Four Poems
Alan Gilbert

Pick of the Litter

To the ends of the earth we go
without ever leaving the mall.
Later, I got taken to the cleaners.
The moon wanders in stages,
just as there are times I miss you
so much it hurts, as we forget
about the wars until we’re reminded.
Or like a giraffe given a yank
on the leash, we’re all neck,
riding the freight elevator to work.

How else am I supposed to transport
this dip? Screw the charm factor
and grab the power from those who
don’t use it for good. We hear
the sirens before we see them,
casting a rope ladder into the wind.
That’s not the same as a sugar
hangover, but I refuse to kiss the ring,
and try to keep my grave clean—
otherwise called the curbside follies.

That wasn’t very funny either,
and this truck is blocking my view,
as well as a fire escape framing
the poverty rainbow. Not poverty,
I mean positivity. One love.
Yet I don’t know the arrival time,
and the sun is setting where the sea
meets the desert at a virtual horizon.
How does a cartoon character die?
Frame by frame.

The Fast and the Furious

The wiggling at the worm farm
slowed down during the blizzard,
but a blackout is different—
it’s when the circuitry shuts down,
a ribcage fusing with the refrigerator door
and its array of hardening condiments
that mirrors a bus kneeling at the curb,
because sometimes this is what desire does,
as we make a collage of these histories,
the flags unraveling according
to their patterns taking a tumble down
the insulin tunnel, the free needles
distributed in the candy wrappers.

Better if you just pass me a tissue
that I’ll hold up to a wave thickly veined
with saline and clotted with oil,
the sweat crashing beneath the skin
where your hand gently passes,
or I could spice this poem up with
a little sex and violence from the movies,
even though you’re all the viva
I could ever need, ready for this jelly
as the cruise ships navigate a harbor
dredged for their depth, lifeboats
at the ready even this close to home
—or especially—right there beneath
your window.

You can say it’s like being healed
and actually mean that the pain
doesn’t hurt as much, yet I’m not
making this up as I go, but rather
found myself surrounded by a cold
metallic sheen, everything postrobot
and, Here, take this little blue pill,
evaporating water from the hemoglobin
until the blood browns whereas
the semaphore pinkens—I’m not sure why,
I’m not a scientist, and instead follow
the trade winds while sweeping out
the cargo hold with its rats disappointed
by the Bauhaus.

The Price of Admittance

The diving bell doesn’t make a sound,
though the air is filled with leaflets.
One day we’ll crack through the enamel.
That’s not what’s making the refrigerator stink
or keeping the pile of old magazines
from turning into a fire trap; but if science
taught me anything, it’s that all matter
is combustible. There’s even a little gas station
on Mars. We get coffee and a danish
from the same place every morning, next to
the laundromat that closes early on the weekends.
Sometimes I don’t know where else to go.
The funny thing is that I can see your house
from the train. One day I want to live
closer to the river. For now, I’m slowly
developing the memory of an elephant,
if that elephant was completely stoned.
It’s better than the Hannibal stomp
or the dusty furniture stored in the basement.
Either way, I know it’s going to cost me,
with the ingredients for each McDonald’s
franchise delivered by truck. Tracking dopamine
is the least of the neurologist’s worries.
It helps to loosen the hairnet. What else
was the coach’s son supposed to do?
I’m still waiting to meet my first saint,
while at the bank, machines now count
the money. If I was a magician, I’d cast a spell
called honey boo boo; instead, I watch it
on TV. Let me know when you’re
coming back, and I’ll try to leave a light on.

Dumb Luck

The same song played on a loop all afternoon,
though that’s not what we mean by the low-end workout.
The less sanctioned stuff happens around back
while I bury the evidence of another failed meal
and you break school rules with the boys.
There must be more information somewhere
on the website. Bodies at high velocity collide harder,
except on Saturn where they sing in a chorus.
It’s not as if I’ve been probed by aliens,
but let’s say that we’ve gotten familiar.
You forget that I used to work as a ranch hand
where every beast is immortal. Now I sew
unwashed socks for hoof-and-mouth disease,
because first they bring out the water cannons,
then they just shoot you in the face.
Tell me again what’s the color of your purse
and the ingredients in Junior Mints.
You might start the evening with a drink;
I’d rather two-time the pharmacist’s pharmacist,
which is easier than saying, Just give me the loot.

We’ve come so far, and yet we’ve barely left
the porch. Still, there are children involved,
and monsters to defeat, some of which are inside me.
Luckily, they’re susceptible to spells resting
our shrunken heads on a mushroom blooming
everywhere else amid the knife play banned
along with opposable thumbs. Each new era
gets shorter and shorter. Soon they won’t
bother to call our names, as every desire
exceeds its object, even in the dark,
and I’m a machine of consequence, such as
Operation Empty Candy Wrappers is in full effect.
Right here, right now. There is no other place
I want to be. Unless we’re talking about a medevac.
Or maybe just more meds and a refrain
that goes hurt, hurt, hurt I took on tour with me
to sell T-shirts along with a round of hangman,
because when a hum tickles between the teeth,
a poem is close to being finished.

This one isn’t. First we need to let the dog off
the leash, and stick the spurs in the horse.
Eventually, the waters will rise to meet us,
but for now it’s only warmer in the sun,
your neck arched longer than a riding crop
stirring sediment beneath the berries or swinging
from a chandelier like Bunny Wigglesworth
on kitsch retainer mocking the politicians.
Next comes the waiting stage, which we’re
less good at, all bodice-ripping if I wore one—
instead, there’s a haunting behind the ribs.
The pit master told me that the meat gets juicier
the longer it sits, but that seems counterintuitive
for those preferring sloppy seconds to the cleanup crew
burnishing ivy on the walls, as if I could give
a fuck about the self-appointed leaders.
I dress myself and sometimes you, picking clothes
up off the floor. Beneath that floor is where
I’ll be buried, gravediggers at the ready.
I was one until I strained my elbow returning
crisp backhands. But I’ve still got a fighter’s chance,
even if I’m terrified of needles.

Besides, I only dream about people who go away,
although I’m happy about your cottage by the sea.
The unfurled heads of pink hydrangeas bow
slightly on their stems. Even the slaughterhouses
have been streamlined for efficiency,
like spotting drug addicts by their sweat,
as the hook connects a carcass to the chain.
Yet cognitive therapy is going to kill my poetry,
and a funner version of cheese and crackers
is called cheesecake. We can be bought
for the right price—for instance, here in the city
I haven’t seen the stars for weeks, just the glint
of a biochemical pendulum. There’s no warehouse
for what perpetually gets loose, such as
a bank robber without a bank, lots of stick ’em up
to no one in particular, except for the flabby streaker
who tired himself out before the commercial break
was over. It’s all in a day’s work, or at least
an afternoon.

For the rest of us, it’s about corralling hornets
with the deckhands and a captain passed out
behind the wheel of a company car customized
with golf-ball washers, a rusted deli-meat slicer,
fake hairy Hobbit-feet slippers, and a marketing
campaign bigger than the GDP of some small countries.
No wonder you walk around with a moving box
under your arm, otherwise known as hedging
your bets, forgetting that I’ve already marked
the cards with an escape plan featuring me
banging my head against the wall, which isn’t
a version of winning but rather extending the game.
Groups of soldiers move through the yard on patrol.
I don’t care what you do in the bedroom,
as long as it’s consensual. Was it really so wrong
to root for the Borg against public displays
of affection? I’m going to be twice as dangerous
when I’m part machine. In the meantime,
I’ll stick with this wooden splint doubling
as a tongue depressor or a birdhouse in the basement.

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