Thursday, March 31, 2011

the company call

"We have twenty-one full-time paid staff assistants here
for the sole lonely purpose of assisting you.
Thanks for calling, but you are pathetic."
Thunderheads head in from the West
with women in black flowerplated skirts: They
work for us, but we had to tell them the rules: our women

(here, in the office)

wear pants, panties ("we wish, more rarely"), a shirt,
drab gray pants, starched pants, and more pants,
slack pants with gold stripes that let you know
catching your breath is harder than it used to be. But.
All I know is what I know: Men get older.
You could walk up a hill,

climb great granite boulders. You were a kid, after all.
Now all Doug's fir trees are missiles, the earth prepared
to take potshots at the moon.
You'll smoke, but she'll smoke too.
All your cigarettes will be gone. But you'll walk again. Walk again.
There're times I think I'll never go home again.
Tiresome juggling, this.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

third grade

There is an asshole deep within my
buttocks. You think it's obvious--I doesn't.
You have not eaten the tacos I have eaten.
Said to Steven, who said to me: You big dummy,
and gets up to switch seats on the bus
to sit with friends of ours edgier than me.

The fifth grade wasn't good to me.
None of the others, neither.
Not in the least.
Third grade was all right. No lie. Steven and I drew
pictures of strange stick figures who got blown up.
I read the Scriptures with a special red pen

in hand to see what the Lord said
while He was at the Devil's bed.
The Devil ate some tacos.
In the Bible Belt belts just get tighter. I got tighter
and wound more of everything up. A dickery dickery dock
and just barely a mouse--that was me.

Up the clock we go.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


"I set up The Dream Songs as hostile to every visible tendency in both American and English poetry."

- John Berryman, from his National Book Award acceptance speech

Monday, March 14, 2011

I have thrown out all my apples--
cracked crates and smashed pears
are all I think about. Rid of them.
An apple epidemic, I'd said before,
would be unethical
at the very best

and a way to get worms inside physicians everywhere
at the very worst. I thrown all of them out. Am rid them.
Farmers continue fitfully to exist;
they grow great sadness on stalks
and mutated salt-licks.
The hung head of Farmer Bob Fucking Maudlin, bearded,
you say, profanely, I maunder:

If the Spirit of Christ
works in us as in a tilled field,
but in a field full of Farmer Bob's sad madness,
the locust makes love & war
in the dirt. Flames spill out over the plains.
& the Reaper rides his horse over the red prairie.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

a bevy of complements

I wake myself this morning with a wake of longing:
I crawl to the edge of my bed
and glance down with some
displeasure at my flabby belly,
my cavity-colored teeth
flavored with cadmium grit.
I smile at the bruise on my neck, the Parthenon
of creased sullied & wrinkled sheets
drunk with the smell of you last night.

The room has erupted over the years
with clothes & congenital fluids,
and our year wears itself well, will become years
and rest in the repose of years with mornings
that are not this morning. This wake,
this vigil is a ritual I've repeated
many times, a sacrament
of last night's beer and a desire to let work slide,
a craving for Jim Morrison's Other Side.

In my bathroom, the mirror sucks.
Ain't exactly a bevy of complements.
Naked in the window of my living room
on this side of my third-floor glass
I think of you, of slapping
your pretty ass. Soon, you'll slap mine.
Dust motes floating in the sun-filled air
make their way, nowhere, fast.

In the morning,
underneath the spoken thing (I love what's true)
this--you--the thing I miss the most--
is listening to you sing. The morning moves
to afternoon.
I better go put some clothes on.

berryman on teaching


Well, that covers scholarship. How about teaching? Does teaching only get in the way of your work as a poet?


It depends on the kind of teaching you do. If you teach creative writing, you get absolutely nothing out of it. Or English—what are you teaching? People you read twenty years ago. Maybe you pick up a little if you keep on preparing, but very few people keep on preparing. Everybody is lazy, and poets, in addition to being lazy, have another activity which is very demanding, so they tend to slight their teaching. But I give courses in the history of civilization, and when I first began teaching here I nearly went crazy. I was teaching Christian origins and the Middle Ages, and I had certain weak spots. I was OK with The Divine Comedyand certain other things, but I had an awful time of it. I worked it out once, and it took me nine hours to prepare a fifty-minute lecture. I have learned much more from giving these lecture courses than I ever learned at Columbia or Cambridge. It has forced me out into areas where I wouldn't otherwise have been, and since I am a scholar, these things are connected. I make myself acquainted with the scholarship.

Suppose I'm lecturing on Augustine. My Latin is very rusty, but I'll pay a certain amount of attention to the Latin text in the Loeb edition, with the English across the page. Then I'll visit the library and consult five or six old and recent works on St. Augustine, who is a particular interest of mine, anyway. Now all that becomes part of your equipment for poetry, even for lyric poetry. The Bradstreet poem is a very learned poem. There is a lot of theology in it, there is a lot of theology in The Dream Songs. Anything is useful to a poet. Take observation of nature, of which I have absolutely none. It makes possible a world of moral observation for Frost or Hopkins. So scholarship and teaching are directly useful to my activity as a writer.

(This interview, done by Peter A. Stitt, appeared in the winter 1972 issue of The Paris Review, which can be read here.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

nonsense, you

I am the understood buffalo
who cooks real slow
in the kitchen of your dreams,
bitching about the lack of black kettle chips
and proper implements. Potato soup covered in corn mulch.
Things that you munch,
I'm in them, sliding from noun to pronoun
without a single stitch,
a regular Benedectine skunk.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

a prayer

You, Lord, took such pains with John B
I ask you take those pains with me.
Yet walk me not a drifter through the sifting sands,
or alone through the smarting cold dark city;

raise my thoughts to the jagged blue mountains seen
from the bridge, not down toward the swirling surf
and the drowning sea. Heavy weigh me down
with such a burden as I can carry,

only help me carry it Lord,
that I may not cease
to be.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

or just heartburn

Well pal I've gone gotten lost in the rain again
while watching blackbirds in a torrent.
God slogs on through a world of hurt.
It's taken too long to realize
a downpour scratches its own back
that lonely pyres don't wear
pressed shirts.
Inside my chest is a volcanic tearing
(or just heartburn).
I'm a sob-sack jerk
alone and drunk with it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


You still walk to the bus stop
with a smokey step:
a shimmer
that hovers over the sidewalk
like a mist.
And I remember when and you said to me,
your shadow covering us
on that funeral day
in Spokane valley
the best thing you've ever learned
was that God is a ghost
and ghosts don't burn.