The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

All Issues
DEC 19-JAN 20 Issue


I left a yellow bath towel in Baltimore before going over the wall
where I ended up on the outside for less than an afternoon,
then plugged back into the computers on a feeding tube.
I don’t remember much else after that, except I’m a renter,
and bargain basement is really neither, more like soda
for the green grocer. That crow is onto my collection of shiny
scraps. Dust to dust. In the Marvel universe, the goal
is retiring to the country, maybe do a little farming.
Mine is the all-you-can-eat buffet or chicken little. Just don’t
make that pit bull nervous. And please, Hammer, don’t hurt ’em.

The trees talk to each other around the graves. I’m only here
for a moment and trying not to make things worse,
my thumb heavy on the space bar while writing
after visiting hours, yet the words always spill over,
like the crowds that stream out of the movie theater
and into shiny cars in the parking lot dark. You also saw it
on a little screen, a faint glow illuminating your face
as the machines talk to each other without moving their lips,
the land scorched where I thought I might find you
when we are only trying to get to love.

It’s quiet enough in the winter, but the damage is still
being done. Some months are harder to pay the heating bill,
and it seems like that and water should be free. Otherwise,
you’re on your own with a box of corn flakes and a spatula,
a divining rod and a basket. Just don’t make me walk
too far. I’m out of Adderall and easily bored, but Molly sees
the colors in Neapolitan, while we use napkins from Arby’s
to wipe the smear without feeling urgent because there’s
a bigger mess behind us and ahead. We are coming in
with the darkest vision.

I’m not making this up. No justice, no peace. We collect
the tweets with the spambots while keeping our eyes
on the mall cop after scooping pennies from the fountain
that you said was for veterans, but I never saw a sign.
Some people read the news and some experience it.
That’s not the same as your dream about a leprechaun
on a trampoline. Children sit in detention cells at the border,
while satellites keep track of it all. Life and art are short
as we stand in line for the exit interview with the polar bears
and tree frogs.

The light burned out in the hall, but we had already lost
our way before taking backroads over the mountains
and eating soggy green beans from a can. I agree,
it was weird and awkward like the early stages
of humans and dolphins learning to communicate—
all grunts from us and their playful chirps and whistles.
Maybe that’s why this poem is like a paraglider slipping
through the harness. It’ll do tricks for food,
but has trouble getting out of bed in the morning
after rearranging the furniture in the middle of the night.

The river flows beyond the horizon, and the garbage trucks
past that, although they make more of a clank and rumble.
The only people trying to steal your job are the bosses.
No more cookie jar—it’s all plastic packaging now. Talk about
lowering the bar. You might as well rest it on the ground
and roll it around with your toe. I would say it was a bad day,
but that implies there are good ones or a set of new jet skis
in the garage when it’s more like sink or swim. Feast or famine.
It must have been the leftovers and too much Dramamine.
Flowers frozen means they’re not dying.

My condolences to the astronaut who never leaves this planet
because outer space has its own groove. Mine goes
to the back side of Saturn, which is another way of saying,
Please teach me control. I’ve never made it past the screeners
while listening to Fall Out Boy, I mean, Death Grips, on repeat.
We carry our house in our mouths but it mostly gets stuck
in our teeth, like seeing it through the leaves or behind
the brand name when I’m still in the clink after a dine and dash
without any eating, each nodding head a sunset. I guess
this one will have to do for now.

What makes you lean back and say, Ah? My dentist, for one.
A paper boat floating around in the fountain. Six foot seven foot.
We ingest the rest in small pieces. Time treats us rather
shabbily, like a lawnmower to the grass, yet the deserts keep
expanding, a creeping chill and silence. Clouds cover the stars;
stars cover the dark. A toddler throws stuff around. I think
soup and a sandwich is kind of elegant, and that the internet
is our memory because it doesn’t drink or check itself into
the hospital when everything is too much. I can’t handle it,
and then I can in slow neck survival mode.

My key never worked, anyway. I can’t seem to remove
this stain from the carpet, but if you stare at it long enough,
it starts to look a little bit like Jesus or Smokey and the Bandit.
That must be why garbage disposals terrify me—something
about them seems slightly alive. Just give me a pill for it after
those body blows or is it the wind beneath my wings,
air horn at the ready for when it’s time to slice the pizza
or dragged around at your command, leash chafing the neck
and its IF FOUND, PLEASE CALL tag jingling, then released
into the wild, into the water with the toxins slowly running dry.

First give me a second to send this text. I’ve always hated
going to sleep, and now the cruise ship horns wake me up early,
or else it’s the person shouting the loudest who gets heard,
knuckles wrapping against a plastic helmet that didn’t survive
its collision with the concrete. Everything is cracked,
like being pulled underwater while standing on the dock.
A spoonbill dips its beak into the pond and the tadpoles scatter.
Something squishy is stuck to the ceiling, but I’m not going
to touch it. Bottoms up! Chips Ahoy! And maybe for once,
no more dying.


Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert is the author of two books of poetry, The Treatment of Monuments and Late in the Antenna Fields, as well as a collection of essays, articles, and reviews entitled Another Future: Poetry and Art in a Postmodern Twilight.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

All Issues