I had never done an on-camera interview, so when I was asked if I wanted to travel to West Virginia University with a couple of my classmates to interview Michael Blumenthal, I was hesitant. My first instinct told me to say no. I thought that there could be no way that I could sit in front of a camera and have a coherent conversation with a law professor, who also happens to be the author of numerous books of poetry, a novel, and a memoir. However, I agreed to do the interview because not only did I want to meet Michael, I also wanted to do something I was afraid to do.
I first read a poem of Michael’s in a book called Poems to Live By. The poem was titled “What I believe,” in which he writes, “I believe that no one is spared/ the darkness/and no one gets all of it/ I believe we all drown eventually/ in a sea of our own making/ but that the land belongs to someone else.” Immediately after reading it, I thought, this is what a poem should be, this is the kind of poetry I want to read, the kind I want to write. I found myself repeating these words as I read more of Michael’s poems and those of Matt London, Steve Shilling, Martin Cockroft and Ken Nicholson.
Unlike these talented poets, though I have tried, I haven’t completed a poem in over a year. From time to time, a string of words is spoken to me from somewhere deep inside, and I scramble to find a pencil and paper, write down the words and wait for the rest to come. But lately, nothing comes, and so instead of writing poems, I read them.
Matthew London studies poetry at the West Virginia University MFA program where he also teaches English 101 as a graduate assistant. His writing appears or is forthcoming in Muse & Stone and past simple. He maintains a blog with Twilight Zone allusions and poetry chatter at terminalvocabulary[dot]blogspot[dot]com.
Everyone in the world was issued “Get out of jail free” cards. Everybody got one card. Some religious groups in the Appalachians donated their cards to charities. Something like half the prison population of all the countries in the world was released. All small business owners purchased 12-gage shotguns and posted signs reading Still have my Get Out of Jail Free card. Municipal governments collapsed. No money was posted for speeding tickets. No one sped reasonably anymore. Penalties for all crimes were ratified with the resulting verdict being life in prison. Nobody realized this. Everyone thought things would go back to normal after all the cards were gone. Forgeries were made. The sentence for forging cards was immediate execution. The world became small and intimate. Everyone eventually learned how to be happy.
People will buy up all the remaining supplies of typewriters. The kind Angela Lansbury used during the opening credits of Murder, She Wrote. But people won’t remember Angela Lansbury. In fact, it probably wasn’t her typing anyway. Those old typewriters will have been stockpiled in a climate controlled warehouse in south east Idaho, the whole town being employed there. They will say to each other merde and leave the warehouse for the last time. The town will be cut off at the knees as everyone loses their jobs. But, do not worry, they will go on to live long, full lives on a form of compounded, bi –weekly unemployment from the warehouse union’s pension. Previously, no one will know it existed. Once the typewriters arrived to their destinations (all 947), the people will begin writing prophecies in short, 300 word segments. Everyone will keep them for themselves. There is a great chance no one will ever read what they foresaw.
You have a mouth full of clip art,
and I get lost between the corporate motivational material
somewhere back in the molar area, or rather
where the molars used to be
before the discount cartoons
set up their kind of shantytown.
Before, when you asked me if getting a tattoo
design from a clip art file was a good idea,
I told you
while you’re at it
why don’t you get my name in your ear using word art?
The thing is, you spelled it wrong.
I want my name written on your heart
but not like that;
freehand would be best,
gliding a pencil over the pericardium, pushing
just a little,
just enough to feel the arteries squish and slosh.
My blown away face
holds hands and takes walks in city parks
with me streaming red green purple kites.
We buy cotton candy at quiet carnivals
and sometimes fish
& dangle our feet off the pier.
But when the weather isn’t fair,
we read books in the window sill.
It prefers Melville on melancholy days.
And I can never turn down a good Dickens.
Each spring break we travel to Cancun
and take our tops off
and get schlackered and posted on Facebook
and it isn’t as scandalous in the morning
as it was that night.
We eat green donuts on St. Paddy’s Day.
We call Saint Patrick’s Day
St. Paddy’s Day and tell strangers
we are Irish.
And someone asks “are you two related?”
The first clock
A great number of people were gathered at the Royal Swiss National Theatre one evening. An exciting announcement was about to be passed down to all the citizens of the country. Even some diplomats from neighboring countries – even countries across large bodies of water – would be in attendance. A great, mustached man known as Dr. Clement took the stage, flourishing his way through the heavy, scarlet curtain. This is for all of us and he flung open his dress shirt, popping the buttons along the seam into the crowd, his tie still narrowly swinging from around his Adam’s apple. Someone in the front row started gagging. Quick, the man in the front row a woman shouted and tossed back her bonnet. She made a dash for the man. Dr. Clement studied his audience. Everyone forgot about him and came to the aid of the man in the front row. Look someone said he can tell time indoors. A handful of patrons glanced up then went back to attending to the man. Dr. Clement wailed and removed the pendulum from his shirt collar. He took out his embroidered handkerchief and began wiping off the numbers around his chest and stomach. That is not acceptable in this place said a woman who was no longer of importance to the health of the man. And you should be ashamed of yourself. She took her pointer fingers and, with a sour scowl, jabbed them up at Dr. Clement. Dr. Clement could not find his way back through the curtains. He still lives on that stage to this day.
Sealed and silent for the
last fifty years. Laid to rest
in elementary school playgrounds.
Filled with drawings and
essays of the world of the future.
Maintenance men are starting to
pull time capsules out of the ground.
What did your picture look like?
Flying cars? Fishbowls for helmets?
Maybe you drew little green men.
Did you write your essay in
your neatest print? On that brown
penmanship paper. Three blue lines,
one dotted down the middle.
You had forgotten by high school.
But you glued yourself to the television
every time those rocket capsules
went up. Your science project had
an orange for a sun. The president
you wrote about was later killed.
In your heart you knew we would
beat the Russians to the moon.
Your children saw the space shuttle
explode. They painted styrofoam
planets, wrote about flying cars
in the year 2035. Hollywood started
making movies about what you saw
while your drawing stayed quiet in dirt.
In a ceremony next April, sixth grade
hands will raze a steel box. Unfurl
your drawing, tiny red Mars and
blue-green Saturn rings in the distance.
Your school was renamed for that
president, its bricks have faded like
the paper. The cars still arrive on the
ground. Your grandchildren type reports
on computers. They think dioramas
are lame. Not much else has changed.
Set tranquil between 42nd and
a super-giant underwear supermodel
named Nikki, the man in the middle
of Times Square told me that Velveeta
was their masterful plan.
Between sips of Coca-Cola
and an egg salad sandwich at the deli
across from the New York Ballet,
they are burning the pizza as Dirk and I
pontificate the upcoming baseball season.
Swallowed whole in the Virgin Megastore,
somewhere in a swirl between Bon Jovi
and Bach, I know I have no coins
for the trumpeter out front.
Time rushes by as if squared
and the yellow rivers meet the blend.
I stand revolving.
“Poetry is like being on a train, only the track
is being laid out before you with each line.”
--Billy Collins, Pittsburgh reading, 3/2/09
Climb aboard and get out of
the rain. Today’s blue-gray sky
does not offer much promise,
but this train does. Grab your
notebook and get your ticket
punched to a place,
a place where you can be.
This train holds the name of
your first pet, crush, kiss, loss.
It has room for your grandfather’s
fishing gear. The coach that
made you run laps after practice.
Every key and matching sock
that you have ever lost.
This train carries loners and
daydreamers, castoffs, quiet kids.
It seats old souls and doodlers
in the margins. The last kid picked.
The one on the wall at the school
dance. All the forgotten faces in
your first grade class picture.
This train departs from your town.
Near the water tower. A few blocks
from the corner drugstore, the hardware,
the bank. It travels through fields,
past lakes, and over rivers. Take it
to the beach or the mountains. To the
muscular skyscrapers in cities unseen.
This train has seen everyone that
your 8th grade teacher made you read.
Stafford sat right over there, smiled
at everyone. Updike sat in your seat.
That is Clifton and Brooks sipping tea
two rows in front of you. Go ahead,
say hello. Companions for this ride.
This train is laying out blue tracks
on the white horizon in front of you.
Look out of your window seat,
write in rows of apple trees.
A cornfield. The Swiss Alps.
The Serengeti. It goes where you
want to go. Next stop yours.
Bright Light City
If you’re going to set my soul on fire
let me put it all on black.
Standing on the Strip
in a pile of leaflets
that offer broken promises
for a thousand dollars
amid signs that guarantee
showers of slot money
and the $3.99 buffet….
This town could be the death of me.
I see faces filled with cards lost,
fortunes sold out to Kings,
and a ball that fell red
while trying to double
It looks like you could run
forever, to the mountains
in the distance, but you feel
the next pull of the arm grip
you, pull you back to the
chair somewhere between
the Tropicana and the Mirage.
Which is all it really is anyway.
When the last of the free drinks
can’t cleanse the wonderment of
why, the only safe place is 23A
of a United flight to Chicago.
Naked Poems In a Field of Green
it rained shooting stars
and I painted a rainbow on
Elvis drifts in from
the next room.
Laying wrapped up in
the sand, there are
twelve cans in my row.
the music takes me
to a vast green field,
where yellow and purple
Dialogue that never
Thinking about the
alligator and the lion,
I see what I need
The Goddess of Love
lays down her three kings.
It feels the same.
In the kitchen
I stood naked,
smiling all the while.
Their eyes are drained wine glasses
so they wear shades
or they take out their eyes
or they take out yours.
The wind widens them like sails
then sucks the flesh from them.
On sunny days their lips swell like a hive of bees.
They splash their faces with formaldehyde
and wear black shoes
to hide light pissing from their toes.
They cannot hold in their bones.
They buy greatcoats and woolen hats,
seam their sleeve ends shut,
and still bones slip to the ground
or twist into the air
like leaf stems
or lost cigarette papers.
They are mistaken for flags limp on porch rails.
They sleep in subway murals
and postal drop boxes.
They corner like a dream.
If you stare too long at one of them
your lungs will fill with tears.
What is this love
hot as the brow of a fevered child
that eludes them?
What is it that moves them to an unfamiliar city
that always turns out to be their own?
Photograph, Arizona, 1914
The well is dry, and the women
who once drew water are stones
silent as those who lived before them:
mothers and daughters heaped into cairns
or walled to pen up sheep and goats,
the oldest, mothers of us all, strewn
as scree down the slope of a wash
which is nothing but a trickle of white sand.
Their husbands are near: coyote rib,
split seed of a prickly pear, carapace
of scorpion or assassin bug—it depends.
The well is dry and at night what the ancients
called heavens is most of earth, too—
stippled torso of stars, cold that cored
every human who walked this place.
They aren’t here now and won’t be again.
The footpath is indistinct, trace of dust
in broken clay spread far as Winslow
or Window Rock, wherever ruin
is less complete. One afternoon
when men were off rumbling to themselves,
just thunder, a stranger asked for a dip
of water. The women are stones,
their husbands are bone, and the stranger
holds the horizon, a long, blue sleeve of rain.
Summer Storm over an Abandoned Tent
When I left, I left for good.
But of the girl in New Braunfels
the day our camp washed out, the day
after a night of fire: ants falling from hissing wood,
sticks poked through empties, and later
after we drifted off, across the park, a man
flame-edged, dancing to “Brass Monkey.”
This was the day before we’d see a biker
shake out a mummy bag and sleep in it
fifteen straight hours. The girl—
no older than I, working tables
at a downtown café. Her hair the gloss
and color of high-backed pews:
oak grain, gummed varnish, black veins.
Her hair pinched with a pencil, yellow #2,
like the one scribbling orders
from boys back from college, Texas
and out-of-state, public and private.
What I knew of love fit on the flit of an eyelash.
My friends talked tubing downriver,
top five underrated lead singers,
but did they notice her apron, blue as a lupine,
dusted with flour, did they see how busy she stayed
grooving floor from kitchen to refill, kitchen
to register, how she never smiled,
eyes kind and distant, a girl with dreams
in a town built at the toe of escarpment, springs
rimming into cold streams, Comal, Guadalupe.
We had not showered in three days.
She didn’t come with birdsong, a spray of stars
dipping from her collared blouse. She moved
as if she tended horses, slow when she ought to be,
straightforward, patient, no pinging ballerina
or donna of the pep squad. She could have played piano . . .
and that’s where we part: When I left, I left for good,
tip under salt, napkin weighed by a wet ring.
A Day of Mourning
Children tug on tall
black tights. Charge ahead
and stop just shy.
They putter. Whistle or try.
Jump in tandem,
losing what they collected:
acorns, small stones, dry
beans they carried from home.
Children walk to church
on a day of mourning
and walk home again.
We must invest in deep water channels.
We must invest in windmills
Where are our wigwams?
We must support new methods of singing:
We should convert corn farms
to song farms
and to growing the best eyes
money can buy. We must invest in flowers—
flowers that look like stars,
that bloom like flies
and linger all winter
even in the deepest snow.
We must renew sparkle and glow.
Our uniforms are drab;
we need baubles and sequins,
with assorted beaks,
but only from birds that died of old age:
We must not be careless with life.
We must invest in dairy creams
and in pasties and pies, all that is
powdered and puffed.
We should ensure individual allotments
of candor and uncertainty.
We must invest in ceremony,
in old fashioned ways of making meaning
and in really good magic—
in one fish that becomes a dozen,
in one bed that becomes one-hundred,
in a house that sleeps us all.
We must find a spell
to change a rain of fire
into pastel confetti.
We must invest in anything that whinnies
or twitches its nose
or sheds light when it is cut.
We should insist on new mountains.
We should pay for dancers
and when they age and need new bones
they should receive new bones.
We must invest in time to watch clouds coalesce
and pull apart.
We must value clarity
and produce more people who are clear.
For these investments we must have a proliferation
of pockets: pockets for money,
for marbles and mice and other small things.
We all must give a little.
Kenneth Nicholson, painter, illustrator, writer from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, who's art in all forms is expression of intangible every-dayness, inner struggles, and subconscious scatter. He is currently working on two new art series to follow his last gallery exhibition "In a Constant State of Flux" and is finishing his first novel.
one night’s all I need-
a row of stars filing up the sky.
one last chance-
an attempt out of the ditch.
tooth and skin and cry and prayer of death-
cheap noodle slurp
de Guadalupe shining over wishy-washy head-
one vibrant aura of blank city relief-
wood grain and oil drip.
recurring thought, word and dreams, repressed-
until years later, middle of pop shop echo.
“dust in stuff”
rot gut and warm skin
on the white marble countertop.
she wants to hear everything I’m thinking- til I say it
“You might be booksmart but it won’t save your soul!”
now I haven’t seen her for days-
threw her lamp across the room.
we met back in the city, it was like my first time
in the bustle street sweep.
the sleeping pup on an old shirt running in his dreams, like me-
towards skyline cracked by forever-bye and never-go
tea never tastes the same after coffee-
she never tasted the same after you-
the highway never felt right before 3 a.m-
and “come back” hasn’t rang the same note since.
wake on a warm salsa breakfast fever-
she showed me around the backways
I’ve had longer friendships destroyed by less
dusting the moths off of her lamp.
for the emotionally impoverished.
It is, its when you’re laying in bed screaming out at the window “I’m so fucking loooonely” and the girl lying next to you turns over to tell you it’s ok and when your confidence is just as low as your competence and the odds aren’t against you, they haven’t even been set up yet, and you reach and thrust out in space and for the only second in your life the stars line up and planets rotate together and god shines his holy benevolent light on you and you know that tomorrow you’re gone, nothing here to attach your hopes to anymore it’s all out in I don’t know-ness where everything is so vibrant you can’t bear to look out at the road anymore and the darks are darker than you can find any kind of footing in, when you’re so ugly that the smiles are of pity and the frowns are of disgust and inside there might be mighty beauty but it’s been done and its out of style with the other beauties and the girl can’t commit and the boy can’t decide and the book wasn’t nearly as good as you hoped and two fisted and limp dicked you wake up for the fight of your life and get there too early to wait.
the names not a name
It’s a bugbite-
It’s a razor nic
at least when I hear it, or see them
but I do know what you’re getting at
It’s the jitters
still- more than shakes-
you have to explain it different to someone else
if your even going to try
but not to me
go ahead, read it over and over
you knew so much better back a few years
before the mornings were dull blue and the afternoon drone-on
grab some sleep for once
you can take it back, and give her away
like you anything to begin with.
it was the movie I waited months for
so I had a few drinks with friends
and I yelled “shut the fuck up” to the man upfront-
too much clatter
but I won’t tell you what I called him-
no mother should hear all
the verbal sins of her son-
at least in one sitting-
roars from the cinema seats
standing quick, he punched n’ grabbed at my face
but I yelled n’ hit him back-
like jerry would have-
like he would’ve wanted.
it took the entire row to pull us apart
I missed the flick
had barely enough for a cab home
but what a show, mum.