This week in the PEN Poetry Series, Guest Editor Dawn Lundy Martin features four poems by Matt Longabucco. About Longabucco’s work, Martin writes: “I’m made awake by the cascading chattiness of Matt Longabucco’s poems, the way his poems expose language’s inherent quirkiness, even and especially when it confronts the ‘misery we communicate without a single noun or verb.’ Matt’s poems bring to mind the urbane hilarity of Frank O’Hara, blistering in their attention to the ‘drizz boulevard,’ ‘gluey middle zone,’ and ‘the senile dope.’ Are we or are we not supposed to laugh? Who’s in on the joke? I met Matt ten years ago teaching during the summer at Bard College. We were all super young and glowing with natural flat bellies and a certain relaxed ease in our approach to intellectual and creative life. These poems are like an imprint of the moment when you recognize time has passed, and now you’re looking at the minutiae up close with necessary curiosity.”


Don’t I like birds?

Don’t I want that house from my dream?

A sort of ultra-modern glass-and-white concrete cylinder

raised up on an elegant stem—it had a moat: 

clean and clear-flowing ripples patterned like water in digital films.

But I didn’t quite want it, was afraid to give up what I had, maybe, 

though of course that’s laughable, 

inexplicably refused the absurdly low rent, at first, then returned,

showed it to my father—a huge mistake.  

By the end of the dream it was cracking, listing, 

moat-water flooding the foundation.

Do I want to stay here instead, in the city, and learn to brag?

I do not. Or don’t I want a better future?  

A better future for this world?  But the present is the face revealed. 

And the past shuffled the cards—the whole game 

is played, already—it waits inside the deck for all 

but those of outrageous grace.

When people talk about the future they conveniently forget

the part that concerns them most.

What’s their plan—to plant spies among the living?

To hide along the inner curve of an inhuman knot, 

billed by its proud machine-maker as un-untieable?

Don’t the tourists want me to huff with impatience?  

To cradle them? My mother, to try to talk to her, you don’t 

know her, but trust me it’s hard. From her I received: 

tenderness, space, insufficient protection. 

I hope she decides to drive upstate with M. and me,

on Friday, though the thought of her anxiety level

in a Bushwick car rental office  

makes me want to pour this double scotch 

over my head. When I was in her skirts

this world was already spiraling into the clownishness

an unstoppable evil alternately endorses and takes as license.  

Was I put here to digest its excesses? Mirror them?

Are you one of those jerks who thinks I write about my life?

I ride the train to coincide with midnight at my stop.  

It’s easy to think the local is a little dull-witted, right?  

My father tells me he wakes up looking for my mother,

stumbles through all the rooms, turns to her and tells her 

he can’t find Rita anywhere—I’m Rita, she replies.  

The senile dope. Why doesn’t he do crosswords to keep 

his mind sharp? Or, horrible thought, does he seek confusion—

does he want to hear nothing but birds? My kid being dragged 

to school reports they make a V, I realize she’s been looking, not down 

like me, but up at a flock of geese cruising in formation a mile high.

She’s convinced I mainly gorge, roughhouse, scrub, and nap.  

Seven, can I get her to remember to give twelve bucks to her teacher 

for the four minutes it takes to climb three flights of stairs?   

Today I saw the archivist at my university library—

who years ago gave my graduate proseminar a lively presentation—

peer into vitrines to arrange the lobby’s annual exhibit, on the theme 

of Alice in Wonderland, in a way that filled me with despair.  

And since my accident, my head weighs forty pounds if 

I drink an evening beer. Bought a Kit Kat from the platform 

kiosk’s fridge, opened and found it melted, returned to the clerk 

and simply held up for exhibit A its muddiness, shittiness, dropped it 

on the counter, went foraging more deeply on the shelf for one 

he insisted I deem acceptable before walking away this time.  

Now I still taste it—still on my route—not yet midnight—

your melted face—the acid of abuse, odorless and colorless—

misery we communicate without a single noun or verb, 

with supple silence molded by brainwaves bounced off 

gemdust on planetary beaches, the squelch of time across 

distances long enough to bend its path to nowhere.  

A physicist seems to enjoy the way the scale of his concern 

coincides nowhere with mine. He thinks my death 

occupies a grey, gluey middle zone, rule-bound and obsolete.  

He doesn’t know I’m going to collapse myself when the moment comes 

through a flicker I saw thirty-five years ago, twenty years ago, five, 

slimmer than his wildest dreams and unmistakable as sunrise 

that time I begged it not to come and scorch what wasn’t yet 

real enough to stand the light.



a good poem by a bad person
a bad poem by a good person
a good poem that turns out to be a bad poem (this sometimes happens) by a good person
who turns out to be a bad person (this sometimes happens)
a bad poem that turns out to be a good poem (this almost never happens) by a bad person
who turns out to be a good person (this almost never happens)
a boring poem by a bored person
a flimsy poem by a serious person
a highly-regarded poem by a well-liked person
a begrudgingly-liked poem by a problematic person
a widely-circulated poem by a feared person
a loud poem by a loud person
a fucking amazing poem by an exhausted sinner
a dirty poem, but spiked with critique, by a sexy person
an uncanny, metamorphic poem by an unpopular person
a political poem by a sanctimonious person
a poem for all humanity by a self-involved person
an influential poem by a person long-since changed from the person who wrote it
a bloodcurdling poem by a maniac
an idiotic poem by a tyro
an unbelievably long poem by a cretin
an accomplished pastiche by a lifelong acolyte of a great, though dangerous, person
a poem in which two lines are perfect by a doomed student
a poem whose existence breeds other poems 
           by a master 
a poem whose existence swallows other poems 
           by a master
a masterpiece by a person we can’t see
but who sees us very well



no one says they put pleasure first
so there’s no one I trust

Sorrentino’s bitterness 
this spring’s
swollen tongue

Rene Ricard
Pierre Pernod

the troll living under the williamsburg bridge

determined to make a spark 
throwing oneself against the face of the rock

high, should I fold my coat over my sleeve 
or will the pockets spill out?  

high, with an enormous notebook
too shameful to carry around the Met
for dear life I clutched a bench
removing its mahogany finish in four parallel gouges
while a man in a beret seemed to hear my groans 
from beside the Ionian column
whose swirls in the swirls of that lady’s
walker’s luggage-like wheels repeat 

someone 4 feet away tells a story about bathing in the Ganges!

O for a flyer or pamphlet without print on the back

how easily the artisans in this gallery
share their common style  

grant cycles of the ancient world

with Odysseus it’s always the same question 
do you want to win, or don’t you?  

the geyser keeps the hour
abrupt fist of water from the muck at the pupil of the ice
followed by spray blowing away to vaporize with a sizzle

Totoro’s love for the slap of raindrops on leaves

since when does my body feel like a tube of putty
uniform all the way through?  

numb and obsessed with knowledge 
forbidden to possess

failed when asked for this specifically today
to produce a “crazy” story from my childhood  

had a light in me, then, and if I bent it was
to tend it—

what do people do with cigarette lighters?  
oh right, pocket 

not precisely on the historical site
to this day still unknown
of the infamous 5 Points
you were being difficult

all this hideous fireproof shit

poorly-hung chain-link fence’s bulging belly

wish those last fries were out of my periphery

did I ever tell you I was in Anything Goes?

or how on the rush hour 6 
doing an involuntary warrior 2
heard a 13-year-old panhandler 
chew out a 9-year-old panhandler
for not going around the car aggressively enough
and to make his point plucked the one dollar they’d made
out of the hat and RIPPED IT UP
no one on the train could breathe or meet each other’s gaze

“I am a child of earth and starry skies”
read the lamellae—embossed gold tokens 
carried as talismans against forgetfulness in hell

before we shower, we sweat
then take the drizz boulevards in flawless makeup

the beauty of never-a-care helps carry the ice

last hope to shed: to be something later

a glimpse of this, the moment you stop listening

sometimes I stop, too—or start listening to something else

bomb planted while
trying to out-think fate in that too-hectic way 
that later leaves one vaguely embarrassed

now when things get quiet the walls tick

okay bye I’ll send you those links!



We’re the same.
But you’re better at being us
than I am.
And I don’t have the constitution—
I’ll twist a paper clip if it’s in my hand,
and I’m twisted—my neck and back.
I forget to lie—
you wouldn’t forget—
or tell the truth in a trance.
If the truth fades away
with time
I forget to protect it.
You think you’re immune—
like me—
but you’re not a fool—
we won’t be satisfied
until that nightmare
plays out—we want to be 
spit on—
what does “any” mean
you asked in a dream
having peered across the table
to read it upside down 
from my page
written in a genre
in a city
both said to be dying—
o let it be true—
they push the rock
over the cave mouth
and we will be alone
in the perfect dark after 
if either of us
refuses to speak.



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).