Max Winter's poems operate in unpredictable ways. They sound as if controlled by some prevailing logic, and yet the reader is hurled forward, line by line, into unknown and unexpected worlds as the poems progress. They mutate seamlessly; they are awash in metaphor. Bold statements melt into one another, constantly changing their terms of play. A reader is tempted to ask, Is it a madman speaking? But no; upon closer examination, we see the reasoning process, however bizarre—the horseshoe turns, the breakaway ride from idea to idea. And yet nothing detracts from the wonder of it all. These are poems of great adventure and discovery, and not just for the reader, I suspect, but for the poet as well.


The Myth of Polonius

Certain Peloponnesian statues
might converse for days without saying a word.
Nothing would pass between them
but occasional lost and snapping tourists
or blue herons headed for mystical paintings.
The unutterable is passing strange
with its union suit and clipboard,
standing in the doorway like an uninvited aspen,
but we must let it in
and we must buy its peculiar machine.
How else to get the bloodstain out?
When our guest has reached its daily quota,
I will come running with a glass of iced tea,
ready to trade up one stultified night
for an hour's worth
of whatever it has to say,
which ultimately will have to do with suds 
at the bottom of an empty barrel,
turned on its side,
whose songless interiors reveal,
when the sun is two o'clock
of my right eyelash,
a reflection in oak of the muse's last photograph,
taken without her permission and published
in the interminable Collected Letters,
which I have sitting at home
but will not read because
I havenÌt the time to decipher its burning lines,
penned on the fly leaves of unnoticed minutes
and saved by the fellow in the Panama hat
who lingered by the piano
until the punch turned brown.
Life is short, and so am I;
letÌs leave this gathering
and stroll to the lake of darkness,
to the roadhouse and the jam session
held by insomniacs sitting in their underwear,
unaware that anyone else might hear them.

When I Should Have Been Playing

I went to wash my parrot in the river.
The river offered me its crumpled yellow chamois.
To me it seemed a lie about to happen.
It so happened I was springing ever upwards.
For fun I began to think of myself.
For fun I took two hands and a map.
For fun I came up short of breath and gasping
for a rope, when I knew there were only buoys
this far out, or the occasional baked sailor
dreaming of five lonely notes
candied off an underwater cello.
I had drifted to the lower left-hand corner
of the musical collision we call the planet Earth.
A bathtub at constant risk of draining out
or falling like a gavel through the universe
with me in tow, holding in memory
a few good days and a smiling hamper of complaints,
complaints it would take a child to mend.
But men don't cry, they shrink exponentially,
starting as giants and ending as graphite
tracing the faces of women onto the finest paper.
Every now and then it works out: 
a number, a letter, a page of mirror script,
I donÌt know, anything that might make sense,
just take it and run, far and fast,
past the all-night pizzeria covered in snow,
almost to the edge of the canvas, almost falling
into the cup of culture, where there is room
for you and your charger, and whomever else
you find on your run around the reservoir
of thoughts and deeds, crusted with frozen lichen
locked in the kiss of the thought of an end.
As my grandfather's grandfather used to say,
it could be worse.
We could be trapped waist-deep in stone, we could 
                                                                               have lost
the use of our limbs, or, for that matter,
what Leonardo da Vinci called "the human soul,"
just close enough to the solar plexus
to be ossified, petrified, which is which?
But then it was time for tea, time to take myself seriously,
and I slept through the ringing of the bell,
dreaming I was licked again and again.
And by licked I mean beaten, defeated.
And by dream I mean good and only and thing.
O, I hope I have a better posture
in the year to come.


were falling through the morning,
were no steps inside the woods,
were no jade or opal markers,
ways I needed, ways of walking
through the poplars of the afternoon,
chopping birches through the night,
lain in trios by the stove,
rolling over into dreaming,
grant a gasp of dim distraction,
where I scraped, I stubbed in starlight,
all my questions in a tumbler,
glass of water, glass of whatnot,
down the gullet, through the passage,
into lines of planting,
what the garden, where the crop,
why to pick the shovel up
if not to give a birth,
if not there being something up,
what are you? where can you be heckled out?
out from under what's the mossy
hurry out into the day
where I can see you
fresh and clear, oh punk, oh stillborn hapless
foam inside the last capacious cup,
cup for which there is no further call



I could ignore things once. But. She loves her pursuer like a comet loves a lens. She looks at me as if I were a milepost. She wants to know what I do not know myself. If I could move, I would explain. But the last time I moved was when I was made. I let my maker choose this prudish position. Because I would die within hours, how I lived them could not matter much. The consommé eaters cannot grasp that a shift in the seat is the mark of a king. I wish for anything that looks like life. I would like to run and dim the great chandelier. The right gesture at the right juncture could interrupt or end the celebration. The diners could wander home through the hand-shattered sky. Slip into my blind spot, slip into the foyer, but do not laugh, yet. Place a hand at my hairline, a hand at my jaw. Take what remains of me, put me in a bucket. We can still escape to what is not. Yet. I will melt, and I will flow downhill, but the wind and the air can take care of that. Take me to the back of the world. Or drop me. At this rate, I will never know the difference. 

A Door Falls Open in the Desert

I dine on the quiet light of the stars.

If I were to stop here,
my life would roll down the asphalt
by itself.

A cactus bent double.
A bone gnawed by mosquitoes.

The red on the swinging door,
ripped by occasional white.

I am neither at the center 
nor at the end.

I speak less
than the sand does
when the wind blows.

A headless snake.
A paralyzed river.

I keep my Bible in a box,
my truths in a trunk.

A mesa takes the shape
of a hat