Philip Rosenthal © 2009 All Rights Reserved
Man to man
Thirteen killed by a man in Germany
and then himself.
Ten killed by a man in Alabama
and then himself.
I have killed no one, I am behind.
Are they out there
and we just don’t hear them, stories
of men who go crazy
and mow the lawns of strangers?
What was he like, the interviewer would ask
Kind of quiet, she would say.
You know: kept to himself.
A nice man, really.
And then he was just like, you know, mowing.
Mowing and mowing and mowing
and mowing. There were grass clippings
everywhere. It was horrible.
A man kills his girlfriend and then himself.
A man dresses as Santa, kills his family
and then himself.
On that day, I stood under a tree.
My standing under the tree
moved a crow from that tree to a tree
across the road.
When that crow moved, a second crow
and a third crow followed,
and I thought, I have moved the crows,
and thought, when I followed, the crows
have moved me.
I have done this a year now, gone from tree
to tree by crow, shooting no one as I go.
A man paints his wife green and then himself.
A man scolds the tulips and apologizes
to the roses.
A man gathers all the men in the world
and asks why rock scissors paper
won’t do, why rock scissors paper
fire won’t do, why rock scissors paper fire
atom bomb won’t do.
The sound of all men shrugging
sounds like the sound of all crows
taking off from all trees, like the day
flying away from itself.
A man kills the day and then himself.
A man kills the sun and then himself.
I am telling you, Alpha Centauri, man to star:
* * *
O holy stuff
My squeezable Martian died. He was a blob
of flesh-colored & thin plastic with knobs
of blue eyes and red ears that popped out
a bit when squeezed obsessively
because it was fun and I am seven
times seven years old. The cause of death’s
unknown. He lies before me on “The New Penguin
Factfinder,” a decidedly British compendium,
given how many pages are devoted to the Voous
taxonomic classification of birds, shriveled up
and in, as if he were heated and the air
inside, of which Martian bones are made,
escaped. I’ve no proof he was a he,
and in sympathy to the belief that the body
must enter the afterlife whole, I’ve told
my orange scissors there will be no autopsy.
They only want to be of use. I’ve seen this
in trees, the main suppliers in spring
of the color I’ve named Resurrection Green,
who, come fall, unfurl the dance
of a thousand veils, and all winter, stand Spartanly
in snow, as if knowing I need
to look out at dusk and feel solitude
enacted by nature, I love a cup
of cinnamon tea with the stoicism
of maples, since I'm here and self-pity’s
a sport we could easily add to the Olympics,
Synchronized Woe-is-me. I look at my dog
every time I leave the house and sense
there’s no scale in her mind
for my leavings, each as absolute
as each, her eyebrows rise and thicken
and she wants to follow to preserve the “we”
that is the shape she knows of life.
Somehow, fidelity to her in those moments
translates into not replacing
my Martian, who, since we met,
has reminded me of the dream
in which I walked up to a lake
with my eyes in my hands
and pitched them in. They swam away and back
into how I looked at falling apart
differently then, there’s no other dream,
no other alien for me, this is love
until I decide something else is, some twig
or bottle cap I’ll carry with an orange peel
in my pocket back to him, to here,
to the sextant and Chagall
and years-dead roses in a vase, the sex
and kiss of every thing and now
that owns me.
* * *
Pieces of how it was
When we went outside to smoke we stood
in the same relation to each other
in the circle then of nicotine
whereas before the desire for nicotine
defined the circle of her saying
in the kitchen that “landfill”
suggests land is empty and needs
to be filled or his that by holding
his wedding ring out and moving it
back and forth he can slip his marriage
around the sun as wind sandpapered
the little light there was
and brushed our smoke from its face
I pointed at the ridge in my mind
where I walked the next day and found
the Happy silver Birthday deflated balloon
I put under your windshield-wiper
for telling me how we are
and are not time-lapsed photos
is the vision of memory that helped
when your mother called you “nurse” and said
nothing more to you ever
while we waited for the cigarette
to come around and you photographed
a week later the Happy silver
Birthday deflated balloon
beside the monarch wing on the porch
just before Frank the mailman and you
smoked what turned out to be your last
since my parents have begun forgetting
little by little who I am.
* * *
Is as the sacred form of to be
Christmas morning and I imagine
“The Boy Who Cried Wolf”
is descriptive of these clouds
I hold responsible for the thought.
Millions of you are out there, driving
already to your grandmother’s
or home, behind the wheel
or passengered to the side
or in back, boxes
in the boot, bows and silver
in the stoppage of time, everything closed
but the highways. On this day,
when everyone is somewhere, it feels
as if anywhere can be nowhere,
I have an entire mountain
to myself. For the snow, there’s a word
I’m looking for, a military...
scout. This is the scout snow
for the actual snow to come,
a military word, a few absentminded
flakes, life is about
to fill in. Since this
is my sand box, I name the color
of winter grass
Threshold, a form of gold
mixed with sleep, name the winter field
Window or Cup or Spoon, name this tendency
Embrace, as if suddenly
I’m an emissary of the group hug,
when most of all, I’m resting a moment here,
in the trough of the sine wave
of sun, as you unwrap or drive
to unwrapping and I lean
once more toward horizon
explaining, as if to a child,
what a gift is.
* * *
The half apple, bitten accidentally
with symmetry, appears on the red plate
as white wings
seeded at the center, three scraped
by the knife as it traveled through
to here I am, now, looking
at an apple scalloped by my mouth
where shall we go, we ask every time
we look at each other
or table, I am undone
by the number of buttons sometimes,
of miles just to get to you, under it all,
warm as staves from the fire.
All Poems Copyright © 2009
Bob Hicok’s This Clumsy Living received the Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress. A Guggenheim and NEA Fellow this year, his new book—Words for Empty and Words for Full—is due from Pitt in Spring 2010.
from Poet’s Bookshelf: Contemporary Poets On Books That Shaped Their Art
poet Bob Hicok
Chilton’s Manual for a 1968 VW Beetle
Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
The Antaeus Anthology, ed. Daniel Halpren
Helen Gardner, Art Through the Ages
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. in chief, Paul Edwards
The Chilton manuals are guides to car repair. If you’ve owned a Bug—one of the originals—I don’t need to tell you why this book was so important to me. If you’ve never owned a Bug, you’re smarter than I am and can forego reading this list of books that have mattered to me. I can’t remember how many times my red Bug with mag wheels and theoretical heat broke down on the highway, but like all good Chilton’s, mine was grease stained and kicked more than once into a field.
I loved A People’s History of the United States before Good Will Hunting. Along with Barbara Tuchman and David McCullough, Zinn writes history with a narrative flair. I also admire his admission that he writes from a particular perspective, that his aim is to speak for those less often heard: “Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees...” I first read this book in my early twenties, and his approach was radically refreshing.
Antaeus was one of my favorite literary publications, but I came to it late in its life and after reading this anthology. This is one of the first books of poetry I read. One of the oddest things about this book is that I like many of the poems by poets whose work I don’t generally care for. I think Halpren got the best a poet had to offer. My copy is covered in a fair amount of duct tape—not duck tape, for those of you who read with colloquial eyes. I can’t remember why Antaeus was closed down, but I say here that I'd like it back. Please.
I own two copies of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, for reasons of forgetfulness I think but also I couldn’t pass up buying the second copy for $4.00. As the introduction states, “Since publication of the first edition in 1926, Art Through the Ages has been a favorite with generations of students and general readers, who have found it an exciting and informative survey.” Poets are dilettantes, I am a poet, I am a dilettante. I’m also drawn to the arts, particularly painting, as many poets—slaves to the image—are. Whereas most textbooks have the effect on the mind that English cooking has on the stomach, Gardner moves with spry thoroughness through the development of Western art. And the book does not stint on images.
Paul Edwards is the Editor in Chief of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Editor and Chief is a more satisfying title, don’t you think? Certainly such a person would get the best parking space. I enjoy this affair in four volumes, covering Abbagnano through Zubiri, because the mind-body problem is something few people want to talk about. I like reference books, and this is my favorite example of the species. Can’t remember what bee was in Hume’s bonnet, who the heroes of deontological ethics were? This is the book for you. As Americans, we are enthralled by action and afraid of deliberation. Poets feel they’re overlooked: name a contemporary philosopher. Self-reflection may be the highest art; I like to be reminded we are capable of at least trying to take ourselves apart.
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