Clouds and Trees

"Nothing ever goes away enough or arrives enough,/ and I want to cry when I think of my heart,/ muscle pounding in muscle, greedy always for joy." – 'A Warning', Eric Anderson

Category: Relationships


The ceiling was perfectly flat. The corners exact, no paint misplaced. Nothing wrong. He rolled his head to the left. Underneath the fridge there were silhouettes of dirt, balls of dust, lost food. Maybe the floor. What had it been? When he was standing there a moment before something had been off. He had gotten to his knees and rubbed his thumb against the floor tile. That hadn’t helped. He had remembered the technique his mother had taught him for finding small things; he pressed his cheek against the cold white tile and still, nothing seemed wrong. He was glad he had laid down.

“Where are you?” Her voice came out of the bedroom. There was some kind of shuffling, she must be getting dressed. “Someone called you.”

He leaned his head back. He could see the sky even though the window shade was mostly down. It looked warm and blue but he knew it would be freezing. She walked through the door zipping up the side of her dress. “Where are you?”

“Who called?”

“Jesus Christ,” Her face seemed to burst then almost instantly close; lines formed in between her eyebrows. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Did you pick it up or did it go to voicemail?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know, I didn’t see.”

He nodded. “There’s something weird about the kitchen. Are you going out?”

“I’m going to Midtown. Are you just going to stay there? I need to get something.”

He shuffled to the side and she stepped over him. As she reached up and began rifling through the cabinet her heels lifted off the floor, the veins in her ankles visible and thick through the skin. He almost reached out and grabbed them.

“Here we go.” She stepped down and walked into the bathroom, not bothering to turn the light on. He could hear the water running. He took a deep breath and sighed loudly.

She came out of the bathroom and stood over him. “I’m going down to Midtown, is there anything you need? There’s your phone again.” It was buzzing in the bedroom. She handed it to him.

“Okay, I’m going, you don’t need anything?” He shook his head, holding the buzzing phone. “I’ll probably be back in a couple of hours, give me a call if you think of anything.”

The door closed.

He laid there for a minute. The phone was still buzzing. He had been clasping it over his chest. After awhile it stopped. He put it down on the tile next to the fridge.

He brought up his knees and groaned. Most of his backside had fallen asleep. He used the counter to pull himself up. He stood there for a second, getting his bearings. The room was worse now than it had been earlier. It was tilted, as if he had just been dizzy. He went over to the window. The streets outside looked as if they slanted strangely away. A familiar flock of pigeons flew by. They dipped by the window in the exact same way at least once every day. He always caught it out of the corner of his eye. They never changed. The same flock, the same swoop. He rapped his fingertips on the glass, bitten fingernails making an unsatisfying thumping sound. There were millions of windows in New York City. More windows than there were people. Most windows must not be seen at all. Might as well just be walls.


The Tree at Monk’s House

Could the water see me? When I kneel
And breathe hard enough, it pounds.

As I reach into my own face
It’s so cold. Do I almost fall asleep?

I see smoke twisting downriver like oil.
I have no question; it’s an old breath of yours.

A problem philosophical:
We cannot touch each other.

I climb, my hands numb,
The tree bark, penetrating.

You are waiting, already there.
I cannot describe your face

But I try to.
I try to make a reflection stand still.

I try to put my hands, one day,
Upon a shadow.

First Steps

I’ve got a list and a pair of hands
I’m using to hold it into my mouth.
Am I a good enough poet yet?
I learned all the methods they got.
Sure, I know how to be honest.

There are too many ways around.
More like holes in the road.
These aren’t poems they’re
Fucking holes I filled with words
So I could climb out. Now watch:

I am bouncing from doubt to doubt.
You want confessional? I’ll give you
Priestly. You want right now?
I’ll give you two lines ahead and
Look back – already crossed out.

My word is shit. Don’t listen to me,
Even if I promised. I want to boil
Out of my skin, get light-spirited,
Make peace with the starry night.
I am alone in a cloud. I want out.

Other people seem to feel this.
In rare moments when the surface
Of my chest folds back like paper
And my feelings breathe and see
Light, not stale, dark body vacuum

I hear it in every song,
Read it in every poem.
Why are we rolling in bed
Trying to make sense
Of our discomfort?

I fall asleep, always, in the face
Of that which I don’t understand.
I think others know how to talk,
Feel free, and judge me. Sex
Isn’t satisfying but it should be.

I am trying to figure out how
To seduce. But I still feel like
people my age aren’t doing that yet.
Why doesn’t anybody talk to me?
They do – all the time – I just don’t

Talk back. No I do! It just feels
Like they’re alone in a room
Talking to me, who’s also alone
In a room, completely silent.
And I am funny and intelligent.

But I am lying. Or I am pulling
Strings which connect my brain
To things. It’s not like I memorize
Speeches, I just imagined this
Conversation before we had it.

I think the stars are clouds
With poems in their mouths.
I promise myself I’ll get out.

The Devil Reads Poetry

Full crowd tonight– all of Niobe’s kids,
Eurydice, who’ll be leaving early,
and Persephone’s here. It’s Spring in Hell.

I spent this morning crossing the river
In Charon’s boat; he’s gives the best feedback.
I’m still trying to write this one poem

But it just won’t come. I think it’s about
Filling an empty place up with something,
And how the emptiness grows around it.

Sisyphus takes my shoulders in the wings;
Inside I’m trembling over this line like:
I made my world one endless metaphor.

I almost called my brother yesterday.
I just want to figure out everything.

A Blind Spectacle

I think I can see you more clearly
If you would move the windows
Please? Paint on the shadows
And if you can, the light.

What I mean is, the dog
Came splashing towards me,
His head all in white shells
And also scattering them.

I underline the dog, there.
Then, he is lost.
I dive into bushes, looking
Behind them.

I am smoking a cigarette
In your robe, turning my radio
To the lake. I listen closely
to our old, sealed letters.

I see a face through the woods.
It is like the open spaces between
Trees: like our so many windows.
One grand sheet: a painting

You can see from only one angle.
I cannot walk into that flatness:
My own right eye taking over
The left. The lake is inside it.

There are rocks and the water
Is freezing. My father is in it
Somewhere. It is flat like this
But only if you can remember it.

Reaching Off

“I got it,” the girl says, laughing
at how incompetent I am
because I fumble at the door
as we leave the coffee place.
It is early in the morning.

And I remember this
as I am walking to school.
I regret that I didn’t ask her
to walk with me. Imagining
that could carry me all day.

We would have split here.
That song, “Can’t you see?
Oh, can’t you see…” in my head.
“It’s not that I miss my ex-girlfriend,
it’s that I miss having a girlfriend.”

My marine friend said to me,
“I just want to be back overseas.”
My professor calls it a cycle
of fullness and emptiness and he rolls
life in the air with his hands.

I cannot remember on what end
we write poetry. Does it drain
or fill us? I wonder how a marine
feels when he shoots his gun,
how it feels to truly fuck.

I went to class two stanzas back,
talked to someone, took a shit,
thought about masturbating.
Am I fuller or emptier now?
Maybe I just ruined the poem.

My mom called me.
The only other way it could be:
either you are entirely full
or empty. Like honesty, pregnancy,
you can’t be sort of complete.

I want to call my mom back,
hold her voice in my head.
It pours in and strengthens me.
Poetry is like that—
fullness shooing emptiness away.

I Wake Up from a Dream at a Table

You are in my head. It is autumn.
The front door opens and I know it
because the light outside is gray
and my book turns a page.

You rush into the house.
The leaves are little fires
which burn very slowly.

The Waste Land Visited

O She holds me in the near-dark and shakes me. I see the coals reflected in her eyes, that glint; she’d like to slap me.

O I hear a song; the wind-borne whistling of a fisherman ambling the Lower Thames.

I haven’t spoken since I arrived. We are too tired on the bed and she’d like me to stay.

“My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.”
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.”
“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?”
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

Her accent is in another room. There are four doors ajar. The fifth is closed, out of reach, only visible around corners.

O I fished with him, the river lapping our feet. The tongues of rats. I see him in the water once more, fishing for his pearls.

She tries to memorialize with me. “Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember nothing?”
The fire extinguishes, the pressure changes, the wind runs out through cracks in the room.
“What is that noise?”
She is too possessed to understand. I see the river-sand shifting.

O We sit in the dark and quiet on the bed and a third person sits just behind her. She wants to utter me from distraction.

“Are you alive or not? Is there nothing in your head?”

I hear chanting. A word or three. In the dark, the room shakes. A sphere, musical, open everywhere.

1. The Standard Metre in Paris

“There is one thing of which one can say neither than it is one metre long, nor that it is not one metre long, and that is the standard metre in Paris.”
-Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (50)

I realize around age eighteen that poetry
is a measure of confusion.
To explain — we poets, the confused,
write about love because we don’t know what love is,
we write about clouds because we don’t know if God exists,
we write about our mothers because we want to talk to our sadness
a conversation we’ve never had, but should’ve.
And the only way to do this well — is to not realize it.

Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen
I write about two hundred poems to “you”.
Sometimes they are love poems,
or heart-broken poems, or surreal,
I live with you in a screen-doored house,
in the middle of a grassy plain,
and one day you disappear leaving
only a white dress and your marigolds
and the threat of rain from one of those huge
only-in-the-Midwest thunderstorms poems.

At the end of my long sentence of writing to “you”,
I realized that all poems are measures of confusion,
and that I was alone when I wrote in my room,
with too much light or not enough light
and in my bed or at a desk, but always alone
and almost in silence, I was the insane man,
utterly confused, as he talks to himself,
convinced that he’s talking to you.

Abattoir of Passion

1. Painting

The painter knows perspective well.
The Bathroom at Twenty-Nine
Rotates around a single point,
No empty hurricane eye,
No clear inside/outside,
More like a horizon —
The ‘no-line’ between
What swirls down
And its aperture.

Naked hangers,
Drained hot-water bottle
And separate sleeve, the bare
Light-bulbs, all revolve down
Until you have to be standing
On the ceiling. Beneath you:
The woman squeezing soap
over a hollow frame,
the shape of a man.

2. Sculpture

The surprise when I look to my right:
I was sure that wall was straight!
I walk along it; paintings to sculptures.

A Man Amongst Red Trees, his cock
Hanging out, he is about to cover
His eyes and run, fear or discomfort.

Two Grey Figures in short-sleeved suits,
They seem to be made of a day of bad rain.
Something goes whispered between them.

In the Museum of Modern Art, New York,
I remember being amongst the trees,
Lamp-posts, bent or curving, some hung

Half-way up a wall, midsections exposed.
Anxiety pills, over-sized and pink,
Frozen in towers about to fall.

3. The Critics

In the Museum Basement
I think no one is around.
We make love together
quietly among old art
sleeping frames and stone.

But someone walks up behind me
As I stand imagining in the hall.
I turn myself off, shake loose
unfamiliar perspectives of you.
I shuffle my thoughts.

I send a museum postcard to you,
The painting on the front, my poem
On the back. I think I feel bad,
I want you to know and not know.
I let it go. Be nothing again.

Just shapes: the basis of a poem.