Tuesday, July 22, 2014

POEM: "Everyday in the same lane..."

"Everyday in the same lane..."

Everyday in the same lane 
a clock on legs in summer 
getting slower a little bit older
balding fast beginning to talk
back to his two-year-old self
I can’t make out what he says 
everything is dissimilar
on the left side, the line is wrong
to the right, protection is very hard
(we were on that face for 3 bloody days)
he looks awfully close and I nod
and he nods I tell myself I don't 
really know what it is he sees.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

MUSIC: Johnny Winter at Woodstock 1969 / Revisiting "Highway 61"

Some drivin' Texas blues by the late great Johnny Winter. Listen hard you can hear Lightnin' Hopkins. Listen a little bit harder and you'll even hear you & me. (We all live right close to Highway 61.) Since the blues ain't never gonna end, his fine work will be played forever. Brother John. RIP.




Monday, July 21, 2014

A Rigoberto González Poem

Other Fugitives and Other Strangers

The nightclub's neon light glows red with anxiety
as I wait on the turning lane. Cars blur past,
their headlights white as charcoal.
I trust each driver not to swerve. I trust each stranger
not to kill me and let me cross
the shadow of his smoky path.
Trust is all I have for patrons at the bar:
one man offers me a line, one man buys the kamikaze,
another drinks it. Yet another wraps his arm
around my waist. I trust him not to harm my body
as much as he expects his body to remain unharmed.
One man asks me to the dance floor, one asks me
to a second drink, another asks me home.
I dance, I drink, I follow.
I can trust a man without clothes.
Naked he conceals no weapons, no threat
but the blood in his erection. His bed unfamiliar,
only temporarily. Pillows without loyalty
absorb the weight of any man, betray
the scent of the men who came before.
I trust a stranger's tongue to tell me
nothing valuable. It makes no promises
of truth or lies, it doesn't swear commitments.
The stranger's hands take their time exploring.
Undisguised, they do not turn to claws or pretend
artistic skill to draw configurations on my flesh. They
are only human hands with fingertips
unsentimental with discoveries, without nostalgia
for what they leave behind. I trust this stranger
not to stay inside me once he enters me.
I trust him to release me from the blame
of pleasure. The pain I exit with no greater
than the loneliness that takes me to the bar.
He says good night, I give him back
those words, taking nothing with me that is his.
The front door shuts behind me, the gravel
driveway ushers me away. The rearview mirror
loses sight of threshold, house, sidewalk, street.
Driving by the nightclub I pass a car
impatient on the turning lane. My hands are cold
and itch to swerve the wheel, to brand
his fender with the fury of my headlights.
But I let this stranger live

to struggle through the heat and sweat
of false affections, anonymous and
borrowed like the glass that washed my prints
to hold another patron's drink.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Richard Garcia Poem

Mozart's Concerto for Glass Harmonica

There you are, at the gate of the memory palace
underneath the rusted teeth of the portcullis,
your hand raised in a puzzling gesture—
is it farewell, come here, get back, no blame,
or are you just trying to hitch a ride? But I've seen
that gesture when you sleep, as if you were saying
to someone, on the one hand . . . on the other hand.
Here is a memory to store in the palace—
You and I at the circus. The arena is dark
except for one blue spotlight. In it, a clown
stands before a table. On the table an array,
crystal wine glasses filled with different levels
of water. He's dressed in white with a conical hat,
tear marks on one cheek. With a wet finger,
he plays music that was once forbidden
because it made musicians lose their minds.
There is a blank look in his eyes and he performs
perfectly, as if he were a mechanical clown.
Now look up, the lady on the trapeze
is dropping large blue crepe-paper flowers.
Maybe the palace is the size of a dollhouse
and my eye at the window is the eye of a giant.
Maybe the palace is in my chest and my heart
is beating too loud inside. I remember
when I woke but was still asleep and saw
my chest rising and falling on its own
and then I accidentally rolled out of my body
and there were two of me lying side by side.
In an alcove shaped like a scallop shell I've placed
a list of the way lovers have said goodbye.
Developer fluid heated up, passed off
as consommé, is a standout. As is GOODBYE
written in shaving cream on the dusty windows
of a row of abandoned cars in Baja. Just as I begin
to suspect what is wrong with this picture
I notice how lightly you step over the grillwork
of the oubliette, that terrible lace under which
men are forgotten. You raise your hand again
and now I understand that gesture—
it's how you erase the distant mountains,
the palace, the sky, everything.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

POEM: "Roving thoughts..."

"Roving thoughts..."

Roving thoughts
& the provocations
old thorns in the side
uncomfortable reminders
of both this world & the other
riding you like wind rides a rose
when the moment permits a prayer

A parent or a child
sitting on the footpath
bawling because they’ve lost
the one I just keep travelling on
treading barefoot on fallen acorns
in the dream they are only megaphones
& shout public things that aren’t in a prayer

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Friday, July 18, 2014

POEM: "Reading A Letter of Bukowski's"

Reading A Letter of Bukowski's

This letter spells it out:
Fear makes us eat shit.
Not a happy image.
But it explains
why you needed those
twenty-five jobs to retire early
and thrive as a beach bum.

Or a builder.
Or a bartender. 
Or a barfly poet.
Or an English teacher 
living on the foreign edge where 
they only understand 40% 
of what you're saying.
They tried to murder me.
But the days are different now.
You write about the perfect moments.
(Near the airport
your calico cat smirks
under the flightpath.)

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Thursday, July 17, 2014

POEM: "A Little Kid On The Beach"

A Little Kid On The Beach

Whether out far or deep in
the arm is near the sand
we’re drowning or waving
a little matter of perspective
now looking at Miller’s photo
of the night sky with Jupiter
as near to us as the Moon
thus I have almost heard
the thunder of a great god

what’s left of time and Earth
if the Sun Buddha could once
come back as Smokey the Bear
to shout only you can conquer fear

don't let it rest but rescue everything
unravel the tide watch it coming in.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Garcilaso de la Vega Poem

"When I Stop To Consider..."

Cuando me paro a contemplar mi estado
y a ver los pasos por do me han traído,
hallo, según por do anduve, perdido,
que la mayor mal pudiera haber llegado;

mas cuando del camino estó olvidado,
a tanto mal no sé por dó he venido;
sé que me acabo, y más he yo sentido
ver acabar conmigo mi cuidado.

Yo acabaré, que me entregué sin arte
a quien sabrá perderme y acabarme
si quisiere, y aún sabrá querello;

que, pues mi voluntad puede matarme,
la suya, que no es tanto de mi parte,
pudiendo, ¿qué hará sino hacello?


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Rui Xiao Poem

A Night In Moscow

The delicious writing night
A glass bowl of cherries
The vodka apple juice
An outsider in the supermarkets
And on my way to St. Petersburg

All the forests and the lakes
I was flying to the end of the world
To know the edges of the land and sea
This is a high fence of language
That stands between us now

Me, always in some orbit
Like a pet bird, free for awhile
I see the limits of time and space
And yes freedom is very delicious
This was only one night in Moscow.


Monday, July 14, 2014


Constant Reader, 4 years on, it's occurred to me that the ordering of these poems bears far too much relation to the material world, what with the one always stuck behind the other, even as another one is nagging for a spot. I don't blame you for being antsy. But I am grateful that you haven't mentioned this yet, respecting the silence of my craft, so well do you protect this private site. These poems, like the inspiration that compels them, will come at random. And when they're scattered like this, we'll go together into the lucky dip to determine what any of it has to do with us.

POEM: "This Wheel"

This Wheel

These dinosaur rivers
the wheels of chariots
the so-called joy of angels

leaving on a marvellous spree
hammerhead & inside loop
(the details aren't important)

if my memory serves me well
the devils hide in the crannies
where the angels get short sticks
meanwhile by the riverside I sit
arms-length & long spoons divided
supping with a band of demons
looks like the wind is picking up
dark clouds now are sailing past
the spokes have turned inward
don’t know how long this will last.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

A Pierre Martory Poem


You let your shirt hang down
putting on airs of cuffs
at the edge of ending night
like the end of a java with double ritournelles
or the way the canaries in the cage of still-closed mornings
were singing that it mattered little
to them that their windows were open
the stones the paving stones the door-frames the armatures
the window-frames the sheets of the bed clothes in their colors
were beating the dawn along with us
better drums than your belly
better drumsticks than my fingers
and the trees and the roofs the river and its bridges
the clear distances of the city the factories without smoke
bathed as at their birth stammered
a trial hello
that only ended however
in this word round as a doubloon
placed on the edge of that day
by a considerate friend
the sun on your arms naked against my cheeks
hello I said to you
the day of quatorz'juillet

(1961) trans. John Ashbery

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Ben Jonson Poem

On My First Son

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years tho' wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scap'd world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, ask'd, say, "Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry."
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

POEM: "After A Lifetime Spurning Science"

After A Lifetime Spurning Science

Maybe the penny drops a little
faster than the tar pitch drip
70 years of one experiment
white coat, cigarette, cameras
the viscosity has been vicious
said a scientist (name withheld)
the tension killed many of us
meanwhile comes another one
slower than ideal, slower than
the time it takes this all to fall
between two people, a lifetime
to drop that distance, how slow
it needs a moment to be formed
(the glance, the touch, the kiss)
tonight about this tar pitch.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

MUSIC: John Legend, "You & I (Nobody in the World)" & "All Of Me" (2013)

Go on. Have a listen. Don't be such a miserable bastard. Have a heart.


Friday, July 11, 2014

POEM: "Drones"

                   "War is boring, we do it so you don't have to."

Do drones drink beer at 
the consoles and fall sleep
dream of the other games 
they'd rather be good at
ticker-tape parades when 
you come back successful
spin the wheels on a Chevy
Bel Air and bounce with joy
like that pretty girl sitting
across the table looking likely
is there a drone policy for you
do some sorties get messed up
talk to me a minute about 
your training for this job.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A John Poch Poem

Liquid Italy

                     If you don’t drink wine, God won’t give you water.

The summer the Bolognesi went crazy
for the spritz with orange Aperol,
I stuck to chilled and sweating Prosecco
though switched to Sangiovese
and later couldn’t refuse a little red fizzy
(one tries to stay hydrated)
in a second floor flat in Casalecchio
where we three poets had been invited
for a full-blown home-cooked supper
by Mina, Italian grandmother,
who had been warming up the apartment
all day, and what I got to compliment
that perfect 100 degree heat we wallowed in,
Fahrenheit our God, water the religion,
and our Italian host seeming nearly heroic
when she brought it iceless, stoic,
to us seated at the table next to the little kitchen
with the big stove where water boiled, rabid
for the fettuccini while a ragu of wild rabbit
simmered, and only one window of three
was open but no breeze graced us anyway
so our shirts hung like wet laundry
the Italians hang out their windows
(Oh, if someone could have only
hung me out a window), what I got
was a wild boar tortellini
drowned in a salty chicken broth
for starters and then the steaming fettuccine
and saltless bread to soak up the last of the sauce,
and when the gelato finally came
even that added fat to the heat and warmed
our tongues with vanilla liqueur and cream
so thick no ice crystal could hope to form,
of course with grappa and nocino following it all,
and/or limoncello (who could recall?)
thinking the burn up our nasal passages
and down our throats might distract us
while the golden hillside wheatfields drying
bleached under the last of the purifying
Emilia-Romagna sun declining
by, we prayed, degrees
that evening, and the figs in the trees
and the grapes green and waxing clearer
were just beginning to fatten at the height
of summer on the longest day of the year.


MUSIC: Anya Marina, "High On The Ceiling" (2011)

A fine track by an artist even you might not know. Recommended for when you're ready to drop from the ceiling. Also recommended for when you're not. Enjoy.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

POEM: "This Hunger Note"

This Hunger Note

Notice how once you’re hungry
strange Chinese kebabs duoshao
a peanut cabbage dumpling xie xie

in-between the tired body and the soul
the miles you walk shall disappear
the distance from A to B is nought
and except that there be men with fire
come after you through the oily streets
(or demons make you cross a lifeless desert)

as Heaven is of the moment now it fades
and the sweet food you wished for is gone
you don't respect time unless you have to
the extraterrestrial team watches from afar
they’re curious I mean really impressed
this is magic. Really. Think about it.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

POEM: "A Pale Blue Dress"

A Pale Blue Dress

I can't believe that I thought I knew
she was smart, as smart as I pictured her
putting the shining wash on a white line
watering the plants, sprinkling the chickens
in a pale blue dress with no underwear --
come to bed at night with only a sexy moan.
OK. Erase that likeness. She was plenty smart.
Proud house plants wilted under the stress
and the chickens all one day fled for the trees.
The underwear was wrapped three times around.
OK. She was smart enough to hide her feelings.
She sprinkled me enough that I climbed away
while I believed she was smart. OK. Not that.
I believed I was smart to know when a blue dress
looks like it should come off it sometimes doesn't.
Hiding my feelings about that makes me smart.
Scotch that. It makes me almost smart enough
to read a pale blue dress, so well, so well.

© 2010 Rob Schackne

PHOTO: The Bridge in Mostar / POEM: "Stari Most"

Stari Most

In southern Bosnia
where I first knew you 
where there was so much death 
there was a beautiful bridge 
you can't kill memory
where there is a beautiful bridge
this is a story about Mostar
a story about Stari Most
but no, it's a story about us
and the fight we had 
on the beautiful bridge
and how I swore to you
there would be no war
you don't listen (I remember)
you kept on slapping me
we got home we didn't speak
we cried and I held you tight
later they tortured you 
then they killed you
it was a beautiful bridge
all the water gone
of course I write this.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Monday, July 7, 2014

MUSIC: Jens Lekman, NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert (2011)

Jens Martin Lekman was born 33 years ago in Angered, Sweden. 
(He is not now (and never was) any singer named Blind Dennis.)


POEM: "Talk Talk"

Talk Talk

Fake monks all talk talk 
fake dreams on the street
soteriology is a foreign word
fake talking nearly everything
up the big stack of the world
every night hear the screams 
loud enough for gorillaland
tired men say all women want them
tired women just say it's all talk talk
air quality readings moderate today
the week’s reading list ask your teacher
don’t come to me all moaning 
talk talk they can’t feel love
fake monks talk anger all talk
how they all got here talk talk.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Sunday, July 6, 2014

POEM: "Two Poets In China, 744 AD"

Two Poets In China, 744 AD

How did all these fingers get into me
a moon with 2 faces, one of them useless
a leap-year with the rabbits going crazy
a poet who looked like a servant, a butcher
a street sweeper, a sweetheart, a burglar
a poet to be a horse’s ass, two poets to be us
(a glass of wine, wrinkled clothes, the smiles)
how do you ever know what someone knows,
waving at the children, this parade of river
skips along, and the old boat ferries it easily...
where one of them was a wrong one, a murderer
and one was alright (he looked mentally defective)
they were dear to me, I travelled with them both.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Lynn Emanuel Poem

Frying Trout While Drunk

Mother is drinking to forget a man
who could fill the woods with invitations:
come with me he whispered and she went
in his Nash Rambler, its dash
where her knees turned green
in the radium dials of the 50's.
When I drink it is always 1953,
bacon wilting in the pan on Cook Street
and mother, wrist deep in red water,
laying a trail from the sink
to a glass of gin and back.
She is a beautiful, unlucky woman
in love with a man of lechery so solid
you could build a table on it
and when you did the blues would come to visit.
I remember all of us awkwardly at dinner,
the dark slung across the porch,
and then mother's dress falling to the floor,
buttons ticking like seeds spit on a plate.
When I drink I am too much like her—
the knife in one hand and the trout
with a belly white as my wrist.
I have loved you all my life
she told him and it was true
in the same way that all her life
she drank, dedicated to the act itself,
she stood at this stove
and with the care of the very drunk
handed him the plate.


Friday, July 4, 2014

An Elizabeth Alexander Poem

Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need.
What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

POEM: "Illuminatus"


A natural darkness
one by one the flashes
swallowed up by dark

trillions of light globes
see them all burnt out 

black intent bad dreams 
miss abyss depression
nothing to know besides

the lights that say ghost 
the whole compassion
of small things adjusting. 

© 2014 Rob Schackne

POEM: "Outside Tianshui, Gansu Province"

Outside Tianshui, Gansu Province

                                                             for Anna

 In 759 Du Fu went to Maijishan...

There are few monks left in these remote shrines,
And in the wilderness the narrow paths are high.
The musk-deer sleep among the stones and bamboo,
The cockatoos peck at the golden peaches.
Streams trickle down among the paths;
Across the overhanging cliff the cells are ranged,
Their tiered chambers reaching to the very peak;
And for a 100 li one can make out the smallest thing.

...I have never been to Maijishan

Purple red sandstone in one cave
at the Maijishan Grottoes observes
the original male form of Guanyin
not Mother Mary and not Madonna
not Lady Gaga or your grandma either
but a fellow much like us who exudes
Exudes? The man is dripping with it!
sweetness tempered with no-nonsense
obviously our man's a former dissident
at Wheatstack Mountain it’s understood
when Buddha turned into Bodhisattvas
the lout still packs one hell of a wallop
stand here your head will be changed
Changed? Are you a complete idiot!
when on the other side you see knives
guns on the floor the stun grenades
soldiers in tanks the frightened students
sharp objects is all the memory has left 
you might understand there is nothing soft
about kindness or about compassion, there
There? Come here, I'll give you compassion!

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

PHOTO: Matt Ming, "Newspapers" (2014) / POEM: "From a Tired News Agent"

From a Tired News Agent

How does the news improve your day?
Let me count the ways. The sun rises at 6:05.
Killing Myanmar. Killing Ukraine. My great-grandson
Graduates from university with an accounting degree.
I've been reading crime for 60 years. It's not journalism.
There is corruption in high places. Pretty girls are sexy.
The world grows warmer. People grow more vicious.
Poisoned watermelons. Record monsters caught in the deep.
Worse than it's ever been. Better than it's ever been.
You're as smart as they let you be. My faded eyesight
Has turned inward. I read the furrows on every brow.

The cars are double-parked. Everyone piles out.
There's no reason for the changes to be worse.
I don't know why you're reading this.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

POEM: "These Defended"

These Defended

                                ...and saved the sum of things for pay
                                     A.E. Housman (1914)

Restless, not knowing, we turn away
From what we are convinced is not real

Anguished, angry, wailing, taking the lie
To bed with us, wake and tell no one:

Keep no blanket, save none from burning.
Brook no curiosity about what set this fire.

We are iced. We cannot stop this shivering.
Every night we need remember how to sleep.

All spirits, does every dream have to stop?
The times can’t be sustained. We mustn’t hope.

It won’t do to suffer a reckless childhood.
Suffer the enemy, this battle, our selves.

Keeping a book, open up her look again
Mindful of your post, aghast, that memory.

Reversed, humbled, change is awkward.
Falling to the mud, miracle, day brings sun

Rubs our eyes with the eyes of some other
Sees the next second’s flash of thunder.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Monday, June 30, 2014

PHOTO: "Man With Kite"

Hi, kids. This is my kite. His name is George. He is a bird. He is your friend. Do you want to play with him? No? This is my city. He is my friend. His name is Shanghai. My house is just over there, across the river. Do you want to go there with me? No?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Kazim Ali Poem (2)


You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month's

nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?

If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.

Hunger opens you to illiteracy,
thirst makes clear the starving pattern,

the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,
the angel stops whispering for a moment—

The secret night could already be over,
you will have to listen very carefully—

You are never going to know which night's mouth is sacredly reciting
and which night's recitation is secretly mere wind—


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Raúl Zurita Poem

from Sunday Morning


Over the cliffs of the hillside: the sun
then below in the valley
the earth covered with flowers
Zurita enamored friend
takes in the sun of photosynthesis
Zurita will now never again be friend
since 7 P.M. it's been getting dark

Night is the insane asylum of the plants


Enclosed with the four walls of
a bathroom: I looked up at the ceiling
and began to clean the walls and
the floor the sink all of it
You see: Outside the sky was God
and he was sucking at my soul —believe me!
I wiped my weeping eyes


In the narrow broken bed
restless all night
like a spent candle lit again
I thought I saw Buddha many times
At my side I felt a woman's gasp for air
but Buddha was only the pillows
and the woman is sleeping the eternal dream


Today I dreamed that I was King
they were dressing me in black-and-white spotted pelts
Today I moo with my head about to fall
as the church bells' mournful clanging
says that milk goes to market


They've shaved my head
they've dressed me in these gray wool rags
—Mom keeps on smoking
I am Joan of Arc

They catalog me on microfilm


The glass is transparent like water
Dread of prisms and glass
I circle the light so as not to lose myself in them

(2009) trans. Anna Deeny