People ask me where I live,
I say, “where the wind sings
a quarter-moon howl.”
They pretend to know –
nod in silent agreement

People ask me where I work,
I say, “where the sun sleeps
behind a silver-skinned blur.”
They are reassured –
carry on with their day

People ask me where I love,
I say, “where the earth breathes
sweet within steady lungs.”
They act surprised –
bury the other questions

Know the Ledge

By TNB Poetry

Poem

One of the social functions of art is to document and respond to the human condition. In response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, The Nervous Breakdown presents three poems by three contemporary American poets.  This poem by Adam Tedesco is the third of three daily installments.


Know the Ledge

The clay here is afraid
of our shovels
our hard heels
of bread and ends of meat

The wind didn’t get here
by trying, says the neighbor
of laughter, the sting
of too much data

I am afraid
of my nostalgia
for all of their faces
spread across the sun

I work against my pettiness
so I can call it not myself
these strings
of too much knowledge
that blind materiality
of what fits in my pocket

They had to show me
the wounds for me
to remember
your human breathing
the elastic ring
of heartedness

There was too much want
to carry, where I was
what they flew away from
a clear plastic echo, blued
ether through which they moved

One of the social functions of art is to document and respond to the human condition. In response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, The Nervous Breakdown presents three poems by three contemporary American poets.  This poem by Aimee Clow is the second of three daily installments.


Chapel Hill Meets at Nightlight

Trudge the swampy divot of your city yard
to conjure the possibility of fruit.
Or vegetables. Roots.

No one is to talk these weeks but touch
only ground and locked air.

Cats will be contented
by constant companionship.

A network of signal threads
pretends political deviation,
what amounts to baskets of food
gifted on door steps.
We really wanted
better communication.
We get what we get,
signal around it.

Who does not hoard becomes a list
of empty shelves and bargains.

Dumpsters dry up as demand stays home.
We become wishes for the rotting.

Pretend four walls are open sky.
Press your tongue in the acid-washed mud.

I’ll believe what I believe.
We will take what we take.

Economics of a virus, the radio whispers,
deviate because of fear, the locked in here,
this indefinite.

You need to pretend you are really, really, really alone.
Now you need to tell me we are not alone.

One of the social functions of art is to document and respond to the human condition. In response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, The Nervous Breakdown presents three poems by three contemporary American poets.  This poem by Shira Dentz is the first of three daily installments.


The Singing, Ringing Tree

somersaulting through tunnels,
hollow spools—

threading anonymously,
pins, plows, spikes:
                                     tag
hide & seek, you’re it

mustard seed in my stomach
is a yellow corona

tongue, fire, smoke
like paper, scissors, rock:
                                              shoot

a green specter cauterized
in my mind’s film, blessed

tethered to supernaturals
are we ruined?
we are mined for our lives

I saw a long line of cars.
I saw a big white house.
The ground was mottled
and abraded like
the back of a buffalo.
I saw a chicken coop,
a muddy ditch,
the padded cell
of the sky.

Typos

By Eric Rawson

Poem

The chromosomal kinds often result

in minor improvements to the species

 

The fat-fingered mistakes that used to plague

a typist encourage online porno-

graphers and herbal-supplement scammers

 

New words are added to the lexicon

as was the delicious dord in Websters’

1939 edition and old

 

Morals undermined (see the King James which

in 1631 did not command

the flock not to commit adultery

 

resulting one supposes in a mid-

century spike in bastardy)—careless

proofing yields a meditative moment:

 

The mindswept plain of western Nebraska

 

Instead of meteorology an

epistemology—Instead of top-

ography a description of pureness

it’s winter in san diego
the sound of your feet on wooden planks

down to the water

 

white skies, white waves

 

there’s a woman swimming naked
in the cold, her child at her side

doesn’t seem to mind.

 

Last night I held your hand

under the table, your sister sat across from us
her baby didn’t like me, you laughed
gave a squeeze, I held on tight

 

I love the beach in winter. It’s nice to share the ocean
with the dogs in the water, lolled heads of seaweed
hissing onto the shore – but it’s also nice
to have the ocean alone.

 

Ladling soup last night (pot gleaming, steam, an orange bowl)
– I finally let myself cry

 

next to me in the kitchen, your father drank undisturbed
you kissed me in the hallway
I’m afraid of him, you told me once
I pressed my head into your chest
it was goodbye, you didn’t know, gripped my wrist

 

just to let it go.

 

here in San Diego
you can’t tell the homeless and the surfers apart
deeply tan, sunbleached hair
tears in their clothes

 

I guess we all search for something, on whatever side

–so the dark men build houses on the water
chucks of white marble in their hands
glimpse the sunset, leave them for someone else

and the blond boys go on dreaming
of Hawaii, of better, bluer water

 

I stand on boulders, strangely curved, remember currents

of water
and wind, too. I sit,

 

quiet with the birds. Horizon, an endless line, presses

 

down on all this blue.

 

and the woman

slips in, a silver coin necklace

flashing on her chest,

 

 

brightest thing in the waves.

So bored
A thousand fallen
Naked bodies
Inside me, muscular
They never stop moving
In and out of each other
In the basement of my body
Moving in structure
In the dirtiest techno
Made of my pulsing
Driving regrets
I want to heal from
Mostly
But life is so fucking boring

You hear words

By Gayle Brandeis

Poem

You hear words like burn and drown and freeze and scald and they’re just words to you. You hear stab and strangle and pummel and hack and they’re just words, too. A few letters, easy to say. Easy to move past. Burn. Drown. Freeze. Scald. Compact little sounds. Some may make you flinch. Send a momentary shiver down your body, raise a bit of gooseflesh. But then your nerves settle; your body seals itself again.

 

When your body knows these words, knows them in every fiber, the words change. They become the smell of your own scorched skin, the taste of your own blood, the sight of your own fingers on the floor, separate as dropped slices of apple. These words have become something more than words. They have become weapons, ready to get under the surface of you, pry you back open.

 

Your body remembers even when you no longer have a body

(some tender part of you still flinches)

(some immaterial nerves still flare)

Came on the birthday of a dozen Facebook friends.

Came like fast food at the drive-thru window.

Came like forwarded junk mail,
like a gift shirt someone thought might fit.

Came like the robocall about the cruise no one wants or wins,
a punchline that forgot its joke,
the calendar’s next blank day.

Came crawling like a cockroach from the shower drain.

Came while I was deciding: New Yorker or Netflix?

When poked, felt fake, like cheap cake gone stale on a styrofoam plate.

I can’t stop thinking of the blind young man’s tapping,
and that dandy cuckolded Bloom, the sickening sirens,
and the whole work laying over my commute, the highway,
like an exploded Church, my tires crackling over each brick,
every day like another ballad to the sun, exposed like Dedalus
buying a little milk in the morning—Comey, Yates, McCabe—
the tarpaulin, pulling, the top, the teepee, top parade, the babe
being strolled by his good mother. I listen to the seashore,
the heave and ho of the country’s nostrils, its punctured eye,
the people asking: “Who did this to you?”—America responding,
“Nobody. Nobody did this to me.” His falsehoods are music,
nearly innocent and childlike. His Hamlet-breath, still speaking
to his father atop a real estate project. “I am thy father’s spirit.”
Swelling at the throat, the aria that may cast a darkened light.
Marking the long tale, I feel as if my insides were cold dust,
the heart reduced to a monologue. Where to go for lunch?
Somewhere where I won’t run into him, the world-whisperer,
the eternal flatterer, the black helicopter filled with steaks
and the stone wife, playing at odds as if we needed to believe
in her statuary. Dignam is dug and gone; his life is spoken for,
the attributions, the lectures in the library, the greasy man
has passed, the barmaids giggled, the world is the world.

 

His name was Bob

He lived in an apartment diagonally across the street from the bar

He started coming in when I worked, seemed harmless enough

Mentioned he had a husband of forty years

He was a semi-retired consultant in his late 60s

He made a lot of money and traveled for work

He would usually come in within an hour after I opened the bar, when there were very few or no other customers

He would pay for two scotch and sodas at once, $7, and tip $3

Sometimes he would tip $5

 

Bob became interested in my life

You surprised no one by dying of an overdose.
Was it glue or oven cleaner?
I can no longer recall, but I know
you enjoyed them both to the full.
Your time on earth was brief, though not brief enough
to keep you from torturing a cat to death
with leftover fireworks and a refrigerator box.
Why is sharing the pain always easier than sharing the joy?

today
will not
get away

it will be
hunted and
stalked

opened
and entered

feasted upon
and finally
laid to rest

well lived
and unwasted.

ROMANS/SNOWMARE

By Cam Scott

Poem

 

[ROMANS/SNOWMARE is a potentially interminable life-poem, to which I add at least one sentence every day. The earliest layers of this project appear in a book of the same name, ROMANS/SNOWMARE, published by ARP Books in 2019, from which the first of these texts is excerpted. ROMANS/SNOWMARE is available in the United States from AK Press.]

 

ROMANS. Do faces have headlights, or windows? I’ve never slept the night before a trip, too busy planning about packing. Dark chocolate parching, an excellent source of magnesium. The stream of everlasting life is owned by Nestle, too. What’s on tap in the master bathroom? I’m so thirsty I could suck a faucet. If we’re going to have to suffer anyway, why wait? One must life equal parts in heaven and on earth. Is freedom a state or a road? “The law does not construct a subject who simply and unequivocally has a desire, but one who rejects its desire, who wants not to desire it.” Her dad was a cop or something. There were bagpipes at the funeral, no one wept. I’m a vicarious sensualist, lingering near second-hand smoke as one might have loitered at the mall. All atmosphere is lightly used. Nothing originates. Made with natural flavours, derived from natural sources. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, bus depot Thunder Bay. The lion’s mane has fallen off but carries on in name. Catching cobwebs in my hair, a silk proximity to skin, I bless the sickening illogic of it all. A putrefying factory or mobile lobe, courting contempt foot over fossil. Am I that bowl of brains, a swollen bag of blood? But then you never see a corpse that isn’t made up on TV. Slept past the water pipe emporium. Catastrophism is “for all”—no nukes, a meagre veganism. As she neared moral perfection, her to-do list dwindled to a few pressing mistakes. The region’s richest silver mine reduced down to a supple islet. A panoramic view inside a rock. O Sponge, your own name is a verb—conatus, indifferently sexed. One can’t mix poetry and politics without theft of necessity. Start with the ideas then. Nostalgia has no bearing upon justice: neither as fidelity to an event, nor as speculation on the resurrection. Imagine a world in which one may adequately mourn. The meadowlark tried in its way. A tradition that extends toward Antigone. The bowaldrome across the courthouse lawn was busiest at lunch, the nearby Travelodge stuffed with incumbent Christs. I hate to see a crust punk hustling on behalf of a suffering pet, as though one nervous system weren’t elaborate enough to bear the succulence of this privation, like one needed a proximate gullet to taunt. That’s my stingy conservative talking, he lashes out at any show of friendship he can’t monetize. No smoking, for example. What’s that odd smell wafting off the parking lot at dusk? Omega 3s, the nutritionist said, are to your brain as oil is to a car. But that light had been on for years, unblinking so ignored. I take the bus so I can tell my story, charmless braggart ambling least. I haven’t shit in Ignace in three years. It’s the acoustic boogaloo that sunders you. Like playing racquetball without a wall, writing a villanelle without a line rule. Galoot forgot his hairnet, had to wear a hat. His colon killed him. Dad’s cologne. A better question asked in bad faith. Who misses the Burger Family? At what point do free spirits go solo? I said that on a whim to see if we were listening. Whoever lingers longest takes the cake.