Posts Tagged ‘THERMOS 2’

THERMOS 2: Chas. Speck

It’s been years since Chas. Speck first gave us these poems, and it was a few years before that when we first saw his poetry in graduate school. Chas. is living in Washington now. Once, however, he formed, with Melissa and I, 3/4 of an Iowa Lakes garage band that played one show of covers for a friend’s birthday party. Think of these poems as coming from that place. — AS


I’ve given up on my brethren
The neighbors hog the bleachers
They bring no oil
Just murmurs and mutters
Bumper stickers for the mortuary
All that’s left of this bell choir
Dwindle into nothingness
You think your heart is in your hand
But when you look down
It’s just a shape the fingers make
Look at this shining thing
Stuck into your vein
Filling you with someone else
Transfusions transposings
Forget about lions or hunting
Doped up animals for trophies
Yesterday a 12 year old boy
Swung a sword
And severed a man’s head from his body
Where’s the irony in all this sincerity?
You’d think we’d be better
After all the cloning
At covering for our hurt
These people they want a garden in their lungs
They twirl like windmills
Spinning for power
Car noises keep me up under the bridge
Wishing for the drill of purpose
Screeching through its teeth
Why isn’t my life as easy to change as these words?
Isn’t it the same thing?


The floors are writing love letters,
why else would they be on fire? The fields of grass
panting heavily, why else
would they be steaming? Tell me,
how deep is the grass on the moon?
What can we mine there? The glow-in-the-
dark powder of God’s bones set to rest.
I can see the backlit stage of each half-lit star,
you walking through a river of hands.
Where a glass heart is heated
the windows shiver – Is this
what you call an oath, every artist
heedless with blood blooming from their necks?
I pinch the ten tongues of a wish.
Here comes whatever it is
in the middle of the ocean
the water is constantly running from.

New Face

Water falls into your eyes as you put on your new face
Even a dead dog smiles
You cut your mouth open so you can breathe again
No bruises on your skin though
A shadow floats over your shoulder like a hungry ghost
A table made from flowing water
A robed woman bound in the basement with the toy dinosaurs
The dead resting her head against an anvil

A shadow floats across you and stops half way
You feel her breath against your scalp
A bruise you’re not familiar with
A hole in your chest you could reach into
That dead woman
You thought you were to bury her in such a hole
She unscrews your skull and out pops a fruit bowl
She takes out your brain and out snaps the hand she left behind
A hand shaped like an ampersand
She rests your head between the open jaws of a vice clamp
The most beautiful thing you will ever see is your own two eyes exploding

Making Minds

In the process of making our minds we broke them,
separated the shell from the beans, ground them,
subtracted the oils and extracts and found
there were many minds waiting to be made –
the pulp anxious to be a box, to contain, itself
a series of shells broken into smaller shells.
Then the breaking became sequential – each mind
containing something larger than itself – our arms
turning the gavel so as to wear evenly
the forged form, mold the right angles, twisting
like tops spinning in our shoulders – a piston
pumping through the waves of our being –
but stop. Were our energies not perfect?
Were we bludgeoning down to nothing?
I saw you across the table staring at your
reflection in a plate, the same you
and nothing between us but a hum, a tone
striking the strings of our minds.
What had you assembled there – some altar of breakage,
some commandment? Did I suddenly
know nothing, or had it been this way all along?
Who could remember the density, the sweetness
now lost as breaking can be, becoming more lost
with each new mind made, the same lost
only more abundant, the original fruit.


THERMOS 2: Alex Walton

Alex Walton’s poem with oranges has always seemed like a gift to me, something handed over after lunch and thereafter always available at just the right moment. — AS


New Oranges

Does each orange contain a mite? Or more than
one? How many mites form a colony? Is there a particular
“orange mite” and what are its adaptations? How long
is gestation? What is a gestation? Is this a salutation?
A diversion? What are the nourishing effects of the “Spanish
Orange?” What is the most superior recipe for marmalade? And
are all of these true oranges, or are some of them fakes?
(Trompe l’oeil increases the amount of reality in the world. No?
Or something else entirely?) What is the lifespan of the mite
compared with the orange? Do the mites have names? Do the mites
have a name? According to the sign, this mite has been named for
Otto von Bismarck – it is the Bismarck Mite. It is special to Austria
but here it is, in Spain. Some animals are migratory; some
are not. A magnet in your brain is one good reason to travel,
providing both an initial impulse and a guiding influence.
One may also travel in the name of unrequited love, where requition
is withheld at least in part by insufferable distance – insufferable distance
is different than impartable closeness. The latter is the case
of Romeo and Juliet, and Tristan und Isolde as well as in stories
of divine passion for the human stuff, and in Roman Holiday.
And it can rarely be overcome, since the lovers
are victims of “circumstance” which is not
surmountable by transportation—e.g., a sea plane
plus alpine skiing, or a brisk walk across
interceding hills— Transportation takes many forms,
and though it is not a distinct sign of “human difference,” since even rabbits
have been known to form crude snowshoes, and I have one time
seen a zebra ride another zebra for a number of miles,
certainly the internal combustion engine, and roller skates
are sufficiently peculiar to provoke a state of agitated interest,
in pursuit of some evidence of our own pecularity as a form of
“beast”; certainly the pogo stick is a sign, in us, of beauty
due to some great excess in the proportion (probably
of the brain, though perhaps of the esophagus, larynx, or spine)
which is a formula of Poe explaining, unintentionally,
why the golden rectangle is inherently more pleasing and
“popular” than the square, though the square
may be more “perfect,” the division of its side lengths
resulting in no sprawling fraction. The awake and literate may
take Poe to be contradicted by the recently
produced fact that according to the average opinion
(normalized for some strangeness in the statistical proportion)
more faces averaged together, “composited,”
into a single face, result in a face more of us
would love to love. And yet, a truth doubles back! Since the Lover’s face
suddenly visible across a sea of hors d’oeuvres and other faces
or the sense of it or the sound of its voice across a literal sea
of other things entirely (sailors, blue crabs giant squid, uncharted islands)
seems effective directly by its opposition to those other people
and things which intercede, for which one’s hair does not consistently
stand on end, nor stomach fill with what P.G. Wodehouse
called the intolerable screaming of the butterflies.
But some mysteries remain, and several thrilling. To be clear,
“unsufferable distance” is better refracted through the Odyssey,
at least from the perspective of Penelope. Another story, entirely,
may occur for Odysseus, since his own cargo, being bound up
to the washed mast of his heart, is borne everywhere but Ithaca;
but one may ascribe to him a virile kind of homeward
magnetism, similar to what is found in birds, and yet
to do so may be disingenuous to that brave scientist
who picked first apart the small magnetic node
of neurons in the birdbrain which compassed
swallows homeward—call it the “ferrule.” Call it
the little carrier. To travel even for the sake
of a good fruit may be valuable, since oranges may
be plucked from the tree without great damage
to it: in fact, a pleasing thing is to eat fruit, since it proposes both use
and delight but no great harm for Nature;
since for someone to carry the seeds is the most honest purpose
of a tree’s fruit— To be carried out into the world! In order, each thing
is carried by another, and maybe it is closer to home, then. Bismarck
Mites may be carried to Spain, which is not their home; their home is Austria;
“Who knows if this red string is ‘home’ in this nest—
maybe it was more at home in the ball of yarn!”
This is not a statement on aesthetics (not of the bird,
and not of the yarn) but on the way we see ourselves projected
out. “Look, this tree has a sense of home. It stays put.” No,
a tree is not migratory! “My love of home is a tree, then. My love of coming
home is a bird, then.” Well, perhaps. But I am ever
venturing somewhere unfamiliar—a territory, a Boston Tea Party. Out into the world
I say I have gone to get a new roll of tape, or “Surely
the hardware shop can sell me the new blade for this saw,
and so will I put an end to the stubborn tree.”
or “A new life awaits me in Austria or Kirkuk or
the Polar Ice Cap— I have only to seize it.” (Perhaps
this last is left on a note.) Like that, I have gone to get
new oranges. As these mites are carried off
into the universe by the oranges for no reason other
than the indiscriminate love of a live thing for every other
shaking and variously lightning-struck animated cell
I am bringing these oranges, which are the new oranges, home,
or towards home. They contain the Bismarck or perhaps
the von Bismarck mite; which it is, I have forgotten, but
I believe the mites will not endanger your body or soul
but may perhaps enlarge in you the possibility
of (at least) parallel universes in which not exactly but nearly
this occurs, perhaps the same words in a different order,
and even that world may be filled with doubters
and the great cosmic sneer of sarcasm
which even in this our own world, vast American
persons are needed to fix; which I am coming quickly now
towards fixing. Here: a sign,
explaining that it is not too far off,
and in fact since I am running, it will not be so long.
To know mathematics is a worthwhile pursuit
since it allows one to formulate the world into knowns
and unknowns, and unknowable unknowns,
and even to rank infinites, which is a superhuman
task. In truth (continues the sign) amid all this fact
what is needed today is a beauty not of the averaged
face at all, and a sweetness and light
not to be found in the heavy world of fact,
but something else completely.
And for that, there are these oranges.

THERMOS 2: Jennifer Denrow

Here’s another of the poems I’ve spent a lot of time with over the years, from our second issue in late 2008. Jen Denrow subsequently published this poem as the first section of her book, California, available here from Four Ways Books. She also talked to us about the book, here. — AS



Forget your life.

Okay I have.

Lay something down that is unlike you:

Sold boat, Italian song.

I’m losing my head over this:

this is what the doll said when you pulled its head
from its body;

all the girls laughed.

I’ll move to California. I should
go alone. I’ll go

with the knowledge of fake
snow. I’ll ask my father to bring me.




I liked it better
when my fingers
were people.

I should drive away from my life.

If a man comes through town on his way to California, I will go with him. I don’t care who
he is:

if his wife is pretty, fine;
if he is returning to her, fine.

A man should be going there today,

at least one man; this city
is so big.

When I’m in California I’ll go to the beach
and cry. All of the seagulls will crowd

around me and force my mouth open
with their wings. One

will bring me a fish. I won’t be able to leave them.

My fingers
aren’t people

I forgot to train them. They were over watered. They drowned.

There isn’t a steeple, no alderman discussing the loss.

That was a hand-church;

that was my folly.




My life in California will be inspiring. I’ll send postcards to people who didn’t know I was
going. I’ll even send postcards to people I haven’t talked to in years.

I’ll buy a guitar once I arrive.

I’ll audition at a local club to become the nightly entertainment.

I’ll say, I can do anything you need.

I’ll show them card tricks and how my dog can talk.

I won’t have a dog.

Everyone will laugh at me.

When it’s winter and the woman next door needs to borrow some change for laundry, I’ll
call someone and say how unhappy I am.

I shouldn’t go to California then.

No one can be alive there.

The store windows are just so the owners think people are alive.

I’ve never even wanted to go to California before.

I should leave now.




I went to wake up my husband to tell him I was leaving. He said, Why do you want to go there?

Because I have to.

You should fly then.

He won’t let me borrow his car.

My car doesn’t have AC.

I know a guy who should be driving to California this week. I check my email to see if he
has written to invite me.

He hasn’t.

The computer says the right person is out there waiting for me. It asks for my name and
age. I tell my husband to make a profile on a love match website and I’ll do the same
and we can see if we are compatible. He doesn’t want to, so instead I ask if I can
talk in his mouth andhe lets me but says it tickles.

Later when he wakes up he’ll say, What was all of that about California?

And I’ll say, Oh nothing.

And he’ll say, You’re pushing me away.

And I’ll say, Probably, but I don’t mean to.

He’ll leave for work and I’ll spend the day listening to my favorite musician sing very sad
songs that will make me want to go far away from myself.

I’ll go to California then.




When I went to the backyard,

I said to myself,

this doesn’t look like California

and nothing in my life does

and my husband says he’ll have to deal with this forever.

I want to go so bad I clench my fist
hard in the air, I push my finger into
his chin and cry: it feels like this, I say.
I need it this bad.




I realize now that I’m a woman.

I go to the store.

I buy California style pizza and beer. I drop my ID when the woman asks to see it.

No one in the store looks like they could be from California.

A baby eats some keys.

I buy a magazine with people from California in it; they are all very beautiful.

I come out of the store and the sky

is filled with many white clouds

that could be stand-ins for California clouds.

I don’t even have a tan.

I know this is the only time I’ll leave the house today.




When I get home my husband sees me balling my fist and he scowls at me. On the radio is
a story about a woman who walked from California to New York. She was 80. She says we
don’t have a democracy.

I need to arrive at something.

Now there is a story about a thirteen year old boy who is dying. He tells the reporter not to
sit around being miserable. He gasps for breath.

He won’t ever be able to dive into a pool.

He is a beautiful child.

He is dead.

He told the reporter to always let someone in line in front of him.

The next story is about the Unabomber’s brother. His mother kissed his cheek when he
told her about her son.

She said, I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through.

If I was in California, I wouldn’t be listening to the radio.

I write California in the air.

Another story comes on about a man who built a cork boat.

I bring up images of California on the computer; there are three million to choose from. I
set one as the screen saver. It’s a yellow map of the southern part.




Instead of going to California I make my husband a ham and cheese sandwich to take to
work. He doesn’t like the way I place the cheese on the bread.
When he leaves for work I sit in a quiet house.

I told him I couldn’t have this life.

This wasn’t me living here.

I was living in California.

He said cruel things that he knew would scare me.

He brought the ring from the cabinet and tried to put it on my finger.

I said no.

I said I can’t be married right now.

He said this happens every year.

He may be right.




My mother took me to California once when I was very small. We visited Disneyland. I
wore Mickey Mouse ears and had my hair in braids.

I wasn’t afraid. No one talked to me.

On the plane ride back the stewardess offered us soft drinks.




Once on a plane a foreign woman offered me fruit.

I declined.

This was when I was older, after I’d already been to California.

When I was there, I wrote my name in the sand. I wrote my name and drew a heart and
then I wrote my mother’s name. This was when she loved my father so I wrote his
name too.

We were visiting my uncle.

I see a picture of him holding me and laughing.

He’s dead now, so I can’t visit him there anymore.

He had diabetes and drank a lot and died alone in a motel room.

My aunt said she received a phone call from him after he was dead. He groaned a little and
said unintelligible things.

He lived in California because he was in the Navy and had to live there.

If I lived in California, I would buy an iguana. I would meet a lot of nice people; they
would make kind remarks about my decision to follow my intuition.




Leonard Cohen went to California.

He went there to become holy.

I could become holy in California. I could live in a small room with only a little light.

My husband says I can rent a car if I really need to go. I tell him it’s not the same. Why
doesn’t he ever feel something like this? He just doesn’t.

He lives in this house completely.

This house could be the problem.

I suspect that I’m the problem.

He says I want to abandon our animals; he says I’m crazy.

I don’t feel like I’m crazy,

I just feel like someone who wants to go to California.




I just remembered that I do know someone who lives in California. He’s a man I worked
with several years ago. He moved there to make movies.

We made a movie once. It was a horror film that took place in a movie theatre. We worked
in a movie theatre.

Our dialogue was poor.

I finally gave up.

I fell in love with the manager. We had sex. We laughed the whole time.

This was the first time I had sex. I was twenty two. He didn’t love me.

Later, I realized that I never really loved him either, I just pretended to so I could be sad
about something. He was very charming and said funny things. He never took his hat off
because he was going bald and didn’t want anyone to know. His girlfriend was very sweet.
He made all of the girls love him. Even the prettiest Mormon girl loved him. I started
taking a lot of drugs so it didn’t matter that she loved him. I saw them kiss and felt

He is the kind of man who could live in California.

He had a very fast car and a lot of friends.

If he lived in California, he could be a politician.




On the television I saw the President in a fast food restaurant in California. He was buying
a cup of coffee for a reporter. Someone went to get the coffee, a recently new citizen, and
when he came back and tried to hand it to the reporter, the President pushed his arm away
and said, I’ll handle that. He took the coffee from the new citizen and handed it to the
reporter himself, and then he took some folded ones from his pocket and handed them
back to the citizen.

He was trying to be real.

He was trying to look like the kind of person who wanted to be in California.




If California didn’t exist, I’d still want to go there.

As I look around the house I think of things I’ll take with me.

I pack my bags.

Before my husband left he asked if I would be here when he got home.


But you’ll be gone someday.


Will you at least leave a note?


The last man I left got a note. I didn’t leave him for California but for my husband.

He was an angry man. The note I left was filled with a lot of statements about aggression
and happiness.

After I left, he went to California for an art show. He married his ex girlfriend. I knew he loved her the whole time he loved me. I didn’t talk about her. I let him have her in silence.




My cousin calls. She tells me there are only 363 days until the new Harry Potter movie
comes out. My aunt gets on the phone. I tell her about California. She tells me about a
man who lost his leg but can still feel two toes fall asleep.

The reality is that…

My aunt talks like this.

She says his leg is not really gone. That’s not reality. She tells me how Christ replaced
someone’s ear.

I hear her daughter in the background asking to borrow some pot. Here, but make it last, I
don’t want to go back over there in two days
, my aunt says. Back over there is to the house of the
man with one leg and phantom toes.

When I was a teenager my mom would put extra pot on a cheese plate that had a mouse
cover. She would say, it’s there in case you need to relax. I didn’t need to relax but I still took
the pot. When my friends came over I said we had to smoke in the garage. This was a lie.
I don’t know why I said this.

My aunt says California is a little far, but she could pick me up in a few days and we could
go to Chicago.

I am suddenly terrified to leave the house, but I tell her that will be fine.

She probably won’t come. She usually forgets to do things like that, so I don’t worry too much.

We talk for two hours. She tells me how frustrating it is to get laid off three times in four years.

She applies for nine jobs a week.

No one calls her back.

She says perhaps if she was in California it would be easier to get a job.




By this time it’s apparent that I’m not leaving for California today.

The street light comes through the window like a forgotten angel.

I should go to sleep.

I’ll leave tomorrow.

If I’m lucky, I’ll meet someone who’s going there.

One thing I admire about Sam Reed’s “Regarding the Domestication of the Horse”

When immersed in a summer full of childhood, its trips to the beach, the playground, the pool, its lunches to pack, grocery store snack searches, toy car processions extending endlessly; when a day opens fifteen hours from the dawn and every minute is full in its turn; then my manner of meeting a poem, like every “adult” activity I attempt, undergoes a change, is imbued with something like hope, hope for a brief encounter with ordinary (though what is more ordinary than a child’s summer?), a bit of it that I can carry around inside my mouth all day like a gift I’m not required to give.

In this poem, built on a series of epithets and grandish claims (“Gods who make everything but promises,” “the wind does not deserve them”) that I have admired for years without forgetting, I find finally that the line that best fits my mouth is its quietest, its most ordinary line: “This is the prairie of shale and arrows”. I say ordinary, but maybe I mean reliable. Either way, though I haven’t visited a prairie of shale and arrows in years, the manner in which those three nouns enhance one another sonically is sufficient poetry for me this summer, this fatherhood, is sufficient language for me to see my just-mowed lawn for the prairie it isn’t and look back at the children from a richer vantage.

Should poetry hope to do more than that? The rest of the poem believes so, and so do I. But sometimes a line will do, sometimes a line that marks the essential smallness of cause poetry opens from (Valery said this somewhere) is enough to sustain a poem, or an hour, or a day, full of other impulses, other demands.


Note: the “one thing I admire” series is intended as a place for saying small things about poems or books of poems, and as an invitation for anyone reading to say something they admire about that poem or book of poems, via comment…AS