Friday, April 27, 2012

Charon's Complaint

Let’s look at today’s numbers: 155
thousand across, out of a potential
6 billion customers. Plus one roundtrip.
That’s you. That’s pocket change,
proportionally speaking. See,
business isn’t what it used to be.
Nothing compared to what
I used to earn back in the good old days
of smallpox, plague, diphtheria,
puerperal fever, septicemia—when
spears and swords were all the rage.
The Bronze Age. Homer was quite kind to me.
His doctors never washed their hands,
or bloody instruments, but moved
from gut wound to gut wound like the Fates,
up to their elbows in intestines,
endlessly stitching things
shut. A hush surrounded death
back then. Customs were respected.
A coin deposited beneath
the tongue, or two coins covering the eyes,
these little gestures meant something. That’s
how Alexander came to me, and Caesar, and
countless others I could name.
I never forget a courteous face.
These were the decencies the family
attempted to observe even if
no money could be found. For me,
the thought always counts. I’m not greedy.
I’m not unsympathetic. But
I do have a staff to support. Liability
insurance. Lawyers. Poets
and children under twelve pay half.
Pregnant women and infants
ride free. They always will. But
at least Homer and friends made
the effort. You expect charity. Look.
Don’t take my hand. Just look
at these hideous blisters. See.
I worked my fingers to the bone
during the twentieth century:
The Somme, Verdun, Passchendaele,
The Influenza Epidemic,
Invasion of Manchuria,
Guernica, Nanking, The Blitz,
Buchenwald, Dresden, D-Day,
Hiroshima, Korea, the killing fields
of Cambodia, Rwanda. AIDS. The list
goes on. I don’t do charity work.
I’m not in business for my health,
you know. I slipped a disk
schlepping those mystified millions
across the River Styx. For free.
Nobody expected that, but I did.
I did my bit at Dunkirk. Look.
All of that beautiful bullion
wasted on bulldozers and gasoline
to burn and bury bodies when
the slaughter organizers might
have left everything out in the rain
to rot; or invested in a few clean
shovels, and passed them around,
give everyone a few corpses to cover—
to be recycled, so to speak. Well,
there were a few incidents like that
during the Second World War.
In glades of evergreens. It was good for
trees in Russia, perhaps. It was
a great idea that never took off.
Most everything went into weapons
research: H-Bombs and ICBMs.
A dollar here and there for a vaccine.
For polio. A drop in the bucket, maybe,
for you. But not for me. It seems
a waste of time and money. Look
at the twentieth century. With all of those
poor people scheduled to die
anyway, H-Bombs sort of make sense.
Can you explain to me what was
the point of a polio vaccine?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dark Matter

I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
—Walt Whitman, When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer

Invert the Luminif-
erous Aether—that thin,
clear, gelatinous goo

light vibrated through
in Whitman’s day—until
his day dissolved—we get

another spooky mess,
Dark Matter, filling up
the void between the stars.

Just as impalpable,
but not so moist, this stuff
we now imagine glues

everything together
remains undetectable.
All observational

data to date suggests
there is nothing there:
our models might be wrong.

Maybe. I’ve stumbled
up against darkness
before, at home, in my

own living room. I
back up a step or two
and I always scream, “Fuck!”

Why should I look up
in solemn silence at
the heavens like the dead

do? I explore the world
like an irreverent man,
like an Astronomer.

That’s how I am. I curse.
I rub my foot. I yawn,
“Lux fiat,” when I see

the universe at dawn:
some book of poetry
I kicked into the light.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Manhattan Transfer

I need to stay awake, except
I can’t. I’m way too tired to give
a shit about my wallet even.
Nothing matters to me. How
desperately I want to sleep,
careening through these tunnels and
forward into history—
doors opening and closing—with
a blast of Hell. Hot air. I don't
care if I wake up in the wrong
borough: Brooklyn, the Bronx, or, God
forbid, Oblivion on Earth,
Staten Island. Even that. You see,
I live in Queens. I can endure
anything. Except the fear
I might miss something amazing.
Somebody telling off Mayor
Bloomberg. A dwarf. Suspicious
packages. Love. Death. Or Life.
I prop my eyelids open with
toothpicks like many commuters.
I remain alert because,
besides the rapes and suicides
I read about in The Daily News,
I also read about these rescues—
these babies born on The Subway.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Speedos and Space Suits

NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW: I am here talking with author Eric Norris about his new book of short stories, poems and essays, Cock Sucking (On Mars). Eric, about that title. Cock sucking I can understand. But why choose Mars for sucking cock when you live so close to Manhattan?

ERIC: I have already sucked off everyone worth sucking off in Manhattan, I guess. And the G-Train is terrible, especially on weekends. It is easier to get to Mars than Brooklyn from where I live. In Queens. It’s time to move to another planet. Besides, I have a thing for guys in uniform—lifeguards and astronauts, mostly. I was going to call the book Speedos and Space Suits.

NYTBR: Is that all you do, think about swimming and space sex?

ERIC: No, not really. But, I must admit, I do enjoy that unbearable lightness of being. Just floating. I do have a great deal of fun with the idea of other people thinking about sex, though. The book is really an inquiry into how we do that: how we establish our identities in the minds of others. I start with a poetic device, a supposed poltergeist, the ghost of my childhood, and I move gradually forward in time, from various perspectives, until I pass my death. I use the mouth of the poet as a metaphor.

NYTBR: Like Auden says, “Poetry survives…a way of happening, a mouth.”

ERIC: Exactly. Most of the cock sucking actually occurs behind the scenes in the book, in the reader’s imagination—the only organ of pleasure an author really has access to.

NYTBR: [Tapping his forehead, remembering something.] Wordsworth. Didn
’t he say something about the connection between pleasure and poetry in his ‘Preface to the Lyrical Ballads?’ What was that line…

ERIC: I think it was more than a single line, if I know Wordsworth.

NYTBR: Let me Google it. [Tapping furiously at his iPad.] Here it is:

“Nor let this necessity of producing immediate pleasure be considered as a degradation of the Poet's art. It is far otherwise. It is an acknowledgment of the beauty of the universe, an acknowledgment the more sincere because it is not formal, but indirect; it is a task light and easy to him who looks at the world in the spirit of love: further, it is a homage paid to the native and naked dignity of man.”

--William Wordsworth, Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, 1802

ERIC: See, cock sucking. Sensitivity. A love for Man. For Art. Wordsworth is not my favorite poet, but he was certainly a major cocksucker, in my opinion. Many gay scholars believe that Dorothy, Mrs. Wordsworth, was really a guy in a gingham dress—probably Coleridge, his collaborator.

NYTBR: [Incredulous] Really?

ERIC: No. That was just a joke told by Lord Byron in one of the lost cantos of Don Juan. Still, it is kind of touching to think of Wordsworth and Coleridge holding hands.

NYTBR: You old Romantic. What you are saying is kind of disgusting, if you asked me. Wordsworth and Coleridge. [Makes a sour cherry face.] I would much rather see Keats and Shelley going at it.

ERIC: [Patiently, as if addressing a child.] Poetic tastes might have changed since Wordsworth’s day, but cock sucking hasn’t. We just use different labels to describe our lollipops in the twenty-first century. I use the concept of cock sucking for the sake of convenience, as a kind of lyrical shorthand, because I am gay. People would be very put out if I didn’t do something queer in public: blow kisses, blow jocks, dress up, go down, dance, toss beads, or something. To cut through all of the bullshit, I was thinking of calling my book Butt Fucking (On Mars). But I felt that critics would not take the analogy—pardon the pun—seriously. Cock Sucking (On Mars) is very hard work. Mars is a cold and arid world awaiting transformation. Mars is the future. Mars is poetry.

NYTBR: What is butt fucking then?

ERIC: Butt fucking is earthier. It is different. Anal sex is more like prose. All you need to do is throw on a cowboy hat and yell, “YEEEHAW!” like Slim Pickens at the end of Dr. Strangelove. I like a little of both. Prose and poetry. Poetry and prose. Back and forth. Earth and Mars. Interplanetary commerce. Yaweh and “YEEEHAW!”

NYTBR: And comedy. And tragedy. The story of your home. The tale of Takaaki. In many ways, this is also a very sad book.

ERIC: Sad? It isn’t sad. Life
isn’t sad. Life is beautiful: whatever form it takes, wherever we find it.

NYTBR: Maybe sad is the wrong word. Poignant. We see so many horizons here. And so many cages.

ERIC: Maybe I should have named the book Speedos and Space Suits, after all. Remember, every horizon is a kind of cage. Even the infinite depths of outer space. We can go nowhere unless we carry a little air with us. On our backs, or in our lungs. As poets, I think that we need to feel more comfortable living with vast horizons. And coping with cages. They are the same thing, really. We need to be able to live in both environments. In a sense, we need them both to survive.

NYTBR: How do you see yourself? In a Space Suit or a Speedo?

ERIC: [Laughing.] Do I really have to choose? Well, I am 44. To be honest, I think that I look better in a Space Suit these days. Still, it is hard to isolate one aspect of myself from any other, everything is connected: what I was once, what I am now. I am different things to different people at different times. Even to myself. When I look in the mirror, all that I see is a jumble of genetic material calling itself
“Eric Norris.”

NYTBR: Sort of like me.

ERIC: Not exactly. You are a poetic device. My poltergeist. You are my Ariel. You are free to be anything you wish. You will never live. You will never die. You walk in eternity. Not like me.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Deceptively receptive, gay,
they dart, they dip, they dance, they dare
to touch on crowded trains, when they
forever disappear. They share

a similarity to stars
hidden from sight. My eyes remind
my other senses what they are
for me: the fingers of the blind.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Charles Laughton

There is no star I can identify
with anymore, except you: Captain Bligh,
Rembrandt, Henry, Hunchback, married to
the bride of Frankenstein. I look at you,

I see myself behind the hand that hides
half of the Hunchback’s face, the mouth that cries,
“So beautiful!” to Esmeralda,
embarrassed by its ugliness. A stellar

performance, that eclipse. The shadows your
fat fingers cast across the screen endure
like unreciprocated love. It was
a gesture of pure poetry because

you poured your soul into Quasimodo’s
one good, glistening eye. I suppose,
a soul was all you felt you had to give
the world, so that great gargoyle could live.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

National Poetry Month, 2012, Apollo Addresses The Poetic Nation

Since once again we find ourselves in the midst of celebrating National Poetry Month (Huzzah!) I thought I would appoint myself Apollo for a day, if only to take a break from all of the lilacs, the lambs, the suicides, political speeches, disastrous love affairs, and the endless string of drearily deep thoughts. Today, I am going to give myself over completely to absinthe drinking and total sensory derangement and have a rollicking good time as primus inter pares, the chief unacknowledged legislator of the world.

[Bing!] I am Apollo now.

I am delighted to meet you. I am a Greek god, remember, not a Green Fairy. I am a representative of a Heavenly host that is reckoned in certain places in its billions. We are an older and more experienced race than this half-plastered version of humanity one typically encounters at a poetry reading. We get no kick from champagne. Death makes us yawn. We bore very easily. We like to play games. We can organize ourselves into a pack of wolves with a twirl of a finger. Or the twist of a knife. We take a very different view of the world than most people do.

Though, perhaps, not so very much very different from the poets of old, when you consider the fate of Troy. Or Cassandra. Or the millennia of excruciating patience we gods can show in removing the eyes and arms and legs and wings from the tiniest, most innocent, most irritating Angels. Or flies.

Apollo Speaks

A way of happening, a mouth.
-W.H. Auden, In Memory of W.B. Yeats

I have a feeling open mouths are not
The most propitious places to begin
A work of Art—but I am in a spot—
Your god—Apollo. Can’t I be forgiven?
You work with the materials you’ve got.
And when you have a bunch of gifts from Heaven—
Nice teeth like these, luxurious, long hair
That bounces beautifully—you want to share.

Although I’d never send a guy to Hell
For praising his own features in this way,
Not everyone up here’s so wonderful—
So I’d be careful with that resume.
Among my peers on Mount Olympus—well—
The sad divinities who now hold sway—
A somewhat jealous spirit still prevails.
Venus will extract your fingernails

If you annoy her. All I do is rhyme—
Brain a lazy reader with my lyre.
I used to pass out plagues for a good time.
I lent my son the Chariot of Fire,
He incinerated Persia. I’m
Sorry for that. Kids. Our laws require
Celestial beings to be licensed now,
For all light vehicles—from crane to cow.

Our modes of transport differ. Even here,
In Heaven, we find harmony elusive.
Although each god has been assigned a sphere
Of influence, gods can be reclusive—
Some would prefer we didn’t interfere
In Man’s affairs. Some turn red, abusive,
Chanting, “Blah, blah, blah—not anymore—
Just look what happened with the Trojan War!”

Let Homer dwell upon that dismal plain
Where Troy once stood—that heap of stones and ash—
Her towers toppled, all those horses slain.
Life goes on. Let’s follow Aeneas
From Ilium to Carthage, on again—
To Italy—Virgil’s Aenied. That was fast:
Aeneas left the cinders of his home
And one of his descendants founded Rome.

His wife near death, dad hoisted on his back,
His son, Ascanius, clutching his right hand,
‘Mid smoke and flames—and that spine splintering crack—
I watched Aeneas assembling a band
Of refugees—still reeling from attack—
Astonished, terrified, and angry—and
I was amazed: away these people stole,
With only life—Existence—as a goal.

Now, there’s a man I could work wonders with.
When the moment for departures came,
I joined the Trojan forces. I exist
Now thanks to them: Apollo. Same name, same
Athletic youth I always was—no myth.
Some gods are good at the survival game.
Since Rome was destined to devour Greece,
I felt that Heaven ought to get a piece.

I chose Olympus, naturally, and we
Crowned Jove with victory. And Zeus, poor dear,
Our late, lamented chief has been—you’ll see.
It can be odd to be a god. One year
You’re Lord of Lightning—next you’re History—
A bunny nobody would ever fear,
Banging a drum for better batteries.
As you can tell, I am not one of these.

I am the god of Prophecy. That’s why
I tend to show up on the winning side—
Even when the contest is a tie.
You can’t prevent the turning of the tide—
Although you are at liberty to try.
The last time that I saw the Moon defied,
I heard my sister sigh, and with a shrug,
She crushed this kid’s sandcastle like a bug.

Diana’s rather moody, for a rock,
A maiden prone to madness. Take the rage
She showed Actaeon—that bewildered buck
Who stumbled on a sliver of her image
Floating in a pond. It always struck
Me as severe—given his young age.
She sent a pack of hounds to chat with him.
They ripped the lad apart—limb from limb.

The birds still speak of him, so do the trees,
“O, Actaeon! Transformed from man to deer,
And then—a frightened fragrance on the breeze.”
You may have sympathy—but let’s be clear.
My sister does exactly what she please—
She’s not—what is the phrase—not in your sphere.
We all have boundaries that we must obey.
Perhaps one day we won’t. It’s hard to say.

But when we don’t, I’ll tell you. At Delphi,
Cumae—wherever strange events occur—
I’ll dress up as a lady, for a fee,
And murmur things to kings about your Future—
Things inconsequential, friends, to me—
Since Mars, remember, is our god of War.
I’m Archery, Arts, Medicine, the Sun.
I am in charge of germs. And hydrogen.

Making music is my main concern.
The Fate of you, your pets, your family,
The gases Pompeians give off when they burn,
Their density, volume, toxicity,
How many embers children can inurn,
Are governed by a different Agency.
A different Deity—I should say,
Since we are all Olympians today.

Aren’t we? I do not count that child—
Cupid—mixing milk in with his wine.
“Pray, Bacchus, see his empty skull is filled
With burgundy—with visions so divine
He thinks he’s God Almighty.” Love has killed
More than one mortal trying to combine
The forces which set God and Man apart.
Our differences aren’t subtle. People fart.

We do not. And we look better in
A leopard, dancing, tearing off your head,
Your legs, an arm, whatever is virgin,
Or available. Somewhere I have read
Men taste more like pork than roast chicken.
Not that it really matters. I’m in bed
Most evenings well before ten o’clock—
Long before the clubs begin to rock.

I am an early riser. Homicide
I find a bit disgusting. There’s no rush
In killing for me. And it’s hard to hide
From Jove—The Thunderer. I still will blush
When I remember how I almost died
One morning. Suddenly, no warning—Whoosh!
I happened to be hunting for my sister.
How narrowly that arrow missed her!

T’was then, I think, I entered Medicine.
“First, do no harm,” I say, with emphasis.
You can thank me for aspirin, Ambien,
Peroxide, dentures, and Q-Tips. And this:
This box of Trojans—in gold foil—just in
Case anyone should try to force a kiss.
Humanity will do that. Sometimes,
Men are deaf to Reason. Even rhymes.

You are exceptional. Don’t get me wrong—
I love humanity. I love the lark.
I add a pinch of brilliance to his song
Each dawn—when half your planet’s in the dark—
When Vulcan’s snoring in his forge among
Computer guts and cannons—it’s a perk.
We’ll share a Milky Way on Sunday nights,
Admiring you, and all your satellites.

I had Vulcan make the crystal ball
I gave Cassandra—Cassie. Pretty girl.
She hated my prophetic gift. She’d call
It cursed—called me despicable. She’d hurl
That innocent glass globe against a wall.
The silly thing thought she could change the world
By shattering it! Imagine her despair
When it bounced back and hit her. How unfair!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bleecker Street

Bleecker couldn’t be a bleaker street today:
rainy, raw, cold and empty, sidewalks
splattered everywhere with pale blotches of gum
past the age of bubble-blowing, spat out
in moments of distraction or disgust.

This bubblegum graveyard must be our street.
This is where you steer us anyway, this recessed
doorway two doors in. A funny place
to taste a square of Listerine, I think.
But who am I to argue with your tongue?