My world is such a beautiful place:
Jacqueline Susann wrote a whole book about her dog,
most people are made of water and fat,
most candy is either chocolatey or fruity,
but there’s something to be said
for choco-fruity combo.
True, there are jobs that you grow out of
like ballerina, but there are always others, like dog-catcher
that you get better at with age.
There are varieties of toothpick for show
and function both, and in the hallway
of the karaoke parlor you can hear
every song that exists sung with enthusiasm.
You can add your mystery to the others
piled with the coats on the bed at the party.
You can tell a joke about babies because
the babies all around will not take offense.
Nietzsche said: altruism is nothing
but the selfish desires of others
which might mean altruism is nothing
but the selfish desires of Nietzsche
but it’s also possible I’m so hopeful
that it makes me a little dumb about Germans.
It is a beautiful world where you can be dumb about Germans.
You can sleep with fire and not get burned
if you convince your boyfriend that he is a fire
and when he burns you anyway, always some
fireman will show up just in time.
It ended the day he drove you around
Santa Barbara, lost for two hours while your fever spiked—
the chimes of his missed jokes refracting against each other
until they became a solid, tangible thing, like a log,
eventually two logs, multiple logs that at some point
yielded to an organizing principle and became
the cabin in which you now live, alone.
It is shabby but nice; in this it resembles you.
Vinho verde goes great with the fish.
Lenny Bruce died of sadness.
People will always laugh if your hair is messed up
and you say, “I’m going for that wind-blown look”
because you look great that way, you really do.
Because after all this music, there is the music
of what comes after, like a hole left in the air
after you’ve thrown your body through it.
Of course the complains are valid:
not enough water in the well, and what’s tehre
smells like an offending ham,
so much snow that the trees look a lot
like chubby Russian folk dolls,
and boiled cabbage will trail you for days
until you trick it with cigarette smoke
or pork chops or a marathon of procedural cop dramas.
Exploring the harmonics of an empty
beer can, I arrived at a theory
of melodic counterpoint, which,
big surprise, involves emptiness
refracting against itself until it yields
eventually to an organizing principle
and becomes the song I now sing, alone.
Seneca said: quit fucking around
and don’t go into politics.
Nobody knows how we decide what we love.
Seneca sure didn’t know. A tin roof
tunes the sunlight, tree pollen
falling like dirty snow.
In spite of these certainties I find it encouraging,
how bored rural teenagers can imitate any hairdo
with hair spray and scotch tape
and how adults have a shitty time at the zoo
but will take the kids there anyway.
Dancing to the radio can alleviate the ache
of the mind, but only if you dance
like you are a bad, bad man.
Schiller said: discretion is the better part
of aesthetics. Believe it.
Similarly, the nature of gym memberships is deceit
but it turns out that the deceived look
extremely attractive, full of life.
I like to think about animals doing people things
because a lot of the things I want to do
to other people are inhumane and ridiculous
but when you imagine bears doing their taxes,
spreading out the shoebox of receipts
on a green plaid couch and vowing
to save up for a newer, safer sedan
it seems like we have a lot in common
and could peacably share a dinner of salmon bellies.
Vinho verde goes great with the fish.
Sad people are too enthusiastic about cookies.
This is how you will be able to tell them apart
from the others, whose hungers are more general.
Overnight, the night insects came back,
mosquitoes carrying small parts of me away
so they can put me back together later
in a new all-blood format.
I will be pure and total and spared
the chore of dressing for my funeral.
There is no way to spare yourself
from dressing for your mother’s funeral
unless you die first. There it is,
the awful thing I sing in spite of.
There it is, the mosquito whining
in each room after the light goes out,
tuning the house’s emptiness
like the ringing in my mother’s ears
which she is told will not stop
so it’s not really a song,
just something to get used to.
Flaubert said: it’s okay if your life is boring.
Seneca said: life is long if you know
how to use it.
I say the air tonight is as warm as a bath
and whatever you think of the one
who drew it for you, whatever
creation myth you subscribe to,
and whether you feel mostly
like a head poked through a plywood
cut-out at the fair, a tiny head
riding the shoulders of a giant
doesn’t matter. You are here,
you are its celebrant.
I’m going for that wind-blown look.
I’m making a pompadour out of hair spray
and scotch tape, a cape for containing
the gesture I am coming from.
I am coming from the middle of things,
swimming pools where my uncles
keep their socks on to hide their white
ankles, bright as halogens.
It’s not really a song unless
it yields to an organizing principle
the way my mother convinces herself
that the ringing in her ears is actually
the spring frogs back early
in spite of three feet of snow
and makes a song out of the blood
rushing in her head.
Just as chickweed chokes out the ivy
and the sun turns its back on the statue,
just as the houses turn blue in the cold
and windows orange as it gets darker,
just as the snow melts on the ridge tops
but stays behind, insolent in the nettle pit,
I am coming ever closer to you.
I am watching from not far away.
Just as buds crust the dogwood’s branches
and wasps set out their black longboats,
just as the bathtub begins to stink like mud
and gloves are forgotten in coat pockets
and bad babies are forgiven, and even the furnace
is forgiven for muttering all day long
I am getting closer to you, I am always
—S. E. Smith, jubilat 21