Alexander Long

Alexander Long’s first two books are Vigil (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2006) and Light Here, Light There (C & R Press, 2009). With Christopher Buckley, he is co-editor of A Condition of the Spirit: the Life & Work of Larry Levis (Eastern Washington UP, 2004). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, The American Poetry Review, American Writers (Charles Scribner’s Sons), Blackbird, Callaloo, The Journal, Pleiades, Quarterly West, The Southern Review, Third Coast, and Valparaiso Poetry Review among others. An assistant professor of English at John Jay College, CUNY, Long also plays bass and writes songs with the band Redhead Betty Takeout, and is currently at work on a biography of Larry Levis.

Still Life with Issa at the Gates

How about

We go
To a place

Where no one waits

Call it Heaven, but
No smoke, bird song,

Paper falling
Ash-like, heavy

With rain, names,
Hands, sun, eyes

As strong as smoke
And bird song,

Lemon rind and holocaust.

No no no.


Nothing tragic, mysterious,

No sand nor snow nor seems.

Just is, and is
Was once, I’ve heard,

Just enough. Christ,
Story has it,

Died, once, too,
And prayed enough

Ahead of time.

Not like that.

Like Issa:

And yet…
                                                                     And yet…

Still Life with Lenny Bruce in Jail

All laughter is involuntary.
                                 —L. B.

How rich you are, man.

It’s what you want,
                                    what you can’t stop


Up in Spanish Harlem there’s a rose
That’s so sweet
                         it grows
                                      up through the concrete.

I see roots as thin as veins,
                                               rosey veins
Blood brown reaching toward a Venus

That very well, in the palm of your hand,
                                                                        might be there.

And you don’t care,
                                    so I won’t too,

As the cop down the hall watches
                                                             me watch
You shoot up.

Jesus and Moses,
                           anything you wanna bring
I’ll bring
               a lawyer…I don’t know
                                                     what I did…
I must’ve been bad…they throw words at you…

Now dig what I added to the thing….

If I could reach you
                                  from my cell, I’d roll
                                                                      up your sleeve

And wrap the rubber band

I’d slide the needle toward the slowest of motions—

Habit and prayer.

Do it.

This whole generation’s strung out.

We can’t do it
                           all on our own.

My period’s a semi-colon now,
                                                  the days get longer and longer.


You’re elliptical, safe, clear.

You should see
                            what your smile looks like
                                                                        from here.

Prayer #34

We may say he or she
Took his or her

Life, and we will
Have to live with that.

But where? Where
Do we think

They’ve taken it?
May it never occur

To us to take it
Anywhere else

Than toward
This fleeting here and now

Where what we share and have
Reaches like sunlight,

Like a patient hand.
It may someday

Occur to us
To reach back

Toward our suicides
Half-smiling, half-asleep,

So we can bring
Them back.

We may regret it, finally,
But I’m telling you: reach,

Then place your lives
On their heads,

Like ashes or sunlight,
Like little hands.

Our suicides
Will answer this prayer

Only after you swear
You’ve seen them.

You will.
Why else reach toward them?

You will. You will
Miss them entirely,

You’ll look like
You’re waving,

And you will be

As if your best friend
Has ignored you.

You’ll stand there
On the platform,

As the trains go
Their separate ways.

You’ll busy yourself,
Pretending to fix

Your scarf
And gloves. It’ll be

Cold, and the sky
A golden room.

I’ll see you.
I’ve been there.

You’ll fix your hair
And search for a smoke

And wait for the next train
You’ve willingly missed

Because you knew—
You did—it was him,

Her. Right there.
You swore it.

You were wrong,
Or you weren’t.

So, wait.
You have to

Get home.
No choice.

The prayer?
May you never

Have to bother
With any of this.