“Modernity begins in Hell.” (Tom Sleigh)
“Everything was clean
So precise and towering
I was welcomed
With open arms
I received so much help in every way” (Jeff Tweedy)
A vision of John, while on Patmos…
I saw a great white throne and the One
who was seated on it. The Earth and Sky
fled His face. No place was found
to cover them. I saw the dead, all
facing the throne. The Books
were thrown open. Another Book
was opened, the Book of Life,
and the dead were judged
by what they had done,
what was written in the book.
The Sea gave up the dead in it.
The Ground released its dead.
The dead in Hades were exiled.
All were judged by the works
of their flesh. Death and Hades
were thrown from the place
of judgment, into the Lake of Fire.
This is the second death.
If anyone’s name was not found
written in the Book of Life,
they too were thrown into
the Lake of Fire.
A lesbian told me she thought they were
cheating and I agree it doesn’t
seem fair. It does seem excessive, to
be in love with everyone.
what is the poet if not in love
with everyone, too? What is his job
if not being busy overstating his case
and missing the cracks between lines
people slip through, and how the heart can—
will overturn anything
set before it that doesn’t smell sweet
enough, sick languor sweet. The heart,
dammit, the uncontrollable heart.
It has been known from time to time
to tilt the scales in its favor
or simply sweep its hand
across the chessboard, even if
it’s already won—checkmated
itself into submission. The heart has a mind
of its own.
There is a reason
we only measure
the heart’s beating
uncontrollable heart which doesn’t
balance checkbooks, but does keep
a detailed ledger of wrongs,
though love apparently
keeps no such record—
Sorry to split this discussion in to
two, but I had to use those leftover lines
from Bisexual, the inevitable favorites
that get cut.
We poets steal
then recycle instead of
to some place beyond our reach.
And sorry to talk about my process
so blatantly. I’m told
it’s what good writers do,
rub themselves in your face,
but I always thought
it was like a mirror looking at itself
or trying to find
your ass crack, constantly creeping
up your own back.
how do we know we have an ass crack?
Have we seen it in that mirror staring back?
Or do we just believe
what others tell us?
The throne is achromatic and crushing
instead of huge.
Lord, your throne is blinding—
I have given you all I am nothing but
a whole lot of whiskey.
Lord, I’m drunk and lonely beautiful
rolling free cigarettes with dried out tobacco
in New York City it’s December.
Lord, I’m lush on whiskey don’t bother me.
I’m trying to remember.
I’m calling my friends, calling you
I can’t fucking remember your number.
I’m talking to you.
I want to get blitzed and drink whiskey to your holy praises
Lord, I’m writing you like Allen Ginsberg wrote America
I’m imitating it’s the best I can do.
I’m caught here in this tuberculosis shaft.
I’ve got my glass of whiskey sitting
on all my New York city parking tickets.
Lord I drove a truck all summer and I think about it
sometimes how hot it was in that cab
and I think about all the people I saw all the time
and never spoke to, and how I became a slave to them.
I was just a human body all day. Lord, you didn’t make me
to do that.
Lord, you should’ve seen me when I was younger.
I used to find all kinds of reasons to pray to you
I was theological and nobody stopped me.
I was thinking things it took me years to learn later.
Lord, I have sinned with women.
Lord, I have sinned with whiskey.
Lord God, I have stared at nakedness and found your beauty
even in everything you find disgusting. Lord,
You can’t help it.
They warned that this would happen.
You didn’t tell them that, did you?
I knew you didn’t.
Return me to the times, Lord, when I was ugly.
I am not ugly anymore, but I was happy then.
Lord, I still am ugly nothing’s changed.
The dogs have found me now,
The ones I wanted you to set upon those against me
are chasing me. They’re slobbering in my dreams,
Lord, and I wake up with it still sticky on me.
Lord, it’s how I always escape.
I just wake up.
v. Fear of Flying
Caratina Avenue was a bent-shaped horseshoe then—and it still might be
perfect for flying down late at night on sleds
on pavement packed snow.
And late that summer, I was careening
down Caratina's curve, gaining speed on my bike, the buzz of baseball cards,
higher pitched in the spokes.
What I was thinking exactly? driving my bike into a crowd of kids on bikes
at the bottom of the curved hill,
I was going fast, and
I never go fast, I was
a child brave enough to climb up the tree but unable muster the climb back down
and like you probably feared,
someone turned a bike wheel
in my path. I launched
over the handlebars
I was floating to be sure, but things didn't slow, like you see in the movies—I'm telling you this in slow motion, but it was fast.
I didn't see everyone's mouths agape as I flew by unwitting Superman
but I managed two thoughts in that brief moment: first the pavement, then
who in the corner of my eye I saw running, briefcase, suit, and all, from his parked car towards me as I flew— I thought, where has he been
all this time, leaving his desk in the basement
where the neighborhood kids played the Nintendo with Jonathan and Katherine, his kids, until our fingers were raw and eyes watered.
Why was he here now? Did he expect to catch me?
Well he didn't, and the pavement ate my hands and punched my belly
hard, like a suckerpunch I knew was coming.
My mom had warned me about this sort of thing. But Mr. Fiddler picked me up,
picked the rocks out of my hands, didn't ask why
I wasn't more careful.
And maybe you have figured out by now
Mr. and Mrs. Fiddler later split.
Jonathan became a genius. Katherine,
always the tomboy, stopped wearing dresses altogether.
And sometimes it seems to me a genuinely unhappy story,
the way we all lived on Caratina six years
and only saw Mr. Fiddler twice, his desk with the expensive leather chair
sat in the basement like a ghost. And it would be easy
to make this a story about facing things like your wife, or the pavement,
or that tree in the backyard my dad cut down with me still in it, stuck, for a third time,
trying to learn a lesson
but I content myself
to think sometimes, despite my fears,
before I fell and how Mr. Fiddler ran and tried to catch me.
And my explanation...
This cycle, in some senses, is irreconcilably disparate, and, in some sense, purposefully so. There is a deliberate lack of unity when it comes to form, and the content is also disparate in many ways. Instead, they connect by a progression, a sort of gesture of poetic motion. There is, of course, the unity based in title: all begin with “bi” (except the last one, which is, implicitly bicycle…am I giving away all my jokes here? I think so.).
Part one begins in Hell, as the Tom Sleigh quote indicates. Most of the great epic poetry insists on sending somebody to hell: Odyssey, Aeneid, Inferno, Paradise Lost, even Pound’s Cantos. This cycle does not purport to be epic poetry, but only rather imitate the poetic motion of those poems, in a sense. It lacks the Catholic imagination of Dante and the dramatic mind of Milton. In many ways it is most similar to Pound rooting his Cantos in the Hell of his own classic tradition. Translated from the original Greek from John’s Revelation, I attempted to speak from the Hell of my own evangelical tradition, the devastatingly plain language of the New Testament. This, of course, is tempered by the Jeff Tweedy epigraph from his song “Hell is Chrome.” Or perhaps not tempered, but contrasted by a modern, non-evangelical view of Hell, which, if you consider the whole of A Ghost is Born resembles a great societal headache in the midst of a commercial utopian society.
Sections two and three are connected explicitly, almost one poem broken in two. Here there is the self-aware playing with form, content, but most explicitly a tone that seeks to bring the reader along. It is a uniting of tone that gives strength to the poetry, I think. It is the voice that can connect disparate elements. This was something I have largely learned largely from Whitman via Ginsberg, who can break down just about every typical element of poetry and build a poem largely on rhetorical strength of tone. This is, perhaps, the reason I shifted towards a complete imitation of Ginsberg by part four. After pulling apart the poetry by the seams in part three, I felt as though there needed to be something that sought to pick up the random pieces and sew them back together. It is, in some sense, a response to the first section in light of the question of poetry posed in section two and three.
The final section is a more experimental prose poem. In many ways, it sticks out as the sorest of all these various thumbs, though it is the ghosted title poem of the whole cycle. It is actually quite mundane in content, despite its more experimental style. The long lines, in some sense are intended to push the ear of the reader as far as possible with rhythm and sound and still keep some integrity of the line. Much of this whole cycle is attempting to push things usually connected as far apart as possible and seeing what is left holding it together. In the same way Rothko saw value in breaking art down to its most basic elements as a way of reaffirming its complex possibilities, I am inversely trying to push these poems to their complex extremes and seeing what basic elements are left. This pushing also allows for a greater range of expression the same way jazz has pushed the European ear for order and expectation (and its ironic bedfellow subversion of expectation), and reaffirmed the integrity of things like the chord and scale, despite its constant challenge to them.
All this said, I think this cycle can be broken down into an attempt to put together largely disparate items and seeing what can possibly be drawn together in them by strength of metaphor and tone. I don’t know, however, if I’ve succeeded.