Today in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor C.D. Wright features excerpts from Sampson Starkweather’s The Waters. About Starkweather’s work, Wright says, “There are many poets at large in America. They can be found doing things such as editing physics and chemistry books as Sampson Starkweather has done for quite some time or working for The (CUNY) Center for the Humanities as Sampson Starkweather does. They are writing poems as Sr. SS does; they are among the tribes of young writers founding independent presses, as Sr. SS is (Birds, LLC); coordinating lit fests as Sr.SS does, and live in Brooklyn. They are creating a living poetry, in post-literate, post-campus environments. This interests me. This vitality. This upstartedness. This side-winding path to something over the next rise, something significant. The chapbook has been his signature unit. At least nine of them. At least four have been collected in The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather. His writing hasn’t settled in. This interests me. What’s next. We’ll have to wait for the next chapbook to find out.”


       Fuck the flood, this wake 
would make a great movie-trailer 
for Time and his henchmen. Some story… 
always at the edge of its measure. 
Select theaters in my head.

       She left me with a cupboard full of weird teas,
pistol-whipped by desire and the world’s
saddest TV, tuned to suffering or
Charlie Rose— I take to the roof
to watch the moon rocking 
       its gold tooth.

       Your hurricane name offends me. 
That goat we placed our faith in, 
perched on the fencepost, is gone. 
Heartbreak vs. average rainfall 
and gone is another way to say here.

       The litter of blind things we found drowned
beneath the double-wide told us it would end like this:
we are very tired, we are very very,
we had gone back and forth all night on the very—
how does the dream get more dream?

       The Water is Rising 


       There is a precise moment in every child’s life
when they must dismantle a TV to see what little gods
live inside. For me, there were 3. Useless to Krazy glue
a fuse, burnt-hued tubes, the soul, a cathode ray.

       Winos would sit in the woods and watch
those TVs. I left them your old shoe. O to walk
across that black glass, shimmering in the almost
sun. All those soap operas set
all those dead leaves waiting for someone
to walk on them, in other words, any dream
in the shape of an effigy of hands.

       I suffer. Is that okay to say? I was talking
to the poem ANYWAY.

       In the only play I was ever in, I acted
the fool, the boy who didn’t know he was dead.
I was so beautiful the King Lear dude went blind,
I affected a vocabulary of N.W.A, the one
shoe, my wardrobe touch.

         Only my beard separates me from you.        
You, who could fix anything— will break (you’ll teach
me), the simple machinery. Fools, without
a play: your dress rehearsals of drowning, me dancing
in a forest of shattered TVs. All that glass
            shining in the sun, fool’s
                           go d


      The hammer, the afterbirth, the anvil, the ink,
the already-not-yet, the aperture, the armchair, the pleasure 
of cellar door, the chimera, the never, the more, 
the bullet, the born, the there, the uncle,
the surrogate, the peninsula, the risen,
the drown, the jig-saw, the Jew, the glass, 
the ceasefire, the phonograph, the smoke.

       Immutable, external, hungry, 
lithographed, indexed, widowed, thirtytwoed, 
tumescent, deracinated, alive.

       Snowing, burning, ballooning,
pelting, sapling, fasting, inoculating,
lying, weeping, a tiger, snowing, snowing. 

       Almost, right here, beyond, 
perhaps, during, to the left of, so much, after, 
distant, always, this one, almost, never, too much.

       The succulent, the air, the quickening,
the kiss, the august, 
the rebuff, the rope, the cruelty, the spittle,
the punchline, the rags, the reckoning, 
the 1-wing, the awl, the would-be breasts, 
the water, the lessness,             the wait.           


        Bang, bang, you’re all alive.

        God had a gun. It shot a flag with “BANG!” on it, which somehow seems to support Intelligent Design and all that.

        How strange to be alive. Before I was dead, it was my favorite. Life is like a box, with Tom Hanks inside it. You float nothingly behind that hippocampus that like a memory of letting go of lightning bugs into a mason jar, goes from a glow to the nadir of cold glass, until pain is soothed away into the end of a prosthetic limb. When Andre Agassi said Image is Everything he could not have known he was making a commercial for God. Death then is the opposite of the image. Original, death®.

       Casualties of the pop gun. Orphans of the one word.

       And yet the dead are not dead. They float on the ceilings of everything, they come back in their old age wearing earrings like Ed Bradley. They sing “60-Minute Man.” They die with a flag to their head.

       Bang, bang, you’re all alive. 


         I imagine you 
find this book in the woods. You flip 
to this page: Here is your curse. White magic. 
You always loved a good game, playing with dolls
(this one is you), inventing a new hell.  

         Your name is the name of the fear of being found out.
You are hit by a car.
You are broken up with via text message.
You are robbed by a rookie robber who injures himself and sues you.
You write airport fiction.
I am your dentist.
I have hammers for hands.
You wake up with a mouthful of dirt and onions.
Your neighbors are pedophiles and frat houses.
Your dog dies…twice.
Your soul is a white dwarf.
You are buried alive with your fucking iPhone.
Your organs are used for shark chum.
You wake up to a permanent sangria hangover.

         Black hail falls on your daughter’s wedding.
Every day the next day is the biggest exam of your life.
When you say “coffee” all people hear is “liquid turkey.”
May you be audited…every year
by the person in the world you have wronged most.
You have telethons instead of dreams.
The little black box inside your soul
that records your every action
is handed to the Devil when you die.



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