Friday May 24

BishopSean Sean Bishop is the 2010–’11 Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and the former managing editor of Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Forklift Ohio, Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, Poetry, Salt Hill, and elsewhere.  In 2007 he was a recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Fellowship.

To Throw the Little Bones That Speak
I.      Jack of Hearts, Jack of the weakest ventricle:
I’m saving this dance for the boatlady Karen.
Play me the one about the starving Danish stowaway
welcomed to shore by a conflagration.
When the pointman plays his squeezebox in the murk and grime,
when the band chimes in on their sitars and lyres,
make believe it isn’t over. Pretend there’s time
to woo the wrinkled weavers away from their nets.
Oh Jack. Oh Karen. Oh keepers of gates,
I’ve built you a toy out of bones and regrets.
Please accept this offering as a lamb
bleating in the chest before the awful rattle.
II.     Let’s say the heebie-jeebies are a kind of flea
and the underbed goonies are only dust.
Let’s play the game where there is no death. Let’s trust
the few signs that we’re still alive:
soul sloshing like backwash in the breathing body,
this cat’s incessant scotchbrite kiss,
the old bread growing out its fur.
Will we miss the stamped planet of expirations?
Jack, in the cold black bog, we tire
of you, our aortal ache; what remains
of the little boy body with its breakable bones,
of how many licks ’til we hit the marrow.
III.    Sick chimp, you lagoon-dredger, Lust, I’ve been
meaning to say for you I’d take a bullet
to bloat this body with its unspent sins
like a stuffed duck. Let’s agree
the bloody steak is a black-eye salve
and the heart—the idiot heart—it knows
the course through murk, through rock
and eddy-haunted narrows. If we could go
tonight to the sullen limbo
of coffee and cars, would you be
so impish and impatient? Would you lurk
like this to a better-lit bed?
IV.    My little hooked pickerel, just look
what I can offer.
Far from here where the smog is cooler,
they’ll pour you a pond you can call your own:
some musty woods and their choir of toads,
the petty carnages of beetles,
one lone surviving Pangaean iris.
I hereby propose
this trade for nothing:
A forever-long stay in the blacker lake.
The presiding angel demanding softly,
please don’t go.
V.    Edge of the bright earth
where we say the dead pass, like it’s high-school science—
Can’t we admit the body’s a boat
where its own undoings bob through the day?
To what end, anyway: this dreaming of woods
and a tireless choir of toads
who hop far off where the smog is cooler;
this dreaming of black bogs
where the roasted geese can roost forever.
Little pickerel, in the towns of the living
the leaves have started falling
and you’re going to have to choose.
VI.    A trawler line. A rope and buoy. Karen,
can you lead me back by the lip
or the gills cinder-bright with gasping
to the cities of breath where the body
staggers on breakable bones,
where everything bleeds and wriggles
and feeds? Karen if I’m the fish
you must be me. And little pickerel,
little pickerel you must glide
through the wet with a school
of sorrows behind you; a barge
trailing gulls in its wake.
VII.   The last—give or take—forever I’ve spent
betting at morning against the light
while the barb and bobber, the line and bough
strafe the muck all day. Tonight
I’m cozying up to eternity
among the nonbelievers, all scales
and gills, no knees for kneeling,
to drift and drift in the dotted dark
to which you’ve given me,
Karen. You toss the keys
to every passenger. You give
each one a kiss. You disappear.
VIII.  Ladies and gents, if you look to your left
you’ll see the soft glow of approaching lava,
the petty carnages of beetles,
that regal swooner who tends the bridge.
What seems. What is. What wriggles and feeds.
Just like the herdsman I want to believe
in one big moon in the bigger sky,
to give myself up like a plucked bud
to all who’ve come to find me
wherever I am. Somebody tell me,
where is Karen? Why are all these tourists
pressing pennies in my hand?
IX.   From a list of great evils I’ve chosen the best:
to beat the dog for being fearful,
to bet at dusk against the dark,
and the heart, the idiot heart
that fails. In the towns
of the living the leaves have fallen
like sheets from the bitter writ of birds.
Sweet midgety gripers, how do we think
the dusk pulls shut the shade of night,
and why do we call for it? What do we want?
A peck. An eye. An iris.
A promise of more.
X.    Karen you promised you’d come but didn’t
so I’ve captained this cardboard skiff through the night.
City of Cherubim, City of Dis,
one is the sorriest digit that beats.
The rudder’s gone soggy,
the lake’s at my feet,
in the air no sound but the sound of air.
Just like the herdsman I want to believe
in one big moon in the bigger sky,
to love the middle world and its imperfections:
these six warped chords on endless loop;
E as in Everything, T as in Tomorrow.
Minor Losses
Headline: “Lost tool bag forces changes in spacewalk plans”
The little bag slips. Adrift
and untethered in the dotted dark,
the little bag slips and the astronauts
just let it go. They know it’s not
a major loss—not really—though
it is a loss that follows: close
at first and then farther away,
like a stray dog gradually giving up;
or fading off and out, the way
a person drifts awake from the dream
in which everything is almost revealed.
Waking each morning to darker windows,
they watch it go. And to each on board
it seems the station’s filling with regret
the way a wrecked ship fills with water—
each one of them with family below,
each wanting to go and get the bag, although
the doctors warned of thoughts like these,
saying think of the satellites, the scar-pocked moon,
all the debris of fifty years. Past that,
on Mars, the rovers, dust-blown and broken
in a permanent freeze. And farther still,
spent stars that shine despite themselves
over everything that can’t be retrieved.
Adam in the Big Deluge
Out here one wishes for another name
like Malcolm or McKinney, something someone
else might carry forward, after one’s remains
have crowdsurfed the poisoned fingers
of anemones and turned to chum.
To have one name and one name only
while the sea on all sides wrinkles
its indifferent tarp, is to be a lonely
point in space is to be nothing
but an idea. If one meaning of madness
is a nude man flailing in the soaking dark,
another is the hour that man and a shark
know there’s no way of knowing who’s
circling who. Lord I don’t want a raft, or land:
just this body. To sink my little teeth into.
Brief Notes Toward the
Memory of Twenty-Seven
Optimistically and against me an awful cabal
of glass-half-fullers daily conspired.
Still, like an unfamous, incarnate semi-god
each morning I rose in my fragrant apartment
and to the embalmers, of their services, announced
over and over a further delay. Kurt Cobain,
I would say, you’re not fooling anyone
with your last, dramatic monologue out in the rain;
Brian Jones, in the stubble it’s not your face
staring up from the bathroom sink’s white mirror.
Half-Biblical, that’s how I felt. And I felt wholly tired,
too, of the doctors who wore their worries
as beef slabs hooked deep in their brows
while the vacuumed vials, like fat thermometers,
filled with a wet and urgent part of me.
Such otherworldly nebulae
were the insides of my elbows: bruised
swirls where a star might be born, or the mottled,
yellow-and-brownish surface of Saturn, which,
my self-declared astrologist friend so sweetly
said was simply rising. I learned I was less
beautiful than I once believed. I found a black seed
in the hollow of my belly, which told me the someone
I loved would never love me. Almost weekly
my mother announced her finishedness with affections
while the native rodents of my new town
in the dry leaves scuttled like thoughts
I’d really rather not be having,
and every day from sheets of an almost
unfathomable thread-count I woke and proclaimed,
though the finches are so silenter, still I maintain
to inform today I won’t be dying.