Entries in 2. From (6)

Amber Nelson



When I first learned about techniques like erasure and collage I got all excited about what happened to the language within the poem. I started writing all of my poems like this. But something changed. I grew frustrated with its meaninglessness, or at least, its meaninglessness to me. I started to find these poems boring. A cute line here or there and that was the end for me. Eventually it all started sounding the same. I still love the techniques and believe they have the potential to reach parts of ourselves we can’t reach by staring at a blank page trying to write a POEM. The limits of the form allow us to dig deeper, if we’re willing to put in the time. For these poems, I used collaged. I chose words slowly. Answers aren’t laid out, but if I succeeded, then there exists something in the layer underneath the words. These poems are my battle for intention, while still adventuring in language.


from Your Trouble is Ballooning



We conviction machines, raise through the dry to cave under agents—high,

even after the back address, programming still weathers off rice & down into the

revolution. This time, move houses from movie-like doorways, those scalpels

so broken, the incisions hostage, their shouldered stairways of dashing laughter,

watermelons—Chinese restaurant— with whatever sexual positions jack-wedged

into exclusion under the passive hardware of delay & arbitrary, & bereft, & you know

what I mean. Until China scratches, we briefcase ourselves—transaction shrunk critical:

the sheaves corner back insights, reveal civilization, the clasp in blonde operations

of submitting, rising through the appetite like a curb likely, or a skyscraper imbued

with election— all the drown & tiring, those iron arches, just gathering back—

that limpid pool, masked upon the night of draw, repaired of all woodpeckers, as if

by copied blunders— how remote the tenderness removed from the snow

of this forgetting, like remembering and forgetting—the divided, jack-hammered



                                           I travel to Caligari

                                           the mistakes, who teased

                                           our bony cherries

                                           in this playground?


                                           To ease

                                           we only reinvent absorption.


                                           I am Married and Insubstantial


                                           as a stain

                                           to this field,


                                           a skirmish and flyswatter

                                           made buxom.




It tousles with suitcases, a stowed everything

flung in fifteen interesting lives

and put there, and business to your Chinese,

to your Madrid—startled waking, curse

meeting to fell you. From purse, the balm

of coupling. From the sips in the row,

the pages of being. Alcohol gets up

and goes into the hotel, wondering home.

My room grazes your stadium. The flyer

is underneath to us. And the bells lead.



Burning Town; Starlight

Roofs calm in fields and night. Towns can be blood-stained or tiny.

She opened by nude envelopes lapsing on her inquisition, the thief fixing by her tread.

They oxidized this way with clovering water and opaque halves and coral searching her.

The body of the moment she seeks: only stained glass. The land a dying village.

But they wreck the night and so are lights and flicker and repeat this fire.

Men may not watch history, a summer execution as it is, and they passage.

She fails her star as wide-eyed field: burning, measured by water.



then said individually

to twine music in

plaster cackle: quietly, character

to borrow a parrot maybe or

that footnote there, that collarbone

now fleeting never believed

to taste some fists or

a letter even. An aquarium of

heroes muted (god blurs like)

“Mother voice dirty porcelain.” Or

the hem that gullies in only

my gulping pockets. Or, “wrong” not

wrong, all interrupted, the century

days of diagonal dust in

library creases, at puddle

sanded widows on a staircase in

suspension. Birds concealed

and leading measured chalk.




Each circle is sharper today. The feather is against the laundromat and the cherry is

against the satellite dealership rakishly escaping in air. Your trouble is ballooning. Too

slick this knocking in the refrigerator, these orgasms between mixed ankles like play

commandos. Animals devour like capitalists glinting beneath designer button lint,

hanging by pedagogy and ring fingers. Whistling and bees scar the city. Each branch,

like promises bearing above classification. Humming this sincerity. Humming this

deadened commentary for all that bewildered grief and structure. Willed in the driver’s

seat is a companion.

Ben Mirov


These poems are collages of sentences I felt compelled to write. The sentences come from a lot of different places. Some are from the feedback loop in my brain. Others come from the mouths of friends or strangers. A number of them are about events that have happened to me or people I know. Some of them were about events that happened around me as I was writing each poem. Some of the sentences come from my TV. Some of them are totally made up.

After I type the sentences on my computer, I like to mess with them so they seem more interesting. I mess with some of the sentences to make them less interesting. I leave some of the sentences alone. When I get the feeling that the poem is done, I don’t mess with the sentences anymore.


Fog Machine

I feel a little dew beneath the window. I will never walk there. I wouldn’t want to be my own argument. I remember being approached by a professor beneath a lime tree. That was a beautiful moment. The desire to be drafted into the Army Against Death was everywhere. People were taking TXM. I was in an orgy but couldn’t get it up. I have no other name for the Eye of God that was looking away from us. Incrementally, I found a way to live with myself. I drove a hybrid. Ate locally grown greens. Large philosophical thoughts eluded me. I’m learning to tell people what I want, who I am. I never got a job at a bookstore in Berkeley circa 1995. I felt my excesses were paying off. It gets easier every day. What’s the use of groceries? A lilac object bends to touch the light. The typewriter is eating a poem. That seems appropriate. What will happen next? It’s raining out. Put on your shell. Let’s grab a bite to eat. The seasons are coming awash in the smell of basketball. Send me your pictures of the Albany Landfill, I’ll put them in my ‘zine.


Ice Machine

One thing leads to the next. I can’t look at a tree without waking up. I don’t even want to mention my X. Traces of twilight cling to my beard. I crave the attention of cloud-machines. Why is dream better than think? I yearn to feel the exhaustion of the escalator? My waves go out and never return. My waves go out and never return. I find no inspiration in quasars. I step out my front door and hear the music of cars. I eat a sandwich in a land I’ve created in my mind. The pain of the last one, unable to find me. The archer in the screen, the starlight in my spine. A ship floats across the leaves. I peel off a disguise. I peel off aqua marine. Further down Van Ness, a briefcase appears. My lungs are spelt lings. A ghost in my writing hand. The promise of nothing in my pen. What kind of university is this? A leaf falls on a shadow. A TV flickers in my heart. Snow-white my disintegrating voice. Bone-white my tablet of air. Next up, the fourth ventricle. And then, maybe hydrophobia. The wind in my hair, the rain in my eyes. The days tick by and go unnoticed. A suit of armor does no good. I can never touch the same breast twice. I can never revisit a forest.


Wave Machine

You should never call me Little Man. Nor should you call me Red Heap or the Elegant Tooth. I am practicing Pitonk, day and night. This will be as difficult for you to hear as it is for me to say. Every leaf is a listening device. Every tree is an excuse for glass. Every page in my dictionary is black. I turn to the page where portal should be. Please address all your letters to the Lone Wolf. There is no other way to put it, I am combing the Earth for sacred fleas. Do you have a hand in this? Have you tried the Cote de Boeuf? Today is laundry day and I’m pissed. A light beam scans my brow. Do you know what I’m saying? Do you ever feel horny? Are you passionate about dominoes? I know I’m wasting away. There must be a better method but I can’t speak. I‘m wading through English like a ski-bum. There’s a tree in my mind and every night I climb it to see Allen Ginsberg’s face. Once in a field of my own composition, I came upon a young couple sleeping. It was a wonderful feeling. Purifying and debasing all at once. I left my sleeping bag by a tree.


Think Machine

I can write this all day. I buy shoes I’ve been thinking about all day. Things go on and trees. I roll over my hard-on. It’s cold and damp. We make out until I stop talking. Do you want my long drawn out opinion? Not in love with it. Less Lolita and more Shopgirl. I don’t know how I got my hands on it but it was a waste of my time, fersher. Whatever it is it’s a plank. I don’t fuck around with laces. It’s time to think in small discreet packets. He looks at me like I care she’s on his lap. Who folded the blankets? I barley understand Old English in the kitchen and some crackers. It makes her look dikey. So this is why people come to the Mission. Can they drink? Can we be more uptight? Can we listen to New Order? I’m filtering down. It’s the best movie I’ll see all week. Next week is the boat. Please let him know that I am interested in all types of writing that might be called poetry. I need an intelligent woman to read a story. Why do I kill you? I feel the same way. The part about the horses and the poles is cliché. I try to get published elsewhere.


Soul Machine

I don’t know if a salve was applied, or what. I crawl through the crevice and panic. I come upon the egg and wolf it down. Who was chasing me through the brush? He’s staring at neon graffiti and doesn’t look away. He looks just like a rich kid on acid. He turns into a duffle bag. The man I have sex with is me. I don’t dream about you. I find your feelings’ cloud. It doesn’t end with Brian and Jeremy at Delirium. It’s better without music and then dark. If I could, I would check your text. No one drinks Tanqueray with three rocks. No More Bad Dreams in kid writing with pink and yellow torn up pieces of paper. You’ll love me when I have a book in my hand. I sit next to her because I feel awkward. I didn’t know about their files. Everyone should go upstairs. I don’t wake up because I can’t see you. I replay last moments. There is a field and a sheperd and no dream. I step back inside. I never wrote what I meant to say. I can almost reach my keys. I’d like to bury a forty. I’m sorry about your year. I will never reach my keys.


You Machine

I go to bars and don’t know. You should be Oakland looking for jokes. I can tell when a relationship bends. It’s the last thing that happened. People begin to walk. There’s no jacket for weather. Beneath everything is a conscious mind I’d like to play. Your email made me feel like I’m piling time. I wear a hood into the station. I come out of BART with headphones and memory. It’s great to see you on the street and not go along. We back off the record label. No show at the Hemlock. I like what you’ve done with the lettering. I’m afraid to tell you little letters. I stand on the street like every car is you. I stumble around until I get home. I post a picture of the Silver Surfer because I’d rather no one saw. I am working with a friend to design the site. Every breeze is fixed. Every shadow touched. I hope I‘ve managed to assuage your fears about the poems. It should be a fun thing for all of us. It should be done by now. Drew comes to get me and we go to a party where I talk to Ellen. Thanks, Cedar.

Clay Matthews



About “The Abridged Version of Self-Made

I woke up one day and was thinking I’d like to write a novel, maybe, but I quickly realized I was either too lazy or impatient for such an undertaking. So instead, I decided to settle for an abridged version of whatever I had in my head (as I guess everything is, to some degree). The following is the first of two of abridged pieces, and, like many popular and unpopular contemporary novels it is slightly meta-contextual, slightly autobiographical, slightly fictional, and slight on any actual plot.


The Abridged Version of Self-Made


Chapter One


4:20 as I begin and another version of my self

reaches into the time machine and pulls out

a joint, lights it up, because in one of these memories

there was fire, and in one of these lifetimes

I found I was speaking to someone through the smoke.

After school at the junkyard breaking windows

out of an old bus because it is the bus that transports

and it is the window that holds and we are the creatures

come over the fence to free your soul. I’ve spent

a long time on chain link. There’s something mythic

about a landscape cut up into diamonds. And I

remember the diamonds on some fat, anonymous ring,

sitting at the counter, turning it around and around

on his finger like he was winding up some better version

of his future-perfect self. In the future we were all

perfect. We were astronauts and doctors and race-car drivers

and husbands and fathers and children at heart.

I begin to watch my self sitting inside a tractor tire

singing Black Betty. The rubber tread has stamped out

its own record of oblivion, and late tonight I will

call my friend on the telephone from the other side

of America and do the same. Hey, you, out there.

They’re dancing tonight at the dive outside town.



Chapter Two


We tied the dog up with a leash to the trailer ball

because there were no trailers those days only the memory

of metal holding hands. Every time I close a hook

and eye latch I feel at once an amazement and perversion

at simple technology. The bigger machines only have

bigger vocabularies. So the dog slept under the tire

and I dreamed of sleeping under the tire but there was

that kid at the rodeo once who passed out under a truck

and was run over and dead before he could even come

out of the heavy sleep and into a dream. Or maybe

he was dreaming already of the ocean, of a woman

with long brown legs and a bottle and a beach towel

and a bitter lime with which to chase things away.

It always happens this way. I start with a story

and you tell me it reminds you of this other person

who died tragically. Chapter Two begins to contemplate

the larger questions of the novel. In Chapter One it was

usually just Hi, how’re you doing, pleased to meet you,

I’ve got something to tell you that you won’t believe.



Chapter Three


Sunny-side up and I take mine over easy. Coffee, hash-

browns, silverware in a wax paper bag. You’re trying

to tell me about a thousand things going on in your head

and I’m trying to listen. All we’ve accomplished so far

is making eye contact, and noting the approaching storm

and respective haircuts. More coffee, and if we get warm

enough we will blossom into talk show hosts. With red

cheeks, perfect manners, and a hundred questions

that can take up a half-hour without really going anywhere.

What I want to ask is Does it ever stop hurting? Do you

like to stand outside in a hard rain? Have you ever dreamed

of making love right before the end of the world?

The fork cuts through the egg and the egg cuts through

the toast. And the toast cuts through my nostalgia

for good white bread. Music and laughter behind us.

Laughter and music. It should be what we all ask for

when they offer us that one wish. Who knows,

maybe we already have, silently, since we know that a wish

can never come true once entering language.



Chapter Four


The sound of a dog barking and then a chorus

of dogs barking back in the distance. The line

and refrain. I’m standing beside an old shed behind

the grocery store. The smell of old produce.

Washing machines. Dryers. Big fucking refrigerators.

In spite of their owners and shock collars and fences

the dogs are making music. This is one of my theses

supporting the value of art. Dogs, too. I’m talking

with a mechanic while he raises my car up for an oil

change. I ask him how he got started working on cars,

and he tells me that if you get stranded on the highway

enough you’ll be surprised what you can learn.

I am witnessing a town in progress from here.

I am watching life. Cars move in and out of the bank,

people move in and out of the store, dogs move

in and out of song and I am moving in and out

of conversation and a lovely silence with a man

I’ve just met. His hands are so dirty I want to shake

them until our guards drop off. I want to ask him

everything he knows about an engine, and if he had

only one story to ever tell how would it begin.



Chapter Five


A bed of crosses and flowers at an intersection

on the side of the road. A song somewhere on the radio

to mark happiness, and then grief, and then both

and more time passed. I will stick something in the ground

in this place to remember you. I am stuck in the novel

again. Which means I need to be going somewhere,

and likely I’ve still something important left to learn.

There are a thousand people walking to my left

and my right, there are almost as many books on the shelves.

I want to read them all. I turn right onto a state highway

and let my motor run its course, past the houses, past

the trees, past the corn and past the cotton. Cotton itself

is a very long story. If you’ve ever picked it you understand

that time is a relative bird. And I’ve got relatives all over

the country. We the Matthews and Mitchells have stretched

our names over America like a tight white shirt, threaded,

these many little histories connected by telephone wires.

Clay Matthews, born of a father and mother. I could

pull this yarn a long time. If you are to get to know me

then part of knowing me is knowing from where it was

I sprang. Where it was my feet first touched the soil, where

it was my legs first headed in another direction. There is a grave

in a graveyard to which I owe a visit. There is an obituary

in the paper that needs to go on much longer.



Chapter Six


I helped her out of her dress and asked how she felt

about being my love interest and/or romantic sub-plot

for the rest of our lives. Then I went to the kitchen and made

her a coffee with three spoonfuls of sugar, and brought it

back to bed while we stayed awake dreaming about everything

we’d categorized as the future. There would be children,

of course. And houses, and more coffee, and dogs, and jobs,

and exotic vacations to Italy and Puerto Rico, and marriages

and funerals and music and laughter and bags of groceries

on the dining room table. What is it about a promise

sometimes that makes it so easy to keep? Maybe this is

one of the things in life for which it works better just

to believe. Because I have all this faith left over

but sometimes I’m not sure where to put it. So I sip

my coffee and listen to the birds outside. And pull

the sheets over my head where underneath everything

is white. And I stay this way, and think I could stay

this way forever. But in the next room the answering machine

goes off, and on the other end it’s the family calling again,

because there is work to be done, and still things to say.



Chapter Seven


Plot construction. Pathos. The path to righteousness

or loss after the fact leads past your front door. I stood there

for a long time just thinking about knocking. Welcome

home. Smalltown, US of A. Where the old gas stations

have died and turned into graveyards for tires. This is where

we get caught up in place. Fridays and fried catfish.

Motor oil and spark plugs. Soybeans, Milo, another crop

name finding its way into your heart. It is dark and pleasant

here and on some days otherwise. I know of a wonderful

woman who collects spittoons. I know of a man who carries

in his pockets small jars of salt and pepper, because a table

without good manners is no sort of table at all. Then the way

the diagram of a plot often looks like the Arch in St. Louis,

and all the stories of getting there, of crossing through,

of finding yourself in the top and looking out. All the old

things. I went to a casino and put my money in a slot machine

and wanted to cry when a speaker simulated the sound

of coins hitting the pan. The grease hits the pan and the chicken

hits the grease and I am hungry for something fried

out of self-respect. They’d put your name in the telephone book.

They’d bring fresh bread over to your house. In the in-

between you might feel like you’ve known somebody.

And I would be running my finger through all the numbers

and closing my eyes, envisioning a long and slow conversation.



Chapter Eight


Motorcycles, front wheels, the shoulder of the highway

baring itself in a soft red light. They should never make a road

this sexy. The chapters move on. In the abridged version

of my life I am allowed a voice-over narration. Down the street

glass packs rattle the windows, while inside people are holding

each other, and screaming at each other, and wishing

the other outside would quiet down. Then at the junkyard, high

again and drunk, too. This time I asked him what god was

and he answered by skipping a stone across the black water.

I walked up a lane and down a lane and crawled into

the cab of an old combine and tried to get the radio

to work. Because the beautiful thing about the radio

is that the music is always there, even when you’re sleeping,

even dead, it’s still waiting for someone to find a way

to turn it back on. The wind was blowing through

our hair and in the distance we could see the rain taking

one bounding step at a time, over a tree line, over a field,

over a house and headed towards what we then called home.



Chapter Nine


The thunder was back-talking the lightning and I went in

the house to lay with the woman and watch another movie

about the Stockholm syndrome. If you stole me, I said,

I’m not sure if I could ever forgive you. And I wondered

how long you have to lock a person up before they love

you in spite (of). I went the next day to visit my father in prison

and we sat outside and fed squirrels and talked about

baseball, and I looked at the squirrels and wondered

if it is better to feed or be fed, and rhetorically what was

the difference between the two. There is a difference

between chain link and not chain link. And there is a difference

between old barb and razor wire. And there is a difference

between the difference. And these things I refuse to discuss

at greater length. Number nine. Number nine. Repeat until something

terrifying fills your consciousness. I swallow a sleeping pill

and close my eyes. And in the darkness I have bargained

for a dream about bulldozers and hunting escapades,

an albino deer in the middle of the road, bowing

a great white rack of antlers and allowing me to pass.



Chapter Ten


Fiction and memoir. The first person in a long list of persons.

I start to try and hold them together like a bouquet

of dreams grown wild. In the beginning I was fond

of dandelion necklaces. In the mornings sometimes now

I spray the yard in order to kill the weeds. And I run

the lawnmower back and forth in lines, in squares, in perfect

geometrical patterns to set-off the shapeliness of nature.

She had a dress once, with lines, that made me hold

my breath. And now sometimes when I see her

after work, it’s like I’ve been assigned to remember

her face and body again. If you close your eyes you will

still hear me, inside, but I will then cease to be

the same form. If you’ll hold out your hand I will lead

you through the room. And if the stereo still works we can

maybe turn it on, and listen while we slowly start to dance.



Chapter Eleven


Because it must end, it will. There are trees in places

and other places where the trees have left. Even plants

sometimes lay out migration patterns. Outside the fall

is spreading its cool hush over the beginning, and as

the beginning it makes promises for what will never end.

On the other side of town I can hear the marching band

practicing, as the invisible drum beat beats out for me

some pattern of life. I kiss her goodbye, and with the windows

down a leaf falls into my lap. What began with fire

ends with something just dying to burn. And if the novel

closes then it closes without much of a thud. Who wrote

the book of love? For starters, nearly everyone I’ve known.

And still I have almost a thousand other questions.

And still I haven’t spent enough time watching life grow.

The wind blows and the radio fights against the silence.

I leave myself to drive for a moment, and blank out

to the tune of discord and harmony that surrounds me.

Craig Morgan Teicher



I got married in June of 2006. Beginning about a year before that (when my wife and I got engaged), ideas about marriage, couplehood, partnership, and privacy began to seem like good, useful subjects for poems. I wrote a whole manuscript about the ways my relationship with my wife and my practice of writing had become braided.

When that was done, I spent some time writing poems and fables that were not about my life. Then I began getting interested in a bunch of poets—Robert Creeley, the Waldrops, Blaser, Spicer—who, in one way or another, advocated a poetry that responds to itself, even self-consciously generates itself as it goes along. So I thought I’d try letting them poems think up their own next lines.

Coming off the fables, I had characters in my head, so it made sense to let the lines in these poems talk back and forth with, to, and at each other. Marriage being still very much in my thoughts, the poems that came turned into explorations, or so it seems to me, of the ways two people who are intimately sharing a space do, and do not, succeed at communicating by talking, the ways that the words being used and things being said are rarely the same thing.



A Conversation

What did god tell you?

That he is scared.

He is lonely.

What did he mean?

That the naked man in the

apartment across the street

knows that I am watching.

What will happen to us?

We are all going to die

but not yet. Only some of us

are dying now. Most

have more time.

What should we do till then?

My bed is cold. I wish

it wasn’t.

What are you going to do?

Even if I publish

my thoughts across

the sky someone

will mistake

them for clouds.

What do you want?

The feeling when

a dog looks at me.

What’s the next question

you want me to ask?

What is pain good for?

Even apple cores count

in the vast catalogue

of particulars of which

the awe-inspiring

universe is composed.

But does anything stop? Will it end?

That feeling of stepping

into a patch of sunlight.

I don’t know how much

more I can take and

no one will tell me.

Would you like an apple?

A Conversation

What can you do

for someone else?

I fantasize about keeping

a tiger for a pet, the

way it would nuzzle me,

its soft cheeks and lips.

I feel overwhelmed

by others’ expectations.

Would you like

to have sex

on the couch?

What does it mean

when you take my hand?

I have two

deaf sisters.

People’s minds are crowded

by received ideas, but

between them, in the crevices

between thoughts, are a few

visions of a world before.

Was it fair to ask

for both the ring

and the hand

that wore it?

Yes—sleep is

the playground of children

and their demons.

Will you remain

afraid throughout

the night, even though

I’m here?

If I wash my wings

they will be too heavy

with water to fly.

I could learn to suffer.

Won’t you wait with me?


A Conversation

Shall we go

down to the water and dip

our fingers into

the rippling moonlight?

I want to be at the mercy

of music as subtle

and complex as the patterns

made by windblown grains of sand.

But would you spare

your teeth to save

your daughter?

I would row my way

through moonbeams.

I’m feeling young

but hopeless.

Would you like me

to rub your back?

Soup would be nice

or chamomile tea.

I want to lose myself

along the inevitable walkway.

What would a bird say?

Flies are already hovering

around our heartbeats.


A Conversation

I can’t even tell

whether the mirror

or my face is cracked.

I can’t tell

a zebra from a horse.

I can’t tell

a spoon from a moon.

I can’t tell

you how to live your life.

I will walk down

to the river’s edge

at the time of year

when the current

is strongest.

I will learn to

play the didgeridoo.

I will race the

river to the sea.


A Conversation

The cat is tiny

to the point of hardly even


existing. What time

is dinner?

I’m sweeping


the apartment for landmines.

I’m drawing a picture


of the two of us holding


          while the crayon house


is consumed in flames.

I’m waiting for you

                             to come home.


A Conversation

It is raining

Within you?

No, outside—outside

the windows.

What does it mean?

That the world

is dry.

Within you?

No. Outside—the world

where everyone lives.


Within me.

Oh—the world.

John Hyland



For reasons I can’t quite recall, I found myself, some time in the last year, rereading Aristotle’s Poetics. And as I began to make my way through the strained logic of those pages, I came across a strange line. It struck me—and still does—as absurd. Occurring in the sixth chapter titled “A Description of Tragedy”—but the tragedy here seems more than simply descriptive—it reads: “song is a term whose sense is obvious to everyone.” Something inherently hierarchical informs such flippancy; something deeply problematic and unexamined resides here.

Without falling into a rehearsal of the assertive categorizing that is the Poetics, I’d like to point out the context for this seemingly insignificant line: Before stating what “is obvious,” Aristotle declares “song and diction” as the “medium of representation.” Diction here is “the arrangement of verses,” and song is “a term …” etc. The equation here is obvious if not worn—but also irritatingly often the case.

All of this is to say, the notion of song informs much of my work lately. (In another project, titled Song Notions, I am trying to write what occurs in a lyrical space haunted by and tangent to song.) I’m interested in the ways that “song” functions as a poetic principle. “This is Not a Song” seeks to eschew such Aristotelian logic for “arranging verses” while still developing a lyric-informed space. As I wrote a few years ago in a series of meditations: “This is not a song. This is me singing, though. Liquid notes/intrude the air around me.” And it is this possibility of singing without song that at times holds but more often eludes my attention.

Often disembodied, “This is Not a Song” is preoccupied with sound as both an organizing principle and a signifying element. Recently I have been reading the work of Edward Kamau Brathwaite, and in his 1979 talk History of Voice he says that then recent Caribbean poetry is “based as much on sound as it is on song”: This accurately describes one of the primary concerns of this sequence. I’m interested in sound relations that move not beyond per se but away from questions of prosody; the internal sonic, not to mention semantic, resonances of a given word or phrase often determine the external arrangement of these “verses.”

Several years ago, an editor I respected told me that my work was too emotively self-conscious. While I’m still not totally sure what that means, I think a similar observation could be made here, if that makes any sense. But I’m no longer convinced such an observation is a bad thing.

Of course other concerns lurk and assert themselves here, but most crucial to this sequence is the particular fact of those poets who are often, if not always, singing within me.


John Hyland

Still River, MA

21 April 2007



from This is Not a Song



What is image

or sound from


the outside

the outset—


another’s glare

or utterance—


relief of another’s

tongue, nothing


or all between

quotation …


Or only this

as I

           that I

call my own



stratified if listless

glance. Flare


if inward

then not


also bent,



beyond questions

of the seen


what trails

sun-marked or


tinged with





To arrive late

as if early

were to be prized


as if to be

world, unfettered

or lit,


were pure fact

of syntax

measured, waiting


—to weigh the self

against a self

perhaps another …


All here,


in handy basket


in buried coffer

marked as this

assumed as that


after or before

some unquantifiable

brush or rush with



Often to forget is to recall

the overlooked and out


this second-story window:

just sky traced and tempered


with what is sought and sought



           Other poems

to live in, to begin—


never to finish, never to finish—

concerning sky, a kind


of lucid forgetfulness,

a returning


to what’s unwritten.

This is a poem to read


before leaving this vanquished city,

where I heave my quiet at the world.



Not home but desire

as in inter—


but what emerges is not a question

of the new or the now.


The broad scope postpones

the queried line, the smear.


Nothing in isolate—

it’s all impossibly


or probably likely

on the verge of here.


Morning’s historical lens

busts or mends past


boundaries of world,

visions of this


opposition lacerates

permissions of


limits still intercede,

excoriate unification.




—and up

into sky


to become

look like



to clamber






a new





image sense

wind (sure)





a shift

in air


to be

a verb


as rain

(a rain of)


then send




Nothing but what happens between

slips into prosody


I suppose, perhaps

I am a drawn point, a focusing of


while birds turn in wind

while I think to say yes or


enough with yes enough

with if this if that then yes or

no I think not, and thank you.


To where some possession

might return, might stay—


might exclaim crude ligature

burnished with if emptied of


stained world in edge of

mouth shut by its own delay.

Joseph Bienvenu



These poems were written in that strange orange phosphor glow of post-apocalyptic New Orleans on realizing that the city in all her tatters, even in her clouds of arsenic powder, could not abandon her mysteries. It was startling how beautiful the empty streets were—the skins of the buildings contracted and squashed, their discs reflecting blue and green light, and everything became a decoy, a means to escape from predators. Of course, life here has taken baby steps back towards normality and New Orleans has returned to being what it always was: a figment of our collective imagination where mutant vines sniff at the moldings of dank dive bars while garlanded statues of forgotten and invented saints roll down the streets in secret parades.



Galerie des Machines

What a moment! No one will ever again stoke the flame of uncompromised wonder. No seraphic swan will find the grey cornice to roost on. And yet I am only killing time, waiting to find the inevitable baleen buried in the sand, the shattered scrimshaw. If I had been asked then, I would have wanted to be remembered as some insignificant molecular shimmer, as if that would be French enough! I remember only those brief moments in vegetative corners of darkened patios. The Hotel Le Cirque wanted to shake us out of our heavy sleep on these streets forever tattered now. What spectacular blue bug might awake from within this rotten pile of accordions! How gleefully we might welcome him and all his baroque pincers. The past holds some vague memory of a rescue at sea, but now the glisten of wet gravel is the sequin festooning our sorrow. It’s no personal abyss I know! Collectively we rebel against it: the poignant splicers, the clutch of vertigo from the heights of the spinning hotel bar. Yet below me alone stretches the delirious landscape of dead stone. I am condemned to scale flight after flight of marble stairs, a torture designed by some cruel urban planner, no doubt. My heart could expect no less in this land of dodos, my concrete casket. But perhaps I only swoon to strike that final pose of pale and heartless beauty. It rains… rains. I am a creature who cannot rest until I disrupt the camouflage of my fevered raincoat. The clouds finally explode into an orange spider that dips its feet into the swollen river. Downstream, the streetcars shed their green metallic wrappers.



The Makeshift Screen

In those same bake shops where we used to get drunk—the newspapers powdered with cocoa dust—I would pray for the smoky petrol stink of the underpass: trade a desired state for an undesired one. The lacy gathered shoulderstraps took on repulsive shapes. That pale shadow of a neckline, dimly shot from blue benzene backdrop of a loaded pistol. One last traipse across the rollerrink into the nightmare of an antarctic childhood. I am almost at the mesa of Manhattan, the feathered coastline of an ancient and misgotten trust. Did we walk through the garden of an apartment complex to get there, to reach the restaurant in an abandoned subway station? The black skin seemed to expand almost endlessly, pushing its radius one bubble further at a time—seams tightening with soot. Our footsteps melded with the rubble. Which shoes were separate from the pile of boots beneath them? The window frames were lined with the pulp of softened wood. In the middle of the display a book bound in a purple wrapper. Is it only a forgery of the book I want to read? Some bird of prey might peek out from a lamppost to nuzzle me, flash the blood-stained muzzle of its calloused foot. Should I try to part the bangs and force my way into the unlined forehead? Like the surface of a lightbulb we are lit from beneath. O vague twilight of the half-lit stubbled chin! The litany of whitish lips until the street unloads its dark Pentecost. Oh, it’s a situation that presents uncertainty. I see the wreckage from the corner of my eye. I will grind the fine powder where the faces start to reemerge from the wet wood of the shingles.



Wave After Wave

I am afraid of the heavily polished stone. It is as if I am shipwrecked on an abandoned cantilever bridge. Abandoned in violence or delight. By violence, of course, I do not mean the brutality of the circumlunar haze of light. In 2004 Luna Park too goes up in flames. So we all must wound what we love. The aquarium grows more debased with every new season. How disgusted I am of the garish penguin exhibit. My fuselage is all that remains. How I long for a propeller or a bit of cockpit! I am lost! Camel through a needle’s eye. True bubble and squeak of my heart! How Biblical! I see smoke rising above the corpses of secretaries. I bend to kiss their beautiful waterlogged fingers and salvage what typewriters I can. What else can I do among these landlocked lighthouses? Ships are guided into the porticos of cathedrals. City hall is split by the mizenmast of an antique schooner. Perhaps I am only involved in an oblique way. When I think of the bowling alley, buried in sand, the stripe-necked pins floating out to sea, what has it to do with me? The salted air is bitter; must my tongue now meet its winter? O beautiful fortress of bottle caps, you are almost up to my kneecaps. The Sirens lure me to a junction of highways and decaying filling stations to slowly anesthetize me with their Icelandic song. I will not a drop to drink. I will drink only of the skyline’s neon pediments. I am waiting for the Cadillacs to rupture into bloated metal stingrays.