041.1: Alan Semerdjian:: Birthdays & Dream & Kiss 041

Two words come to mind when I read Alan Semerdjian's work: thoughtful and tender. Semerdjian writes verses that allow a moment or thought to expand out, to "examine" it "slowly like the fingers have forgotten." So much poetry finds a moment and immediately attempts to draw in other moments, other thoughts, other poetic tropes to fill some perceived void. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but Semerdjian shows us that failing to fully consider a moment for the moment's own sake causes us as readers to miss the beauty of the moment, the realization that the fleeting memory of a dream is "too deep / in its afternoon glory of flight." What is found within the act of thought is an ultimately tender world, the realization that through holding a loved one's hand how "they bend into my palms like fetal petals" or the beauty of "the subtle, desperate noise / of incompatibility almost enough to keep me awake." Where the rest of us let these dreams float away as we pour our morning coffee, or let a moment of poetic beauty we notice in the world likewise recede, Semerdjian grabs and holds, looks and ponders, and then, finally, sits down to write. Andrew Wessels


When I get a chance to examine my body,
I do it slowly like the fingers have forgotten
tall, lanky extensions, bones like branches, the
tree just barely aging now, but understanding

that time is, in effect, a shapeshifter, and not a ghost,
stretching the skin around my knuckles,
then tightening the process, like pulling the reigns
on a horse you’ve realized is too fast, too wild still.

And when I get a chance to see my hands next to yours,
how they bend into my palms like fetal petals, I know
why I never liked riding horses, saddling things
I don’t even understand. They are like question marks

on the ends of sentences like why do we have these bodies,
young and almost old. They are containers, you say,
ways for our less visible selves to break from restless middle hues
of seek and each other as idea to document the shifting of our love,

the desire to give and receive pleasure. The earth then,
our evidence, is an ephemeral passing of notes of music
written down, the young and the old marks on the page,
to be felt, traced with the fingers, understood in the ear.


I dreamed I kissed the beak of a bird this morning
that flew in through my open car window somewhere
stopped at a traffic light. It was the beginning
of a love poem, I thought, one I’ve never written,
and the bird fluttured in the corner for a bit
after realizing what had happened, too deep
in its afternoon glory of flight, descension of wings,
pigeon-purple neck, to notice it coming.
It too must have believed in the possibility
of the moment to dream it true.

And now, after that instant, I realize
the difference in its alarm, the beady little eyes
not guided by freedom anymore, a bird
alone in the manipulation of air, but startled,
feathers disheveled, fluttering, the imaginary
dust from the foreign wings barely settling
on the dashboard, the subtle, desperate noise
of incompatibility almost enough to keep me awake.


‘How does distance look?’ is a simple direct question. It extends from a spaceless / within to the edge / of what can be loved.
       -Anne Carson

When hesitating outside the lip of a volcano,
the lip becomes a thought of volcano.

That is the proem of letting go
of change, the heart of the definition of volcano.

And how volcano becomes a mountain
is entirely the secret business of the volcano.

No one can know or dream the same way
or forget the dream except the volcano.

Itself, an immigrant hero mid-myth
with the story in the belly of a whale of rock, is volcano.

It hesitates like you might hesitate
at the thought of something possibly volcanic.

Because volcanic is closely related to love,
you want to begin shuffling for maps for volcano.

But love is the subject of the court
of distance and measures itself like a volcano.

In time, it resembles the shape of a lip
at its rim and nothing ever after that volcano

until it wants what’s below.