Benjamin Paloff

    A Trick of Certain Ambassadors

Symbiosis, my daughter explains: I charge the electric toothbrush, and the electric toothbrush keeps my mouth clean. Fuck it. My Talmudic approach to writing has made me afraid of writing, and while writing, too, I am afraid, as in the ritual that precedes a run or lift or sex, the artful lacing and unlacing and readjusting, the learned wariness of the gerundial, the participial, the abstract, of their frailty against more muscular expressions, though they are everywhere, and genuinely both human and nonhuman—afraid of falling somehow short, or of falling, like Holden Caulfield, into a void with every step, though it’s only ever the stepping I wish for. Too much, you say, a guy’s book. You prefer the other. And I’m hung up on the sound of approaching engines over the sea, nature’s sound machine. An airplane, but too slow to be an airplane, the kind of undertow that can pull you so far out and down and fast, if only in my fears, that I’d have to plan an entirely different way of life, while the actual day is petty annoyances, the music frustrated by you reading silently to yourself. The street light we know is broken by its remaining on in daylight. The bullfinches’ begging we take for song. Not everyone has to sing for his supper. But the bullfinches face each other on the landing, heads low, wings splayed, and approach, retreat, approach again before parting ways, seeing reason the way a horse, fresh from the farrier, sees wonders in the sparks rising from her feet. People like me, on the other hand, are always looking out for people looking out for an angle, or else taking things for what they are, which usually means someone getting hurt. It’s excruciatingly difficult not to be distrustful when people declare April the cruelest month, when what they really mean is that April is the cruelest month for them, and the starfish-shaped shimmers along the invisible edge could be anything. Ships. Or some animal’s idea of a miracle. Or some jokester’s idea of a joke.

What They Do to Cowards
Around Here

Urine is cleaner than saliva, my wife has been telling me for twenty-five years, apropos of no latest study, wilderness first aid, no kink or would-be kink, just trying something out, and I have no reason to contradict or doubt anything said by anyone who has taken care of me. Even the surly, handsome pigeon walking laps around the backyard seems to agree that the world is everything that is a stat, that a dream about the inner lives of bees can end with an actual bee stinging me on my actual mouth. Peeing on the wound is out of the question, so I wake up every morning afraid that my father is already dead and beyond the ease of his casual 1940s racism, his enviable void of introspection, his hazy friendship with Mudcat Grant. Blues singer, two-time All-Star, pitches Game 1 of the ‘65 World Series, Yom Kippur, Sandy Koufax refuses to pitch for the Dodgers, so Mudcat beats Don Drysdale, later a Hall-of-Famer. You can still be afraid of something that has already happened. The Twins lose the series in seven. My father laughed every time he mentioned that Mudcat had a brother named Swampfire, who also played pro ball, because he could never remember what he had or had not said. Had I seen, with today’s documentary precision, the bees flying in and out of a hole in the ground and wondered what it was like inside? Was Mudcat grinning down at me as I opened my eyes, awed by how the earth’s blackness is lined with workers working toward a common purpose? I had been holding an eye to the ground, innocent eclipse, and felt lightning only after pulling away. Somewhere, I am still in crisis. The bees are still in crisis. We are all still ringed by trees, though it is only the outermost ring of the tree that’s alive.

Twenty-Nine Sonnets

As we speak, most of the animals in Australia, which is no more an island than any other continent, are thinking of new ways to kill us. I am thinking about the garage’s postapocalyptic Zen, its diorama of a world where you just let things be. There are indeed other geographies. The planet where the wind moves so fast you wouldn’t call it “wind” if you were there—that’s also the planet where it rains hot glass. Where it rains diamonds, everyone is filthy rich, and dead. The planet that’s blue is not really blue. It’s a trick of the light, the atmosphere, the mood, an artist’s conception. The planet where people kill people for land, or for what’s beneath the land, is covered in lead and peace signs. People will do what the wind tells them, they’ll flee to where it flees. Australia, I liked my youth, the stupid clarity of my youth. We used to be primordial, too. The moon used to be closer. Pure sentiment, calling other planets’ moons moons. Dig deep enough, and you’ll hit roots that form stairs. Proximity matters, especially where winter is the price we pay for spring. As surely as there are loves that bring no joy, there’s no right way to be young. There being no Hebrew saints as such, I became possessive. I wanted to track down the guy who took it upon himself to decide what size fun is and not exactly kick the shit out of him, as if mentions belonged to me alone. I imagine plenty of others escape their pasts, you have to carry your trash with you till you find where to throw it away, but the Sargasso Sea is mine, so I have to ask what the point is of any sex or famine going on in my absence. I have to wonder about the invisible artist who keeps the plants alive on the landing, rearranges the dead butterflies daily, and comes and goes with the giddiness of gulls, loud and cruel. Silver dollars being worth more or less depending on the manner of death, I want a leisure-pages poolside funeral, cucumber coins on my eyes, on everyone’s eyes, for fun. We follow the devoted marketer; we’re dying to be revived. Yet I’d to innocence submit in truth, if doing so might give me back my youth. Which to our hope then gives the lie, that sleep’s a property of the eye. In the twenty-first century, slow seeing’s sorry art is excited by the ex-president’s paintings. They’re consistent with the technology of the time, yet patchwork, like Luke Skywalker’s mechanical hand or, really, anyone’s mechanical hand. The angels have faces quite unlike those in art books. The sirens are singing their baited hooks just to drown you on the sand. To see the forward-facing footprints of the backward-walking man.

Benjamin Paloff’s books include the poetry collections And His Orchestra (2015) and The Politics (2011), both from Carnegie Mellon, as well as a critical volume and many translations. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Conduit, New American Writing, The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and others, and he was the guest editor of the Fall 2019 issue of Michigan Quarterly Review. Twice a fellow of the NEA, he lives in Michigan.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis (susanlewis.net) is the editor of Posit (positjournal.com) and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom, winner of the 2017 Washington Prize, Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in such places as The Awl, Berkeley Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Cimarron, Gargoyle, The Journal, New American Writing, The New Orleans Review, Prelude, Raritan, Seneca Review, So to Speak, Verse, Verse Daily, and VOLT.