The Anxiety of Coincidence

Mark Bibbins
Your object will have made a good subject
and I should get to tell you so: the bird 
with a beak but no mouth, we hear him only

when it's night in the Dominican Republic
and Israel at the same time. Someone will 
find your marginalia useful, so try to spare

some ink. I took dictation only from you, 
for whom verbs were nothing and tense 
everything. See the difference, you kept asking, 

but it wasn't a question. See how enormous—
camel hauling an empty wheelchair, conspiracy 
of hangman men, dried-out song that makes

it snow. You realize we could have walked 
home in the hours taking inventory took, jack
of no traits.  Bird with no wings.

More by Mark Bibbins

And You Thought You Were the Only One

Someone waits at my door. Because he is
    dead he has time but I have my secrets--

    this is what separates us from the dead.
See, I could order take-out or climb down

the fire escape, so it's not as though he
    is keeping me from anything I need.

    While this may sound like something I made up,
it is not; I have forgotten how to

lie, despite all my capable teachers.
    Lies are, in this way, I think, like music

    and all is the same without them as with.
The fluid sky retains regret, then bursts.

He is still there, standing in the hall, insisting
    he is someone I once knew and wanted,

    come laden with gifts he cannot return.
If I open the door he'll flash and fade

like heat lightning behind a bank of clouds
    one summer night at the edge of the world.

Pedagogy and Performance

Whatever the lesson was, it wasn't
taking. We awaited the information
in kind of a corporate way
and I kept wanting to go up
to the whiteboard and write
FEMININE MARVELOUS AND TOUGH
and ask Is that what you're trying
to do. Sometimes it's hard to figure
out how to move. When cardinals 
move, they're as imposing as cows. 
They cleave pornography from 
abstraction. But let's also look 
at us a few weeks ago: a scale
model of Seattle with its gleaming
library protruding like a jewel
from a navel—this was our best
self, not the contraption of drawers
and cranks that made our work;
not the surprisingly delicate bones
of Boba Fett, painted the same 
colors as his armor; not the three
tow-headed delinquents who
used the contraption in their 
performance, then went home
after disparaging the audience
and showered together; not the cast
of my life filing into a wooden
amphitheater as my favorite band
started soundcheck in another country.
How would I get there on time,
even with half my friends rooting
for it, how do I get anything done 
when as late as last night someone 
started yelling CARDINAL 
at the sight of blood soaking my sleeve.

Worst Things First

A bag of thank-you notes fell
on me and that was enough
art for one day. Culturally speaking,
it was more like a year
in the floral trenches, kicked off
with a single boneless kiss.
Poor sad demon in his poor dead tree—
or is it he who pities me, cockshy
quasihero with a latex lasso,
taking forever to measure

the dimensions of his confinement.
Some other demons have smeared a flock
of sparrows on a blanket, the full filthy
price of a sky under which they smoked
their names. My prize is a set
of teeth, striptease at the nude beach,
audio files of decomposing stars
telling me, if they’re telling me
anything, that theory’s just another word
for nothing left to like.

Related Poems

My Life as a Subject

I.

Because I was born in a kingdom,
there was a king. At times
the king was a despot; at other times,
not. Axes flashed in the road

at night, but if you closed your eyes
sitting on the well-edge
amongst your kinspeople
and sang the ballads
then the silver did not appear
to be broken.  

Such were the circumstances.
They made a liar out of me. 
Did they change my spirit? 
Kith in the night. 
The cry of owls. A bird fight.


II. 

We also had a queen,
whetted by the moon. And
we her subjects,
softening in her sight.


III.

What one had 
the other had to
have too. Soon 
parrots bloomed
in every garden, and 
every daughter
had a tuning fork 
jeweled with emeralds.


IV.

Learning to hunt in the new empire,
the king invited his subjects
to send him their knives.
He tested these knives on oranges,
pomegranates, acorn squash,
soft birches, stillborns, prisoners
who had broken rules. He used
them on the teeth of traitors.


V.

When strangers massed at the border,
the courtiers practiced 
subjection of the foreign. The court 
held a procession 
of twine, rope,
gold, knives, and
prostitutes with their vials of white
powder. Smoke coursed into the courtyard,
and we wrought hunger upon
the bodies of strangers. I am sure you
can imagine
it, really what need 
is there for me to tell you.
You were a stranger once too, and I
brought rope.


VI.

Afterward, I 
slept,
and let the dealers 
come to me alone 
with their jewels and 
their powders.


VII.

At night, we debated
the skin of language,
questioned what might
be revealed inside:
a soft pink fruit,
a woman in a field…
Or a shadow, sticky and loose
as old jam. Our own 
dialect was abstract,
we wished to understand
not how things were
but what spectacle we might 
make from them.


VIII.

One day a merchant came to court 
and brought moving pictures, 
the emperor’s new delight. 
He tacked dark cloth 
to the windows and turned off
the lights, cranking the machine and the film
like a needle and thread,
making stories we could 
insinuate our cold bodies
into and find warmth. Light;
dark. And the sliding images of courtiers
merrily balancing monkeys
on their heads, as if this 
were an adequate story.


IX.

And our queen, that hidden
self. What became
of her? Slid into the night
like a statue, shivered
into shadows. Knowing as a spider
in retreat. The web
her mind, and in it, the fly.


X.

On Sundays, we flew kites 
to ensure our joy
was seen by those who 
threatened
to threaten us. The thread
spooling out high 
in the purple sky
and silver-gelatin films being made,
sliding through the cranking machine
so that the barbarians could know
we made images of ourselves
coated in precious metal
and sent them away
indifferent to our wealth.

I miss the citrus 
smell of spring
on the plaza filled
with young
and long-limbed kite flyers.


XI.

Do I have anything 
to add? Only that
I obeyed my king, my
kind, I was not faithless.
Should I be punished
for that? It is true 
the pictures creaking 
through the spindle
cause me pain. I know 
the powder we coated our fingers
with made us thirsty
and sometimes cruel. But I was born
with a spirit, like you.
I have woken, you see,
and I wish to be made new.