from Bye-Bye Land

from Bye-Bye Land


One doesn’t need to know their private intentions.  The work tells all.
—Susan Sontag

A full moon hanging in the last part of the night,
a few crickets grinding it out a little longer,
their inner workings will not let them stop,
rhythm like a train climbing,
rhythm like a hammer,
a laundromat chorus of washing machines,
a mechanized loom threshing out the soft yarn

And the first cars in the distance humming
through New Jersey towards New York or Philly,
a pedal tone for some ancient, modal chant

And the moon, its plains and craters
bright and sharp, even from this distance,
especially from this distance,
silent partner
unchanged by all this commotion,
its silence unbroken by an early jet passing,

unchanged from the time of single cells, dividing,
to the creatures who can gaze at it now,
the fires always burning on their plains,
who have found the fire of the sun inside a rock.

Inside the house, the lights come on.
The man sits up, stares at the floor.
The woman covers her eyes with a blanket.
Did you sleep all right?
but there is only the sound of running water.

I dreamt again of the ships, the tall ships

Don’t forget to take the garbage to the curb.
And call Visa about that overcharge, will you?
And we need to stop by the Shop-Rite—we’re out of milk.
And don’t forget the tank’s about on empty.

Forget not yet the tried intent
Of such a love as I have meant

In the last part of the night
when the night is an ink spilled into water
and things have not yet made it back—


Ships, towers, domes, theaters and temples,
steel U-Store-Its, smokestacks, Golden Arches,
landfill mountains, gas-station islands
have not yet made it back from being skyline,
from being one line,
from being settled on the murky bottom
for divers’ salvages, arriving alone,

the bus driver thrumming at his vinyl helm,
the new guy getting to the office early,
the halls one off the other, rooms
all waiting for something, waiting
with an attitude you must catch them off-guard to see—

Arriving alone, the fast food manager,
the rows of plastic seats an empty chapel

White cereals in the whites of kitchens,
white bread, white noise of televisions.

It’s morning again in America.

Fears of impending global financial crisis.
Testimony before the Senate Judiciary.
And the Philadelphia Phillies
have won the first of a possible seven games.


History is theirs and the people make it
and tree to tree the starlings flit
and glide and fritter away the only hour
of the dawn, trees clenched
as if heated and bent and doused in the cold water
of the day, the sky
a pale blue neither far nor near—

what the sky was to the Peloponnesians
sailing at Greece, the Etruscans
firing themselves on dishes to be smashed
by the Romans’ thousand-year tantrum, the sky
they saw through the smoke of the ships at Veracruz,
the sky that absorbed the flag over Iwo Jima.

I guess everybody just trying to, ah,
pick up their game, you know?
And do everything we usually do,
just that much more harder and, you know,
that much more better.

And what would the dogs do?
The dog would hold on to my clothes and bite me. 
Where did they bite you?
If they would let the dogs go they would definitely bite us. 
When you got to Guantanamo what happened?
I could not see anything or hear anything
and I was like that for about two weeks.

And the trees are too thick to cross,
the trees that flank the interstate,
the trees along a field’s far edge,
their vines and branches clinging into clouds
the way the atom’s forces draw
its intentions into matter

This hard work, boss, wait’ for the word.

the engine noise and deadened barking
suspended in the trees themselves,
already memory: boys with basketballs
and dogs at war with cars
and muffled back doors closing in the night—

the trees that stand up at the cities’ edges
and dive up through the asphalt from their
secret tunnels dug before the war,
trees that tower over every house
along a street where the talk runs on
like the fences out of sight.


I’m not saying I don’t like it here.
It’s a pretty town—it is—and I definitely
don’t have to worry about getting attacked
on my way home from work or whatever.
But we’re in bed at 9:30 every night!
It’s not like I want to go out to the bars
and do the whole party-girl thing: Woo-hoo!
It’s yellow and green shots in a test tube!
but I want to do something at night.  It’s like
Michael just decided: we’re married now,
it’s time to start acting like we’re sixty.
He’s all, Gotta get up early, Claire—
and I respect that, I do, I just
want something more out of my existence on this
planet than going to work and going to bed
and watching “How I Met Your Mother.”
I know, I know—I hated Philly.  But I miss it.
And Michael, he’s a big help: Let’s go to Aruba!
Like, we’re gonna come home to some different life or something.
Okay, he says, you want to go back to Philly?
You want to move to New York?  How about Seattle?
Well, sure, Michael, how about Seattle.
That space-needle-thing?  And what, that crazy market?
I’m not really bitching about a lack of fish.


Let them come to New Jersey

where everywhere the big sky flames
and trees spread out their solemn wings

And the roads are unbroken by silence,
the roads that branch and branch,

roads thrown down like a net on something wild
which stares back through it,

roads like a thought in front of what is real,
a sentiment
that gives the mind an easy path,
the mind that keeps its eyes before its feet,

the mind, that would destroy the thing that is
to have the thing it can understand


Jat Jamma?  I don’t know, some grass hut name.
They ran right the fuck over this guy.
Can you imagine?  Getting trampled to death
by fat chicks trying to save two bucks on a vacuum?
And this guy wasn’t any midget, either.
They just stuck him out there, like, Hold the door, pal.
And what’s he gonna do, say no?
You see they laid off Jimmy-bird?  I told him:
Jimmy, it’s getting slow, you know?
Just show these guys you want the job, that’s all.
So I’m done with him.  I’m done.
I mean, Jesus Christ, that job he did on Terlaine?
And he’s like, Oh, I got the carpal tunnel,
and all this crap.  Like it’s my problem.
You coming, Tone?  Guy was from Haiti.
Yah, he was like six-six, two-seventy.


Las sich nach New Jersey Kommen

where everywhere the big sky flames,
where farm fields stretch their bodies under blankets
and streams push on through undergrowth,
on under highways, on around parking lots,

the bushes thrusting up through blanked backyards
like water blossoming from broken pipes

where, through that jungle, the houses look like outposts,
thatched huts on islands that have never seen a ship.

So tractable, so peaceable are these people
that I swear to your Majesties
there is not in the world a better nation.

With what delight could they have driven around,
if they could joy in aught; sweet interstate!
through hill and valley, rivers, woods and plains.

Oh, it was fucking gorgeous, I’m tellin’  ya,
the sky so blue it looked like a cartoon.


And these are the names of the men that shall stand with you:
of the tribe of Reuben: Elizur, the son of Sadeur;
of Simieon: Shelumiel, son of Zurishaddai;
of Judah: Nashon, the son of Amainadab

Of Harrison Ave, John Plinckett, brother of Corey.
Of Prospect Street, that guy who does duct work.
Professor Richardson, when he gets back from sabbatical.
Joey the Goose, originally from Brooklyn.
Allison Carter—yah, I know,
but she’s got balls THIS BIG, you know what I’m sayin’?
And who’s that guy there with the little mustache,
always gives you this stiff-ass wave—
kind of a wack job, am I right?
But the guy can schedule a train like nobody’s business.
I don’t need to know about his personal life.

They don’t need to know about why the big sky flames
and trees spread out their solemn wings
while they stroll campuses and stand in chapels,
talking into their hands, into the air.

And I would say, I am just a normal worker,
and work, and get my salary.
Did you ever learn anyone’s name?
They have no names.  They have borrowed names.  They have numbers.


They strolled the campuses.  They stood in chapels.
They stood in chapels, under the huge stained glass.
They drifted in silent, powerful automobiles.
They lived like Tudors.
They lived in projects.
They strolled the grassless lawns.
They lived in trailers, surrounded by dogs.
They lived in Tudors.
They lived in the White House
surrounded by dogs and Secret Service.
They were surrounded by disembodied motors.

They worried about the economic climate,
the falling dollar, collateralized debt.
They divided their items at the supermarket:
what the food stamps covered, what they didn’t.
They bought futures and shorts, blue chips and penny stocks.
“Spare change,” they said outside the Starbucks.

They worried about melting glaciers.
They worried about getting shot in the stairwell.
They worried about eating carbs.
They worried about getting turned away at the hospital.

They sat on marble benches
watching water erupt from the angels’ mouths.

They worked in automotive.
They worked the streets.
They were working in polyrhythms at the time.
Working the crowd.  Working an angle.
Working every shift they could get.
Working the room.  Working the land.
Working the theme of middle class ennui.
Working it.  Working out.
Working in oils, working in clay.
Working in shit up to their knees.
Working on their marriages.
Working on their flaws.
Working together to bring peace to the Middle East.

One doesn’t need to know their private intentions.
The work tells all.


And so we went there to the warm land.
We went to the terminus of a railroad and passed through
the land of the Osages and on to the land full of rocks,
and next morning we came to the land of the Kaws

I was there to shop but these people were, like,
ready to charge machine gun nests or something.
And then this chant broke out?
Two sugars and skim, please.  No, not that, you idiot:
“Push the doors in!  Push the doors in!”
And then the whole freakin’ crowd just started to move,
and the only place to go was into the store—
I swear to God, at that moment—No, skim milk.
Do I sound like a Jersey bitch from hell, or what?
So anyway, we come crashing through the glass—
I didn’t even see the guy, I’m telling ya,
it was like a horror movie—just grunting and breathing
and God knows who, like, thrusting into me.
And I see the guy lying there and everything—
I mean, what was I supposed to do?
And now everybody’s like, “You bought somethin’?”
Like I killed the guy by buying a freakin’ camera.


First of all, sir, the President has said
we are not going to engage in “Indian burns”
under any circumstances.
We are not going to engage in giving out so-called “froggies.”
We will not do the five-knuckle chuckle in front of anyone.
We are not going to engage in “forearm shivers.”
We are not going to engage in any kind of “wedgie”—
be it “super,” “destructo,” “hanging” or “blueberry.”
We are not going to engage in giving “flat tires” in hallways—
or in any other facility, for that matter.
We will not be “cyber-bullying,” I can assure you.
We are not going to engage in scratching our balls
and forcing someone to sniff our fingers.
I have given explicit instructions on this point, sir.
We are not going to engage in serving up red-eye farts.
We are not going to refer to anyone as a “fuck-nut.”
We will not, at any time, be buttering doorknobs.
So you’re asking me to answer a hypothetical.


In the last part of the last part of the night
which is morning, which is day, which is filled with light,

a light that is like a silence behind the noise,
a light that becomes what it touches,
a light that is like a love so deep
you don’t even know it’s there—

Light squandering itself on the hoods of cars,
light pooling in leaves and laying flat on asphalt
and boring down into the tiny caves of the grass,

Fore God, my Lord, well spoken,
with good accent and good discretion—
a light that is everywhere and therefore nowhere,
a light that is asking you to answer a hypothetical,
a light that has lit up Lawrenceville like a LAMP.


And so we went there to the warm land.
We passed by the projects and the Quickie Marts
and we wound through the looping miles of suburbs
where every house and hairdo looked the same,
and I saw how the people of that land were
and I thought they were not able to do much for themselves—
they were forced to leave their homes all day
and their children played behind metal fences.
And I saw how the trees were
and how the ground was covered with black tar.
And I saw the looks on the faces of these people.

We passed down into the hollows of a train station,
into a cave where the trains jarred the floor
and I saw how these people were,
how close they were pressed together,
how afraid they were to smile at each other,
for the killers walked among them
and those who would sell the tally machines
to count up the souls in the camps
and those who waited for the others to get sick
so they could come for their houses walked among them
and those whom anger had touched too deeply,
who had crouched deep into the foxholes of themselves
or crawled deep into the wooden horse of sadness
and those who would watch you gang-raped from the window
and those who saw the demon everywhere
longing only for one chance at its throat—


One doesn’t need to know their private intentions.

Hon, we should get that hibachi back to Oliver.
Does it still have coals in the bottom, sweetheart?
God it’s gorgeous out, isn’t it?
I have never seen so many birds!
Look at that fat little guy on the dead branch.
And the sheep?  We really lucked out with this spot.
Remember the place we looked at downtown?
Above the bar?  Can you imagine?
Oh, damn, it’s Karen.  Hello?

What is it I see but can never approach,
out past the field, out past the trees
out past the dark that fills their passageways—

always disappearing as I approach

That’s way too much work for one person, Karen.
They’re not going to give you any help with this thing?

out past the last blue ceiling bending down
behind the woods to touch the ground again—

and always the tugging, the tugging of something,
when I come out from the trees to find them:

the tall ships in the harbor, floating, waiting,
with not a soul on board,
their decks as worn and smooth as driftwood.

You have to sit down with your boss, Karen.
And if he won’t listen, you have to go to his boss.


This hard work, Boss, wait’ for the word.
—John Berryman, Dream Song 10

A dusty light in October, a pained leaf blower,
an Hispanic man with a leaf-blower on his back
like a sci-fi jet-pack.  As though he stood today
on the edge of a new frontier:
the frontier of the 1960’s.
In the field beyond the house, some sheep
sheep-walk the hours,
considering the grass with studious mouths.
Winter may come, or it may not.
He lives in interesting times.

Space is open to him now.
His eagerness to share its meaning
is not governed by the efforts of others.
The Price Chopper is open to him now.
The front of the bus is open to him now.
A million women on the internet
are holding their legs open to him now.
He moves the leaves to the margins of the driveway,
squinting to see
what’s right in front of him, always
New Jersey: land of farms and highways,
land of oxygen and SUVs.
Their land.  His land.
A light that is like a long reaching-after,
a light that will never be better.
The trees look digitally enhanced,
sharp with the shadows of far-off mountain ranges
or the moon on a clear night in Maine.

Beyond the trees, bold clouds ride low,
as clear and strange
as islands that have never seen a ship.


I know it’s a hassle, but I’m glad New Jersey
is finally doing something green.
Honey?  When they’re done with the lawn,
will you carry them to the curb?
We forgot last week so we have a ton.

Pile the bottles high at Lawrenceville

I know you’re tired, hon.
Do you want to just watch a movie or something?
Do you want to just sit and read?
Do you want me to just be quiet and go away?

Shovel them under and let me work

And the cars in the distance humming towards
New York or Philly, New York or Philly,
filled to all their empty seats with purpose—

They will get to the bottom of this.
They will break it apart.
They will break it down.
They will put the pieces back together
to make some creature that may have never walked
but could have.
Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in the shape of a camel?

The dusty light, the trees too thick to cross,
their vines and branches clinging into clouds

And roads unbroken, roads that branch and branch
like the aqueducts of Rome, like the trees themselves,
the fissures in the Etruscan potter’s plate

Shovel them under and let me work

Too thick to touch, the field’s far edge,
the dark that fills its passageways
that disappear as they approach
like shining mountain ranges made of fog
dissolve to scattered towns with backyard clutter

And the touching silence of distant ships,
of towers, domes, theaters and temples
dissolves, as they approach, to backyard chatter.


Well, I think these things have CYCLES, Carson.
Ten thousand years ago this was all under ice.
Bela, stop that!  Come here!  Come!
When I was growing up, it was THE COMMIES.
you’d be sitting in class in your knee-length checkered skirt
and the siren would go off and all of us
would DIVE under our desks because—DUNH-dunh—
“I have here in my hand a list of names,”
and everyone got hysterical.  People lost their JOBS.
They went after all the FOLK SINGERS.
It was SILLY, Carson, it was JUST SILLY.
Oh, STOP that, Bela.  Stop that RIGHT NOW.
When you were about ten years old, Time magazine
put a fried egg on its cover with something like,
“Cholesterol: The Silent Killer.”
We were all supposed to eat margarine and Wonder Bread.
ALL the scientists said so.  Well.  GUESS WHAT.
People love to get hysterical.
That’s what sells magazines, Carson.
And that’s what sells all these PILLS everyone’s taking.
They’ve got Eliza taking all these PILLS now.
Well she’s OUT OF IT.  Not FOR ME.
What’s that?  Grape Kool-Aid?  So kind of you!
But I think I’ll just have the water, thank you.
Oh WHAT is she into NOW.  Bela!
You just can’t resist those smells, now, can you.
No you CAN’T.  No you CAN’T.
George, I really think we should turn back now,
my hip is starting to do its thing.
No, back the way we came would be best, I think.


By the mass, and ’tis, like a camel indeed.

Methinks it is like a weasel.

It is backed like a weasel…

Or like a whale.

It is very like a whale.


Senator, there is a lot to respond to in your statement.
I would respectfully disagree with your statement
that we’re becoming more like our enemy.
We are nothing like our enemy, Senator.
While we are struggling mightily to try to find out
what happened in Abu Ghraib, they are beheading people
like Danny Pearl and Nick Berg.
We are nothing like our enemy, Senator.

These Arabs, Senator, slink around in their oil fields

while we are struggling mightily to find out
how so many could be beaten and waterboarded
in U.S.-run detention centers,
and how so many Iraqis could be dead
since U.S troops invaded—Senator,

we’re still trying to find out what happened
in My Lai, and in Dallas in ’63,
and in U.S.-backed coups in Chile, Malaysia,
Venezuela, Argentina, and Haiti—

We’re struggling, Senator, to try to find out
why even under the threat of destroying the planet
we just keep burning more gas and coal,
and driving more miles, and talking louder and louder

as though we lived in a dream, Senator,
and could shout ourselves awake,

like when we were sick as children, Senator,
burning with fever, the black gate swinging open—

Oh, Senator, how we are struggling!

And all they can think to do
is behead Danny Pearl and Nick Berg.


And passengers ask the conductor:
Do you think these jeans make me look fat?

If Tom leaves from the same city at the same time as Jane,
traveling at a constant speed of 68 miles per hour—

Hey, what was the deal with the “spork,” anyway?
Remember those?

What place is THIS?  Where are we NOW—

the mountain rising beyond the edge of the ocean,
the joy bricked under the faces on the sidewalk,
the fire of the sun inside a rock

there is fire inside this rock,
come in under the shadow of this viewing platform
and I will show you something different from either
a parafrag splitting a city block,
or a Panzer making rubble of a church
I will show you something wicked cool, like,
Whoa!  Dude! 



Remember how I told you there was one
original item in this room?  Remember
the chair behind George Washington in the painting?
Now, if you look closely at the back of that chair
you’ll see a carving of a sun.  Ben Franklin,
who sat at this desk right here and is said
to sometimes just put his foot out a bit, like that,
and trip someone up as they came to the podium—
you younger folks, do you remember Ben?
Any of you remember his experiment?
I’ll give you a hint: he was flying a kite…
Very good.  Now look again at that chair up there.
Who can tell me if that sun is rising
or setting?  Setting?  Rising?  There seems to be
a little debate about this.  Ben Franklin himself,
when this convention convened, said he couldn’t tell
if that sun was rising on a new republic
or setting on the hopes for that republic.
Remember how Ben Franklin was pretty old?
He’d certainly already done his part, am I right?
Remember how we talked about the treaties?
The Post Office?  Poor Richard’s Almanack?
With a “k”?  Say it with me, now: Al-man-ACK.
Now, truthfully, people, we stood on the brink.
Remember, history wasn’t history yet—
to these folks, things looked pretty freakin’ scary.
The British could re-invade at any moment,
the French from the north, the Spanish from the south—
and we had a lot of issues between the colonies
that could have broken into a civil war.
You ever hear, “Just showing up is half the job”?
Ben Franklin knew it was crucial just that he be there.
He rarely spoke.  He had trouble standing.
But when, after months of wrangling, these men
finally pulled together behind a deal,
he did stand, and addressed George Washington,
and what do you think he said about that sun?
“But now at length, I have happiness to know
that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”
It is a rising and not a setting sun.
Folks, it’s been a pleasure to be your guide.
As you leave, security will guide you out.
If you’re touring the city today, please do take care.
It’s another day of record-breaking heat.


Two years.

Ten years.

Twenty years.

Fifty years?


Still wait’ for the word, Boss.
Still wait’ for the word.
I got the codes.  I got the briefcase, Boss.
Hard work, Boss, haulin’ roun’ this briefcase.
Feels like a ton, Boss.  Feels like the weight of the world.
And always bein’ careful it don’ go off, Boss.
But that’s the thing been botherin’ me, Boss.
First we work like dogs, we work like slaves
to make this thing—
and it’s just so we can stay up all night frettin’,
frettin’ we gon’ use the thing we made.
It’s like these highways, Boss, it’s like these jet planes—
we ain’t supposed to use them either, is we—
these tractors in the field, these furnaces,
these power plants that make these cities shine—
shine, Boss, just like your world shine up there.
We workin’ since we had thumbs, Boss.
We workin’ since we single cells, Boss,
tearin’ ourself in half to make these cities.


A dusty light in October, a pained leaf blower,
a light that was like a long reaching after,
the oceans and icecaps still intact,
the trees stretching out, still crowded thick
at the suburbs’ edges, the clouds of birds
still reaching down to touch their tops:
How-much-we-have-left!  How-much-we-have-left!
It was theirs now, the way they walked in the streets,
the way they lined their cars up going and coming
and swore at each other with a kind of glee,
the way they sat by themselves when they wanted
and watched the snow settle down its desert
or listened to the wrenched chords right themselves
and ate what they wanted and said what they wanted
at least to themselves, at least to what gods
at-least-to-themselves, at-least-to-what-gods
they pictured as they wanted: they had
beat the Germans, the Japs and the Commies
and taught the Viet Cong a lesson;
they had beat Saddam and Milosevic
and Bin Laden been runnin’ from cave to cave—
they damn near had AIDS beat and cancer
was giving them options, giving them time;
they had something called “secret evidence,” crime
was down again and productivity
was up, the markets were showing signs
of steady improvement, key indicators
were hopeful, they’d found water on the moon,


How do I feel?  How do I feel.
It just hasn’t really sunk in yet, you know?
I mean, you wait this long for something like this—
twenty-eight years I’ve waited for this.
Twenty-eight years—
and something always goes wrong for us, you know?
I really just can’t believe it, to be honest.
I mean, we can march down Broad in the parade,
and we can watch Charlie and Chase and J-Roll
holding up that World Series trophy, but

Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails
and put my finger into the print of the nails,
and thrust my hand into his side—


You ain’t gotta take that many carts, son.
We gonna get ’em all put back in time.
They ain’t gonna bother us none in Valley Stream.
Not after what happen Friday.
We gonna be the valued employee today.
We what be making this company thrive.
And we not just be important because of these here carts.
Oh, no.  We be important as individuals.
Ha!  You remember after 9/11,
how happy and friendly everybody was?
How we gonna send our money to them families?
How everybody suddenly woke up to the possibility
of living together in peace and harmony—
How people actually look you in the eye?
People was actually tipping me—
“Well, he a nigger, but at least he ain’t a A-rab.”
Haiti, right?  The boy from Haiti.


Okay.  Okay.  Let me try something else.
Look out this window, Chief.
Come on, just have a look.
See that woman with the shopping bag, on her cell?
You think she’s discussing the end of civilization?
Yah.  I didn’t think so either.
Okay, how about this guy—
looking into the window of the bookstore—
you think he’s looking for something on nuclear winter?
Isn’t it just a little more likely
he’s after a bedtime story for his daughter there—
something about honeybees or firemen?
How about all these people in front of the coffee shop,
chatting away, sipping their mochas or what have you.
Do they look like they’re talking about boiling in their own feces?
Now who do you think needs the help here—them, or you?


The clouds are leaving and the sun stands over them.

The light is golden, the field is wide.
The parking lot is wide, the sky is wide—
wide is the road that leads to the Quaker Bridge Mall,
the trees left sharp with shadows, sharp with light,
everything pulled out clean from the fire

And who were the people who were questioning you there
and what were they asking you?

They were the Americans from the Army
and I would say, “I am just a normal worker,
and work and get my salary.”

I’m just a gigolo, and everywhere I go—

Thou art indeed JUST.

A handful of starlings tossed into the sky
to judge the wind for a fairway shot,
the oceans and icecaps still intact—

a light that is like a long reaching after,
a light that has never been better.


And what will be said about them when they are gone?
That they saw the sky for what it was?
The trees for what they were, the grass?
That they did better than their ancestors?
That they loved their children?
That they got up every morning and went to work?
That they were like children themselves, really,
borrowing things to play at being adults.
That look at these hieroglyphics—how cool is that?
That what they felt is ultimately more important
than whatever it was, exactly, they were doing.
That at least they left us these condominiums,
and countless gigs of research
and a flight path to the moon—
To the moon, Alice!
That most of what they did was actually legal.
That what is life for, if not to stroll campuses
and stand in chapels, under the huge stained glass?
That they had faith?
That given the crudeness of their instruments.
That, Dude!  I found an arrowhead!
That all we can do is hope that they were happy.
That they were good people, damn it,
and if they gassed somebody, they must have had a reason.
That they were good people.
That they were free?
That there goes one of them now!  Oh—
no, it’s just black ink shining bright.
That did they really die of pseudo-science?
That it’s obvious to us, of course.
That are you sure you haven’t combined
the actions of one creature
with the conscience of another?
That who are we to judge them, we of the future,
who do not yet even know who we really are?


I should like to object to the indictment.
I should like to say that in my opinion,

as far as    THE AMERICANS  are concerned,

the indictment does not conform to Article VII.
I can explain that.


So, do you want to just sit and read, then?

I want to go walking the path by the harbor
where the sun rakes its fingers in through the thin trees
and the ocean has filled every gap in their ribs,
every gap in the trunks where the death could blow through
and the harbor is held by your own arms around it
and there stand the boats that have been there forever—
their masts are all bare and they’re all through with wind—
and you could sit and watch while the sun makes them shadows
and you could just keep walking away through the dream
but wherever you go you will be in this place.


No, no one could live on the moon, hon.

Well, there isn’t any air there, for one thing.

Well, yes, they did, but they had to come right back.

Oh, that was an awful long time ago, now.

Yes, even before Mommy was born.

Well, it just hasn’t been that important, I guess.
It’s just a big rock up there, floating around.


The clouds are leaving and the sun stands over them.
They sail and glimmer, drifting by.
Here is a flame-legged spirit, dissolving.
It IS backed like a flame-legged spirit…
And here go two lovers, one’s feathery hands
firmly on the other’s airy shoulders.

Honey can you hear me in there honey

They are melting together, gliding backwards,
back to the town where their real life can begin.


And here is a walrus, and here a woolly mammoth.
And here the bones have been put together
to make some creature that never walked—but could have.


Honey, how do I get the lint out of the dryer?

How do I turn this wheel that turns my life,
Create another hand to move my hand

My client cannot tell
what the nature of his participation
is supposed to have been.

A ragged strand of geese, each tugging singly
at his private burden, shouts into the sky:
Honk-ick!—call.  Honk-ick!—response.


Gentile or Jew—

We are on the line 157 337.
We will repeat this message.
We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles.


Christian Barter’s first book, The Singers I Prefer, was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize; his second book, In Someone Else’s House, is forthcoming in 2012 from BkMk Press. His poetry has appeared in journals including Ploughshares, The Literary Review, Georgia Review and Poetry Daily and has been read on The Writer’s Almanac. He has been a resident fellow at Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony and a Hodder Fellow in poetry at Princeton. He is a trail crew supervisor at Acadia National Park and an editor for The Beloit Poetry Journal.


Recent writing

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PoetryFebruary 9, 2024


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PoetryApril 11, 2023

Three Weeks

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