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Woke to this on Google: another black man
cop-shot. He was already on the ground.
I didn’t read why because there’s always
a reason. He had a gun gun or a toy gun
or a hand that looked like it might have once
been or held a gun. He was on crack or PCP
or vitamins. He was too big, too powerful,
too feral for three cops, six cops, X cops
to control. It was dark and he was dark.
It was sunny and he was dark. Every time
a cop kills a black man – whether the cop
is brown or black or white – the killing
is white. I am killing these men and want me
to stop. If you’re listening to yourself
write this poem, know the world
knows who we are. I’ll spread my hand
across your heart, our heart, so you’ll feel
it’s a friend asking, How do you want to live?
But please – don’t keep looking like me
and saying this is justice. This is hunting.

A series of whispers

My job’s to sit with her
as she puts a hat on a bear,
removes the hat, hands the hat to me,
takes the hat from me, returns the hat
to the bear and repeats this cycle
over and over while her mother’s at home
slipping a needle in her arm – or feed her
the same food I ate as a child,
made by the same company, only now,
the jars are plastic instead of glass – in shifts
with a cousin and another friend, until she kicks
or we can’t – the first of seven pear trees

just made itself known to me
in the distance – as if this morning
were a painter who woke and knew
the only way to break out of her head
was a gesture of fire – the other trees
will light over the coming week or so –
I’ll look at them and believe the next time
my friend tries methadone will be the last time
I picture her in the hallway dead – then
the leaves will fade and fall – but for months,
I’ll look where they were and treat the world
as if it’s still beautiful – I like hope –
saying the word – but not out loud

Between these tumults I am trying to be a man

Beijing or Skenecktedy. The cabby’s from Caracas
or Alexandria. I’m from Lansing by way of Blacksburg.
The air’s from God and the bridge from U.S. Steel.
I always ask for the Queensboro. To enter New York
by sky. The U.N. to my left making me wonder
how many words Arabs and Jews have
for peace. Roosevelt Island to my right,
the punk-ass kid brother of Manhattan.
I always want the sudden brush and slap
of a horizon that’s a riveted and mirrored
compulsion to rise. New York’s where I go
to know I’m in the world. And as
with the world, I arrive without intention.
With no plan but feet. No lasso
but hands. I get out of the cab and walk
until I’m meat. Get in bed and sleep
until I’m eternal. Go out in the morning
and find a flower in spring or a piece of rust
in winter in bloom. No one sees me. I’m rinsed
by a stream that can’t take its own pulse.
I’m a scream inside the falling
that never hears the crash. I’m a shadow
of the American appetite to erase the past
before it arrives. I’m one
in nine million and just barely
the one of my own kind. Then I go.
Then I drop out of the privacy
of walking shoulder to shoulder, out of the hum
of being a bone in the mouth of the tide,
and return to a green the size of a mountain,
a hush in which it’s impossible to hide
the noise of my mind from my mind.

The study of geometry pays off

It’s surprising how much difference
an inch or two makes –

the change in angle
when she pulls her legs back
a little more –

to how deeply I disappear inside
her breath –

what is my heart then –

a zoo from which the gates
have been torn and melted
into spoons for all
the first graders to eat
as much ice cream as they want –

or a lion
who knows he’s free now
but doesn’t want to leave –

or a wind
at home in another wind –

holding its shoulders –

her shoulders –

all of life
in my whispering hands


Three times we never talked once
about up her ass – even shitting
spunk out, there was no said
said – though we toileted
and shopped and everythinged
together – and gabbed ceaselessly
A to Z – but not about
that – as if to pretend
the minds we had in bed
weren’t ours but dreams
wearing our flesh
for their own ends – o,
and her miscarriage
in the crapper at the bar –
when she didn’t know
she was pregnant and we
drove separate & she
bloody home – we never
even mumbled round the edges
of that – or pinned words
to the silence itself,
let alone the panther
eating a dead rabbit
inside it – & went lickety
from close to far – other places
I never should have gone
or got to go – my folks’ safe
to steal their dough –
into the locked room
where she slept/wept
when the babying stopped
alone – leaving it
for me to be decent in some
other life – whole in some
unwritable poem

A little mustard, side of pickle

Who am I to be the one you love?
Shouldn’t I want you to have better? Taller
and more hook-shot capable? A man with a bigger wad
of cash? But I’ll make you a turkey sandwich
anyway. Not the best in the world, but the best
on this day on this plate. And kiss you
before and after. These are the practice oaths.
The small bonds that carry us like boats
until we arrive at this – I promise to love
your cancer or the way you’ll think
in twenty thirty it’s nineteen eighty six. Year
we met. Year I broke my foot. Year I tried
gymnastics in a cast. Of all the broken-footed
first-time tumblers, I was the best at being
worst. Promise to be a savant at stay. At pulling
the plug when you would have it yanked. No mere
head of lettuce, you. No slug. And very,
so very best at not wanting to live a day
without you. Decades ago, I turned pro at that.

If I had merely said, she is good,
         would you have listened?

Days I followed her
footprints in the snow –
until sky warmed
and snow melted – days more
I slept where the trail
had ended – then new snow
brought her footprints back
to life – by my clock,
she was a snow ahead – I ran –
but when I ran, her footprints
ran too – her going
was truer and lighter
than mine – this happened
again and again – by now,
I am lifetimes behind –
at least two or three
of mine – and hers – her lives
are gold and many and all
have been lived beyond
my reach – this woman
who has never left my side

Friendship (half-hitch)

First time I couldn’t
get it up, I said
it’s like pushing
a rope – my wife said
that’s a pretty
short rope –
I pulled hard
and tried to tie it
in a knot – we
laughed and went
to breakfast
at the place
we like that’s famous
for miles for being
a lot better
at lunch

A tourist wakes up

I was a skinhead in Seattle. Balding
at thirty one, I figured why not
get on with it and shaved my head
in the Edgewater Hotel. Then went out
for a walk wearing my basic uniform
at the time – black boots, blue jeans,
and tight white t. My head felt fresh
delivered from the womb, tingly
like I was new to air or air to me,
some of my skin was being introduced
to a sun it had never met – I’d never
been closer to a live wire. I also
get a jolt from walking up hills,
which Seattle has lots of,
the lean and charge it takes, the ask
it makes of my body, and went happily
higher, sweating and thinking
of the work of building a city,
the tons of tons of dirt dug out
at first by hand and then machine,
how mud became wood became stone
became steel in the history of how
we hive together, when two skinheads
wearing black boots, blue jeans,
tight white tees and a shit-load of tats –
swastikas, burning crosses – came down
the hill looking like billboards
for cruelty and nodded at me. As if to say,
hey brother. As if my being had sent up
a black-hating, Jew-hating, life-hating flag.
In that moment, I became who I resembled,
was absorbed, reduced, removed
from any chance to live the truth,
in their minds, of who I was, was converted
from man to symbol and instantly wanted
my life back. It was easy. I bought a plain
black cap I practically sewed to my head
until what little hair I owned came home.
Easy on the surface, though under,
in the privacy of what I want the world
to be, I grew more afraid of every sameness,
every group or clan or plan for skin
or thought or gender, of every number
greater than one.

Open ground

Was waiting for the full moon to come around
from the east window to the south
before going down to slit the throat
of a goat in moonlight – old goat –
sick goat – older moon – the woman beside me
sleeping on the opposite side
of the shoulder that was pulled out
of its socket twice as a kid – once
by her dad and once her mom – which goes
under the heading of balance – the room cold
but the bed warm – was listening to the memory
of the blade being sharpened, when she turned over
and opened her eyes – moonlight found them
and lived there – she touched my face
and said nothing and remembered none of this
later as we dressed the goat – no more tender
or coarse than she had ever been – touched
with her whole hand, as if feeling for my half
of the ghost of the child we lost – the blood
licked away the next day and with it
the snow that had treated it like a bloom,
leaving a false patch of spring

The not so rough and slightly tumble

We’ll kiss and I’ll say I love you
going to get the mail, then coming back
with the terribly important flyers
for tires or VD cures, say I hate you
to not boringly reach out for her
with language in exactly the same way –

a translation she knows to make,
as she knows she can punch me hard
in chest or shoulder and I’ll wag
inside and bite her knuckle
or brush her neck with my breath
and live longer touching her
than if we had never held hands – as much

as I adore (a lot) or crave
(see “a lot”) the lick and push and wet
stuff, it’s the daily, the ten thousand
thousand heys and kisses
and runnings in from the next room
to ask her to sit on my stomach
until I giggle that reminds us
we’re lucky to have
and be bodies that are and will be
tenderly disposed and bent
toward each other which makes this life
the our life it is – like

when we walk as we walk every day,
I find myself saying hello
every few minutes, as apparently I did
as a kid each time I ran
in or out of the house to my parents,
as if I’m not so good
at object constancy or distance,
not so interested in missing
a chance for the jolt of the feeling
of meeting her again every time
we gab or lean together –

and so I say
I love you I love you I hate you
I embrace you I instate you
I predate you I mate you I conflate you
with everything good, as I should,
if you will show your true feelings
and bite my forehead, I will let you in  


Bob Hicok’s latest book is Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon, 2013). This Clumsy Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007) was awarded the 2008 Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress and published in a German translation by Luxbooks in 2013. A recipient of six Pushcart Prizes, a Guggenheim, and two NEA Fellowships, his poetry has been selected for inclusion in eight volumes of Best American Poetry.