Caligula in a Crawl Space

Walk onstage and huddle in a kind corner
Behind the definitive badge of your dissolution
As soon as you brush that bridge, it begins to vanish
You grab onto song and memory to get over

Behind the definitive badge of your dissolution
Didactic moans send you back to your kindergarten
You grab onto song and memory to get over
The blades that cut your face like a deck of jokers

Didactic moans send you back to your kindergarten
Routine of hardcore pornography in a puddle
The blades that cut your face like a deck of jokers
Are less remembered than the ghost of a poor boy drumming

Routine of hardcore pornography in a puddle
Where are your bedbugs now? Your towers of language
Are less remembered than the ghost of a poor boy drumming
Everything is the ghost of a poor boy drumming

Where are your bedbugs now? Your towers of language
Skyrocket past all poles into prime-time weakness
Everything is the ghost of a poor boy drumming
Goodbye beats only audible to apostates

Skyrocket past all poles into prime-time weakness
Walk onstage and huddle in a kind corner
Goodbye beats only audible to apostates
As soon as you brush that bridge, it begins to vanish

Bedside Paperback

He entered the flower shop with tears in his eyes,
bought her flowers, and told her about his dead.
She cried vicariously then dove into a swimming pool
in search of a wedding ring she had lost years ago.
Frost was writing guitar chords on windows.

They went to the movies and watched a scatological fantasy.
They discovered things about each other
only the saddest sadists could tolerate.
Their respective children wrote poems and buried them
in shallow graves. A vulture circled their dogs
then flew away, knowing his time would come.

But sometimes a volcano surprises you, erupting in sunset colors.
They married in a dying town’s town hall.
They did not run into any crucifixions on the way.
They built cabinets and read books together.
Their voices carried to the other side of the mountain.
Their smiles went viral. Birds were named in their honor.

And now neither of them knows what to do about
their unrequited love for each other.

The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother Breaks Off His Engagement

He just couldn’t trust he mattered enough to the woman.
He pries the ring off her finger, then sits there rocking.
The porch is lightly seasoned with elderberry.

A bearded friend, who hasn’t gotten the memo,
drops by with some belated congratulations.
The brother pours his visitor a peach cognac.

Impaling scallops, the brother avoids eye contact.
Houses look like teeth; he lives in a molar.

He waters the evergreens with latent sadism.

Meanwhile, his ex-fiancée takes flying lessons.
Her airplane loses both engines over a forest.
She makes a blind hero’s landing at Great Adventure.

She tries to figure out why the engines failed her,
if it was something she’d pressed, or her plumcot perfume,
or a side effect of her constant stumbling.

She theorizes the airplane couldn’t keep balance
because her left brain far outweighed the other.

She punches her own right eye in a funhouse mirror.

The prodigal son never parts with his pocket hymnal.
He’s falling in love with another flagrant kite-surfer
whose truck glides over the dunes like a fat flamingo.

The prodigal son has taught himself not to vomit.
He can conceal his substance abuse from strangers
when they barge in with documentary lenses.

He bites into a pear from a liquor bottle.
He wants to have a career in something off-kilter.

He notices Pollock patterns in the pine barrens.

Pearl Algorithm

Eye contact disappeared; night calls tucked in—
no Möbius Ferris scripts, no saccharine
from this shut park. Our nothing bleeped no more.
Adventure faded upward, aspen-bound.
Ducks trounced off naked skin chagrined awake
to zero pathos, wiping out our past.
Offsite, patrolmen tripped among pain clouds
thirsty for a clear stab. The silence fell
several months ago, sweat patterned by
exception, weeds, or hexes. We stilled heart
in concord with extreme graffiti hands
that crisped the place with numbered, found, then split.

Our sports store cooked its doors, fumbled its peace,
unsure whether to poodle or get kinged.
Desserts stared fairly from our sacrifice
and spewed refusal through maroons of Mars.
There was a time gooseberries rocked your hair.
Now half your family is close to death.
Disgusted with the swoop of your own brows,
you flush anticipation in milk god
like Nero in his trash-collecting stance.
Off-duty art establishment howls skulls,
and Stephen Dedalus dependably
clear-waters the arch charm of go to hell.

These weeks I buy my rime-not-taken screams
from long-skit curtain calls in park & ride.
Compelled to pasture, orchids dance in ice
and dream enjoyments we can barely screech.
Was I your token, or the other way
around? Zigzagging up the padlock flame
above the churchyard, disremembered ash
reads poetry to crypts, then silence falls
and you must sleep. And yes, there’s truth to claims
that elephants don’t stay in living rooms
if you ignore them absently enough.
But usually they get replaced with tanks.

I never played the piano for your cold,
never returned my pedal to the air.
Geraniums survived—or so you said—
much longer than our corrugated slam.
Inebriates of grit, a clutch of boys
dished straight-up love, proclaimed themselves disturbed,
until maturity bent back their caps
and glued their tonsils to elitist blimps.
You had your faults; you had your artichokes.
You won & won again through puppet blaze
bravado that pretended to be grid
but couldn’t stash its inland acid rain.

Ruts waffled, and a conversation glitch
informed us that all movies had gone cold.
The closer they betrayed, the more our age
came creased in bone meal of befriended fire.
You had too many sheets caress your bed;
I was a monster, having only none.
Invisible zero-to-sixty touched
our solipsistic sleep. The silence fell
with parliaments of teddy dogs galore
and multiple attempts to drown in flags
of upper rules, gregarious castanets,
maritime memories, and private seers.

A finger to propriety and still.
A nose ringed with a correspondence clock
will heal, but only if I flake desire—
that’s what you wrote, that time, to anvil doom.
No, this is sticky business. Flower pods
hang their hot-air crash lozenges on trees,
and deadly sin cofounders grow their beards
marshmallow-rich, compounding interest.
Divinity is threshold to the stars,
but stars themselves have zero fashion sense.
They would be mocked right off Parnassus slopes.
Their bears would get knocked out of their star-hands.

The silence—Wait! A whisper, sport! Fuck hell!
Even the sturdiest of memories rot,
and then we reconvene to take their horns,
policing the live oddments by the graves.
The piano disassociates its sting;
maelstroms watch the rusted bridges part;
sky could be the limit to our wall,
but Icarus is darn. The sunset yaps
in East Berlin, and ghosts of gamblers past
dismount on our horizons, weaving brooms.
It’s time to riddle the oblivious,
train them for Scrabble and for centuries.

You see me as a chewed-up paper doll
caroling fate in apple-wood refrains,
but oysters cultivate the major key
bereavements of your ground-up heartbreak dirt,
and here you are. And here I am as well.
And gooseberries croon echoes in the park,
and strategies of flight we thought extinct
acquire animatronic second life.
You choose your own adventure; so do I.
We catch motifs and joust ourselves afloat,
and thus hold teacup hands, while prairies breathe
another day in their religious salt.

Trust Fund Babies

He drove his car surprisingly well for someone
who wore a real pumpkin on his head every Halloween.

She was not nice. Most people wanted to hit her.
A middle aged poet was the only one who did, for a while.

He didn’t work at looking like a werewolf. Then he did.
Then he stopped. Then he got back into it.

She was young at heart with her dog at her side.
Or was it a duck? That’s what she called him, anyhow.

He tried to become a rock star but was always distracted
by the giant plate of nachos on the table nearby.

Her first business venture was in selling bamboo vibrators.
Her second business venture was in selling bamboo vibrators.

He inhaled so much dust in his bedroom, he was rushed
to an emergency room, then released back to his bedroom.

For half her life she watched her brother wither away. She lost it
when one of her friends suggested she play with bears for relief.

He pummeled his fist against an exposed brick wall
until he acquired an air of detachment most people envied.

She married someone just to sponsor his big campaign.
Too bad she forgot to ask if he had any interest in campaigning.

Last time I saw him, he was walking a Cat of Death
on a leash, like a dog, except that people were dying.

She left a legacy of sarcasm and unrequited love
and a tall swan on a freezing river, avoiding wakes.

The Car You Drove That Night Was Silver

I used to dialogue with your poplar blossoms.
Swinging in hammocks,
I shared with you my whatever.
You set the tone for my snapshots
of seagulls, of faith,
lent tastefulness to my grab bags.
You were easy to talk to,
easy to hug in ballrooms.
Your notes fell into my day like weather.

A man came in from the cold.
It was very cold. It was coon hat time
for him. He headbanged that striped tail,
a pioneer. He was awkward.
He flaunted an irresistible wavelength.
Later, you walked the streets shivering.
You got support from friends who orbited you.
You learned to make cupcakes
and followed cats across bridges.

I never loved you, so I wonder why
I can no longer hum any of your carols.
From swings, I can tell you nothing.
Your curls are somewhere.
I wouldn't be able to tell what apple horseradish
you mix and match. I wouldn't be able to tell
your lips from cough drops. I don't know your coat-of-arms.
I wonder if cloud nine rained at any point.
I wonder if that water saved any trees.

Memory

The weeds of the soon-discarded hot dogs on carts.
The weeds of serendipitous manufacturing
of sandals. The weeds of a routine shadow
of an ancestral beach umbrella. The weeds of water.
The weeds of hallucinatory trampling.

We walk on them
We stamp them out with our feet
And still they reappear
Still they reappear

The weeds of your self-doubt in the pocket of an open field.
The weeds of flat feet walking the angry road.
The weeds of precipitation over your splattering brain.
The weeds of someone else’s exile.
The weeds of a filibuster. The weeds of drowning again
and again and becoming an army of the drowned.
The weeds of rotten chickadees.
The weeds of mausoleum ennui.
The weeds of a disaster getting over itself.

We walk on them
We stomp on them with our carnivorous shoes
And still they firework
Still they firework

The weeds of nonce kangaroos. The weeds of a good place
to scare yourself. The weeds of maybe not getting screwed.
The weeds of exactly the most tiring clown.
The weeds of a flamingo’s shadow over wildflowers.
The weeds of beauty. The weeds of a dollar lunch.
The weeds of a miserable person who makes everyone else happy.
The weeds of no shit. The weeds of an ignorant car.
The weeds of ice. The weeds of the discarded.
The weeds of other planets on your finger.

We stretch our legs on them
We stretch our metaphysics
And still they flay us
Still they skin us dead

The weeds of a massacre. The weeds of juxtaposition.
The weeds of globalism in a carpet bag.
The weeds of experience. The weeds of pigs in the weeds.
The weeds of getting beat up.
The weeds of Savonarola. The weeds of jouissance
one rarely thinks about anymore. The weeds of
WTF history. The weeds of your departure.
The weeds of your sun. The weeds of your integrity.
The weeds of your perpetuity. The weeds
of comrades. The weeds of absolute cowboys.
The weeds of unspoken maggots. The weeds
of us. The weeds of the transformative death.

We unlove them
We unbecome them
And still they pilfer our will
Still they bring us back into music

Transmissions

There was a time they said these things cheek-to-cheek.
Now, talking to her, his voice takes the shape of waves
and makes its way to the cell phone tower in Manchester-by-the-Sea,
built to look like an oversize mast in the middle of a marina.

From there it goes on to a redwood in Pennsylvania,
the only redwood that exists in the state.
Why they could not have shaped their cell phone tower
like a blue spruce, even Pan doesn’t have a clue.

Onward, with barely noticeable static,
the silent waves of his words reach the Cross of Calvary
-shaped cell phone tower in the Bible Belt
then move to a citadel at a maximum security prison.

“I love you,” he casually drops, and his sentiment reaches her
courtesy of a giant metal giraffe on a hill in front of a diner,
a war memorial with a double life,
a whimsical out-of-commission lighthouse
that only men with mustaches are allowed to enter.

“I almost ran over a toddler today. I cried,” she confesses
via gigantic deer antlers in a nature preserve,
a purple hundred foot cactus in an oasis,
the lone horn of a jumbo rhinoceros
at the top of a rollercoaster.

Tirelessly she relates how her family members enslave her,
or so she thinks, her voice transmitted by turrets
on haunted Victorian mansions,
giant chips on top of casinos
and a tall copper flame-shaped sculpture in the middle of a columbarium.

“I wish you were here. I just made some more instant coffee,”
a flagpole with an upside down American flag transmits
on a day of a quickly-developing national crisis.
“I still don’t like cats,” she insists
through several obelisks.

They have been talking for over an hour now, and he is tired.
“Goodbye,” he says abruptly. She asks him about his day.
“Goodbye,” he repeats. She keeps talking. She is unstoppable.
“Goodbye,” he says again—
but stays on the line.

The Smell of Cinnamon

When you hold your life in your hands,
     every word you say is plate tectonics.
Future cities form with each sentence.
     Raindrops in your hair interact like planets.

     In a bookstore, or under a traffic light,
with no more than ten seconds to make a connection,
          you speak in incomplete phrases,
     count on your eyes to do most of the work.

     Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn
     bumped into each other for the first time
     under an awning during a downpour.
     Perhaps he told her an abstract joke
          about a chipmunk who looked like
     some locally-grown bard's microphone.

          The chipmunk had no idea
     the casual banter he starred in
     carried the weight of all Americana.

     Had he screwed up—just imagine:
     the rain passes, Tracy and Hepburn part,
          no Academy Awards,
          no one comes to dinner.

     When you hold your life in your hands
covering up a lie, explaining away a betrayal,
     your bones make a sound like a music box.
One wrong word—and your skeleton
          scatters over the rocks.

You tell tall tales, even work in a sales pitch
to deliberately annoy the one you've betrayed,
to make them hate you for counterfeit reasons.

When you hold your life in your hands,
     your head is a tangle of foliage,
          and if you lose one leaf,
          all of them come down.

You’re outside the Lincoln-Mercury dealer
     waiting for a brake job on your beater
          and send a text message
to someone who’s called you in error,
who would never have called you.
     A witty reference to Häagen-Dazs
might bring them back forever into your life.

Another Alexander the Pretty Good steps up to a podium.
     A raindrop falls from your hair.
          Someone notices you.

When you hold your life in your hands,
     You’re tempted to say as little as possible.
Your speech becomes a brownfield of pronouns.

     When you hold your life in your hands,
you lay the foundations for new legends—
          an international chipmunk hall of fame,
a box office smash about a white dress.

When you hold your life in your hands,
ring the bells in spite of their cracks,
     even if they’re on the ground.

     You will wake up yet,
     and someone might be next to you,
     and you will look in their eyes,
     and a leaf might fall off a tree
     while all the others remain attached,
     and you will notice your breath
     and the smell of cinnamon,
     and close your eyes,
     and open them again.

You never come to this neighborhood.
You never look at these paintings.
You have no use for this crowd.

     But there she is,
          or there he is.
And the ocean floor starts to move,
     and you’re as clumsy as a clam,
          and you open up.

And someone wants to use you as bait
          to catch bigger fish,
     and it’s your job not to let them.

One Must Imagine Her Happy

Again he snowdrops out of her permafrost
and she replays last year’s World Cup games
just to glimpse the tigers in the audience
they glimpsed together when they were together.

The tigers are binging on frozen yogurt—
she can see that quite clearly now.
Their smiles look like her own.
Death is parked off-campus.

Anton Yakovlev

Anton Yakovlev’s latest poetry collection is Ordinary Impalers (Aldrich Press, 2017). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Hopkins Review, Prelude, Measure, and elsewhere. The Last Poet of the Village, a book of translations of poetry by Sergei Esenin, is forthcoming from Sensitive Skin Books in 2017. Born in Moscow, Russia, he studied filmmaking and poetry at Harvard University. He has also written and directed several short films.

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