Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"The Parthenon at Nashville" by Joe Bolton

Late December noon, near freezing—
Maple and sweetgum bare, but the grass green yet
In sunlight, and warmth of light wearing away
At the frail scythe's-edge of ice
Around the pond. On her lunch hour,
Parked in his car, they tossed the last
Of their sandwiches to ducks that bobbed and fussed
In the smaller oval of water not frozen over.
They were beyond being
In love, but not quite ready
To look past the end of the affair.
Across the water, reflected in the water,
Risen stone:
Columns swelling with light,
The stylized figures restored
To the frieze- an order
Called into question
By the troubled surface of the pond.
They remember wondering
What happened to the ducks
Come autumn. Now they know: nothing.
And now a solitary jogger pushes his breath
Past them, as the traffic continues
Out on West End.
They sense that something
Needs to be done or said—
Anything but this feeling of themselves
As figures held in the motion
Of some lost moment.
And yet they can't seem to move, to speak,
Maybe thinking they won't have this clarity
Again for a long time, maybe amazed
At the distance from which they see themselves:
Luminous, hardly human,
And already half in love with the beautiful ruins.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

From "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression"

"Can I stand to live the way I do? Well, can any of us stand to live with our own difficulties? In the end, most of us do. We march forward. The voices of past time come back like voices of the dead to sympathize about mutability and the passage of the years. When I am sad, I remember too much, too well… It is at night that these people and my own past selves come to visit me, and when I wake up and realize that they are not in the same world as I, I feel that strange despair, something beyond ordinary sadness and closely akin, for a moment, to the anguish of depression. And yet if I miss them and the past they made for and with me, the way to their absent love lies, I know, in living, in staying on. Is it depression when I think how I would prefer to go where they have gone, and to stop the maniacal struggle of staying alive? Or is it just a part of life, to keep living in all the ways we cannot stand?
"I find the fact of the past, the reality of time’s passage, incredibly difficult. My house is full of books I can’t read and records to which I can’t listen and photos at which I can’t look because they are too strongly associated with the past. When I see friends from college, I try not to talk about college too much because I was so happy then—not necessarily happier than I am now, but with a happiness that was particular and specific in its moods and that will never come again. Those days of young splendor eat at me. I hit walls of past pleasure all the time, and for me past pleasure is much harder to process than past pain. To think of a terrible time that has gone: well, I know that post–traumatic stress is an acute affliction, but for me the traumas of the past are mercifully far away. The pleasures of the past, however, are tough. The memory of the good times with people who are no longer alive, or who are no longer the people they were: that is where I find the worst current pain. Don’t make me remember, I say to the detritus of past pleasures. Depression can as easily be the consequence of too much that was joyful as of too much that was horrible. There is such a thing as post–joy stress too. The worst of depression lies in a present moment that cannot escape the past it idealizes or deplores."
—Andrew Solomon, from The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

Thursday, October 01, 2015

"Summer's Lament" by Joe Bolton

Now summer's gone, those long days of summer.
The light's still warm, but there's nobody down by the river.
Is this all there is? There has to be more.
Bronzing our bodies like gods beside the water,
We watched the blue-green world through Wayfarers.
Everything happened that's supposed to happen in summer.
A last dark chord dies in my dark guitar,
But I can't let go of what's already over.
Is this all there is? There has to be more.
Remember how we'd drive down by the river,
Risking the bodies we loved into the water?
And our luck held. Our luck held all summer.
We could not drown. We couldn't push the fever
Far enough; it rose, but broke in the water.
Is this all there is? There has to be more.
In the sky's white text, I read the cities of winter:
A world we did not ask for, and a future.
Now this page is all that's left of summer.
Is this all there is? There has to be more.

Monday, September 28, 2015

"The Circumstances" by Joe Bolton

If strength is love, then we weren't strong enough,
But if strength is letting love go, we were.
Men among men, we couldn't trust each other.
With women, it was ourselves we couldn't trust.
It had to do with houses and with cars,
With what had to be done and with money.
We wound up loving money like a country
In a country we loved like women, its stars
Transposed from flag to night sky, its lithe palms
Lonely beyond all hope of consolation.
Night after night, the festive repetition
Of food and drink, of music and new films...
--It failed us, finally, or else we failed it.
We never brought the long quarrel with our fathers
To a close, and so never saw our daughters
Until they'd drifted away like money spent.
It rained then. And suddenly the faces
Of our wives were older, our faces were old,
The screens went blank, the light dimmed, and the cold
Came to stay for good in our white houses.
Dying, what we remembered of our lives
Was nothing more or less than simply talking
About nothing in particular, walking
Nowhere down dark streets with other men's wives.
-from The Last Nostalgia

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"The Seasons: A Quartet" by Joe Bolton


Come late autumn, I'll wear black leather again,
My gray felt boots make a sound like the perfect crime
As I pass along the deserted avenue
Some Sunday evening, admiring the dried-up fountains.

I think the trees will be left harsh and bare
As Donatello's Mary Magdalene:
Their branches thorns, their leaves fallen hair. And you?
You'll know it's finally a fine line

We walk between the last fall and the next,
And a faith without foundation by which we survive
Such seasons as these. Look at the washed-out sky,
At the stars competing with streetlamps, then look for me:

I'll be the stranger slouching on the corner,
His face lit by a dying match. I'll be
Everything you've tried not to remember,
But which is reflected in the half-light of your eyes.


Is this the Russian snow Napoleon's legions
Bloodied with their feet before they fell?
No, just sundown in Paducah, Kentucky,
Day's last shallow breath shading to a faint rose

The soft white other side of the river.
I seem to remember turning away, once,
From this same balcony with its twisted railing
Dense as a frozen black gum, to see you

Still sewn up in your warm dream, till my breath
Frosted the glass over. Now, as tugboats slice
Their way through the ice on the Ohio again,
I think the Belle of Louisville has gone down

To winter in New Orleans, and I wonder
About the why and wherefore of your departure.
It's cold out here, and this feeble light won't last
The time it will take me to drink it a silent toast.


So the rain falls., and the garden grows full
Of itself, fruits and flowers like brushstrokes
Against the lush dark backdrop of the woods.
Somewhere in the woods a stream is playing

Lightly as some old desire turned inward,
And somewhere in the stream a single sunfish
Lets its fiat side break the pane of water
At an isolate oval of light in the dense cathedral.

All is desire: hushed lull before the storm,
Rain like scythes through the fields, scattered birds
Breaking into song to find one another,
The coming dark's duet of moon and star.

Five summers ago, I watched a woman
Wander into the garden at dusk, select
A tomato, and close her eyes as the juice fell
Like something utterly pure onto her breasts.


What Pasternak called "Unforgetting September"
Ripens as always, and Tchaikovsky's Hunting Party,
Lured too far into the forest by the red fox,
Is lost forever. I am listening

To the String Quartet No.1in D Major
With its heartbreaking second movement Tolstoy
Wept through in Moscow in 1871.
(Tchaikovsky got the theme from a gardener.)

I can remember as well as September does,
And what music remains inside of me
Is muted over with memory, strains sad
As the seed that spills from the withered okra plants.

The best days of summer are the days of summer gone:
Something cooking, a wash of light on the water...
The music dies, and what I hold is the world.
One leaf falling would break the spell. It falls.
-from"The Last Nostalgia"

Saturday, August 15, 2015

There’s No Forgetting (Sonata)

I have been aching for words to say it; but words are failing me again, and again, and again... Like the world failed Syria, and Palestine, and Lebanon, and so many other places before... And in the end I just return to this haunting poem by Pablo Neruda, perhaps my favorite of his, and on which I based my thesis, "Memory for Forgetfulness”: Registering/Effacing the Memory of the Lebanese War, which has, at once, tragically come back to life and become laughably irrelevant...
Ask me where I have been
and I’ll tell you: “Things keep on happening.”
I must talk of the rubble that darkens the stones;
of the river’s duration, destroying itself;
I know only the things that the birds have abandoned,
or the sea behind me, or my sorrowing sister.
Why the distinctions of place? Why should day
follow day? Why must the blackness
of nighttime collect in our mouths? Why the dead?

If you question me: where have you come from, I must talk
___with things falling away,
artifacts tart to the taste,
great, cankering beasts, as often as not,
and my own inconsolable heart.

Those who cross over with us are no keepsakes,
nor the yellowing pigeon that sleeps in forgetfulness:
only the face with its tears,
the hands at our throats,
whatever the leafage dissevers:
the dark of an obsolete day,
a day that has tasted the grief in our blood.

Here are the violets, swallows—
all the things that delight us, the delicate tallies
that show in the lengthening train
through which pleasure and transience pass.

Here let us halt, in the teeth of a barrier:
useless to gnaw on the husks that the silence assembles.
For I come without answers:
see: the dying are legion,
legion, the breakwaters breached by the red of the sun,
the headpieces knocking the ship’s side,
the hands closing over their kisses,
and legion the things I would give to oblivion.

—Pablo Neruda
© Translation: 1974, Ben Belitt
Pablo Neruda, Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970
Publisher: Grove Press, New York, 1974
Hear this recited at Poetry International Festival Rotterdam, 2004
by Krip Yuso.

No Hay Olvido (Sonata)

Si me preguntáis en dónde he estado
debo decir "Sucede".
Debo de hablar del suelo que oscurecen las piedras,
del río que durando se destruye:
no sé sino las cosas que los pájaros pierden,
el mar dejado atrás, o mi hermana llorando.
Por qué tantas regiones, por qué un día
se junta con un día? Por qué una negra noche
se acumula en la boca? Por qué muertos?

Si me preguntáis de dónde vengo, tengo que conversar con
      cosas rotas,
con utensilios demasiado amargos,
con grandes bestias a menudo podridas
y con mi acongojado corazón.

No son recuerdos los que se han cruzado
ni es la paloma amarillenta que duerme en el olvido,
sino caras con lágrimas,
dedos en la garganta,
y lo que se desploma de las hojas:
la oscuridad de un día transcurrido,
de un día alimentado con nuestra triste sangre.

He aquí violetas, golondrinas,
todo cuanto nos gusta y aparece
en las dulces tarjetas de larga cola
por donde se pasean el tiempo y la dulzura.

Pero no penetremos más allá de esos dientes,
no mordamos las cáscaras que el silencio acumula,
porque no sé qué contestar:
hay tantos muertos,
y tantos malecones que el sol rojo partía,
y tantas cabezas que golpean los buques,
y tantas manos que han encerrado besos,
y tantas cosas que quiero olvidar.

—Pablo Neruda

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

No Escape

A wise mad man once said,
Imagine that you had to do it again,
the same all over again...
But he couldn't, not without
losing it all...
If I were to do it all again,
would I have the courage not to?
Or would I let your dimples fool me
—once more—
with the promise of another end?

But I am no wise man,
I am no brave man,
I am chapped and cracking
like the dashboard of an old car
that has long lost its charm
and is fast running out of utility...

Tomorrow, before I throw it all away
in a fit of forgiveness, I shall take
one more look at the sunshine falling
like a smirk on the pebbled floor,
at the books, stacked and oblivious
to having never been read, to the
traces of life pinned against the walls...
I shall look at all this one more time,
and let regret soak me like a wick,
and like the coward that I am,
I shall only go to sleep
and wake up
to dream it all again...

(Originally posted on February 28, 2012)

Monday, May 04, 2015

تُنْسى , كأنك لم تكن / Forgotten As If You Never Were

تُنْسى , كأنك لم تكن
تُنسى، كأنَّكَ لم تَكُنْ
تُنْسَى كمصرع طائرٍ
ككنيسةٍ مهجورةٍ تُنْسَى،
كحبّ عابرٍ
وكوردةٍ في الليل .... تُنْسَى
أَنا للطريق...هناك من سَبَقَتْ خُطَاهُ خُطَايَ
مَنْ أَمْلَى رُؤاهُ على رُؤَايَ. هُنَاكَ مَنْ
نَثَرَ الكلام على سجيَّتِه ليدخل في الحكايةِ
أَو يضيءَ لمن سيأتي بعدَهُ
أَثراً غنائياً...وحدسا
تُنْسَى, كأنك لم تكن
شخصاً, ولا نصّاً... وتُنْسَى
أَمشي على هَدْيِ البصيرة، رُبّما
أُعطي الحكايةَ سيرةً شخصيَّةً. فالمفرداتُ
تسُوسُني وأسُوسُها. أنا شكلها
وهي التجلِّي الحُرُّ. لكنْ قيل ما سأقول.
يسبقني غدٌ ماضٍ. أَنا مَلِكُ الصدى.
لا عَرْشَ لي إلاَّ الهوامش. و الطريقُ
هو الطريقةُ. رُبَّما نَسِيَ الأوائلُ وَصْفَ
شيء ما، أُحرِّكُ فيه ذاكرةً وحسّا
تُنسَى، كأنِّكَ لم تكن
خبراً، ولا أَثراً... وتُنْسى
أَنا للطريق... هناك مَنْ تمشي خُطَاهُ
على خُطَايَ, وَمَنْ سيتبعني إلى رؤيايَ.
مَنْ سيقول شعراً في مديح حدائقِ المنفى،
أمامَ البيت، حراً من عبادَةِ أمسِ،
حراً من كناياتي ومن لغتي, فأشهد
أَنني حيُّ
حين أُنْسَى!

Forgotten As If You Never Were 

Forgotten, as if you never were.
Like a bird’s violent death
like an abandoned church you’ll be forgotten,
like a passing love
and a rose in the night . . . forgotten

I am for the road . . . There are those whose footsteps preceded mine
those whose vision dictated mine. There are those
who scattered speech on their accord to enter the story
or to illuminate to others who will follow them
a lyrical trace . . . and a speculation

Forgotten, as if you never were
a person, or a text . . . forgotten

I walk guided by insight, I might
give the story a biographical narrative. Vocabulary
governs me and I govern it. I am its shape
and it is the free transfiguration. But what I’d say has already been said.
A passing tomorrow precedes me. I am the king of echo.
My only throne is the margin. And the road
is the way. Perhaps the forefathers forgot to describe
something, I might nudge in it a memory and a sense

Forgotten, as if you never were
news, or a trace . . . forgotten

I am for the road . . . There are those whose footsteps
walk upon mine, those who will follow me to my vision.
Those who will recite eulogies to the gardens of exile,
in front of the house, free of worshipping yesterday,
free of my metonymy and my language, and only then 
will I testify that I’m alive
and free
when I’m forgotten!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Ibid. (The Ubaid Anagram)

You called,
your voice dripping with the restraint of life on leash.
Above the cacophony I could hear
your silence—hesitant, mournful and loud.
It told me of carpeted hallways,
of grey walls and skies.
It told me of gilded coffins
and mirages on sizzling asphalt.

I dreamt of you last night,
you were leaving a trail of loneliness on the floor,
you still remembered who you were.

(Originally posted on May 27, 2006)

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Where I come from
trees don't sleep;
they don't burn
with all the ache of a sunset.

Where I come from
autumns are a grey shade of green;
they smell of mud
and the earth spilling its secrets.

Where I come from
the ground doesn't hide
in a blank shroud of silence;
it only glistens, leathery and dark,
like the first lines of a fairytale.

Where I come from
spring is dull,
only a brighter shade
of the everyday.

It doesn't breach the sky
with every shade of pink
and break the frost
with a vengeful thirst.

It simply stuffs the air
with the smell of orange blossom,
of youth, and the mocking promise
of a breeze…

(Originally posted on November 12, 2005)

Friday, April 10, 2015

'The Dead Gods'

"It is no longer clear where we're going.
There is no longer light along the road...
It seems there's nothing left to do but sing,
But sing what? Whatever little we had
In us of music has gone out of us,
Lost on some dark road outside some city.

If they come back now, it's only to die
Again, far less beautifully than we'd care
To imagine to remember. Now shelves
Heavy with all we loved fall down, the sky
Is full of static, dusk soars, and the air
Is lovely with us who have just ourselves."

-Joe Bolton

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Hold Still

Hold still, the night is calling
Your name under its breath.
Don't turn, it's not there.
Maybe it never was...
In the mirror, you look like yesterday
Only older, only more silent,
And the night is just as young.
Abandon your words, they never suited you.
Abandon all hope...
The world dims and you fade,
And names lose their sounds;
Nothing remains of the day.
A face stares you in the mirror,
Both gaunt and bloated,
Eyes hollow as the stillness,
And just as dark.
The years are gone.
Behind you look, almost recognizing, almost believing,
But it's all so far away.
And you're still too scared to look
The other way.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Early Anniversary

To Wojtek

I love you like the simplicity of the air
Like the banality of the life we share
I love you like the pillows on the couch
Like your head resting on my lap
Like hot chocolate after a fight
Or a warm bath right when it was all
About to go down the drain…
I love you like five fifteen years of my life
Like our cat asleep atop the laundry basket
I love you like the wanderlust that possesses you
And like the many lives in many lands
We want to lead…
I love you like the dream I dare to dream again
Like the fear I dare to cherish again
And the certainty I feel
When I’m not too busy doubting our love…

(Originally posted on September 05, 2004)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Condemned To Be Free

“Liberty! Liberty! Liberty!” they cried.

“Liberty! Liberty! Liberty!” I echoed.

“Our liberty,” they cried.

“My liberty,” I echoed.

“No, ours; not yours.”

“My liberty is yours, and yours is mine.”

“No, you’re not one of us.”

“I thought liberty is universal?”

“Only as long as it doesn’t conflict with ours.”

“And when it does?”

“Then our liberty trumps yours.”

“I thought we’re equal?”

“We made up this equality, so technically we’re more equal.
Besides, you don’t even believe in liberty!”

“But I do.”

“You may, but your religion doesn’t; ours does.”

“I have no religion! And I thought you were secular?”

“We like our churches; aren’t they pretty?”

“But you said: secular, human rights, etc.”

“You poor kid; you believe everything we say?
Why don’t you go back home, back to your people…”

“But I left my people; I live here now!
My clothes are here; my cats are here…”

“Oh, tant pis… Schade… Next!”

Friday, January 02, 2015


“You’ll never be great,” he said.
“And I am fine with that,
“But you are not.”

I sleep
But wake up like I haven’t
The skyline looks at me
Grey and cold
The same green windows
That soon won’t be there

I sit
I stare
I breathe deep
And suffocate
A beam, check where it is
Damn, it’s gone

Songs rush through my head
In tiny white tubes
I am numb
Numb is good

I revolt
Against good
Against beautiful
Against my own ill-defined self
But I don’t have the energy
So I let it be

She sings in my head
Like memories of our life there
Like the train tracks we waited in front of
And the night wrapped us with a dream
Flavored of hazelnut gelato

On it goes
We laugh together again
It is snowing
I can’t wait to be home
With you

(Originally posted on JANUARY 20, 2005)