Recent Work By Eric Norris

Not every game that I played with my parents required so large and so mathematically sophisticated an apparatus as our beanbag tic-tac-toe set: with its ever shifting planes of experience—Xs and Os—victory and loss—all poised on invisible pins and ready to pivot from pleasure to pain to panic—that nightmare land of indecision—at the slightest provocation.

We also enjoyed simpler pastimes, such as hide-and-seek.

[Transcript from an interview exclusive to The Nervous Breakdown.]

Milton: Since Halloween was last night, and October 31st is his birthday, I am here talking with Satan, on Skype, from his holiday villa Pandaemonium deep in the depths of Hell. Satan, let me first wish you a Happy Birthday!

Satan: Gee-wiz, thanks, John. So kind of you to call. I am touched, really, I am. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you. And may I say you look marvelous for a 400-year-old? What is your secret? Who is your surgeon? You could pass for a teenager. It must be the poetry—Paradise Regained.

“Paint me a pair of bold anfractuous rocks
set somewhere in the Cyclades—a spot
totally removed from Time. No clocks.”
I’d settle for a sunny August, hot
enough to melt an Erlenmeyer flask.
We could emerge from a cool underpass,
catch a guitar weeping, an old song,
a crowd of children shrieking, a Great Lawn
surrounding people with some place to be
hurrying to different destinations.
“Who comes to Central Park on their vacations?”
I would demand of the demented bee
circling a can of garbage going sour.
Surely, God would not begrudge an hour

of timelessness unto humanity—
his representatives on Earth. He must
have made us and forgotten us. Maybe.
How else would you explain the missing bus,
the leaky awning, and the pouring rain—
this longing to be elsewhere? Hence, the plane
landing on a distant isle in Greece
ahead of schedule—look—the Cyclades
bathed in Hellenic blue. And far below—
almost invisible on the white beach—
there is a tempting red umbrella which
I am convinced belongs to me. Although,
it could be a reflection from the ad—
for Travelers Insurance—that is bad-

ly flirting with me from across the street.
A fault in one of its florescent lights.
Flutter. Flicker. Blackout. And repeat—
ad infinitum. How I hate these nights!
These vicious, tantalizing sights! To
say I hate New York would not be true.
We have a strange relationship, I’d say.
We need each other, sort of, in the way
a sad, sadistic cop requires a good

(but rather stupid) buddy on the force
to buy Budweisers for him, post-divorce,
hear how he has wrecked his life. Ours would
make a fine, redemptive movie script,
down to the last, cheesy tortilla chip.

For now, a cone of pink chrysanthemums—
to match the dozen frosted donuts I
picked up from Dunkin’ for dessert—some
blocks back—before Zeus unzipped the sky—
will join our little shopping list. “How
much are these flowers?” I ask the fellow
sweeping up the petals, thorns and leaves
he has been pruning. “Not the roses—these,”
I point sharply at the mums again.
The chalkboard with the prices on it had
suffered like my patience from the mad
downpour. Slowly, a young Mexican
lifts five green fingers in front of his face—
his exhausted face. What a place

to hide such beauty. “Yes, I’ll take those, thanks,”
I mutter roughly, with embarrassment,
pulling out a wet ten with two yanks,
sending a quarter rolling down pavement
to gutter. Pirouetting on the drain,
it spins to rest, shining in the rain
atop a flattened cup—a blue pancake—
supporting crooked letters I can make
out to read, ‘Happy To Serve You.’
Exactly who is happy to be serving
whom lies beyond my powers of observing
because of how the cup is crushed. In lieu
of other parties with a claim to it,
I give green fingers a five dollar tip

and go retrieve my quarter from the cup,
before somebody else does. In this town,
some moments are too precious to give up.
A lucky coin can turn your life around
like that: ‘Fortune rota volvitur,’
rolling to the sewer your last quarter,
while on The Wheel of Fortune someone spins
above an orange pyramid. Who wins?
Who cares? I have my quarter and I’m glad.
The best ten dollars that were ever spent
by any man beneath the Firmament.
Do I exaggerate? Perhaps a tad.
But just a tad. That magic emerald hand
has turned The Wheel into a salsa band

by changing channels. How I love TV!
Think of all the money that we could
save on drugs and psychotherapy
if human hearts came with remotes! A mood
is altered just by tapping on your nose,
fine-tuned further peeling off damp clothes,
then fiddling a minute with a nipple.
A politician still might come to cripple
sex, now and then, and Monday night football
pre-empt some dreary real-life drama
with dancing linebackers, or a bomber
blowing up an airplane force us all
to interview a few shocked families.
But we could always turn off our TVs—

like that. Returning richer from the gutter,
I collect my donuts and cut flowers.
It seems the thunderstorm’s begun to splutter.
This I attribute to my quarter’s powers,
patting the faint circle on my thigh
embossed by my good luck. I decide
there is no point in waiting. I am wet.
I can’t get any wetter now. I bet
the guy who drives that bus is named Godot.
Assuming this, and better weather later,
we say goodbye to Jorge’s cramped bodega.
I need to meet Takaaki for a show—
War of the Worlds—at quarter after eight.
Taka-chan will shoot me if I’m late.

Originally published in The Raintown Review, Volume 9 Issue 2 (2011)

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.

Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress

There has been a lot of discussion in recent days of what it means to be a gay writer, probably because June is gay pride month. I suppose I tend to see the idea of a gay writer in two ways as it relates to me, sort of like a chameleon with two independently floating eyeballs connected to one brain—to one instinctual purpose. I can see (I hope to see) myself in one thousand years being pored over by a group of eager young scholars at the University of Olympus Mons on Mars. Each would be an immigrant, a muscular mix of Japanese, Ukranian and Nigerian origins. Each would be between the ages of 23 and 35.

Hi, Eric. We are here to discuss your epic poem, Takaaki. 66 sonnets, 924 lines. Can you tell us a little bit about Takaaki, the person, and how you came to write about him?

Sure. Takaaki is my boyfriend. Takaaki is a Japanese citizen. He is descended from samurai on his mother’s side. His father was (is) a kamikaze. Takaaki is a championship Scrabble player. He is a cook and an interior designer. He translated the Joy of Gay Sex into Japanese. He tells me to go to Hell whenever he feels that is necessary. It sometimes is. Takaaki makes me indescribably happy. A few years ago, he was forced to move back to Tokyo because his visa ran out and he couldn’t get a green card and we couldn’t get married. His departure nearly destroyed me. I suppose the poem sprang from that terrible moment of devastation—when I came home from work one night to an empty apartment. An empty life.

You knew he was leaving, didn’t you? You knew what was coming? He didn’t surprise you, did he?

No, no. Nothing like that occurred. We knew what was happening. Imagine watching a war slowly unfolding in the daily papers and looking up at your husband over coffee. How does one prepare to lose a loved one? We did our best to find some way for him to stay. The love we felt for each other was not sufficient legal justification for Uncle Sam. So, we resigned ourselves to being separated for an indefinite period: long commutes between Tokyo and New York once or twice a year, phone calls, birthday packages, cards, e-mail, letters.

Why didn’t you look for a job in Japan?

I did look for a job in Japan. I started studying Japanese. I ceased reading books in English. I stopped writing poetry altogether. I had to focus on what was truly important to me. Him. There was not one sacrifice I was unwilling to make for him. Even so, I couldn’t find a job in Japan.

How long did this go on? Didn’t you ever feel like giving up?

It is still going on. For a while, I tried to give up. I tried to be practical. First, I tried sex. It plugged a certain hole, but only temporarily. Soon, a great silence fell across the Pacific. I didn’t call Takaaki for months. I started dating again. But nothing ever worked out. I always wound up opening my wallet and rereading the note Takaaki placed under the plastic daikon grater he gave me (he is always giving me strange gifts) a few days before he left for Japan.

Do you mind if I ask you what that note said?

[With some hesitation.] Well, I can’t imagine it will mean very much to your readers, but if you think they might be curious, okay. His handwriting is much better than mine. [Reading aloud.] “Dear Maru-chan, Thank you for your hospitality. I shut the window because it looked like raining. I see you this weekend. Love, Takaaki.” How do you parse that, if you don’t know Takaaki?

I can’t. I don’t know Takaaki. Explain what that note means to you.

The strange mix of intimacy and formality makes me laugh. That phrase “it looked like raining” always goes right through my heart. Maru-chan is Takaaki’s nickname for me. Maru-chan is the smiling bald boy with a big red bowl and a big hungry smile who advertises a Japanese brand of miso. Takaaki thinks I look like this creature. [Rubbing the top of his head.] I think he might be right.

Love and war. Intimacy and formality. Joy and sadness. Japan and America. It sounds like you are describing a pair of slippers. How would you say these elements figure into Takaaki?

Would that be Takaaki the person or Takaaki the poem?

Good question. How do you distinguish the two in your mind?

Easy. [He hands him a book, a copy of Takaaki.] Imagine you are me. Imagine you had a choice. Which would you rather grab at a really scary movie? A book or a hand?

A hand. I would probably start the tearing pages out of a book. Any book. Even yours. Even The Bible. None would survive. Fingers are harder to pull off, I have noticed. But what does this say about art and life?

It says nothing new. Art takes us only so far. I was lonely. I wanted to recreate Takaaki in verse—to keep me company. We live, we love, we play games, we win, we lose—we scrub each other’s backs in the bath. I call the poem an epic, but it is really a Harlequin Romance. We make the best of life that we can. Art attempts to fill in the gaps. If art is anything, it is a beautiful failure. This is what I try to describe in the poem.

Do you think you succeeded?

[Smiling.] No. I set myself an impossible task. Takaaki is not here. The void is here. I come home to it every night. But I am learning to live with it. These days my apartment feels a little less empty, at least on the weekends.

Why? What happens then?

I call Takaaki in Tokyo every Sunday morning. We have made some decisions. Last Sunday, he proposed to me over the phone. We plan to get married the next time he is in New York City. [Cocking his head.] You know, if you are free, you should come to the wedding, too. [Cocking it further.] Bring your significant other. Bring your brother. Bring your father. Bring your mother. If you bring your own booze, you can bring every friend and relative you can think of. All will be welcome. Consider this interview your invitation.

I will be there. I can’t vouch for the rest.

Good. I will tell Takaaki that you are coming. I think you will really like Takaaki. When we are together, as we are in the book, you should hear us laugh.

The Camel

By Eric Norris


The love is in the writing, yes. It is
this pencil—architect of all my hopes.
I suck on my eraser, like a nipple.
The friction of the lead provides some heat.
The little squiggles which adorn my man-
uscript, swim wonderfully between the
lines, like freshly ejected sperm,
seeking, out of instinct, a nice, warm
place they can kick off their flippers,
crack a Michelob, exhausted, and unwind.
A mouth, a hand, some other place. Who knows?

Your last poem mentioned your career,
retiring from porn, continuing to appear
naked, reading poetry in California.
I was in college then, learning from my dad
sucking cock was probably something
a boy in Buffalo ought not to do.
Soon after dad discovered my diary,
I found myself searching for a butt one
night along the shoulder of a road
so dark it seemed to lead into a future
paved entirely in blackness, coal.

A scattering of stars, a slice of Moon,
the prick of a pink planet, Mars, I think,
took pity on me, like the passing cars.
Those headlights allowed me to pick out
a discarded pack of Camels which
concealed one cigarette and a puff of air.
How incredible that find! Yes, Moon
And Mars, Camel and cars, kept
me company that night. But the sparks
of a tossed Marlboro let me smoke
where I was going—a dim, orange glow.

I thanked the driver as he sped away,
truck dwindling to a pair of rubies. I
had no matches in my pocket—no-
thing useful, no money, no house keys:
A Latin book in my backpack, Ovid’s
Metamorphoses, toothbrush, clothes,

socks and soiled underwear. But
how lucky I felt then—no longer cold—
now that I could smoke. The poetry
we’d write together was so far away—
Farther than Mars, that truck driver, you

standing naked in L.A. And love,
while that Camel lasted, didn’t seem
a possibility all that remote.