Today in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Nick Sturm.
who am I what am I fleeing
at the door of azaleas another door
Eventually we arrive at the end
by means of something else, a kind of
shifting noisiness or memory of friends
on wild lawns, the soft will of their hair
defying the court’s secret orders as clouds
throb and blunder in the curious gaps
above us. For a long time things get lost
in a seasonless haze that barely entertains
a beginning, though I think it has to do
with my name being written that final time
and how I ripped myself from that door
to tell what’s horrible to go fuck itself.
Better though to carry a hammer here,
in the present, as there is much to smash
and bear into the garbled, victorious light.
Now a general dawning asserts itself,
the reinvention of edges, some extra lines
thrown together in the portent smothering
that gets us up every morning. Ancient snow
runs off the mountain into a ditch and here
we are making mistakes out of mistakes,
hallucinating grace, saying there are things
I want to happen and kissing the lurkish hum
of our human shovels until it does. I kneel
in color tufts where secrets have faces.
I read Žižek on love and listen to Katy Perry
because the world is a mass of seamless urgencies
and there is no more impracticable way
to measure my frail proximity to knowledge
and its daft quasi-limitless impossibility.
Sometimes I don’t recognize you sleeping
and sometimes illuminated this layer appears,
a dream no one is startled not to remember
though it seemed so important before with
our tongues on the flowers as the public ascended.
Sand falls out of the books at night, another
accumulation I’m hardly present for. It’s where
to begin: the human interferences, piñatas
on low power lines, a stranger entering the room
and making extravagant claims about the sky.
One’s mind is spirited off in delicate, aimless
ways, though what you really need is a pizza
and to find a golden orb trembling in the laundry.
That would really be something, and something
doesn’t seem to have happened for a while
which is an ordinary feeling. How many years
can you listen to “This Year” by The Mountain Goats
and still absolutely believe? Do you feel like
who you are? Is synchronicity its own private
language? Do you remember the summer
we spent picking cherries in a warzone? The fog
over the river so thickly we figured it was
of our own making? The painters eat their lunch
on the balcony over that river where things are
always dramatic, splattered, and a little religious
and I’m wondering why we can’t be more like them.
I don’t want to understand what this is about.
I don’t want to say lovely things in the rose garden
or know where all these pine needles came from.
I just want to be held by the air with everything
breathing, to be part of the white vibrations
that happen every night before sleeping, to be
tossed through the world so fucked up and azure
in every search engine, with friends goofing
at the barricades covered in raspberry syrup,
for most of my life to smell like nutmeg.
It’s simple enough to completely plow me over.
Some static in the radio’s belly, a sandwich
aglow in an empty room, love letters without
margins, and the fire I set in our house
finally taking to the sea. A kiss is a decision
I make to fool my body into being endless.
To be elegant and illegal, a rogue correspondent
licking the rhetoric out of its unstained celibacy.
I make more time for pomegranates. I walk around
hollow and shaken and bashed by merriment.
Like the humming in the boxes never understood,
we stand, luminously mistaken. In the pile of nectarines
our small victories. From this we learn all things
in their luxury of existing have a purpose, blur
and melody, for example, are the purpose. Boats
in the sheets, light on the thighs. As between ideas
we develop, vulnerable, no difference. How
we emerged slightly spiraled in the half-alive lake.
Then mercy, pears. And if by birds you mean
breathing heavily, yes. As if in this world
was another world waiting. A cloud in a thimble.
A name in the raining. The inventory of
dreaming makes clear what will happen
and such collisions are resolutely in our favor.
Many times and in many ways have we been
crumpled, but in being sure of nothing
and weather there is the imbalanced possibility
any texture or word can be our salvation.
A reservoir can be artificial or natural, another thing
unclear we are able to swim in. My attention
puts on a pattern of excitement. America
carries itself through the snow to the festival.
The Festival of America in the Snow. It’s an issue
of being and repeating. Like I make you a promise
to spend all day singing, but instead I put on
a parade and carry strawberries against
the enemy’s navy, pass the silence of the houses
with books in my hands, which are also silent
in their own way, but with a blooming salience
smeared with energy from life’s frayed edges.
Like waking in the groin of blessedness
with the river and its revelers. Like knowing you
I love you is what politics should be.
But the senators are useless as the foyers
of toy houses and will never, at the end
of the party, be mangled by the bridelight’s
ragged creaminess. In this kingdom
of luminous fuzz I know of no other life.
Today I dreamt I found my comb
thrown in the yard and I sat with it there,
as it needed me. The trees touch us back, not
as citizens, but as fellow things in movement
with no substantial need for a president.
And now in the coral glow of evening
I stand next to the refrigerator making a racket
in the wound of my subjectivity while all
the constellations turn into horses eating
the world’s dull blue perimeter. Though
I don’t know you, what I want to say is that
you wrapped in a quilt is a critique of ideology.
A radical hue pulsing in the essence animated
by a patchwork of unseen protocols, I mean
your soul, and the impenetrable lightness
always stunning me through the leaves.
Sometimes I get dismayed being a thinking
kind of glue, a ripping grid, though within
such heavy plural our choices are limitless
in the breeze of this slender debacle.
Every pulse is a gust in a larger imagining
of more doubtless systems, the amethyst hours
clinging to your skull in its dissolving motions,
our errors so plain, our sorrow so stubborn,
even with so many of us in the feedback
eating a mountain of something ecstatic.
I need this continual henceforth to hold onto
the dim promise blaring in victory’s ether
where the vigilant light is our wilder coat.
Each statement becomes a reminder
of your body clinging to itself, scribbling
its selves in the ways through. I don’t
have a map or any evidence, just this payload
of oases, a religion based completely
on sriracha and rivers in Ohio. The shape
of the word is its own feeling, another
kind of understanding ribbed with berries
and the tower of witches we call the dictionary.
Like at the sky’s going out of business sale
it is not uncommon to have a spiritual feeling,
that pelt of loneliness glowing across your shoulder,
and the prices unclear under the constant mists
that fuck and mutter the world pretty.
We went in our time for tacos and Kantian
feelings, stained with joy as a red obligation,
this lace pitch against a lobby of fears.
Our dream had a name I didn’t know
I was naming and, if nothing else, it felt good,
wailing in our secret cup, to be so many colors.
Sometimes I have to buy and cook food
and other times I have to throw myself
into the cement mixer of compassion.
It’s simple enough marvelous. It’s the color
inside my mouth when I’m dreaming
and it’s orgasms as the morning passes
with that socio-economic feeling. The black pages
in Ted Berrigan’s Collected Poems. The beautiful
names of the men who clean the windows.
The part of me everyday that gnaws
on the parkway, trying to understand
if I should act on my hatred or let it
keep opening me to something else entirely.
Luckily, a crisis does not demand an explanation.
No one can sleep in a mirror. No one
goes to a goat farm without making a choice
about what’s worth loving. This morning light,
friends in the kitchen, papayas, bi-planes, the little
orange stickers at the liquor store: all good
reasons to own, at the very least, a trumpet.
This year I could say I’ve been chewing on wires
in a golden chamber, and that would be true,
but I’ve also been sitting around alone
in my apartment where everything I own
is a secret message about a part of myself
I’ll never understand. Somewhere else fireworks
put pockets in the clouds, a tired person
makes bread, a small green horse is smashed
out of a slab of industrial plastic, all with a brutal
deliberate sweetness. The whole world makes
a kind of horrible noise I can’t help loving.
The war ending and ending and ending.
If it kills me. If it kills me. If it kills me.
What do you remember most clearly?
On the way here I passed a field
of donkeys on the sea.
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