Saturday, February 29, 2020

SLEEPING IN THE CITY

what kind of rest
do you expect to get
at all

what sort of recompense
for passing which state
of remoteness

when there is no bat
no rodent
no owl stirring

no moonlight silver
water lapping
against a cistern wall

with no lush
canopy overhead
no dense carapace

how is a body supposed
to zip itself up
for a bit

to stall infinity
between two blinks
of armistice

to see only the pureness
of the ink and not
the words written in it

to pull its head off
and push it
off into the black

stream of that
same ink
on the pillow of oblivion

and then turn around
without guilt
and forget


Friday, February 28, 2020

BURNING QUESTION

If there is one, the reason
for it must be
spread so thin
and evenly across the planet

that all the men and women
and even children dodging
do not see it,
though they lend it

a little more credit
with every new instance
of their constant and
deliberate looking.

The only scintilla of a hint
they get is the golden,
splendid, spacious
daily-ness of it.

This unnoticeability
is encouraging
to scientists; scholars say its
constancy reassures.

The burning frivolousness
of light illuminating
empty space might serve as
evidence—how dependably

each night it fails;
just as in the morning,
how it never fails
at returning.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

VOID WHERE PROHIBITED

What about those times
when you say you feel fine—
not sick and not well,
not relieved, but not particularly
miserable; when you do or don't stop
to muse a little, or complain, or
demand a satisfying explanation
from anyone about anything;
when you get through all your email
but haven't begun to reply;
when you don't mind crying
as long as it's because of the bracing wind
blowing in off the lake, the onion
your dutiful chef's knife is chopping,
or the big song from a movie
coming on full-blast in the car;
when you have neither failed nor succeeded
at graciously receiving the redundant
gift you've just been given,
deciphering the confusing
wording on the assembly instructions,
or giving your last trace of love
to this small battered animal
called daily life
who must trust someone soon
if it wants to survive
but doesn't remember how
and has no idea who?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

THE SYMPTOMS

It feels a little like
Christmas as a toddler—if you were
just begging for
a little more self-consciousness.

It's as if you realized early on
a good night's rest could work
much better as a sacrifice
to the kind of divinity you believed in.

It's reminiscent of the time
back in school
you had actually studied
but never got tested on the material—

the calculus devised by
Newton and Leibniz, meant to pulverize
the smooth curves of existence
into a fine dust of fractions

which of course you couldn't keep
from inhaling; after that
you found your own lungs had grown
worse at filtering unrarified air.

Now it greets you surreptitiously
like someone who doesn't know you,
as if you really needed this new way
to suffer, another name for the flu.

The disorientation causes you
to swoon, forget your own name,
fall back and then band
together with the rest

of the nameless populace
bearing witness to clear and
certain experience, instead of just
its tenuous first-personness.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

OPTIONAL

For a few hours in the early morning
I can choose
to use a language which is private
to speak of
only what is optional.

I might just be softly lobbing dreams
into tautological algorithm
machines; I may discover—a poem
is either a song, or it isn't
much of a poem at all,

but there is no dissent
from the audience—the remnants
of eggs and coffee black
or the headless sardines
not yet extracted from the can.

And I know how all that
might come off
out there, but
I don't have to care all the time
about what is optimal; I say

let the midday break
as my validation; may the sky
brighten a little, as I
hurry off, as if
I have just gotten away with something.

Monday, February 24, 2020

HYACINTH AND IRIS

How precious
is each
endlessly regenerative
special occasion?

How fresh and exciting
the unprecedented loss
of our counting

of whatever
new thing just
predictably happened?

How significant
the prefabricated sentiments
and ornamentation adorning
the most trivial events?

Nature has given us
a quick heuristic to follow—

the more anthropologically
significant the flower,

the deadlier the petals
if ingested.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

IT'S YOUR CHOICE

Any point
in an elliptical orbit
might as well be the end
as the beginning

someone who must meet you
has just been born

someone who you have met
has just died

on the road
to the chapel of influence
or the bright silver hospital
of exegesis

a crow overhead
a scavenger bird
alights on the path

and denudes you with his
bewildering rasp
all mouth, but no voice
you are given two options

express your ideas
and suffer the risks
of their getting pecked
and shredded apart

lay your beating heart down
naked and liable
to be picked clean
of all its feeling

or else choose
later on to read in the paper

of the silent auction of both
and suffer

the same humiliation alone.

Friday, February 21, 2020

ARTIST'S CONCEPTION

All throughout
history, the people longed
to take it easy.

The wisest 
in society were the first 
to notice clumps

of warm rocks, straight 
trunks, a thick 
dry stump, eventually 

evolving the chair, 
the high stool, the plump 
couch, the chaise lounge, 

and finally, the throne
with its baroque contortions 
of polished oak and its

rare earth metals
embedded across its splat and crest—
whatever worked best 

to instill reverence and congeniality, 
imbuing its incumbent 
with dignity and grace.

The physics came easy:
any sitter would have to concede
to a taller chair of power,

the closer to their
indentured artists' conceptions
of heaven, the better.

But that was before 
the painted sky they'd been praising
began peeling and falling 

in shreds from the ceiling. 
The desperate populace 
in the streets, all alarmist 

and starving 
from generations of bending and 
kneeling and standing and running,

had no choice but to eat it.
Unfortunately, the lead 
made them all go crazy.

After that it was the noble
who were in trouble.
Everything they excelled at—

sitting tall, keeping still, 
receiving wisdom 
from above, sending help,

preaching hope, 
invoking love—was worse 
than useless.

In this pandemic, faith 
was a deadly placebo; the 
only cure was doing work.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

THE FUTURE ISN'T WRITTEN

Certain commandments
never got handed down;

some rules are so right
they just aren't taught.

instead they get borne
away inside, folded in half

like dormant molecules
of foreign RNA

waiting patiently
to unclasp and replicate—

first, like newlywed
husband and wife, next

like dust motes
dancing in a light beam,

then, like the small
nag of an ache

that will one day
transubstantiate

into a pain so great, it
exonerates your life.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

BAD NEWS

Dear tired toilers,
meekly dallying
toward the reward
of a weekend which
never seems to come—
it's safe to say mistakes
were made, Gregory's
math got a little messed
up, and that calendar
on your phone is bunk.
Truth is, there's no end
in sight to this week,
no place where all
labors cease, no private
retreats or untapped oases
left on the map. In short:
no rest until you're
dead—and even then,
it's looking questionable.
Lest you forget
from those endless
religion classes: the kingdom
of heaven is spread
so thin on the Earth that
no man can see it; heck,
even Eden was no paradise.
Eden was a test.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

GESTALT SHIFT

Beware those words
which first appear
open as the air, transparent
as apertures—for even they
must be mounted
in very particular frames
and offer only one or two
points of view.
Everything outside is excluded
by definition; everything interior,
an anemic excerpt of
the gestalt perspective.
Notice how subtle
and slowly they accrue,
until they are assumed
to be self-evident
as the mountains, as those
pre-existent layers of sediment
which stratify the planet.
Recall from your past
mistakes how often
a wall of glass was
still a wall, and remember
any thought you think
you can see through now
is potentially false
and cruel as this small window
in your prison cell.

Monday, February 17, 2020

POEM FOR YOUR SECOND CHILD

If I could talk to her
in her own inestimable language
I would tell her

how tough it will be
to love the tough loves
back in return.

And how
just trying to do that will cost her
every other thing she earns.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

PARADISE

Saturday morning,
mellow and predictable,
pale gold light shreds
in the half-shut blinds,
ceiling fan still pulverizing
last night's dreams into bits
which settle back like a
thick static on my
tongue and my chest.
Desperate not to move,
not to risk losing
the balance of my inclination
on this delicate tangent line
to wholeness's floozy ellipse.
Whatever that distant rhythm
of being, whatever life
might still be left outside
the walls of this bedroom might
stand in a minute more
for the Eden I knew
and know I can't return to.

Friday, February 14, 2020

ALMOST

I know it must sound
almost boring.
Here I am, sitting in a chair
thinking about
everything: the rhythm
and the melody, how it was
and how it wasn't (beautiful
and awful in both cases).
Out the window, I can hear
the morning gossip of sparrows,
see the determined
look of sobriety in the ice blue sky,
and recognize them both
as chordal harmony. For me,
the song is always almost
exactly the same—except
that it's constantly modulating.
It goes: I'm sorry I did that, 
I'm sorry I said that, but 
I see what you are, and I 
know where I'm at. 
Like a great burning blues,
the tune is sad but satisfying,
it comforts you as it
disenfranchises. Like a red
letter date, it always reminds you
everything that used to
exist for you has been destroyed
almost completely—
but not completely.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

MIRACLE

You are free to to notice how
the snow comes and goes
like a mysterious saint, replacing
degradation with dignity
and erasing morass back to white.
Like a series of nested infinities,
see it accumulate—more like
a magnitude than a number,
more a mindset than a mood.
And although the gruff populace
claims to long for specificity,
there is still an order in the ripples
which gradually spread from mind
to mind, like the simple meme
of a blank rectangle. Gradually
this penitentiary, filled with a guilty
3.5 million, grows a little
less accountable; no one thinks now
of pressing charges. Nobody—
not a child, or a brown squirrel
on the frozen power line—wonders
why or how it's possible
this gossamer cloudstuff falls
down—instead of the
other way around.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

NINE TO FIVE

Watch closely
there is nothing in my hand
except maybe for my other hand

listen I am just making all this up
for our mutual benefit as I go along

hacking at the thicket of quiet
with inherited machetes
troves of words dulled but trusty

toward the grove of a possible future
which could enfold us both

when we're inside
it comes as a relief
simply to be included in the mystery

but just the same I ache someday
to do work that is real

I know this is wrong but I
still believe it
my heart is an engine

my brain the grim determined conductor
this body the aggregate
of loud black iron tunneling

headlong into the formless newness
the sheer insouciance
of tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

LINES COMPOSED SOME 11 DAYS AFTER THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY 12TH CHICAGO FEBRUARY

Somehow, even the inimitable
rings of Saturn—so musical
and gossamer,

so holy and Pythagorean
when viewed from afar—
no longer seem quite as mystical 

now that they're
all chopped up and crammed
in the gutters,

along every streetcurb, under
every idle grayscale car
and too-tired-to-fall-down

overpass in town.
This time of year,
surveilling the infinite

bits of gravel
and the odd example
of alien junk suspended

in chunks
of ancient ice—is nothing
special.

Monday, February 10, 2020

DIFFERENTIAL OF A FUNCTION

The trouble between
the two of us is—you
have always been
easy to locate.

Every day you change
by exactly the same increment;
a distinctive piece
of bowed cello music

at a consistently rolling tempo.
Each month and year of you
beautifully congruent
as the wavering

of the seasons. To cut it short:
you are the climate,
not the weather.
But I'm in a different spot

on a different line;
duplicitous in my constancy
and erratic in my stubborn
stabs at simplicity—

I don't even have an atmosphere.
I'm more like a bonfire
raging on the surface of
the daytime moon—not hard at all

to picture in theory,
but impossible
to get out there
and actually find.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

DOLLHOUSE

Photo: Geert Hermsen
The people before us were French doors— she wore her hair alfresco; his bon mots were rococo. There was so much room in the sky's loosely- translated word for all-time that the way our phonemes fit together after all, like the last puzzle pieces stung like an insult. Did the sky blush to bloom, a parasol in a fruit- drenched cocktail at the way we took luster and let her linger a holy wafer dissolving into after— our tongues hummed. How we longed for italics, ellipses, anything to expunge the blandness of texture the pure falsity of sand begetting glass begetting windows to the dollhouse of transparent
love which is
such a perfect container it imprisons us.


—Dan Smart + Reka Jellema, February 8, 2020


Friday, February 7, 2020

YES, AND

Technically, there is room
and time enough 
in the universe 

for any foolish thing you say 
to come to pass eventually.
And there might even be 

utility in roughing-up the things 
which hurt you the most, 
even if, they, technically, 
no longer exist.

But those stacks 
of beige-brown days leading 
back toward adolescence  

start to smash together 
pretty fast, like the 
peanut butter sandwich at
the bottom of your backpack.

Imagination, that 
desire to create—this, too 
tends to halve itself over time, 

although less like a sandwich 
than an infinite series 
approaching its limit. 

Making verses 
killing time

is a correlation undefined 
as dividing 
by zero is. 

Not zero as in: no longer interesting 
or pleasing to the fickle crowd;
Zero as in: no distinctions 
of any kind. 

Try to keep in mind, we're 
talking about infinity here;
it's meaningless to choose 
between distinctions 

when the truth 
the whole time is: 
you could be both 

spending 
and wasting your life. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

APOLITICAL POEM

I know it's not
relevant—let alone decent
to talk about

in public. So
instead, for the millionth
time, before I go out

I purge this grim fetish,
excoriating my discursive
soul for the

urge in the process;
I create a few lines, then
mutely discharge

into the pure offwhite
void of each
column

on the page
some of my favorite
words:

hyacinth,

sugarcane,

coffee,

and birds.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

NEEDLESS LONGING

When I am quiet,
but the soundness hums;
when the pen is still
and the page is empty, but
the inquest is done—

let it be
because there is nothing
I am seeking—no holes,
bored deep by sharpened forceps
of grief, which must be

cemented-over; no fuss
to cover the few bare scars.
No one who needs to see
will come. No one will know
how contented I was.


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

CONTEMPORARY DANCE

As a spectator,
you struggle to understand
it. An addict

of experience,
you fiend
for significance;

want
every gesture—need it—
to be special.

Only after you're driven
to participate
does it start

to make sense. Now
you know:
balance, intuition

upkeep, repetition,
the satisfaction of building
a pattern that lasts.

You find yourself walking
around the proscenium, 
kowtowing

to righteously indignant-
but-mistaken
eye-witnesses,

then bending
toward the floor
miming kisses,

as if pressing
your delicate lips
to the blackened

marks on the resolute fists
of the corpse
of your past.

Only the darkness
at the end
of each performance

could be considered
referential or important,
and only because it's

the exact same dark
as the dark
at the start.


Monday, February 3, 2020

MORE THINGS ON HEAVEN AND EARTH

This old cemetery,
like all the others, is overrun
with alien creatures—
humanoid hybrids
made of igneous rock, but with wings
broad and muscled as an eagle's
and ghastly looks of longing
on their uncanny faces,
as they extend their hands
(easily their most
recognizable feature),
desperate to absorb
the radiant heat
and invisible light of this grim
homeostatic bonfire—
before flying off through the
cold of deep space, back
to the unfathomable
place where they came from.