Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Love Song to Pixillated Foxes

@hourlyFox shows up in-between outrageous news.
In one, two kits faux-fighting; in another, one is caught
by the camera in a searching and fearless moral inventory
out in the middle of a well-mown field. I have leased
out my soul to these animals, no strings attached save
their promise to keep being foxes, living on the fringe
of the mess we've made, scoring petty carnage to fill
out their streamlined bodies, staring clear-eyed into night.
Sure, I've watched the YouTube videos of eccentric Britons
with pet foxes—the best buddy movies of all, IMHO,
but I prefer these freeze-frames of them in the quasi-wild,
insouciant beyond survival, russet streaks against green.
Wherever they're about to go next I can't go, though
it's comforting to be with them for an hour or so.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

COVID May Gray

There is no color in my world except the redbud out the bathroom window,
the royal blue sweater I'm wearing, the reticent green of the spider plant
creeping out of a nest of dry brown coxae. May neighborhood memories:
cut grass and red sauce from an open window I passed at the corner
of Mayville and Elmbank, a house with canvas awnings and neat lawn
setting off the pale robes of the virgin the lady of the house
looked out at for sustenance, her hands deep in Palmolive and grease.
I take the pink azalea as a symbol of the nation: two roots piping out
of the miserly clay, one leading to a gnarl of beige unfruitfulness
while the other flowers the imperative of spring, an asymmetrical song.
So that's another color, giving the lie to my assertion. If I look hard,
this poem's whole premise falls apart. The husband at the corner
of Mayville and Elmbank turned out to be abusive. I never saw the wife.
If we seek and ingest as much color as we can, will that make us immune?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

[image by Joshua Bickel, The Columbus Dispatch; image description in the poem]

Someone tweeted the other day
that the pandemic has turned us all into dogs:
We roam the house in search of food.
I have two pounds of yeast
I haven't used yet, though I plan to
make bread and bagels and more.
It's active and dry, which is what we have
in common. There's a piece of sky
outside my office door that changes
its expressions from time to time,
though its default is a glower.
I hope the pantry moths don't invade
the huge sacks of rice and flour,
so it's back to those sticky pieces
of cardboard where their little wings
twitch before they die. Often, while working,
choral music grims me into a groove
in solidarity with ancestral plaguees,
calming me with its lucid existence-
is-suffering vibe. I had planned a retreat
at the Merton monastery this June,
but by then will I even need one?
So much streams into our house
these days, but how much of it is clean?
I've been watching The Wire of late
though it makes me nervous the way
the characters get so close together,
even when they're not fighting or
having sex. Yesterday in the news
was a picture of right-wing protesters
pressing their howling faces against
the glass of a shut government door.
They were asserting their right to go out
and spread the virus. Like a zombie
attack, April Flynn said. This is why
we can't have nice things, I replied.
I practice yoga with a remote teacher
who says "fuck" a lot. Some would say
it's inappropriate, but it's comforting to me.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Where and with Whom Would You Like to Spend the Pandemic?

For this quarantine, I would like to be in Greece
to ride it out with Jack Gilbert, who knew how to live well
in isolation, mortar the days with soft stoicism,
keeping the city of our birth in a battered strongbox
covered with gems and cuckoo shells.
He knew how to piss in the pitch dark,
how to be an archaeologist of shame, resentment,
blunt force, infidelity. With Jack Gilbert, I could be
honest about the dung I'm made of, the many deadbolts
that kept me landlocked in a Pittsburgh he escaped
well enough to fully praise. Jack would wait
like a bridegroom for deliveries of soupbones.
With the raw relish of a buckle-man
and the undistracted patience of a surgeon,
he'd slice into the sweet cake and cassava,
never eating more than he needed to fuel his goat-path walks,
taken with thematic regularity—for variation,
a gathering of ripe figs in his shirt,
lifted to reveal the eternal conversation
between the vigilant checkpoint of his navel
and his bottom ribs. Over and over, I would tell him
how "Threshing the Fire" is the poem I go back to
whenever I'm ready to break something, leave
a lacerating shape of myself in big plate glass
as evidence of my escape from or into the ringing world.
He would tell me to write my own "Threshing the Fire"
as he trimmed his beard to the angles of royalty
on playing cards and cigar boxes, my cue
to give him space and get to work, leave
all the windows alone. And yet he wouldn't
be my writing coach, would never critique
my writing at all, only listen as I read it
around the fire on starlit nights, because
hadn't the quarantine taught me anything,
his glinting eyes would imply, hadn't I learned
that the only good writing is subsistence writing,
what one does by dint of having been gored
by the impulse? To write once is to seem
to remove the sharpness, though the wound
only seems to close, the way a lake at dusk
seems to shrink, especially when hemmed
by trees or mountains that bend inward
like parents tending the baby they always wanted,
the one who, leave or stay, would always shine
for them. When I was young and fiercest drunk,
I would quarantine myself, play Leonard Cohen,
and read Jack's poems out loud, I am hammered,
I am hammered, I am hammered into the sun,
and what he got right about Pittsburgh
was its casual violence, its hygienic enactment,
like when my Irish grandfather and some guys
followed a man out of the bar, where'd he'd bragged
about sex with a ten-year-old neighbor,
and kicked the living shit out of him in an alley,
then straightened up and called it a night
and went to the workmen's midnight mass at the Point.
Without much dancing in the streets this spring
and the quarantine keeping everyone inside,
the city's harder edges re-emerge from under
the artisanal trim of recent years. I hear the echoes
of fury slapping resignation multiple times
across its face, the sacramental drip of sweat
and blood. Being quarantined in this is like
a time-machine back to the city Jack Gilbert
and I knew, the cracking knuckles of freight trains
pushing through. We would be better off elsewhere,
better off in Greece where our bruised fists
ripen like figs, and the fathers in their saturnalias
crouch beneath our shadows at noon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Hey Kid

Hey kid, I'm not a boomer,
and even if I were,
I'm not a centrist or a
corporate shill, and even if I were,
I'm willing to bet half my paycheck
your white male ass grew up
in the suburbs, and you're
waging an Oedipal war
against the hands that fed you
because you've Mastered Ideas,
thanks to a red-in-the-face
eighty-year-old heart patient
who you think will magically
right the wrongs of the world
so you don't have to pay
your student loans back
when he's spent most of his
time in Congress ranting
(won't you tell us
what he's done
in the 13 years
as Senator railing
against the —sound familiar
—hands that feed him power).
Hey kid, are you even looking
at what's happening right now?
We've got a global pandemic,
our elections under attack,
and you think us boomers
or near-boomers never heard
the word "establishment" before?
You think we didn't see your boomer father
put your mother down, and tell her
there were more pressing matters
than her rights? Do you think
we don't know white male rage
when it comes from left field?
And for the love of God,
do you fucking think
we haven't read Marx?

Sunday, January 5, 2020

In This House, This Winter,

we have the thermostat wars & the toilet seat wars

the cider lids in the bin wars & the don't feed the dog so much wars,
the how you've hurt me wars
the stop dwelling on the past wars
the crumbs in the butter
& keys in the foyer
& shrinking my T-shirts wars

Now outside the new big war & the blundering treasonous gluttonous

(what should we call him?)

Now outside the brown bodies falling inside cages under drones

we should call him

to account too many crimes to count

too many phone calls to Congress, too many marches
too many incendiary rapprochements

Now the new war, the new fear, the new stamp of powerlessness
on our foreheads
like a barcode as we move on this feckless conveyor

We have enough to pay for heat & 30 rolls of toilet paper

hard cider, soda water, but we need to buy more coffee & dog food
I've decided re: the past to not inquire any further

2 lbs. of extra butter in the freezer
& you find your car keys sooner or later
& you've lost weight so the T-shirts just fit better

In this house we can turn the television off
In this house we can set the alarm for the night
In this house we can huddle together

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Piaget, Archimedes, and a Defense of the New (and Necessary) Centrism

“Evil exists,” writes the man in my Twitter bubble as a caption to his post, a news piece about a man who tortured & murdered a two-year-old. Were I in the other, right-wing bubble, where it’s a given that evil exists, I’d more likely be hearing a call to disembowel the perpetrator or the liberals who are soft on crime. The Trump era has taught me the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives assume no one can be trusted, even those who can be trusted, while liberals like me assume the good in everyone. For two years, we’ve been reeling from the blows of every hateful word, each corrupt act, pulling out our hair, chanting, “How could they do this?” It’s time, I guess, to shove past the formal operations stage of development, though I’d argue that far too many conservatives have yet to even reach it. Having reached it, though, too many of us on the left have been content to perch here, looking down at the ones beneath us who fail to even try to make this milestone. Even Piaget was clear that it isn’t an end in itself, that adult life tempers the high ideals of the young adult abstract thinker, and though he, being a serious scientist, didn’t use the word realpolitik, many of us need to recalibrate without becoming utterly cynical, push off from this shore we thought was safe and good, though laced underneath with larcenies with longer half-lives than plastic, as we’re often reminded by those in a particular bubble that often overlaps with ours—the purity left. While we cry out, “How could they do this?” they pounce (hi Glenn Greenwald!) and say, “How can you be upset by this when X has been done in your name?!” This bubble intends to live in the formal operations stage, hang portraits of Hegel and Marx on its immaterial walls, imagining that the privilege enabling them to do so is the fulcrum Archimedes dreamed he could build.