PoetryWeekend

They Always Ask for Water

Ralph Lemon's "How Can You Stay In The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere?" with performers (left to right) Omagbitse Omagbemi, David Thomson, Gesel Mason and Darrel Jones. (photo by Stephanie Berger, via bombsite.com)

(with several found lines from Annie Dorsen, Iver Findlay and Marit Sandsmark, and the author’s previous writing)

1.

Today was unseasonably warm
There were mountains in the distance, and disaster was coming. I heard it on the evening news.

Dear Lover: I keep losing my nerve
Just after one week it starts already to tilt

You told me: The demands of security maybe only secure the substitute;
Also that the soul is left behind when we fly

But who said these things first?
Already sometimes I think it is ruined between us

There is a whole pack of squid in the freezer: I will eat them all tonight
I will watch hunting videos and read old German poetry, which no one understands
“Watch TV/sit on the couch/can’t say much with a dick in your mouth”

We obsess over things because they aren’t true:
There are things to see & things to hear, & sometimes you fool yourself that you’re paying attention to the right things.

Mr. Lemon tucks his thin, supple body into a white chair onstage, just in front of a large screen, a thin sheaf of papers on his lap and a microphone before him. There are fires on the horizon. Just tell me I’m good.

2.

She eventually edged into view, her bare back to us, shuddering and heaving and, finally, just before exiting again, almost casually picking up a tambourine.

How it was, or what it was like—can the angel of history turn around?
Can your soul get so far behind she never catches up?

In the closing moments the dancers stood huddled beneath a single caged bulb, which dimmed until they grew invisible. Finally we saw only the light: a white bear, fiercely glowing in its cage.

3.

I walked along the side
streets today, looking for good

fire escapes through a drifting haze
of white petals. It was

a spring party I was headed to. I
took my time. I was not

and then I
was, thinking of you. Your

pale neck, your April dresses
The expensive flower always falling from your hair

My Colombian friend told us, it’s like someone said to all the young people in the world, in order to make good work they have to erase themselves
He blames visual art.

My Czech friend whispers in public.
He blames the Russians.

It’s cold again. Why don’t they ever listen to you when you say you’re going to cut loose?

Now the woman is dancing a dance she made 34 years ago.
The women watching from the friends with benefits seats are not happy
The man is singing a song about boobies gone bad
It is mostly screaming. It is called “Booby Trap”

You’re not supposed to drink before reviewing
That is to say, it’s frowned upon, generally

4.

Then the mermaid turned her fishy reptile eyes on me.
“come get your love and find out,” she whispered.
She was getting pretty tired of her pink and green kiddie pool, that much was clear. Her fancy tail had stopped working.

The fine men were on their fine horses, streaking darkly through the wood ringing our backyard.
The day narrowed
And the crowd returned, pressing.

The mermaid told me in my mind: stupid women are great. It’s much easier to find women who want to be stupid.
I lunged for her. I broke her delicate neck.

5.

Chief among Mr. Lemon’s collaborators in recent years has been Walter Carter, a former sharecropper born in 1908. And there Mr. Carter was on the screen, on his Mississippi property, clambering into a homespun spaceship that looked as if it wouldn’t get him to the market, much less the moon.

“This is Walter, my teacher,” a recording of Mr. Lemon’s voice informed us. “This is one of my lessons.”

I’m so sorry if I hurt you. Theater is so false. One computer said to the other “My brain contains huge categories, but not one that matches your last input.”

The other computer said “You are an idiot.”

The first computer responded “You shut up. ‘You are an idiot’ isn’t an argument, idiot.”

None of this was making much sense to me. All of it had happened before & will happen again

At least these bodies were reclining. If you’ve seen one choreographed kiss, have you seen them all? I’m not that interested, but I like the view from up here

6.

We walk very slowly. He seems to want to keep stopping. And talk about politics. I do not want to talk about politics. Always the same conversation. I give noncommittal cocktail party answers. I take notes. He doesn’t ask.

It feels so good to walk out into the dark city air

It’s true. I lie in one of the vacant white stalls and think of the whole 1960s conversation about minimalist dance and sculpture. I think about all the things I think about when I’m supposed to be thinking only about what’s on the stage. I think about how the only thing all of these dissatisfying encounters have in common is me.

It was a spring party
Her shoulders were bare.                                            Airplanes

came in low, their landing lights
incandescent against a purpling, yellow-green sky

The weather was holding after days of quiet rain
The neighbors were listening to baseball on the radio

The roar of the crowd: The almost-smell
of lilacs: Her thin shawl slipping

7.

I never learned to have patience for all the pronouns
in grade school we had a lesson on the proper way to fold the New York Times back on itself without hitting the paper
this was to be able to read the paper on a crowded subway and not bother anyone
keep to your own space
I had no concept of space as a kid; it was all just jammed up.

8.

You told me, you cannot get a train to Hawaii, and this somehow seemed like the end of everything.

I have seen so many naked strangers now. If somebody asked me what it meant to do what I do, I would say that it means being bored by naked strangers. This probably seems implausible to you.

Sometimes, you think you can make time go in another way.

The man on the stage asks so many questions. Does he ask too many? His answers, at some level, always seem to contain a “yes.” And this was the last word he uttered. He said it as a matter of fact, an answer that was also another question. Yes. What else could he have said? Life and art go on, until they don’t.

9.

Driving here, we passed 18 churches and an ostrich racing track
Sometimes only seconds in between
I change the landscapes
For you I change nothing: unchangeable
I haven’t read the right books.
It’s easier to watch murder in public than to watch porn, someone else told me. But I think we will watch anything, as long as that is all we’re asked to do.

There was a little sign that said, “I want to be small in a big place.”
I read it to myself, but really I was thinking about how you’re a good influence on me
I try to tell you about communicating, and you give me a book about silence.
For instance. You never ask good questions.
And those tassels everywhere! Red and gold and tufted.

After awhile I get tired of all the possibility
I’m happy for you, really I am.
Try not to be sarcastic, you say
What a thing to tell a person right before she faces the firing squad.

10.

Have you gotten more moody or less as you’ve gotten older? One computer asked the other

“No, I am through this. I used to be,” the computer answered.

“Thank you,” said the first computer. “And when did you get through it, please?”

“When I gave up,” the second computer answered without pause. “Why, are you in trouble?”

“I don’t think I am,” the first computer said. “Thank you. But I guess I meant more, how old were you when you gave up?”

“Older than you,” the second computer said.

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