Four Poems

by Lewis Warsh

DARK SIDE OF TIME

Time is the solution in which the living
and the dead confer—there’s no other place for us
or them and there’s no other place to be
(except where we are), putting our feet up
on the balcony and staring out at the empty
plain—where everything is invisible and everyone
has a name (the only way back is the way
you came), and once I played Odysseus
to her Penelope, way back when, and we stepped
from the bath in someone else’s house,
and once all the lights went out in the middle
of the night and we built a fire until the storm
abated, and later—it’s getting late in the day—
we’ll have caviar and champagne—at the edge
of the crater on the Sea of Dreams,
and look down to earth as if it was all one
and the same, and leave our footprints
for those who follow.

 

DEAR COMMUNARD

The satisfaction of human needs creates new needs
Marx said, just as a poem gives birth to another
Almost immediately after you finish the one before,
So there’s no sense of completion and only an occasional
Word crossed out, deleted, “no completion” seems
To be the order of the day.

Something left out calls for its other,
A warm bed is all one needs, and the new poem is calling
But the operator is asleep, and the words are lost
And found again, that’s the other theme—the ghosts
Of the past enter stage center, the animals and the street
People line up on the boardwalk, the ocean looms,
Scatterbrained birds of a feather fly south for the winter,
The deletions add up—the Hotel De Ville burns to the ground—
One wing of the Louvre is gone—a mural by Delacroix turns to ash—
The poem needs some sustenance but no one can
Give enough, that’s what I was like when I was younger,
Insatiable, in my own way, so that people thought me strange
For wanting more than I had, but the mystery is in the words
“Never enough”—I might have worn them on my sleeve—
So what do you say we get down on our knees and pray
For some god of forgiveness to man the barricades?
Or do we take it as it is, as it goes, while remaining cognizant
Of what happened down through time,
All the thens and theres mingling with all the Is and yous
Until a direct address is delivered to all of Paris
On the day that 100,000 Prussians did a victory lap
Down Les Champs-Elysées—and it all really happened,

Dear Communard.

 

WE LIVE

We live according to rules that no one knows about
but ourselves. We defy nature, in a way, by exerting
pressure on areas of the skin that would draw
blood to the surface, around the neck and throat
area. My friend Marissa has to keep her neck covered
at all times for fear that strangers would think
she was being abused. Whenever she met someone
for the first time she always turned off the lights
before undressing so her new lover wasn’t confused
by her scars. They’re in a room with no windows, a
kind of bunker, and Marissa is standing against one
wall smoking while the man she just met uncorks a
bottle of wine. The room is filled with the odor of
domestic animals. She wants to bury her face into
the dead leaves that fall one by one onto the sidewalk.
Her hair is combed over one eye. The next
day, she promises herself, if she survives the night,
she’ll cut it all off. But the man, reading her mind,
says: “Let’s cut it off now.” He takes a pair of garden
shears from the back of the medicine cabinet. “How
are your teeth?” he asks. Marissa remembers everything
we taught each other, all those days back in her
apartment after school, and in the local movie theaters
on Saturday afternoons. But it was confusing,
especially the part about walking the walk and talking
the talk, that didn’t make sense in real life. Just
the thought of talking and walking and smoking, all
at the same time, seemed too much to ask. But when
he lifted the pair of pliers and told her to open her
mouth she figured it was easier to do what he asked
than try to think of escaping. She remembered that
the back door led to an alley surrounded by gates
and she imagined what it felt like to be impaled on
the spikes as she climbed over. Then she remembered
the knock out drops that I had given her before
she left the house. “Don’t forget to call,” I said, kissing
her on the forehead, “if you’re going to be home
late.” She diverted his attention and poured the
powder into his drink and in a minute he was writhing
on the floor, a thick gel oozing out of the corner of
his mouth. “Leave,” Marissa thought to herself, as if
she was a police sergeant talking to one of her underlings.
They were at the scene of a crime and it was
time to go home. She guided herself from room to
room until she reached the front door. Then she was
out in the open again, where everything mattered.

 

THE MILK WAS SOUR

The milk was sour, but I drank it anyway

You must check the expiration date on the container
    before you buy it

I spilled the container of sour milk into the sink

The strawberries are moldy, I only bought them
    yesterday

It’s pointless to ruin your life over love for another
    person

You can always go back to the store and get a refund

I ran out into the rain and went to the store
    for a container of milk

It’s not necessary to wear clothing when you go
    to the store

No one in the store notices whether you’re wearing
    clothing or not

For some animals the ritual pattern of courtship
    is a dance of death

Wet streets, the entrance to the bridge, the windows
    of stores selling diamonds

Go back to where you started and repeat everything
    you said

Once I stood where Mao stood and stared down at
    Tiananmen Square

And once the wind blew me backwards off the Great Wall

 

—Lewis Warsh’s most recent books are A Place in the Sun (Spuyten Duyvil), Inseparable: Poems 1995–2005 (Granary) and The Origin of the World (Creative Arts). He is the editor and publisher of United Artists Books and director of the MFA program in creative writing at Long Island University in Brooklyn. Mimeo Mimeo #7 (Fall 2012) features his poetry, fiction, and collages.

Tags:
Poetry
BOMB 122
Winter 2013
The cover of BOMB 122
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