16 new poems by George Kalamaras

Edited by : Giorgia Pavlidou / mohsen elbelasy

Central to my work as a poet is the exploration of language as a way to conjure ‘silence,’ or moments of discursive interruption and dissolve, in which all seeming oppositions are complementary rather than contradictory

George Kalamaras

1- Partial Blockage of the Moon

The debris of satellites is an intimation of perpetual motion.

You know it, like you recognize coffee plants firing foothills in Kenya.

Something is warm, as I drag myself from porridge-privilege to porridge-privilege.

A vanishing treasure can be as loud as an evening cemetery. We are all on our knees 

     tonguing the lost necklace of seed sounds, whether we admit it or not.

The Garland of Letters, Sir John Woodroffe called it from his studies in West Bengal?

Tantric possibility is always present, even in the words we humble unto ourselves?

Purchase the green hope of a river with a concept of perfect articulation.

I can see the way you shampooed today, as if you planned a long life.

In the dream, three elephants gave birth to three elephants, which each, in turn, dispersed 

     into nine mounds of salt.

I’d interpret it but have realized it was not a dream at all.

You’d like to know if my cable-knit sweater is hand- or machine-sewn?

You request borax in the ear as the only way to dispel the shame of having awakened 

     outside your own life?

Debris in the blood is a sad depth of dirt.

Far-off stars, light-years away, die in the Tantric rivers of the left wrist.

Try what you must, but remember to respect the overleaf of a burning eclipse.

Partial blockage of the moon may dominate unseen sleep in the salt flats of the heart.

     Like the ache of grace lending itself for solace without sweetness or release.

2- Unspecified Birth

What do we celebrate when we contuse the day we were born?

An infusion of starlight in my left cheek is more manic than moist.

I am impacted to a consonant impacted to a vowel.

I no longer accept the fish history of the wrist.

I’ll arrow-slip your ear with cricket-gripped might.

Soothe the heart of the hound with the exact scent of what grass floats away in the brook.

You bought me a book about eels?

We spoke of a steady stream of bees as ontological dispersion?

Come, let me safe my breathing. Let me vault. Let me history-click my teeth.

The terror of public everything corrupts my solitude with a loathsome gas.

Afterwards, like a pagan stretch, all the angles go soft.

The hurt in the freight-memory of my ear is a fractured drowse of sound.

I went to the bookstore on my birthday and found absolutely nothing.

I remembered you there, just nine months before, leaning toward me, reading to me—

     reading me—not from your poems but from a German Bible, giving me the full human 

     clout of a noun.

3- Apparently Not

I asked a friend last week whether every kid grows up with the lance of an enduring sad.

Apparently not.

The emptiness in a boy’s line of life can be unbearable.

Divorce at age three seems such a small thing.

Even the Queen Mother laments parting from her spider.

She places rice grains on the pillow each afternoon when she returns.

Joseph Cornell found himself face down in the hairy tail of a rabbit trap.

Meret Oppenheim, of course, was both the cup and the fur.

If the trail of an oxcart emits quiet rose petals, whose mouth do you kiss when you say

     do?

Why do they cheer and weep at the ritual touching of tongues?

I decided to buy a hotel and hire three women to sit in the lobby and knit.

So many patrons came just to ring the bell.

4- My Reputation (Into Which I Am Mapped)

I wish I wasn’t afraid of washing the salt, of a crack in a porcelain cup.

The tea sommelier examined my hair, as if she knew I grew up fearing the forest green 

     beards of trees.

Cut by a star, my chest exudes the milk of crushed bees, an offering only moths would 

     insist.

I was born to nourish the smallest death agonies of ants.

Delia loved trees, but it was José who got down on all fours to howl at the moon.

I decided someone needed to piss on the grave of a poet. Any poet. But one I loved. 

     Lorca. Vallejo. Aleixandre. I drank three cupfuls of ash from the sunburnt bodies of 

     butterflies and joined their exploits.

You’re confused? Who, after all, is this their? Is it Delia? Federico? A centipede sipping 

     a solution of sucrose and smallpox?

You say I mix megaphones too loudly? That you can barely sear your eye into a roast of  

     Argentinean goat meat?

That I was supposed to be writing the lost forest poem—bamboo splinters in the wrist,

     staph infections of eels growing volubly more visible?

Honestly. Please. Give it some jest.

This discovery in which I am mapped might be called more river than rib. More mouth

     than poem.

Clearly polemical, diphthongian, replete with foreign sources, I am absent if not alive. 

I brought the vulture blankets but forgot to wring them free of sand fleas.

I collapsed one lung just to see if I could breathe with greater ease.

5- Clarity

The soothing fire of an Asian owl.

Combustible column of smoke from my chest, scouring the word now.

I have learned from a Great Editor that my work—though smitten with Eastern images—

     is becoming “clearer.”

Do you scent the secret sutra of wind watering our mouths?

So Mary Ann and I were discussing the ironic—that tame Surrealism I’ve termed wise-

     ass poetry.

She said the most interesting thing, that the dodge around spiritual talk is—explicitly 

     male or not—still gendered and largely patriarchal.

I learned from the Great Editor that my yogic lines may fall flat.

That they can be scented a mile or more off, even if I try to disguise them by dragging my 

     poems through the sinks and seeps of a river.

Then it was as if hound dogs. As if I was treed by my own secret bleed. As if I was iron-

     combed when exposing my tongue.

It was as if I had never really forgiven my own spit.

Or my spit had not forgiven me? The trembling nail nailed through my wrist into planks 

     of Lebanese cedar?

The Great Editor says remember this—sometimes a Christian metaphor is closer to “our” 

     Western tradition and may lend greater clarity.

6- The Fourth Way In

Now we come to copper in the throat.

We come to condolences. We come to regret.

We were kept busy by mounds of buckled soil.

We knew the trek would be difficult, but we undertook it anyway for twenty camel 

     loads of tea.

Rapidly, I wanted to utter my own name with complete confidence.

The yogi told me days before to instead say, Brilliant me my mouth.

I’ll confess it this way: when I came into this world, I was baptized in the stain of a 

     mulberry tree.

In other words, when we entered the kitchen, it was the kitchen that was hungry.

You don’t believe there were four alternatives, one of which was to enter India through 

     our own breath?

In the dream, someone placed a candle into my left ear and lit it with fossilized rainwater.

About nine miles from the oasis, I swallowed a small black stone.

No cure, no craving, no coupling to this life I had grown to call my own.

7- Great Bread

Great bread troubles a collapsing ghost.

From here, it is nothing but heat and a blistered collage of copper.

I drink Tung Ting oolong tea and cleanse my bowels.

I meditate each day. I pray of and blossom a light.

Possum-eyed jingle of coins in my pocket.

The life I built on the river Wu so many centuries ago is an unknown Chinese ideogram 

     standing for the hurt-stretched skin of a swan.

Cold lookout, as if a T’ang Dynasty watchtower could not collapse.

All along the length of insight, faint fire and a fierce form of mending.

The locust, the blacksnake, the haymow offering in which I lie.

One phrase only: The sandwich pain of sustenance is necessary, here, between equal 

     male and female crusts.

Yes, Max Ernst’s obsession with small, carved kachinas surely led to one of his dreams 

     in which the sound of rain instructs a man who has left a horse saddened without oats.

A man with a rooster head is sticking a knife through the sole of a woman slung, as feed 

     sack, over his shoulder, becoming—monthly—what he most wants to bleed.

8- It Was Weird

It was weird—my wife was understandably upset over a continual kitchen counter mess, 

     as if no one in the world ate crackers as messy as I did.

Was her anger anything like my causal ignorance of relegating her mood to Mercury 

     Retrograde?

We each slit the pig’s belly and ate the intestines thereof.

Now, what were the leeches and screw-worms trying to say through us?

My uncle had left the body just a few hours earlier, and I was already grieving.

Did the earth tilt our way a little, all the way from that breath-shift 1193 miles north?

I remember the sound of rain in the cottonwood’s throat.

I remember starlight carving the dark. Childhood woods in which I believed we all 

     moved from here to there.

Our downstairs bathroom now is black and gold. Cleansing colors of carp-snap and 

     health.

I sense balance in the way I drink and pee, pee and drink. Even when I imagine how 

     others pee. How certain lovely women might exquisitely squat.

Which brings me to the cashew butter, crackers, and knife sprawled across the counter 

     when my wife was tired and wanted a clean place to cook.

Sometimes I see my corpse similarly laid out, and no one is there to eat or clean or even 

     grieve me.

9 – Moons Ruining Our Mouths

Then there was the story of the sculptures that refused to speak.

The moon had emerged, gathering a massacre of moths.

Fantastic animals populated our mouths.

They brought extreme beginnings to conversational endings.

Our retinue included pack animals and Tibetan lamas with shaved heads and large black 

     umbrellas.

I even found one detachment of broken sunlight impersonating dawn.

Sure, we understood that our tongues were the only way out.

How to control our speech became a meditative act, more solemn than digging for snails.

When we got to the close of the book, there was a foldout map.

When we tried to open it, dust from Algeria had crossed the great ocean, partially 

     dimming our view.

The sky could not talk. The trees could not talk. The animals could not talk.

Even the soup in our bowls at the close of the day’s journey refused the brutal bruise of 

     words.

Then there was the story of fantastic moons ruining our mouths.

There were flowering peacocks and those that had been plucked, the latter strolling 

     around colorless but calm, taking to higher ground to display their fear of the agony of 

     release.

10- Mammal Trap

Yes, I lived many former lives on the banks of the Ganges.

They were not unlike dividing myself across centuries as slivers of smoke. As paramecia 

     on a candle wick.

I don’t care if you don’t believe me.

Believe this—this upright scar I call a body, this fourteen-hundred-year bread crust, this 

     discipline of wearing shoes.

One day you’re pulsing—perfectly content—in the larvae of lice, embedded in the chest 

     hair of a renunciant.

Then you’re suddenly crawling on all fours, pissing your pants, begging your mother for

     milk.

This custom has persisted from the time of bones and fire. From the first days of the 

     horse sacrifice.

We might find a sudden mound of stinging ginger ants. Locate considerable concern for 

     filariasis, dysentery, and yaws.

Each night I’d collect kisses, tiny feathery swirls on my neck or hers.

I’d light a candle and tighten the wax, life after life, trying to placate my need.

I lived so many lives, I became not just a paramecium or renunciant’s cloth sack or—in 

     one rebirth—a momentary flake of considerable ash. Once, I even became each of 

     seventy-three traps set out for small mammals.

In the teeth of the dark’s dark, in the powerful jaws of this desire or that, I thought I could 

     finally die. Alive.

11 – Command to Genii

I’m pondering that unused title of Stevens’.

Of course, I imagine three wishes of what his poem might have been.

Sure, I have given an aspirin to the cow, so now I am no longer worthy of selling 

     woodsmoke as forsythia.

You might fashion me a jackass, send me, say, to Salamanca to browse the lemon balm 

     and shrubs.

I have been given a chance at a new bone.

Suture by suture, its door of impossible fear encompasses my sentence.

If, line by line, we write to live, what are we to do with the voles owls sonically hunt 

     through night soil and strain?

If we unpack the etymology of the word Genii, how might our left shoes command the 

     lack of hands on the right?

So much dark and blight.

So much order to the chaos in the intentionally misplaced thread of a Navajo weave.

Hurricane this, you say. Moon-mouth that.

The doctor’s table marks the edge of one of many bones.

John Zimmerman, my friend the chiropractor, tell me: from where does your skill 

     derive?

Hands? you ask. And I say I have felt my muscles clap back—three times—to some 

     proper order when read to, melodiously, in the voice of any blackbird in a hurricane 

     off the Florida Keys.

12 – Hidden Dialogue

And so I come to fear and how I am completely done with it.

We come to condolences. We cross our mouths out with soap.

What precisely was a yellow wasp, and how many other meanings did kibachi have in 

     Japanese?

I found dead skin on the bed sheet and recognized the onset of a new day.

Besides uprooting the dialogue hidden in a vocal cord, I was at a loss.

Words reminded me of a card game played over the dead body of a flea.

What are you holding when you look at me through the eel shiver in your cheek?

How many bee entrails are smeared, glowingly, on the inside of our body caves?

We finally see something beautiful after many confused lives.

We had once been hyenas exchanging saliva on the cruel salt flats of our brains.

13- We Stood Like Unfinished Kisses

He would describe the day’s coverage as interest in French theatre, as a lambaste, say—in 

     the West—of Japanese Dada.

In the event of his own wrinkled elephant belly, the day could also include fire-tinted 

     leaves from the maternity halls of his stretch marks.

Of course, some brought Tincture of Merthiolate.

Absolutely, it was the right thing to do.

A course of action resembles blood cupping the outer reaches of the heart.

When, in the dream, they removed mine and replaced it with a third kidney, I knew I was 

     suddenly more cleanly alive.

We stood here and there like unfulfilled kisses.

Someone chanted seed-sounds. Taoist moaning from a T’ang tower. And our entire 

     sphere swayed from the weight of something that beautiful.

I realized I had two tickets to view the Ubu plays performed in Fujian, China.

There is no emperor when one readies himself, washes follicles of hair, and contemplates 

     the fragility of dead skin from four or five incarnations back.

After so many lives, I heard a knocking and opened my door upon the most beautiful face

     I had ever heard.

She said her name was BāgēStarling—but asked me to call her, Even the Aching Rain.

14 – The Nearest and the Dearest

I could confide in fire only if my bones were real.

Sorrowfully, the elm tree holds the sun in hibernation under its winter skin.

Similarly, I found a water clock inside the left vest pocket of every bride from Bhutan.

I explicated the meaning of timpani. I spoke, tamboura. Revivified, rarefied red.

Being born not quite alive also suggests space, at least its open scrawl in the spine.

Strange drumming sounds from a deity deny mirrors the reflective properties of words.

He wiped the axe, guided each cloak into a cutbank of snow.

I swear I saw the tree bark flinch, but now all he repeats is, Mark my scar.

Who is he who eats the dog-nosed berry?

The already-here? The glue-my-mouth-quite-open?

Pheasant messages are transmitted by eating only the skin.

We get facials and magnify the year.

I once ate a monkfish and followed my star.

I recognized how near and far I already am.

15 – Not to Dissolve but to Dissolve

But it is more than that, Promethean people stabbing at any mysterious sadness.

There is also great joy. We revolve our sleep breaths through one another to kiss the 

     gooseflesh calm.

Said, My manic mouth kept losing ink.

Replied, Some tender vowel sounds are good

Give me the fly-dung fix, the guinea fowl and her brown brown egg.

It may be fertilized, but I will break my rule and eat it. Even here among the confused.

You are stunned? Baffled? Confounded, complete with qualms?

You are nonplussed, saddened in a sad way at my insistent dispersal of a shy voice?

When you examine a mirror, it will be there—in front of you—like the scar of sudden 

     shoes.

Your feet are bare, the shoes too small, yet you keep trying to walk away.

When I entered the temple that full Ganges moon, the multiple-moaning ways of the 

     body spasmed with fragments of lost internal song.

I will do everything in my power now not to dissolve but to dissolve into that truly 

     grounded sound.

16 – Every Word You Fail

A radio dictation of prophetic contemplation is more than mere words.

Wash the sponge on the kitchen sink and feel starlings pass through the sole of your left 

     foot.

I can’t bear the thought that I might one day die.

More precisely, I can’t bear the certainty in the word, might.

Turning sixty-four should be easier.

I remember my father, so adult—younger then than I am now—left leg crossed over his

     right, expounding the importance of an education he never had.

That was the season of sepia, of Coca-Cola from tiny bottles burning the throat’s back, of 

     Mickey Mantle’s broken leg and Kennedy’s brain.

That was the time when middle-aged people looked old. When we cleaned the stone 

     barbeque pit of mulberry stains and bird-blotch, and believed something solid in coils 

     of a pale green hose from Bennett’s Hardware.

As I may have intended when choosing this body, there is a vortex of lifetimes of 

     accumulated energy to which I comply.

Say my name backwards and poke it with a stick as it emerges in fits in sawdust 

     droppings of a raccoon. In the scrawmings of cuttlefish.

I promise you this: the proceeds from this life will all be donated to the poor.

Bury my heart in India. The viscera and chest cavity beneath a rock cairn in Colorado. 

Place the saliva from my mouth in a glass tube beneath a shagbark hickory in Indiana. 

Scatter the ash and ask of my tongue across every word you fail to speak.

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