Five Poems

 

This is part of our special feature on Tourism: People, Places & Mobilities.

 

Thinking of Pussy Riot

As the fishermen strangle cod
out on the wet docks our refrigerator arrives
and today is a warm sleeved gust
passing through the afternoon
a somnolent incident of pleasure
and I am standing naked in the middle of the room
waiting for the sound of airplanes to descend
in accordance with my panic
and I remember one day making mud-balls
and throwing them at 20-year-olds
who signed up to spend the summer
making minimum wage
in the company of verbose children
whose fathers and mothers could barely understand
what to do with a free day, so we all
gathered sticks and drank juice in the shade
fighting off cobwebs in garages, the smell
of dried lacquer in cans left topless
throughout winter, the disgathering textures
stigmata on the walls of Victorians
and it is the middle of February hardly
as I remembered it
mornings on the floor dreaming up
the taste of aluminum and wondering
if I would capsize in the flood of what
they call progress, how soon it would come
and how difficult it would be to force
open the painted-shut window
and fuss around in the weeds
for the James Baldwin book my lover tossed there
one angry night as it snowed

/

February is usually a dull note
like a plaza full of pigeons
when you have a hangover,
all of them placidly searching
each other’s feathers for idiot clues
towards survival
and I am thinking of one day in Spain
when I stood jet-lagged on some tile
looking at a series of mannequins wearing neon shirts
my mother found disgusting
and perhaps this style of memory is the insurance
that I make without consulting anyone,
the black ice of my boredom,
the loathing that circles
obliviously and dire like a 360-degree tiger
encased behind thick windows
in the San Diego Zoo, fighting off
every incident of eye contact
and in all honesty I don’t know how
to question this because I stay awake
to make piles of precaution as the springs
commiserate with old clothes
and again in the company of verbose children
whose mothers and fathers barely comprehend
the concurrence of theory and action
I feel a pin drop in my safety

/

It was never like in the movies
when boys passed by the house
with the Ace of Spades clothes-pinned
to their bicycle tires and we all one by one
followed them to the pool
each taking a turn pretending to drop dead
like pheasants stoned out of the sky
It was more like I woke up,
put on a similar shirt and headed out
for a hamburger, driving if it rained
and asking no one for directions
if I had a whim to explore
because I only explored once,
after hitting my sister in the face with a magazine,
leaping out of the car in traffic
and running through the lanes right through
the Cal Tech campus
and wept among the rose bushes that screamed for water
and nodded at none of the men
who passed by holding briefcases,
serious as seersucker lunchtime,
carrying their tenure
home with them to the wet cardboard
architecture of private life

/

Today on February the Twentieth I wonder
if I will ever see Russia
where it remains so important to look severe
while riding public transportation
because soon you could find yourself
sewing for the rest of your life,
shitting in the same hole as forty-five thousand others
who take turns wishing you harm
but as you know I am a million
miles away from that and the smallest plaza in Spain
which I’m sure bears the marks
of my eternal return, so narrative
with its loiterings, so anti- the underwater
excursions of septic tank advisers
in outer towns of Idaho that it’s nearly
impossible to empathize with any of the beauty
flourishing adjacent to the almost
musical power of inertia,
and that here and there, always,
there will be many people who are long dead
but doing quite well

 


 

You May Have to Go Somewhere You’re Not Welcome

This is what it is like to sleep
outside a barn with a liquor headache,
children tossing chicken bones and broken plates
around a shrine of half-buried dolls,
to wake heartsick to this breeze
as exotic as a region of drought
where dead birches and wind chimes
litter sunlit roads, termite-eaten porches
with circular stains of tobacco
spat for years by grandfathers
in the leisure that America aged out of style,
buzzed and unemployed on a yellowing
median of grass, your uncles staring at you
with plain suspicion as you suck down
mason jars of water, doubting that you portray
the bloodstream that the family carries
straight down into a small patch of graves,
you arrive there and drink and nap
in dirt, wearing clothes that New York City
soiled the last night you spent there,
a painter forking her way through the crowd
to streak some blood-orange
down the front of your shirt,
you wake crowded by children
who introduce themselves by first names only
and without knowing who they are
you know at least one was born
to your father’s stodgy sister, who spent seven years
of her youth indoors, had three abortions
and you only know through pictures
the spectral transposition of faces,
hers and yours and your father’s, framed
like bottomless wells on a cabin wall,
you’re sitting up in soft clay like a thick weed
where neighbors and neighbors appear
from the woods, holding teapots and platters
with their shirts tucked in,
maybe their facial contortions
are smiles your mind hallucinates
working harder to perceive
the conjugations of the dark,
like bolting awake in your tiny West Side room
stoned on three too many antihistamines
and confronting an aloe plant
stretched to the size of a totem pole,
its face dancing in form like flame,
maybe the same stasis holds you together
wherever you go, whomever you meet,
no matter how disparate and intimate it feels
when someone’s humor passes
an empty, cold shadow across your body
like those who bear shrapnel in their bones,
who have seen their brothers lose limbs
to the buzz saw and the pressure hose,
who drink carcinogenic water and bathe in it
and bathe their babies in it,
you roll over in the mud, standing amongst toddlers
wearing only their parents’ old t-shirts,
you stand up in the mucus
of your father’s absence,
or whatever it was that drew you here
deep within witchy orchards,
crowned prince of scaffolding,
of days stepping on days.

 


 

Put on My Knees at the Battle of the Bulge

“Literature will lose, sunlight will win, don’t worry.”
—Franz Wright

 

I was captured
beyond a Panzer hamlet
and held inside the meathouse
of a Hungarian village. They demanded
why I thought it was okay
to be American, a Russian Jew,
a stump in the ash-forest of other bodies
sculpted with Apollo’s Belts.

Ramrod, whiplashed hours
dominant as the devil himself.
I always had a cache of breakdowns
waiting for their wolfish bells to ring.
The hay warmed with a sunrise
that eclipsed the dimness
of the room.

I spat into the small gas flame of their breakfast:

I am a ghost of yours you’ve been too busy to see

I will be thin as snow, as urgent as rain with my necklace of blood

Watch my skin pile up in your hair

It will fall from a height my void deserves

 


 

The Cold Stoves of Treason

A Judas-Brutus slapping himself across the face

a bowling shoe in each hand

a sole for each cheek

he nails rugs to the walls

runs headfirst into them

and in the phosphorescent plaza

beyond the windows of his screams

a little pest is stammering in a Cub Scout’s stomach

trying to climb his vertebrae

to pick the white flags off his throat

 


 

The Woods

“Happy birthday, Lieutenant,” Pfc. Davis said,

and another round landed.

Buzzards watched them
like a basketball game
in a prison yard.

The 17-year-old
passed some dip
and a Polaroid of his girlfriend

sipping a milkshake
in Des Moines
on a maple’s dead hem.

Squirrels whirred around the siesta
of the ammunition boxes.

Corporal Thomas woke to a dog’s hot breath.

Lieutenant was pissing,
holding the girl’s

picture with his right hand,
farsighted,
at hip level.

 

 

Michael Juliani is a poet, editor, and journalist from Pasadena, California. His work has appeared in outlets such as BOMB, The Adirondack Review, the Los Angeles Times, The Conversant, Truthdig, Blindfold, and the Huffington Post. The editor of three books by the filmmaker and photographer Harun Mehmedinovic, he earned a BA in Print & Digital Journalism from the University of Southern California and an MFA in poetry from Columbia University. He lives in New York City.

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