Posts Tagged ‘I Thought I Was New Here’

Public Letter: Gregory Lawless

My son was born nine months ago. Back then he was an un-interpretable lump, surly and noisy, and I didn’t know what to make of him. Whenever I tried to talk to him, he would scream or puke.


He is something very different today. He’s a person, hounded by sharper degrees of self all the time, which I alternately cheer and grieve.


And he is a great consumer! He eats beautiful foods, fruits ground into bright mush, dripping yogurts, boiled oats—a satyr raiding a rich village in the Cyclades 2,000 years ago would have faired no better.


But he eats more than food. He eats memory, too. My wife will sometimes remind me of past sleepless nights, tantrums that blackened a few squares on the calendar, then were gone. And it takes some effort to remember them, even though they walked me so far down the plank of psychosis.


I’m not a person of character, capable of bearing great hardship or mustering much in the way of sacrifice. But, at least, with my son in the picture, I tend to think more about the next thing I have to do, and less about what I did, or was.


So, I have a hard time remembering this book, written in the prehistory of 2011 and 2012. No matter. I enjoy its growing strangeness. I don’t see myself very clearly in the work anymore, but I see the work okay. In general, I think it’s a permissible book, full of omens and weeds. I like all the junk and hay fever. It reminds me of home.


But it doesn’t remind me of me. I hope there’s another kind of poem to write in the future when I have a little more time to spend on these things. I would hate to have to imitate the person who wrote Foreclosure. These poems are scabs and eyesores, broken together by a kind of strain and rage that doesn’t make much sense to me now.


Now I feel like a great forgetter. I have to work hard to think backwards, and I don’t know if art has any room for dispositions like that, but we’ll see. In the meantime, here’s the book. The book, like its author, is from Northeast Pennsylvania, where difficult things (fracking, stagnation, and the like) are happening. Check it out, if you like reading about difficult things.


One thing I admire about Gregory Lawless’s “Exchange of Territory”

Maybe poems make the worst masks in the world.


I’ve heard poets say it often enough, that whatever your device or your aesthetic is, the poem gives away the person that you are. I’ve heard it said often enough to mistrust it (habit), and when I read my own poems I certainly want it to not be true (my voice on the answering machine: that’s not what I am).


But reading poems by a friend — and Greg Lawless is a friend, albeit one I haven’t seen in nearly a decade — I so frequently see the person I believe I know that I might as well admit it as not: poems give us away.


Paul Celan wrote that he saw no basic difference between a poem and a handshake. He  probably meant that differently than I understand it, but if I can misunderstand it for a moment, I’ll say that when I read the final line of “Exchange of Territory,” I might as well be shaking Greg Lawless’s hand.


“But what was there to wonder?”


A line as rich and complex as it is apparently flip. Full of the wonder it negates, the hope that accompanies discovery and the despair that accompanies the knowledge of where discovery leads. Some attitude on the surface and something genuine welling up underneath.


“But what was there to wonder?”


I’ll stay and wonder awhile. The territory exchanged comes up to my neck.

THERMOS 4: Gregory Lawless

Today we begin a week-long feature of Gregory Lawless’s poetry on the THERMOS blog, in honor of his new chapbook, Foreclosure, out now from Back Pages Books. Stop by each morning to read commentary from us and from Greg, along with some new poems. These first poems are from our fourth issue, which came out in 2010, around the time that Greg’s first full-length collection of poems, I Thought I Was New Here, was set to come out from BlazeVOX. We hope you enjoy the poems and the feature! — AS




I was swimming laps in the pool, snorting and huffing through the water.

It was cold. I was tired.

I wanted to get out and show my shame to the birds.

But, anyway. I kept going.

My wife threw her cigarette into the pool. You’re dying, she said.

The birds knew I was dying and stared down from the trees.

Hey, I said, thrusting my head out of the water.

I’m not dead yet.

I throbbed and kicked wildly, swinging my arms.

I’ve lived a good life, I thought, but really I hadn’t.

Bubbles poured out my nose like shreds of sky that didn’t belong in the water.

My life didn’t belong in the water, either, but my death was another story.

Waxwings, grosbeaks, little finches in the trees.

My wife just stood there, shaking her head.

Watch this, I said.

Look at me go, I said.




I fill it with water
and an hour later
I unscrew the cap

and pour out
dribbles of smoke
and sick wind.
I fill it

with curses and spit
and hand it
to my neighbor
and she says I’m not
falling for that

one again. Then
I plant innumerable

seams of corn
inside the canteen

and come harvest
I twist open
the top and inside
the villagers
are still hungry

and their scythes
are gleaming and sharp.



Exchange of Territory

I could not deem these Planetary forces
But suffered an exchange of Territory—
Or World—
Emily Dickinson

Early one spring, in what was left of the spring, I came across a gas station by the river.

Inside there was a mirror, sashed with ash and fine scratches, and a little cot, and the nubs of candles burnt away on a crate.

I made myself at home, if this is ever the case.

With winter, I thought, I would have to topple the shack, and drag the wood to a cave, and burn it there, in order to sustain.

But in the meantime, I would dream.

I would shiver.

And look out at the wick-colored world through the surviving glass and wonder.

But what was there to wonder?