Get our latest essays, archival selections, reading lists, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Seventh of Twelve
Truthfully, the Minotaur usually slept.
The centaurs had a still
and were getting to be quite savvy.
They had to live here too
so they kept things toned down,
it was only while the Poet was here,
they said, "keep up appearances,
Poets talk!" And unless he saw
some real wages-of-sin spectacle,
some truly woolly-bully penitence,
we were liable to get real supervision.
"He’ll likely look a long time.
Poets like to let things sink in.
If he asks you anything
make like you’re real sorry."
Also they brought in a bunch of Italians.
And indeed he looked, but was nervous
and missed a lot.
He had to ask twenty
before one would say a thing;
others taunted him
just out of earshot: "I’ve
got three soupbones here
and guess which dog is getting them!"
He fiddled with a human eye
that had been placed there for effect
but didn’t seem to register what it was.
Ribs stuck out of the ground
and on these he scraped his shoes.
They said he was plainspoken and democratic
but plain people don’t speak as he did
nor do they wear such shoes.
He took some notes, he poked at the walls,
and his friend threw a fit for a ride until
Nessus carried them off. He would have
anyway. Then they turned the lights back up.
Saltines were passed around
to help with the nausea.
Many crawled out of the blood.
But a few lingered near the massive radiator
for it was still quite hot,
and they guessed at how this heat would be described.
Homage to Edvard Kocbek
Mud blisters the ditchman’s face and
in the ditchman’s syke lies the quacksalver
who stutters with his tonics through a dream.
A Russian wastrel basks there
in the dream’s rotting and earnest hay.
His name is Pasha which means Little Paul.
In sleep he dines the debutante whittling
spoons outside the Croatian cabaret.
A drunkard sucks the grass at night,
the tenor pipes down by 4 a.m.
The preacher seals the tenor’s fife with beeswax.
The miser accounts for the preacher’s lesions.
On a panel of the beehive
has appeared the horoscope,
the farm boss reads it with a marten’s blink.
The hayracks had been green in May,
that is, they’d been racked with hay.
The hay is home to vermin.
The vermin fall like cabbage from the dream.
The dumb cabbage snickers downriver
past the moping cuckold.
He’d been suckered at the cala farm
and lilies fan flat around him
and the bank is somewhat pristine:
Like all slapdash hell
did the silver nitrate blacken with light.
With dented cups in the soupline
do the bums wad my sleep and ken.
I have mirrors on my shoes.
Light gets trapped around me.
It’s like I’m happy, music
slides kicking onto the deck
like the dolphins dumped
from the miser’s woven net. A lunar vista
is stenciled on the dropcloth behind it.
In crater-light and flags did I try to speak:
the heart therefore lies stupid in its water.
Why I Left Nepal
There are some lakes in Nepal that hate me.
I think, "Nepal, how you do terrify me to the quick."
I lie down, as one might, in a lake pink with evening.
It’s as if the seasons might begin,
a very black bird growing blacker in the sky.
The size of a nickel, then the size of your hand,
darkening toward your eyes.
Friend, you are fat unlike most people.
You lie down in the pink lake
and it’s as if the seasons had begun.
Crabs roll in all the water you displace.
I am mashed into pearl, parts of me,
and parts of me into tar.
The trees darken as if your brow were vexed.
You think, "Nepal, how it does frighten me to the quick."
There are tea leaves under your right thumbnail
and tea leaves under your left.
Goats move across your ribs.
A gang of shoats nips at your reeds.
They dig for the truffles they love.
"Obese," say the arboreal saints,
agreeing among the eucalyptus,
"as the daylight that fills Nepal."
Noah Remembers the Coast of Senegal
Came the list finally, though without
its rotting apple or its vinyl sheath
of miniature ivory elephants
nor the wood on which they leaned
nor the sand they remembered to traipse —
they could get nothing done at this pace!
If fish were brought up they were brought up
with kelp and garbage and sand.
Some still breathed in the brutal nets,
some were blue and some green
like the ferns left behind in the heat;
some were dark like the ants on the fern
or the darker ants moving down the fern
away from the blackening trees.
Description of the Salt Cellar
Copper alloy with garnet clenched to.
The salt green-collared.
Casual like a small country.
With a matching inkwell that brays.
How do you regard error?
With a burro’s face.
Did the salt taste of the cellar?
Metal was on my tongue.
I sat down to eat:
the tomatoes were red.
I meant with stubborn color
to write your name.
Salt that lopes
like ink from a copper well.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.
Historian Gerald Horne has developed a grand theory of U.S. history as a series of devastating backlashes to progress—right down to the present day.
Reflecting on three monumental works of modernism—James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus—a hundred years on.
Both regulators and employers have embraced new technologies for on-the-job monitoring, turning a blind eye to unjust working conditions.