you are in the diode archives fall 2010



A diary of like

   a shape

like watching the strong man nibble an apple core
down to a polite history of his teeth: that

is half a simile: as in bed, alone, you wait
for shudder to be applied to your skin: then a body

comes down from the mountain, made entirely of light,
and drinks the river, you included, you most of all

   a kiss

like coming down, into: a pool, light: or wearing
a shirt of blood, still wet but holding form, yours,

a lover’s: not from wound but gift, as when a thing
is said to a candle and the candle bends away

from listening but listens: lithe: the flame all ears,
mostly ears, fifty percent ears, the rest, a mirror

for slitting the throat open to a shadow
taken out, planted: call it word: call it seed: call it

in the air: heads, tails: and there, in that moment
of open mouth, i meet your tongue as a place to live

   a history of a sound

like the shadow of a bell
ringing: as when “whoa” is whispered

above a riderless horse, who stops
among the morning thoughts of birds

where there is no bucket beside the well
but a spoon: like to jump is the only way

to drink: to tie water to the lost
end of the bell’s rope: umbilicus to the hand

that thrives where there is no bell
but behaves as if there were: pulling:

and the arm of the hand: pulling: the shoulder
of the arm: the spirit of it all: pulling:

and the pulling pulling back: where the appetites
of pathos and ecstasy breed: where ringing

is listening: where listening is the shadow
of the unspoken word

   dear borders

like feeling i’m the enaction of a waterfall by my tongue
upon your body, as when a boat is brought to the edge

of exile and a hand extends to a hand or a tree
beseeches with its shadeshawl: however born,

there is reaching, we agree the wind smelled of copper
one day, a passport the next: like how to escape

my brain’s slum of words, the ghetto of the said,
while adoring there the rocks, the teacups,

if half of me is a Molotov cocktail and half
the infection of lost and half a genuflection

to breath: like wondering if this extra half
is a country mapped with invisible ink:

like how windows ask to come along with the going
and preside over the staying, and i look at them

with all the love, all the shatter i can muster:
shards cutting me when i try to put the sky,

the distance back together: boredom cutting me
deeper when i don’t


like searching for a man in a burning house and finding
a piano as echo flees: a whetstone still warm

from the blade: sheets pressed with brainfolds
of sleep: a whisper from the bathroom

of running water: but no body: and you carry
these things to safety that are not the man: the piano

in your arms, running water in your mouth, the vespers
of sleep, the knife, so like a wing, like flight:

and say of him, that was me, to the ashes, the char:
and sift the memory of flames for their sorrow,

holding smoke to the mirror interested only
in solid dreams: like it will finally see

what isn’t there and give it your face, this presence
of absence you have tried and tried not to be

   in absentia

like you’ve taken the sleeves of my blood shirt
with you to Seattle and sleep with them

around your waist in sight of a mountain,
leaving the forlorn ghost of my tors

its one pocket: like what there is to hold
is small and breast-pocket-shaped only: when fog

is everything shaped and i’ve told the willows
to start without you: like a bomb may be hidden

in the road-side deer corpse when i notice
i’m thinking of crocuses as stabbings of beauty

because my eyes are in someone else’s head:
who wonders where his eyes have gone

and why suddenly the taste of yellow is all
he dreams of: like being out of place is where

we keep how we feel: like someone
comes looking for every last drop of sweat, every

last drop of kiss but finds tracks of beasts
inside tracks of larger beasts, until they’re following

the path of the universe walking away from itself,
to arrive where it is not, until where it is not

is where it is: like the word “home” wins the pageant,
wears the tiara, waves and waves as practiced

before a mirror: like reflection itself is being told,

   closing arguments

like my penis was becoming a vagina until manly
hormones swept into blood: the folds i carry in what

is not a fold: wept into blood: openings secreted
in closed: the seemingness

of the river after three inches of rain:
like the storm had lamented a river

into the river: a thing to say
to make the point of bounty, churn: an errant calf

muscled away: the point of death: like endless
liquid biceps traveling south, flexing to rejoin

the all: a thing to say to make the point
of inside, where language smashly or tip-toely

goes: like every word is a skirt
wind lifts, wind settles upon line or thigh:

whereas a yo-yo is so much itself
it astounds our breaths, shines our hums away:

and what did we do to make our yo-yos
spin/sit at the bottom of the stroke: walk the dog:

when there was no dog involved: and i don’t love you
to death: like a man is the interruption

of a woman: a woman a man
who could have been: like if i told you

all i had to tell, i’d still be trying
to nail my tongue to some leaf, some bristle:

like we are the hole that grows in poor, unmendable
nothing: we blind needles: we unmoored threads
re: incarnation

To you who say you’ve been here before, I say
I’ve not been here yet, I say
I’ll be here soon, I say
what a mess you’ve made.

Next time, come back as an apology
or broom.

Next time, bring enough doughnuts
for everyone.

I would ask if there’s a next time
to be the phrase, life is brutish and short.

I would have a child who is the phrase, life is supple
and vibratory.

She would have a child
who is the clamor behind a waterfall, twin of the child
who is the ruckus in front of a waterfall, sisters
to the child who is the screaming of the sun
against the dark.

The first atom bomb came back
as whispers, fallen eyelashes, dew.

Sometimes I hope I’m shiting out
Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot.

In those moments, I wished Americans believed
in bidets.

If Americans came back as Europeans, we would believe
in bidets.

And the carrier pigeon would come back
as the carrier pigeon, only this time,
it wouldn’t be the fashion to shoot them.

It would be the fashion to say look, the carrier pigeons
are back.

Everyone would turn and wait for the buffalo.

Everyone would turn and wait for us
to honor our treaties with the Indians.

And while everyone was turned, all the interesting stuff
would happen up ahead: the bumper car
would come back as making love.

Advice as minding your own business.

Slivers as trees under skin.

And there God would be
trying on all the slippers, hoping one pair
fit, hoping one pair got him from the ball
to happily ever after.

As if.

As if.



Turning a window-crank, the handle comes off
in my hand. In that moment, I am of two minds:
the moon is a better painter of houses
than I will ever be, I should like a small arm
to grow from my cheek. Through the closed window,
I can’t hear how the valley sounds or feel
how it breathes or know if cows are singing
quietly across the river. It’s always
a capella with them. I suspect the handle
wants to go with me to London and Amsterdam
and Paris, to come back and tell the window
everything it’s seen. The window will think
the handle worldly, the handle will miss
the Red Light District of Amsterdam, this is one
possible future of all possible futures,
as is putting the handle back the way life
could go. Amid this uncertainty, I wonder
if I’d slip a small sleeve on the small arm
to keep it warm. Sometimes when I break things,
I’m sure this is normal, that unbroken
is the strange state, the odd condition
we sometimes find ourselves in. Everything turning
we want to turn, everything glowing
we expect to emulate the sun. But are the cows
singing? What good is a poem
that doesn’t answer that question?
Singing to the grass and of the grass,
for the grass and through the grass,
as the grass and with the grass. Could that be
my philosophy and I’ve not recognized it
until now? On the threshold of heaven,
I’d wonder if the cows and the grass singing
get to come with us.
And if they do, the flies have to come.
And if they do, the mosquitoes have to come.
And if they do, the night sweats
have to come, the plane crashes
have to come, the little black boxes
and the big black boxes, and I will pretend
to wipe my feet on the threshold of heaven,
but I won’t. Not of this, not of any of this.


Things I’m telling so you’ll know the things I’m telling you

Lend me your ears. With your ears and my ears,
I’ll have one ear per wind, per Horseman
of the Apocalypse, I’ll hear the end coming
whichever way it comes. Lend me your lookouts
and forts, your ease among crowds. As collateral,
I offer acres of moonlight, pounds
of moonlight, footpounds of torque
of moonlight to tighten the bolts
of your grass. I’ve closed my eyes
and am thinking I’m somewhere else, somewhere
my closed eyes are not, somewhere
even the thinking behind my closed eyes
is not, I am a secret I don’t know
to tell myself. Lend me the secret you are
that you don’t know to tell yourself,
I’ll add both secrets to the pebbles
in my mouth, they’ll be safe and portable
as whispers. I’ve always wanted
a team of secrets to justify the stadium
I’ve built to give purpose
to the cheerleaders I’ve acquired to fill out
the tiny uniforms I was given
years and years ago for Christmas,
as if my parents knew I believed in rah
and sis-boom-bah. Chrissy, the head cheerleader,
in every cheery interview she gives
with her cleavage, with her klieg-light smile,
says someone has to cheer for the unknown.
Lend me the feeling that your hands
are oars in search of a boat, I’ll lend you
the conviction my chest is a spinnaker
devoted to the acquisition of a breeze.
All we’ll need then is someone born
to be a rudder, someone destined
to be a sea-chantey, someone who knows
where the life-jackets are, which reminds me:
why no life-pants, life-socks, life-knickers
and jumpers and tuxedos and skirlots,
why no life-culottes, which tell me again
what they are.


From the overly sensitive to the overly sensitive

This stone hurt my feelings.
I got a jack-hammer and hurt it
into a thousand pieces but the jack-hammer
hurt my hands. I see grass getting along

well with wind, I ask it
what’s your secret, this is where
not taking a foreign language in school
leaves me in the lurch, in the larch
on day’s I climb a larch. Those

are few and far between, both the trees
and my grasping of the many handles
trees offer us in the spirit
of shade. Higher and higher
I go, wearing a green breath
along the way, until at the top,
there’s the difficult question, what

next, and often some kind of bird
going by that seems to be answering
a completely different question, the one
the previous person in the previous tree
had asked, and in this way, the world

is talking forward to itself, or the part
of the world with splinters
in its hands, that is thinking,
jump, thinking, poor tree,
that never gets to climb a tree.


el uh gee

A house is never so empty as when the trail
of spoons leading from the fire
in the living room to the waterfall
in the bedroom is broken, and just like that,
I’m stranded, not knowing
which way to turn or if turning
is prophecy or if the mountain
behaves green or is green, the dog
who would have answered these questions
years dead, my wife

in the garden, her left glove buried
to discover if a hand has wished
in the darkness of the finger holes
to be born of it, like don’t you expect a body
in the pile of your clothes
on the cold floor come morning, some you
with broader shoulders, perspective, this rising
surrounding her in the garden
she can’t decide is weed or flower
so she pulls every other one, the window
through which I look at her
a wall, the word elegy circled below

where I’ve written I am a harvest
of phantom limbs and speculative
is to speculum on an envelope, never finishing
the thoughts, the dishes, the wiring
from me to you, tongues of I guess, I want, I hope,
and how will that story end: dead mouse?
sunflower? since of course there’s the push
for the definitive, as when I open a book
to this phrase, Was there really no alternative
to cannibalism? which when I ask the mirror,
the meal of me, the answer comes back the color
of my eyes: no


The narrative of an image

An image floats wherever images reside
of a wedding dress spread on a green hill.
Other images are aware of the dress:
the woman who put it there, the farmer
who mows politely around its border,
until I believe the dress
rises through the summer of my feelings
on the grass that grows beneath it.
The grass grows and lifts the dress,
it casts a shadow, there are two dresses
now on the hill, a sense of time
in the projection of lace. The bride
who comes for the dress dreams actually
of wearing the field, but this child
of the field will have to do.
I see now it’s not a wedding dress
at all, she’s not a bride, I’ve wanted
to be a bird so long or wind
that I mistake the shape of my wishes
for a story my mind tells itself
in the belief a denouement will be reached
some might call the beginning
of a beautiful life. I’d phone Rothko
if I knew his number dead and ask
for a field of green
dreamed by a beckoning of white,
since imagination is the only beauty
that never lies. Once more, I’m at an end
that doesn’t feel like an end, as every piano
I don’t own could be anywhere
going on about the version of life
two hands hold true, uncertainty removed
in the touching of felt to metal,
only to return, once echo tires of saying,
I told you so.


In a battle between ethicists and travel agents,
            I’d take the travel agents

Another article about Venice drowning.
I have four of them together
with my memories of the Bridge of Sighs
being photographed to death. The day we walked
from torture in the doge’s place to Miro
in Peggy Guggenheim’s house was Tuesday without a sign
of rain, of rats like the night before.
I could see Islam in the ogee arches
across the canal from where she lived
in the 50s with Miro and Chagall, arches
that suggested the Mamluks, suggested nations
trying to kill each other now had gotten along
in the past, in opulence over tea, as everyone
who gets along in a polite society must eventually
come up for tea. We got lost after Peggy Guggeneheim’s
life with Miro, Chagall, Braque, Picasso,
if those walls could speak they’d have lips
and in Venice when you get lost you’re never
lost: there’s always water and water is a map
of itself. Have you ever looked at a glass
of water and wondered, how will you get home?
All white-coated lab assistants who drop mice
into mazes should be dropped
into Venice and feel they’re being watched
from above without kindness but full-on
Skinnerian reinforcement, whatever that means.
In our lost-but-not-lostness, we were passed
by tuxedos on their way to Verdi, laughing tuxedos
and susserating dresses on their way to Verdi
and followed without a bow tie, without wind
in a bustle, followed and arrived at Verdi
and stood a minute outside Verdi as denim
among the silk. Then moon. Moon on water
and equally rats, such good swimmers, the moon
and rats and gondolas and Venice
swims best of all. Then the sinking feeling
we had to leave by boat to leave by train
and would never pay fourteen hundred dollars
again for a crappy gelato I believe
was made entirely of human sweat, the hard work
of getting anything into this city, like an orange,
like a refrigerator, like privacy. The next day,
we were two of eighty thousand who left
and negative two of eighty thousand who arrived.
Venice is sinking in people not from Venice
and everyone should go to Venice before everyone
going to Venice destroys Venice. O radiant
consciousness of the locust: I feel myself
emptying every field of field and wanting
nights again of walking through what feels
like the mind if the mind is three parts
shadow one part water lapping against the end
of shadow.  


Bob Hicok’s most recent book is Words for Empty and Words for Full (Pitt Poetry Series). His other books include This Clumsy Living (Pittsburgh, 2007) Insomnia Diary (2004), Animal Soul (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Plus Shipping (1998), and The Legend of Light (1995), which won the 1995 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was named a 1997 ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, and The American Poetry Review, and have been included in five volumes of The Best American Poetry. Awarded an NEA Fellowship in 1999, his work has also been reprinted in the Pushcart Anthology. A selection of poems from This Clumsy Living was among a group of poems awarded the Jerome J. Shestack Prize for the best poems published in American Poetry Review. He is currently associate professor of creative writing at Virginia Tech.