Nolan Chessman’s poetry is dense, musical, and mysterious. He was a quiet classmate and a good friend all through our MFA, and since has eked out a body of work you can find in the White Whale Review, The Diagram Anthology of Poetry, Leveler, and elsewhere. He currently teaches at NYU. — JT
In tunnel no. 3, moles sharpen offhandedly their blades go
through granite. Patterns in the rock. How strange they are
dogtooth growling around in the dark. How boring
you will die unexpectedly without legs, without arms.
Here (at 12th and 32nd): Why does your gushy dynamite-
cloud mount the street while you stay down in the mud
scuttle-ship of a man? Why does it smell so delicious like
the bathwater brimming, the way you scratch and explode,
scratch then explode? When you die you’ll go
millionwindowed into earth’s closet. There will be false
treasures like teeth all around you. Ditched murder weapons
and colonial dungeons earthwrecked in stone. Do not
pack a pistol. Do not unzip your coat no matter the heat
from all the moles. You may draw your muck stick
upon the walls. If you must, make a sound that is like
the water being gasped away. If you must make any sound.
I make a puppet for scaring off the birds, so reckless in the belfry they’ve made a cowbell of the church. I won’t go to bay today. Today I’ll be a beggar.I beg of you, in whose likeness this puppet be, be a man. Be big as a sheep. Now then: A cape of gull feathers and dog claws should wag well from his throat. A newsprint tunic. Sea glass eyes.—I might myself go to him, gently pecking at his honest-to-goodness, his broken stride. I marvel at his stillness, thumbing holes in his skull, knowingly.
A little bird’s heart bursts with fright. (He does not, even then, flinch.) The wing-twitch as it nears the leathered face, not seeing him, it being dusk. Little bird so wanting to roost, to tickle its brothers once last under the bell.
I see it drop, roll a bit beneath the puppet’s span of arms, ending there. I put my hands over the mouth yelping in my face, feel his sad eyes on me. I have to reach to take them off.
Category of the Unsaid
Took off my wooden uniform to help you dry
your hair: broken fists of orphan leaves. The death
of ideas, steady and purposeful in your nest
of a temperate climate.
Slow, underhand toss of key from second floor, open window,
N. Kimball Ave. (from here the street lamps were weeping).
A dispossession. A gaining. I could hardly stand to watch.
Finally, the bus.
Our pets are allergic to us—you’re convinced, your empathy
like something you can wear over your shoes. Overshoe,
that’s the word; (but I know the thing without the word). The quizzical
head cocked, the back arched.