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from Back on Earth


back on earth
the Ruling
Class wake-
s, the
sun asc-
ends, bright
in its sparkling
& Thy too
get up
not special
a pattern
life, they say
is no mistake
it has
& these
we study
space, law,
born in cry-
ple cycles
in leisure: 
space, law,
born in cry-
back on earth



a kin-
g, a chair,
in all detail
to Thy
seat, there
to work
out griev-
ance.  yes,
even Thy
must sit,
work, de-
sign, & do
upon 12th
Street Bridge
its bars, rai-
lings, & polymers
as the kids
cross & die
even Thy own
who seem
to live fo-
back on earth



in me
time acco-
mplished so-
it used
speech, &
but I didn’t cry
or soften
no, I went out
sick w/ personal
& drank, & sang,
& wrote
da dum da dee
the dawn of g-
eese, pink
nights w/
those Sirens
yes, I went out
habitation, & drin-
ks, & songs
now their
back on earth



one day, as
logic show-
s, the Ruling
will fall
it won’t be
but, behold
it comes
& the people
yes, the people—
well, now
they commute
some band-
aged, some
w/ tourniquets
or, no, the han-
dle of
a plastic bag
friend, you
need get
this right
this world
is a mummy’s
world, speak
your ideas
clearly & discernibly
possess an aff-
able spirit
& invest
your funds
in an IRA
or discount broke-
rage account
back on earth



it’s nice, it’s March
the Rulers
they could b-
e  on the Sun
O Rulers, how
are concepts
to be verified
first, take
into the mind
now go
unto Thy café
& test Thy
premise, observe
Thy milk
as it steams
in a process
of heat & pressure
yes, it’s true
life has no
its techniques
empiric instruction
behold: Thy Ruler
also lays
on lakeside
on a blanket
like yours
in warmth
no one made
& takes to reading
the Essential
same as you
back on earth



up goes the moon
between 2
gas station-
s, an image
a thing, mirror
of the Poet
every day
it gets up
in this mummy’s
not different:
a cycle
a symbolic friend
of fire, focus, o-
a ball split
from a ball
& like all th-
ings called
ed, ancient,
of conceit
back on earth



every theory
is social
theory, no
terms age
in things
& you, well
you drink
& serve
sing & quarrel
setting in
the shelter
of art—
its grants, prizes,
symposia, confer-
ences, &
most of all
back on earth



as money
nothing o-
but still
I have
my personal
for me, Otherity
a trav-
eler to
mummy people,
in time
still, & normal
this is logic
it gets
to think
of them
a bandage
a wheel
but poems
no, those
are just
shapes, forms
from lives
of need
back on earth



Interlude for Dana Ward

It’s been so long since I wrote this way—with a freaking pen!—the way you probably do all the time, all looseness and I’m-just-saying-this, probably with a pen but it could be pencil or markers or even a computer.  I guess it feels like a young person’s style though you’re not much younger than me, besides you’ll probably write that way forever, Berrigan did, you’re as committed.  Something must’ve pulled me another direction, changing me the way young people promise, when they’re young, they won’t.  It’s a long life, Youths, let’s see how you fare.  This resistance to the colloquial comes, likely, from mistrust—but of what? Enthusiasm? Exposure? More like naiveté: I fear the note will be false when the stakes are real, etc.  There’s some great critiques of ego cults out there, and they’re spot on, but is there really a choice?  Not a lot of lines from your poems I want to quote, and your grief is a hot swamp in there, but there are still events, right?  I mean we’re still alive, apparently, and there’s the mechanics of time or whatever—I had a better phrase for it a second ago—and that all shows up in your poems.  Melodrama is a problem, it really is, but not like the stock market is.  Anecdotes, the allegorical, delicate frames, that’s all fine, but now I’ll tell you something that happened.  The other night, coming home from work (this is about labor, duh) it was getting dark, it does that earlier now, and I got on the BART and had this feeling I get, one I’ve never found a way to get into a poem.  It starts by taking quick glances at my fellow riders, also a little depressed I presume, the winter light stuff, also burdened, rush hour, fighting for scraps in a miserable time or however you’d put it, and I felt like there were just so incredibly many of us.  That’s what struck me, the mass, and its own mass behind it.  “A human being here among the mountains / understands how pretentious he is.”  Velimir Khlebnikov wrote that, look it up, it’s the Paul Schmidt translation on Harvard.  So this is about the number problem, like in Oppen, except I didn’t feel small exactly, though I didn’t feel above anybody either.  Sometimes on the train I get sort of an envy thing, just middle class angst over the slipping away of time, especially when the students come in, the blessed subjects of movies, campaigns, fashion, all wired up on beauty and position. This wasn’t that. Instead I felt how weird, how improbable, that we’re all these people, each going through something while meanwhile assembling, internally, a certain reasoning to contain and manage that something.  It’s like an endless, imaginary scaffold that has no purpose except the survival of practical life.  Its size is almost not possible, you know?  And that’s where poetry, especially yours, situates itself, in the overwhelmed.  We all know the aggrandizing should be over by now, needs to be over, but meanwhile the experience is the same, the scaffolding still there, every second moving and happening, I guess by definition.  Like tonight, commuting again, my salad fell out of this plastic bag I had it in, into the middle of the crosswalk, and I needed it, so I had to pick up plastic cups of sesame dressing while the cars waited for me, and meanwhile a homeless woman asked me if I ride BART as a kind of ice-breaker before asking for money, crazily she was trying this trick even though she could see me picking salad from the street, which I think says something about habit and awareness, and about the scaffold too, but here’s the problem: the feelings I felt there, and that she felt there, not to mention what the drivers and whoever else felt, and all the many gradations thereof, literally cry out for poems of their own, yet all that simultaneity, that mass of contained diversity, just proves, bummer that this is, how stuck and entrenched we are, and not because we couldn’t write all those poems but because we probably could.


Brent Cunningham

Brent Cunningham is a writer, publisher and visual artist currently living in Oakland, California. His first book, Bird & Forest, was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2005; his second, Journey to the Sun, came out with Atelos in 2012. He and Neil Alger are the founders of Hooke Press, a chapbook press dedicated to publishing short runs of poetry, criticism, theory, writing and ephemera.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2014

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