
A boules lawn was being planted, seed by seed
By tortoise men and turtle women, who
– in some months –
Will be closer to the dirt than the tips of the blades ever were.
But if the Earth is spinning and flying through the universe
Like a helicopter, then
What is gravity?
I don’t know
Who it was who said
“Parenthesis and ellipsis are whole repetitions,
Full of themselves. Full of them, selves”
But they were right
(presumably, hence the marks).
Infinity has changed from
A frustrating mathematical impossibility to
A figure-eight on its side.
Leaving the National Gallery, London
When walking from the great facade
Through the columns, the stilletos
All conspires to seem composed.
Denim and nylon lying
by the fountains
Are blended to form an unnatural sky-blue.
A Norse god skating across the watertop.
The hundred conversations blur into one
Unarmingly ethereal chord.
All conspires to seem poetically obscure.
A quatrain at the foot of Nelson’s Column:
Vous etês priés de ne pas nourir les oiseaux.
No dar de comer a las palomas.
Bitte die Tauben nicht füttern.
A drop from The Waste Land
or on it.
This feeling will repeat,
Every ‘now’ and every ‘then’,
Every ‘here’ and every ‘there’.
But it soon fades
when passing McDonalds.
The voices are distilled:
In the womb the women come and go
Talking of Michael Jackson’s nose.
Do not feed the pigeons.
Robert K. Omura
A Letter from Guernica
Guernica Herman writes a letter from an open-air café in the Basque town that bears her name. Her parents, Jim and Carol, were both art students when they bumped into each other, quite by chance, at a Picasso exhibition in New York City in 1981. Two years later, they christened baby Gee in a small Lutheran chapel down on Dundas Street; witnessed by a small crowd of friends and family, and the usual assortment of well-wishers willing to suffer a cold, wet Lake Ontario squall in November. There, under the yellow banner of God and the red sausage fingers of Pastor Proust, Gee received the Holy Sacrament, and in so receiving, became immersed in the rituals of the Church. During the service, baby Gee wailed out her staccato protests, and managed to hit every high note of “Oh Holy Spirit, enter in.” Even then, Gee had struggled with the burden of her name. Since childhood, or more properly the awkward bloom of puberty, Gee had distanced herself even further, refusing to respond to her name when called out in sixth grade homeroom, instead insisting, like an adolescent Aurore Dupin, that she be known simply as “Gee,” full stop. This is how it all started; the convoluted road of self-denial that led Gee to this tiny café in the Plaza de los Fueros at the heart of Basque country.
From the café, smoke from Gee’s cigarette rises up in twisting columns, dissipating over the red clay rooftops. The sun bleaches the cobblestones white beneath her chair, where she slips one foot in and out of a sandal. She brushes aside strands of her brown hair and sucks on the end of a pen, searching for the right words to explain her actions to her fiancé, David – why she left suddenly, without a word, to fly off to Spain. Instead, she describes the farms and meadows of the Urdaibai estuary, how they become high cliff and salt marsh before vanishing into the deep blue of the Bay of Biscay.
The smell of fresh cinnamon pastries hangs delicately in the air, drifting across the courtyard like a dream. A short, stout woman, with round glasses and a white apron ballooned over her breasts, stands in the open bakery doorway, shooing away pigeons like misbehaved children with the end of a broom. An old man, with grey tufts of hair skirting the rim of his brown cap, rides a bicycle up to the woman. He exchanges brief pleasantries with her, and the woman laughs like a schoolgirl, as if perhaps they were lovers once. The well-maintained buildings reveal none of the scars of the Civil War; even the memorials are sanitized and the lawns green and mowed. It all seems so surreal to Gee. Her blue eyes scan the sunny plaza that once witnessed the first mass bombing of civilians in human history. She looks for some sign of the scars, of the landmarks of suffering. Perhaps the delicate bloom of the paper-thin rose petals in square garden boxes and the long rows of oak trees were a mere facade, deceptively placed to sweep away the rubbish of an uncomfortable past. Perhaps, behind the freshly painted shops of the barrio and the bluish tint of fluorescent shop lighting, hid an invisible truth – as mysterious as the Virgin Mother; one where hushed Spanish voices whispered secrets from behind the heavy doors of the Iglesia de Santa Maria. She and David often talked about coming one day, after they finished college, but jobs and life got in the way, preventing anything more than vague promises.
She wishes she could share this experience with David – the fragrance of fresh lavender crumbled between thumb and forefinger or the way amber cava tickles the back of the tongue – but he is half a world away, back in Toronto. He is probably sitting alone at the kitchen table, she thinks, forking at starchy pasta from a microwaveable box while watching the last inning of a Blue Jays game on the flat screen. On the beer stained table, he will have poured out half the contents of his briefcase, yet still be unable to find the work he had brought home. If she had still been there, she would have wiped up the beer stains and found his work lying under his briefcase.
Life with David was pleasant enough. They had their comfortable routines, a sort of pantomime that resembled a life. In the morning, they had breakfast and went to work and in the evening, they came home, had dinner and watched TV until ten. On weekends, they went to the flea market, where they scoured vendor stalls for bargains and ate fast food lunches with gourmet coffee, before invariably returning home to store-bought roast chicken and a late night movie. David was caring and sweet, as reliable as the steady wind that nudged at the leaves outside their window; but the sex, well, that had expired in fits and starts over the previous year. She expected love’s wane, even accepted it. However, the emotional vacuum that followed unsettled her, edging her toward indifference. They had become roommates. It was not David’s fault. He loved her. She could tell it by the way he wrapped her in his heavy arms at night and wept. It was her indifference, her blankness.
Early that morning, while strolling along the narrow avenues of the Basque town, she came, quite by chance, upon a tiled wall filled up by Picasso’s famous painting – the one that had inspired her parents to conceive her. The painting was all grey tones, devoid of colour. In the middle, a terrified horse – run through by a spear and a charging bull – horrified her. She cupped her hands around her mouth to stifle a gasp. Below, a flower sprouted from the broken sword of a dead soldier, his arm hacked in two, and above, a floating woman held out a lamp. On her left, a bereft mother held her dead baby and wailed at an unkind sky. Gee contorted her neck back and clutched her handbag, parroting the scene, to feel the distortions ripple through her body. Just as her neck reached its maximum upward extension and the muscles under her jaw strained for release – when all she could see was the blue washed sky – the telltale tremble of grief forced her dry lips apart, and a spasm cut her down at the knees. As her eyes clouded over with tears, Gee collapsed to the sidewalk, where she sobbed uncontrollably for half an hour. Eventually, she pushed back the tears from her eyes with the flat of her palms, until the heat of the day had dried them away, but for a salt crust that flaked away under her fingers.
She could not explain the sudden rush of sorrow. Perhaps something built up in her on the long flight from Canada, and the warm breeze and the freedom had unwound the tension, finally releasing her sadness over the end of her relationship. Perhaps something deeper, something trapped inside her since childhood had finally slipped like a sliver from her red finger, or perhaps it was merely the salty anchovies on her morning omelette. She had wanted to tell David about that, too.
Now, she sits in the café alone, surrounded by an army of balled up letters. A row of paper soldiers aligned before her. She crumples up the half-written letter and tosses it next to the others. In the courtyard, an old man feeds pigeons, spreading handfuls of breadcrumbs over the cobblestones. High above, where green hills meet open sky, a jet contrail forms a cloud. One day, all of this would be gone – this café, that old man – even her own presence would vanish; memory and meaning fade. Permanence is an illusion.
The waiter brings her steaming coffee in a small porcelain cup, a café con leche, setting it down lightly next to her arm. When he tries to gather up her papers, she stops him, saying, she wants to remember what it is like to rebuild from the rubble. He nods and smiles, and then leaves her to her writing.
Finally, she writes a simple note that explains nothing. Love and war are the same. With God’s grace, sometimes love’s wane is inexplicable.
Goodbye, David. Guernica.
Bronze Age Tools
At first, we ate mostly yams. No one knew what to do about this. Some changes were made, not without resistance, and we learned to eat many different things. While others still wore the same old masks, we wore new ones, and drew magic symbols of power on ourselves. We spent a lot of time worrying about luck. Even the rocks and trees had propensities, for evil or for good, and we tried to guess which was to be which. Things happened on their own, and we did what we could not to be left behind. Not everything could be explained.
Hey, we can’t lose, some guy said, and we started overrunning whatever populations could be reached. We demanded great sacrifices, took captives as slaves, and built or ordered the building of huge monuments of stone to overlook the irrigated fields. We needed numbers, and we found them.
Sometimes we went up to the top of the ziggurat, and used astronomy, watching the moon move from full to crescent, to nothing, and cried out, in voices like newborn babes.
We became Assyrians. As Assyrians, we did what we were known for, and I grew old, with seven daughters, as a merchant of bangles in Ib.
I mean obviously that is the case—what else did you expect?
It’s dripping. Darling, can’t you see that it’s dripping? Look! I told you!
It leaks all the time and now it is dripping… No?
Alright, go flash the mailman then.
This marriage was a terrible idea.
I should have known the day I proposed and the Canadian
walked through the intersection and strangled his mother,
but no, no, now it’s gone too far.
I’m going to have to ask you to turn your phone off.
You will be escorted from the building.
Everyone has—even me.
The man was run down by a carriage in the street.
You saw it but you did nothing except lick that
ice cream cone over and over and now he is run down in the street
by a carriage and while you have the ice cream cone
in your hand you should really be thinking about
the fact that he was a father and now he is dead.
I knew a poet once, but now he’s dead too.
I’m often forced to refer to the quotations of a famous author
when addressing my father. He doesn’t care for anything I have to say.
He wants to hear it from Sartre. Always Sartre.
Where was Martin Heidegger when the Germans invented misery?
Someone call four or five times and, eventually, we will respond in kind.
This is not a symbol but an eclogue, so you know.
Terra Cotta Bureaucrats
The afterlife is much like the imagination:
boundless save for the corners
you remain hung up on, edges snagging your sleep.
Pure possibility is pure hope or, as is so often the case, despair.
What is there that might repair such anxiety?
The Emperor, the first, if you have been counting,
sits at a lacquered desk, not smiling, but consolidating.
His early plans scattered. He can’t find one thing
under any other thing and yet he does not appear to have lost anything:
great power admits no weakness; it simply delegates
weakness away. Said in other, more frequent, terms
the emperor’s impressions existed merely to impress.
Everyone has such flamboyant faculties (drawing humanity together +
separating us from mere animals): the mind’s reproduction, pure whim;
nevertheless, pure possibility is as cancerous
as the absolute empire:
the sublime disgust in large numbers:
that we are small, that reason rounds us for shipping + handling.
That is, cells must be categorized, organized, managed.
Qin Shi Huang poses at a bureau imagining the afterlife (baked earth, to ask,
to crack): the vast retinue of swans, acrobats, musicians, and soldiers expands
until he realizes he needs some minor bureaucrats
to reign in these disparate, and relatively autonomous, spheres of life:
the means of administration caught taut in his dictatorial hands.
That is, from the vantage of a desk
a desk is necessary.
I guess it’s always surprising
How little what we have matters.
More is taken from more.
Rhythm is a rug
We try to live upon:
It gets old, shook out
The pattern reveals
The simple canvas.
The simple sun is still;
But a rooftop
Can still see a simple:
A simple sun
A simple fee
It’s so interesting how little matters
When we’re counting
We’re always counting
Each window, bedroom, fixture
Appears to matter
When we’re counting
The drawings through broader definition:
Traditions of musical instruments
And strumming the rain from a window
That still needs to be cleaned.
Yes, every window still needs to be cleaned.
It’s so interesting how little matters
When we’re counting the dots between
Unto the scroll of
You have to cut that somewhere.
You have to cut it
Where one thing seems to matter
And the next thing doesn’t
And then you have to cut it again
Where the next thing matters
And the next thing after that just isn’t the same
Thing that matters; it just doesn’t matter the same:
It can’t. To understand what matters is to divide:
To frame. You can always tell an expensive neighborhood
By the doors.
So grand, a new spring flower
A new spring flower
Aside the walk,
So bully blue-ribbon-red.
How are you called?
Am I your Columbus?
My second thought: (Pluck
A town’s crier.
Tempted, I stoop
And cloud you with shadow.
But look! Your majesty!
The devil’s efflux.
Even in shade.
A seminal burst.
A newborn at its mother’s breast,
I have caused you disquiet.
I rise. Yes.
I see your progeny. Untapped.
Or the day after:
An august gathering
Of great proportion.
Perhaps I shall return.
Ave atque vale.
in spite of everyone
the humanity destroys
as I lean toward the wooden bar
and the old bartender
gives me another refill
and keep calling me Boy
I look at the faces around me
beautiful and gentle
as summer leaves
we know that all the sadness
of the world is for everybody
outside the night
nod at us
The Affirmations of Marsellus Wallace
You were born
under the Sign
of the Stevedore …
Okay, so maybe I made
that up. Well, you’re hardly
young, with scarred lungs
like a rusty teapot
that didn’t come
out quite right,
either … more like
a maimed loon, longing for
Lake? Yes, and yet trapped
instead in some
Is that what sucks, Bucky?
Still and all, those sirens
are not for you, who knows
the difference between pain
and injury by now and about
Or let it slide.
If you were born
to suicide, would have happened
by now. No mistake. First it eases
up, then you get to ache
Jesus man, you don’t even know what a
Stevedore does do ya? Why not look it up
What else you got going on, anyway?
Knowledge is hardly power, yet chances
are you ain’t going to
Little Match Girl
Revolt America against the Little Match Girl! She’s a Dane, anyhow. She’s not one for the indomitable spirit of the New World. You big time rollers of the west, little blondes only look good when they’re well fed.
I’ll give her gum rappers and nothing more.
I’ll live with her in an attic on Hudson Street.
I’ll set sail across the East River with her and find solace in the Seamen’s Church. We’ll wash ashore in the storm and walk to Willow Street.
I will not suffer beneath her sorrow, however.
Ring my buzzer. Smash my kaleidoscope. Cut down to the ground all the clowns and neophytes. Listen to me Izzy! I’ve had more to say than the whole of your Harvard class.
Akron is unacceptable to the likes of me, but I’ll always hold a place in my heart for Canton. Jim Thorpe is a memory I’ll not soon forget. I never knew him and now he is no longer known, but that poor persecuted half Injun means something to me. He’s the body and the life and the sole hostage of the big bewilderment. The suffering red man who you’d think was Russian, he being one so misunderstood.
All those backdoors that we can’t open. All the volcanic gods drinking Gatorade to cool their cruel thirsts. All the trance dancing ditzes not Danes who sway and go away never knowing it was the swish that captured the mind more than any of their Sufi mysticism ever could. When we end up it the vegetable garden it’s all good.
Cruel Story from the North Country
A fork probes for answers to the three endless questions between its tines: What has come between us?
Why do we kill?
Who is holding the spear?
Inside the fork, light with meat between its teeth is falling.
Ptarmigan for dinner in the Lapp village, the mail-boat slipping out of a fog bank.
The blue dogs are German. (I am still learning to mate.)
Hans had fallen into the unframed photograph of Esther Williams.
Thundering trousers and the moon rising from the glass of milk. (First we feed the young.)
Then I discovered the night I was walking in was already mine. I discovered my anxious feet.
A slow insistent army marched up my legs, demanding a ration of the stars I had been harboring.
I fed it berries. I fed it pine needles and snow.
The returning nighthawks have been growing fur.
An old man with a wooden leg riding his donkey to the graveyard, smoking his pipe in the rain.
One of these is yours: an offering of a handful of wet cheese, a phantom river wallowing into the dark green sleep, a life grown theoretical with promise never tested.
Far below, fog thick as grayed milk, cod boats moving slowly to deeper water. My homeland clasped with the icy grasp of the North Sea. A gradual loss of its weathered skin to the cold bright fingers of water.
I had been knocking on a rock for years. It was only by accident that I discovered it opens from the outside. (You can only leave once, but you can be forgotten constantly.)
Breakfast and your legs hurting again. His stained white bathrobe sagged open at his sagging belly.
Endure till it pleases. (Hurrying to help frightens the latent.)
A herd of words milling about in their mangy pelts before speech thaws and they begin to breed. They’re wiser now, they agree with us, waking into their ancient families.
My Friend, the Prophet
I don’t mind if you shoot me, just don’t tell me about it
I have a friend who passes time playing
prophet & convincing me
that my eyes are changing, learning
to see past the end of the calendar,
to outlive extinction. He calls it evolution
& assures me that I should be fine,
that we were born to adapt to dust.
A woman pushing a newborn
in a stroller——a tour
of the world
that my friend tells me
I should be distancing myself from
like a lover you plan on
A cardboard warning across the sreet:
FIND GOD BEFORE GOD FINDS YOU.
I never liked playing
hide & seek, but the prophet says
we won’t need God once the calendar ends
& we know how to build new worlds
ourselves; creationism will be
the most popular preschool activity, like
spelling words in shaving cream on a desk.
Look, I tell him, I don’t mind
if Atlas plans on going bowling,
just don’t tell me about it
Good Riddance, I’ll Miss You
Say it quickly,
you might regret it
if you don’t, but I promise
that it won’t feel right as it leaves
your tongue. The worst
is knowing that at
any given moment, you are losing
a part of yourself (leaving it behind
like all the people
who forgot your name so long
ago). Everywhere you look,
they are moving on
without you——leaving you
a dream catcher
hanging between adiós,
auf Wiedersehen, ciao, goodbye,
good riddance, I doubt
I’ll ever see you again and that
doesn’t really bother either of us, but
better to pretend that it does, better
to act like
Auf Wiedersehen. Good riddance. I hope
I’ll never see you again, but I’ll
This, the day after
tornadoes dreaming the land into new instincts
you saw that buzzard pick gristle from its hair
tidbits of empire
make of this Chevy an altar
miracles we quicken for
the trouble is, it’s unproved rock
your mother says
why don’t you stop while you’re ahead
as if anybody plays the vertebrae
saw a little girl lying in sunlight
saw good farmland
yawning before you like a parable
This is how I knew he was lying
compare a dumpster
filled with sewer grease
a billboard on a dead end street
I keep trying to bury melodrama
in your chest
saw a cornfield
saw water disappearing
saw a girl curl herself into a dust mote
dinner will require
a good deal more killing
David W. Pritchard
She has your brain? Have her now!
Walls are made of cinnamon and children
scoff at the thought, a tempest in a can
of soda, how ludicrous! and yet there is something,
danger, about the creek, the cups of coffee are bad
for your teeth as it starts to rain. Explosions,
definitive and putative as failure, roll across the
map as instructed by the rake. Let this
expiate! No! the dramatic veil is too far gone
I am tired of strolling, let the violins out of the taverns.
Jessica L. Walsh
The Old Story
It was, as they say, fleeting.
He knew little of the science of
it, was unable to explain how suspicion
had placed him under guard over
night, how the motors of his fear
could drown the sounds of daylight,
louder than the galaxy’s rim jostling
the spheres with reckless ambivalence.
He knew only not
to travel to you. You
say he is the animal in the corner
of the shed, musky, protective
of that patch of earth and the right
to die alone. He pieces
together your numbers and writes
your story from a safe
distance. Another day, you’ll be left.