Skipping the Reception

Skipping the Reception

Dean Young (additional pieces)

Skipping the Reception

I don't really want to meet Burkard.
Just because I like his books.
He's probably disappointing in person.
I know I am. In person you have to commit
to what comes fumping out of your mouth
like popped ketchup. John suggests
go bowling so as not to say anything.
I know a woman who takes off her blouse.
All good ideas. Even with old friends,
you end up in used bookstores inspecting
old typewriters sacrificed to decoration.
Making your way across the parking-lot
ice. We are not monkeys! Throw something
down hard enough, you discover its laws.
We are not brains in big pyrex jars
connected to the generators running
everything although we try to talk like it.
The sound of the crash barely reaches us
so it sounds like someone else's problem.
Precious moments of life ebbing away.
What a pathetic thing to say. How
did we get on this subject? Do you
have a cat? Is this shirt ugly? What
are those marks on your arm? I don't think
my voice will ever emerge from the center
of my chest. Here's your fire extinguisher,
welcome to the glacier.


For weeks, I've gone unbroken
but not unpunished by the quiet
of zero degrees which is worse than
the quiet of twenty when at least
you can't hear the stars wheeze.
I can't make it any clearer than that
and stay drunk. A crash course
in the afterlife where I still walk
beside you but unable to touch your hair.
It worries me I could no longer care
or only in a detached way like a monk
for a scorpion.

Elegy on a Toy Piano

You don't need a pony
to connect you to the unseeable
or an airplane to connect you to the sky.

Necessary it is to die
if you are a living thing
which you have no choice about.

Necessary it is to love to live
and there are many manuals
but in all important ways
one is on one's own.

You need not cut off your hand.
No need to eat a bouquet.
Your head becomes a peach pit.
Your tongue a honeycomb.

Necessary it is to live to love,
to charge into the burning tower
then charge back out
and necessary it is to die.
Even for the grass, even for the pony
connecting you to what can't be grasped.

The injured gazelle falls behind the
herd. One last wild enjambment.

Because of the sores in his mouth,
the great poet struggles with a dumpling.
His work has enlarged the world
but the world is about to stop including him.
He is the tower the world runs out of.

When something becomes ash,
there's nothing you can do to turn it back.
About this, even diamonds do not lie.

Sources of the Delaware

I love you he said but saying it took twenty years
so it was like listening to mountains grow.
I love you she says fifty times into a balloon
then releases the balloon into a room
whose volume she calculated to fit
the breath it would take to read
the complete works of Charlotte Bronte aloud.
Someone else pours green dust into the entryway
and puts rice paper on the floor. The door
is painted black. On the clothesline
shirttails snap above the berserk daffodils.
Hoagland says you've got to plunge the sword
into the charging bull. You've got
to sew yourself into a suit of light.
For the vacuum tube, it's easy,
just heat the metal to incandescence
and all that dark energy becomes radiance.
A kind of hatching, syntactic and full of buzz.
No contraindications, no laws forbidding
buying gin on Sundays. Not if you're pregnant,
if you're operating heavy machinery because
who isn't towing the scuttled tonnage
of some self? Sometimes just rubbing
her feet is enough. Just putting out
a new cake of soap. Sure, the contents
are under pressure and everyone knows
that last step was never intended to bear
any weight but isn't that why we're standing there?
Ripples in her hair, I love you she hollers
over the propellers. Yellow scarf in mist.
When I planted all those daffodils,
I didn't know I was planting them
in my own chest. Play irretrievably
with the lid closed, Satie wrote on the score.
But Hoagland says he's sick of opening
the door each morning not on diamonds
but piles of coal, and he's sick of being
responsible for the eons of pressure needed
and the sea is sick of being responsible
for the rain, and the river is sick of the sea.
So the people who need the river
to float waste to New Jersey
throw in antidepressants. So the river
is still sick but nervous now too,
its legs keep thrashing out involuntarily,
flooding going concerns, keeping the president
awake. So the people throw in beta-blockers
to make it sleep which it does, sort of,
dreaming it's a snake again but this time
with fifty heads belching ammonia
which is nothing like the dreams it once had
of children splashing in the blue of its eyes.
So the president gets on the airways
with positive vectors and vows
to give every child a computer
but all this time, behind the podium,
his penis is shouting, Put me in, Coach,
I can be the river! So I love you say
the flashbulbs but then the captions
say something else. I love you says
the hammer to the nail. I love Tamescha
someone sprays across the For Sale sign.
So I tell Hoagland it's a fucked-up ruined
world in such palatial detail, he's stuck
for hours on the phone. Look at those crows,
they think they're in on the joke and
they don't love a thing. They think
they have to be that black to keep
all their radiance inside. I love you
the man says as his mother dies
so now nothing ties him to the earth,
not fistfuls of dirt, not the silly songs
he remembers singing as a child.
I love you I say meaning lend me twenty bucks.

Gray Matter

Some part of me is disappointed
when the execution’s stayed.
I say I want blue water
but I want everything muddy.
Maniacs trained as mechanics,
nymphs dashing through corporate plazas
like correction tape. Church towers—
what a good hiding place
for a slaughterhouse.
At the end of 4,000 years,
the scientists say into the cameras,
We’ve only been able to discover
15 ounces of decency, maybe more
in the future if the money keeps coming.
They turn back through the door
to the basement where the wine’s kept cold
and children send each other on dares.
There are parts of the human brain
even carp spit out.

Lives of the Veterans

Byzantium was once a city on the Bosporus
famous for talking fountains
World War I made evaporate.
At one time, it was the saddest thing,
men limped around London and Berlin
with shards of Byzantium sticking out their movements.
Some came back with idiotic ditties
trapped in their hippocampus, others
strolled around for hours in wet dresses,
fleeing at the lowest possible speeds.
This was before television so folks
just looked into the fire and said
what they saw for entertainment.
Lots saw Hell.
Did they have it better than us?
When a woman smoked, it was like
she was naked so that must have been fun.
Certainly they were accustomed
to death having done so much of it.
Their doctors spent all their time
figuring out what was killing you
then killing you with something else.
No need for a lawyer.
The rat was huge.
Into the breach stiff upper lip was huge.
When a doughboy missed his sweetheart,
he couldn't just write,
I miss your muffin,
because of the censors. Apollo,
who ate the most pussy of al the ancient gods,
was out. The Holy Ghost was in.
Everyone knew where the Holy Ghost stood on cunnilingus
even though He was ineffable.
The invention of the telephone, machine gun, typewriter,
great strides in plastic surgery
before there was even plastic.
Funny thing is,
while just about everything was blown up,
nothing much changed,
so in 20 years they'd need bigger bombs.


It might have been midnight when last we talked
and now I've got this poem that keeps flying
apart which accounts under these xenophobic stars
for all force: gravity, magnetism wind, the ling-
ering of a kiss, a judo throw although
there's yet to be a single formula for it.
Save us from single formulas. One room
smells like ash, another smells like fruitcake.
One cardinal sits on a branch, another under.
You've got to be a bird to understand any of this,
feathery and hollow-boned. You've got to be
a claims adjuster staring at a storm. You've
got to be entered by a shower of gold coins.
On the back of a Brazilian book of poems,
the translator looks haggard as if she's chased
a mule cart into another century, the twentieth,
and suddenly she's feeble in Pittsburgh in her
bunny furs. Imagine, suddenly Pittsburgh,
the handful of dust thrown up for the sun's
haughty inspection, laughing its molecular
laugh, hungry again, dazzling again it its
stained satin pajamas like the memory of lost
love. I think we were walking though some woods
towards more to drink, up ahead the future
gesticulating wildly like a beggar who'd
scare us out of money, the future threatening
to isolate us like glum geniuses prowling
record stores, not getting a lot done,
mistaken for clerks with gum on our shoes. I'm
trying not to panic. I'm trying to find the center,
drive a nail through it like a mercy killing. I'm
letting myself be thrown around while Come at me
says the day to the night. Come at me says
the cloud to the moon dragging its terrible noose.
Come at me says L so she can show me what she's learned
in martial arts and now some part of me can't or
won't get up, the ground husky with thaw, fall's
idiot nomenclature garbled in the bramble. I'm
letting my back get soaked. I'm turning into wine.
I'm a broken kore, lips barely parted saying
what? I know suffering does not make us beautiful,
it makes us disappear like wearing black shirts
at midnight, like lying on the spinning earth
crying, Momma, Momma.


Maybe I'm a zebra.
My wings are rudimentary
but a node in my noggin allows me
to get drunk with the least provocation.
Red skirt hic bubble wrap hic
accoutrements of an obscure practique.
Only half of me disappears at night,
the half that doesn't disappear in snow
and thus I am able to discourse with death
with a straight face.
Much fisticuffs in the penatralium.
Much sexual argon in the manic greenhouse.
I'm a walking talking eclipse
so identity theft doesn't worry me much.
Feeding on honeycomb through chicken wire,
thus I serve out my bondage.
The solution to life is death
yet the question keeps getting asked
and not twice the same.
I never wanted to hurt anyone.
Well, almost.
Is this your hatchet?
A moon puts its beak in my eye,
an orchid forwards my mail.
Tangential to the chewy nougat, the caramel.
It's one thing after another for the zebra:
betrayals in the high grass, simpleton suicides,
vasodilators ruining a good stampede.
When you go to my grave, you go to the wrong place.
The color of saying hello not knowing to whom,
the shooting star turned into static,
I thought you couldn't burn a river,
I thought the worst grief was no grief at all.
Remember honking in the tunnel?
A small abyss yet everyone fits.
But I digress.
My god is a zebra after all,
imparting high-speed reversals to the swing shift.
Our camouflage works best
galloping en masse in discotheques.
We are very gentle with our young.

from "The Living Hand

It's not only the word roses
lurking inside neurosis or the fact
that most of my formal education
occurred in the midwest, so too
my summer job inhaling industrial
reactants should be considered.
Its an unstable world, babe.
Always an inner avalanche
as they say in receiving.
I'm sure if I'd gotten a shot
of Karl instead of Zeppo Marx
in utero, things would have turned out
differently. Instead, my mother
went right on eating lobster.
But where were we? . . .

My Work Among the Insects

The body of the lingerneedle is filled
with hemolymphunconstricted except
for a single dorsal vessel. A ventral
diaphragm bathes the organs of the head,
undulations drawing the fluid back through
tiny holes called ostia aided by the movement
of a Napoleon within each abdominal segment
pacing his Elba exile, muttering la Russie
la Russie as the snow squeaks beneath
his boots. All through the night
the temperature drops but no one
knows where the lingerneedle goes.
Yet it emerges each spring like
a baseball team. Gertrude Stein
may have been referring to this when
she wrote, A hurried heaving is a quartz
confinement, although what we normally think of
as referring is brought into question by her work.
A hive of white suching. At the time
of her death, she owned many valuable
paintings renowned for ugliness.
Gertrude Stein grew up in Oakland
but an Oakland as we know it not. No
plastic bags snagged in the trees. Semi-
automatics had yet to reach the fifth grade.
A person could stand in a field, naked
and singing. Sure, there was blood but
there were rags for wiping up the blood.
Deciduous trees, often confused by California
dimes, just bloom whenthehellever like how
people have sex in French movies. Here,
during the cool evenings and hot mid-days,
the mild winters and resistive texts,
the lingerneedle thrives. Upon the ruddy
live oak leaves appears its first instar,
spit-like but changing shortly to a messy lace
erupting into many-legged, heavy-winged
adults that want only to mate. Often in July,
one finds them collapsed in the tub, unable
to gain purchase on the porcelain that seems
to attract them mightily. It is best not
to make everything a metaphor of one's own life
but many have pressed themselves against cool
and smooth, in love and doomed. Truly
the earth hurtles through the cosmos at
an alarming rate. Recent research suggests
a gummy discharge of the mating pair
has promise as an anti-coagulant. Please,
more money is needed. The sun sets. The air
turns chilly and full of jasmine.

Bay Arena

When I worked in the bookstore in Berkeley,
upstairs some woman would sing, alluring
as lava, husky as tar, sometimes it'd be
a whole band driving us a little crazy
downstairs because even good music
heard through a ceiling gets nerve-wracking,
a constant strain to make a whole of it,
catch the lyrics slurred by plumbing prattle
and footfall like you're getting complicated
directions over a bad connection or trying
to figure out just why it is you can't
divide by zero. But I'd say to Michelle
who did the ordering and sometimes would
ask me should she order The Wasps of
Puerto Rico, 55 bucks a shot, and I'd say
No way, it'll rot on the shelf like
everything else in Latin America
what with the jungle, poverty, and burn off,
so she'd order three and they'd sell
immediately. More stuff to mess up the store.
I hated customers, how they charged in, tusks
dismantling the alphabet, ranting, raving
in the thick accents of demand, something
about Puerto Rico, something about wasps
as if I was wired individually to each book
and in back, they're stuffing Treasuries
of Haiku in their pants, ripping covers off,
who knows, twice I found empty flaps, volumes
by Ricoeur who said I think, Everything is
profoundly cracked, although it might have been
an epigraph he used by someone else because
that's all I ever got to read, an education
of pithy, lost snippets, always trying to do
a million things at once, our filing system
like something out of Kafka, smudgy
index cards organized by press, don't mix up
a slash with a check, so I'd have to explain
and search through Books in Print because they'd
forgotten their glasses but really they were
people looking for books who couldn't read!
So I'd say to Michelle in the quiet hour
between 3 and 3:15, Man, that girl can sing,
and she'd just uh-huh because she too lived
upstairs and even Pavarotti would get sickening,
all that passion coming through a wall when
you just want to eat your green beans, watch
a little TV. I mean all music verges on pure
irritation, noise, wearying, weary. Michelle
feeding her turtle ripped up lettuce. Turtle
called Myrtle of course who it was okay
to bring to work, at least she wasn't breast-
feeding at the front desk the way L did who
was finally fired not only for not doing a thing
but fouling up everyone else. I mean there you are,
trying to calm a customer and she opens her blouse,
ladles out this enormous breast, it had a tendency
to knock out everything from anyone's head.
Eternally nonplussed creature, I mean this
turtle who I liked all right but how close
can you get to a turtle? It pulls its
head in, pushes it out, blinks--mostly
I worried about stepping on it then
some guy comes in waving a jar of Prego,
screaming about the New Deal and, This is it,
I think, I will die in Berkeley in a splatter
of extra thick sauce, a corona of glass
spread out like my incomplete poems,
my brains spilled out like sensibility
as outside the street starts percolating
in the gelling light. Soon the protesters
will be throwing rocks at the gym because
a volleyball court's finally gone into
People's Park like the university's been
threatening to do through the ages of Aquarius
and later cops shooting wooden pegs but
that afternoon I'm getting my falafel
lunch at the caboose on Bancroft from
the guy who always asks me how I'm managing
and tells me how he's sleeping, not too
good, who could these days, and I say Amen,
handing over my 2.25, giving this Arab
a more mixed message than I intend and
the guy in the tutu and evening gloves,
the Love-Hate man with rouge in his beard
is matching the blustering fundamentalist
syllable by syllable: for every hell a bell,
every damnation a dalmatian, shadow for
shadow, wagging Bible against wagging
New Age Singles, satori, samsara, and then
I hear her like smoke my mother blew in
my ear when I had an earache and I strain
against what lashes me to the mast. We are
stardust, we are golden, and there she is.
She must weigh 300 pounds, head like a glop
of Playdoh dropped on a mountain of smoldering
hams, feet immense puddles in those specially
designed fat shoes that lace on both sides
and that voice like a swan hatching from
a putrid egg and people tossing change
into a tambourine, arrhythmic accompaniment
to the drummer who closes his eyes,
the guitarist who closes his eyes,
the music passing through us all like
some frail filament driven through a pole
during a hurricane, through all our barriers
of tissue toward outer space, the rapacious
gardens of stars from which we've fallen,
shuddering cores of cinder, whirlwinds of ash.