at Length

Two Poems

—Kaveh Akbar


How many drinks do you have per week?

I drink what I drink lie where I lie I
deserve all the things I desire cocktail
chatter cymbals crashing green pills
which long ago stopped working
which I still carry to trade for
cigarettes or pitchers of Old Style it almost
feels like cheating

How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?

I am an ugly boy but it’s a pretty
day everywhere hard blue snow and old
men arguing the facts of a story they
weren’t even born for      they hate me I am
the only person here not grieving

How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?

filthy with pride I am standing as ever before watch
me sing through the jaw of a mouse about
the old miracles     a crimson robe floating
up from the Gobi
sand into prophet then back into sand

How often during the last year have you been unable to recall what happened the night before because you had been drinking?

even the river is tired of its slimy brown water there is no end to
wanting      pensioners walk around a mall ogling
watches they’ll never buy     one collapses
in front of the display case his skin
shimmers with sweat he looks
like a great carp

Have you or somebody else been injured as a result of your drinking?

under gold
light my
hands look
gold I
long to
be aes-
to have
my bones
laced with
my eyes



I’m no good with names
I forbid you from
saying mine the guts
of a ship are all
it really needs to
get where it’s going
just the gargling pis-
tons and the filthy
hard men

if you willforgive my leaving
I will bring you mud
from the Bosphorus
a throatful of fish-
bone there’s no excuse
for taking off the
way I did but you
knew I had to find
the witch not for her
magic but for her
harp for her hogsknife
the gardenlessness
of the new world would
break you in half I
want to shred myself
into a salad
the wind is heavy
as bearfat and I
too am thickening
everything is food
here even the oysters
there are provisions
to spare I push them
out the portholes just
to watch them splash

thisis not to say I’m
enjoying myself
did you get my letter?
I hammered your face
into sheet metal
to hold over my
head in the rain it
worked until the sheet
rusted away though
I never minded
the rain in the first
place still I’m sorry
for slapping joy from
your hands like a great
ice cream cone

givenenough time I will
strangle away the
dead center of prac-
tically anything
you can’t convince his-
tory to straighten
its halo even
if your nipples are
perfect and smell like
lemonpeel it is
getting dark and will
stay that way for some
time I am a good
thing in a bad place
like a bite of steak
in a lung I will
understand if you
need to cough me out
I will not complain
when you pinch me off
your cross

Kaveh Akbar is the author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James 2017).