The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2020

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NOV 2020 Issue


The Contrarian

         The storage pod has arrived
                        and soon

our stuff will be

                        to Tallahassee
          on the back of a diesel truck

                         Carried across the vast
           expanse of the USA

We never know how or where
                             we’re going

        Most of the time
we carry the burden


                            I am an adrenaline zombie!

         Grown out of a huge seed
                           while sleeping

               That’s right,
“The Night of the Living Dead”

                             In need of resurrection

What? Say what?
              You were expecting
                                                           a poem?

Separate Landing


In one place or another, an ambiguous landing, out of deep sky, broke upon the pillowed and craggy earth. No time or invention, space, or expansion, but a rugged verge. The opaque becomes translucent. Sleep becomes a harsh decay. We go as aliens through infinity, as affinity dissolves, reoccurring without accuracy, a semblance of being, an alternative destiny.


You didn’t like me as I was, so I became someone else disproportionately other. But that was not enough. I reminded you of what you once were, and you were convinced that particular existence was never real, it bothered you to think of yourself that way, a sloppy collage of what you had become on your reckless transit from birth, a warped reflection in your funky suburban hamlet, in the swill lush of an approximate yesterday.


Love grinds its fragile way through the crowded cemetery, rises in dull smoke above the crematorium, leaves restless corpses unhinged and dissembling. The atmosphere, battlefield, invasion, inferno, tangle of tendons and organs stripped of pulse and light.

Love breaks the law to be heard, sets up a lemonade stand without a city health department permit, while the halls and walls close in on equanimity, and we are faced with bruises and wounds of an impossible mass.

Love is born and dies on its own terms, promises, and fulfills nothing in course or return. Love makes the world go round then shudders to a stop, and the world follows in a crashing resolution, or so we can only imagine, the accordion collapse.

Love proposes and disposes, while harmony dreams its way into the strings of a phantom harp. We are cursed, as everything dreams, and the likeness of love is only that. We approximate an equation, throw bottles, stones, cruel words and platitudes, insults after one another like numberless billiard balls against the cushion of a cosmic holding cell, crushed in the crossfire of our own misgivings.


Maybe in the morning we remember the midnight screaming, resurrect a grudge, but mostly it’s all sunrise fun and games, for no false truth reliably recalls or defines an invisible emotion. Blame it on the church, drug, president or play of solar light on a charismatic atmosphere. We can only begin again somewhere else. In the shrine of a broken hush, a withered blush, a spine that feels its age, a muscle burning tight, gripping sunlight in the spokes of trammeling solitude.

Algorithm for the Dead

I’m going to cut down on my social media activity.

It’s too depressing. Everybody dying most of the time.

Cats, dogs, children, parents, cousins and movie stars.

I log in and it’s another “so and so has died.”
I can’t help but think I’m going to be next.

Does anyone else have this bleak and debilitating experience?
Or am I caught up in my very own fugitive algorithm

where nobody lives forever?

                                           December 19, 2018


Michael Rothenberg

Michael Rothenberg's most recent books of poetry include The Pillars (Contagion Press, 2020), an Arabic edition of his book Indefinite Detention: A Dog Story published in Cairo, Egypt (Arwiqa Publishers, 2020), and Drawing The Shade (Dos Madres Press, 2016). He lives in Tallahassee, Florida where he is Florida State University Libraries Poet in Residence.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2020

All Issues