Bob Hicok

Meditation on a bris of sorts

Four Manhattans—
worth of ice, minus rats, restaurants, and Central Parks,
broke off from Antarctica the other day.
The stock market didn't notice.
Congress argued about sweat socks
or people marrying people
with the same junk
when only opposite junk
should be "I doed,"
was the thinking of the senator
from 1947. My question
all through college was: can humans
intentionally evolve?
Can seventeen hundred people
gather in a convention hall and talk
about shoelaces or war until walking
and breathing are safer, less trippy
or bullety experiences? Or upon raising
the temperature of the room, by which I mean
Indiana, by which I mean the Earth,
will your average citizen, think tank, president,
rodeo clown, bulldozer manufacturer, realize
Too much is enough and suggest we turn
the thermostat down? When I've asked
the oracle of the Magic Eight Ball, Is wisdom an idea
ahead of its time?, in nine
out of eight instances, the answer that floated up
through the blue, inky waters
of its mind: Signs Point To Yes.
Signs point to fire, flood, and drought.
To suffering on a scale
scientists refer to as "holy fuck."
I don't mean to suggest
we're missing the boat. I mean to shout
the boat is on fire, the life jackets
turned out to be sweater vests,
the escape plan is useless
when there's no there to get to
that isn't here. But I'm sorry,
I interrupted you: You were talking about the threat
of cock sucking, I think, or the death
of Christmas, or the dearth of good strip clubs
or mining or malls in Nome. I have trouble
remembering if circumcision
removes the foreskin or foresight.
Or both.



It's all downhill until it's flat or uphill

You're probably wondering
why I took up skateboarding at fifty eight
and not skeet shooting, bank robbing, teleporting.

So many gerunds: this is a very active poem.
It's almost sweating.

I took up skateboarding due to all the death
my wife and I have to come: her parents and mine.

I'm not very good. I fell and broke
a tulip yesterday. The day before, I got a ticket
for not acting my age. I don't know
any of the jargon, who the great skateboarders
of the Renaissance were, but the gear's cool
and motion distracts entropy
from my sagging flesh, which is to say,
a little bit of zoom
and the future doesn't exist. It's like being
the best watch in the world
made of bones and bits of rivers
and fear that I don't really love anyone,
but since watches have no then to them, only now,
I'm off the hook for all the guitar smashing
that goes on in my brain.

Is any of this true?
Probably not. Probably all of it. Probably
you don't like this commentary and I don't care
for purists or Puritans or sitting still
when I can be out there
testing my balance and perfecting a move
I call Muddling Through.

And there's this. Mom and dad—thank you.
I know you're worried
no one will visit your graves.
I am both no one who will
and no one who won't. And sometimes when I do
I'll let the weeds grow toward the sun,
and sometimes when I don't, the weeds will die
of their own accord. The mess it will be
is the surprise it has always been. Life.
This breathing of stars.



For love of the game

Early in the first quarter,
after an incomplete pass, we gathered
in the huddle and called Stephen Hawking
to ask, In an entropic system, what's the value
of ritualized violence? He thought
it was the huddle itself, that men pretended
for a moment a circle could hold them,
then tried to kill each other, then returned
to the circle, which is the moon, the womb,
a symbol of perfection as well as our desire
to achieve it. I tried to tell the cornerback
covering me how noble life is, but he thought
A Brief History of Time went on too long
and wasn't about to be distracted by my idea
that in failing to be perfect, we embody
the slight disruptions in DNA or alterations
in an environment that make evolution
possible. He felt every play
was a little version of The Big Bang,
an explosion into barely ordered disarray,
followed by collapse, and wished we'd go back
to talking about women or Greek Mythology
like in the old days, when football
was football and men cried only
when shot or their dogs died
or they realized that war
was their most memorable achievement.
I was so moved by his wisdom
that I could have kissed this guy
but facemasks make that impossible.
Fear of the homoerotic is why the facemask
exists, Susan Sontag explained
to the Green Bay Packers
when they called her on fourth and one
not long before she died
and they couldn't decide what men
are more afraid of, death or love? She said
fear of death is fear of love,
and to go for it, you Nancy boys.



Only one grandmother was lost in the filming of this poem

Extending a tightrope from my forehead
to your heart is a practical matter
of eyebolts and tension, says the engineer
in me.

The hula-hooper in me says round things
make the best toys, such as balls
and the wheel of life.

The undertaker in me can't stop staring
at the woman who asked, the day before she died,
if she were alive.

Imagine you're asked this question
by your ninety six year old grandmother
with your three year old son
at your side, who later, in the car
with your soft crying, crying
you're trying to bury
on the inside of your face, asks
the same thing: Mommy, am I alive?

The philosopher in me says it was genius
for her to stop in a little park
with breaking down picnic tables
and rusty swings and chase her son
in circles and figure eights, not knowing
her grandmother died while she was holding him
by his feet and swinging him
in a circle, while the priest in me
thought it holy that she let him go,
let him fly a few feet
into the sandbox that caught him
and gently gave him back, giggling
and all questions answered.




Though I am not her stethoscope,
she sanctions the wanderings of my ears
across her body, my listening
to the light sanding of wood
that is her breathing, to her closed eye
still warm from touching the moon.
And down there, where she turns into a Y,
it's fun to whisper into her cave
and listen for the echo coming back
changed. As when I said, My shadow
is a critique of my heart,
her vagina replied, You try too hard
to prove you exist, the best game of telephone
I've ever played, with any woman,
let alone a woman named
for the first woman
to run and run
until she realized
she could never be lost
because maps didn't exist.
And even if they had, she'd have made them.
And if she had made them,
they'd have been maps of water, to water,
by water and for water to use
to find its way back
to where water began, every one of them
left out in the rain.



Half past not yet

The cedars go up faster than the mountain
comes down. They're clocks
of a different feather. How much of the time
I spend thinking about time I'm wearing
a red shirt I can't say, not like why
the idea of bald Jesus
is funny: bald Jesus mocks our desperation
for eternity. If nothing lasts forever, absence
at least is something we can build our love
of the clarinet upon, a long note played out
like a rope behind a ship bound for the anywhere
of our mapless sleep. That's a sound that sounds
like it's trying to fill the very hole
it makes, just like everyone I care for is dying
not to die any more than they have to
at the end, when it'll turn out Orpheus was right
to turn around and look back at the past,
for to turn around and look back at the future
is to miss what hasn't happened yet, and every face
I adore is here now, fitting softly
between my rough hands.



Lights on, lights off

I know I couldn't pet our cat's paws
when she was young, but can now
after thirteen years together. I know wood smoke
makes the air smell warmer. I know I become elated
ten minutes after a first drink, melancholy
half an hour after a second. I know I've wasted
most of my life on consciousness, on counting
and tic-tac-toe. I know if you're going to stare
at a prostitute in a window in Amsterdam,
you should be naked too. And yes, I know
the sword of Damocles is stuck in my head. And no,
I don't know how it got there, when the thread
of happiness broke. And yes, it has complicated
my relationship with hats. And no, it doesn't hurt
except when I stand on my head. I like that we share
these epistemological interludes. Now, though,
I want to return to the dark, to waiting
for morning to touch everything in this room
and bring it all back to life
simultaneously, a resurrection
only the sun is capable of, having more fingers
than all the people now or ever alive. And yet,
despite this intimacy, what do I really know
about the sun, I mean personally?



An interpretation of what I hear in bird chatter
every morning

An extended group of interested parties—

me, Eve, Bryan, Eva, Jerry, Hamza,
the west branch of the Roanoke River,
the one monarch butterfly I've seen
in five years, this cloud and that cloud
and every cloud above your head
or in your heart, Tom, Janell, Susanna,
Buddha if he were here to let us kiss
and rub his silly belly, our orange cat Wee,
the strawberries killed last night
by frost, everyone in New York last week
speaking Spanish and Hindi, speaking the lean
of their bodies, speaking hunger and fear
and lust, all the poets banging their pots
and all the guitarists strumming their spines
and all the plumbers bringing streams
straight to our mouths and faces—

would like to know if that seat is taken,
if that bed is available, if a cab
has been called, if coyotes want to sing
with the band, and how much to tip
the deity, the chance that tumbled down
to all of this and everything that's coming,
to the floating
of a world so heavy with the rock
of itself, with all this life
and the bones of all former living,
through whatever space and time
turn out to be, beside
each other, and us



I'm a man, so this must be a manifesto

When we stand shoulder to shoulder
     along the border and form a wall
of bear-hugging greeters and donors of single
red carnations and readers of the sixteenth part
of Song of Myself and kissers of dirt and sweat
on lips and foreheads and translators
of the cheeseburger and freeway, and ATM, APB
and QVC explainers and ask what your new country
can do for your new you and spill the beans
on a lake trying to be an ocean
in Chicago, on where to go
to be alone in Manhattan, and accept fear
in the eye as ID, and perform this rigorous
and righteous citizenship test:
     where does your appetite go
          when you sleep?,
and whether they say Idaho or I don't know or I've heard
there's no end to your sky or just shrug
in a language you don't speak, if you let them in,
     I'd recognize you
under every possible disguise, hipster stash
or cowboy chaps or priestly collar
     or maximally mini
made of hundred dollar bills,
whether your piercings have tats
or your tats are TVS or you've got skin
pure as the driven night or you're a mutt
born of unbordered fuckings
like most of us, born of the rivering rush
of flesh to get willy nilly and tumble down
and smiling if possible
     from A to Z, you're American
and I'd hold your hand through any hurricane
or disruption in the force of our love
for an idea that can't be blabbed
but only lived, what the hell is democracy anyway
if not the rumble, the ramble, the scrum, the suck,
the bite, the reach, the retch, the scream, the song,
the falling, the rising, the coming and coming and coming
     home of everyone



Float with me awhile

On my chest before surgery I wrote


on my knee


on my head


and that was that: they inserted a sextant
in my thigh: I came out
better located, more alive.

I know how I'm going to die:

a train will hit a friend,
who'll call
bleeding out,
she'll speak Russian
at the end, my ear
her last chance
to think of home,
and I won't cry. Not then.
Not for seven years.
Until crossing a rope bridge
over a gorge in Brazil, all the not-crying
will break out, I'll convulse,
lose my balance, and fly, landing fine.

I'll die when no one believes
my flying is true,
after years of telling friends
and telemarketers,
Grief can make a body
light, not unlike a leaf
taped to a paper airplane
stapled to a wing, I think: research
is required.

Just as I wonder what it says
that I couldn't sketch
my wife's face to save her life.
Even with a gun to my head,
my heart's hand
would draw a blank.
And is it better to wish
on candles or stars? Candles
live on cake, whereas stars
are in the dark. Of this alone
I have no doubt:
some soon October, leaves
will stay where they are
so trees can fall. I am tired
of being tired.



I am a teapot, short and stout,
sometimes I whisper, too often shout

Two or three times a week
I feel such revulsion for the voice
in the air imitating the voice in my head
that I try to run or pogo-stick
away from myself, hoping to see a peaceful
and fun loving bonobo on Main Street
or bump into the cat who owes me sixty bucks
so I can hear the sound of three twenties
slipping home into my wallet. I mean
a real cat, not a man I'm calling a cat.
The terms of the loan are I pet the cat
behind the left ear and get scratched
from time to time so she can remind herself
civilization's a theory, not a fact.
I think it's that I hear myself
needing to be right, believing
I know how anything works, the dishwasher
or democracy or being
a human being and my voice
gets kind of fighty and needy
like rusted barbed wire
playing a flute. Bonobos
roll and giggle a ton
and I don't care if cat
ever pays me back, I consider
my sixty bucks an investment
in vomiting and scratching trees,
and no, I don't love myself, I tolerate
that I'm not dead yet and look forward
to tolerating my breath
as long as the candle in my heart's
into wax and then I want
to be happy for all of eternity
that I need not ever again express an opinion
on Proposition Six or feel dirty
because I couldn't resist
telling you that skirt
and that flame thrower clash.


Bob Hicok’s most recent book is Sex & Love & (Copper Canyon, 2016). Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon, 2013), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.