050.1: Amorak Huey:: A Death & Daffodils & Dorothy Visits & A Partial Short-Faced Bear 050

I used to drink with a guy in grad school, and at one point in a long night of cheap pitchers, we resolutely decided that there were only two kinds of poets—poets who we marveled at their technical ability and poets who we wanted to drink beers with. They were rarely the same. We decided that we wanted to be somewhere in the middle: strong poets who could a break a line like no other motherfuckers and poets who, when you read our work, you wanted to get drunk with. Ah, grad school, when there were no worries, and nights were devoted to sussing out flawed, youthful arguments. I remembered that night after coming across Amorak Huey’s poems, discovering that he is that kind of poet—both talented and personable on the page. For this week, I would like to amend the model: there are poems you want to get beers with, these poems. These are talky poems, poems that tell good stories, that put their hands on your shoulder and bring their mouths close to your ear and tell you the most marvelous things, secrets. These are poems that know they are poems and constantly nod at that fact. One of the reasons this is so prevalent is that Huey’s subjects are often normal folk capable of moments of intense intrinsic beauty and introspection, which he handles with delicacy and care. Although, I guess you couldn’t really call Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz normal folk. These poems are like a good long night out, those nights that always begin with the question: Where are we going? What happens is like that night, too—something is lost, someone cries, a good joke is turned and turned in on itself, and in the end something has changed into something you could never imagine. Nik De Dominic

A Death at Pictured Rocks

They arrested the husband, who said he turned his back
for only as long as a man’s urine takes to hiss steamslicing

through concise spring air

to the ground

at his feet and when he turned back around to face the view
he saw only his wife’s sandal and immediately passed out.
Waking, he crawled to the edge of the cliff — saw
something white below — passed out again.

This was his first story.

Later that same day, still, no doubt, adjusting to his new reality,
he admitted he’d made it up in hopes
he said of protecting his wife’s reputation when in fact
he’d seen her jump, “making some reference to God

in the process.”

By the next morning he’d changed the words again —
he saw her slip and fall, a simple accident. This was nine days
after they finalized their will but some time before
prosecutors found out about the life insurance policies.
And the debt. And the affair in the late 1990s.
So goddamned inelegant, isn’t it? So clumsy. My favorite

is the first story,

in which this husband passed out twice —
such blatant bullshit it deserves to be believed or even
true, or a poem, authentic like that, I mean, God, the passion
just kills you. Imagine: the thought, the very possibility
of a loss of that magnitude — bam, down you go

in a useless heap of flesh,


maybe landing in the still-warm piss you just puddled
at the fringes of a Pitcher’s thistle — Cirsium pitcheri

on the verge

of the only blooming season in its lifetime —
this is a plant that grows for five years, or eight,
before creamy pink flowers burst from silver leaves.
It’s not as spectacular as it sounds. It’s smaller,
as most things are when you get up close,

and breaks down

into actions, reactions: photosynthesis: energy
neither created nor destroyed but transformed
(this, too, poemlike): plant takes what it needs —
carbon dioxide from the air, heat from sun,
water from water — and in turn provides,
what, beauty? A plant cannot think itself beautiful,
or care, but here is where even I feel obliged
to make some reference to God in the process,
because why else? And who else to blame — or credit —
or turn to — whose name do you dare speak aloud
in that unanimated instant when there is

— suddenly — no rock

underfoot, when you wonder if you felt hands at your back,
or are those the nubs of wings you always believed you must have?
— when the vista before you tilts and swivels
and ten thousand waves beckon brightly in the cold sun
in ten thousand shades of a color between white and silver
and you fall or fly — created, destroyed, transformed.


Begin with a mystery: locked room,
body, puddle of water – killer, too,
but no murder weapon. Unsolvable,

inconsolable, insoluble, these inchoate
passions do not so easily dissolve.

A boy disappeared into the water
at the Grand Haven Pier. Jumped in,
never came out. There was a storm,

there was wind and there was the end
of one life, two, ten: girlfriend

who always said she didn’t think it safe
and saw his hands as they sank
beneath the froth and chop;

friends who also jumped
but did not disappear;

parents whose grief washes up on shore
every summer night like
so much bleached driftwood

in graceful boneshapes,
smooth from a distance,

scars like fish hooks
if you get too close. It is so unfair
of me to steal their pain

for my love poem – or didn’t you know
this was a love poem?

Here’s a secret: they all are.
Another: it’s not even summer,
it’s the deepest part of February,

in a state where that month means
freeze and thaw and flood and freeze again.

Somewhere far from here,
the first daffodils – least mysterious
flower in the world, yellow,

celebratory, celestial. Imagine
just one, chosen with care

from among a million like it,
picked, wrapped in a wet paper towel,
packed inside a Pringles tube,

sent to a long-separated lover
four states to the north

without a note, in hope –
to bring a smile, a sliver of spring,
to spark ashy ember back to flame.

The bloom will never survive the trip,
pitifully. Petals will wilt and brown

and curl up like small tongues, stem
turn to mush like rotted celery,
and the former lover will be mystified

to receive a damp can
that once held snacks.

There is a moral here:
matters of the heart
demand priority shipping. The body,

though, the body sometimes
receives messages otherwise missed.

Maybe, if even the faintest whisper
of the faintest scent of daffodil lingers,
it will invent or bring to mind

that beginning of a certain spring
someplace warmer,

some time now vanished
into the thickest dust of memory
or make-believe,

the hum and rattle of a silent movie:
dusk sliding into a locked room,

two bodies coming together
all skin and elastic and electricity –
this was then, this was before,

before the icicle –
that’s the answer, you know,

the clue was that puddle of water,
enough time melting all weapons –
even an icicle to the heart,

the murder of spring, a cold goodbye.
Such water sustains and devours us all.

Dorothy Visits the Cyclone in the Convalescence Home for Natural Disasters

“The cyclone had set the house down
very gently – for a cyclone – in the midst
of a country of marvelous beauty.”
– L. Frank Baum

I know you seek scarlet-toed memories,
small dogs, doorbell songs, but my stories
these days happen outside my apartment window:

rock quarry sparks & flares all night,
I watch dusk-smeared men holding hands,
if there’s no wind I hear them singing.

Our lives are littered with what we do not say,
unkempt promises. Do you ever
think things should have been different

between us? Are we measured
by our actions or our hesitations?
Sometimes I forget to breathe.

It’s a curious business, I do not mean
this growing old, or even forgiveness
but the way thunderheads build on horizon,

impossible mountains of dark: I mean:
my inability to love. Here, I brought flowers.
I could not stand these yellow walls –

this is the curse you placed upon me,
expectation of adventure, rootlessness,
belief that fear might be molded like tar.

It’s time for me to go. I have failed again.
Next week I will tell you about distant lightning,
ginger smell of burning gravel, other dreams

I always see coming but never outrun.

A Partial Short-Faced Bear Skeleton from an Ozark Cave with Comments on the Paleobiology of the Species

I’m reading
in The Journal of Cave Studies
about this bear who

based on the layers
of silt and the animal’s
fossilized fur

probably died
in a flash flood
while recovering from childbirth

and who now represents
the most complete

specimen of her species
after being
discovered by a hunter,

an ass who stumbled
over the jawbone
while looking

for a place to piss
after drinking beer
the whole drive up

from Little Rock
and aggravating his pals
with incessant bitching

about his wife’s
incessant bitching
about his leaving

her with the kids
and his first thought was
won’t this skull

look good in the den,
a promise that almost
made up for his wife

being such a pain
in his ass
but all he got

is a certificate
from the university
thanking him

for his contribution
to the furthering of human

and the bear bones
are sorted and locked
in the back room of a museum

while his smug, sober buddy
bagged an ten-point buck
for over the mantle

of the home
this buddy shares
with the woman

the hunter loves
more than daylight
and always has

for even bones
do not remember
what dies with the skin.