Friday, December 08, 2017

Naked on the Inside

It’s on nights like this
that the wall of smiles crumbles,
dimple by sparkling squint,
with a only a faint sigh to be heard
as it crashes.
How is it that things so labored
falter so quietly?

As the roads spread ahead of us,
vast and dim,
lit half-heartedly and glistening
with the sheen of a promised storm...
The night, worn out of shopping
late at resoundingly vacant stores,
hung lifeless and limp,
an expanse of exhaustion,
over our worn out being.

Nothing was left for us--
not the effort of pretense,
not the thrill of acquisition,
not even the recurrent name of a friend...
There we were, naked on the inside,
bereft of even the comfort of joy.
We had only for company,
on that unforgiving night,
the loneliness of each other.

(Originally posted on June 10, 2007)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

"Tropical Watercolor: Sarasota"

Summer sings not far away, and we both know
The errors we've made. The sloped shoulders
Of those palms in the middle distance
Darken; the palms stand solitary as guards.

Summer sings, and against those walls
The late May light has sweetened, the palms
Sigh a little, fronds swaying in the breeze,
Making a sad watercolor of the square.

A mackerel sky frames the square, the square
We dreamed failed us in this place we'd come to
To find ourselves again as in a mirror.
Love, this is the square that failed.

I broke myself trying to make myself strong
For you. Dusk gilds white buildings, and smoke
From my cigarette floats toward the stars
That aren't there yet, the stars we used to desire.

They are a vast absence, reminding me
I don't believe in anything anymore except
The difficulty of everything for men and women.
Your remembered ghost is the ghost of my grandmother

Walking here endlessly in a black dress,
Shadow lost among the shadows of palms
On this square that failed, blocks from the sea.
I have run out of life, for what?

I have run out of life from the repetition
Of our moving only from mirror to mirror,
Catching our reflections in shop windows
And finding them less real than mannequins.

- by Joe Bolton, from "The Last Nostalgia"

Monday, November 27, 2017

Reasons

      Because in the distance between
when we die and when we forget about it
is where our happiness is pitted;

      Because in the intensity of the green
I seek respite from your drenched words and
pretend that your life doesn't trudge along elsewhere;

      Because in the middle of the woods you only grunted
when I told you that I love you, and I took that to mean
"Yes, me too, very much," and smiled to myself;

      Because the comfort of thinking that this is all there is
is seeping back in, and that the world begins with
my mud-crusted shoes and ends with the jargon in my head;

      Because the possibilities of all the faces passing me by
passes along with them, and their beaming eyes bore through me
holes as big and blue as the sky, that they don't even look through;

      Because I promised, if given another chance, I would grab on to it
though I don't know what that means; and I made a vow of goodness
to a God I don't believe in--and I wonder if He believes in me.

(Originally posted on July 6th, 2006)

Friday, November 24, 2017

Synthesize

When all is said and done,
what have I given
and have you taken?
When one day we sit across the room from each other,
legs crossed, the silence suspended in the air
like a ray of light on a late winter afternoon,
what will there be to say to each other?

When that day we look back, will it all
weave together in a sprawling
tapestry just coming to light?
Or will the strands and loose ends
clutter the room like dust bunnies
piling underneath the couches
and in the crevices in between?
Will we think, yes, that was
a good life we lived together?
Or will we despise one another
for having wasted each other's?

Now, late at night, as you
and the animals lie asleep around me,
I scramble for a coherent thought,
for meaning in your pattern of breath,
for something to sink my teeth into.
I wonder as I push sleep aside...
And then, exhausted,
I let it take over me.

(Edited; originally posted on August 02, 2008)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Tired

To my mother

You're tired, I know
From dancing barefoot
On shattered graves
From lifting the sun
Onto the ground
From pulling the days
One after the other
From your mouth...
You're tired, I know
From bearing the weight
Of your own breath
From breaking your word
Once more, in silence
From letting the dust grow
At the crevices of your lungs
And in between your toes...
You're tired, I know
From my weight
From the bird that's pecked
Its own feathers
Until it's coughed a furball
Rounder than itself...
You are tired
From the sounds of the same promises
From the dawns lying into the light
From the way your face looked
From the corner of her eye...
From his grey hair, you're tired
From another winter scaling off the back of his hand
From his smile, waning and unwavering
From the eyes that glow into the dusk
Like embers at the end of the talk
Like the night when she peeled off the mandarin
And squeezed it into his eyes...


(originally posted on November 01, 2005)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

I’ll Be (Nothing)

I’ll be nothing, that’s what I’ll be.
I’ll be the limbs breaking on the ice,
I’ll be desire melting onto itself,
I’ll be the longing that possesses me
That I’ll never possess.

I’ll be nothing, that’s what I’ll be.
I’ll be the vicious hope that rides me to death,
I’ll be just another breath, another step
To nowhere...

(originally posted on December 06, 2004)

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Smallness of Life

(To Katy)

This,
the smallness of my life, I said,
can you see it?
But she said nothing,
she just wrote
a series of details
and small spaces.
My life used to spread, I said,
over pot-holed streets and easy laughter,
a time when youth was
just another smell in the air.
But she said nothing,
she just sniffed;
from where she stood,
she could smell it still.
But my life has stretched so thin, I said,
it has shrunk into this square mile
between where I sleep and where I yawn.
This corner of the world, I said,
that I call my own;
this bit of the earth
I staked as home.

This piece of life, I said,
that I squander at will;
this circle of friends
I ignore to call.

This head resting on my hip,
this hour of the day when the sky
looks like Mary in front of the cross.

This hollow in my heart
where they used to be;
this cat, this breath, this,
this smallness of my life...
But she said nothing,
she just blinked.
Her life wasn't any bigger.

(Originally post on January 30, 2006)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Holes

Time punches holes in my being
With each passing loss
I am emptier
Till nothing remains there
But a big gaping void
That reminds of me

(Originally posted on April 15, 2003)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"We Are All Dead At Twenty"

"We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off the flower of age
Hanging from the tree of spring
In the most beautiful of landscapes

The earth rotates for children
Those who grow up too bad for them
It will swell the regiment
Of the officials of boredom

With days that resemble
Habits and grimaces
And migraines, trembling hands
From wrinkle to wrinkle, from ice to ice

We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off of the sick flower
Of an agonizing ideal
Of a barricaded spring

I who detests war
Sometimes envy
The dead child a spot of earth
Without having time to cry

Without seeing the sad smile
Without listening to the bird lying
Twenty years is to learn to live
The rest to learn how to die

We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off the flower of dreams
In a station or on a bench
Where the first love ends

Why prolong its youth
Why play at being still
Love is dead and tenderness
Committed suicide from body to body

We're all ghosts
Of a certain sex, of a certain age
With words for feelings
With masks for faces

We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off the flower of age
Hanging from the tree of spring
In the most beautiful of landscapes

La la la la la la la la
La la li la la la la la la
La la li la la la la la...

We are all dead at twenty..."
Original text in French: "Nous sommes tous morts à vingt ans" (Dalida)

Monday, October 23, 2017

"One World" by Joe Bolton

I have a photograph:
It is the green of a Kentucky summer,
A few skinny sycamores
Gone white with afternoon light,
A shadowed dirt road
Curving off who knows where in the distance.
You are leaning against a blue fence,
Legs tan and hair bleached a little from the sun,
My T-shirt tenting your breast.
Years later and a thousand miles removed.
A waiter named Rico lifts his sad eyebrows.
I nod.
I've been drinking at this crummy bar
In the spring dusk of Florida,
Watching the cars go by
With their headlights just on,
Hearing a siren wail.
I don't remember how it was
We came to live in cities.
But I think that somewhere this evening
A man has checked into a cheap motel
And shot himself in the head.
His driver's license and an empty bottle
Laid on the bedside table
For explanation.
Maybe he had a photograph
He couldn't reconcile his life with anymore
And wondered, at the end,
What he had come here hoping to find.
Soon enough now,
I'll be either drunk or out of money.
And there will be nothing to do
But walk back home in the first dark.
I can see on the television
It’s cold where you are,
And the sky is failing all across America.
Why were you smiling
That afternoon so long ago?
I can only think we must have been happy.
Somehow that helps.
We are still here, after all,
And it is the same world.

-from "The Last Nostalgia"

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Tragedy

Like pieces of a puzzle, we fit into tragedy
Nice and easy,
We fill the background with our little lives.

In your absence I have perfected my loneliness,
I have strung it like a clothesline between us.
On it I drape fragments of my being:
A lunchbox, a cyclamen, and a sigh.

By the greasy glass of the diner
We sat with our dreams in our laps
Staring at what could have been.
My hopes were too big for me, you said
No wonder they were sagging.
It is too much to ask of life, you said
Happiness...
But the streets I painted still glow
With the sheen of autumn drizzle,
And the laughs I imagined are frozen agape.
My place at the table is vacant still,
And that city that doesn't know me
Misses me already.

(Originally posted on June 08, 2005)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Palimpsest

We stopped celebrating
it
was irrelevant now.
Anniversaries can survive
the things they celebrate
only for so long.
And then the date goes back
to being itself,
only itself,
and nothing more...
And we to being strangers again.

But the slate is never clean;
the pressure lines remain
there, in the paper
where the writing once was.

(Originally posted on October 26, 2006)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Coming

So here it is
Sew my lips together
For I have come back
To the futility of words

Here it is
Living like it makes a difference
A shroud colored
With the self-importance of the wind

I open the doors
To a new balcony
Leaves falling down my throat
Rake the dust
That has crusted over my eyelids
And blow me a sliver from afar

I have not emerged unscathed
In the chaos I let your hand
Trail its angry wayward path
I have been where the river ended
And we began
But our ghosts have abandoned its banks

I am coming back
Like a thirsty tomorrow
Like a shadow that's been strained of life
For much too long
I am coming like an old bombastic verse
To ring, ever more, in hollower ears

(Originally posted on July 25, 2005)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Highlights from "Less: A Novel" by Andrew Sean Greer


Kindle Location: 182
They might have done, many of them. So many people will do. But once you’ve actually been in love, you can’t live with “will do”; it’s worse than living with yourself.

201
Less looked at his lover, and perhaps a series of images flashed through his mind—a tuxedo jacket, a Paris hotel room, a rooftop party—or perhaps what appeared was just the snow blindness of panic and loss.

269
New York is a city of eight million people, approximately seven million of whom will be furious when they hear you were in town and didn’t meet them for an expensive dinner, five million furious you didn’t visit their new baby, three million furious you didn’t see their new show, one million furious you didn’t call for sex, but only five actually available to meet you. It is completely reasonable to call none of them.

338
A man he almost stayed with, almost loved, and now he does not even recognize him on the street. Either Less is an asshole, or the heart is a capricious thing. It is not impossible both are true.

407
Where is the real Less? Less the young man terrified of love? The dead-serious Less of twenty-five years ago? Well, he has not packed him at all. After all these years, Less doesn’t even know where he’s stored.

415
Less’s generation often feels like the first to explore the land beyond fifty. How are they meant to do it? Do you stay a boy forever, and dye your hair and diet to stay lean and wear tight shirts and jeans and go out dancing until you drop dead at eighty? Or do you do the opposite—do you forswear all that, and let your hair go gray, and wear elegant sweaters that cover your belly, and smile on past pleasures that will never come again? Do you marry and adopt a child? In a couple, do you each take a lover, like matching nightstands by the bed, so that sex will not vanish entirely? Or do you let sex vanish entirely, as heterosexuals do? Do you experience the relief of letting go of all that vanity, anxiety, desire, and pain? Do you become a Buddhist?

442
He wonders when their conversations had begun to sound like a novel in translation.

885
Is there a pill for when the image of a trumpet vine comes into your head? Will it erase it? Erase the voice saying, You should kiss me like it’s good-bye? Erase the tuxedo jacket, or at least the face above it? Erase the whole nine years?

887
The work, the habit, the words, will fix you. Nothing else can be depended on, and Less has known genius, what genius can do. But what if you are not a genius? What will the work do then?

890
The tragicomic business of being alive is getting to him.

932
Why do today’s young men insist on marrying? Was this why we all threw stones at the police, for weddings?

954
It was in the middle of their time together, when Less was finally worldly enough to be of help with travel and Robert had not become so filled with bitterness that he was a hindrance, the time when any couple has found its balance, and passion has quieted from its early scream, but gratitude is still abundant; what no one realizes are the golden years.

1,282
At ten, we climb the tree higher even than our mothers’ fears. At twenty, we scale the dormitory to surprise a lover asleep in bed. At thirty, we jump into the mermaid-green ocean. At forty, we look on and smile.

1,496
They knew trouble would come but expected it in degrees. Life so often arrives all of a sudden. And who knows which side you will find yourself on?

1,824
“Strange to be almost fifty, no? I feel like I just understood how to be young.” “Yes! It’s like the last day in a foreign country. You finally figure out where to get coffee, and drinks, and a good steak. And then you have to leave. And you won’t ever be back.”

1,860
“I wish I were single.” Less smiles bitterly at the subjunctive but does not move his arm. “I’m sure you don’t. Otherwise you would be.” “It is not so simple, Arthur.”

1,872
He must have been lonely a long time to stand before Arthur Less and ask such a thing. On a rooftop in Paris, in his black suit and white shirt. Any narrator would be jealous of this possible love, on this possible night.

1,876
“We’re too old to think we’ll meet again,” Less says.

2,069
“Arthur, you’re going to have to figure something out. You see all these men over fifty, these skinny men with mustaches. Imagine all the dieting and exercise and effort of fitting into your suits from when you were thirty! And then what? You’re still a dried-up old man. Screw that. Clark always says you can be thin or you can be happy, and, Arthur, I have already tried thin.”

2,086
It is, after all, almost a miracle they are here. Not because they’ve survived the booze, the hashish, the migraines. Not that at all. It’s that they’ve survived everything in life, humiliations and disappointments and heartaches and missed opportunities, bad dads and bad jobs and bad sex and bad drugs, all the trips and mistakes and face-plants of life, to have made it to fifty and to have made it here:

2,159
And I thought, Well, that was nice. That was a nice marriage.” “But you broke up with him. Something’s wrong. Something failed.” “No! No, Arthur, no, it’s the opposite! I’m saying it’s a success. Twenty years of joy and support and friendship, that’s a success. Twenty years of anything with another person is a success. If a band stays together twenty years, it’s a miracle. If a comedy duo stays together twenty years, they’re a triumph. Is this night a failure because it will end in an hour? Is the sun a failure because it’s going to end in a billion years? No, it’s the fucking sun. Why does a marriage not count? It isn’t in us, it isn’t in human beings, to be tied to one person forever. Siamese twins are a tragedy. Twenty years and one last happy road trip. And I thought, Well, that was nice. Let’s end on success.”

2,176
“It’s true things can go on till you die. And people use the same old table, even though it’s falling apart and it’s been repaired and repaired, just because it was their grandmother’s. That’s how towns become ghost towns. It’s how houses become junk stores. And I think it’s how people get old.”

2,179
I think maybe I’ll go it on my own. Maybe I’m better that way. Maybe I was always better that way and it was just that when I was young, I was so scared, and now I’m not scared.

2,192
Why this endless need for a man as a mirror? To see the Arthur Less reflected there? He is grieving, for sure—the loss of his lover, his career, his novel, his youth—so why not cover the mirrors, rend the fabric over his heart, and just let himself mourn? Perhaps he should try alone.

2,249
“She told me she met the love of her life,” Zohra says at last, still staring out the window. “You read poems about it, you hear stories about it, you hear Sicilians talk about being struck by lightning. We know there’s no love of your life. Love isn’t terrifying like that. It’s walking the fucking dog so the other one can sleep in, it’s doing taxes, it’s cleaning the bathroom without hard feelings. It’s having an ally in life. It’s not fire, it’s not lightning. It’s what she always had with me. Isn’t it? But what if she’s right, Arthur? What if the Sicilians are right? That it’s this earth-shattering thing she felt? Something I’ve never felt. Have you?”

2,265
“What is love, Arthur? What is it?” she asks him. “Is it the good dear thing I had with Janet for eight years? Is it the good dear thing? Or is it the lightning bolt? The destructive madness that hit my girl?” “It doesn’t sound happy” is all he can say.

2,312
We all recognize grief in moments that should be celebrations; it is the salt in the pudding.

2,322
Time has been waiting here all along. In a snowy alpine resort. With cuckoos. Of course Time would turn out to be Swiss.

2,323
Like a wintertime swimmer too numb to feel cold, Arthur Less is too sad to feel pity.

2,424
Boredom is the only real tragedy for a writer; everything else is material.

2,657
They are not young, not at all; there is nothing left of the boys they used to be. Why not sell his letters, his keepsakes, his paintings, his books? Why not burn them? Why not give up on the whole business of life?

2,668
“Arthur, I’ve got a theory. Now, hear me out. It’s that our lives are half comedy and half tragedy. And for some people, it just works out that the first entire half of their lives is tragedy and then the second half is comedy.

2,697
“Arthur, I changed my mind. You have the luck of a comedian. Bad luck in things that don’t matter. Good luck in things that do. I think—you probably won’t agree with this—but I think your whole life is a comedy. Not just the first part. The whole thing. You are the most absurd person I’ve ever met. You’ve bumbled through every moment and been a fool; you’ve misunderstood and misspoken and tripped over absolutely everything and everyone in your path, and you’ve won. And you don’t even realize it.”

2,701
He doesn’t feel victorious; he feels defeated. “My life, my life over the past year—” “Arthur Less,” Carlos interrupts, shaking his head. “You have the best life of anyone I know.” This is nonsense to Less.

2,829
It was one of the grandest and most dismaying experiences in Less’s life—Marcel Proust, that is—and the three thousand pages of In Search of Lost Time took him five committed summers to finish.

2,866
There is that scene at the end of Proust when our narrator, after many years out of society, arrives at a party furious no one told him it’s a costume party; everyone is wearing white wigs! And then he realizes. It isn’t a costume party. They have simply grown old.

2,884
I know I’m out of your life / But the day that I die / I know you are going to cry.

2,893
“My marriage is failing, it has been failing a long time. Marian and I hardly sleep together anymore. I get to bed very late, she gets up very early. She’s angry we never had children. And now that it’s too late, she’s even angrier. I’m selfish and terrible with money. I’m so unhappy. So, so unhappy, Arthur.

2,902
And Robert says nothing; he knows the absurdity of asking someone to explain love or sorrow. You can’t point to it. It would be as futile, as unconveyable, as pointing at the sky and saying, “That one, that star, there.”

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"Laguna Beach Breakdown" by Joe Bolton

You had come searching for a second chance,
But trying to break through, merely broke down,
Until at last any sense of purpose
Seemed nothing more than something else to lose.
You let it go and, seeing no reason to mourn
What you could no longer name, kept silence
Under the vast vacuum of heaven
Someone had nailed stars up to to hold in place.
You were hoping maybe a change of season
Might help, but there was none. You woke at dawn
Shuddering in the indifferent embrace
Of your own arms, unable to turn or return,
Dreaming of drowning, neutral as a seaweed in the war
The sea continually waged against the shore.

-from "The Last Nostalgia"


Friday, July 28, 2017

Silences

Tomorrow,
as I read my heart
out on the sidewalk,
you won't be listening.

The hunger you have sown in me
no one else could have.
How could hunger outgrow
the void it inhabits so?

In the white curve of imagined skin
I found my thirst staring me with a cleft lip,
lifted slightly at the corner,
eyes wilting above.

The rippled sinuousness of a childish gesture,
in red overalls parted right where it hurt,
was all I needed of summer.

And in their expectant faces, I saw my hunger—
but you still don't.

Here hunger is nameless—
only the slam of a door,
and an absence that lingers—

And here I lay your silence to rest,
step out,
and seek another...

(Edited; posted originally on 28 April 2007)

Monday, July 17, 2017

"Death Will Come" by Cesare Pavese

Death will come and will have your eyes—
this death that accompanies us
from morning till evening, unsleeping,
deaf, like an old remorse
or an absurd vice. Your eyes
will be a useless word,
a suppressed cry, a silence.
That’s what you see each morning
when alone with yourself you lean
toward the mirror. O precious hope,
that day we too will know
that you are life and you are nothingness. 
Death has a look for everyone.
Death will come and will have your eyes.
It will be like renouncing a vice,
like seeing a dead face reappear in the mirror,
like listening to a lip that’s shut.
We’ll go down into the maelstrom mute.

Cesare Pavese (1908-1950), a poet, novelist and critic, was a major Italian author of the 20th Century. "Death Will Come and Will Have Your Eyes" was among the poems found in his desk after his suicide. Considering the circumstances, it's strikingly haunting.

(Translated by Geoffrey Brock; reposted from Poem of the Week. You can find the original Italian text, "Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi," here.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"The Starlessness of the Fortieth Year" by Joe Bolton

"Maybe it's OK after all if you
Never write the great novel or make love
To the tan, oiled movie star in Rio.

Stretched out under an ordinary mauve
Sky, you count the stars that couldn't care less
About you. Blinded by their own cold light,

They've wheeled these forty years above your loss
And are little consolation tonight.
Even grand failures were beyond your reach:

Those heartbreak letters written and burned,
That Jewish girl who rode your hand so deep
Into orgasm she could not return.

What night requires, the singing dawn gives back,
Trustworthy as your inevitable heart attack."

- Joe Bolton, from "Bad Sonnets"

Monday, June 26, 2017

"Speak softly, for this is life" by Fernando Pessoa

"Speak softly, for this is life,
Life and my consciousness of it,
Because the night advances, I’m tired, I can’t sleep,
And if I go to the window
I see, beneath the eyelids of the beast, the stars’ many dwellings...
I wore out the day hoping I’d sleep at night.
Now it’s night, almost the next day. I’m sleepy. I can’t sleep.
I feel, in this weariness, that I’m all of humanity.
It’s a weariness that almost turns my bones into flesh...
We all share the same lot...
Flies with caught wings, we stagger
Through the world, a spider web spanning the chasm."

- Fernando Pessoa, from A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems

Monday, June 12, 2017

In Their Shape

To Teta, once again...

We die, they say
But we never die, they say
We carry our dead in our hearts,
They live in us, they say

They say so much, they say so little…

She was here, they say
I remember her, they say
It was a long time ago, they say
It was like yesterday...

I hear so much, I say so little…

She’s somewhere, they say
Looking over you, they say
I look over my shoulder,
Still searching…

One day she’s at the beach
Collecting shells, they say
And years later I’m back here
Collecting my breath…

I won’t go back, I say
I’m done, I say
I moved on…

But moving on, a part of me snags
Dragging behind like a dead limb.
Is it me? I say
Is it her? I say

They say nothing; they only nod.
I guess that’s how we carry our dead, I say:
Our heart, dragging behind, looking like them…

(Originally posted on January 3, 2015)

Saturday, June 03, 2017

"Smoke and Gold: Cedar Key, 1988" by Joe Bolton

When a moon rises to moor the evening star,
The Gulf swells, making the distance to Texas
Irrevocable. . . .
                          There are ships out there
That say goodbye repeatedly in your sleep,
Ships that never arrived
Where someone might still stand waiting
On the far shore.

                          Meanwhile,
There is the magic Floridian hour
When the sea flashes with sunset,
When the sky becomes almost
Tangible in its painterliness, and memory
Rolls loaded dice across the waves. . . .

Still, in the soft metallic resonance of twilight,
The closest thing you have left to a soul
Is the smoke from your cigarette drifting out the window
Of a hotel room, number nine, and what little
You can remember of the little love you made.

And at night here there’s nothing to do
But lie down beside your lost self
And the lost selves of others you have lost . . .

—As the dark ghosts of ships
Sound their goodbyes, never arriving
                                                    at the far shore.

- Joe Bolton, from The Last Nostalgia

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Insistence of Being

And if I disappear, where would I go?
The silence left behind will not be heard
Amidst the noise. How long would it take
For anyone to notice the absence? And
Would it matter? Would any of it matter?

A church bell tolls, water gurgles,
A bird chimes another, as if in peace.
Life thrust upon us, an insistence of being,
An echoless voice in a chamber too full,
Is there any choice besides its negation?

I do not reject you, fellow prisoners,
I reject this, the sentence, the ruthlessness 
Of being, of time, of life, 
Of that essential loneliness that envelops us, 
That wraps us all like a shroud since birth.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Prison

We made of love a prison
To hold us both
Like we couldn't hold each other

We furnished it well
With all the love
We couldn't show one another

And in it we drowned
In a display of domesticity
Born of our fevered dreams

But we ended up forgetting
Where we started
Or what it was all about

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Smells

You'd think progress is a continuous forward motion, but it apparently meanders, loops on itself, and sometimes feels like it's going nowhere. Such is the case of gay rights in Lebanon apparently. Twelve years ago this poem was included in Helem's From Heart to Soul: A Feast on Poetry. The poem wasn't anything special: it's not anthemic, it's not heroic, but it is at times explicit in a casual manner. And it is this casual explicitness that feels revolutionary now. I repost it here, on the occasion of the first Beirut Pride and its continuing struggle against homophobia and religious intolerance, because it pisses some people off, those that need to be pissed off. #WhenWeRise #وصمة_عار

The clouds floated out the window
above their chatter;
it was the time when happiness was
capturing their radiant edges
in freshly discovered tempera.

The sea was stoic still in those days,
a giant ashtray for sunbeams.
I had just discovered Michelangelo:
David and Adam glowed
with the sheen of first porn.
And it was raining in Beirut.

My dad waited all evening for my call
and I stubbornly waited for his.
In the end, we didn’t speak.
When I spoke to him today
his voice sounded metallic
like the rain in Beirut.

In between spells of poetry
I cleaned my cum off the bathtub floor.
I awaited something to happen that night,
But nothing stirred.
So I taped myself jerking off
and jerked off to it.

Not knowing what to do next,
I poured my values into a large plastic yellow bowl
and popped it into the microwave,
hoping that in the patter
I may divine my answer.
But my values melted
with the smell of Styrofoam.

The hallway was growing longer,
sprouting doors as it went.
I just stood there,
scratching a carpeted post.
And for some reason,
if you came close enough,
you could smell the sadness, too.


(Originally posted on 23 November 2005)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Somewhere

Somewhere there’s a revolution, I hear,
Somewhere I used to know...
And here, in a darkening dusk,
In an expanse of grass
Turned purple by the silence,
I turn away...

This is life stripped of excesses:
No one else for days,
Voices all digitized,
The constant hum of a world
Churning itself.
I laugh just because
I miss the sound.

And they come
Seeking life;
They turn them away
Not knowing
It is life they bring.
Tell no one this,
I say it here in confidence,
Throw it to the dustbin of words.

There used to be someone
He wanted to be great
But forgot—
Where was I?

Ah, yes…

(Originally posted on Sep. 17, 2015)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dark

Here, in this dark little space before sleep,
I take a look back at the day, limp with apathy,
and the days before it, the wide
yawning expanse of them...
I glimpse behind the purpose I made for it,
ill-fitting like an older sibling's,
and tenuous like hesitant sunlight...
What else are we to do, with this drudgery
of time making a mockery of us all?
What idols are we left with, now that
family and friends are only two more words?
The dark isn't dark enough, I can feel it in me.
It's not still enough, the scratch of my breath keeps it
awake--as if the gray creeping up my temples
wasn't sufficient a delusion of adulthood--
just because I look it doesn't mean I'm ready.
But it's not like anyone is... We all turn away,
drop our gaze, pretend we're going somewhere...
You don't have to believe when you can forget.

(Originally posted on 22 November 2014)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Silent Green

We pass through death quietly,
Sight unseen--
Slipping like ghosts at a party,
Unnoticed--
Haunting the spaces that carry
Our smells like second skins...

Sideway glances in a crowd,
The sound of laughter receding,
Entering the cool darkness of the air
Willingly--
On the other side, imagined relief,
A new beginning, or respite
From weathered selves?

The train passes. Let it go.
Another will come. You wait.
You listen into the tunnel:
Fluorescent light on white tiles,
And a faint hum...

The story continues. The world
Never fails a beat. You want it to
Notice the absence. But it churns
Beings like dust, lives like smoke,
And hurtles on...

Someone will notice. Someone will choke.
Someone will face the night alone tonight.
Reaching an arm across an empty bed,
Someone will feel the cold of the sheets.
Absence will resonate somewhere,
Will echo, and rage, and plunder...

Facing the night, with the knowledge
Of life elsewhere, undeterred--
You hold your silence,
You face your absence--
This once you will not look away.
It is here. And you are ready.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Jellyfish

She stood in the middle of the sea
With dead jellyfish floating around;
She opened up her arms and said,
My heart is big enough for everybody.
I did not believe her.
I still don't.

The plucking of the strings
On a white wall that's rubbing off,
Footsteps on cobblestone
And a silence that only the heat is capable of...
Her lies smell like orange peel,
Tart and bitter.

I still comb the shore every now and then
For pieces of jellyfish from that day
But there's nothing on the sand but foam
And the smell of orange peel.

May 2017 selection for BaseNotes' Scent Verse
(Originally posted on Sept. 8, 2004)

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

"The New Gods" by Joe Bolton

And then, for a long time, nothing happened.
The citizens slept in the sleeping cities
And rose at dawn and worked and loved and slept.
Nobody knew just how long this would last.

It happened because it wanted to happen.
Young, sculptural, the gods rose in the cities.
Lush, sexual, they shone as the citizens slept.
Lovely, they filled the screens but couldn’t last.

It happened because it had to happen.
Moving sleepless through the sleepless cities,
Filling the dreams of citizens who slept,
They too just wanted to sleep at the last.

Not from the snow-marbled heights of mountains,
Not from the deep blue rivers the snow made,
Not from the sweet blue nowhere of the sky,

But from the scented gloss of magazines,
From New York, Houston, and L.A., they came--
To become immortal, and then to die.

– Joe Bolton, from “The Last Nostalgia”

Sunday, April 02, 2017

"The Prototypical Ghosts" by Joe Bolton

The west field, wasted, seems day by day to recede
From the warped kitchen window where you stand in steam,
Your hand gone limp as the rag that won’t drop from it.
Like wom-out records, your frail parents, aging

Even when you were born, in their dotage
Seem more and more the prototypical ghosts
Of themselves, as if fifty years of food
From the same gray land had turned them gray as the land.

They hardly make a sound now, unless it is
To rasp a vague complaint, half remember a year
That has forgotten them, or tap against the table
Some object that’s outlasted its significance.

– Joe Bolton, from “The Last Nostalgia”

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Lament on New Year’s Day" by Joe Bolton

I used to stroll untroubled down the variegated street,
The street I knew as I knew my own mind,
Where everything was real and without novelty.
And giving myself away to the depths of things,
I was gone.

Later, I doubled back down that same street,
Perhaps hoping to find the past lurking
In that wound of a room we'd shared
In the house on the corner.
And it was as if nothing had happened
In the years since her leaving.

Still, they don't come back, the great days,
The cries clarified with distance,
The fragrant lining of a patent leather shoe
Already beautiful beyond its function.

There was a precise moment towards dusk
When the window of a certain room was ringed with light,
And the dark walnut of an antique desk proclaimed
That those who were able to save themselves
Would be twice reimbursed tomorrow for their suffering.

Now, a V-shape of migrating geese
Or bombers on a practice mission
Freezes in mid-flight and turns to blue ash
In the sky above 1986.

- Joe Bolton, from “The Last Nostalgia”

Friday, March 17, 2017

Soon Again

Soon again I'll be home,
Home that's no longer home.
Soon I'll be back where
I left off and I began.
I will circle the rooftops, and throw
my pigeons into familiar skies,
But my pigeons will not return.

Soon I'll be back in my room
That's no longer my room, for I
Have forgotten the color of its walls,
And it has renounced my smell.
Soon I'll be sleeping in your bed,
Like I used to when it was mine.
Soon I'll smile, and they'll smile,
And behind the teeth the distance will cringe.
Soon again I'll be holding your hands,
Looking into your eyes and remembering
Who you are and who I was...

(Originally posted on 17th June 2005 as "In Two Weeks")

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Other Way

I remember you vaguely,
an early story of those days when
the world was expanding still...

I remember your name before
it shed a few letters, back when
the night was dark and
engulfed us, ignorant,
in its silent siren song.

I remember, vaguely, the way
I must have felt about you when
my body was uncharted yet,
and without a compass,
you somehow found a way.

Your voice, in those days before
it learnt its modulations--
when I prayed for it on the hour
and god was immortal still...
Now reaches me,
lilting and laden,
and I forget
to recognize it.

And in the silence between
when you extract yourself from
the loudness of your days and
the reverberation of my name,
we say all that we will ever say:
the love subtle and passing,
memories all but inconsequential,
and the two of us long estranged.

I still ponder, with fresh amazement,
at how it’s come to this...
At the full circle of anonymity,
and such dates that compel us
to reach across the vast divide
that has grown in between,
leaving us looking, always,
the other way...

(Originally posted on June 3, 2007)

"Those Who Pass Between Fleeting Words" "أيها المارون بين الكلمات العابرة"

أيها المارون بين الكلمات العابرة
محمود درويش

أيها المارون بين الكلمات العابرة
احملوا أسماءكم، و انصرفوا
و اسرقوا ما شئتم من زرقة البحر و رمل الذاكرة
و خذوا ما شئتم من صور، كي تعرفوا
إنكم لن تعرفوا
كيف يبني حجر من أرضنا سقف السماء

أيها المارون بين الكلمات العابرة
منكم السيف ـ و منا دمنا
منكم الفولاذ والنار ـ و منا لحمنا
منكم دبابة أخرى ـ و منا حجر
منكم قنبلة الغاز ـ و منا المطر
و علينا ما عليكم من سماء و هواء
فخذوا حصتكم من دمنا و انصرفوا
و ادخلوا حفل عشاء راقص.. و انصرفوا
..و علينا، نحن، أن نحرس ورد الشهداء
!و علينا، نحن، أن نحيا كما نحن نشاء

أيها المارون بين الكلمات العابرة
كالغبار المر، مروا أينما شئتم و لكن
لا تمروا بيننا كالحشرات الطائرة
فلنا في أرضنا ما نعمل
و لنا قمح نربيه ونسقيه ندى أجسادنا
:و لنا ما ليس يرضيكم هنا
حجر.. أو خجل
فخذوا الماضي، إذا شئتم، إلى سوق التحف
،و أعيدوا الهيكل العظمى للهدهد، إن شئتم
.على صحن خزف
فلنا ما ليس يرضيكم: لنا المستقبل
و لنا في أرضنا ما نعمل

أيها المارون بين الكلمات العابرة
كدسوا أوهامكم في حفرة مهجورة، و انصرفوا
و أعيدوا عقرب الوقت إلى شرعية العجل المقدس
!أو إلى توقيت موسيقى مسدس
فلنا ما ليس يرضيكم هنا، فانصرفوا
و لنا ما ليس فيكم، وطن ينزف شعبا ينزف
..وطنا يصلح للنسيان أو للذاكرة

،أيها المارون بين الكلمات العابرة
آن أن تنصرفوا
و تقيموا أينما شئتم، و لكن لا تموتوا بيننا
فلنا في أرضنا ما نعمل
و لنا الماضي هنا
و لنا صوت الحياة الأول
و لنا الحاضر، والحاضر، والمستقبل
و لنا الدنيا هنا... والآخرة
فاخرجوا من أرضنا
من برنا.. من بحرنا
من قمحنا.. من ملحنا.. من جرحنا
من كل شيء، و اخرجوا
من ذكريات الذاكرة
!أيها المارون بين الكلمات العابرة..




Those Who Pass Between Fleeting Words
by Mahmoud Darwish

O those who pass between fleeting words
Carry your names, and be gone
Rid our time of your hours, and be gone
Steal what you will from the blueness of the sea and the sand of memory
Take what pictures you will, so that you understand
That which you never will:
How a stone from our land builds the ceiling of our sky.

O those who pass between fleeting words
From you the sword—from us the blood
From you steel and fire—from us our flesh
From you yet another tank—from us stones
From you tear gas—from us rain
Above us, as above you, are sky and air
So take your share of our blood—and be gone
Go to a dancing party—and be gone
As for us, we have to water the martyrs’ flowers
As for us, we have to live as we see fit.

O those who pass between fleeting words
As bitter dust, go where you wish, but
Do not pass between us like flying insects
For we have work to do in our land:
We have wheat to grow which we water with our bodies’ dew
We have that which does not please you here:
Stones or partridges
So take the past, if you wish, to the antiquities market
And return the skeleton to the hoopoe, if you wish,
On a clay platter
We have that which does not please you: we have the future
And we have things to do in our land.

O those who pass between fleeting words
Pile your illusions in a deserted pit, and be gone
Return the hand of time to the law of the golden calf
Or to the time of the revolver’s music!
For we have that which does not please you here, so be gone
And we have what you lack: a bleeding homeland of a bleeding people
A homeland fit for oblivion or memory

O those who pass between fleeting words
It is time for you to be gone
Live wherever you like, but do not live among us
It is time for you to be gone
Die wherever you like, but do not die among us
For we have work to do in our land
We have the past here
We have the first cry of life
We have the present, the present and the future
We have this world here, and the hereafter
So leave our country
Our land, our sea
Our wheat, our salt, our wounds
Everything, and leave
The memories of memory
O those who pass between fleeting words!

(—Translation from the Jerusalem Post, April 2, 1988)

Monday, March 06, 2017

What Remains

When I loved you, stars were brand new still.

I forget the feeling now,
but I remember the side of your face,
wrinkled with a smile,
framing the rest of the world,
dark, blue, radiant,
and paling...

I remember only that I loved you:
the car parked on the side of the road,
sloping, looming over the winding night,
the music that I bend in my memory,
and the rain…

It was the first time it rained.
Leaves were thirsty still, and smiling.
The night glowed like only a sick mind could,
and danced ahead of me all the way.

I forget how I loved you.
I remember only the cobblestone,
the light—yellow and trite—
and your schoolbook of French poetry on the steps.

We always left the sex kit under the seat of your car:
a stolen vial of lube, condoms,
and the rest of my youth.

Some nights I can taste it still:
the humidity in the trees,
the guilt in the parking lot,
the fantasies we spun of our hunger,
and a faint smell of bliss.

Like the steak sizzling on a bed of salt,
there—where you taught me about strawberries,
and champagne, and the other weapons of love—
I was vacant and anticipating,
and prone on the piled plastic chairs,
and you were generous with the pain.

That I remember well.
When even the anger has dissipated,
something like regret lingers.

I call it love, or what comes after,
or what remains.

I call it nothing when I am tired,
and the world rushes in,
and I can barely remember the name.

(Originally posted on February 15, 2007)

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sunset

: Of Grief III
One more night
tumble from grace:
I abandon my senses,
scatter over the gutters
and pray for sleep...

In corners dank and
pungent I find them,
lurking behind my smile.
Throw them across the horizon
that they may cease to be...

Why don't you come
out of your darkness?
Shine once more
like the dying sun!
I curl into a lie and roll...

They cry, but we never hear.
They recede further
into memory;
and in it we drown
behind them...

Do you hear screaming
when it's hoarse?
Do they still rise
like the moon
bloody and round?

(Originally posted on Aug. 1, 2004; re-posted on July 24, 2006 and July 26, 2014)