This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a new poem by Robert Fernandez, who will serve as a guest editor of the series for the following year. 



The streams are gaining wisdom;
They are close.

Proximity, a wooden bird
With a strip of human muscle
In its wing, sings its wooden songs:

Two wooden forks,
One laid atop the other;

Two two-by-fours,
One slid the other’s length;

Two wooden pendulums
Knocking in water.

Two tongues.
And two tongues speak.

And the will is a bird
Whose fire-fangled feathers
Dangle down.

And the bird is a stream—golden
Braid of Eden’s four rivers—
That is the lock of hair you use to spill
Guts on a plate.

This is a game
For sentries and for knights.
For centuries.
For soldiers.

A current
Burns in the will.
Scales rise.
An animal seeks water.

Herds travel distances,
Drawn by water.

Water is knowledge.
It is the air.
It is the binding grasp
That draws all life
To water.

And the mood, painted
In a single dirty stroke,
Is a black rainbow,
Smear of crown.

That mood that tangled as we spoke.
As we unfurled in spokes along that length.

We wear these fateful crowns—
            Points of entry.

First, water.

The streak painted on the sky
Serves to offset an ancient purple.

We know the god is near,
And we are mortal, so we burn.

Our heads burn

With fever

And with the prick

Of poisoned crowns.

Our foreheads, bloody,

Belch stink of death.

Belch sulfur.

The day is never new to us;
Dawn is ever in approach.

The knock
Of tackle in the harbor
Is the knock of wood, an empty

In its stomach. 

No provision.
No time.

We have
Spent the time.

And the mystery
Can barely

Are we?

What is
A name?

What’s in a name
But a million silver bristles?

What is the sea?
And famine
Or luster
And the luxuriance of life—
Strife that builds in bells and belts,
Whose belts are white leather,
Whose bells are white clay
And pinned to the belt
Of evil.

What sea
Is this?

What name
Or point of entry?

And having landed,
Having felt the ground

Having stood
And seen the rising
Of a world—

Having stood
In wonder
That it is

Having felt the world tremble
And having known

In alien corn,
Exposed and at the mercy
Of masters—

Having seen
And having stood
Where history
Clutches our necks,

Having seen
What then
Is next?

I get the blade
Out of my stomach,
Out of the old toolbox—
Let’s go fight.

I get the word
And leather apron,
My mercury and arsenic—
Let’s transform life.

I play a tune
And pray to open
A crack in the space
Of lack—

I sing and, singing,
Stand beside myself,
Waiting for the ones
Who hear and extend.

I am abandon:
Bright, fleshed mane.

I am ruin:
Antigone with muck
In every slit.

I am Lucifer:
I lead you astray
Into what you are not.

We should be thankful
For at no other time on this earth
Have so many lived so well…

And all narratives return to the demand:

And so we
See fire come
And our arms
Bathed in fire.

A debt’s
To be settled.

Stay a bit
While pimpled plates
Burn, while we melt
To the highest point
Of the voice and sing
Its flap of watery skins.

There is a poem
And it speaks all;
It answers all;
It lives all.

It is time;
It makes time;
It is azure and pressure,
And it is salt and Eden,
And it is lack, song
That sutures and rends
As it sings.

And it is death,
Total night, a dot
On the horizon.

There is a poem
That stands
Under raindrops
With Lucifer, 
A glass
Of lymph
In his hand,

A poem that would become
The smooth flesh of ages,
Smooth as the nose bridges
Of monkeys and their fig-red eyes.

There is a poem
That burns the stomach
And evacuates all flora.

We fail to arrive.
The book cannot be written;
The name unfolds
Block letters from your chest.

And the game
Is a singing
Wooden bird

With a strip
Of human muscle
In its wing.

And sings,
Of fire and ash.

I was a boy
When I entered
The worm’s lair.

His white crowns,
Like shark’s jaws,
Lay everywhere.

He had three red eyes
And a purple sash.

And I, a knight,
Came bearing
A green shield.

I said to the worm:

Are you spoken?
            Deader. Entry

Are you rare?
            Deader. Skein of meat

Are you swollen?
            Deader. Swallow my pride

And a pride of young lions
Surrounded him, each mane
Purpler than the last.

I said to the worm:

Are you an eye?            
            I am a thousand thousand, and I listen

Are you stiff?
            I flow through all; I am the skin that shapes

Are you holy?
            I am the holy threshold
            That bends all passage,
            Black rainbow thrown up
            At the arc of horizon

I know not
Of what I speak.

I fear a contract,
Contact, proximity.

I was a boy
And I said to the worm:

I am abandon

I am submission

I give all
In the name of all
& equally
In the name of nothing

I am fair
& I am weak
& I am dark
& I am thinned
& I am ruled
I am rapacious
& I eat
Through the meat
Of days
& I gather
My brothers and sisters
Around me
& I plot

So a knight stands
At the threshold of a commitment
To an absolute evil that is
The father’s death
And a bridge,

That is the rainbow
And a crack in the arch
Of horizon.

I do not know
From when I come
Or where,

But I go
With seeing and selection
As my guides,

And I listen
For righteousness
And justice
And for the word
And for silence.

I am enfolded
In nothing
And I unfold

Light into light,
Time into time,
Seeing into seeing.

I stand at the door
With my shield
And with the rainbow;

I stand ready at the door.


Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).