It was when they determined that I had been born dead
That my life became easier to understand. For a long time,
I wondered why rooms felt colder when I entered them,
Why nothing I said seemed to stick in anyone’s ear,
Frankly, why I never had any money. I wondered
Why the cities I walked through drifted into cloud
Even as I admired their architecture, as I pointed out
The cornerstones marked “1820,” “1950.” The only songs
I ever loved were filled with scratch, dispatches from
A time when dead ones like me were a dime a dozen.
I spent my life in hotels: some looked like mansions,
Some more like trailer parks, or pathways toward
A future I tried to point to, but how could I point,
With nothing but a hand no hand ever matched,
With fingers that melted into words that no one read.
I rehearsed names that others taught me: Caravaggio,
Robert Brandom, Judith, Amber, Emmanuelle Cat.
I got hungry the way only the dead get hungry,
The hunger that launches a thousand dirty wars,
But I never took part in the wars, because no one lets
A dead man into their covert discussions.
So I drifted from loft to cellar, ageless like a ghost,
And America became my compass, and Europe became
The way that dead folks talk, in short, who cares,
There’s nothing to say because nobody listens,
There’s no radio for the dead and the pillows seem
Like sand. Let me explain: when you’re alive,
As I understand it, pillows cushion the head, the way
A lover might soothe the heart. The way it works for me,
In contrast, is everything is sand. Beds are sand,
The women I profess to love are sand, the sound of music
In the darkest night is sand, and whatever I have to say
Is sand. This is not, for example, a political poem,
Because the dead have no politics. They might have
A hunger, but nothing you’ve ever known
Could begin to assuage it.
Speak Yon Undiscovered Towers
Remember how we ran across each other
Waiting on the L train, in hot Williamsburg?
I had some undeveloped photographs
With which I planned to establish
The reign of light, ten thousand years
Of light. I couldn’t quite explain
How one and one makes two, it’s
A postulate, nobody’s interested, there’s
No profits in houses or anything but
War, forever, and girls shipped over the border
From Moldavia to Oslo, from villages
On the fringes of Chiang Mai to Yonkers
And to San Francisco and everywhere that
Poetry, unwished for, flourishes,
A disease of language, while meanwhile
I left my papers on the airplane. Did you
Find them yet? I have a lot to prepare for,
Repent for, no cats in this vicinity,
Slow music is the worst kind of music,
The world I speak for can never exist,
But Shelley already took care of that,
Yeah, Shelley and Charles Bernstein and whoever,
And no one saw the fires on the towers,
What towers? It was good to see you.
There appeared to be two schools of thought.
On the one hand, universal order,
Whatever that means, land mines and bank accounts,
Risk arbitrage, interrogations in dark rooms,
Stress positions, honorary degrees,
A clean, well-sculpted lawn,
Haircuts on a regular schedule. Yeah, and the
Other hand. Seventy years is more than enough.
It’s not as though I admire Charles Bukowski.
He was drunk and self-aggrandizing,
As drunks most often are. Look at me,
For instance. I didn’t mean to say that.
Look at me, for instance.
2 Legit 2 Quit
for Dan McCannIt’s getting kind of late. I stand next to my love,
All right, I’m standing next to a skeleton,
It appears to be a raccoon skeleton, given the sharp
Teeth, given the sign underneath that says, “Raccoon.”
I wouldn’t say, necessarily, that my life has been
The happiest. Sure, I’ve had my share of barroom
Brawls, I’ve driven the big rigs across ice fields,
I was the winningest contestant ever on “Beat the Braggart.”
What I’ll remember most, though, when I’m gone,
Which could be anytime, is how the night sky looks,
If you get out far enough, like a sea of diamonds
That belongs to everyone. I’m a sentimental fool:
I still believe in love. I still believe in a life
In which everybody matters. I know that
Every poem’s an epitaph. The sky’s around for now:
That’s me that’s walking into it.
© 2009 John Beer