Thursday, May 31, 2012

An Albert Goldbarth Poem

Photographs of the Interiors of Dictators' Houses

It's as if every demon from hell with aspirations
toward interior design flew overhead and indiscriminately
spouted gouts of molten gold, that cooled down
into swan-shape spigots, doorknobs, pen-and-inkwell sets.
A chandelier the size of a planetarium dome
is gold, and the commodes. The handrails
heading to the wine cellar and the shelving for the DVDs
and the base for the five stuffed tigers posed in a fighting phalanx:
gold, as is the samovar and the overripe harp
and the framework for the crocodile-hide ottoman and settee.
The full-size cinema theater accommodating an audience
of hundreds for the screening of home (or possibly
high-end fuck flick) videos: starred in gold
from vaulted ceiling to clawfoot legs on the seating.
Of course the scepter is gold, but the horns
on the mounted stag heads: do they need to be gilded?
Yes. And the olive fork and the French maid's row of dainty buttons
and the smokestack on the miniature train
that delivers golden trays of dessert from the kitchen
to a dining hall about the size of a zip code,
and the snooker table's sheathing, and the hat rack,
and those hooziewhatsit things in which you slip your feet
on the water skis, and the secret lever
that opens the door to the secret emergency bunker.
Smug and snarky as we are, in our sophisticated
and subtler, non-tyrannical tastes, it's still
unsettling to realize these photographs are also full
of the childrens' pictures set on a desk,
the wife's diploma proudly on a wall, the common
plastic container of aspirin, and the bassinette
with the scroll of linen shade at the ready
in case the sun is too powerful: reminders of how
a graduated continuum connects these überoperatically
fat interior lives to our own. We all desire
"more" and "better," Melville adds that final "e"
to the family name, and Faulkner adds the "u," in quest
of a signified gentility. My friend Damien
(fake name) won A Certain Literary Award, and
at the stellar after-ceremony party, in the swank hotel's
swank atrium, he found a leggy literary groupie
noshing caviar under a swankily lush mimosa,
and in under an hour his own swank room could boast
the golden statuette, the evening's loveliest woman, and
the silver serving platter of five-star caviar,
and if you think this story's moral lesson is
that satiation is ever attained, you don't understand
the protoknowledge we're born with, coded into our cells:
soon soon soon enough we die. Even before we've seen
the breast, we're crying to the world that we want;
and the world doles out its milkiness in doses. We
want, we want, we want, and if we don't then
that's what we want; abstemiousness is only
hunger translated into another language. Yes
there's pain and heartsore rue and suffering, but
there's no such thing as "anti-pleasure": it's pleasure
that the anchorite takes in his bleak cave
and Thoreau in his bean rows and cabin. For Thoreau,
the Zen is: wanting less is wanting more.
Of less. At 3 a.m. Marlene (fake name) and Damien
drunkenly sauntered into and out of the atrium,
then back to his room: he wanted the mimosa too,
and there it stood until checkout at noon, a treenapped testimony
to the notion that we will if we can, as evidenced in even
my normally modest, self-effacing friend. If we can,
the archeological record tells us, we'll continue wanting
opulently even in the afterlife: the grave goods
of pharaohs are just as gold as the headrests
and quivers and necklace pendants they used every day
on this side of the divide, the food containers
of Chinese emperors are ready for heavenly meals
that the carved obsidian dragons on the great jade lids
will faithfully guard forever. My own
innate definition of "gratification" is right there
in its modifier "immediate," and once or twice
I've hurt somebody in filling my maw. I've walked
—the normally modest, self-effacing me—below a sky
of stars I lusted after as surely as any despot
contemplating his treasury. The slice of American cheese
on the drive-thru-window burger is also gold,
bathetically gold,
and I go where my hunger dictates.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

POEM: "When She Comes"

When She Comes

Through a face mask of night
a dream falls feather into you

you whisper to the thunder
she appears cool and wise

she visits for awhile and states
some sense of relationship

the case you’re trying to make
she makes for a great breakfast

in Chinese I only hear myself
upstairs rowing badly again

you are finally woken up
from your department of sleep

she claimed your eyes you looked
she’s left but I think she left to eat.

© 2012 Rob Schackne

Monday, May 28, 2012

POEM: "The Phrases"

The Phrases

The honest sentiment, the Romantic
if you must, that you looked hard for
& music was the club you joined
pure sound you chased all your life
Miles said Don’t waste any phrases
hear it fast and listen to the streets
but you don’t want perfected sound
you want key changes and discord
to jar the elbow, to shake the brain
strange phrases meant just for you
how could she say Don’t waste my time
when she really meant Give me your best
but given the stakes, how could
she even know what she said?
(you told me it was too late
happiness was not an option)
around you the invisible senses swarm
occasionally one is a fly on your skin
you revisit all the times you wasted
the lights change color. You cross.

© 2010 Rob Schackne

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Martha Serpas Poem

I'll Try To Tell You What I Know

Sometimes it's so hot the thistle bends
to the morning dew and the limbs of trees
seem so weighted they won't hold up moss
anymore. The women sit and swell
with the backwash of old family pain
and won't leave the house to walk across
the neighbor's yard. One man takes up a shotgun
over the shit hosed from a pen of dogs.
One boy takes a fist of rings and slams the face
of a kid throwing shells at his car.
That shiny car is all the love his father
has to give. And his mother cooks
the best shrimp étouffée and every day
smokes three packs down to their mustard-colored ends.

One night the finest woman I ever
knew pulled a cocktail waitress by the hair
out of the backseat of her husband's new
Eldorado Cadillac and knocked her
down between the cars at the Queen Bee Lounge.
She drove the man slumped and snoring with his hand
in his pants home and not a word was said.
I'll try to tell you what I know
about people who love each other
and the fear of losing that cuts a path
as wide as a tropical storm through the marsh
and gets closer each year
to falling at the foot of your door.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

POEM: "Readings"


Funny it suggests
Milarepa to you
or redemption
or salvation
or any sense at all

A fractured karma
is our lot. Even Dante
knew he needed help
in the dark woods
under darker trees

In How to Build a Fire
we take a bit from here

take a bit from there
& we keep hoping
something catches

I see Charles Manson
is denied parole again
as we wonder
just what he was
scratching at his ear

A Buddhist monk
pours the gasoline
& mortal thoughts
plight the world
you know how it goes.

© 2012 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Ira Sadoff Poem



I sniff after the sparrow and the spaniel, flitting around,
barking, digging up the dirt: how could I not be
at one with them? But I'm a spendthrift too, rummaging about

old sport coats, selecting a style, a clash of styles—
in a private moment trying to decide who I am today by trying on
something discarded, something nobody treasured—

I think I want everyone and everything to be loved so much
I get dour, chastising, dark, and sometimes hate
so much I can't go for a stroll without recycling the moment

they dropped acid on my palm, the thousand ways I could ease
their demise—dipping them into a river of invective
that seems futile and enticing—whether it’s the Secretary of State

or a species of white shirts and thin black ties who exude smugness,
who quote from the bible as if it were the Bible. It's like having an affair—
they all end badly, don't they?—thereby the passion flies out of me

like an open window in February: take the heat, world,
disperse it before I undress another thought.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

An H.D. Poem


Sea Rose

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem—
you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?


Friday, May 18, 2012

A Robert Peake Poem

Road Sign on Interstate 5
San Diego, California

They are holding hands, or rather, their silhouettes
are joined at the arms like a chain link fence.

Their bodies lean forward, italicized.
They are running: the man is pulling the woman,

the woman is pulling what must be her child,
and the child is lifted, by the speed, off her feet.

It is the same type of sign that might contain
the antlered shape of a generic black buck,

or tell drivers that the road could be slippery when wet.
It is a warning sign, it says: watch out for this.

Every time I pass, I scan both sides of the freeway,
expecting to see a family of three, gathering

up loose belongings, timing the cars, preparing
to run across eight lanes of high-speed traffic.

I have never seen them, this desperate family.
I only know their shadows, how they tilt toward

the bright yellow space in front of them, scrambling
to reach the outlined edge of the thin metal sign.

I have never wanted anything this much, for myself,
let alone to pull those closest to me into flight.

There is so much I could say about growing up
on the border of Mexico. It is not the corrugated

fence, or even the river of sewage, that defines
the scar that joins one world to the next,

but a one-hundred-foot width of sun-soft asphalt,
streaming with commuter traffic, day and night.

The man is pulling the woman, the woman is pulling
her airborne child, whose pigtails flail back.

On the other side is the ocean, salt marsh and a beach
that stretches north, into the source of the wind.

They are holding hands, and smelling the salt in the air.
At night, their pupils contract as the headlights expand.

What begins like a distant starlight grows to a spotlight,
a floodlight, a wash of whiteness, and engines made of wind.

Then reddened, like coals, like dying suns, the lights
recede, a river of cherry redness, a syrup of taillights.

The man is pulling the woman is pulling the child,
who rises as though winged in a blaze of light.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Paisley Rekdal Poem


How horrible it is, how horrible
that Cronenberg film where Goldblum's trapped

with a fly inside his Material
Transformer: bits of the man emerging

gooey, many-eyed; bits of the fly
worrying that his agent's screwed him–

I almost flinch to see the body later
that's left its fly in the corner, I mean

the fly that's left its body, recalling too
that medieval nightmare, Resurrection,

in which each soul must scurry
to rejoin the plush interiors of its flesh,

pushing through, marrying indiscriminately
because Heaven won't take what's only half:

one soul blurring forever
into another body.

If we can't know the boundaries between ourselves
in life, what will they be in death,

corrupted steadily by maggot,
rain or superstition, by affection

that depends on memory to survive?
People should keep their hands to themselves

for the remainder of the flight: who needs
some stranger's waistline, joint

problems or insecurities? Darling,
what I love in you I pray will always stay

the hell away from me.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

POEM: "Umbrella"


The thing had just unwound
One moment gone like love

You leave it lying in the street
A principle or an orange peel

Honesty says keep on walking
Of course the storm is coming

The umbrage and the rain
Won't notice you lost the way.

© 2012 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Dana Gioia Poem


Sometimes a child will stare out of a window
for a moment or an hour—deciphering
the future from a dusky summer sky.

Does he imagine that some wisp of cloud
reveals the signature of things to come?
Or that the world’s a book we learn to translate?

And sometimes a girl stands naked by a mirror
imagining beauty in a stranger's eyes
finding a place where fear leads to desire.

For what is prophecy but the first inkling
of what we ourselves must call into being?
The call need not be large. No voice in thunder.

It's not so much what's spoken as what's heard—
and recognized, of course. The gift is listening
and hearing what is only meant for you.

Life has its mysteries, annunciations,
and some must wear a crown of thorns. I found
my Via Dolorosa in your love.

And sometimes we proceed by prophecy,
or not at all—even if only to know
what destiny requires us to renounce.

O Lord of indirection and ellipses,
ignore our prayers. Deliver us from distraction.
Slow our heartbeat to a cricket's call.

In the green torpor of the afternoon,
bless us with ennui and quietude.
And grant us only what we fear, so that

Underneath the murmur of the wasp
we hear the dry grass bending in the wind
and the spider's silken whisper from its web.


Monday, May 14, 2012

A Traci Brimhall Poem

 Our Bodies Break Light

We crawl through the tall grass and idle light,
our chests against the earth so we can hear the river
underground. Our backs carry rotting wood and books
that hold no stories of damnation or miracles.
One day as we listen for water, we find a beekeeper—
one eye pearled by a cataract, the other cut out by his own hand
so he might know both types of blindness. When we stand
in front of him, he says we are prisms breaking light into color—
our right shoulders red, our left hips a wavering indigo.
His apiaries are empty except for dead queens, and he sits
on his quiet boxes humming as he licks honey from the bodies
of drones. He tells me he smelled my southern skin for miles,
says the graveyard is full of dead prophets. To you, he presents
his arms, tattooed with songs slave catchers whistle
as they unleash the dogs. He lets you see the burns on his chest
from the time he set fire to boats and pushed them out to sea.
You ask why no one believes in madness anymore,
and he tells you stars need a darkness to see themselves by.
When you ask about resurrection, he says, How can you doubt?
and shows you a deer licking salt from a lynched man's palm.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

POEM: "The Third Murderer"

The Third Murderer

Enter the third murderer
seedy smelly and fidgets
not aghast at what he’s done
flowers still hold their colours
trees move darkly in the wind
the waves coil like demons
birds are wheeling like
serpents they surrender
occasionally insist on one last
kind of horror I don’t know
he doesn’t feel it like you do
pain decided by the bucket
drought season he falls asleep
never tell him about the wet.

© 2012 Rob Schackne

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Heather McHugh Poem


Glass House

Everything obeyed our laws and
we just went on self-improving
till a window gave us pause and
there the outside world was, moving.

Five apartment blocks swept by,
the trees and ironwork and headstones
of the next town's cemetery.
Auto lots. Golf courses. Rest homes.
Blue-green fields and perishable vistas
wars had unscored in red
were sweeping past,
with cloudscapes, just

as if the living room were dead.
Which way to look? Nonnegative?
Nonplussed? (Unkilled? Unkissed?)
Look out, you said; the sight's on us:

If we don't move, we can't be missed.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

POEM: "Flowers Of The Sun & Moon"

Flowers Of The Sun & Moon

On earth heavenly things
In a terrestrial state

Flowers of the sun & moon

Old Proclus says that
It’s within the power
Of every plant to sing

Forming a procession
Within the limits of their power
Behind the torches of the universe

Art doesn’t kill as fast as science

Venus transits the sun
The moon is its own eclipse

Lacking an organ of speed
There is no speed absolute

Set out for work in the relative
Of cars & other people’s roads
Then behind you is a poem.

© 2012 Rob Schackne

Friday, May 4, 2012

POEM: "Shorting The Dead"

Shorting The Dead

Restless, unknowing, turned away
Convinced that nothing much was real
Anguished, angry, telling lies, wailing
You always said it was a clean machine
But it's all iced up now. Can't bear to know
Every night was shivering while you slept?
Will you, won't you, will you quite forget
How things are done by faces that are gone?
At thirty, it seemed enough, even rather normal
The loved ones, the suffering, the dead stuff
You held your own head like a cantaloupe
And you hoped, when it was not glorious.

© 2011 Rob Schackne