At the End of the Endless Decade

For years had anyone needed me
to spell the word commiserate

I’d have disappointed them. I envy
people who are more excited

by etymology than I am, but not
the ones who can explain how

music works—I wonder whether
the critic who wrote

that the Cocteau Twins were the voice
of god still believes it. Why not,

what else would god sound like.
Even though I know better, when I see

the word misericordia I still think
suffering, not forgiveness;

when we commiserate we are united
not in mercy but in misery,

so let’s go ahead and call this abscess
of history the Great Commiseration.

The difference
between affliction and affection

is a flick, a lick—but check
again, what lurks in the letters

is “lie,” and what kind of luck
is that. As the years pile up

our friends become more vocal
about their various damages:

Won’t you let me monetize
your affliction, says my friend

the corporation. When I try to enter
the name of any city

it autocorrects to Forever:
I’m spending a week in Forever,

Forever was hotter than ever
this year, Forever’s expensive

but oh the museums,
and all of its misery’s ours.

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.

The Anxiety of Coincidence

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.

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.

Related Poems

Red with a Touch of Sulfur

Isn't it funny
when suddenly after all these decades
you notice a new part of your body.
 

Maybe the hamstrings—
entirely unused when lifting weights,
back used instead
which then pains for years.
 

Maybe the slight shoulder raise
that tightens those muscles
maybe for good.
 

I notice my body
slide through time.
It is odd and peculiar,
genius of no one,
a perfect clock
making clocks
look simple.
 

Newness comes naturally.
Resisting it causes the past
to present memories on yellow
platters.
 

My age is a number.
Bones getting ready to play poker.
I will remain a small book
hidden away deep
in the library.
 

I love my body and this world!
Such a declaration
five years ago
would've driven me insane.
 

But now an appreciation arrives
with a fine taste of sulfur
and anywhere I look is born
a rose.

In Each Look Our Years

that’s it
that I walked into the cafe
and in the noise and crowd
we met

and that I saw
what it was I’d been
in what it was
I saw

that in our skin
in the decade of our skin
is what began
before we knew

and that time before
with this time now
is nothing
waiting to start again

Doors opening, closing on us

Maybe there is more of the magical
in the idea of a door than in the door
itself. It’s always a matter of going
through into something else. But

while some doors lead to cathedrals
arching up overhead like stormy skies
and some to sumptuous auditoriums
and some to caves of nuclear monsters

most just yield a bathroom or a closet.
Still, the image of a door is liminal,
passing from one place into another
one state to the other, boundaries

and promises and threats. Inside
to outside, light into dark, dark into
light, cold into warm, known into
strange, safe into terror, wind

into stillness, silence into noise
or music. We slice our life into
segments by rituals, each a door
to a presumed new phase. We see

ourselves progressing from room
to room perhaps dragging our toys
along until the last door opens
and we pass at last into was.