Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"The Parthenon at Nashville" by Joe Bolton

Late December noon, near freezing—
Maple and sweetgum bare, but the grass green yet
In sunlight, and warmth of light wearing away
At the frail scythe's-edge of ice
Around the pond. On her lunch hour,
Parked in his car, they tossed the last
Of their sandwiches to ducks that bobbed and fussed
In the smaller oval of water not frozen over.
They were beyond being
In love, but not quite ready
To look past the end of the affair.
Across the water, reflected in the water,
Risen stone:
Columns swelling with light,
The stylized figures restored
To the frieze- an order
Called into question
By the troubled surface of the pond.
They remember wondering
What happened to the ducks
Come autumn. Now they know: nothing.
And now a solitary jogger pushes his breath
Past them, as the traffic continues
Out on West End.
They sense that something
Needs to be done or said—
Anything but this feeling of themselves
As figures held in the motion
Of some lost moment.
And yet they can't seem to move, to speak,
Maybe thinking they won't have this clarity
Again for a long time, maybe amazed
At the distance from which they see themselves:
Luminous, hardly human,
And already half in love with the beautiful ruins.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Somewhere there’s a revolution, I hear
Somewhere I used to know
And here, in a darkening dusk
In an expanse of grass
Turned purple by the silence
I turn away

This is life stripped of excesses
No one else for days
Voices all digitized
The constant hum of a world
Churning itself
I laugh just because
I miss the sound

And they come
Seeking life
They turn them away
Not knowing
It is life they bring
Tell no one this
I say it here in confidence
Throw it to the dustbin of words

There used to be someone
He wanted to be great
But forgot—
Where was I?

Ah, yes…

- Originally posted on Sep. 17, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

From "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression"

"Can I stand to live the way I do? Well, can any of us stand to live with our own difficulties? In the end, most of us do. We march forward. The voices of past time come back like voices of the dead to sympathize about mutability and the passage of the years. When I am sad, I remember too much, too well… It is at night that these people and my own past selves come to visit me, and when I wake up and realize that they are not in the same world as I, I feel that strange despair, something beyond ordinary sadness and closely akin, for a moment, to the anguish of depression. And yet if I miss them and the past they made for and with me, the way to their absent love lies, I know, in living, in staying on. Is it depression when I think how I would prefer to go where they have gone, and to stop the maniacal struggle of staying alive? Or is it just a part of life, to keep living in all the ways we cannot stand?
"I find the fact of the past, the reality of time’s passage, incredibly difficult. My house is full of books I can’t read and records to which I can’t listen and photos at which I can’t look because they are too strongly associated with the past. When I see friends from college, I try not to talk about college too much because I was so happy then—not necessarily happier than I am now, but with a happiness that was particular and specific in its moods and that will never come again. Those days of young splendor eat at me. I hit walls of past pleasure all the time, and for me past pleasure is much harder to process than past pain. To think of a terrible time that has gone: well, I know that post–traumatic stress is an acute affliction, but for me the traumas of the past are mercifully far away. The pleasures of the past, however, are tough. The memory of the good times with people who are no longer alive, or who are no longer the people they were: that is where I find the worst current pain. Don’t make me remember, I say to the detritus of past pleasures. Depression can as easily be the consequence of too much that was joyful as of too much that was horrible. There is such a thing as post–joy stress too. The worst of depression lies in a present moment that cannot escape the past it idealizes or deplores."
—Andrew Solomon, from The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

Thursday, October 01, 2015

"Summer's Lament" by Joe Bolton

Now summer's gone, those long days of summer.
The light's still warm, but there's nobody down by the river.
Is this all there is? There has to be more.
Bronzing our bodies like gods beside the water,
We watched the blue-green world through Wayfarers.
Everything happened that's supposed to happen in summer.
A last dark chord dies in my dark guitar,
But I can't let go of what's already over.
Is this all there is? There has to be more.
Remember how we'd drive down by the river,
Risking the bodies we loved into the water?
And our luck held. Our luck held all summer.
We could not drown. We couldn't push the fever
Far enough; it rose, but broke in the water.
Is this all there is? There has to be more.
In the sky's white text, I read the cities of winter:
A world we did not ask for, and a future.
Now this page is all that's left of summer.
Is this all there is? There has to be more.

Monday, September 28, 2015

"The Circumstances" by Joe Bolton

If strength is love, then we weren't strong enough,
But if strength is letting love go, we were.
Men among men, we couldn't trust each other.
With women, it was ourselves we couldn't trust.
It had to do with houses and with cars,
With what had to be done and with money.
We wound up loving money like a country
In a country we loved like women, its stars
Transposed from flag to night sky, its lithe palms
Lonely beyond all hope of consolation.
Night after night, the festive repetition
Of food and drink, of music and new films...
--It failed us, finally, or else we failed it.
We never brought the long quarrel with our fathers
To a close, and so never saw our daughters
Until they'd drifted away like money spent.
It rained then. And suddenly the faces
Of our wives were older, our faces were old,
The screens went blank, the light dimmed, and the cold
Came to stay for good in our white houses.
Dying, what we remembered of our lives
Was nothing more or less than simply talking
About nothing in particular, walking
Nowhere down dark streets with other men's wives.
-from The Last Nostalgia

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"The Seasons: A Quartet" by Joe Bolton


Come late autumn, I'll wear black leather again,
My gray felt boots make a sound like the perfect crime
As I pass along the deserted avenue
Some Sunday evening, admiring the dried-up fountains.

I think the trees will be left harsh and bare
As Donatello's Mary Magdalene:
Their branches thorns, their leaves fallen hair. And you?
You'll know it's finally a fine line

We walk between the last fall and the next,
And a faith without foundation by which we survive
Such seasons as these. Look at the washed-out sky,
At the stars competing with streetlamps, then look for me:

I'll be the stranger slouching on the corner,
His face lit by a dying match. I'll be
Everything you've tried not to remember,
But which is reflected in the half-light of your eyes.


Is this the Russian snow Napoleon's legions
Bloodied with their feet before they fell?
No, just sundown in Paducah, Kentucky,
Day's last shallow breath shading to a faint rose

The soft white other side of the river.
I seem to remember turning away, once,
From this same balcony with its twisted railing
Dense as a frozen black gum, to see you

Still sewn up in your warm dream, till my breath
Frosted the glass over. Now, as tugboats slice
Their way through the ice on the Ohio again,
I think the Belle of Louisville has gone down

To winter in New Orleans, and I wonder
About the why and wherefore of your departure.
It's cold out here, and this feeble light won't last
The time it will take me to drink it a silent toast.


So the rain falls., and the garden grows full
Of itself, fruits and flowers like brushstrokes
Against the lush dark backdrop of the woods.
Somewhere in the woods a stream is playing

Lightly as some old desire turned inward,
And somewhere in the stream a single sunfish
Lets its fiat side break the pane of water
At an isolate oval of light in the dense cathedral.

All is desire: hushed lull before the storm,
Rain like scythes through the fields, scattered birds
Breaking into song to find one another,
The coming dark's duet of moon and star.

Five summers ago, I watched a woman
Wander into the garden at dusk, select
A tomato, and close her eyes as the juice fell
Like something utterly pure onto her breasts.


What Pasternak called "Unforgetting September"
Ripens as always, and Tchaikovsky's Hunting Party,
Lured too far into the forest by the red fox,
Is lost forever. I am listening

To the String Quartet No.1in D Major
With its heartbreaking second movement Tolstoy
Wept through in Moscow in 1871.
(Tchaikovsky got the theme from a gardener.)

I can remember as well as September does,
And what music remains inside of me
Is muted over with memory, strains sad
As the seed that spills from the withered okra plants.

The best days of summer are the days of summer gone:
Something cooking, a wash of light on the water...
The music dies, and what I hold is the world.
One leaf falling would break the spell. It falls.
-from"The Last Nostalgia"

Saturday, August 15, 2015

There’s No Forgetting (Sonata)

I have been aching for words to say it; but words are failing me again, and again, and again... Like the world failed Syria, and Palestine, and Lebanon, and so many other places before... And in the end I just return to this haunting poem by Pablo Neruda, perhaps my favorite of his, and on which I based my thesis, "Memory for Forgetfulness”: Registering/Effacing the Memory of the Lebanese War, which has, at once, tragically come back to life and become laughably irrelevant...
Ask me where I have been
and I’ll tell you: “Things keep on happening.”
I must talk of the rubble that darkens the stones;
of the river’s duration, destroying itself;
I know only the things that the birds have abandoned,
or the sea behind me, or my sorrowing sister.
Why the distinctions of place? Why should day
follow day? Why must the blackness
of nighttime collect in our mouths? Why the dead?

If you question me: where have you come from, I must talk
___with things falling away,
artifacts tart to the taste,
great, cankering beasts, as often as not,
and my own inconsolable heart.

Those who cross over with us are no keepsakes,
nor the yellowing pigeon that sleeps in forgetfulness:
only the face with its tears,
the hands at our throats,
whatever the leafage dissevers:
the dark of an obsolete day,
a day that has tasted the grief in our blood.

Here are the violets, swallows—
all the things that delight us, the delicate tallies
that show in the lengthening train
through which pleasure and transience pass.

Here let us halt, in the teeth of a barrier:
useless to gnaw on the husks that the silence assembles.
For I come without answers:
see: the dying are legion,
legion, the breakwaters breached by the red of the sun,
the headpieces knocking the ship’s side,
the hands closing over their kisses,
and legion the things I would give to oblivion.

—Pablo Neruda
© Translation: 1974, Ben Belitt
Pablo Neruda, Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970
Publisher: Grove Press, New York, 1974
Hear this recited at Poetry International Festival Rotterdam, 2004
by Krip Yuso.

No Hay Olvido (Sonata)

Si me preguntáis en dónde he estado
debo decir "Sucede".
Debo de hablar del suelo que oscurecen las piedras,
del río que durando se destruye:
no sé sino las cosas que los pájaros pierden,
el mar dejado atrás, o mi hermana llorando.
Por qué tantas regiones, por qué un día
se junta con un día? Por qué una negra noche
se acumula en la boca? Por qué muertos?

Si me preguntáis de dónde vengo, tengo que conversar con
      cosas rotas,
con utensilios demasiado amargos,
con grandes bestias a menudo podridas
y con mi acongojado corazón.

No son recuerdos los que se han cruzado
ni es la paloma amarillenta que duerme en el olvido,
sino caras con lágrimas,
dedos en la garganta,
y lo que se desploma de las hojas:
la oscuridad de un día transcurrido,
de un día alimentado con nuestra triste sangre.

He aquí violetas, golondrinas,
todo cuanto nos gusta y aparece
en las dulces tarjetas de larga cola
por donde se pasean el tiempo y la dulzura.

Pero no penetremos más allá de esos dientes,
no mordamos las cáscaras que el silencio acumula,
porque no sé qué contestar:
hay tantos muertos,
y tantos malecones que el sol rojo partía,
y tantas cabezas que golpean los buques,
y tantas manos que han encerrado besos,
y tantas cosas que quiero olvidar.

—Pablo Neruda

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

No Escape

A wise mad man once said,
Imagine that you had to do it again,
the same all over again...
But he couldn't, not without
losing it all...
If I were to do it all again,
would I have the courage not to?
Or would I let your dimples fool me
—once more—
with the promise of another end?

But I am no wise man,
I am no brave man,
I am chapped and cracking
like the dashboard of an old car
that has long lost its charm
and is fast running out of utility...

Tomorrow, before I throw it all away
in a fit of forgiveness, I shall take
one more look at the sunshine falling
like a smirk on the pebbled floor,
at the books, stacked and oblivious
to having never been read, to the
traces of life pinned against the walls...
I shall look at all this one more time,
and let regret soak me like a wick,
and like the coward that I am,
I shall only go to sleep
and wake up
to dream it all again...

(Originally posted on February 28, 2012)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

No Return, No Exchange

Here's my life; take it,
see what you can make of it.
Like a gum that's been chewed
for far too long, it's lost its flavor.
I'm done with it; and I'm afraid
I've made quite the mess of it...
There, see if you can do better.
And let me know; I'm curious.
But I won't hold my breath;
I don't care enough to.

I've waited on sidewalks
where busses don't pass,
and the riders have all fallen asleep.
I've lingered in the fog of old songs
and teenage dreams, and woken up
to find me lurking around
a playground, overgrown
into the swing-set I forgot me in.
This adulthood, I fear, is not for me;
but then again, neither was childhood.
I'm not angry to have come to this world,
but I don't think I'll miss it much.
And to be honest, I don't think
it'll miss me much either...

(Originally posted on February 10, 2012)

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

In Their Shape

To Teta, once again...

We die, they say
But we never die, they say
We carry our dead in our hearts,
They live in us, they say

They say so much, they say so little…

She was here, they say
I remember her, they say
It was a long time ago, they say
It was like yesterday...

I hear so much, I say so little…

She’s somewhere, they say
Looking over you, they say
I look over my shoulder,
Still searching…

One day she’s at the beach
Collecting shells, they say
And years later I’m back here
Collecting my breath…

I won’t go back, I say
I’m done, I say
I moved on…

But moving on, a part of me snags
Dragging behind like a dead limb.
Is it me? I say
Is it her? I say

They say nothing; they only nod.
I guess that’s how we carry our dead, I say:
Our heart, dragging behind, looking like them…

(Originally posted on January 3, 2015)