Friday, April 24, 2015

five minute poem with carl swart

It's a thing unlike most other things
by which I mean a thing like everything else.

To this, my dear, you are beholden.

Nonspecificity is a virtue; don't ever say what you mean.
I dislike, in a semi-not-so-random order, the following:

poetry, broccoli, mushrooms (except the fun kind), sad
small hearts on the parched yellow ground,

cornmeal, old bananas, powerful hankerings, & most
things that begin with the letter G.

Get this, though, mon frere, you are not my brother
because I also dislike families. Can't get too
frantic here because the finches are flitting

too far out back, converging on the framboise.

I sing a canticle of sixpence & a pocket full
of Canadian currency & a tiny man with a shifty eye.

I would really like to love you, but well,
don't worry. I won't try.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

FOD Walkdown

There's garbage everywhere & we
must protect it from the intake

in our dungaree pants & khaki
polyesters & these obnoxious
cephalopod-like helmets.

That's not a metaphor but should be.
We have no time to be figurative.
The past approaches, honed in on our tendons.


Back for a limited time! It's me.

On some horizon, the heart makes
a series of tactically sound left
turns, so, you know,
a circumnavigation of a slow
but yearning apathy.

These airplanes make me itchy
& the tarmac is a placeholder

not just for a hundred thousand tons
of metal but for all these dots,

these points on a line we call
people. You've rendered my life

in two dimensions & neither one
flatters my figure. I see a washer

on the ground, I pick it up.

Into my pocket for good luck.

Empty Nest

This house & all the things in it.

Do I repeat myself? Very well, then,
I repeat myself. I am small. I contain platitudes.

Before the detritus is wiped off the tablecloth,
before we're elbows-deep in a preponderance
of potting soil, to stop & reflect on what

this trash means is a necessary balm against
what fades. Archie wrote the "great spiritual poem"
of our time

& I hover over dumpsters looking for a perfect
crime to take home & care for as my own.


This house, quite obviously, needs renewal
but I am no carpenter. Jets overhead
can't see us in the slate-pathed backyard

with its birdhouses & curios & withering
tulips. Sometimes I feel I'm in Cordoba
but I have no idea what that means.

Having gotten by. Having made a mask.
Having spotted eagles chasing ospreys.
Having retired to the concrete stoop.


The derivative of nothing is still nothing.
& every line I write is still a bird.

A Model Year

The mourning doves, in morning, come
to wake the frozen yard with low white sighs.

Later come the wrens and finches, the towhee
with his pylon-colored breast.


The cusp of winter, edge of spring
does not so much unsettle as derail.

Each boxcar brightly painted
is an emblem of departure.

We need these markers or makers
the way someones need things.


In the fall, we'll throw trinkets in the river.
Forget and want: the water always finds us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

sestina that carl told me to write

Mother of all things that ostensibly rise from the foam of an ocean,
Mary come lately, saintly matron giving birth to something furry,
or at least less Cthulhic than my Satan-loving friends or Jesus
-adoring enemies could fathom , hear me: From several fathoms down, a hoagie,
also known as a submarine or U-boat, inches toward the Sea Mother,
who is, of course you, my lithe old gangly wearer of couture that's juicy,

I beseech thee right now to get out of its ever-loving way, can't you see
beyond your non-tentacled face that you're going to get blown from the ocean
like all the drowned Argonauts before you? Just wait a second, Mother,
and let me explain. I come to you from a windy place where the furry
tendrils of August enwrap me in something like a convection oven, toasted hoagie
gently toasting inside, and that hoagie is me, because I'm damned hot. Jesus

Christ couldn't even harrow me from this hell, but you are cuter than Jesus
and infinitely more merciful. Forgive my forward talk, but it seems my juice
box was spiked by some raincoated lover's older brother. Now I'm hoagie,
toasted, for reals. But to put a point on it, a fine embroidery, the ocean
ain't my home, the sea is not my bailiwick, though San Diego (home to the furry,
deceased Jim Croce) once was my home, where as a teenager I listened to "Mother"

from Danzig's second album and contemplated laying lady sailors. My own mother
probably approved, eager as she was for her underachiever to grow, Jesus
and chastity be damned. Forgive the oedipal digression, I am yet still furry
of cranium (and face)and must now repair to kitchen to fetch more gin & juice
and try to figure this thirty-nine-line lumberer into something like an ocean
-worthy craft. A poem, they say, should be like a ship: wooden. Hoagy

Carmichael, "Stardust" on his Georgia mind knew this, living with a name like Hoagy
in early 1900s Indiana, in a stately house among some pines with his dour mother,
where there is a great lake in the north but no ocean.
Forgive me, I know, it's taking a while. But speaking here, (poet, be like Jesus,
I say) it's hard to address directly what I mean. This life left is without juice,
I bereft here against a coastal shelf, missing the small one, listening to Super Furry

Animals, in an attempt to stay this middle-age against a disappointed God, for He
so gave his only begotten something in hopes I would amount. Instead it's a hoagie
I settle for, no job, no wife (and it's a sad life), a daughter, (a Jew, see)
a couple of dust bowls away. And so it comes to something borrowed, dear mother,
something here washed out, my remaining days the side of cliff, barely held, Jesus,
by the gangly roots of admonished trees, not good enough, unable to hold back the ocean.

I forgot my question. Figures. There is a hoagie here though.
My poems are seldom autobiographical and I suppose this isn't juicy enough
for the tabloids. I'm going home, where Jesus went out for smokes and didn't come back.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The last thing I believed,
and then behaved

abhorred a vacuum.

But then, I am not nature

Not a real being at all. It took
councils so assess this.

My most recent counsel says
that nothing is born

and nothing dies.


I want to punch him in the eyes.


Severe, the world still runs
around like it owns the fucking place.

Like a careless father, I pick up the toys.

And where have you been?

Monday, December 9, 2013

poem to matt henriksen


Now I need to write, but something is preventing me.
My dollars don't equal dollars
in this economy of parenthood

in this dustbowl
I return

my wall street, the walls I built
to shield
from small figures on a vast horizon
of vast horizons & lake houses
boats & dementia

bottles bobbing in the lagoon
& a watery face saying "daddy"

& a watery face saying "darling"
because & I say
I do declare

Fuck Sentimentality. This is just--
it is just & it is real.

The mountains can't recede
but I'll push them off the line
of sight if need be

if you need me
if you need.

Friday, November 15, 2013

You remembered me before
you could remember who
I was & this the dense
terrain of heart & bone
in our reflection, wood-
paneled walls, a sprig
of thyme, too many under
a fog & and a dalliance,
these things make
a cathedral to the now
that was in photographs
& dusty furniture, our
"thing" past or beyond
the reach of what once
mattered. This dark
matter, those old people,
standing in a queue,
they are us.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

new poem

A few frightened maples
& some misplaced birds,
crested jays, I think,

foreground the red house
on the farm where I sit
as the world grows larger,

disturbed at brindled
horses & elderly dogs,
scent of bath soap

on my hands, knowledge
that homecoming is not
returning but acclimation

to what surrounds, denial
of a face in the white sky,
cleaving to an idea,

swath of fallow crops,
last century's last love,
that will not displace

these fallen things.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My generation’s best phrenologists said
Something about a rose, windblown carcasses
Displayed just so to say your head isn’t right
On the coffee cup emblazoned Memphis
No Elvis in my mid-day buzz but sanity
At an all-time premium: some tree, that one,
Over there with the crested jay & the foam
Finger. These are the finest days, the days
Of broken surplus & pamplemousse.
Your soda gives me pause: it’s broken
Over here, so many bubbles, so little text.
& the next best ratchet foams a coastal
Rise of trees & monumental rocks alight.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


We were young & we were shattered.
We took our lives & we settled down.

“I like your town & your trees & your
bodies of water” the way the music
drains out across a field. No vision here.

The house we built no more
than a maintenance shack. Insect shells.
Dry road. No visions.

I don’t believe I understand. God
was happening all at once & even
though we didn’t believe, he made us
good in the wind, made us something big

& dead & so comes love, so comes
this anniversary. So comes again
up, empty, open on the face of the waters.

Open across the breadth of the sea.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Biographical Note

I am not a politic.
I am not a politics.
I am not a politick.
I am not white magick.
I am not a sonnet unfurled.
I am not a crown prince, not a spear of asparagus
of the sort buried, robbed of chlorophyll so as to be
the best thing there is to be, which is white & fat.

I am not a sonnet in your hedgerow.
I am not an alarm in your digital.
I am not digitalis extracted from the vagina-like
foxglove to cure your terminal illness.
I am alarmed by your refusal to capitulate.
I masturbate twice, then absolve myself on your back.

I am trying not to hear you but goddamn the sonnets
are so fucking loud.
I am not reading your book about mangroves & paneer.
I am not a brick.
I am not a Frenchman walking all over your America.
America I am not a trail nor a trial nor a fish masala.
I am not a foreign national.
I am not a national velvet.
I am not Andy Warhol.

I am not employed by your "man."
I am not interred in the Cliche Mausoleum.
I am not finding in this new enterprise something
to make me a better man like it was supposed to do
but am finding new reasons to be annoyed.
I am not a crown of sonnets.
I am not a purple.

I am saying this very slowly so
that you will understand very slowly.

I am not a self-referential dead lyric.
I am spending half the day just coming back around.
I am not a proud man.
I am not a doctor of physick.

I am not a peninsula.
I am not America's Wang.
I am not those blinking taillights &
I am not exploding at 10,000 feet.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

More thoughts on the "internet / television Atheist."

The argument that the Atheist most often makes, most often in public but also in private conversations, is NOT an argument that God does not exist. It is also not an argument that the Bible or the Koran or whatever holy book a particular faith adheres to is somehow incorrect or false. Instead, the most common argument of the mission-driven Atheist is that a person of faith cannot also be a person of reason or intelligence. In simpler terms, the atheist argues that if you are a Christian (for example) you are an idiot.

The argument that the Bible is *not* true, at least in an objective, testable way, isn't much of an argument when posed to anyone but the most strict biblical literalists. Most educated people of faith understand a holy book to be a very different document than a science book or a treatise on logic, a book that is understood differently than one understands science or even more subjective forms of writing such as history or journalism. This premise is easily testable--what reasonable person believes that snakes talk, or giant fish swallow men? If we allow that this is a small percentage of reasonable people and we also allow that a greater percentage of reasonable people also profess to be Christians or Jews or Muslims, we can deduce that many reasonable people of faith don't literally believe many biblical accounts.

In a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, the host accuses a Christian guest of "cherry-picking" only the "good things" in the Bible. I am surprised that the guest didn't point out that Maher, in pointing out the bad things (as when he calls the Old Testament God a mass murderer--a characterization I can't disagree with) is also "cherry-picking." This should not surprise anybody--we do this as a matter of course all the time. Accepting or rejecting certain parts of a whole does not mean wholesale acceptance or rejection of the whole. This fallacy, though, allows Maher to accuse people of faith of hypocrisy or stupidity. The fact is, reasonable people of faith do not, on the whole, believe everything in the bible as literal truth. They just don't.

Similarly, ask a religious person to prove that God exists. He can't do it. He simply cannot. But there are plenty of people who believe in God. This point, then, is hardly arguable. The Atheist easily wins this. You cannot prove a negative.

So what the Atheist is really saying to the believer is that the believer is somehow less intelligent or, at least, misguided for professing religious faith. In simpler terms, I'm smarter than you.

The Atheist, then, is not making an intellectual argument so much as a social one. The Atheist doesn't want to associate himself with someone who possesses Keats' negative capability. The Atheist is not trying to convince you that God doesn't exist or that the Bible is bunk. He is trying to tell you that he thinks of you as a lesser being for having the audacity to believe in or find comfort in something that is not scientifically testable. The Atheist does not like you. Why? Because his myopic view of the world dictates that he is smarter than you. And he doesn't like to hang out with fools.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mission Statement

To re-imagine the "writing life" so as not to drown. To continue to write with 1) no pretense to ambition and 2) no actual ambition save that to clear a space for better thoughts, for more lucid practice, by which I mean, living.
Beneath a sriracha-washed summer sky,
my kid said "puffy cumulus clouds"
while all of us, the entire town,
tried to talk about our feelings.

Monday, July 22, 2013

on Whales and Old Pals

My friend, former classmate & colleague, and generally amiable gal, Tamara Holloway has a new blog. She's writing about Moby-Dick at the moment.

So of course, I got to thinking about the white whale myself and my first encounter with Melville.

I read Moby-Dick when I was 20 years old and in the Navy. Fitting, I guess, though at the time I was not on a ship but land-locked in the San Joaquin Valley, surrounded by fighter jets, cotton fields, and methamphetamine people.

I read it because a tall, blonde, dashing shipmate of mine told me I should read it. I believed him because he had an easy air of nonchalance, was flip, good-looking, a scratch golfer, a stock investor, and a card-counting blackjack player. He let his hair grow too long and he put his feet up on his desk. I figured that he was pretty wise, and that if he said I should read Moby-Dick, I should read Moby-Dick. I hadn’t read *anything* at this point in my life except for comic books and pulpy sci-fi and fantasy books.

That same spring, I enrolled in a community college course–it was American History, part 1–taught by an old, Nixon-worshipping retired professor/Methodist minister. For one of our papers we had a “book review” option, namely, read a “great American novel” and write about it–what does it say about American History as you understand it, having been a student in this class for the past 16 weeks, and so forth. I wrote mine on Moby-Dick. I talked about Alexis de Tocqueville in the introductory paragraphs. Pequod as pre-muticultural multicultural America. Etc. I got an A and decided that I might keep going to college.

I remember hating the chapters on ambergris and whaling minutiae, not because I hate stuff like that but because I just wanted to get back to the damn story. I might have to read it again, 20 years on.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

summer song

In a summer of spearmint
& sinuous heat, books
dismantled on the hearth,
our heart beats one two
for an emergent emergency,
forms come from each plaint
of this chest & that.

Ain't got no Florida up in this grave, today. Great men perch along fenceposts with condors, buzzards, bald eagles,

& other connoisseurs of carrion.

Crawl at me like a Stutz Bear-Cat, Jim. Sum up the summer with a frothy refreshment.

What's black & white
& read all over?

A few months ago, it was a newspaper, & the answer was the answer to my daughter's favorite riddle, because she's only four & she'd never seen a newspaper until I showed her one last week.

"Daddy, that's not red!"

But it was.

Summer of Sharknado & Northeast heatwave. Summer my friend sent a book out into the world.

Summer of chest heaves & miniature donuts.

June was wet & melancholic,
July is hot & patriotic.
August will be august & sincere.

Sincerely, severely,

Anthony Robinson

Friday, June 7, 2013

When I first started writing "seriously," as they say, it was because I just loved poetry. I was overwhelmed by discovering something *new* by feeling part of something through simply reading, and then having that feeling enhanced through writing *into* it. I couldn't not write, and I wrote every day, thought about writing every day. Read every day. I didn't see beyond this bubble--there was nothing like ambition, or career, or publication or anything on my mind at the time.

I guess, two or three years into it, I began to meet other writers, both domestic and foreign, as it were. Both classmates and students, both "IRL" and through the internet machine. I got to go a few places where I met others. I edited some journals, participated in a way that only strengthened my love of this thing. Through writing and reading, I had also found a community, the particular aspects of which sometimes eclipsed the love of the words in the first place.

And then. And then, I don't know what. I don't know what happened. I know a lot of what didn't happen. I watched a lot of that community disperese, move on, people whom I had published and thought I was friends with, people I had worked with, people who had championed my work, and so forth, weren't there any more. And I wasn't there for them.

And then I wasn't writing. I was reading very little. A different sort of life took over--work, family.

Then that stopped happening.

Today, in the early summer of 2013, I still see my old friends, my old colleagues, my old community members, publishing their third and fifth books, getting tenure here or there, being "famous" in a way that is, you know, not really "famous" but "poetry famous," which means, I suppose, a few people read your stuff, and you get awards sometimes, and you get to teach college kids sometimes, and you get a paycheck, and you're still in this community that we all used to be in together.

And when the imaginary interlocuter asks me how I feel to have almost been a part of something that I am no longer a part of, how it feels to have lost this community, how it feels to see my former mates being "poetry famous" and having happy families with children and nice things and bookshelves, while I am for the most part, homeless--

I can't really answer in any way that seems intelligent. I just shrug. I'm like, uh. Yeah.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

S. left Eugene the weekend of Father's Day. It was mid-June and her hopes of securing a summer teaching position had fallen through. She brought S. over to see me early Thursday morning, which was unusual. E. had a cold and was fussy. I was only able to hold her for a few seconds before she cried for mommy. And then they left, in a hurry to get on with their day. Of course I didn't know they weren't coming back.

S. called that Sunday, or maybe it was Monday. She was in Montana, visiting a friend. It was an impromptu vacation she told me unconvincingly. They were to be back in a weeks, and she was sorry she just up and left, but there was no time to call. (Yeah, I know.) Minutes after hanging up the phone, I walked over to her apartment. The front door was open, the place was bare. There was a U-Haul in the driveway and unfamiliar people walking back and forth with boxes.


In the days that followed I quickly realized that all of "our" friends were her friends. I had nobody to talk to, and quite frankly had no idea what was going on. I was too hopeful or naive to call it "kidnapping" but that's what it seemed like. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I realized that S.'s best friend, the one person in all of this who seemed good, seemed caring, and seemed to genuinely like me, had more or less--if not outright engineered--insisted upon this stealing away in the middle of the night. (I don't know if it was night. It must have been night.) It was, she figured, in the best interest of S. and E. I don't doubt she believed that but it can't make me wholly forgive her.


We see people how we want to see them, try to love them in the way that we want them to love us, and even those we don't necessarily get on with, we try to see in a not unflattering light. But all we have is light and absence of light, and the shadows are just the same as those fluffy clouds we look at: we find animals, we find a face on the surface of a distant planet, in the formless we seek forms that remind us of each other, of ourselves, and we want our best selves for others. We want others to be their best selves for us.

One day someone comes in and turns flicks the switch. Cleans up. We see the dust in the corners, the cracks in the walls.


When I write about this, I'm going to call this chapter the Great American Fake-out. Or the Friendship Juke. Or Humanity Pump-Fake. Or That One Time that My Kid Was Stolen and The People I Thought Were My Friends Were Actually Just Strangers With Kind Faces.


Portland artist / recluse Matthew Hattie Hein seems to understand how important appearances are, not just to others but to our sense of self, and how much we willingly buy into illusions of good intentions and good will. He sings:

"Thanks, it's nice to be invited. You look nice, or nicely lighted. / Are we going somewhere after this?"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

potions. salves. unguents.

I was so glad to get your letter

in the grass to get your letter

pieces of your letter in the head

somatic components of sky & oval


I wish this thing had moving parts.

I'd try to fix this thing if things
still had moving parts.

She mouthed three small words & didn't
look like a small person but a nail file.

A board is a Set-up.

"Love" is a motion detector set for "stun."

This is why it's advisable
to not have moving parts.


Always get your news from a refutable source.
The found me face-down in the source

Repeated at the source.
Your news wet at the source.

Your face is an immovable force.

Water all around. Cancel.
Carmine Appice is on That Metal Show right now. He still looks exactly like he did 25 years ago. He wrote a drum tech column for Hit Parader or Circus--one of the big "rock and metal" magazines of the 1980s.

In 2003, in the baggage claim of the St Louis airport, I stood next to him and he looked exactly like you'd expect an aging rock star to look--or, specifically--how you'd expect Carmine Appice to look: skinny, dressed in black, sleeveless leather vest, 1970s Mick Ronson hair, *that mustache*.

I was there for poetry. He was there for rock and roll. I wanted to tell him I liked his music but I didn't know his music. I just knew that he was the drum guy in Circus magazine. And you know, he looked like that.

Don't go to St. Louis for poetry. Don't go there if you're looking for a Pepsi. Don't go there for a girl--really don't go there for that.

In my variously limited travels across our Great Nation, disappointing trips many, I try to find something notable or interesting to file away to tell someone about when I need small talk. In St. Louis, I didn't get a Pepsi, got burned by a girl, spent a weekend drunk on bourbon in a Ramada inn, ordering expensive room service and a strange form of pizza prevalent in St. Louis involving a crackery crust and a strange processed cheese, watching James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal on the cable television act out master and servant stuff, less sexy than stylized. So that's what I remember about STL. That and Sadam Hussein was found in a spider hole that weekend. And I wrote two poems. And at the reading I gave, the Indian kid from the spelling bee movie "Spellbound" was there. I don't know if he liked the reading.