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
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
I forget to protect it.
You think you’re immune—
but you’re not a fool—
we won’t be satisfied
until that nightmare
plays out—we want to be
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.
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