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Kate Colby

Almost ten years ago, when I was in graduate school in San Francisco, my friend and mentor, Sarah Anne Cox, challenged me to write a poem that just came out and said whatever it was I was always trying to say in all of my poems. I didn’t do it, but I’ve thought about it ever since. I Mean is my attempt to finally complete her assignment, even though I’m turning it in incomplete. The following is just an excerpt of a larger excerpt of a poem that never ends.


I mean


I mean to say


I mean I keep meaning to


I mean amending


I mean correcting


I mean qualifying


I mean collecting


I mean X + X + X

and so forth


I mean all possible values


I mean adding


I mean and also


I mean pileups happen

when you can’t see

where you’re going


I mean where you are


I mean your hand

in front of your face


I mean my hand


I mean if that’s all

I can see


I mean if that’s all

I’m looking at


I mean that’s not all


I mean there is no end


I mean this isn’t the beginning


I mean only means


I mean blow the house down

with breathlessness


I mean a house of breathlessness


I mean the walls

are braced

against themselves


I mean brace yourself


I mean to take the house down

with its own components


I mean throw the whole deck at it


I mean two-by-fours and oven mitts


I mean rocks

hucking them

at walls of rocks


I mean self-healing walls


I mean with insipid pocks


I mean bb dings in street signs


I mean bullet holes in stop signs


I mean to riddle


I mean all signs point to “yes”


I mean eyelids are designed to admit some light


I mean sound


I mean boom


I mean faster than gravity


I mean I am not equal to the work


I mean I’m over my head


I mean hovering


I mean levitating


I mean light as a feather

wide as a plane


I mean fight as a feather



I mean the first rule of Fight Club

is sleight (perceived

syllogism, sinking

deep into the La-Z-Boy)


I mean I’m going to talk about it


I mean talk about it

by talking about

talking about it


I mean write about it


I mean scrape it all towards me

with the edge of my hand


I mean like a spray of crumbs


I mean pile


I mean to pile up

and get on top of


I mean for the prospect


I mean for the pea

beneath the mattress


I mean to feel the ceiling


I mean to figure it

like a mime


I mean just imagine it


I mean kiss it


I mean I’m already running out of air


I mean steam


I mean fire


I mean fight it


I mean feed


I mean with fire


I mean fire

is not finite

only fuel


I mean light

is not finite

only illumination


I mean things to illuminate


I mean to throw shadows


I mean I have an important

question: is this important?


I mean there are no stupid questions

only precarious piles of them


I mean I don’t think


I mean I have my work

cut out


I mean decoupage


I mean to decorate empty boxes


I mean mountains of them


I mean to make mountains of them


I mean I like to see

the whole horizon


I mean just putting it out there


I mean the horizon

is where I see it


I mean where does a mountain end

and everything else begin?


I mean the foothills


I mean the valley


I mean the sky


I mean how far from my head


I mean I know there are names 

but I don’t want to know them


I mean everything is of a piece


I mean right now


I mean a meteorite slashes through

atmosphere, roof, ceiling, lands

on the living room rug and smolders


I mean in front of the television


I mean there’s a smoking hole in the rug

and a laugh track


I mean Mork & Mindy


I mean mise en abîme


I mean playing people playing people


I mean sets within sets of themselves


I mean I dream about myself


I mean I’ve canceled myself out


I mean I’m over here

while you’re staring at

the smoldering hole in the rug

where you thought I was


I mean a black grid on a white field

and the fuzzy gray dots where the lines cross

that you can see but not look at


I mean “slippage”


I mean the slip-proof dots

on the baby’s socks


I mean things for which

names may or may not exist


I mean there are names

for what you are and for who


I mean names for things

that don’t or no longer exist


I mean kicking bones

down the stairs

they’re in my way


I mean in the desert


I mean everything is contained


I mean bound


I mean imminent


I mean right now


I mean immanence


I mean all at once


I mean an infinitely subdividing distance

from your face, your hand


I mean your frame


I mean immanence of adolescence,

winter sunset behind bare branches.

In a car. Cat Stevens.


I mean you can’t make this shit up


I mean it’s Cartesian


I mean the sum


I mean gestalt


I mean more


I mean soul


I mean stab

pen through paper


I mean repeatedly


I mean stomata

let the light through


I mean oven mitts

are words


I mean syntactic units


I mean tools


I mean means


I mean oven-mitt puppet theater


I mean in the round


I mean all the walls

are see-through


I mean no one can see the light

is coming from the wrong direction


I mean the aisle lighting

is on the ceiling


I mean the walls

don’t meet the ceiling


I mean the sky


I mean the ends of the earth


I mean there are ways to get around them


I mean get over them


I mean with a kind of stile


I mean pile

of individually useless tools


I mean poems as piles

of perfume test strips


I mean litmus strips

in innumerable labs

of trash cans


I mean the letter-shaped

spaces in my correction tape


I mean dead letters

denoting notes


I mean chords


I mean to correct the bad ones


I mean the bad one


I mean the only chord I know

is differently bad each time


I mean except when I hit it


I mean I go limp in my own arms


I mean it’s major


I mean in motion


I mean pictures


I mean the moment

a woman exhales

and slides beneath

her mounds of bubbles


I mean mountains


I mean hill beyond hill beyond hill


I mean the boundaries of the kingdom

I can see


I mean the periphery

is a circle and I am

seldom at its center


I mean except when I am


I mean the circumference

of sound


I mean a plane

crossing the sky


I mean how long does it take?


I mean how far away is the furthest

visible point in a cloudless sky


I mean the furthest visible cloud

in the cloud cover


I mean as far as the eye can see


I mean define


I mean the horizon is the shape of the eye


I mean is the lake the shape of its shoreline

or the shoreline the shape of the lake?


I mean the same

of me and my skin


I mean bodies of water

become their shores


I mean everything is round

and around you


I mean everything takes shape

of itself


I mean shapes come to look like

the shapes they once stood for


I mean five-pointed stars

and six


I mean what we divine there


I mean everything is pointing


I mean in Jodhpur there are three

different reasons given for

the walls being blue. Depends

who you ask. Nobody remembers.


I mean some things are blue as Jodhpur


I mean 1:1:1


I mean more than authenticity


I mean true blue


I mean verdigris


I mean which is the natural state of a surface,

the patina or the polish?


I mean ore or artifact


I mean mud flaps with sexy silhouettes


I mean having it made


I mean for you? Half price.


I mean you really had to be there

and were

is the new picaresque


I mean access with lingering

whiff of difficulty  


I mean fare thee



I mean no sleep is never enough



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