archives winter 2008



Character Study

                 Benjamin Blood, the “outright crank . . . held that each letter of the alphabet has its own                  personality.”           
                                                —From New York Review of Books

Like any pinhead,
he plants his feet firmly apart
and thinks he’s invulnerable.
You could easily kick him in the balls
if he had any.

His arms folded together
across his chest say,
“No Intimacy Allowed.”

Roll her over on her side
and see if that helps.

She’s tried everything:
purgatives, sit-ups;
the water cure.

It’s not her fault.
Big, bulbous, bursting
and beautiful. Don’t forget that.

Think of her as beauty doubled.

Some folks think he’s a yawn,
but his friends appreciate
how he can hold his one note so long.
He went to Juilliard,
where his peers called him,
enviously, The Mouth.
If he couldn’t be part of some song,
he doesn’t know what he’d do.

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.
What do they want from me?

But even perfection won’t do:
how boring!

A circle is perfect, but I’ve got
a tough spine.
That’s the problem.

I prefer to meet my self half way.
Damned if I don’t.

A dead ringer for Western Man,
he’s all right angles and straight lines.
None of this curve-of-the-earth shit for him.

“If God had wanted me to flex,
He’d have made me like some of those
other letters, whose names will go
he says, jabbing his finger three times in the air.

No jokes, please.

Or at least be original:

“He’s just an E with a missing limb!”

“A quarter note without the note!”

Actually, I can be funny, formal,
even ineffable at times.

Far from that infamous foul word.

I could have been a complete zero
but at the last moment,
before connecting with myself,
bent inward to ask,
“Do I really want to do this,
close myself off, a safe zone
with no passage in or out,
a world unto myself?”
You know what I answered,
or I would not be here talking now.
I love my little window,
and the little ledge
on which I prop my elbows
and look out at the likes of you.

He’s balanced                steady
two uprights           with a strut
Open at both ends               he
refuses              to be boxed in
clasps his thin hands across his
chest and says             I stand
squarely           on my own two
feet          then bracing himself
asks        who needs their help

I love staying thin,
to be just a line
I can sign myself on,
giving away a life,
or I can walk it,
performing an act
high above the crowd.
It comes down to a
matter of passage:
to go through the eye
of a needle,
to slip into the
toughest locks.
And there is always
the old-time movie
I’m trapped in: at the
height of the chase I
turn sideways and
thousands of policemen,
of friends, of lovers,
race past me, thinking
I am only the sign
of a man.

I am an I with a bum foot
a bent nail that’s been battered
like a point driven home too often

of a superior race,
I can multi-task,
salute “Heil”
to my master
and goose-step
at the same time.

Here, at the edge of a wall,
I lean listening, lulled by voices—
soft, lascivious, as if afraid
of being heard—how they lure me,
these murmurings, unintelligible
betrayals that keep me huddled here,
ear pressed to the upright,
though now I kneel, not in reverence
but jealousy (a lousy way
to live) like some loony supplicant
always suspicious, stiff with fear:

O love, who might you be lying with now?

My head was once
higher than my shoulders,
but now it sags, hangs,
I’m hangdog.
Don’t ask me why.
It’s a long story.
It would bore you
till your head started to sag.

Z’s my cousin, twice removed.
H a tight-assed uncle no one likes.
M, V, W, the Perpendiculars
who married staunch Diagonals
whose offspring look like me,
all lines and angles neatly joined—
and great-great Grandfather N,
a hero in the Language Wars
who wore a sash across his chest
from shoulder to hip, ringing
with medals: noteworthy, noble,
unignorable. A national icon. Nice.

I’m one long exclamation.
This world deserves it.
O that was great honey
O the horror the horror.
Either way, I needn’t
change my appearance.
“O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag”
summed it, and me, up.
How far can words go?
Not far enough.  Say O.

Sack on a stick, he’s always
on the move, never satisfied,
plenty of reasons to abscond.

Property, for instance, a bond
he’d rather slip, debt a perennial
brake on pleasure.

Please don’t lecture him
about responsibility or duty.
One word, he’s out the door.

I can’t keep my tongue in my mouth.
I’m a hot, thirsty dog.
Pant, pant.
Or maybe it’s you
I’m panting after.
I know my tongue
is not attractive
but think of what it can do.
I’ve tried tucking it in
but I choke.
Think of it as a magic wand.
Think of it as a friend.
And the way it looks
maybe when I’m old
I’ll use it as a cane.

Fat man walking! 
He rolls as he rambles, rippling like a tent.
Restraint? He knows none. Reels right
then left, swag-bellied rake, redundant in his torso.
His little leg sticks out as if testing the ground,
then takes his weight as he wobbles forward,
resplendent as a walrus in his blubber.  

What kind of man
would look like
a cobra about to strike?
Only the softest, easiest,
to protect himself.
He practiced hissing
but the sound was mistaken
for a susurrus of leaves.

Wide-armed, cruciform, I welcome it all—
a level-headed lover of the world.

No matter that they scorn me,
that my hidden talents remain unknown.

There is room beneath these tortured wings
to shade them with a benediction.

Let them turn their backs on me, failing
To recognize my worth.

Their curse becomes my blessing,
my blessing their curse.

He prays, arms upraised,
all day long.  When it rains,
he looks like a fool
trying to collect water.

Imagine the pain
of that posture,
and silence as answer.
He’d give it up if his legs

hadn’t already withered away
from disuse and there weren’t
so much praying to do—
for you, and you, and you.

I’m just a letter, but sometimes I’m more.

I crop up after wars, announcing peace.

When war begins, I protest for peace.

I make a rabbit of you in your photos.

I obtain a table for you and your date.

Turn me upside down, I’m a man walking.

A symbol, an icon, larger than life.

Up and down and up and down.
His mood swings compete
with a stock market graph.
He’d like to be steady, uphill,
a slow, inexorable ascent.
But he wobbles, wavers.
He’s one with the weather,
for better or worse.

Count me out.

Ballet virtuoso, she’s extended
her second leg so perfectly
behind her, you can’t see it.
As the symmetry of her arms
completes the arabesque,
she wishes Balanchine
were alive to savor it.

She’s a little disciplinarian.
She’s a little cold of heart.
She’s all technique
and playing to the mirror.
How can a royal entertainment
live in a democracy?  She’s why.

You think I’m a big snore,
that a line of me could put you to sleep?
How did that make you feel?
Like a bright blade bearing down.
Here come the locusts: getting drowsy?
Don’t think I’m zip because I’m last.
You’d have to be a chump. A real zero.


Benjamin Blood (1832-1919)—farmer, inventor, pugilist, journalist, poet, and philosopher—lived in Amsterdam, New York, carrying on a wide correspondence with such luminaries as Grover Cleveland, Oliver Wendel Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and William James. James was deeply beholden to Blood, and his final publication was a tribute, “A Pluralistic Mystic” (1910), in which he reaffirmed Blood's view that “philosophy must pass from words, that reproduce but ancient elements, to life itself, that gives the integrally new.” James's interest was initially aroused by The Anaesthetic Revelation (1874), in which Blood proposed to dispel the trance of philosophical monism by recourse to nitrous oxide. James—“loaded to the muzzle with chloroform in the hope of expressing the anaesthetic revelation” (observed Blood)—discovered that language disintegrated under the weight of so much clarity; and the closest he could come to articulating the event was: “There are no differences but differences of degree between different degrees of difference and no difference.”

—Steve McCaffery & Jed Rasula, from Imagining Language: An Anthology. Ed. J. Rasula and S. McCaffery. Cambridge: The MIT P, 1998.  


Kurt Brown founded the Aspen Writers’ Conference and Writers’ Conferences and Centers (a national association of directors). His poems have appeared in many literary periodicals, and he is the editor of several anthologies, including Blues for Bill, for the late William Matthews, from University of Akron Press and his newest (with Harold Schechter), Conversation Pieces: Poems that Talk to Other Poems from Alfred A Knopf, Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series. He is the author of six chapbooks and five full-length collections of poetry, including Fables from the Ark (Custom Words, 2004), and Future Ship (2007) and No Other Paradise (2008), both from Red Hen Press. A collection of poems of Flemish poet Herman de Coninck titled The Plural of Happiness, which he and his wife translated, was released in the Field Translation Series in 2006. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York.

Philip Dacey is the author of nine full-length books of poems, including studies of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Eakins as well as, most recently, The New York Postcard Sonnets: A Midwesterner Moves to Manhattan (Rain Mountain Press, 2007). The latest of a dozen chapbooks is Three Shades of Green: Poems of Fatherhood (Snark, 2006).  He has been awarded three Pushcart Prizes, a Discovery Award from the New York YM-YWHA’s Poetry Center, and many fellowships, including a Fulbright to Yugoslavia and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has published widely in periodicals and anthologies since 1967. He co-edited with David Jauss Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms (Harper & Row, 1986).  He was distinguished Poet-in-Residence at Wichita State University (1985) andDistinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Idado (1999), and he taught for many years in the Minnesota state university system. He currently lives in Manhattan.