A selection of poems from “Tidal Economics”
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM YOUR ECONOMY?
More time in the field,
more minutes in an hour,
a taut rope from hook to hook,
or less on the line, less to think about,
longer breaks, a new boss
(not a dickhead),
a longer moon.
Beauty breeds resentment,
as with flowers, wearing crowns
on too-thin necks.
A good heroic statue needs even light
diffused across a suitable clearing.
We’ve hacked clumps out of copses
to let the light in.
There are so many of us,
waiting for diseases
in the gardens of our lungs.
The girls in the village soak shoulder
to shoulder in the waters of the spa,
the business and sole fame
of the village. Outlay is minimal,
some signs on the road, weathered.
Word of the cure spreads
person to person. There aren’t many guests
to the country. Each one visits the waters.
Their properties? Suggested for the treatment
of venereal disease.
LIFE AFTER WANTING
Indoor plumbing and waste management,
the godhead of man. A cruise ship
in high waves, fanned sea bird feet
caught in ocean trash,
poisonous rivers, obsolescent crops,
uncontrollable fires: life after wanting.
WHEN THE ROT? HOW THE GROWTH?
Rutting light approaching a light pole!
The problem is not singular, not in tasting,
but in acquiring. You may not lust
out of order: you must want things
while they want you; to be early
or late, over or under is no good, sublime
miscalculations of the Polar zenith,
little losses hopping on either side
of disaster like sand fleas on flotsam,
a toy chair, baby hammerhead, yard of rope.
I’m talking about death, and sex
is death in this state.
OF LIVING IN TREES
I ran my full animal potential, exploded
my genes in a snarling heap
with more shit than blood on the floor.
You found a place to calcify,
got to know things,
and demanded your teeth.
You could say, at last, I tried.
You set me to repeat
these cattle hours, dullard’s hours
I’m not running down the clock
I’ve lost the sweet spot
of the night. I’m not looking for places
to grind my knife. I don’t do illegal
downloads anymore. I see the sun
from the short part of the day.
I think about the bad things
I am prepared to eat.
Where are my crackhead friends?
My dogs? My powers? My clothes
are a mess. I shower. I don’t get clean.
I don’t dream of living in trees.
If you want to know glory,
run your nose through its heart.
First thing, have a look
at the hands
and the neck and the pits
beneath the eyes–
Does what you see seem in line
with what you’ve heard so far?
But if you want to live south of the glaciers
shed mistrust. Fear nothing.
Hold nothing back.
And after the glory,
the sex on the ground in the open air,
and the vitamin minutes–
assume the coarse wild pig mask
of your longer days and necessity
without bitterness or shame.
Beauty ran through you,
only now can you see it.
Where I’m from tradition means
standing water. Flat
snakes on the road the rains left.
With them the best time to move.
I’ve taken that road:
I know what it wants to mean.
You answer to your own kind.
The roads are still free,
but fear, this fear wants to keep
Us high, here on a dry plane
away from the rising creeks,
still hissing, horribly safe.
(Translation by Nicolás Suescún)
After the War
after the war
if there is a war
if after the war there is a day
I will hold you in my arms
a day after the war
if there is a war
if after the war there is a day
if after the war I have arms
and I will make love to you with love
a day after the war
if there is a war
if after the war there is a day
if after the war there is love
and if there is what it takes to make love
The Misfits Will Never Forget you Marilyn
Now that the worms have thrown the last shovelful of oblivion on your
now that you live under Los Angeles without needing psychiatrists
now that the haughty bone in your thigh is just dust in a box
and your buttocks are pure dust spread on the satin floor of your tomb
now that the totality of your body fits into the smallest of your
now that your toenails lie at your feet scattered like dead planets and
the platinum heels of your gala shoes bend in champagne
baskets under the terrible weight of the absence of your Achilles’
now that in your wardrobe moths have done the same with your dresses
smelling of Beverly Hills parties of Chanel number 5 of the five
fingers of a hand
now that the eccentric millionaire that rented the mansion you
inhabited in Brentwood has quit looking for your armpits in
every nook and cranny of the living-room and is organizing for
his guests a rhinoceros safari in Peru
now that the psychiatrist that treated you went bankrupt and to pay his
taxes is now writing your “memoirs” and besides because his
three wives are very much missing the monthly twelve thousand
dollars fee he used to pay them
now that the sleeping pills that you took run out in drugstores like
now that nobody knows who was norma jean baker because the Baker
Norma Jeans abound in the telephone directories
now that the 188 thousand million psychopaths no longer see you in
English with subtitles in Spanish like a witch of Salem flying on
a baseball bat
now that the drama by your ex-husband about your life has not moved
one way or the other the Broadway critics
and the sun of the photographers has forever ceased to illuminate you
oh she-cat full of mystery on the Mercedes Benz of oblivion
in this small Latin American country that’s called Colombia
live several misfit poets that don’t want to forget you
and that remember you when the moon rises over the Jaguars
when we slide down the steps of the jet
when we read in the press that Dalí has made a sculpture of your teats
when a white two-floor ambulance passes swiftly by our side like a siren
and our wives shout on top of the elevators
Sometimes like now we lift a prayer to you why not lift you in a prayer
in a requiem in an anti-requiem in a prayer to the dead what do we
know about those names
only that every man prays to the one he loves most
specially if the one he loves most is dead
and it is then that we want to lie face down in the Westwood cementery
to feel in our pubic pores the blades of grass that grow in your
now that you’re dead and repose without much hope in the resurrection
of the body
in that small place which is like the small navel of America
after living among spotlights and fog
with shopkeepers and tycoons
with dramatists and policemen
among the mirrors and the mirage
No Return Postcard
When they asked to point out in the world map
the place on earth where I would like my life
to go on forever
I did not put my finger on Providencia
nor in Camagüey or Pernambuco
I made the globe go round and round while I wondered
where are you?
The secret agents that pursued me are now in the same prison where
they planned to consign me
The girlfriends who abandoned me are now married with ragamuffins
The executives that rejected my job applications have seen their
companies go bankrupt
The real estate agency that aspired to throw an eviction order at me was
closed up by the government
The fop who deflowered my sister in a pool drowned himself in a river
The teachers who made me flunk my senior year were green with envy
when they read, in the small thickly bound book published in Paris,
under the letter “A”:
Arbeláez, Jotamario. Cali, 1940, poet.
They arrive from the Mediterranean, the ships, and heed
the lighthouse’s instructions
This is Istanbul and it rains upon an old mosque’s stones
A call to prayer voices of a strange language the tinkling light
I try to reconstruct your face
don’t manage to do so the silence belongs to us
An oil ship moves between the sea foam and the cold wind of the Bosphorus
with the lethargy of a man who has always been defeated
It’s over you said the essence of the apple tea
and suddenly the air alone
Now a face in the water and the grayness
a ship crosses the strait heading toward the Black Sea
From the Bosphorus Bridge a fisherman
has placed four rods
He sits sets the radio dial
watches the pedestrians
It mists and is cold
The droplets in the water
A bite on one of the hooks
The strength that unites everything and separates it
Puffs of drowning astonishment
Now the man has the fish
and waves its body in the air
The gulls gather round
He tosses the fish into the sky
its scales a metallic sheen
Its tiny eyes watch the sea it is relief
but just before reaching the apogee
suddenly a beak pierces its fins
rips its flank swallows
in a second the entrails
In secret someone thinks of God
Cruel fisher of men
[San Salvador in Chora]
4th Century a Byzantine church
Outside Theodosius’ walls
are just dust ruined foundations
My ancient grandfather
always went to Nuestra Señora del Carmen at eleven
did he take communion? only listen to the Mass?
The light of the stained glass falls on the frescoes:
it is Jesus
he multiples the loaves
there are some fish
also empty baskets
Someone at my side says “God”
but in the narthex there is nothing but the echo
under the indifference
of a Christ Pantocrator
Time has worn away the glass
Where the Baptist was there is now
a layer of sand and mortar
The wall was golden and lapis lazuli
hides fifteen centuries
behind figures of apostles and saints
is lord and master of the paracclesion.
Bordering the plaster and line dark Greek
letters: come to me the downtrodden
the inscriptions say
The vaults were peeled
before the healing of the paralytic
The bricks the stone
It is then that I think of the final verses:
My father answered–”that is just the decoration;
you are the sculpture”–and he pointed to my chest.
The mist from the river grows
We descend Pierre Loti along the slope
of a dead Muslim cemetery
Above the tombs jasmines azaleas are born
petals fall Cercis siliquastrum
A faint beating beneath the things
A cat moves forward black
purrs at my feat
the beloved face of a cadaver
in life he was called
my grandfather Rafael lying there
the vapor (I can see it) passes through their graves
did his lips move? Other cats
approach perhaps one day they were
some Servet Hasan pirates
ottomans some boy fallen
in the Galatasaray celebrations
My friend is drinking this coffee
he doesn’t foresee that later
he will be eviscerated by cancer
Orange blossoms tangled among the tombstones
will know the rust the gardener’s sickle
The paving is slippery
Meowing hidden in the grass
Only Allah is powerful the Arabic letters indicate
Downriver the hustle and bustle a burka
delineated eyes: Istiklal Cadessi
Sheena´s last beer
She drank her beer from the bottle and the elegant ladies
looked disparagingly while they sucked bored at their exotic
cocktails. Sheena looked stunning in her Diesel jeans, which
she bought in Italy nearly 20 years ago. At that time she
had still family and it was the first vacation with her little
son. The shining of her refined simply eye makeup was
extraterrestrial beautiful and illuminated the beach bar. The
pain that her coated was breathtaking erotic. Through the
whiteness of her transparent blouse of silk, which she
bought for one dollar years ago at the flea market, made
the lace of her lingerie visible.
“One Miller Lite, please”, she said with a smile and her
warmly sounding voice to Dave, the bar man. He was
fascinated by this mature woman who had been a guest on
the beach bar for several evenings. Tenderly he looked at
her, kissed the neck of the bottle and presented the beer to
her. Sheena led the bottle lasciviously to her lips, drank the
beer at once, and went into the sea.
Frederik Petersson (Denmark)
People think it’s the alone of being forever alone that hurts the most, but that’s not true. Everybody is alone sometimes, whether for periods when they’re not dating anyone or just for a weekend while their spouse is at a conference. Alone is part of the human condition. It’s the forever that pulls down the corners of your mouth just a little bit when you give someone a smile meant to indicate that everything’s okay with you even though you want to scream that nothing’s okay and never will be. It’s the forever that tastes bitter in the back of your throat when you see a happy couple walking in the park or laughing in a restaurant. It’s the forever that has you wide awake staring at your ceiling into the wee hours of the morning.
There’s an ongoing half-serious claim in our culture that men think about sex all the time. Every 17 seconds or so. That may be true for some guys but not a forever alone. After a while you stop being able to think about sex, at least the way other people do. You can think about it abstractly, or when watching other people perform a stylized version of it alone in your room while you use your hand to joylessly complete a sad shadow of the biological imperative, but you stop being able to imagine sex as something you could be a part of. You see a woman in the springtime, her midriff peeking out from between the soft cotton of a shirt and the rougher waist of a pair of jeans. You start to imagine her naked, constructing a fantasy in detail, the way her breasts would sit against her chest, the soft down or absence thereof on her pubic area, and then you try to insert yourself into her presence and the fantasy crumbles to dust under the weight of its own absurdity. You know there’s no chain of events, no course of actions that could lead to that ill-defined imaginary room where the two of you would meet in an act of carnal congress. There’s no way to there from where you are, it’s not even an alternate universe, it’s an inconceivable one. It’s like trying to imagine a world where everything else is the same except elephants float around like helium balloons and have to be anchored by their trunks or they’ll float away. An inherently absurd thought. That’s the idea of you and her being intimate. So you look away from that tiny sliver of skin, trying to keep your face from contorting in pain and bitterness. Where other men might smile at her you don’t, because your smile sucks, and you suck. Forever alone.
Eventually you don’t even bother to build the image only to have it blow it away like a sand painting in a tornado. You imagine lesser things. The brush of a cool, soft, feminine hand against yours. Mundane couple bullshit like eating pancakes on a Sunday morning or watching a movie or just sharing your day with someone who gives a fuck and is not your mother. The other party in these pathetic little domestic tableaus is ill defined in your mind, because if you imagined her clearly enough to make her realistic then you know she wouldn’t want you. And even with this feminine blur, this placeholder, this blurry silhouette of nothingness you project your emotions onto, the person she’s with isn’t really you. It’s a better version of you, a thinner less obnoxious version who will control his temper before saying something cutting, who doesn’t geek out and talk too much, who is free from the flaws who make you who you are and assure that nobody else will ever want to share their life with that person. Then you realize that you’re fantasizing about an Archie Comics version of yourself making tomato soup for an undefined feminine projection blob, and you realize that even the part of you that creates these images doesn’t want to be with you and can’t imagine anyone who might.
Around you the world stays mostly the same. People fall in love, hit milestones, get married, have kids. You’re even jealous of the divorcees because you know that this is just a bump in the road for them, part of their journey. You’re still at the starting line watching them recede, wanting to chase them and catch up, knowing you never will. But while the world is almost static, you are aging. Moving through your life alone. You start to get bitter at the milestones you’ve missed and the chances you’ll never have. You see the graying of your hair and the years piling on like rust eating at the hull of a decommissioned ship and you realize that your opportunity for young love is already past. Even if you got it together and got in the game you’d just have a shot at middle aged love. It doesn’t matter if you think women age like a fine wine, what wine connoisseur wants to live his life without ever tasting the shocking astringency of the harsh tannins of youth. Even if that’s not your thing you don’t want to cut it off forever. But you have. You won’t even have memories of those very good years, as the song says, to keep you warm as you slide towards your dotage. All you have is your bursting store room of regrets and bitterness, and you can always cram in more. And you know that that rusty battleship will someday have a hole in its hull and be unfixable, good for nothing more than salvage scrap. You add up the time it would take to lose the weight, get your teeth fixed, figure out your professional career, the time until you can smile at that woman in the coffee shop with confidence rather than the stomach sickness of self-hate, and you realize it all adds up to a very big number. Everyone thinks of themselves as eternally 22 but at some point you are forced to admit that you are 37 and half your life is over and the back nine of the remaining half is not a time when people finally get that whole dating thing right. If the window is not closed, its halfway there and sliding fast.
All this breeds desperation and depression so you shove it back because you need to function, you need to keep eating and staying warm, you can’t just stop and feel. But your dam is fragile and it leaks. And when you see that girl whose hand you want to brush against, who could sit with you looking into your eyes through the steam coming off her coffee cup and just be, who could understand you, you feel the dam start to buckle and the river behind it start to surge and you don’t want to break down crying in the coffee shop because that’s not what people do and if you can’t have love at least you can have dignity, or the appearance of dignity, or the delusion of the appearance of dignity, so you turn your face to the side, you hope and pray she doesn’t try to draw your attention (generally safe on that count, old chum) and you put one fucking foot in front of the other and continue down your sad and barren blighted path.