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Joshua Weiner

Born in 1963, poet Joshua Weiner is the author of three poetry collections: The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish (University Of Chicago Press, 2013), From the Book of Giants (University of Chicago Press, 2006), and The World's Room (University of Chicago Press, 2001).

He is the recipient of a 2002 Whiting Writer's Award and the 2003-2004 Rome Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; he has also held the Witter Bynner Fellowship at the Library of Congress and a residency fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He has received an Academy of American Poets Prize, an Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, the Discovery/The Nation Award, a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the PEN New England Discovery Award, the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation, and grants from the Illinois Arts Council.

He is professor of English at the University of Maryland and lives with his family in Washington, D.C.

 

By This Poet

6

Psalm

When I sing to you I am alone these days 
               and can't believe it, as if the stars

--while gazing up at them--just shut off.
               Astonished:

I search out the one light, brightest light
               in the night sky, but find

I cannot find it without weaker lights to guide me 
               like red tail-lights on a car up ahead

after midnight when I'm sleepy, that illustrate 
               how the highway curves,

curving to a hook, and maybe save my life 
               and it means nothing to me

because nothing has happened, not the faintest 
               glint of drama.

(Raining gently, the tarmac turns slick, moistened 
               to life with renewed residues;

I can sense it with my hands on the wheel, 
               the drops--not too heavy--
			
drumming off-time rhythms on the metal roof, 
               the metal surface like a skin tense and sweating

and the road empty now, there are so many 
               exits . . .)

Where is my family, both hearth and constellated trail of flicker 
               I have always followed to your word?

There, but mastered by fear of dark compulsions 
               and loathing atrocities committed in your name,

they hit the dimmer switch and extinguish themselves 
               whenever I sing your praises. . .

Who can blame them?
               (I can't help but blame them.)

And anyway they are far from me
               (farthest when they come to visit)-- 
			
I should be self-reliant, in my armchair
               like Emerson reading by a single lamp;

I should not need them, finding in you
               myself, little firebug needing no outlet,

my soft light blinking as I oxidize my aimless flight 
               to love, to the good,

even my glowing chemistry unnecessary now 
               in the ultimate light of day.
			
But what good would that do me?
               With you, in you, perhaps others do not matter,

but this isn't heaven, and I cannot make a circle 
               all on my own-- 

Photon, luciferin, meteor: as I burn myself
               to pieces, I only pray

let my sparking tail remain a moment longer 
               than our physics might allow,

some indication, however brief, that there continues 
               (amen) a path to follow.

Art Pepper

Scared boy, he even fled a cloud
reminding him of what might happen

when his father returned from sea,
wasted, to find him perhaps again

locked out in the cold, waiting
for other drinkers to come home

(his mother, her lover)--the catalysis
of routine violence passing close

like a storm cloud insisting rain;
until the rain did fall

and the father left, returning though
once with a clarinet . . . 

And when the cloud came back
in the sound of a memory

the boy had grown, had learned
to let it swell into the note

he now holds in me

as a laser reads his tone
mastered for fidelity--

sweet prismatic splinter and 
swing, a double-timing scrape

aiming for my ear 
alone in a rented chamber.

Nowhere, 
       and I'm with him,

fully in tune as if he stood
hot before me, his life

seeming no more dear to him
than the sax he hawked

for any kind of syrup
he hoped might creep into his heart

like fucked-up love that felt like love
in the belly meadow warmth of his measured joy.

Hungry Art, Art of wind,
of lips upon the reed;

Art of blue, foolish Art,
would you be so nice to come home to?--

Bragging his genius
for a time turned rancid in San Quentin,

swaggering with a ripped-off thuggery honor
and sick with the terror of not seeming criminal . . . 

White man junky thief
whose skin glowed narco-green

with the sound of Keats
amped through Pound

I repeat his name

jacked-in to the straight 
blowing of a life

clarifying 
like butter over flame:

what's home, where's harm;
how to fix; how praise--

Lover, come back to me.
Why are we afraid?

Mongrel Death Blues

What's that behind my back?
What's that gnawing behind my back?

It sounds like a dog crunching bones for marrow.
Bones here so old, the sun's dried up the marrow.
What kind of dog splinters bone like that?

Don't turn around, I hear it getting louder.
Don't turn, don't turn, its growl is getting louder.
Oh, don't you growl at me, nappy rabid dog.

My joints may be cracking, but my bones ain't buried yet.
I said, my skeleton is talking, but my bones ain't buried yet.
Hear my belly growling? I'm hungrier than I've ever been.

Are you baring pearly whites? I can almost smell your mongrel breath.
Yes, your pearlies, they are snapping, and I can smell your stinking breath.
I'd turn around and pet you, but I've given up on pets.

I am reaching for a stone.

I swear my aim is sharp.
I swear my arm is strong.

It's growing dark, but I won't miss.
It's darker now, but I won't miss.
O shine down moonlight, my whole life has led to this.