Sometimes when I am feeling lonely at dinner
and everything seems cheap, and full
of dispassionate sex, fervent unbelief,
trivial small talk on weather that is not beautiful,
who is sleeping with whom but neither of them
I would sleep with myself – when I feel that way
I like to take a piece of whole wheat bread
from the deli in the dining hall, butter it well
and thickly, buttering it with all the dripping
glory of a blue sunset that I have been trying
to write a poem about for days, that I cannot describe
to anyone; the solid plainness of a low stone wall,
the curve of an oak in the early morning. I pretend
I am at my grandparent’s house in Olney
where there was always a basket of bread
on the table, covered with a pale pink cloth,
where I would take special pride in helping
to set things out for dinner, with the knives and forks
in their proper places, like the prayer before meals.
My grandmother when tucking us in
would pray quietly and softly for full sleep,
refreshing, faith, and brush the hair back
from my forehead, and kiss me goodnight,
even when I grew too old for her to remind me
to hang my towel on the banister to dry.
Today at the organ recital I turned to my friend
sitting next to me, a smooth face carved into the wood
of the pillar beside us listening in, and said that it sounded
like a freight train crashing into something, or a storm
on huge seas, with the organist the pilot at the helm
turning the whole sound into the waves.
Now I am sitting outside under a tree, watching
the sun set, catching mosquitoes in my hands
and letting them go again.
Use “epistemologically” naturally in a sentence
and I will shake your hand with a firm grip.
Use it twice in a persuasive essay
and I will pay your train fare for a month.
Put it in bold on the front of your Christmas card
and I will get drunk and sing love songs beneath your window.
Have it tattooed across your chest
and I will name my first born child after you.
Breathe it in and out, whisper it while you sleep,
and I will give myself to you, body and soul.
I will pull the shades down in our two room apartment
in Brooklyn, cup your cheek in my hands and kiss your face
sweetly, and then again, once for every word
in the dictionary, reading the definitions aloud, slowly,
until it is late and we are the only ones awake
in the whole city, and the moon rises in the sky
like a great white period, the one at the end
of the poem you read on the train that morning, the one
you thought was especially beautiful, and which captured
something of leaving, something of staying still,
of love and the small good things men do; the lamps coming on,
the pigeons falling asleep all at once in the eaves.
Are these the best course text titles or what? “Monsters in Medieval Literature” takes the biscuit
•“Monster Culture: Seven Theses”
•“Conceptualizing the Monstrous”
•“Gerald and the Werewolf”
•“Idols and Simulacra: Paganity, Hybridity, and Representation in Mandeville’s Travels”
•“Metalepsis and Monstrosity: The Boundaries of Narrative Structure in Beowulf”
•“Beyond Abjection: The Problem with Grendel’s Mother Again”
Carlisle Road, PA Route 74 North
A country road at fifty miles per hour,
trees to either side, and a cool breeze
going in one window
and out the other like breath. Ahead,
low mountains pale blue with distance, and a sunset
bedding down between long straight clouds.
On the curb to the left, a billboard of a woman
with her face cupped in both hands, above her the words
“Where is God in all this suffering?”
Earlier this summer I was helping a friend clean out and fix up another friend’s house in West Philly. He’d moved to Georgia with his family but had left quite a few tools and schtuff in his carpentry workshop in the basement, and while clearing that out we found a huge stack of his now outdated business cards with his name and number and old address.
I didn’t want to just throw them out, and they’re such a lovely little self-contained size, so I took them home and keep them in my right hand drawer and whip one out and do a tiny little drawing on the back whenever I feel the mood. Recently scanned the forty-six I have so far, so they might begin to appear by degrees on here, shiftily, like a lizard creeping out of a hole in the wall to quietly steal your favorite wide-brim hat.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams, and everything I’m too afraid to say out loud
I have nothing against people saying how much they loved Robin Williams, and how much they miss him. I’ll miss him terribly too, in the strange and beautiful way that you miss people who’ve meant very much to you although you’ve never met them. More than once today, while reading about his passing, I felt myself about to cry, and a tightness in my chest. These authors, actors, comedians, artists, politicians should and do mean multitudes to us. I remember distinctly the day Maurice Sendak passed away, and what that meant for me. And I have nothing wrong with people speaking out against mental illness, or encouraging others to be educated and mindful and loving about depression. People very close to me have struggled with the bleakness of depression and other mental illnesses, and it’s not something that I take at all lightly.
But, I would speak against people jumping to paint Robin Williams’ death as one thing or another, when very, very few of us millions who were touched by his life actually know what he, personally, was going through in the days leading up to his death. I encourage us to be careful when we write heartfelt eulogies and commiserations not to fit his death, even unintentionally, into any category, or agenda.
I’m sure some of this quick response comes in part from an age where information is made known, shared, opinionized, and forgotten very quickly, in social media forums becoming more and more places for politicization and social change. And I have little doubt, from the wording of the reports, that his cause of death will eventually be announced as anything other than suicide, although no news source at this time says it is suicide definitively without some hedging qualifier in front of it.
But the man has not even been gone a day. The public has only known a few hours. Already media outlets and two-bit news platforms are publishing articles, ranking his seven best performances, from best to worst. Give his death some room. Make a space for it with you. Be silent with it. With no long Facebook statuses trying to hunt out and condemn the cause before it’s confirmed. Even if it was suicide following a battle with depression, which should and will be addressed only in a way that benefits those living, let his death have some weight of its own. Even before it becomes a talking point for mental illness. Please understand that it is not out of any insensitivity, for Williams or those struggling with depression, that I write this, but on the contrary, out of the rawness that I feel at his loss.
So please, give his death its space.
Give it some time.
I’m having a hard time separating things from my ideas of things. Magritte’s pipe would sympathize, I’m sure. Do I love God, or my idea of God? My brother, or the idea of my brother? Do I wish for Winter, or the idea of Winter?
Smokey the Bear Turns Seventy
I saw him: Smokey
the Bear, turning seventy
years old, sitting in
his favorite chair,
his reading glasses on, his
at his feet, too far
for him to reach, his yellow
hat hung on a hook.
Icons, I thought, were
supposed to be immortal,
not elderly and
wrinkled beneath their
brown fur, and I trembled to
think of what that meant
for the rest of us,
fire extinguishers gripped
in tight, sweaty hands.
Susurrus, n. - whispering, murmuring, or rustling.