The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2023

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APRIL 2023 Issue




Can this love of the people
be born of an attraction
skirted in church guilt

mechanical as a pun
on “mass”? Can a bicep
in the sun produce attachment

deeper than scarcity?
“One pimp dies
and another is born.”


In the year of the pig
in the language of birds
from a hollowed out book

the perfect stranger is
born next to a wad of 50s
into a world of scabs.

In the meantime they carried on
like saints, the cat
crying and the moon.


When I say “love”
you say “order.” When I
say “hatred” you

say “attachment.” Birds.
What I’d pay for an hour
with the love, the birds

the allegory and the mother
muted. Will my attachments ever
reveal my place in the world?


My bald flowering soul receives
ruined arches and low
income housing

handed off like a mash
note. You seem hard
to work with. You smell

like a rural bus stop
some kids have just
smoked pot in.


O acacia flower
sucked hollow
trembling under mother’s wage

by the older girls beside
the ruined circus, the neighbor’s
strangled cat, you make

a good story in the real world
but that’s all. In the real
real world you need a job.


This age with its one miracle
in the pocket produces
a mechanical attraction

to the masses. Poems
about Marx are always
about your mother. Poems

about your mother are always
love poems for the masses
have mothers too.


What will it be
ruined arches, when it “turns out”
the world is not your

possession? First gazing
up from pleating
to those white corduroy

loins. From pleading
to transfiguration. All
your pockets turned out.


As we stepped among the moonlit
ruins and cats, our characters
unfolded along the procedure

endlessly. The same steps
as always, but now I felt
pursued inside. Where was that

crow when you needed him?
We stopped to scatter some ashes. I couldn’t
stop whistling “Yellow Rose of Texas.”


Then smoking on the balcony
this feeling life would just
keep on going. I had taken a pill

and my head was funny.
No I hadn’t. I had
the sense before sleeping

like after a bad dream
something bad was going to happen
forever. It was happening.


It’s either love we want
like a payday, or some prince we want
like a nun’s yardstick. But there’s

more to life, Mother, than these
panoramic sleights, street kids who
hump among stones

stones marked “Mother” and “Post Office”
and “Sighs.” By the stone marked
“History”: a wedge of cheese.


A Sentimental Terror

It’s getting late. If I
don’t get home soon I’ll
miss myself
on the news. I

declined to respond
to the cloud rolling over the beach
the factory and the sun
but I do want to see

how I look under each one.
It’s getting dark. It’s
getting late. I know
something bad is going to happen

but I don’t know what
or to whom. To me
maybe. That
would be nothing new. I’m

but a hopeful boy of the south
nineteen years old. I
came to this city
to read history and walk

the big square
Terminal in a big fur
breathing in the girls
the clouds of bread and

the total physical selfconfidence
of big city kids
aloof from living
at the end of the world.

These looks in the news
crew’s eyes behind
square sunglasses bleed through
a shifting cloud but

their faces I
don’t know. I do know
something bad is going to happen
on the news

I’ll see it soon!
right after myself
standing inside a cloud
between the factory and

the moon. Sorry,
the beach. These textures
always give me a hard time
easier to picture

on the news. That’s where
things really happen. We’ll find out
tonight to whom. To me
the whole situation looks

well, it’s getting late. If
I don’t get home soon I’ll
never find out whether
church or factory or
moon spells doom.

Good Light

We began to inventory our refusals.
Romance, landscape, friendship, jazz music.
In a society founded on maximal automation
what is the fate of jazz? Thus were we led
back into the wilderness, shaved hills
great sepia-toned factories, uniform cars
beige or black, young men in suits, young
women in coats and skirts. Socks. The propaganda
of the dead. But among the cars
one is classic, and among the young men
one wears a long fur. He interrupts my worries
on the way to work. He is Louis de France
bibliophile, lothario, checkers youth national champion,
anarchist icon. A small fortune attaches itself
to him, rides around the city in a classic car. The world
belongs to Louis and his crew, his dimples, his
car. Not even his girlfriend’s father the shipping baron
can resist him. The world is returned to me
through him. It’s Louis’s house. I tend his garden.
He stands in the room with the books
adjusts the radio. It’s time
the party hardens up and becomes itself. It’s time
to hop to the new jazz, free jazz, the new free jazz, innovation
itself. Louis bops seriously, looks out the
window onto the lawn, at the gardener
smoking a cigarette, ashing it onto a pile of dry leaves.
He ashes his own on the records, a shining
deed. From across the room, he meets the crushing gaze
of a man wearing a white turtleneck and nothing else.
“Oh God,” he says aloud. “It’s starting.”

An Afternoon on the Estate

Leo Tolstoy died barefoot in the snow growing carrots.

Arthur Rimbaud died of bone cancer trading slaves.

Leo Tolstoy left behind novels, Christianity, and carrots.

Arthur Rimbaud left behind letters, surrealism, and slaves.

Leo Tolstoy had hair on his knuckles when he picked carrots.

Arthur Rimbaud had hair on his head when he dealt slaves.

Leo Tolstoy’s most famous love was God, and then carrots.

Arthur Rimbaud’s most famous love was Verlaine, and then slaves.

In the whites of Tolstoy’s eyes: endless horizons of snow, the misty barely visible
apparition of the cross, and carrots.

In the whites of Rimbaud’s eyes: the ceiling of a Marseille cancer ward, one priest,
a crate of rifles, and slaves.

On the one hand Tolstoy, and on the other Rimbaud.

Now! Let’s see how fast this car can go.


Gunshots and laughter from the canal
and always the contagious scrutiny of these Milanese

their cold sweats and rooms decorated in corners
their Taylorist attention to the grains and fibers

awakening my tears as I pause upon
the tear in the waistband of my white underwear

I throw off my clothes and wait
for the material to ripen

But now the yard is like a wasteland
the wasteland is like an intertitle

now the sun is in my eyes
It was a dream about life

the journey of which involves so much recoiling
so much feeling you’ve been plucked out

of the crumbling mews beside the highway
the natural order of things

returning to the canal as if to retrieve some
irrational object from the oozy heaps and concrete

to put inside your dream and contemplate
like you did after one war and then another

But now your dream looks like a movie
the movie looks like a factory

no public psychiatry in the pile of newspaper
no great man theory to bolster you within it

the sun in your eyes sunning
the dream you tried to narrativize

the hustler who called you ugly
bothered you much less than his own astounding beauty

his implied apartment off that miserable new boulevard
head stains on an upholstered chair

not destroying anything that actually exists
only what has not yet taken shape to protect you

your moral good standing and rich interior life
And who cares about that?

What I want is a king size bed
to have one and know what it feels like

A Construction Site at the Edge of the City Speaks

Is this the last shovel full? Is this the end?
Time keeps passing, one two three four
one two three four… Is this the earth
that seals the nose? the mouth?
There was something I wanted to tell you.
Am I new or old? Am I big or small? Am I
the foundation of that parallel civil society they build
in dialect all around me? Or more condominiums? More
wilderness? Can you answer these questions? Can you
answer? At night their young lounge on my banks
hump or don’t hump at my loose edges. They
want to be remembered forever they want to be newly
classed-up over and over like the first time again
a bud that blossoms for a dying and deranged culture
blossoms in the pigsty our permanent surplus became.
Will I be a pigsty? Architecture has many feelings
but none to soothe the tectonics of the future. The whole
world can rule but can the world ever be all
bourgeois? Someone has to run behind the car.
Do you remember that dream, Ninetto?
You were a letter carrier and I was the manor house’s
big doorway lace panels yawning
at your sentimental mobility. Is everything the little
bourgeois wants “wrong”? Am I a prehistoric step
in the transformation of everything into church and
army? everyone into little bourgeois? Morning traffic
evening traffic and days all wilderness and nights
sucked away from the world into world-sick sleep? I’m
sorry. Don’t cry. Apologies to all of you. The little
old men who offer unsolicited advice at my gates
gaze on the process they are a part of
that sour rain and that intransigent hundred year old pickpocket
feeding his ragged pigeons. One two three four
one two three… Oh, I don’t care about this conversation
anymore. What will the weather be like next week?

Propaganda of the Deed

But aren’t you offended!
by this submarine
that pierces the film
of your melancholy sea?
Don’t let a smile fool you
the laugh that escapes the scaffold
while the charges are read
Don’t let it in

stand at the cell door
let your dreams in
this is important
be a monk at your monastery’s
door and let
the angel in, even
in the shape of soft-palmed trade
from some graduate school, even
if they come a little prematurely
or look pathetic snoozing

on your cot in the late sun
It’s summer on the Viale del Futuro
it’s before those condos went up
when the sunshine was good as money
you walked to work cloaked in it
before you went back to that church
The post office was the dream but
things shaped up more like

floating in the shallows
and the shadow I made against
the dust I kicked up
in the ditch by the old manor house
one dirty story
among a thousand parables of purity
sad stories no
longer important to anybody

Don’t you want Jesus Christ
to hold your heart? Do you want to
be a dinosaur? Don’t you want
the manor house renovated
the Roman hearth god
polished? It’s your turn
to drive the bus
make all the stops

Don’t you want an increase in
real wages? Don’t you want a million
jobs created? Make all
the stops as they’re requested
when they’re read back to you
don’t deny the charges
don’t laugh. Don’t

you want a federal commission
to lift the poverty
line? Don’t you want
a raise? Become a cloud
rolling over the beach
settle on the factory
as an angel
or sunshine entering
a big hole in the ground where
the company ran out
of money. Don’t you want to

laugh again? To be
a cloud? Don’t you
want some wine? Settle on the
factory and pour
yourself out


Louis walks under the cypresses sleepless
Louis sleepless, counting cypresses. Louis feels he
has discovered the secret, listening to a
record late last night, to the language
of the birds, that angelic language the idiots
in their doddering old age at the back of the
construction site used to speak, before
they finally dropped. Louis walks the viale
under the cypresses and feels he has died, he has
very impressive very satisfying
thoughts about this feeling, decides
to die more often if it means
faux mink and white turtleneck he’s finally
become secret to everyone but himself
and can hear the language. Louis
all at once so rosicrucian realizes
he’s stepped into the industrial zone
at the edge of his city. Nature arises
to remind him of his real death
a tableau of pink ruins and trash.
He spreads himself on a thrown-out sofa.
He thinks: in my movie I’ll go in and out
from downtown to this periphery. My movie
will be about the inside and the out, the
downtown and periphery, their relationship
indexed (even though I walked here) by
a silver commuter train that carries me
in and out, from downtown where fathers
loiter and shop, to these hills, where mothers and babies
linger unseen. The birds perched on a ruin
say to Louis: Hack, hack, hack! Hack, hack,
hack! Louis salutes them, says Thank you back.
Downtown again, he whistles like a middleaged
man off to his first affair. He buys a gun.


Zachary LaMalfa

Zachary LaMalfa is a poet and teacher from New Jersey. His recent writing can be found in Works & Days, Volume, Prolit, For Starters: An Anthology of Prompts, and elsewhere. A Course in Human Love, a chapbook of early poems, appeared in 2022 from Malvina House. He teaches English and literature at CUNY.


The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2023

All Issues