Joe Pan


is the red bush I take my tea from.

Look, spilt all over my see-through blouse
through my see-through body,
the floor awash in what I cannot keep
or keep private.

I’ve lost another helicopter
to the window’s mullions, another Sunday
to the poor distribution of health.

Music, to be able to hear it, I mean,
must be a karmic instance.
I seem to recall something
to this effect.

I can no longer hear music
but voices come to me.
I learn new words each day.

Hands are like pancakes as fans are to Jaws 3-D.
I can say anything with my new worldview
& have it be true. Look, it is true. Look
if you can see me. I am an ultimate truth.

When I reach out to touch
things will not have me.

I once loved a man, richly, like spice
discovered late in the day on one’s upper lip,
is something the grandmother of this house
once offered
at the table in lieu of grace.
I love you, Grandmother, I wrote on her Etch-A-Sketch
using one pure unbroken line.
It was almost a question.
Shake shake shake, she whispered in song.
& told me she once hunted down spies,
& then retired to this house in the desert
where her children & grandchildren have moved in.
She likes to collect grains shaped like Cold War politicians,
her fondness for anything worldly having vanished,
gone as a day-
old two-year-old’s love for medicine.
It’s just a spoonful of care left, she says,
& must be put down, like a dog, eventually.

Her family said nothing at the table as she spoke to me,
eating, talking,
ignoring her.

She’s out there now, in the garden,
pretending to love,
moving her dark hands through the roses.

The children, when they come
upstairs, tell me I talk too much of love,
& that it is silly. They say stupid,
but they mean silly.

& run away slamming the door when I get angry.

But I knew love, in a way,
though all of my relationships end
with the same sound
erupting within me at the same dance,
where I pretend to lead, then am led,
dip & am dipped, condemned with lies
loudly & man-
handled & shot through
& there I wither like a red rooibos
in the last of my lover’s harsh weathers.

I can describe to you the notes
but the beat of it is gone.

I’m led no more. I refuse it. I refuse each summons.

Mother rode with her sisters
to his homestead after dusk.
A porch nail
through each finger.

I can describe to you the notes
but the beat of it is gone.

I imagine their dresses
ruffled by the ground-scraping wind beneath
before spectators.

The dust on the glass
fluid through my fingers. Motes like a series
of galaxies. At some point
something must expand,
or collapse.

We become what evenings we take as our own.



It’s Lady’s Night at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Lithe & lisping a longaniza-
breathed “Hey, bitch,” but sweetly sour, you arrive, love, paroled anew, descending stairs—
du hast mich, mein champ—a fleet-footed Rocky feminista, fallen but resurrected, angelic
as the crushed perfume of a booked botanical. Our lips clash like twin sisters. You slug
the lager you asked me to bring, nimbly demonstrate, no punches pulled, a play performed
inside “the clink”: a Society of Incarcerated Dilettanti number—the ol’ stigmata’d-mouth-
exploitation show—invertebrating me with scenes of unshaven
guards unlooping nightsticks, bulging to burst from the ugly amber of their lust. Just
you say, my Asphodel, always so inventive in the ways to street-sweep & gutter
my trashy valences. Two years it’s been, this single-living on the outskirts of a municipality
of maybe, my heart an extrajudicial detention center for a wayward polyglot…baby, please,
can we kibosh the insinuations of brickyard & cell-succumbed clit lipstick traces, or any
mention of cult-flick scenarios involving former chemical addictions: those times you’d
upend my mental furniture, torch our family photos, or launch a speeding Vespa over
Warhol in Union Square? I get it; you paid dearly for approval. But cultivated urban rage
is out, honey bear; dorkish opulence is the new Spanish fly. Let’s re-immerse, see what’s left
to burn or bridge between us. Lets’ go get binary at the City Winery, maybe hit up Beauty Bar
& revel in the whispery watery earfuck of some electo-grrrl band’s raw bandwidth, a hoppy
vocalist who drops the bass like a velar plosive down our auditory canals, slithers a scintillating
song of aural assonance along the chambers of your organ of Corti—& maybe later, consumed
by whatever simple music hums between us, we can boost caress into drumming crescendo.
Oh, my! O my darkly grunt desire to have you in me. (Or hear me. My voice was always so
comparatively minor—the saintly eruption of a tea bubble; a canary in a washer in your
windstorm—whereas each note sent trembling along your vocal chords provokes my fault lines,
flash floods my downtown, taps my shelled earth on a skillet.) But I divest. Before your last arrest
I tried hard to hinder your dealings; tried healing the abuser; tried to un-harken your brash
hunger for other women, weapons on a mattress battlefield. It was always 5 AM with you,
always a cold pillow molded in the pillowy shape of loss. Always a phone nearby in case
you called, its blue light waking to my touch like some android antidote to your remoteness.
I dreamt of car hoods heated beneath your hankering body, magnets pinning illicit pics
to an imagined stranger’s refrigerator. Understand, I’m human here—I can’t just regenerate
like an Originator. If you break it, you buy it….But I don’t mean it. I mean: I need you, mostly,
in pleasure’s limpest instances, when you summon the wherewithal in me to want better things.
I record those permutations in a blogography, citing love as a frail & tender fungus; collapsible
as a fruit fly beaked by a fairy flycatcher, a feathered species listed “Least Concern, Endangered.”
But I do dream. Your face alive in my hands is a frigid body of water that eventually bloats
whatever it cools, like television; that look crazing crevices through memories of my old life
in the Spanish Legion, managing the orphanage, nights retiring before the corpulent cusp
of Aunt Televisa’s black broadcasting eye. I rivered a queen once for the win, Asphodel—
do you remember how I won you? With a pout you bet a paper ring & frankly crooned,
I’ll win that back one orgasm at a time. But failed to say with whom. A crabswoman
at the cleat, I dismissed your precious, petulant weather & dragged my pot in, catching
your fin in my mesh. But you became a smaller animal. Virulent as language, mouth to
foreign mouth you moved, indiscriminately, somehow satisfied to occupy the lowly status
of unresisting ingénue to their myths (& misanthropy), enjoying perhaps the erotic
infamy of becoming one of desire’s darker allegories. & viral you entered me, too,
in what I thought (ha!) was your weakest form. Until you slowly de-teethed my t-cells.
Until you clotted my kidneys & caromed off my vascular walls like the hundredth
margarita. & here we are tonight, again, before another courthouse, chatting like gadflies,
arguing relapses, & me trying to say I can’t be with you; & you recognizing weakness
as I jungle-gym your knuckles with my nails, eye-bang your shallow ribs one melodious
bar at a time. The Marriage Act, my trip to Madagascar—nervous filler conversation.
Sure, have another lager, Asphodel. Shirk the system. When you dance on the roof of my car,
the court policemen feign displeasure. (Dance upon my tongue, I imagine, & feel flushed.)
I could join you, but would rather erode with joy at having our bonds released again by sirens,
& back to lock-up you’d go, a tragedy in renewable one-acts. Our marriage was a simple crime,
wasn’t it? A misdemeanor brought before the hanging judge. Get in, get out, no traces left.
No babies, no brooms; no cash exchange or credence; no reason, we thought, not to. A union
devised in the moment; partly for a movement, maybe; for love & fun; & dissolved quite easily
by barfly baronesses whose noxious perfumes one can’t unwash from memory or bed sheets.
Clutching this train ticket I bought to your mother’s, you look hurt. How did you expect
to find me? A liaison from our glorious past, devoid of seasons’ reasoning? You were my wife,
my republic, my butterfly Gemini. My spoiler of gardens, my gutshot, my greeny window
of sexual renaissance washed to worldly, drippy destitution. Goodbye, baby. Baby, goodbye.
& now, driving home, the ugly barren storefronts frame the ultimate features of experience,
Asphodel. The forget-me-nots erupting from the sidewalks haven’t, Asphodel, forgotten.
The moon hides its sister face for a reason, Asphodel. For fuck’s sake, the Williamsburg
Bridge has been overrun by a flashy hoard of teetering ectomorphic models & the chorus
of their sultry exhalations delivers one name only, Asphodel. The mucked-up river laps
against your ruined shores & leaps upon the pylons, Asphodel, as condos on both sides
peer across the gulf & blink in slow rotation like the frightful, needy inhabitants of bars.
Asphodel, this streetlamp needs you! Of what importance would it serve without your
loping shadow carousing about its spotlight like a mad conductor in a hurricane’s eye,
where insects manifest in the bulb’s thought-bubble to fuck & die, their bodies the frantic
text of some unreadable cosmic joke? Who will snub my missives, or kiss the sickle of my
instep, or declare her wheaty pubic V my winter’s harvest? Who else could break me
into smile with a gauche pun involving the hardening rates & filler ratios of adhesives?
Who but a carpentry foreman & total fop could reinvent the whole butch/bitch thing
not as a gag but as a life? & whose wild stories (I of the boring lectures on public housing)
could I possibly adopt to chatterbox & entice a tilted, leggy fixture, somehow in five-inch
heels, a sullen artsy Whitney type, into her boxy loft bed & black coffee in the pre-dawn?
She wasn’t terrible. But fuck, she wasn’t you. This horrible fidelity to my infidel’s lovely bits
& bargaining chips, fall where they may; whatever we had, it was never dull. Enough! Shit!
My god, my mother’s voice, a Space Coast heartache on a Harley, holding my hair back
over the toilet as I regurgitate a Friday night’s impressive combination of faux pas, my first
foray into the liquidity of adulthood’s less than enviable decisions. The deals you make
& deal with. Maybe next time you’ll think twice before you try swallowing everything all up
at once.
I’m building up my stamina, Mom. I’m gonna be like you. I’m lobotomizing
a drama geek, plucking out my baby teeth. I’m preparing for the roughneck world
in which you floated unencumbered between campfire & filling station motel, between
cocaine binges & the lucidity of a pay-per-day workforce’s asymmetries. Sweetheart,
she’d say, you got a whole life yet. & yet. The sky has unbandaged its sunburned clouds
too soon, Asphodel, & a pink scar threads the morning. The marine birds scatter like
the white lies we tell ourselves. Bakery trucks in loading bays release the quicksand
smell of bread & honey onto Metropolitan Ave, & I’d rather have you here again—
among buildings that rise like uncredited actors, the strollers abandoned to empty
parking lots, this sky too eager to impress—to leave you, again, at our home’s steps.
It’s not that I don’t want you with me. It’s that to live I need to learn to live without.

Joe Pan is the author of Hiccups (Augury Books) and Autobiomythography & Gallery (BAP). He is the editor-in-chief and publisher of Brooklyn Arts Press, serves as the fiction editor for the arts magazine Hyperallergic and as small press editor for Boog City, and is the founder of the services-oriented activist group Brooklyn Artists Helping.

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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.