Featured Poet
Bob Hicok

I feel obligated to get a tattoo. 
It's how the skin of the species
is evolving. If I continue
living without plumage,
it will be impossible
to mate or hold a conversation
with a banker. My favorite
is strawberry ice cream. Not
average size scoops, Baskin
and Robbins size scoops
but three and tiny
I discovered one night
tattooed to a thigh.
It was the possibility
of kissing a private dessert
I so admired. I've decided
to get tattoos of my eyes
on the inside of my eyelids
so I can stare at the oceans
of my dreams. I'll have
muscles tattooed to my chest,
money to my palms, the smell
of honeysuckle to my breath. I want
tattooed to my brain, mouths
to the bottom of my feet, you
to me. There is not
enough art in this life.
Tattoo my front door
to my tombstone and place
a key on my tongue
like a mint. It's not for me
to decide whether my return
will be called
breaking out or breaking in.

  Full flight

I'm in a plane that will not be flown into a building.
It's a SAAB 340, seats 40, has two engines with propellers
is why I think of beanies, those hats that would spin
a young head into the clouds. The plane is red and loud
inside like it must be loud in the heart, red like fire
and fire engines and the woman two seats up and to the right
resembles one of the widows I saw on TV after the Towers
came down. It's her hair that I recognize, the fecundity of it
and the color and its obedience to an ideal, the shape
it was asked several hours ago to hold and has held, a kind
of wave that begins at the forehead and repeats with slight
variations all the way to the tips, as if she were water
and a pebble had been continuously dropped into the mouth
of her existence. We are eighteen thousand feet over America.
People are typing at their laps, blowing across the fog of coffee,
sleeping with their heads on the windows, on the pattern
of green fields and brown fields, streams and gas stations
and swimming pools, blue dots of aquamarine that suggest
we've domesticated the mirage. We had to kill someone,
I believe, when the metal bones burned and the top
fell through the bottom and a cloud made of dust and memos
and skin muscled across Manhattan. I remember feeling
I could finally touch a rifle, that some murders
are an illumination of ethics, that they act as a word,
a motion the brain requires for which there is
no syllable, no breath. The moment the planes had stopped,
when we were afraid of the sky, there was a pause
when we could have been perfectly American,
could have spent infinity dollars and thrown a million
bodies at finding the few, lasering our revenge
into a kind of love, the blood-hunger kept exact
and more convincing for its precision, an expression
of our belief that proximity is never the measure of guilt.
We've lived in the sky again for some years and today
on my lap these pictures from Iraq, naked bodies
stacked into a pyramid of ha-ha and the articles
about broomsticks up the ass and the limbs of children
turned into stubble, we are punchdrunk and getting even
with the sand, with the map, with oil, with ourselves
I think listening to the guys behind me. There's a problem
in Alpena with an inventory control system, some switches
are being counted twice, switches for what I don't know --
switches of humor, of faith -- but the men are musical
in their jargon, both likely born in New Delhi
and probably Americans now, which is what the flesh
of this country has been, a grafted pulse, an inventory
of the world, and just as the idea of embrace
moves chemically into my blood, and I'm warmed
as if I've just taken a drink, a voice announces
we've begun our descent, and then I sense the falling.

the personal touch

I have fifteen cloud stamps, it says on the back
cirrus means curl of hair, altocumulus
lenticularis look like UFOs, I have put hair,
an alien invasion on the envelope bearing the letter
you'll read under the sky of your living room,
crappy light fixture sky, falling plaster sky,
have snugged in the envelope fifteen pictures
of my hand holding fifteen stamps beneath the skies
from which they were born, the one inch by one inch
cumulus humilis beneath the ohmygod by ohmygod
cumulus humilis, say that again, it suggests
humility and accumulation, these are the wide
and flat clouds that disappear by sunset,
what if we called them soul clouds, what if we claimed
to be descended from the sky, I can't stop
saying sky, how about every third word is sky,
how's it sky there, my sky? and I'll write
more often now that I can send you buoyancy,
these playgrounds for airplanes, I feel better
just looking at them, taller, capable of swirls
and Latin, altocumulus castellanus, altostratus
translucidus, here are the possible incarnations
of floating gathered on a little sheet
except nimbostratus, "a dark, featureless cloud
marked by falling rain or snow," why exclude a portrait
of your dominant mood, it would have been nice
to send a picture of how you feel beside a picture
of how I wish you could feel, cirrostratus fibratus,
a transparent cloud which gives the sun a halo,
you might stick a dozen halos on your forehead,
seven hundred on the mirror, anyway I miss you
my little undulatus, sweety opacus, let's pretend
Heaven exists in the guise of postage, and though
these are the kind of stamps you don't have to lick,
I do.

  Theoretical love

I'll join the Community Theater or establish
the Community Theater if the Community Theater
doesn't exist to join. I'm tired
of checking my e-mail every twelve minutes,
hoping a message of love has arrived,
tired of being alone when I'm alone
and alone when I'm with people, and a musical
version of The Grapes of Wrath wouldn't be hard
to stage. We'd need dust mainly which is skin
mainly so we'd need bodies mainly, need grapes
and wrath and one chair for the director and one tree
to suggest loneliness at first and later
desperation and finally the tree would be a symbol
for the reach of the human spirit.
I often cry over symbols for the reach
of the human spirit though not when I encounter
the actual thing. When you turn my age
as I have just about turned my age, you give in
to some flaws such as the belief that jam
is one of the food groups or the tendency
to be more engaged by art than the souls
art intends to glorify. And obviously
there's the flaw of using the word art
twice in one sentence and also mentioning
the soul in that sentence means I don't know
what I'm talking about. I'm talking
about the distillation of experience
to some kind of point and the distillation
of the response to that experience to some kind
of point and the fact that people will pay
for tap dancing about starving and singing
about tap dancing and costumes, everyone
loves to see other people in rags. I'm thinking,
this could save me, spending all day in the theater,
all night rewriting the book, sewing sequins
to the eyelids of the actors, dreaming of New York
and roast beef sandwiches too tall to fit
in my mouth. I would most like to stage the end,
which I remember best from the movie
because I live inside the movies,
when the Henry Fonda Joad tells the mamma Joad
to look for him "Where there's a fight
'gainst the blood and hatred in the air."
Everyone's eyes would swell with proletarian
feeling and fellow man and woman feeling,
each person would think he is that guy, she is
that spirit, and I'd be clapped onto stage,
stomped into the light, I'd bow
and there'd be a party behind the curtain
and kisses made of champagne and I'd slip
away as soon as I could, as soon
as we became ourselves again, bewildered,

  Switching to deer time

Three deer on the nearby hill and maybe more
on the farby hill and probably every hill
in this place of hills had deer on it
eating the gray-green grass of December
in the early light. How I decide

to get out of bed these days is deer.
If I look out my window and see them
I know it's time to feed my feet
to the mouths of my jeans
and when I told my wife the deer
are my new clock she said they won't fit
on the mantle. The clock of three deer

watched me walk down the drive
to get the paper but I was alone
at the bottom of the hill when I read
there were twenty thousand dead
in Iran from a quake. Yesterday
it was twelve thousand dead
and the day before ten thousand dead
and I sensed a pattern. In the cold
sensed a pattern, with mittens on
sensed a pattern and coming back
into view of the clock of three deer
I waved and shouted I have sensed a pattern.

Of course they were intuitively aware
of this pattern, that everything
which eats also hunts and everything
that hunts is also eaten, including
the buckling Earth, including my mittens
and the mist rising from my mouth, the white
husk of breath, of course they ran
from my voice into woods
from which I later heard the pop
of shotguns, which sound soft
from afar like champagne being opened
but loud from near like flesh being opened.

It was just after the song of champagne
began that I thought, right now, this instant,
precisely as I put the corner of this toast
into my mouth, a boy, a girl sits on the rubble
of his former roof, her one time wall
and holds the hand of his buried mother,
the foot of her crushed father, not
because I am sentimental did I think this
though I am but because twenty thousand dead
means every sorrow we can imagine
and every sorrow we can't has occurred.
And deer are the best clocks because time

is twitchy, is a nervous thing
running away from us into woods,
into its own death and I don't like
wrist watches, have never worn one,
don't like cuckoos, all birds should fly,
don't like Big Ben because people
were tortured in that tower, time
is politics of the worst sort,
is who controls the numbers
and it isn't me, is never you
and just three days ago the clock
of the ground struck the hour

of twenty thousand deaths and tomorrow
the paper will say otherwise, will say more
and if I look into the brown eyes
of deer there is no time, no feeling
except peace, which isn't real but neither
I sometimes hope are we.

  Her my body

The dog licks my hand as I worry
about the left nipple
of the woman in the bathroom.

She is drying her hair, the woman
whose left nipple is sore.
We looked this evening
for diagonal cuts
or discoloration
or bite marks from small insects
that may be in our bed.

It is a good bed, a faithful bed.
A bed that won't be hurt
by the consideration we gave
to the possibility of small
though disproportionally
strong insects in our bed.

The blow dryer sounds like a jet
taking off. The first time
I flew to Brussels, people began
the journey happy but ended
with drool on their shirts.

She is drying her hair
though she has never been to Brussels.
Drying her hair
though she could be petting a dog.
Drying her hair
while having red thoughts
about what the pain in her nipple means.

I would not dry my hair
in such a moment but I am bald.

The body of the woman
has many ways to cease
being the body of the woman.

I have one way
to be happy
and she is that way.

I would like to fly with her to Brussels.
We would not be put off by the drool.
This is what happens when people sleep.
We would buy postcards of the little boy
who saved Brussels when he peed on a fire.
We would be romantic in public places.

For the moment
these desires can best be furthered
by petting a dog.

I'm also working on this theory.
That sometimes a part of the body
just hurts.
That the purpose of prayer
is to make the part of the body
that sometimes just hurts
the little toe or appendix.

Something vestigial or redundant.
Something that can be jettisoned.

I have no reason
to use the word cancer
while petting a dog.

There is a piece of a second
during which a jet is not flying
nor is it on the ground.

I'm working on a theory
that no one can die
inside that piece of a second.

If you are comforted
by this thought you are welcome
to keep it.

  My last factory job

The job was pushing a rod. Steel rod
in a v-channel with a stick.
With a stick pushing a rod
against a wheel. Which spinning
ground the rod. Which screaming
made sparks which bit my skin.
Pushing a rod with a stick
while being bitten by sparks
was the job. Which required breath
at the interview and two legs
for standing one
wouldn't do. Required fear
and hunger on the application
in the office with four chairs
and four windows, two broken.
I possessed fear and hunger
so checked
the fear and hunger boxes.
Then my fear and hunger were led
to the wheel. To the v-channel.
To a tub of rods I was shown
how to feed to the wheel.
The work is what mindful experts
call mindless. I could think
of the Civil War if I chose
and I did. Who died and was it me
I thought of the Civil War
mindlessly. Could think of me
naked on grass is why I smiled
the little I did. Mostly
I thought of the sparks.
Of their sad short life as stars.
They were the only beauty
in a dark place and brighter
than me. Considering the job
was pushing a rod
against a wheel for ten
forever hours a day. Considering
it took forty four minutes
for me to realize I should have quit
after forty three.


Jean Jacket breaks a rack in the corner
like a hundred cracking knuckles.

The neon flashes iller behind the bar,
the M retired. The juke box
stopped listening to the radio
in '78, sings Foreigner
and Zeppelin, turns out
she's still buying a stairway
to heh-eh-ven. Guy

at the bar looks like his mullet
is ready for takeoff. He leans
into a woman wearing labial-
pink mini, her legs open
into a V. They kiss
like pipe fitters, like dread.

A man watches the TV bolted to the wall.
His daughter's been gone six weeks.
He can't hear what the silhouetted
faces say, the music too drunk

and the girls' words have tar on them,
have weights on them, their voices
have been altered except one, who lends

her actual lips to the camera and nearly
brags that she's fourteen and hooking
in Vegas. And he doesn't hear what she says

as he thinks she's pretty, as he lifts
a finger to the waitress, who brings
liquid and ice, he stares at the girl
as he drinks, as cold rips his throat

and the tops of her breasts,
the round glow, summons the tightening
of skin, the dilation of reach,
and he vanishes into the picture
of fucking her. Jean Jacket

breaks again, the couple is gone,
and if the man knew he would vomit:
what the TV says, where his daughter is,

that teeth live up and down
our fingerprints, that we chew hard

and always,
that the meal of his daughter
is somewhere over
and just begun.