Monday Mar 27

SteinKevin Kevin Stein has published eleven books of poetry, criticism, and anthology, including the forthcoming 2013 collection Wrestling Li Po for the Remote (Fifth Star Press). Recent books include the essays Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age (U of Michigan P) as well as the verse collection Sufficiency of the Actual (U of Illinois P). His poems and essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Boulevard, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, Southern Review, TriQuarterly and elsewhere. He teaches at Bradley University and currently serves as Illinois Poet Laureate. Kevin also offers these links to two laureate websites he created to promote poetry, and they can be found here and here.


Wrestling Li Po for the Remote

While I recited you, Li Po, Cops broadcast
a wife-beater’s earning his shirt’s eponymous name,
and televised badges arrived to disassociate sign
from signified as did Derrida with nightsticks.

The drama bled so American you changed
channels as the cuffs’ half moons first kissed
then swallowed the man’s bloody wrists.
You flipped our feathered page, sighing.

Somewhere on Mercy Street the woman’s halter
hardly halters what it’s meant to. Somewhere
the chapel of her body proposes its commandment,
“Do whatever makes you less unhappy.”
Somewhere it’s plaid boxers and meth-teeth,
filmed behind a trailer’s busted screen door.
But our channel’s a sparrow perched on branch.
The remote’s not under the couch. It’s in us.

Your poems lie in my hands, lying. Why is there
nothing of An Lushan’s war hounding your heels,
nothing of dead-scalloped streets of sacked Chang’an?
Nothing of exile’s knife pressed against your gut.

Instead, you’ve taught me wu-wei, “doing nothing”—
the way a mountain floats its own cloud river,
these blossoms flute their yellow-petaled tune,
the universe unfolding its fist within us.

That’s why I repeated “somewhere” three times
in five lines to distance the daily perfidity
as you did by ignoring it—anaphora my faux Tao.
Students of Zen don’t abide boozy wifebeaters.  

No, a blind eye’s the remote’s remote,
as is one’s head slung upon the limned wind.
You fell drunken into a river and drowned,  
trying to embrace the moon. I drowned in you.

Old master, I’m done. I’ve pulled the plug
on my dead man’s float, I’ve clicked off
the sparrow’s song. Now where’s that knife?
Where’s your chest, these eyes plucked that I may see.


Night Visit to the Recycling Center, a Three-album Box Set


The door’s plastic whoosh time-machined me
back to pinched-open album wrappers, back to
vinyl offered the godly turntable’s incense-rites,
liner notes and artsy photo shadow revelations
where a guy, if so inclined, rolled doobies.
Tick tock weeks went up in smoke. What’s
cliché but metaphor first apt, thereafter not?


The sign’s recycling arrows curled into each other
the way we danced but couldn’t stop that war,
a needle dropped into the groove and then
into us, going in circles our usual human state.
Vinyl once was oil and before that ferns upon
a hillside. Turns out dead stuff fuels the living.
Language, claims Emerson, is fossilized metaphor.


In half-light a conveyor looped into itself
as I did shaving my wheelchaired father,
Count Basie chasing his tail upon the Victrola’s
spinning platter. My hand scratched its shaky
tune across his chin, notes hummed off key
as will my son for me. So close his breath fogged
my glasses. Now so far I’ve lost him in cloud.


Cat Church Communion

Because Cubby lives in the vapid attic
Rev. Jim Jones rented pre-Kool-Aid rampage,
we drank cheap wine from Dixie cups.
We think this is funny. Never mind the tenses.
Cubby’s not his real name, everything disguised
to protect the guilty. He’s reciting olde English,
window as well as mirror of were and are and will be.
Dead’s the answer but not yet. Dean Young’s
heart is still young, pumping irony pre-transplant,
he flat upon the shag speaking Mandarin
to a Siamese cat. No, the cat’s reciting Li Po,
fellow drunk whose name’s not changed
to protect the innocent. It’s here the Rev
resolved, Never again will I be poor for Jesus!
A picture window brushstrokes the alley’s
sprung bedsprings and a trash can spilling
our Chinese last supper the cat got,
speaking her alley cat high Mandarin.
Breaking bread, Jesus knew something
would go wrong for us but opted hands off,
we know not what we do. Providence
is named Steve, or was, before Cubby,
who claims puddles make blue eyes of sky
when viewed from above, meaning they
mirror the divine if one was looking down.
Or is. Shaggy Dean’s heart is broken
in the literal and soon to be figurative sense,
though he doesn’t know it or even how
the not-yet ex will rip his out then how
Dr. L. plumbed another’s in, its beat
not stilled by that horizontal Harley.
Never mind the tenses. Kids play soccer
five stories beneath our feet. Everything’s
beneath our feet: Jim Jones, his punch drunk
followers, the Congressman all in the ground.
Or become it. Cubby thinks this is fun and so
does that cat who’s neither. The ball rolls
its muddy dead head from one foot to another,
the kid gods deciding who gets it, who not.
Soon enough it’s us, the paper cup empty.
Now the Rev’s pretty kitty figure-eights
our blue-jeaned shins, purring Mandarin.
Her tag’s big red heart says she’s named “Luv,”
alive because he abandoned her. Or it.