Lewis Warsh is the author of two novels, Agnes & Sally and A Free Man, two
books of stories, Money Under the Table and Touch of the Whip, and numerous
books of poems, including The Origin of the World and Avenue of Escape. His
most recent books are Debtor's Prison, a book-length poem in collaboration
with video artist Julie Harrison, and The Angel Hair Anthology, co-edited with
Anne Waldman. He has received grants for his fiction and poetry from the
National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts and
The Fund for Poetry. In 1994 he received the James Shestack award from
The American Poetry Review. He is editor/publisher of United Artists Books
and has taught at SUNY Albany, The New School, Naropa University and The
Poetry Project. He is on the faculty of Long Island University in Brooklyn.

The Songbook

Once I played Pygmalian
to the Queen of Hearts. A spoon

bent out of shape,
but no matching socks.


Voting turnout light in local precincts.
The Incredible Shrinking Man.
War of the Worlds. The Day the Earth
Stood Still. The Blob. Point the way & I'll go.
Single me out & I'll follow.


A mother
reprimands a child
on a swing

The names of seasons, animals
a knock on the door

the boat
no longer seaworthy
lost at sea
with no one aboard.


I bend down
to tie my laces
near a fire hydrant
like a dog.

The day begins
with light
& ends
in darkness.

But I
am not awake
& you
are only a dream.

Oh who are you
who comes
out of nowhere
& remembers my name?


A door in the wall
that no one saw before
suddenly opened
onto a garden
where men & women
carrying parasols
sipped coffee through broken straws,
& it looked like all the colors of the rainbow
had attached themselves to the undergrowth
& the shrubbery
was lit
from behind
by invisible balls


The coat of many colors was draped
over a chair. Yellow cabs parked in the rain

outside the mosque.


The morning was
like any morning,

the bridge sagging
under the weight
of moving vans

driven by movers
with trusses

the sky peppered
with its first coat
of spackle

a barge circling
below, a delicate
just a tendon


All the acorns
have fallen in one place.

You can gather them in your
apron & scatter them on the road,

an avenue of moonlight
among the ivy shirt-tails.


I thought that I would
live an orderly life but
instead I made a mess
for which I have to
admit I'm not contrite
so don't even start


The opposite is true
The opposite might always be true
People say something & then a minute later
something else
The clouds are barely moving but when you look
at them again they're gone
Words are like shadows covering the truth
I said that it might be true, that it rings true, that
it didn't sound true
Trees are alive but inhuman, often we stand
in their shadows
Even dead things cast shadows, stones or mountains
I said something that might be true

A state of non-being


Dogs began barking
to frighten the strangers
who rubbed their thighs
on the ivory statues of sailors,
while women who looked lilke sirens
spread their pinafores over mounds of granite
& punched the air with their fists,
exposing their orifices
to bewildered drivers


You had your chance
to say something
but the moment passes

a face you
can remember,
with no details

stayed in bed
all day
reading Gone
With the Wind

another version
of happiness
between piss & shit


I shouted & said things I didn't mean.

I lied to people I loved.

I didn't pay taxes for 20 years.

I told my mother that my problems were
all her fault.

I stole money from my father's wallet.

I slept with women who were living with
other men.

"If the father is a hero, the son is a brave
man; if the father is a reactionary,
the son is a bastard."

Struggle with the waves in the middle
of the current.

Chase the exhausted enemy.

Fantasy Echo

The age of distortion is over,
Was over before it began. And
Each of us began to splash
In different directions, treading water
As if we were crossing dry land.
Each of us came to the crossroads
And paused, but only a few went on.
The blueprint was a travesty, in black
And white, with gold trim
Written across the sky. It seemed
To hide our destiny, like the words
Of a letter contain words
That are no longer legible
To the naked eye. Someone crosses
Out the words: "Continue
At your own peril." We meet
In front of a door but the key
Broke off in the lock. We had to call
A man to change the lock, or
Extract the key, what's important
That only a moment ago this man
Was a stranger and now we are waiting in
Anticipation for him to arrive, to
Meet us at the crossroads and extract
The key from the lock, the half of the key
Caught in the lock of the door (I don't
Remember his name), putting the key
In the lock (the right key in the right lock)
Is only part of the story -
The rest is the waiting, what we've been
Waiting for, anticipating is like waiting
When someone promises to arrive, says he'll
Arrive but never shows. I think I've seen
This movie before, the part about
The two people on horseback meeting
At the crossroads. But the part about
Waiting for the man to fix the lock I made
Up. It all happened in some earlier
Part of the century and in another country,
But you can't turn back the clock
Simply to serve the purpose of
Creating a divine law. You can't
Huddle among the broken statuary waiting for
Someone to call. Once we were in orbit, like gods
Circling the earth. Now we fall to the earth,
Like silver bullets, and no one cares. Introductions
Aren't necessary. We fall and people
Point their fingers at us as if we were objects
Of derision or scorn. We look up
At the faces of the people pointing
Their fingers in our direction.
We hide in the doorway waiting for the crowds
To disperse. At the crossroads
Some of us asked permission to continue.
Others needed to rehearse the acts of
Retribution by blurring their words
With acts of compliance. We all radiate opposites
(Not dichotomies): warmth or cold.
For a moment we seemed agitated, but
Now we're calm, suspended so far above
The earth we can only see the shadows,
The play of light and shadow at the water's edge.
Now the ground is cold, our naked
Bodies lying under the stars. Now
All we have to do is look up
At the branches, and let go.

All this was written in slow motion
Different cadences begging the issue
Of where we were going and when,
And who had the tickets or was someone
Thrown overboard, and those who were missing
(in time) were forgotten--part
Of the problem was forgetting
Those who had come before
And without whom we were nothing,
We had some debts to pay but they all
Added up to nothing & eventually
We were on our own, moving in slow motion
Through our own time and in the context
Of passing time until we reached the future,
It was a choice between creating our own
Future or doing what someone had done before,
Miming the past without really making it our own,
Aspiring to nothing more than to become caricatures
Of the living past. But in every ocean there's
A proportion between depth and how far
You can go until you touch bottom and
Float upwards to the surface. Sometimes
It feels that all we're doing
Is floating upstream, and that there's
Neither depth nor surface, but a mountain
Underwater that reflects some mirror-image
Connecting earth and sky. The harbor
Lights are glowing in the distance,
And someone on the radio is playing our song -
It has to do with stumbling forward and regaining
Equilibrium and then falling to the ground
And lying comatose for awhile, playing dead
So even a doctor couldn't tell you were still
Breathing. Even a person trained in resuscitating
The dead, a kind of healer, could only create
A surface tension to promulgate a new sensation
On the border between living and another
State between living and dying
That no one knew about until this moment
When you opened your eyes, held
Your hand over your eyes to protect
Them from the sun, and lifted your arms
To embrace the shadows of the living,
Of those who had been called to your side
When it seemed you were dying, of those
Who had already entered the new life.

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