Category Archives: Summer work

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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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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i dunno what i’m doing

Here’s a poem about nothing! It has an imaginary premise that is too vague to be relatable, an incomplete resolution, and too many metaphors that can’t be reconciled easily because of the multiple weird subjects from which I pulled for source material…It would be really interesting to see what my internet history looks like after this kind of thing. Ah well. It’s what I do in about 2 hours of random internet surfing.

Black & White

We have made this bed too hot, the light and shadow
striations too bright on our bodies sprawled
on the sea-tossed mattress. I don’t know where to start
into the geography between your coast and mine: waves
of different strengths shaping vague bays and berms,
oblique angles of our swelling drawing dark
drift lines on the sheets. I trace the places
where your skin presses continents
into your sweat-damp shirt—ridges and roughs
of each bruise-gray cityscape printed on your ribs—
and reach into ink-black valleys we’ve made
in our daguerreotype embrace, knowing
how hollow I was before I felt how solid
you were. I ached for you in all my emptiness,
shattered and white, fragile as cockle scattered
on the shore. Slate squalls billowed briny breezes
through your lungs as you hummed with Belafonte’s
crackling calypso, ready to rush you back out. Your eyes
open, radiating onyx spindles and oily drops of life—vivid,
searching in the smoky monochrome of midnight. I wish
you didn’t have to find me, the sad and ruined thing
laid bare in this illusion, the snapped-keel shipwreck
run aground, smeared from the scene, nullified.

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part of me isn’t super comfortable with this

Because I have taken on a persona I may not be entitled to taking on, and this piece was a realy lambitious one for me. But since seeing Aaron Huey’s photography from Pine Ridge Reservation, writing a 15-page research paper on the subject and reading works like Ceremony, the Red Mustang, and My Life is My Sundance, I have always been angered and fascinated by the plight of the Native American people, particularly those suffering on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. So, I thought I’d try to give voice to my sense of outrage through poetry.
This piece feels like my first openly political one, too. But I want to start working on incorporating my passion for social justice with my creative writing, so I guess this was my first stab at that.
Also, this is SUPER SUPER ROUGH. I literally posted the product of about 2 hours of furious research and work. Any comments and feedback would be helpful–especially a better freaking title. Ack.

The Youth of Pine Ridge

The player in the broken pickup shreds our last tape, spewing
black ribbons from the slot and bringing Tupac to a warping halt.
We are murderous but mostly tired, joining the sticky melt
of sun-pressed leather, dozing in a summer boiling with green flies
and Black Hills grit. To the south, a storm shuffles to the rim
of the coral desert ridge: a hulking beast shaggy with jungles
of rain and thunder and electrifying light. Sothern storms
darken and devastate. We should kick this junker to life
and drive, escape the silver shafts of rain. We are grounded
in a sea of prairie spiked with white crosses and graves,
graveled earth and ghosts. There is no more music
to hold the demons at bay. We dissolve, formless as sage smoke
in the heyoka’s pipe—that jester wrongs every right, but
cannot outgrow the shadows creeping into his Sun Dance.
When did we ever feel Spirit Mother open her arms for us?
The massacres haunt us from the blood-greased grass,
black mold bubbles on the walls of our homes, desperate
children eat off floors as their parents curl into themselves,
muffled by beer and bureaucratic genocide.
We dream to survive. On sweat-swirled coats of buckskin
ponies, we take our suicide rides. Under the flag-strewn
branchesof a razed cottonwood, we pray to know the mystery
of Wakan: nothing is all good or all bad; it all depends.
In the depths of this aluminum corpse, everything
looks broken. We shouldn’t stay but there is nowhere else
to go. The afternoon is on the edge of collapse,
hollow and hungry. When we reach out the shattered
windows to let the ruined cassette stream on storm-taut wind,
we remember the stories of our scars: an initiation knife
heated on a burner then pressed in stripes on the upper arm,
burning, warning that we are still wounded.

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IN A DROUGHT

I’ve only been kinda writing in the past few weeks. Ad the weather back in the states is quite the opposite of that of rainy London.
I guess I’m running low on things to say.

Drought

The beams lance the upper leaves first, bleaching
them to chalky petals, parched, collapsing. Grasses blanch
into yellow bristle, releasing their last gasps of luster,
and heat-gusts scream, burning timber to the roots.
I am pressed between the sallow sheets of summer afternoon,
sluggish, with blood congealing in my pulsing throat,
catching in the sharp groove of my collarbone, and sweat
searing salty trails onto my face, punishing. This place is brutal,
the land shattering into dusty shingles and trees thinning
to rail spokes, drawing black shadows on sun-shocked sod.
Animals retreat deep into dark earth, still in the creeping sizzle
of desiccation. My garden cries out, petulant. Their stalks shrivel
as heat streams forth in vaporous flames, and my brain
simmers, starved under white, quivering skies. I forget
how it is to weep. In arid dreamlands I wander,
urging singed fields to awake, empty gullies to sob again
as recuperated streams. If I could, I would transfigure
the insect-husk clouds into heavier-breasted forms
and call them down onto these dead sprawls. Breathless, I lie
in this scorched purgatory where my weary bones crumble
from thirst—silent, deafening, in my supplication for rain.

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this poem is kindof about amsterdam.

Meditating on the Banks of de Herengracht

I wonder what could lie in all that mud.
A graveyard of machines—abandoned, stolen
illegally parked. Bring me the dumped and rusting,
the buckled wheels and lost saddles. I want
the broken chains and twisted spokes, I want
the warped forks and fenders. I want
someone to help me get this out, write this down.
I can’t trap the labyrinth on the page:
stucco, stock brick and gothic finials,
viridian water choked with grimy swans,
torrential crowds, the smoke on my tongue
stinging like diesel and overripe fruit.
I am endless desire and desperate need. I am lost.
Someday I’ll backpedal into this moment
and skim off the desperation. The reverberating sky
and ruby moons will beckon me back down
tulip-strewn streets, into dark shops and secret
boutiques. I’ll remember the solidity of earth
beneath my body in motion. I’ll remember
the sweat, the joyful loss of breath and the promise
of every cyclist manically buzzing by.

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Aw man. I talk about nautical stuff too much.

Sometimes I feel too stuck in the title of this blog–THE DEPTHS. I guess the depths is an idea that really touches me. For some reason I think of the mind as something as complex and unfathomable as the ocean. To reach into the mind–particularly into one’s own mind–is to embark on a long voyage of some sort. So I must have been stuck on that thought again when I wrote this…Plus I’ve been spendign a lot of time around all these adorable longboats on the Regent’s Canal in London. Hah.

Adrift

Last night, I dreamt I was a gunner
on the HMS Belfast in the Pacific Theater,
loading the cannons: shell to the breach, ram it home.
Set the fuse, raise the muzzle and fire away.

In reality I spend every night in the strange depths
of a tide-turning city, where the streets
fill and empty and the skyscraper lights
shudder on and off. Liquid windowpanes
melt my face into black and white polygons:
anonymous lips and eye sockets,
cheeks and brows I don’t recognize.

Tonight I dream I rule the Thames, and
I sink the Belfast to the silt-swilled bottom.
For every day they spent saving her, I wanted
to strike her down—
tear every armament to spindles, break the bilges,
snap the keel and shatter the hull.
From the shores London weeps and watches
as I drown with the wreckage.

In the anarchy of the mind, my body swims
forward without me into the soft rush
of traffic noise and urban trash. There are
no stars to see from here, not even at this height.
In the morning the gloom of a rain-drenched
dawn will slither over the wave-tossed sheets
and touch the crest upon which I lay, waking.

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