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William Stobb

William Stobb is the author of You Are Still Alive (42 Miles Press, 2019), Absentia (Penguin, 2011), and Nervous Systems (Penguin, 2007), a National Poetry Series selection. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

By This Poet


A Sense of Proportion

On 20th between Madison and Ferry
a line of municipal maples binds the community
to an orderly, serviceable beauty. Platforms
from which our sparrows and starlings
might decorate our domestic sedans,
perhaps these trees serve most to stimulate
the car wash economy. Today, they remind me:

unsatisfied with workaday species, my parents
nailed oranges to a post to attract the exotic Oriole.
When the birds arrived, I wondered if they’d flown
all the way from Baltimore, which in turn
evoked a hotel, gables lined
with black and tangerine, posh clientele
spackled by the vagaries of Maryland living.

By nine I could sigh, climb our single
red maple, which I imagined a national landmark.
Child of movies, I could see the tree even at night
as a kind of beacon, a singularity. White
sheen on the leaves’ pitchy gloss, bodily.
And I too would learn to feel glazed
as any creature accumulating light

cast from stars, hidden in a federation
of equivalent times, distant trains
carrying sugar, coal, whole families beyond
deserts, imposing ranges, shimmering coastlines
said to define the spirit of a people.
Far from the station, the pinpoint aurora,
a line of municipal maples bears its charge.

A Moment for Authentic Shine

This is the greatest moment of your life,
said the voice both familiar and distant, like a childhood
friend become spokesperson for a cleaning product—
which caused the many hats to turn in many directions
and one robed arm to extend.
And what after all had been passing?
The sounds birds made often seemed more cogent
than the swirl of argument, a cyclone in a sandbox. 
So much management we ought to have degrees
was a type of joke made at outmoded parties.
Still with shades and declarations
echoes of heroic solos translated out of urgent decades
while almost unnoticed, pensive tunes accumulate in the mix
like thunder clouds on these warmer days. Regardless,
names come unpinned, stars die, a closetful of semi-
recognizable jackets and hats be-speaks
the by-gone, and yet the baffling rekindling of romance
may justify the maintenance of a hairstyle.
A certain heart medication—no, I was afraid to say
a certain heart, beating in the chest of a certain girl.
To say heart in that trite way, and girl when by now she’s fifty,
and real when the elapsing of all things into void
has been made abundantly clear.  But I knew her
and she seemed real, and at thirty still childlike—
a trait adorable in women, rather of concern in men
say the conservatives but look who’s ogling 
the ballplayers around the pool table.
Any slogan invites rebuttal, and a spin into personal views
often doubles futile conversation.  One might live
consuming nothing but packaged goods and still
in that moment of late afternoon crash—
over-heated, nauseated by sexual memory,
blinded by sun, buffeted by wind—unfairly rely
on that prideful sense of authenticity
so prized in our time that it could be said to float,
invisible of course, above a century’s worth of steaming wrecks—
cloud of elemental and reckless
identity unwarranted, silver-lined illusion of nobility—
until geographies choke in the torrent,
shrines assembled from knick-knacks manufactured
by prisoner children dissolve
and in our true magical forest
blossoms wreathed by small creatures
that worked in tandem with our spirits become
as we become atmosphere.

Sam Says Everything

’s weird if you stare at it and I’m staring
at the travel graph of the Voyager craft—
the one that sailed past all our planets

taking the pictures I’ve framed of Jupiter’s
big red eye, ice geysers on Enceladus
and the spooky blue of Neptune.

A while back I emailed the childhood friend
who became a past life regressionist.
She told me life began on a distant moon

which made life seem kind of middling, to me—
side-shelved and orbiting around
whatever the real real thing might be.

One time late at night on a golf course
we kissed and she said it wasn’t right.
I still wonder specifically why. 

She replied to say a good way to go insane
is to constantly ask what’s wrong with yourself
and expect someone to answer.

She also said I thought you died
and all week I wondered if it might be true.
I’ve heard reality’s a function

of expectation, so my problem
stems from my prospect: I seem to be
clinging to the idea of a satellite

way out in the frozen night
beeping news from the motherland.
Like my own aging mother

sending clippings about potato blight,
poisonous spiders, New
Zealand’s musical theater scene,
and the township’s announcement
that the golf course has been sold
to an investment group out of Manitoba.

Just tell me: was it the mosquitos?
Were my lips dry or ineffective in some way?

Beep…  Beep…

                             I was just saying hello.

Beep…  Beep…

                            but I guess I would like to know…


                                       after Sam Lipsyte