We get righteous.
In the presence of a hypothesis, any hypothesis, we get righteous.
Say a word: immigrant—and watch my father flinch, I boil,
you, maybe, cite data, someone else abandons the room.
Pieces of righteousness look like a river of baroque pearls with mean, red, pre-digital eyes.
We’re barreling along and everything scarves a second
into a river of baroque pearls:
An image of 4000 friends, typing, all at each other’s throats.
In January we enter the Hall of Dust, dressed in newness.
I wear the new cheeky spangles I’ve attached to myself.
Together they—pearls, spangles—make up a brilliant strand. But fake.
We all inhabit closets—beliefs—your own closet a time: 1987, 1991.
Now, while we dress up— smoky, sexy, vintage, the rest—
underneath we’re warriors, angered, working in pajamas, from home.
Does the much-anticipated set of numbers remind you of a colored suit?
One you put on to protect yourself from ambiguity? We float far down the river,
far past those who waver or oppose. But what do we know?
I wear the best personal beliefs in high, high hand;
the debate pisses on, encasing the wretched in amber.
Am: a machine that confers final, urgent communications.
Must: clasp the poems that I put in golden jackets for the capsule.
So age I. So age my beliefs. Which does me in.
Or ironic. When we hang on to the unexcitable, newest thing, a little suavely,
that particular three-quarter expression as pitiless as possible,
our true indifference drapes toward the world.
Look!: dinner at lunch: alcohol, pasta, cheese appear (we are fortunate)
with a triumph executed where? In the body, that concealer, that saint.
How bodies pop out between quips, reminding me, sometimes, to stop
the depressing nicks (of how many others?) in the “right” places.
That pale night when I looked to learn, really learn, the lesson of history,
just after the morning of the towers: Two old men traded wordplays,
well-meaning but so cut-off. Their heads hurt, they hadn’t slept.
As an antidote, I applied the usual pensive self-criticism,
but physical things—colors, shapes—had turned grumpy.
I saw, really saw, a stray face, a torso under a t-shirt, the elbow
that would go adamant in photographs.
There’s an elegance in refusing the egregious, witty line.
As sleek as it is, it can alarm:
That pale night, I felt an array of many secrets, all being ignored,
until I watched and learned: the skin, the puniness of the body,
frail under the arm, the breast, the armpit.
The body wears the light insisted by changes, it deserves an honest gaze
as it moves, at cruising speed, beyond the tired scorn.
Really? I thought. But it works.
Or infantile, which no one escapes. It starts on the sofa.
It’s only the one rare afternoon, you think, when you have nothing to do,
you doze under a blankie, revisiting the house on Blue Creek Lane
where dozing really began, revisiting your grandmother, her flat,
her loosely folded housedress. You recreate, always—what is the place called?
A certain kind of mindlessness, a certain failure to theorize,
a strange texture, like sweating, that annoys the highly strung.
This I chose for many years, out of boredom.
I get bored with those tones called, heartbreakingly, professional;
I prefer heathered versions of the old freeplays in the leaf piles.
Cookies belong to youth but I order, always, the cookie platter,
a midsize bravado—the kind that was necessary
when adulthood sneezed like Satan from the linen shelves.
It is perhaps no longer efficient.
The leaf pile no swath of prairie, scenarios desperately real:
Yes, a nuttiness remains, a small part devoted to mini-golf,
dreamfilled, feckless afternoons, magenta, aqua, yellow, all the colors of Florida!
But whimsy’s a cheap solution. You resemble anything but the forgiving night
when you assert I hate it! I love it!, your work (Just being exactly myself!)
steered by how much fun it is, no guidance or plan, no care for ultimate effect.
The effusion must clear. You’ll have to look forward, go forward,
gather your ragged power.
The year ahead: a fortuneteller.
As soon as she comforts, she comes down to essentials,
as wide as the spring, and as unimagined, and growing out, and up.
“Know,” she says. “Help.” More information please! Forward to what?
Try disdain, try letting go, try a child’s approach? We have.
We’ve tried on attitudes like clothes, according to weather,
only to find a sky full of clouds in unnameable heaps.
A catalogue of possible responses, is it really wholesome?
Why not just act when we hear “Help,” surely a plea, not a command?
I long for inner multiples hitherto unknown,
added layers, cut or thrown, a woman my age my size—but different,
a few more, even a little preachy or dated, solidifying in the mirror at home.
One of them might know which attitudes (that once scratched but kept me warm)
should be stored, in boxes, under the bed.
I fear a tragedy: acting, touching, but never enough,
the whole year scorched, a curve of cotton fitted selfish to me.
It pulls, it snaps. The facts, sublime renegades, leave a mark.
If today we encounter a bizarre avatar of winter—unsuitable for cotton,
muggy, violent, smelling like chains just broken—will it stay a long time?
A wavy sky, succulent mud, sky screaming, jays screaming.
But they never scream ending. I anticipate
the beginning with three promises: I begin. I’ll act. I’m going to have to wait.
Kathleen Ossip is the author of The Do-Over, a New York Times Editors’ Choice; The Cold War, which was one of Publishers Weekly‘s best books of 2011; The Search Engine, which was selected by Derek Walcott for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize; and Cinephrastics, a chapbook of movie poems. She is the editor of the poetry review website SCOUT and a 2016-2017 Radcliffe Fellow.
You can read another poem from Kathleen Ossip here.