Elaine de Kooning’s “Bullfight” (1959) at the Denver Art Museum (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Blood of a Poet


I breathe in the downstairs couple’s routine meals
today some kind of stew     do I live on Pluto
or another celestial snowball?

draining bath water sounds like a minimalist score
with peopled melody     my artifacts are enough
in order         we don’t want more exes         especially if “a lesbian
mode” might not be known in 20 years

ME TANGERE       call me anti-Christ     the bond must
be physical        the tomb peopled      observe my artifacts
an ant farm with a queen     she asks   but haven’t we always
been besieged?
jeered dream of a nonviolent mafia
kill them


heard my name on Ludlow      oh God     there’s another one

I know the names…   
I know. But I do not have the proof. I don’t even have clues.

retraced steps on the grid
in the change city
split bowl of Italian chicory        her hand squeezed my
side keeping pace with
a monk’s heart

I’m an adorable reindeer
Why don’t I fit in?

structures set up to be weird      heaven

as if I showed up to my memorial in a
a colorful jacket     greeted     by                             a controversy
of poets


author        augment
authentic      those with police powers

procedural       lovers
bewitched in spaces         of yielded sway

the world is of infinitely great roughness 

the music is not what it is said to be          held
hell                   tonic sound


outside the ice cream shop

we speak silent
solve silent
then herein


mid-age morning
vulnerability              wakened fists at chest
bald and breathing like a baby      again doing something last night
if a frame can be surmised        that I cannot do

what is it in me           that does that?

hopping down a city block on one foot past the guards
as the city and my foot grows with my hate and love

why did I turn the east side of my Great Lakes city into New York City
replete with bells of St. John’s and the garrets of elder visionaries left to us

a former friend started to make a casserole but I couldn’t stay and I couldn’t tell
her    took her spool of ribbon to Lake Park giving her the chance

to become a no-show…

whatever can come to a woman can come to me


a good café will not have
robots doing pour-overs           we come up against the academy
and make panic work for us      I want men
like Elaine de Kooning    painted them   doing nothing
and not solemn about it       even JFK
and poets that wipe their faces with time
what you think is what you do      the long take      I entered the archive
and got a sick stomach
too much coffee
plus inexorable rings                   too many barrels of ink
too many separate accounts of our making


not since puberty had I been so
antagonized     she peaked to    the very next week
decline     except for the ability to amply tell of it
to those who will bear the sight
of me
faculty meetings
hide the villains
from the victims          I have pension-envy          keep it paranoid

facere              facilis

the delusional one will only come away with 10% of your meaning

late nights via crackling line
we portray each other in a way
that makes us feel human again

like de Kooning I am devoted to portraits
the thousands of sketches I make of you to know how you are
if you are


Stacy Szymaszek is the author of five books of poetry, most recently A Year From Today (2018). Nightboat will publish her next book, Famous Hermits, in 2021. Szymaszek was the director of the Poetry Project from 2007 to 2018. Last year she was the Hugo Visiting Writer at the University of Montana and Poet-in-Resident at Brown University. She is the recipient of a 2019 grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.

Wendy Xu is the author of the poetry collections Phrasis (Fence, 2017), winner of the 2016 Ottoline Prize, and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient of a Ruth...