The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

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MAY 2020 Issue

But I Have Always Been the Same

biking into the west wind

not every poem can end with a vision
but this one will

New York meditation
let no one you see today be background

a sad-looking moon-faced student feeding the library scanner

reminds me of the one who said the text we were reading
was open to interpretation
before I squeezed the tabletop so hard it cracked

suddenly it’s cold, on the bike
and though I turn to look up the avenues
can’t seem to find the sun anywhere
I pass a valkyrie on a single speed whose hoodie’s drawstrings
dance behind her like vipers in a river
be more universal, I keep vowing
while at the same time I know it’s best
just to speak for myself
as I ride home from an intake with a therapist
whose idea of getting to know each other
was to read from an interminable list of leading questions

are you ever inordinately sad for no reason?

do you ever see things that aren’t there?

I saw Tim Levitch slip
into a Starbucks restroom

and Naomi Watts on Hudson, walking very deliberately
in a long black skirt with white polka dots
a denim jacket and sunglasses
I thought even if we met she’d never fall for me
what interest could she have in a man
after Liev Schreiber
who must have embodied fully during their marriage
all a man could possibly offer
both the strength and the stink
don’t actually know, but I’d guess she probably chose a woman next
or an incredibly rich tech mogul
or maybe no one, freedom, though let’s be honest
even that begins to pale

toddler strains at the buckles of her stroller
and the dad
you can’t come out until you’re happy
and the mom
so are you happy?
and the girl

it would be a lie to call the sky purple
and yet it is, somehow
my neighbor no longer strips to the waist
to sit on his stoop smoking
after I move the car
Rachel’s taken down the tarot cards
dusty from the top shelf
where they sat untouched for good reason
our readings are brutal
she puts them back
goes to make a call
I get up and rearrange the box
so you can see the print on the side
I mean, that’s how it was

don’t sleep that night
but skip through the hours like a stone
trip over one of the de facto sculptures made
by the boxes we never unpacked
with the chillier nights it’s quieter on the streets
but in here are thoughts that can’t be banished
as ancient as the revulsions
stacked like those magazines in my parents’ bathroom
and sounds whose source will be forever unknown
what we refer to as walls
are really layers of systems
connected by intricate hollows to the depths
the coal miners used to call the demon hotel

my worst memories are of being noble
face against the mattress
that won’t give way
so I ride its surface
when what I really want is to fall through
and reach the place in the mind no one believes in anymore
dreamt a hatch in the little spaceship-shaped
sound machine opened
and a ladder came down
tiny aliens descended
and ventured across the surface of the dresser
craning their necks at perfume-bottle towers
shitting themselves before the great changing digits
of the clock

so paranoid about the scratches on my neck
that appeared in the morning
approximating little punctures
that we called the bedbug dog
when he emerged from the carrier
I looked at him
said hi to the handler
aren’t you going to say hi to the dog
oh I thought I wasn’t supposed to interact
nah man, go ahead
all good, they left, the scratches had been my own doing
I flipped through a magazine
Debbie Harry in a camisole
“Dreaming” plays in the titles of The Deuce
a song about a subject who knows
she’s a subject
used in a tv series
about the relationship of pleasures
to the systems that provide and regulate them
in a time when those systems
however violent and enormous
were at least still visible
I’ll have a cup of tea

how many ironic epigrams
have I written
in imitation of writers who once impressed me so much
what really did those gentile sensibilities have to do with me?
there’s blood and dirt
on the pages of my summer notebook
because I’m anxious
and like to stretch out on the ground
although the ground makes me really anxious
here it’s just a broken old road
cobblestones the grass and weeds slowly swallow
I doubt another civilization
will come along to sweep these layers away

it’s too late to read some of the volumes
I might have finished
back in the day when I could plow through anything
I let myself reread a Sebald
because John told me without shame he’d read it nine times
the book says Thomas Browne wrote
time itself grows old
one of those novels you finish and turn the page
half-expecting to find another chapter

in fact the bookstore was suddenly crowded with friends’ books
like the moon had gone through its phases
and those of us who’d been holding onto the face
as it waned completely found ourselves tumbling into the void

the last lazy person
but I try to look busy
we don’t like weakness, that hydra
my legendary thirst
drinking alone
emptying bottles
as fast as they can fill them up
all I want is to eat without ceremony
waste my flesh, retaining only what’s utterly vital
the wire without the paper
could I somehow age into enough money
to do nothing but wander cities
reading historical placards
disclosing harrowing episodes to strangers
photographing train platforms and graves
on the walk home
find an apple in my pocket
it’s the season and I’m not stupid
I know which stand sells the ones
whose first bite is like a gulp of wine
just as the sourdough
I’ll toast in the morning
is practically beer
Bushwick, a headlight’s ominous wink
I wish I’d told that guy at the bar, listen pal
that cigar is getting put out
are you going to do it, or am I going to have to?
would the cops, after, have taken one look
at me and Dia, and laughed?

it was around this time
having realized that none of my friends
ever seemed to consort with anyone
outside their social class
(I mean they all knew one very rich person
whose good graces they tried to cultivate)
and never had friends or god forbid lovers
very far beneath them economically
(though I fantasized they secretly had such lovers
they yearned for and obsessed over in those moments
when we seemed to do little but distractedly interact)
I started to go out on my few free nights
(ignoring messages from those same friends
asking if I might be free to hang out)
of course I didn’t know where to go
and was broke and alone
so I went to poetry readings
far from where I normally went
outside the city, often, so that I needed to take
a long, melancholy train ride or drive to
a combination café and bar in a strip mall
where before the reading I’d stuff some fast food in my mouth

I was out of place
in one of the bookstores discovered during this period
and had nothing with which to look occupied, not even a book
(they were shelved along the walls, yes
but a kind of forcefield kept me from taking one down
and flipping the pages)
and not a phone (or else there was no point to any of this)
so I just stared at people’s shoes
and my own shoes, looking up however
whenever the door opened with a ring of the bell
until I was like some kind of Pavlovian dog
of awkwardness
everyone there was super gentle
but there was a menacing feeling
a creature seemed to appear on a woman’s back
but it was just her hand, she’d managed to do that thing
where you get it back there, to scratch
god, being twenty-five, someone’s pointlessly taciturn and proud
and someone else is way ahead thanks to privilege no one
will admit for years, while another’s so hopeless
that already people don’t bother to try with them
for all I know they were forming a community even as
they did the things that would one day destroy it
like etching into a teacup as it’s manufactured
the faults along which it will eventually shatter
one read a poem that went
this drug’s molecular structure
perfectly mirrors the constellation our doomed twinship
gouged into the heavens causing every other stellar configuration
to disperse into a mere mass of random fucking bystanders
like the ones whose sad incomprehension I had to tolerate
the entire duration of my delirium anguish and gall

then in a loft
at another reading I’d pulled off Facebook’s recommended events page
not a person I knew was in attendance
there was beer and wine on a countertop
a poet got up and reminded us that Zeus’s first act
before even killing his father
was to slip backstage
behind Appearance itself
and behold the origin of everything
in the copulation—we imagined it massive
as watching two supertankers collide
from a life raft floating far below
and nearly between them—of Ananke, necessity
the faceless goddess of what no one can escape
and Time-Without-Age, a snake, time itself (as Browne might say)
its scales iridescent as oil where it pools, the poet wrote
and gripping her at every point
an image echoed, I thought
as I listened, in David Rattray’s drawn-out description
of a mantis devouring a grasshopper
in its embrace, disemboweling it in stages over the course
of an hour, until all that’s left is the wings
that flutter to the ground
the way you’d drop a candy wrapper on the street
the poem ended to boos
well you write one, if you don’t like it
the reader growled, then laughed
it turned out his friends’ jeering
was the recognized sign of their affection and appreciation
he was followed by a woman
who wrote, quote
I wish that vape of hers was a flash drive
and instead of inhaling vapor she was downloading her kisses
or her sweet voice or you know what forget it
this isn’t working
saw your militant new boyfriend on twitter
posting about the big march
down at the corner of yawn and whatever

a week later
in a kind of black-box theater
another stranger read at a barely audible volume
the saddest poem I’d ever heard
from the beautiful pamphlet in which she’d printed it
I was in the back back row
totally alone, except for a recycling bin full of green bottles
one guy was kind of looking at me
and afterwards struck up a conversation
about anime from Robotech to Fooly Cooly
he knew the town where I’m from
(money earnin’ Mount Vernon, we said in unison)
and asked if I was a cinephile
I guess, I answered, wondering what movie he’d bring up
Jacob’s Ladder, it turned out
the disquieting way it portrayed the institutions of the city
and the way the subway in particular could pitch into the grotesque
he reminded me the main character is a postal worker
we later find out he has a PhD
then changing the subject told me that when he was a kid
he went to a basketball camp operated by Chris Mullin
(one of the league’s great pure shooters, we said in unison)
and largely presided over by Mullin’s numberless Irish brothers
what was that like? I asked
oh you know, he said, getting stoned at ten in the morning
then throwing about a thousand bounce passes
the brothers had a rule where you couldn’t dribble more than three times

that was my last reading
afterwards I decided to erase my trail
retracted all the phrases and images I’d uttered
back into me
with a shiver
like holding down backspace
while the cursor swallows letters
then words and finally whole lines at once
faster and faster
what was I so worked up about, anyway?

purple dusk
I was still falling through space
and saw, in the atmosphere below, a rainbow
they’re circular from above
and I was right on course to soar through the center
long before they’d arrive to saw it up
and hand out the degrees


Matt Longabucco

Matt Longabucco is the author of several chapbooks, including Heroic Dose (Inpatient Press, 2019). His book, M/W: An essay on Jean Eustache’s La maman et la putain, is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse. Poems and essays have appeared recently in Mirage, Lana Turner, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. He teaches writing, innovative pedagogy, and critical theory at New York University and Bard College’s Institute for Writing & Thinking.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

All Issues