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A map of the inner landscape

You might be surprised how often I masturbate
to an image of a woman’s face, a woman who looks
at me looking at her face, we are joined
in our awareness of her beauty, she is dressed
in my head and I am also and also surprised
I can’t describe her to you, some privacies
are so deep, even I’m not allowed to see
what my brain looks like for sure, but if I think
of her while making love, while having sex, while
fucking my wife (the language really is
horrible: while having fuck make sex love?), this
ur-faced woman who has no face I can describe, I go soft
as any soft thing you might bring to mind,
here is a space in which to do that _____________________,
more than enough room to think or see cloud, think
or see mink stole, I go soft as the fur
of a dead animal if I try to see this unreal
woman while touching the real woman I’ve not
told any of this until now

Andrea Cohen, you’re a good egg

Here’s how I suggest we handle your break-up—
come and help me decide which half inch router bits
to buy on-line and I’ll make a beautiful box
for you to stand on and cry at your new height
of eight feet two inches tall
We can also steal an axe together, a shovel
and an axe and bury the axe
in front of the tallest cedar to prove
the cedar is loved, we can’t prove this
to each other but we can prove it to trees 

Come and bite the top rail of the fence
beside the river with me, our teeth marks
will live with the teeth marks of horses
long after you’ve gone home to Boston
and fallen big-time for a wire-walker
any day now, is my sense of what’s out there
for you vis-a-vis the circus, a woman
who can hop over herself and land on the thinnest
slice of something between two nothings,
and kisses like she’s never given thought
to a net

I have a spare room and bathroom and spoon
and air, spare crows and fog and there’s even
a pipe that rises from the ground
for unknown reasons that we can stare at
and wonder how the universe works or attack
with a hacksaw or drop pebbles into
and listen for the end of time,
we can walk up a mountain so you can miss her
from a mountain, we can throw oatmeal
at walls so you can miss her
being irresponsible with food, the sky’s the limit
I think of the sky and the limit
of your pain’s your pain, bring it with you
and we’ll buy it tacos and get it drunk,
a century or two from now, none of this
will have happened, we’ll see each other
in Seville, sit down at a table, order two espressos
and wait for the first sparrow to pass
and name her Francesca because she looks
in her leaving like a Francesca and everything
deserves a name


My favorite poem’s the Constitution
translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese,
all the languages of New York, all the world
is here buying a slice, we’re busy
being hot and hungry in July, I stink gringo
next to a woman stinking latina, we hold
these truths to be self-evident, we all
have sweat glands, all have the kites
of spirits flying invisible from our heads
and are endowed by our creator to be mutts, my wife’s
a Mexican Jew Swede, my dick travels the world
inside her, bring us your huddled yearning
and we’ll fuck it, we’ll love it into our beds,
into our names, open your crotch, open the borders,
open the cooler and stand with me
adoring the chill profusion, the land of plenty
needs plenty of new blood, America’s an idea
as delicate as a fist
trying to be a hummingbird, as impossible
as juggling your ego, your bank account,
your fear, we’re all visitors, all water
wearing pants, all bound to return
to the stars we were in the beginning,
when whatever you are now
you were burning, you were light


Once less into the breach

I carry him a mile, he carries me a silence.
We help each other with robotic claws and boxes
of fog as often as we can, just because
we were picked for the same side in dodge ball
forty years ago. A game intent on preparing children
for the firing squad should never have been central
to pedagogy, but at least it brought us together.
If you argue it’s good training for life, so
is starvation and gelding but those classes
were optional. Gym, everyone had to take gym
and almost everyone looked silly
in their anemic legs wearing shorts and ducking
from a red ball that pinged when it hit the wall. The ping
I liked, it made me think of sonar and sonar
reminded me of bats and bats are cool
in their leather jackets of night. The only time
I felt cool was the thirty second time
I smoked. I’d finally worked out the angle
of the cigarette and the angle of my lean
and was young enough to look good wearing gravity.
Those were the good old seconds. They keep
making movies in which people go back
and fix their youth, go back and punch the bully
with a cadaver or kiss the homecoming float
or adopt an air of being Xerxes in shop class
but I don’t buy it. I’d go back and learn
how to slide whistle with my fingers, how to fold
a ski mask so I look my best for the robbery,
how to embrace the wind without bruising
her delicate shoulders, if you’re talking
about the kind of skills that scream Winner
on a résumé.

Prayer of the agnostic

Lord, thank you
for my doubt you exist and my certainty
I’m being watched by eyes of clouds and eyes
of doorknobs when I dream or masturbate,
when I insist upon harmony or recoil
from accord with a hammer against the knees
of my neighbor, with nails in my throat
as I run up the mountain to lean my breath
against the possibility that you dwell
within the disguise of air. Wondering
if you’re there has made it more interesting
to be stoned, more challenging
to find “God damn it” transgressive,
and the time I rode my bike in church,
I thought of you every lap—would you
spank me if you were real or climb on
and rip a bigassed “whee,” like any deity
I’d want to have a catch with would.
Thank you for letting me get away with that
when I was eleven and curious about
where all sorts of things fit in, such as myself
and particularly that part of myself
that sometimes resembles a rudder
and most often looks sleepy and useless,
thank you for yo-yos while I’m at it,
and fog, and my wife, my wife,
who is not fog and believes in you
without question, whereas I wonder
if I could believe in question without you.
If you’re there, you’re busy, if you’re not,
where is the there you’re not, and is that
the non-place I’m headed, a pondering
only you can answer and you’re one mute
mother-fucker, I say that with affection,
being something of an amateur hermit
myself. And here’s the deal: someone
or something needs to be thanked
for the cornucopia, it might as well be you,
you who are everything or just a syllable,
who are life or an utterance we need for the will
to make it out the door. Thanks for stars
and making us from what was left of stars
when they retired from light, thanks
for the garage band of crickets and the big band
of waves proffering their endless hallelujahs,
I’m a fan of your work, honestly everything
you’ve done or not done, from tapioca
to suicide, gravity to gravitas. Even the sharks
in the womb who eat other sharks in the womb,
they’re part of the story I’m told by sunrise,
told by tides of nucleotides and the atom-smashing
of kids playing with their buckets in sand,
this has been, as they say, a hoot, a wonder,
a pain in the ass, thanks for the chance
to be the form of life, the loudspeaker
that puts it all into words and whirls them
possibly reverently back to you possibly
listening, probably not.


The first use of the word surrealist,
with or without shrapnel in the head,
was by Appolinaire in the intro to his play,
“The Teats of Tiresias.” I’ve been reading
French poetry and about French poetry
while pooping, otherwise it’s not very worldly
to be on the toilet and I can’t build
a cathedral or hunt wild boar at the same time.
With or without surrealism in the head,
I like his poems and the attempt
to remove the shrapnel killed him,
not the shrapnel in 1918, on Armistice Day
of flu. He was trepanned and wrote so
in poems matter-of-factly, I would not
like having my head drilled into or dying
on Armistice Day and “Le Petite Auto”
is my favorite war poem of all time, so far
as I have known time and though time
does not address me as Bob or Robot Boy
of the Caucasus. In the poem, stuff happens,
this isn’t a book report, if you’re curious, read it,
in time, I might come to agree
that the translations in the Auster
are lacking, for now, they have the virtue
of being in my hand and my brain
without its shrapnel making me love you
Ron Padgett and James Wright for taking the time
to tell one language what another language
is saying. All art is translation
when you think about it, think about it
beside me in summer laze-gazing
up the skirt of a maple tree
so we can smile when we’re a day older
and remember being happy in the loose
but determined grip of air, in that a word
becomes a breath or a blue sky
becomes a minor chord
with or without war and teats, human mothers
have two, nothing like the wealth of dogs
and cats and possum with their rows
of possible suckling to keep the world
as we know it well fed and alive.  


Bob Hicok’s latest book is Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon, 2013). This Clumsy Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007) was awarded the 2008 Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress and published in a German translation by Luxbooks in 2013. A recipient of six Pushcart Prizes, a Guggenheim, and two NEA Fellowships, his poetry has been selected for inclusion in eight volumes of Best American Poetry.