Old Boy, by A. Van Jordan

(Park Chan-Wook, 2003)

If one rainy night you find yourself
leaving a phone booth, and you meet a man
with a lavender umbrella, resist
your desire to follow him, to seek
shelter from the night in his solace.
Later, don’t fall victim to the Hypnotist’s
narcotic of clarity, which proves
a curare for the heart; her salve
is merely a bandage, under which memories
pulse. Resist the taste for something still
alive for your first meal; resist the craving
for the touch of a hand from your past.
We live some memories,
and some memories are planted. There’s
only so much space for the truth
and the fabrications to spread out
in one’s mind. When there’s no more
space, we grow desperate. You’ll ask
if practicing love for years in your mind,
prepares you for the moment,
if practicing to defend one’s life
is the same as living? You’ll
hole up, captive, in a hotel room
for fifteen years and learn to find
a man within you, which will prove
a painful introduction to the trance
into which you were born. Better
to stay under the spell of your guilt,
than to forget; you’ve already released
your pain onto the world; don’t believe
there’s some joy in forgetting.
There’s no joy in the struggle to forget.
And what appears as an endless verdant field,
only spreads across a building’s rooftop;
your peaceful sleep could be a fetal position,
which secures you in a suitcase in this field.
A bell rings, and you fall out of this luggage
like clothes you no longer fit. Now what to do?
You remember when you were the man
who fit those clothes, but you’ve forgotten this
world. Even forgotten scenes from your life,
leave shadows of the memory,
haunting your spirit
until, within a moment’s glance,
strangers passing you on the street,
observe history in your eyes. Experience
lingers through acts of forgetting,
small acts of love or trauma
falling from the same place. Whether
memory comes in the form of a stone
or a grain of sand, they both sink in water.
A tongue—even if it were, say, sworn
to secrecy; or if it were cut from one’s mouth;
yes, even without a mouth to envelop
its truth—the tongue continues to confess.

Another Feeling, by Ruth Stone

Once you saw a drove of young pigs
crossing the highway. One of them
pulling his body by the front feet,
the hind legs dragging flat.
Without thinking,
you called the Humane Society.
They came with a net and went for him.
They were matter of fact, uniformed;
there were two of them,
their truck ominous, with a cage.
He was hiding in the weeds. It was then
you saw his eyes. He understood.
He was trembling.
After they took him, you began to suffer regret.
Years later, you remember his misfit body
scrambling to reach the others.
Even at this moment, your heart
is going too fast; your hands sweat.

During the Montenegrin Poetry Reading, by Tess Gallagher

Mira, like a white goddess, is translating
so my left ear is a cave near Kotor
where the sea lashes and rakes
the iron darkness inside
the black mountains. Young and old, the poets
are letting us know this sweltering night,
under a bridge near a river outside
Karver Bookstore at the beginning of July,
belongs to them. They clear away debris

about politicians and personal suffering,
these gladiators of desire
and doubt, whose candor has roiled
me like a child shaking stolen beer to foam
the genie of the moment out of
its bottle. The poets’ truth-wrought poems dragging it
out of me, that confession—that I didn’t have children
probably because in some clear corner I knew I would have left them
to join these poets half a world away who, in their language
that is able to break stones, have broken me open
like a melon. Instead of children, I leave my small dog, quivering
as I touched her on the nose, to let her know it’s
me, the one who is always leaving her, yes
I’m going, and for her I have no language with
which to reassure her I’m coming

back, no—what’s the use to pretend I’m
a good mistress to her, she who would never
leave me, she who looks for me everywhere
I am not, until I return. I should feel guilty
but the Montenegrin poets have taken false guilt off
the table. I’ve been swallowed by a cosmic
sneer, with an entire country behind it where
each day it occurs to them how many are still missing
in that recent past of war and havoc. Nothing to do
but shut the gate behind me
and not look back where my scent
even now is fading from the grass. Nostalgia
for myself won’t be tolerated here. I’m just a beast
who, if my dog were a person, would give me a pat
on the head and say something stupid like: Good dog.

Ontario, by Mark Levine

Beauty in its winter slippers
approached us by degrees
on the gravel path. We were
hitching a ride out; had been hitching.
Our suitcase freighted with a few
gardening tools lifted from the shed
while the old man, old enough,
looked away. He who
went fishing at night (so he said)
carrying in his pail
a nest of tiny flame.

We were headed, headed out, we
were going in a direction.
No tricks
or intrigue, just a noisy
ineptness.

If that’s a word. Beauty, dipped
in resin beneath its shag,
was always ready with the right
curse to recite to
our nature. It is
in us, it is,
in the smokehouse in the woods and the old man
looked away. Song of
experience.

There were treads in the snow.
We waited for our hitch.
There were train tracks which
stung with clods of this region’s
rare clay.

We were boys, boyish, almost girls.
Left alone on the roof, we would have dwindled.
Incrimination called to us
from the city and its fog-blacked lake,

called to us from the salvaged farms beyond the lake,
from the wilds beyond that.
Guilty was good.

Survivor Guilt, by Ron Padgett

It’s very easy to get.
Just keep living and you’ll find yourself
getting more and more of it.
You can keep it or pass it on,
but it’s a good idea to keep a small portion
for those nights when you’re feeling so good
you forget you’re human. Then drudge it up
and float down from the ceiling
that is covered with stars that glow in the dark
for the sole purpose of being beautiful for you,
and as you sink their beauty dims and goes out—
I mean it flies out the nearest door or window,
its whoosh raising the hair on your forearms.
If only your arms were green, you could have two small lawns!
But your arms are just there and you are kaput.
It’s all your fault, anyway, and it always has been—
the kind word you thought of saying but didn’t,
the appalling decline of human decency, global warming,
thermonuclear nightmares, your own small cowardice,
your stupid idea that you would live forever—
all tua culpa. John Phillip Sousa
invented the sousaphone, which is also your fault.
Its notes resound like monstrous ricochets.

But when you wake up your body
seems to fit fairly well, like a tailored suit,
and you don’t look too bad in the mirror.
Hi there, feller! Old feller, young feller, who cares?
Whoever it was who felt guilty last night,
to hell with him. That was then.


 

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