Four Poems

 

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

 

BLESSING FOR TRAVELERS

Loose me and let me go so that I am
carried forth by terrible squalls, and taken
like this swarm of grocery bags is taken,
bounding across the blizzard like comets
against my whited vision. Let me be
liberated by winds like my neighbor’s horde,
this polyethylene flock, and sent headlong,
submerged in the viperine streams and tributaries
of the world, yet with the grace of evening swimmers
who stride through darkness, glistening, flip-turning
eternally in cerulean lanes
of the pool just below my window. And when
I am wrapped on a branch, or washed ashore,
grant me long stay and let me be whole forever.


 

ODE UPON A GREEK RESTAURANT WALL

After Philip Larkin

 

I pass a graying couple, him in a suit and her
in pearls, and I know that they’ve lived
through Death Wish New York.
I imagine how much this city has changed
around them—molded to their whims the way
white homesteaders have always altered the land.
I don’t care to ask them what it was like
because I don’t want to continue idolizing ruins.
I’ve never been to Greece—never even
as an excursion on a cruise, but once
I saw a mural that had been painted on
the wall of a Greek restaurant. The room
was filled with the smell of lamb, a tray
of baklavas posed behind a glass display,
and on the wall this artist, maybe a cousin,
maybe the owners themselves, had remade

Athens in America. Two mighty blues met
at the horizon, corralled by the steel of grays
that formed cliffs and crags, their shapes
informed by years of weather and erosion:
this is where our artist decided his sky would meet
the Aegean Sea, and where the Parthenon would perch
above the shore. My research tells me that
the Parthenon is over 170 kilometers from the Aegean,
and yet they touch upon this wall. I too prefer
to think of Greece before the Euro, unencumbered
by modern Athens’ buses and internet cafes
because I love to lie, and if I had the chance
I would travel to this Greece where the last remains
of the Acropolis can bathe in the Aegean Sea,
and all because it’s where our painter placed them.

 


 

THE VERY CONFUSING FIELD TRIP

Hope is but a greeting card, it occurs to me,
while in a cab barreling across the Triborough Bridge
and it might be important enough to get this maxim
tattooed on my neck in case I forget this simple truth
and lest ideas otherwise become more obtrusive,
more incessant, but these are just the ugly thoughts
to which I am chemically prone, when I’m feeling morbid—
those teenage fantasies of offing myself, hitched
and strangled by a loadbearing beam after the ten year
reunion with “Always and Forever” playing over and over
because I am a romantic with a capital R, and every time
I’m in a car crossing a bridge with a body of water
I have to fight the urge to seize the wheel
and steer us into the creek, which isn’t suicide but something
different altogether that I heard of previously in another car
during a November day when everything was supposed to change,
and it was unseasonably warm that day, so much so
that the sun baked the dashboard and steering wheel,
burning our hands in a sensation approximate to affection
and we were giddy with the mounting prospect of change,
which is when little Stephen piped up from the back and told us
he was afraid to go to the Grand Canyon because he didn’t think
he could stop himself from leaping, not because he wanted to die
but because it felt like the reason for such a tremendous height
to exist in the first place—why else might God preserve
such a ridge of rock on this late continent unless he wanted
people to use it, which tells me maybe that being eighteen
is actually better than living forever because it’s thinking
you’ll spend the rest of your life like a shuttle launch, ascending
miraculously while dumping the useless parts, but my cab
makes it across and I remain dry, for this trip at least.

I loathe Election Day and its conflagration of spurious forces.
I loathe chains that call their locations “bakery-cafes”
and “scoop shops.” I loathe the sustaining dread
of Gregorian chants in startling darkness as my ear
presses against the pillow and the sound of my own pulse
grows more intolerable, more obtrusive, more incessant
like a droning stump speech of a politician in early November.
We escaped Election Day to Xue Chen’s house where
We watched a DVD that included both Gremlins movies
and E.T., and we drank the strongest drinks we could.
All day the citizens of the Republic took to the polls
while their children became drunk and beautiful,
behaving indiscriminately in unsupervised houses,
carousing and naked with the confidence of Oliver Reed
because we were all Women in Love, but this cab
is in Queens and I am dry for another day. There is always
another November on the horizon, appearing like a Quizno’s
in the desert after days of dunes, each November more dreadful
than the last, making you feel that, after years of being prince
of the kingdom, they wheel out a guillotine at your coronation,
and when the blade comes down you will lament the agents
of change, unless they’re bringing you along for the ride.

 


 

DEVELOPMENT

Be true to your hometown
and your hometown will be true
to you. And should you stray,
so too will the tidy roofs
ensconced within the beltway,
all of the homes beneath them,
and the functionless fireplaces
therein. And all this to tell you
that I haven’t been thinking
of you at all. Instead, this morning
I was pondering shower stalls:
the white tile, the pouring
of water, and the acrylics
made to look like porcelain.
The practice still seems so Roman,
the way the stream pours over me,
then disappears while California
dreams of rain. Their meteorologists
point like mimes to invisible maps,
and isn’t building a city in the desert
a special kind of hubris? A Babylonian
exercise with the palm trees to match—
lovely weather and almost always
sunny and mid-seventies—it’s the sort
of place where they pluck you,
like Janet Leigh from a ski resort
then kill you in a bathroom.
Back in east Columbus, the signs
say “Watch this spot! Great things
are coming for Weinland Park!”
where all the houses have great bones,
and winding, vascular copper piping
behind what’s left of the drywall.
After a shower I always brush. I worked
bristles across my teeth and gums—
I counted the seconds before
moving to a new spot: an unincorporated swath
of enamel, the roof of the mouth, the base
of my tongue, and I spat it in the sink.

 

 

Christopher Blackman is a poet and educator from Columbus, Ohio. He received his MFA in poetry from Columbia University and his poems have been published in the Atlas Review and Typo Magazine. He has been an instructor at the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, and is the poetry editor of Impakter Magazine. He lives in New York.

 

 

Published on September 6, 2017.

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