Wednesday, August 08, 2018

"The Story" by Joe Bolton

If it rained tonight
I’d lie down
For a thousand years.

—As if nothing had happened;
As if the story
Wouldn’t tell itself forever:

No more mother, no remembered loves, and my pulse
Purified, the only sound
As I lowered myself into the depths…

But the bells are ringing up the hill,
Punishing bells,
Recounting all the arguments against me.

If I’ve created the story of my life,
Why not now the story
Of not having ever lived at all?

Maybe then there wouldn’t be this burden
Of what was lost
Almost before it had arrived.

Maybe then there wouldn’t be this weight
Of what is
And what I can feel myself already losing.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

"The Story" by Joe Bolton

After the life is lived
And the world is what it is,
There is only the story:

At Stevensport, the Sinking, River
Empties into the Ohio,
And the Ohio widens.

Or does the story perhaps precede
The living of it, as the new day
Seems to depend on the cock’s cry?

And do the dead and the unborn occupy
The same dimensionless dimension,
Or are they simply where they seem to be?

It would be easy enough to say
What happened, could you only
Bring yourself to:
______________A girl—
No, a young woman—who has lived her life
With old-time parents on a farm
On what the Indians once called the Dark
And Bloody Ground, and who
Has a perhaps somewhat imprudent appetite
For things sensual, falls in love.
His speech and dress and manner
Are slightly strange to her at first, but she

Is taken with the simultaneous
Inward frailty and successful outward gesture
With which he lives in the world, of which
He seems already to have seen much.

In the summer of your first and one great love,
Stars flared nightly in the architecture of sky,
And the world opened up beneath that sky.
The scenes flash and fade now like summer starfall:
Parked in his white car down some dark road;
Driving to Owensboro and Bowling Green; dancing
In a little dive in Tell City, Indiana...
You see yourself—that self—like the portraits
Of those who, no longer living, live
In the flash and fade of a moment torn from time.


Once, the city lured her.
Once, watching the lights
Of Louisville come slowly on in summer dusk,
She thought ... what?
That this would last forever? —Or even
Outlast forever?
Going there to undo
What the two of you had done,
You saw how dirty-gray the city was,
As morning began and the poorer people rose
To the day’s indecencies,
And you saw you were suddenly one of them . . .
When it was over, you had to have him
Stop the car so you could throw up,
Then hugged yourself all the way home.

And she never caught sight of him again.

And so are left to remember the summer nights
When, half-drunk in your daddy’s truck or his white car,
You’d take the hills and turns on Rough River Road
At seventy, just to feel your insides rise.
And laugh for surviving it, and look for shooting stars.

The white car was all that was left of him.
No body, or note, was ever discovered.
—Only the white car, shining in September dawn,
Beside the Sinking River at Stevensport . . .
And which circumstances have, of course,
Led to speculation:
______________that he got you
Into trouble and couldn’t stand himself for it;
That you, never good, drove him. to it;
That he only wanted to make it look
As if he were dead, and is living it up
In Chicago or Indianapolis or some such place.

The rumors, unverified, multiply,
While the people you grew up with
Marry, buy farms, go bankrupt, get divorced,
And move off to the city, looking for work.

The night is starless, utterly still.

You are careful not to let these pieces
Of a narrative cohere
Into anything that might explain too much.

For you, who live in the world,
Must let the world
Remain ambiguous.

And it just wouldn’t be right
To blame a drowned boy
For not floating up bloated,

Or not leaving a note,
Or perhaps not even
Drowning himself at all.

-from "Breckinridge County Suite"

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Tomorrow, don't wake me up
Nor the day after
You are not mine anymore
And I'm not sure
I like that world

I know I opened the door
So how could I blame you
For walking out
Heart first?

"It ain't exactly easy
But what’s the alternative?
Tread water
For the rest of our days?"

I have known the darkness:
I have looked into the abyss
And seen my name
Written in absence.
So how am I to write it now
In lights?

I have seen the exit signs.
I know other

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Hard Country" by Joe Bolton

"It is, even now, a hard country to live in.

Full summer is invisible fire under cypresses
Dying of thirst,
And you think of the dog days it got too hot
To do much else but sit and sweat
And watch the ground bake till it cracked.

Or, wintering, it could be the New World:
The empty duskward distances
And killing promise of mow.
You still remember the night it fell to fifteen below.
You were sitting at the kitchen table,
Ten years old,
A blanket on your lap and a bowl
Of snow cream in front of you.
Your mother was stoking the stove.
You saw, through the window, the west field
Silvered with snow and starlight. Saw
The figure of your father crossing the field,
And the load he carried curled in his arms:
A calf that had picked a bad night for being born.
He brought it in to warm by the stove,
Red ice of afterbirth melting into pools
And the poor thing’s ears already frozen off.

Now, in autumn, walking the long mile
Back from the empty mailbox,
You can see the place, what’s left of it:
Two Plymouths and a ‘34 Ford
Squat rusting, wheelless, home
To broken tools and rotten clothes, mice.
Gray barns and outbuildings lean graying.
And the white house is white
Only in memory,
For the photographs, too, have faded.
Back of the smokehouse, from limp fur, the skull
Of an eaten raccoon grins skyward.
You wonder if there was ever any glory to be had here,
And if not, then why, for two hundred years,
Anybody has bothered....

A hard country to live in, yes,
But not a hard country in which to find
A place to drown oneself.
You think of water, of the names
Of water: Sinking River. Rough River Lake,
South Fork of the Panther.
And all of it flowing Ohioward, Gulfward.

For water everywhere rages to be with other water;
Or, held isolate in ponds, in the hoofprint
Of the thousand-pound heifer after rain,
Reflects the utter emptiness of sky.

And water is as empty as sky, only
Easier to fall into,
Heavier to breathe."

Looking Through Your Eyes

I remember seeing it through your eyes,
my country,
as for the first time.

The tight colorless street
where I grew up
choking with people,
_____now covered with a dust
_____sinful as only humanity is.

I remember looking up
as you raised your head
at buildings that resembled
pockmarks on the face of God.
_____They now rest in pieces
_____on the streets
_____and the face of God
_____is nowhere to be seen.

I remember meeting my family
in you,
sprawling, loud and insuppressible,
spreading over the table like a headache
that shouldn’t be cured.
_____Now the table lies naked,
_____all the colors of the vegetables
_____turned black.
_____Even the flies recoil.

I remember climbing the shoulders of the mountain,
the plain spreading behind us,
patchy and still,
and the valley round the corner,
yawning wide,
like the mouth of heaven.
_____Now it doesn’t shed a tear for us.
_____It had been there when it all began,
_____when men fell from grace
_____and ate each other.

(Originally posted on July 28, 2006)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"The Return" by Joe Bolton

And when, finally, you found your way back,
It seemed you barely recognized the place—
Or rather, the place barely recognized you.
. . .
But visiting friends, their faces both the same
And not the same, you realized how the loss
Of a common language could undo the world:

How the sky over each landscape contained
The blueprints of a city that might rise
When all your generation had gone away,

And how lovers were, in the end, reduced
To the sounds of names, the flesh utterly forgotten.
And it seemed then that you'd come all this way

Only to pass unnoticed through the place,
Driving fast down dangerous, familiar roads
Like a shadow you had cast years before.

Friday, June 15, 2018

I Thought We Were

To friends departed too early

I thought we were endless,
raging against the night,
laughing life in the face,
and running.

I thought we were shameless,
masters of our indolence,
wasting time like we owned it,
and yawning.

I thought we were spotless,
dazzling and daring,
dreaming of one day,
and dashing.

I thought we were painless...

I thought we were later:
first grandparents,
then parents,
then us.

I thought we were future,
till the past piled on,
today slipped by,
and now…

I think we are naked,
humbled and defenseless,

standing in the wind, and bowing,
seeing for the first time our culling

what remains of us, scattered
and huddled, and hoping…

Originally posted on Friday, October 05, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2018


To the new Syracuseans
“You going to the snow, don’t you want to return?
Call out for them in the rain, oh wolf, perhaps they might hear…”

-Talal Haydar, from “Wahdoun (Alone)

They cross over, armed with the night on their wings,
the night laden with the smell of mint, and cardamom,
and air thick with company.

They cross over, chests brimming with song,
lips parted just so, enough for words to escape,
words whispered right before they turned the corner,
looking behind one more time
at the world as it was,
at their faces, brave and adoring,
and hopeful.

They cross over with names written on their hands,
smearing at the touch of nearly everything,
leaving smudges of people on door frames, and kitchen counters,
and all over bathroom mirrors, fogging up with hazy eyes,
trickling down, dewy and damp,
and dancing.

They cross over, feathers frozen,
into roads open wide, like mouths yawning into the sky
and shivering;
into hills, green and empty, and missing things
and people, and chatter—
not echoes, resounding and rambling…

Cross back
to where the days are dazzling
and the nights are blinding,
and in the chaos of the streets
and in the fear, and the noise,
life throbs louder than peace.

Cross back
to where despair lives in hope…

Originally posted on August 14, 2007

Thursday, May 10, 2018


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)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bohemian Dreams

The year I made it, you weren’t there.
There were fragments of you
plastered on the walls of my throat,
clinging to my voice as if they owned it.
I was there, all eyes, open wide,
taking it in, years later,
always after the fact.
I was wondering where I lost my smile,
and there was its echo.

I see it now,
in the people washing past subway trains,
my stare fixed through them.
I see it now, the last time I laughed,
stuck like graffiti to the grime.

The fact that I was walking with your ghost
may not be fair, but at the top of the stairs,
as the city splayed itself below
like an immense cadaver on icy grey,
I couldn’t even shed a tear.
I let the street cellist slice me wide
with every sweep of his bow.
He knew it well, that song to which we all bled:
“Je vous parle d'un temps
Que les moins de vingt ans
Ne peuvent pas connaître
Montmartre en ce temps-là…”

I thought I lost it, my voice,
but it was only getting hoarse
until I couldn’t recognize it.
I became a ventriloquist of myself.
And yet the yearning for song never quits,
the way my mother still attempts to dance every New Year's,
her protruding kneecaps buckling under the weight of her soul.
It catches me there, the urge to sing,
where the pigeons take flight with horror.
It catches me mid-sentence,
with a groan that rumbles like fear.
But I bundle it up—limbs at the scene of a crime—
and drag it here—choppy, bloody and raw—
here where no one sees,
no one hears, no one shudders,
and let it go.

© Copyright 2010 Obeida Sidani

(Originally posted on November 28, 2006)

Friday, February 23, 2018

Inspiring Passage from "Lost Connections" by Johann Hari

I was conscious, as I thought back over these seven provisional hints at solutions to our depression and anxiety, that they require huge changes—in our selves, and in our societies. When I felt that way, a niggling voice would come into my head. It said—nothing will ever change. The forms of social change you’re arguing for are just a fantasy. We’re stuck here. Have you watched the news? You think positive changes are a-coming?

When these thoughts came to me, I always thought of one of my closest friends.

In 1993, the journalist Andrew Sullivan was diagnosed as HIV-positive. It was the height of the AIDS crisis. Gay men were dying all over the world. There was no treatment in sight. Andrew’s first thought was: I deserve this. I brought it on myself. He had been raised in a Catholic family in a homophobic culture in which, as a child, he thought he was the only gay person in the whole world, because he never saw anyone like him on TV, or on the streets, or in books. He lived in a world where if you were lucky, being gay was a punchline, and if you were unlucky, it got you a punch in the face.

So now he thought—I had it coming. This fatal disease is the punishment I deserve.
For Andrew, being told he was going to die of AIDS made him think of an image. He had once gone to see a movie and something went wrong with the projector, and the picture went all wrong—it displayed at a weird, unwatchable angle. It stayed like that for a few minutes. His life now, he realized, was like sitting in that cinema, except this picture would never be right again.

Not long after, he left his job as editor of one of the leading magazines in the United States, the New Republic. His closest friend, Patrick, was dying of AIDS—the fate Andrew was now sure awaited him.

So Andrew went to Provincetown, the gay enclave at the tip of Cape Cod in Massachussetts, to die. That summer, in a small house near the beach, he began to write a book. He knew it would be the last thing he ever did, so he decided to write something advocating a crazy, preposterous idea—one so outlandish that nobody had ever written a book about it before. He was going to propose that gay people should be allowed to get married, just like straight people. He thought this would be the only way to free gay people from the self-hatred and shame that had trapped Andrew himself. It’s too late for me, he thought, but maybe it will help the people who come after me.

When the book—Virtually Normal—came out a year later, Patrick died when it had only been in the bookstores for a few days, and Andrew was widely ridiculed for suggesting something so absurd as gay marriage. Andrew was attacked not just by right-wingers, but by many gay left-wingers, who said he was a sellout, a wannabe heterosexual, a freak, for believing in marriage. A group called the Lesbian Avengers turned up to protest at his events with his face in the crosshairs of a gun. Andrew looked out at the crowd and despaired. This mad idea—his last gesture before dying—was clearly going to come to nothing.

When I hear people saying that the changes we need to make in order to deal with depression and anxiety can’t happen, I imagine going back in time, to the summer of 1993, to that beach house in Provincetown, and telling Andrew something:

Photo by Iswanto Arif on Unsplash
Okay, Andrew, you’re not going to believe me, but this is what’s going to happen next. Twenty-five years from now, you’ll be alive. I know; it’s amazing; but wait—that’s not the best part. This book you’ve written—it’s going to spark a movement. And this book—it’s going to be quoted in a key Supreme Court ruling declaring marriage equality for gay people. And I’m going to be with you and your future husband the day after you receive a letter from the president of the United States telling you that this fight for gay marriage that you started has succeeded in part because of you. He’s going to light up the White House like the rainbow flag that day. He’s going to invite you to have dinner there, to thank you for what you’ve done. Oh, and by the way—that president? He’s going to be black. 
It would have seemed like science fiction. But it happened. It’s not a small thing to overturn two thousand years of gay people being jailed and scorned and beaten and burned. It happened for one reason only. Because enough brave people banded together and demanded it. Every single person reading this is the beneficiary of big civilizing social changes that seemed impossible when somebody first proposed them. Are you a woman? My grandmothers weren’t even allowed to have their own bank accounts until they were in their forties, by law. Are you a worker? The weekend was mocked as a utopian idea when labor unions first began to fight for it. Are you black, or Asian, or disabled? You don’t need me to fill in this list.

So I told myself: if you hear a thought in your head telling you that we can’t deal with the social causes of depression and anxiety, you should stop and realize—that’s a symptom of the depression and anxiety itself. Yes, the changes we need now are huge. They’re about the size of the revolution in how gay people were treated. But that revolution happened.

There’s a huge fight ahead of us to really deal with these problems. But that’s because it’s a huge crisis. We can deny that—but then we’ll stay trapped in the problem. Andrew taught me: The response to a huge crisis isn’t to go home and weep. It’s to go big. It’s to demand something that seems impossible—and not rest until you’ve achieved it.

- from Hari, Johann. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions (p. 252). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


To the generations of women I come from

When the black bile rises within me,
And the grass juice drips sordid down my throat,
I wear all of their faces on mine,
A history of women, and tousled hair.

Their lives tinge my blood
Like ageless smiles over my eyes.
They gather in the morning
With names, faces, and loose ends,
And an almost forgotten lullaby.

Petals of the same flower
Come to rest in me,
Peeling like a white veil off graying hair,
Like rouge cracking on crinkling smiles.

And drip by drip,
Like a bleach blue on naked whites,
I am left smelling the evening
From afar.

The bats are closer to them now
Than my words,
Peeling off the marble
And into their sleep.

A saga of laughter, and of cardamom,
And of coffee black into my day,
Of heels racing the clock,
And bathing the terrazzo,
And soaking my feet...

Tell me, when does the night stop,
And the dawn flee,
And my name turn into a dream?

(originally posted on June 06, 2005)