My wife is sick. I've dug a moat around our house.
Wolves are coming and wolves can jump. Viruses are coming
on wingéd feet. My eyes are full of slivers. My brain
is a fist of mud. I watch her sleeping and hang
on the hook of every wheeze. What if the boomerang
of her breath doesn't come back? What if angels
haven't done enough pushups? Without her
I'm my nipples—useless. Are there fairy tales
of men nursing stars? Is it too late for me
to be God? Lord, I'll live as a tree
if you make each second
a Russian nesting doll,
if each time she looks at me
opens into smaller versions
of the never ending bending of light
around her face. Everything
is all I ask. Take my hair, testicles,
seventy seven percent of the bones
that puzzle me upright, take me
first: I don't want to sit at a table
and explain to our spoons that she is gone.
They'll gouge my eyes out and I'll thank them
and break their backs. Ruin hides here
no matter what. The question is
lava or flame throwers. I say both.
There are living silences and dead silences
and I'll cut my ears off and burn them
and bury the ashes along with my hands
if I'm made to listen to the absence
of her warmth. My weakness is my oath.
There's nothing to me except the luck of her
lifting the five blankets on her body
again and again. To her very last atom, I beg heave.
Proof of life
Eleven people like my wife have been killed
in Pittsburgh and three hundred people
like my wife have gathered in a temple
in Roanoke to pass the vibrations
of the old words through their bodies.
So many Jews
they hurt the fire code's feelings. So many Jews
they were a sea wearing shoes. So many Jews
the warmth of pressing shoulders and thighs
loosened the wires around their mouths
and opened the doors of their faces.
Singing off key or on, crying silently
or like pots and pans
thrown down the stairs,
bringing their inadequacies
to a room full of befuddlements,
they turned fear
into resting their hearts
against gun barrels.
The work of being a good person
is easier around others who also
aren't sure how to be a good person
or even if it's good to be a person.
So many Jews
breathing like everyone else
and breathing differently
from everyone else, breathing thoughtlessly
as a river and breathing intentionally
as a nation and breathing in the sweat lodge
of the unconscious and breathing as proof
that not giving up minus eleven
equals not giving up
minus a number I'm thinking of
from the past, from the world's
Love love me do
My wife's such a good person
she'd be an excellent dolphin
or whale. She eats kale, wears
Doc Martins, is smart enough
not to come out of the rain,
how else explain how green
her thumb and mind and smile
are, not that I need to
do more than exceed
to my desire to surround her
with the sound of me saying,
"Is that an apple pie
in my pocket or am I lucky
I flunked suicide
at nineteen and zombied
my way to meeting you
eleven years later?"
That's a long sentence,
thirty years to life
if I hadn't happened
upon what is still, all sags
aside, the face
with the most upside
whenever I happen
to see her as if
I never have before, you know
how that is: you look up
from washing yellow eggs
off a red plate and being
sure your life's over
when there's your lover
or husband or wife
watching you with eyes
that could melt a cat, not
that you'd want to do that,
and you're what:
into confetti and reborn.
How's that for sticking
a thumb in the eye
Song of climate change: on the rocks
I hate ice in whiskey, on my car, my nipples.
Ice is water that's too good to look me in the eyes.
Ice leads to hockey and hockey leads to Canadians
with gap-toothed smiles. What do we say of the dead:
cold as ice. But ice doesn't deserve to be killed.
First of all, it's fairly reclusive, mostly hangs out
at the poles. Without ice there'd be no polar bears,
arctic terns, penguins. Watching penguins swim
and not get eaten by orcas makes me happy.
Watching orcas eat penguins makes me believe the world
is a self-regulating system and I should mind my own business.
Was a self-regulating system and we did not mind
our own business. What is our business? What do we add
to the endeavor? Don't say cathedrals, Beethoven,
two-for-one sales on diapers and Colt 45s. Do say carbon dioxide,
heat, ignorance of our affect on whales, monarchs, winter.
What if the world is a grape and we are a bruise?
What if we're being given what we want most of all,
we who are the memory singers, nostalgia machines:
what if elegy is our calling and we need death
to feed our desire to lament how good things were
before cars, Jiffy Pop, fake tits, Miracle-Gro,
us? We tell one story: Eden. Once upon a time
things were better. Once upon a time
our minds were simple and we were happy. Once upon a time
human nature wasn't what it really is and that's all it took
to live at ease in the garden: to not be us. If your nature's
your danger, your gist a fist, your essence a pestilence,
what do you do to not be you? Kill yourself or evolve. Sorry:
I meant to write an ode, a ditty about something wild
and pretty. That's how it is with us—we almost always
mean well: to give strangers a ride, eat more vegetables,
vacuum the house, not break the world. To be kind
and that fabled, mythic thing—wise.
Spiritual disquiet keeps me awake.
I have lived a pointless life. I think this
to my closed eyes and the ceiling
of the dark. On the couch and in bed.
With the TV on and off. With the TV on,
my spiritual disquiet goes to Mars
or arrests a man for raping an eleven year old.
My emptiness feels moral and productive.
The man goes to prison and people return
from a cold and distant place.
We don't think of men having periods
but there are cycles in me, swoons and dips
I have studied long enough
to throw up my hands. Tonight
I will know I am nothing and tomorrow
have a single egg and piece of toast
for breakfast, there will be birds
where birds belong and I will be
on the upswing toward happiness
as it has come to me, rarely unaccompanied
by the memory of wanting to die.
A chapter in the story of a mind
He read a long article about people
still wondering if consciousness is real
about an hour after thinking of someone
pulling fish out of the air and eating them,
giving him new ideas of what it means to be air,
a fish, a man.
Though he had never had the fish thought before,
he has often wondered what kind of object a thought is,
given that he doesn't exactly see or hear
or feel his thoughts so much as encounter them
in a space roughly coexistent with what he calls
The thought that thoughts are quantum
in nature, appearing out of nowhere and going back
to the ghost rooms and tunnels they come from
when he turns his head at or into a window,
just appeared out of nowhere and could an angel
for all he knows, could be god reaching out
not to be alone.
The thing is, as his thoughts have come and gone,
none have left an exact record of their being,
and will disappear with him, making his single death
multiple and rippled and pinning sadness
deep within his brain.
Is melancholy the only word I know
that turns holy at the end, he asks with no intention
of looking for others, happy to leave that a list
Teach a man to make a meal of loss
and he will live forever, he thinks, pretty sure
it is a round thought, a good thought, a thought the sun
would touch and warm and cast no shadow beneath
if it could.
A lament, pep talk, and challenge walk into a bar
I put a piano in my office. Tuba. Piccolo. Drum kit.
Banjo. Zither. Carnegie Hall. The Four Tops and Seasons.
Greek chorus. Music of the spheres and triangles
and dodecahedrons. The Kinks. The Mozarts
and Fats Wallers and Puentes. The Butthole Surfers.
My office is bigger and more flexible than my heart
and this is a weird way to critique my affections
but so be it: the intervention is underway. Do you feel
small? I feel tiny lately. Like a good person
would remove the doors of his house and give the poor
a controlling interest in JP Morgan and storm congress
with onesies and pillows and hold that flotilla of egos
hostage in a sleepover until the Decency Act is passed
unanimously and do unto others goes from words
dropped in the suggestion box to law. Why aspire
to the part of a thimble when galaxies
are shinier role models? I should be putting meals
on wheels or moving Miami to a higher elevation
or helping strangers with their calculus homework.
I speak shovel, yammer hammer, have drills and bits,
wrenches and jigs, elbows and frontal lobes, and have noticed
when I throw up my hands in frustration
they come back, they take their responsibilities
to hold and carry seriously and so should I
be a ladle or hammock, spoon or cradle, a yodel
or other reaching across the distance
to the factions and splinter groups of the tribe
or clan of woman and man. It's no accident I began
this meandering with music: no two species could come
from more distant planets than a Steinway and sax,
yet listen to how well they get along
when they put their mouths where our fears are,
when they lend us our better tuned selves. My ears
were raised by Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, so I hum
and flow and stumble, rasp and trance and moan
between two sets of certainties, that we are angelic
junkies, fallen and blind, and that we can rise
and see. The deepest soundtrack of my being
is a black man and The Man in Black breathing into me
the one and only commandment: don't just have
but be a soul
Lunar eclipse. The moon's an orange
and it's really cold: my wife
has cut me open, pulled out my stuff
and climbed inside to save herself.
I think I'm not kidding.
I think I crave being so terrified of the Earth
coming between the moon and the sun
that I turn into a cave painter
in Kroger: do you like my elk,
my caribou; a bison is a symbol
of my 4Runner's lack of magnificence.
Give me something elemental, not carbon
or iridium but my brain in my hand
and chucking it at the sky. An orange.
A withered orange. I think I'm talking
about my spirit.
I'm sure I'm begging fire
to be the only mirror
I can see myself clearly in.
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.