The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 20-JAN 21

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DEC 20-JAN 21 Issue


I Dream of Tom Clark

I dream of Tom Clark sitting next to me
we’re exchanging notes about baseball
and a slice of tangerine “meditating at
the stadium” one of my notes says
The Traveling Wilburys are playing
I didn’t realize Marvin Gaye was one of them
maybe it’s just a song of his they’re singing
across the well trimmed park lawn
a man is walking a sleek greyhound
and watches as it stops and squats to make
“Hey pick that up” someone yells at him
is a line from a poem Tom has written
on the wall next to the daybed where he
and Angelica sit in a room crowded with
people the owner walks into privileged by
good looks and money like a sleek greyhound

In Heaven

In heaven
it’s always
just morning
turning over
to catch a
few more
delicious winks
in hell the
snooze alarm
won’t reset

Teflon Teeth
   “All truth is transference of power.”
            —E. Fenollosa

The sound of one hand laughing

young pigeons try out
their wings before the wind

at my age every day is
a near death experience
between the magic of a rock
and the face of a hard place

fiction is a commentary on
the rituals of the everyday

the name that escaped me days
ago suddenly in an idle moment
presents itself mockingly

“Ridicule attacks everything,
destroys nothing.” so says
the consistent Benjamin Constant

deaf to my own pretense thinking
about thinking about thought

each genus appointed
its own slot in daylight
by the arc of the sun

death deferred breath by
breath moment by moment
till the moment breath stops

in a dark corner of history’s
storage unit the plaster cast
legs of Talleyrand women

casting shadows of deck
furniture as if it were broad
daylight the full moon

Come Monday

Post-apocalyptic onset foreign actors
hinder the transfer of power emergency
police state apparatus kicks in season
one now playing on multiple surveillance
monitors a reality show in which
participants spy on one another and
turn each other in for jackpot bitcoin
coupon rewards the incarcerated norm of
political quarantine a live feed into a
maze of cubicles where corners serve their
purpose of being backed into resistance
is futile when viewed from above and
invisibility is a way of not being there

“Hey Joe!” once an old folk song
of a bygone era depicting the cruel
misogyny of toxic masculinity
“where you goin’ with than gun in
your hand?” takes on a chilling
significant irony in a climate crisis
of hate and fear “goin’ down to Walmart
and shoot as many people as I can”
fear of the other a straight emotional
jolt from the amygdala blanks out reason
needs its calming antidote oxytocin
to recognize our related humanity
which can only be taught in a father’s
safe arms at a mother’s comforting knee
hate is fear of what you’re capable
of and what you are incapable of
an act of compassion as the joyful
participation in the sorrows of
the world hate the hate love the hater
requires some heavy lifting in case
you didn’t think it would be hard

lessons taught in the pits of culture
echo on the walls of Plato’s cave
yet another song from that bygone era
“teach your children well” not teach
your children from a dark deep well

unchecked growth can gum up the works
cut down by that virulent bullet scrambled
the perfect blend of genetic material
as obliviousness makes us do crazy things

and staying with that era
“four dead in O-hi-o” was shocking
but now at the bottom of the curve

what I know and can’t tell not
a secret but an inability to speak it
the words inadequate and hurtful
in their undermining intent yet
the knowledge festers inside its forbidding
presence irks unrepresented as if exposed
would relieve the darkness but won’t

our images are merely reflections of light
seen from a distant future as the stars
like to sing “by the time you see me
I’ll be gone” but in the somatic present
with every cell doing its stuff dare
challenge eternity in the here and now
and nowhere else mirrors lie photos can
capture the speed of our light its presence
as a slice of time only the breath of
sentience breathed upon every day
as inspiration and expiration can I say
congratulations on your liberation from
the prison of flesh even while I look
out from the bars of my self-reflecting
consciousness the patterns of survival
are ubiquitous until it no longer matters
as in late summer’s luxurious light
a vulture circles up in the blue and a fly
lands on my finger had I not moved in
so long or were they just checking the menu

A Bad Stretch of Days

A bad stretch of days
ruts bumps potholes enough
to jar meat off the bones
the misery of helpless ache
a breeze on skin is painful
a tiny bird’s peep sounds shrill
a resignation to confusion as
concentration refuses to focus
the shattering stutter of shallow
breath an illness that sounds
romantic only in another language

everywhere I look the sky collapses
hitting me on the head hammering
the point home I in turn thump
the cantaloupe one side ripe one
side not to paraphrase Nietzsche
write as if I know allow a niche
where opportunity can take up
residence in paradise as a memory
of those I feel akin to a history
that will never change where all
is sweetness and light without rancor
or cynicism a fervent wish for the best

sometimes my head fills with nonsense
the Styrofoam pellets of thought
I feel full (in the mental sense) but
there’s nothing there but air maybe
I need to get back in touch with
something more primal basic a walk
chop firewood do the wash engage
the body return the mind to its function

when I face up to the fact that I will
never be well-known for what I do as
a writer I wonder why I continue to
or rather I don’t wonder as much as
understand that I am doing it so to
not betray my dreams and that as
a writer I have a certain carte blanche
to read extensively think extensively
in effect creating a little intellectual
world which I inhabit and which
when moved by passion or ennui
I can pick up a pen and write about

fame or renown is important only in
my relation to others where I am either
a focus or a target and often both

the waiting does not affect the time it
takes a stuttering of movement before
any act at the edge cuts a drop of blood
words push meaning ahead of themselves
like a prow through water a plow through
sand or snow to make a path and leave
a wake or bank or berm of the possible
inferred and with only that swath of
cleared conjecture arrive at conclusion

I become a loose sort of confederacy
distant yet aligned by a magnetic field
the flow of in the know and not know
kept simple as a sample of speech
a randomness constrained by a small
mind work is done by the power of
a tiny nib it is the only effect I get to
see dazzled by the ever-shifting light
bathe in the photon stream at my own
risk (in English and in Spanish)
now that the poem is part of the page
I can remark on the space it takes

I find it interesting that I can put all
my fine thoughts in order and someone
(you know who) wants to come along turn
them upside down as if they were some
beachside sandcastle they can just kick apart

that’s what happens to what I’ve written
after I’ve written it and becomes an object
of attention (or inattention) if it is
at all visible (a garish cover perhaps)

what hesitation demands is another look
the dust of centuries in just a few days
no one owns information but everyone
wants to charge for it I am what
an anachronism looks like at this
stage of life the larger molecules of
a later season soften the days before
the edge of winter the music of opposites
harmonized a triumph begun as a passing fancy
oversaturated cells expand to accommodate
the geological age though less efficient

the clear the cold the gorgeous blue
swept clean by yesterday’s high winds
a dry crisp frost grips the roof tiles
heat rises as crinkled air at chimney top
in touch with the body every step of the way
the map of myself traced by my daily path

Poem in a Manner Not My Own
        To you, Joanne Kyger

        Can I awake as
  a new person
           fashioned from a dream

           a lingering aura persists
        though shadows gray
     that special glow also fades
  and harsh edges come to light

        growing older
  (my patina flaking)
           find it more and
  more difficult
     to squeeze myself into
        the tiny space of now

     there is no room for
     any of my baggage

  persuaded by the day to just enjoy it
  (but I’m afraid it has come and gone
        and I was elsewhere when it did)

Local Relativity

Following the sun through the seasons
sensitive to the vagaries of weather when
it doesn’t rain when it should and rhythms
of dazzling monotony persist cloudless
below freezing stark crystal clear blue
nostalgic for the anticipation of a threatening
sky sunrise came as a yolk colored gel
attached to the edges of frost dusted trees
late afternoon chimney smoke drifts
lazily across dark winter rooftops
a veil of mist falling heavy enough
to darken the asphalt an icy breeze
torments the falling leaves light
fading above the forested ridge not
for want of prose but unfailing possibility
time wounds all heels with the wound
of love the psychology of beasts continues
to ask why we care the wind carries itself
across rooftops awnings and decks overturning
the loose flowerpots language is to humans
what echolocation is to bats “The dispersion and
the reconstitution of self—that’s the whole story”

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Pat Nolan

Pat Nolan was born in a bilingual household in Montreal in 1943. However, he has spent most of his adult life in exile from his mother tongue with the exception of exercising his ear on the syntax of his language of origin for the work of French poets such as Max Jacob, Philippe Soupault, and Jean Follain. His translations from the French have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies including Big Sky, Contemporary Literature In Translation, Otoliths, The Random House Book of 20th Century French Poetry, and Poems for the Millenium, Vol. I. His earlier translations of Robert Hébert’s poetry have appeared in Parole, blog of The New Black Bart Poetry Society, of which he is the founder and editor. He lives at the opposite end of the North American continent from his place of his birth: in Northern California along the rustic Russian River.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 20-JAN 21

All Issues