Ever since Plato kicked us poets out of his ideal Republic, it seems we’ve been banging at the gates, manuscripts in hand, proclaiming, and indeed pleading for, our necessity.

Such proclamation, when it comes to the poem of political engagement, has unfortunately taken root in codified modes of expression: the reductively rhetorical call-to-arms on the one hand and the syntactically disjunctive rejection of imperialist language on the other. It is a wonder, then, that the world doesn’t clap for poetry’s sad insistence on comfortably reclining into irrelevance.

The tangled complexities of our political lives deserve a poetry equally complex, as prone to refusing simple paraphrase as it is unwilling to rest on elaborate, though flimsy, theoretical structures. This is what I admire about Farid Matuk’s work. Within his poems, one is experientially situated though ethically adrift, unsure of what stance, exactly, the author is espousing. And yet, like a person groping for a light switch while knowing full well that the electricity’s long been shut off, his is a poetry unafraid to look for illumination, even as he supposes that we are in the dark. In this way, his poems are built upon the terra firma of attention. Would that we all had the courage to articulate a position that so embodies the bewilderment inherent in issues of race, class, immigration, and sexuality.

Matuk doesn’t make the world easier to understand. What he does is ease our fears of having to have it all figured out. This might be what Keats called “negative capability,” but I think it’s also unconditional love.

—Noah Eli Gordon


I only care that you love my country—
coffee in the street, invitations into unknown homes
kisses on the copper penny bridge, the bridge—
take them. I only care that you love,
she says to her American—
hammocks, hillocks, porcelain ducks floating down the
testicles like oyster onions floating down the river.

There were no torturers, we sang carols, of comfort and joy,
polished for the winter’s wood, godevils we would ride back
I told her, breakneck, breakneck.
These explanations in Yugoslavia, Podgorica,
over the river Ribnica, most fair.

Long Before and Shortly After

The alley runs long
men keep cave or ship in their garages
pass a trumpet
trees stand outside
and grow a sticky purple
flower over pack mules herding
into the alley, the mules sniff
provenance papers off each other
bills of lading. It is 1981
I am seven, a bullet
waits for Ronald Reagan
I am starting to understand
there are things called
Velcro others moon
in Anaheim my thighs burn
on the vinyl bench
of the Impala it sluices
onto the freeway
Harbor Blvd., Anaheim Blvd.
Lincoln Ave., St. Boniface doors
tarred, I’m told, to keep the spic
Catholics in at least
today I am among my whites
whom I love very much

San Martincito

Before Plato told the great lie of ideals
men slimly went like fishes, and didn’t care.
—D.H. Lawrence

              You’re in Greenpoint
this week in summer

The sheets line a thin, easy silence around me
Moon’s heavy sleep breath

The chairs out back too wet
tonight, bugs and such
              call up a small swamp

If there aren’t scenes all down our street
              at a simple throb in someone’s
              car music

              I’ll give you the republic
a story of land treaties
and the shapes they made

San Martin
              brings little spaces in
a home for the hen, the dog made mild
              in the skirts of the black saint

This morning—so hot—I saw
the grackle turn its beak, make
              a thing to follow
into the dark column of cypress in our sidewalk

              I’ll tell you love
when I was a kid and we first got to this country
the taste of a Famous Star burger
        was worth the week

Of Mule and Deer

Out of a tin-cold, murmuring black wood
Lightly you lope, pale deer, lifting
A story from pages of snow

Nothing turns in your eye they say

Toward the tin-cold and murmuring black wood
I bear a display case of blue light
Say it was the sky

Say all you want   it was the sky


Two shepherd collies lie in the grass
          of the children’s outfield
A woman stands between them         so tall

          their mistress, mistress smokes
She keeps sunset

          A slow cloud bank rises over the park
to refract the light through particulate
          garbage air,

light honeyed
          in the methane

Islanded in the long grass I am drinking a bottle of water
          keeping sunset

Warm air trades places with cold air
          knocking a plastic bag around
the new leaves of a park tree

I’m a shitty listener—
          too many things sound like paper
or a phone ringing

          Usually there is plane
traffic above me
          but I am allowed to see it
by steam trails

          My mother has been allowed to grow old—
I visit
drive her
away from her TV
          so she can say things before she dies

Today she talked about her rape
          he took pictures of her at gunpoint

A long time ago painters
          laid out
shadows such that if
          you stand in the right place
they coalesce for your eyes
          into a skull

So we
learn to look
at anything and recognize death

          That’s alright         I’ll
do that

          but right now I want a bigger
compass to draw the register of planes above me

          the woman and her dogs
gone home
          the Marlboro in the grass
the plastic bottle in my hand

          I want to hear the plastic bag
in the tree
          I want to look up
and see that it’s death
          and a plastic bag
and a city tree