Category Archives: New Writing

ekphrasis again

here’s an ode to henri rousseau, the jungle painter who never left paris.


The Dream, Henri Rousseau 1910

Rousseau Relives the Jungle
You follow the soothsayer shadow with her lute
and cobra boa through the season of tiger lilies—
she is an anti-Eve hip-swaying down the black paths
of Paradise, fanned by murky hands of leaf-gloom.
These are the visions that haunt you:
apes among the tangerines, a reticulated sky
of palms and coral sun, the leer of alligator grass
and the blush of the lotus like each kiss-kernel of love
you left in her neck—Oh Henri, awake from your stupor,
your periwinkle daze. Come back to us from the gardens,
the Edens labyrinthine beneath your lids—your trance
is a planar place falling flat on the canvas, but we feel
the stir of teal and linseed on your palette, the rush
of flight you took over the hurricane’s eye. You are
a golden beast prowling indigo thickets, ambushing
the antelope and biting deep into the heavy humid
of flesh and blood, leaving scars nestled in the clavicle.
Your surprise blooms in the gesso wash unfurling
thick as a dream from your brush and lingers
like the drift of jasmine on an electric breeze.

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Filed under New Writing, Poetry, Summer work, Unedited, Unpublished

pop culture seance

i have 2 poems here that are calling upon the ghosts of two major pop culture figures: james dean and bob dylan. i kind of think they represented a certain archetype of their time and age with which i am infatuated, so the tone and content of these 2 pieces is very similar.

For James

You glower ghostly from the projector shroud.
My planchette hands backlit black reach to you
in a cinema divination drawing me down Grapevine Road
at 70 mph, hurtling towards the specter spot at Cholame—
to hell with tickets and portends, angels and charms,
to hell with the red warnings blazing on that fateful day:
the sheen of the Porsche’s engine-hot hood, the collar
of your rebel coat, the label of your last Coke—you
ripped across that ribbon of concrete as the bloody
sunset stabbed your eyelids at skull-crushing speeds
and the Ford Sedan glared through the windshield—
better give me something, give me something fast—
I see you swiveling the steering wheel as you flick
the last cherry spark of your cigarette and battle
the demons twisted into the transmission, your eyes
fixed on the rangeline of dusk and day—a softness
like the final fade-out on the milk-wash screen.

Leaving Hibbing

You found the guitar arthritic in the attic, by
the mahogany Detrolla with an upside-down atlas
glowing on the face as Hank Williams quavered
airwaves and Odetta howled on the up-down strums:
50,000 watts voodooing through the atmosphere.

A country record in the cradle made you different,
deviated topography snagged on the compass rose.

There’s no room to rebel in this weather: a pastoral
purgatory of milk and lilies, snow-stiff flags
on the white-wash porches—what happens to these
nine square blocks when the iron mines shut down,
the fields dessicate and the red canvas awnings clap down
slow in the final autumn? Change your name
to anything, walk anyplace—Supertramp Napoleon,

get in our heads, pin us down. Seek the crossroads to séance
the folkster canon. With a dirt-thumbed copy of Bound for Glory,
you called upon the gospel according to Guthrie before
he boarded the crazy train. Stolen vinyl, shorn hair and hunger
as hard and hollow as your instrument—will you fill us,
make notes tone holy and speak something slanted radical?

Cinderella or Romeo, you can go everywhere
when you’re someone else, and you’re always
bygone and becoming, halloping to the horizon bevel
on the throstle and rise of rock-n-roll, the poetry
of the lemon crate in the gutter, the hum of a green
grain shoot stirred by Minnesota dew.

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Filed under New Writing, Summer work, Uncategorized, Unedited, Unpublished

elegy for a lost DVD

Next prompt for class was to write a poem about a movie. I choose The Darjeeling Limited by Wes Anderson, a movie that I can always just turn on and drift away in. One week in the fall when I was going through some rough stuff, I watched it once every day. ILOVEIT. But I lost my DVD copy, though. It’s kinda upsetting. Luckily I can almost replay the whole thing in my mind’s eye…

Seeking Moksha
After The Darjeeling Limited

Wake up, brother. Where would I have seen you
last? Was it the funeral, after the taxi spewed
Dad’s change across 57th and Mom released,
an absent saint? Since then you’ve technically
died and I’ll follow, unbodied by these opiates,
half-smoked cigs and scotch. Brother,

I should’ve known you’d try to break open, throw
yourself from your cycle and rise in a crown
of gauze. All the nights spent at Hotel Chevalier
in a stolen bathrobe, transmuting your sadness
to prose—you live alone there, a casual thing—
you retch the hot musk-swell of Voltaire No. 6,

Parisian wine, curled clove-stars from Rajasthan—
probably one of the most spiritual places
in the world!” You sweat burnt sienna: turmeric,
the bindi thumbed to your brow now bleeding
as you limp after the street-swilled shoeshine
stealing your loafers. We are long-faced gamboling

this love-gutted dramedy, prowling the frost-glass
carriage doors of a locomotive lost on a one-way
track—we can’t know where to go. We haul
heavy luggage, haunt rails like angry Hindu djinns
bhangra-ing to 70s British blues-pop—what can we do
but cling to the vacuous continent of grief? Brother,

in your peacock-feather tantric tadasana, you know
the thoracic lurch that punched his gut when the fender
fractured his femur, hip and heart. You fear healing
won’t come, the bandages won’t give way to holy
pink scars and memories of hurt. There was
a plan for this pilgrimage, but fuck the itinerary

fuck the itinerary, fucking fuck the itinerary. We’ll
just drift with everything Ganges running-running,
drunk in the sallow veil of this land so sugar-bitter
like under-ripe lime over ice, or the cherry scowl
of a lover, lips red like Dad’s Jaguar never-resurrected—
not even after we jumped it, shoved it up the block.

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Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished

one from spring break

Over break I had a dream about foxes and I have a friend who decided their spirit animal from a dream they had about goats, so I’m thinking maybe my spirit animal is a fox? What was my fox-dream trying to tell me?

Then I ended up on a weird part of the internet taking spirit animal quizzes and learning about spirituality, tarot and mysticism. I also found a cute little comic about animals going through existential crises.

I thought about how these things are tied up in how people structure their own self-perceptions and identities, how the use of such symbology creates a certain declaration about who they are and why from an external source, when such an exercise is a very private and sacred internal contemplation that can’t ever be fully captured from the outside.

Anyways, I used my friend as a VERY CRUMBLY FOUNDATION and then EMBELLISHED AND EMBELLISHED THE SHIT OUT OF HER. So, to my friend, if you read this, please please please don’t hate this. You were merely a tool in my own literary exercise, a way to distance my self from this self that I wanted to figuratively examine. Hopefully this contemplation is a token of gratitude for the inspiration?

The Mystic

She had a totem dream—goat
spirit raced to her from the rockiest
peak, consuming everything. She opened

the tarot door, rode her Bianchi down a concrete
creek—-black crossbars and aluminum rims.
Her cards spilled art deco on my carpet:

indigo damask and maroon arabesque, the twist
of horn-bones and hollyhock ghosting desert sky,
the roll of rocky courses down a mountain spine—

Pay attention to the pentacles, she said, the whole
fucking spectrum of experience.
Chakra lines
bloomed blue, the refract of her veins at the wrist—

come up from your hollow, she said
to the surface where we wait for you.
I couldn’t ladder her Dao chiasmus

braiding down the page. She drew
a ram-skull on her scapula, got a head
of garlic tattooed to her ribs. I’m trying

to take care of myself. She rode home
alone to her new apartment, everything still
packed except some speakers and an album

of jangly dream-pop on fuzzy repeat,
basked in a beam of pastel violet, the bounce-
back of Capricorn caught in her curtain.

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Filed under New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished

After Overdosing on Sean Singer

Reading Discography by Sean Singer in class this month. I was going through his book and also his stuff on From the Fishouse (AN AMAZING LINK TO SOME SWEET HONEY, GO ENJOY THAT SHIT), and I realized that this dude was blowing my head off. HE IS INSANELY GOOD. I couldn’t even hang on to some of the language he was pulling off in his work, but a week later his lines are still rattling around in my head, particularly from my favorite, “Echolocation”:
“Into a dustbowl of annihilation the rotating head/seizes its empire of blood; a storm collapses each/mouse bone as the threnody of rain crushes the air.”
But he also has a Robert Johnson poem that puts mine to SHAAAME because of the line “Doping doping all through the grape night.” LIKE. AAAAHHH.
His knowledge of jazz and blues, travel and history and his exercises in self-persona construction are amazing. So I stayed up til about 2 reading everything I could find on him and trying to soak up his tone and voice for a second. I wanted to try on his style for myself in a piece, so here’s what I came up with. Anything I do pales in comparison to his prowess though–I guess this is just a little shoutout to him for taking my skull on a walk last week. CHECK. HIM. OUT.

After Overdosing on Sean Singer

I close against this cobalt
wall of insomnia,
unforgiving in its grind.
Meanwhile
an ocean rolls off a distant ridge—
slow dope-draw of traffic
to the hypoderm
at my temple, the thinnest veil
bearing the heart’s starved
hypoxia, its
drag and ratamacue.
Meanwhile
Singer slips another
line down the gyri: jazz and
its hawkish homology
making another loop—
he wishes I were an onion
so I can feel his thumb
peel my layers.

Meanwhile
the water trembles
over, too much at the glass-rim,
darkens in ominous polygons
on my carpet—some cartography
of the dreams ahead: jaws
and cheeks and shuttering lids
rising like the hedron
in the eight-ball—what
waits in the smalt-wash
of these indigo visions
and sleepless strokes?
Meanwhile
I’ll theorize about the sounds
the animals make in my walls,
scratching wider passages
through the plaster,
their empires of arteries
pushing work in the dark.
Their bodies will fold
into some appropriate
hugeness, like how
the cavern of my mouth
cradles the bite-bruised
petal of my tongue.

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Filed under New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished

lists

MORE BLUES POETRY. this is an earlier, unedited version.

How the Blues Die

Bessie Smith flew from her car like an angel
and broke open at the ribs and wrists, died
neglected on the white hospital stretcher.

Blind Lemon Jefferson froze to death on the streets
of Chicago, lost in the snow—a thing
he feared in the blank of his eternal whiteout.

Memphis Minnie stroked out, so they shoved
her into a nursing home til her expiration date,
aphasic save for the livid spittle laced to her lip.

Charley Patton became a sizzling collapse
of the heart’s infarction—an entropy of passion
as plaque bloomed like a lily in his ventricles.

Peg Leg Howell burned, corroded by the syrupy
sweet of diabetes that claimed his legs first—
bad sugar crystallizing slow along his thighs, crippling.

Pine Top Smith caught a stray bullet to the chest when
his boogie-woogie spun out of control—he lurched forward
over the bloodied ivories skewed by reckless shots.

Leadbelly escaped every prison except the one
as big as his body: the iron maiden of Lou Gherig’s
shackled his limbs from within and snuffed him out.

Robert Johnson played too far out of hand in Greenwood—
gutted by the barman’s jealous slip of arsenic over his
fifth whiskey, a milky swill of revenge in amber depths.

Big Bill Broonzy felt the cancer coagulate in his throat,
cutting off his vocal flow as he punched riffs into his guitar
and onto the pale, sunwashed porch after morning chemo.

Leroy Carr drowned in the depressive cloy of canned heat—
the crush of drinking to death, while Willie Johnson
suffocated on the icy ash of his burned-out home. Pneumonia

lying heavy in his chest, he hummed “Dark was the Night,
Cold was the Ground” to forgotten streets, careful to still
the chalk-grind of his bones as he sighed off mid-moan.

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Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited

isn’t it pretty to think so?

the prof told us to write a poem about a relative meeting someone famous.
uncertain of any true stories regarding such a situation in my family, i made up a story where my 20-year-old father met bruce springsteen on the coast of north jersey while dating my mom.
my dad and mom did live in north jersey near asbury park, did have a first date on the beach, and my dad did own a chevy nova. but my mom was the one who got in a bad accident in her 20s. and it was a a brown volkswagon. and. my dad never met bruce springsteen.
but i cobbled some true details together, embellished others, and completely made up the rest to create a (hopefully!!) believable narrative. isn’t it pretty to imagine? i think poetry is liberating in its ability to allow the writer a space to act out a fantastic premise/cerebral exercise/meditation on some flight of ideas and watch the details unfold.
if i hadn’t prefaced this whole bit, would you have liked it any more or less? do you even like it NOW?


Love Song

Summer, 1970: my father, changing lanes to exit the turnpike
for Totowa, wheeled into the red fear of streaming taillights,
swerving past almost-death: two Chevy Novas on the same
ramp at the wrong time—man, a good way to die.

Before this flailing over the steering wheel, he’d clapped
the sweaty back of Springsteen, young and unknown,
on his way out of the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
In that grasp, the jetties rose from North Jersey

coasts and swamplands, salt-rusted coasters crusting
the pier. The scent of pine barrens and gas fields bit,
and the magnesium blast of diner signs blinded,
glossing bombed-out cars and tar-choked lots

left behind after the cinemas caved in—all that darkness
the boys lived in beyond the chain links and bleachers,
boiled in the electric buzz of the Boss’s guitar. The sound
tugged on the chest of every girl in Ocean County

who shivered at her back door: fragmented confusion
of the singer on self-destruct before the indifference
of a crowd. Bruce had the legs and lungs to drive
those songs, so my father took a tape back home

to my mother, newly nineteen and just within his reach—
two hearts exploring each other in the white howl
of coastal tides, sharing a towel at Seaside Heights where
he might float a kiss into the nape of her neck—but first

the race-pump rush-throb of a missed collision pulsed
with horn bands and BABY WE WERE BORN TO RUN.

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Filed under for class, New Writing, Poetry, Unedited, Unpublished