The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2023

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APRIL 2023 Issue



I went through this Oppen thing
but I got over it
and then I went through a Ginsberg thing
but I got over that too
and before that I had an O’Hara thing
that lasted a long time but then
it seemed like everyone had one of those things
and I wanted something else
there was my Kerouac thing
with lots of drugs and sex and booze
it was a time of high drama
not unlike my Keats thing
which was a time of always
feeling near the edge of death
like my Plath thing
there was also my Susan Howe thing
which started when I read her
Dickinson thing
and then I had a Dickinson thing too
it was Puritan thing
like that book my mother gave me
a genealogical thing
showing that in addition
to being Irish and Catholic and Brooklyn
like my dad I was Protestant
Midwestern and English
on the other side
and of course I had a Yeats thing early on
the world was full of fairies
and lovers and Maud Gonne
I thought a lot about the end of the world
like that time I went through a Lorca thing
it was tough being a poet
alone in New York and my father
dying that year I wanted to join
an insurrection somewhere
I went through an Eileen Myles thing
a Ted Berrigan thing
an Alice Notley thing
it was a New York School kind of thing
only there was no school
just a lot of poets
writing about being poets in New York
which was different
than my Shelley thing
which was more like my Yeats thing
and also my Byron thing
and one time I memorized a lot of Wordsworth
and that became its own thing
I’d recite I wandered lonely as a cloud to myself
I taught it to my daughter
who could recite it by heart at age three
I shot a video before she forgot
the words you should see it she’s very cute
but now she does her own thing
and she hates it when I bring it up
and there was my Elizabeth Bishop thing
which differed from my Gertrude Stein thing
in which I repeated everything
and everything I repeated became
a kind of insistence in quotation marks
because I’d read somewhere
that she wanted to be listened to at dinner
and there was my Ed Roberson thing
which was a kind of atmosphere that fed into
my Nathaniel Mackey thing
which was also a headphone thing
and a Googling names of musicians thing
there was my Gottfried Benn thing
very cold like a novel by Thomas Mann
but mostly I am talking about poetry
and Mann is a fiction thing
which is another thing altogether
and I can’t forget my Creeley thing
which began with my Olson thing
but like the Mackey thing
and the Roberson thing
or the Dickinson thing
and the Howe thing
it became its own thing
and this thing
was less epic than the Olson thing
less stentorian
it was a quiet thing
a thing between two people
that is also part of other things
and I thought the Creeley thing
would be the end of this thing
but it turns out I forgot a couple of other things
like my Charles Bernstein thing
which was one of the funniest things ever
and lately I have been on this
Chus Pato thing
you’ve probably never heard of Chus Pato
she’s a poet who writes in Galician
a language you probably didn’t know exists
a Romance language akin
to Portuguese banned by Franco
the fascist dictator of Spain
but kept alive by poets and others
who refused to let the language die
and I am not sure where this thing
is going now
I don’t want it to become a political thing
but sometimes it’s unavoidable
sometimes things just have a way
of becoming political
even when the only thing you want to do
is write a poem
but the thing about poetry
is that you can do a lot of things with it
because it isn’t just one thing
it is many things
so if the poem turns out to be a thing
about how fucked up America is
then that’s just one of those things.


In a version of the afterlife,
we wake as schoolchildren
recently risen from a nap,

rub sleep from our eyes
and scan the room
for something we recognize.

And one of us brushes tangles
from her hair, while another
folds her blankie on a cot.

A dazed-looking boy pulls up
to a table and sits, unsure
of where he is, or why.

Another girl lifts a chair
above her head, then drops it
clattering to the floor.

We’ve seen this all before:
the starched white collars,
the crimson-pleated skirts,

the paper cut-out flowers
and rainbows and swans.
And one of us

presses palms together
perhaps to pray or applaud
and the walls are painted

a serene cerulean blue
that makes us feel as though
we are floating.


At the end is a window, a bed on which you sleep, as if sleep were a kind of rehearsal, preparing the
mind to let itself go, let the muscles relax, the press of gravity do its work, squeezing everything out:
memories of names, of places, of pains and embarrassments whose recall even now makes you
wince, even here, at the last of the last, as you lie beside this portal to another possible world and
snap with your phone (accidentally or not) the horizontal strands of hair extending sideways from
the top of your head, as if something were pulling them, and you, out of the frame.


Lisa says that noise is replete with historical significance,
the hinge of ambiguity as the door swings wide.

On the other side of it, John imagines himself
not exactly dead but buried alive as men wander

the forest, recording indigenous sounds: an act
of radical nostalgia, given the abundance

of noise invades even the most pristine acoustic
environment. Lisa says she wants to be a plenum,

and why not believe her? There is no such thing
as silence nor in nature a perfect circle, yet I map

my heart’s desire as if there were. Each small feeling
reverberates with force enough to make the flower

on John’s lapel flutter, as if a solar wind blew in
from outer space. The screen dims. Lisa says

darkness is always contra, contingent on opposition.
The ideal is everything at once, John retorts,

time felt as a child alone in a room, arms dangling
off the bed, feels it. That kind of boredom.

Lisa posits the existence of the soul as a cone of sound
that enters through the ear and becomes a mirrored cone

of aural transformation. John laughs and hands me
the rose from his lapel. Smell it, he says. And I do.


A lovely summer’s day in Texas, car
rumbling over Texas roads, cicadas
clicking in Texas trees. Tires click
on Texas tarmac. Texas radio static
whistles and pops. Engine clicking,
cicadas clicking. Tires click the tarmac
on this lovely summer Texas day.

My parent’s Texas voices rumble.
The static the radio makes
between stations in Texas clicks.
Cicadas whistle and pop, voices click.
I tune to my parent’s voices clicking
through pops of AM radio static.
Click, click, click: as if they were with me still.


An animal that wasn’t animal,
whose destiny was to have none,
without material reality,
undamaged by perversions to the body,
traversed a continuous expanse
of nonexistent land,
nonexistent because already known,
already known because already mapped.
It could be seen one instant, the next
it would evanesce in angular cuts of sun.
The stars forever wink inscrutable signs.
They never die but open, close,
in binary code. The final stage
of thinking happens only once.


Noisome metal tracks snake off
in every direction. A man beside them
watches the trains go by. He’s partial
to the cars at night, rectangular
window light blunted by shades
drawn down to beckon sleep
or keep out prying eyes. His own
he thinks pry not but rather
imagine ardor under drooping lids,
moistened lips as red as the hat
pulled securely down upon her head
through which escapes the bulk
of the body’s heat (or so he’s read).
In daylight the riders repel him.


for Bob Kaufman

A thread-worn voice quavers the ghosted edge
of the tape, in violation of its oath
from a decade ago to keep silent,
remember the death of America—

not the place the proposition
that explodes from the end of a gun
fired in a public space, spattering brains
that widows chase on trunks of limousines.

A poet needs to be cool, sport a cool
chapeau, or better yet a cape. The drama
at the throat of a brightly-colored scarf
is never too coarse for a poet with a vow.

The heart murmurs louder than the voice.
It says nothing. It has nothing to say.


The children kiss the liquidation man goodbye:
Au revoir, Monsiuer le liquidateur!
And just like that are bankrupt and free

of money’s downward drag
whose gravity pulled their cell phone-juggling dad
into the grave, falling with a pistol shot

to the ground. And the narrative threads
by which he was bound are loosed,
everyone finally released

but from what we must ask
did he suffer, what wound
could penetrate the sanctum

of the happy bourgeois family man,
who knew his history, his place in it,
could tick on his fingers the names

of the saints tiled in ceiling’s gold
or the artist painted the hand of God
reaching down to extend him aid,

perhaps, or snatch him back to heaven
The roofless family chapel stands
abandoned, a ladder propped

against a wall. The saints
with their blank white eyes stare down.
Everything is for sale. Everything must go.


Michael Kelleher

Michael Kelleher's most recent book of poems is Visible Instruments (Chax, 2017). He is the director of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale.


The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2023

All Issues