A Small Poem to Be Shared over Soup

Turn on the lights
In your car; turn on
Your headlights
Remember and do not
Forget to turn on
Your headlights

It is not evening
And for a little while
Still we will not need
Them, but we are all
Driving here together
And it is a small thing to do

Still Image

There is first what there is
Not in the photograph
Which is the time
And while this almost certainly
Is recorded in the metadata
There is of course the question
Of whether a digital photograph
Is precisely its digital image
On a hard drive or indeed only
The image presented to the user
And I have studied this
Or perhaps more correctly have
Studied alongside scholars
Who have studied this
And there is not a simple
Resolution, but of course
This is only lacking because we have
Over complicated the seeing of things
And the simplest resolution
Is that the photograph is only what
Is seen
And nothing more
And what is not seen
Is the time of day
Which was 11:51 am
And what is not seen
Is a window or anything like
A window, except two doors
But these open onto internal
Rooms and passages
And do not admit the passage
Of exterior light
And what is not seen is the light
Of the sun, or a particular
Shadow that could tell us the time of day
Which was 11:51 am

There is after what cannot be seen
What can be seen, which precedes
In the seeing of things what cannot
Be seen, and must be kept for last
And again there is first what cannot
Be seen, or more honestly, what is at
The edge of seeing, or again more honestly
The edges of the image
And what cannot be seen
Or what more honestly is at the edge
Of seeing is the expanse of their shoulders
Is the full height of their torso
And the full breadth of their hands
And what cannot be seen
Or what more honestly is at the edge
Of seeing is the very top of their head
And what cannot be seen or what
Are more honestly at the edge of seeing
Or again more honestly at the edge of the
Image are the curls combed back on the
Top of their head, still damp from a shower
From which within the time it takes for
Hair of a certain thickness to dry
Which is at least ten minutes
They have emerged, late in the morning
To take a photograph at the exact time
Of 11:51 am

And there is after what cannot be seen
Or what is more honestly at the edge of
Seeing, what can be seen, and what is seen
First, which is a particular shadow of
Unshaven hair, of something perhaps
Too long to still be called stubble
But which is the product of a week or more
Of unchecked growth
Or perhaps this is only what I see first
And what you see first, or someone
Else sees first is the tuft of uncombed
Hair below their right ear, or perhaps
What you see first, or someone else
Sees first is the glossiness of their
High forehead, and perhaps the recession
Of hair
Or perhaps this is something only I see
Or only something I imagine
But do not see
Or perhaps what you see first is that
They are not looking at you
Or because you were not there
Are not looking into the mirror
Into their own eyes
But instead have cast down their eyes
To the camera
With which they are taking a photograph
To the new camera
Which they purchased only yesterday
And with which they are taking a photograph
Still damp or perhaps even in places
Wet, from a mid-morning shower
From which they have just emerged
To dress, and prepare for a slow day
Which has already been a slow day
Or a slow morning
And which will pass soon
Into a slow afternoon
In exactly nine minutes
From the current time of 11:51 am

A Room of Indeterminate Size

There is a room  
of indeterminate size  
with white, wide windowless walls  
of indeterminate number  

It is not a stage  
It has no openings    
It has no doors and is hung  
with no curtains  

But it is entered  
as though by the opening of a door  
or by the drawing back of a curtain
by a man dressed in black

It is entered by a man
dressed in black, leading
a procession of indeterminate length
of men who viewed individually

Can be seen to be wearing robes
of unknowable darkness, and wearing
wigs of a particular white
which leaves an undesirable impression

But who cannot be viewed individually
and when viewed as a group can
be seen only to be dressed alike
and be said only to be judges

The room is not a courtroom
which is true of every room
because this is the only room
and it is not a courtroom

But must be constructed
to be a courtroom, because
there is to be a trial
and this is the only room

The men are not woodworkers, but erect
a structure of wood, or of a wood-grained
composite of indeterminate composition
And across from this, another structure

The men are not woodworkers, but erect
first a door, and across from this, a
table of indeterminate length, at which
they sit, and from which they call the court

To order. There is to be a trial
which is not to say there is a man to be tried
but that there is a courtroom
and so there must be a trial

It is the only room
and there must be a trial
so it is constructed to be a courtroom
and the court is called to order

It is the only room
and there must be a trial
so the court is called to order
and there must be a man to be tried

It is the only room
and there must be a man to be tried
and all the men have entered the room
and there still must be a man to be tried

This is the responsibility
of the first man
not to be tried
but to produce or procure a man

To be tried. There must be a man
to be tried, and this is the responsibility
of the first man, to produce
or procure a man to be tried

Now from the depths of his robe
The first man produces or procures
An obelisk of indeterminate measure
Which cannot be said

To be seen, but when seen can be said
only to be of indeterminate dimension
or of indeterminate measure, and not
to exist in the hand of the first man

Or to originate from the pockets
of his robe, but to exist only
in a very general sense within
the white, windowless walls

Of indeterminate number which
mark the indeterminate bounds
of the room of indeterminate size
which is the only room

And into the obelisk
the first man utters
a coefficient of indeterminate
meaning, which speaks into

Life in the indeterminate
dimensions of the obelisk
a singular singularity
governed by the coefficient of indeterminate

Meaning. Meaning the beginnings
of a simulation or dream
of a universe, flowering
from a solitary number

Into the manifold expressions
of the possibilities of indeterminate
infinitude of a solitary number
which is to say an uncountable infinity

But this is not what concerns the men
but is only the routine of the obelisk
which winds through indeterminate time
the workings of its particular vision

Which is to say the particular
vision of the judges, the particular
conception of the men who
have entered the room of indeterminate size

Which is not their concern
but only the routine of the obelisk
which winds through indeterminate time
its vision of a solitary number

Flowering from singularity
through the ages of a universe
which is not the concern of the men
but only the routine of the obelisk

And this is their concern
that after indeterminate time
there occurs within the vision
of the obelisk an event

For which an individual
expression of the coefficient
of indeterminate meaning
can be prosecuted

And this is their concern
that after indeterminate time
there occurs an event
for which an individual can be prosecuted

Because this is the responsibility
of the first man, to produce or
procure a man to be tried
because there must be a trial

Because this is the only room
and it has been constructed
to be a courtroom
because there must be a trial

And so after indeterminate time
there must occur an event
for which an individual can be prosecuted
and into the obelisk

The first man will speak a name
and there will come a creaking of hinges
which have never before in indeterminate time
been turned, and across the room

Of indeterminate size, a door will be
opened, and through the door a man
will enter, naked, and shackled
hand and foot, and again,

The first man will speak a name
and the court will be called to order
but the trial will be brief
because in the obelisk there is

Perfect knowledge of the event
for which this man is to be tried
and perfect knowledge of the man
and so there will be what can

Only be called a trial
in the strictest of formalities
and what in truth should be
called a sentencing

And the man will be sentenced
which is to say the men who sit at the table
who were the first men to enter the
room of indeterminate size

Before the first man spoke the
coefficient of indeterminate meaning
and called the name of the man who was
to be tried, will speak together

A sentence, will call down upon
the man who is to be sentenced
a prescription of punishment
for the crime or crimes of 

Indeterminate number and
indeterminate severity
for which he has been tried
and which he has been called upon

To answer for, and the men who were
the first men to enter the room
which is the only room will call upon
the last man to answer, and he will begin

"I was brought into this world in shackles"
but this is not the concern of the men
who were the first men, and they
will bring down their sentence upon him

And the last man will be torn limb
from limb, and the first men who were the
first to enter the room will eat his flesh
and the first man, who spoke the coefficient

Of indeterminate meaning, and who
called the name of the man who was to be tried
will eat the heart of the last man
and the men will be satisfied

who were the first men to enter the room
which was constructed to be a courtroom
because there was to be a trial
and the men will be satisfied

who built the door, and built
the table, and produced or procured
the obelisk, and spoke the coefficient
and called the name

And the men will be satisfied
and the door will be torn down
and the table will be torn down
and the men will leave the room

And the room will be empty

Arrested Development

Everyone acts as though they have
Stumbled upon something so incredible
In the idea that we have elected the Bluths to
The White House
When it is so readily apparent in
The basic concept of the show that the family may as
Well be the Bushes.
That in our era of complete knowledge
We have so vanishingly short a conception of the past
That our history drops off so suddenly
That we cannot even remember the current moment
But I have already forgotten the point of this poem
Which is how funny Arrested Development was,
Especially Gob
But no, it is that everyone else is very
Stupid, and I am very smart,
Who for the first time in six months or
Some period of time I have not kept track of
Have written a poem

Extract: American Pop, Vol. 2 — The South

A paperback edition of American Pop is now available on Amazon

Introduction

There is a story of how this book came to be, which to some extent is the book itself. American Pop is a document of myself in a journey across the United States or a document of myself creating that document, and so that story is told already in a certain way. What is missing is the decision, the choice to make this book the book that it is, instead of a different book. And the choice was simple, I wanted to write a book of haiku. These are poems meant to capture an image or a scene, and so there was the need for subjects to capture, but the book is not about these subjects and is not about America, but is simply a collection of poems. Poetry can be forgiven the need to be about something if it remains simply a poem, but even then the best subject for a poem is a thing that can only be found interesting in that poem. I thought I might find these subjects if I kept moving. In a home everything takes on the sort of mundane importance that is anathema to good poetry. Of course anything can become a poem but useful things do not lend themselves to the purpose. Moving there is only one subject that remains and it is the self, which already holds interest only through the self, or through the poet, or through the poem. And the new things and the changing things are not yet known and therefore only interesting in the beholding, in subjectivity, in the poem. There is a progression. The journey is for the subjects, the subjects are for the poems, and this is how the book came to be.

Birmingham, AL

In parking there comes
A certain uncertainty
A lack of balance

Through apartment windows
She watches
The flower pots of other people's lives

Some
Unanticipated
Cornbread

The bristles of his
Chin, a finger picking
Listlessly at a pimple

Sixteen individual eyeballs
I picture them
Lying unattended at the bar

In the corner booth
A bisected head
I watch it chewing from the nose up

Sky blue wall
Chipping off to cloud
White underneath

A face (the shadow of a face)
Stretching and distorting
On the cafe wall

Spring is a hotness
And a sweltering
And a sudden shuddering coldness

Athens, GA

And perhaps
Maybe after all it is only
The ugliness of a dying winter

But here in the
Loudness of the bar
I am made small

It is a declarative
Laugh, as if to say only
I am laughing, hear me laugh

Charlie the dog is still waiting
For a table, but has his spot
In the shade and a bowl of water

The problem is always
Not to order two items
From the breakfast menu

A man with an accordion stands checking his phone. He is what can only be described as forlorn. As you walk away you hear a few bars of music and then there is silence again. On campus there are flowers and the songs of birds but they are the first of spring in the last of winter, are false. A boy and a girl lie wrapped around each other in the new grass, the bell rings. It is an older man who rings the bell, later you do not see who it is but the bell rings again. There are leaves again on the trees and they are dancing in the wind, swaying hand in hand to the song of Spring. The boy's fingers play at the hem of her shirt, inching it up over her stomach and the small of her back. You leave them behind. Spring is only ever a hard memory. Holding her hand on a bright day in April and the way she looked at you. An interrupting bee. Spring is a memory you wake up to after a winter of forgetfulness, but it is only a memory. You remember them now, tracing the curves of each other's bodies softly and silently. Spring is a symphony of gentle but furtive movements, but there hangs over today something of the stillness of winter. From across the street you hear again the accordion, but it is faint and overcome by the sound of traffic.

Charleston, SC

The First Clam

The first clam
Is the plunge, open mouthed
Into the icy Atlantic

The Second Clam

I have not had
A second clam
And do not believe in them

The Third Clam

A third clam
Is a possibility
An induction

The Fourth Clam

Here there is tearing
There can be a new experience
Because there has been experience

The Fifth Clam

A morning kiss
You had been sleeping
You had fallen asleep

The Sixth Clam

Horseradish
Now there is a smaller fork
I have already forgotten you

Asheville, NC

In the bookstore
There is the desire only
To be a bookseller

A bookstore is
The remembering of a bookstore
A rediscovery

Until just now
When you said it
I did not realize
How much I hated
The phrase
Magical Realism

Desiccated leaf
Perched like a sleeping dove
On the barren branch

We have cast off
Our bedclothes and lie undressed
In the heat of a still Spring night

I curl into myself
Skin against skin
Swaddled in the thickness of the night

There is never
The memory of
Falling asleep

Short ascending
Scale, the percussion
Of a falling ice cube

Charlottesville, VA

The doughnut
Soft with heat
Fresh from the bubbling oil

T h   e   pow  d e re d
S      u g   a   r
I s    m e l  t  i   n  g

Yes, but
There remains a question
Of eating these

I am an interruption
However brief
In an empty museum

The protest
Is a polaroid
An image of all protests

In as much as it is clean
In as much as it is kept
Clean

Charleston, WV

No one knows
What happened, the
Night they boarded up the church

There's maybe five
Quarters left in the register
But I can give you some ones

You'd think they'd
Go out west
Follow the setting sun

But this is not a town
It is the harassed of winter
Huddled around a solitary flame

We can forgive them
Their petty penury
But not, perhaps, their grace

Louisville, KY

The Spring sun
Peeks out again
After a sudden flurry

Even the red breast
Of the robin is dimmed and dull
In the gray of this insistent winter

But it is at least the kind
Of beer, that, in being difficult
To drink, draws out an evening

Is there a
Splinter in
My thumb?

We cannot start over again
Spring is begun or beginning
And all the guests have already arrived

Nashville, TN

In the coffee shop
A boy in white dances
To the music of Ella Fitzgerald

His shoulders spread
To the far corners of the ceiling
An architectural installation of a man

An old woman, with only
A withered and arthritic
Hold on her own womanhood

In dark down jackets
Twin boys of five or six
Sipping identical frappucinos

The coffee and (oh) the donut
Are evidently meant to be
A secret, but as things stand

He forgot these
Here he is now
He has remembered them

And here they are
Now at the end of things
And you are not them
And we are not them
But they are themselves
And that is enough

Spontaneous Prose, Experiment No. 1

You hear on that phone that your grandfather — your mother hears on that phone that her father — has had the necrotic tissue evacuated from a wound in his leg and is now bound from ankle to mid thigh and unable to shower. Later you know she is on the phone with him again because she asks if he needs someone to come over to wash his hair. He is unable to work and winter is settling in. There has already been snow and he is building a house. He may move to this house. For as immovable an object as he is or is in my imagination he has moved before, and this house is only next door to the house he lives in now. In my life there have been two houses. There have been many houses, but only two that could be called his own. The first was in mennonite country. Vegetable stands and horse and buggies. Visiting my grandfather in this house was visiting a different world, or maybe the same world but a different time. He is not a twenty-first century man, or even a twentieth century man. He is a builder of houses. Nevertheless he has an iPad and can facetime us whenever he wants. This is his first computer, but his second e-reader. In that first house I came to know my grandfather as a reader of mystery books and westerns, but it turns out this was because they were the books available in large type and at low prices. Once we visited the book shop where he traded in old books and it was not the sort of book shop I have since come to love. When his eyes were better he read every book there was to read. He pronounces Les Miserables "Less Miserables" but this is because he is the man he is. Now he is connected to the New York City public library and can read all the books there are left to read. At the first house there was a dog. This was the first animal my oldest sister ever loved, and perhaps the only dog, because she is allergic. I myself barely remember this dog. His new house which he has lived in for probably a decade now is on a lake, maybe a finger lake because that is where he lives but I cannot be sure. If he moves into the house he is building now, if he finishes it enough before winter, he will have a better view of the lake because it is farther from the lake and therefore on higher ground. He must finish it, because he is a builder of houses. But also he must finish it because it would cost too much to hire someone else to finish it. This is the time of year when grapes are in season, fall on the brink of winter, and he buys a basket a day all for himself, and we are all very jealous, until we visit him and find grapes are still in season and have a basket for ourselves. Then comes the slipping off of skins and the swallowing of seeded, concord grapes. There is a contrast to be made between the skin of his hands and the skin of the grapes they pluck. I have always wanted hands like his, rough, stony, but the best I will get is chalk stains or dry erase or graphite smears. Like all my grandparents and like me, my grandfather studied mathematics in college, but he was married at 18 and had a family to raise, and he is a builder of houses. This is who he is, who he must be. Then there are the wineries. We visit these, when we visit him, and an aeronautics museum. In the wineries you fall in love with the scent of oak and fermenting grapes and fear that you will become an alcoholic but instead you become a writer. When you visit now there are still oak casks and dusty racks of champagne bottles but more and more there are towering vats of steel, and only the scent of wine, with nothing intermingled. There is also the small town of Canandaigua, where Bob Cooley knows everyone and everyone knows Bob Cooley. He even helped renovate the library, the Wood Library, which is made of brick. There is no retirement for this man, because he is a builder of houses, but also because his savings have been drained by his heroin addict daughter. A few of his children still live nearby. Once he rented a room out to his ex wife, my grandmother. He eats watermelon with salt. Or ate watermelon with salt. Now his heart is failing and I do not know if he eats salt.

A Very Serious Arthurian Poem

There once was alongside Excalibur,
A spear, christened Ron, of its caliber
But though Monmouth protested,
T.H. White it detested,
And so Ron is quite out’f the vernacular