Steve Langan

Song of Myself (Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Nebraska City)
April 9


I don’t want to go, don’t make me do it,
I wanna stay home with the azaleas and the dogs
and my inconsistent relationship with God.
Plus many people I know
and know of are dying right now,
heart attacks mainly.


I arrived: This is me on the porch writing!
I do love the birds, they are circling!
Here I am trying not to be distracted!
There I was, eavesdropping on the artists
talking about drinking vodka!
Will anyone ever care again about the human heart?


Put together (in the dumbest way possible: ready, go)
these segments of the current experience:
birds, lust and light on unmowed grass.
Do it for Terry (because Terry said when you go
to the artist residency write the dumbest
shit you can and don’t judge it).


I went running, and I thought of when we
were kids at parochial school and an ambulance
came by, siren on, we were told to pray.
And now I pray every day.
I pray in the morning and I pray at night.
I’m so tired of muttering on my knees in the dark.


After my run I came back to my new home
and went across the courtyard to look at Kristin’s
art, one of which said Baby Won’t You Come
Back to Me, though I could not decipher the Baby
and the Won’t so it seemed like a command.
We have all been there, suffering just like this.


Who said the following things?
Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
If I had to choose between grief and nothing, I’d choose grief.
Almost everything we call higher culture is based
on the spiritualization and intensification of cruelty.
Who said the previous things? Is the game this afternoon.


There is another problem I was trying to work out
during my run. The problem of my past.
And of salvation. I also noticed the houses in
this town and the businesses and the people
are just like The Truman Show. It was supposed to
inspire some delight, but I sobbed after that film.


I can hardly stand it: the birds the pain
of stupidity the thought of writing stupid the hoots
and shoots and grandness and sobriety the disapproving
hosts the sexless guests all the menacing beasts
the nice clerk at the shoe store (so nice!)
and the children trying on shoes so vile and stinky.


So I made the mistake of telling Janet and Liz
there’s a Chihuahua chained to a tree. And now they
want me to do something about it. I make
life complicated. Small and great occurrences commingle.
The man who was a premier designer of post-
modern furnishings was run over walking by a bowling alley.

April 10


The coffee is too thin (begin again). The morning is
too bright (again).The people are too alive. Wonder
is too ironic a concept. I keep imagining us in
different places. And myself, thirty years ago.
Maybe the barista is not as nice as I thought?
The patron’s story made her wince.


I can’t believe it! I was just given the opportunity to write
one sentence about what I like and dislike about theatre!
“The opportunity to go to the place—depth—I talk about
all the time and know I need and can’t access better elsewhere.”
“When I don’t arrive at depth, which is almost always my fault
(distracted or some other fault of attention I may never be able to correct).”


So when are you going to start making metaphor, metaphor-man?
When are you going to begin to be majestic?
And when are you going to forget the your past,
if only for a minute, so you can begin to live?
I was afraid to ask the lady sitting on the curb if she’s okay
for fear she would know immediately I am a bad man.


Beauty is a problem, too. Loving it, hating it, indifference.
I am looking at two trees I can see from the courtyard.
The full tree and the less full tree.
I take that back: I am seeing those trees right now
in my mind. All day yesterday I stared at those trees
and said try your hardest to remember them and I did!


Wonder…came back. I swear it did. Riding
the crooked bicycle through downtown to the park,
wonder returned. And I had read, if only to scoff,
a few pages of Emerson’s “The Poet,” my favorite
sentence being “He is plainly a contemporary, not an
eternal man,” which made me smile in the sun.


But now I’m reading an essay in the New York
Review of Books titled “Why Be Good?” Why
do I conspire against myself? I always have.
I remember the day I decided to slough off
goodness. I remember who was there. I remember
what we said. We were beside the railroad tracks.


Pascal called imagination the mistress of the world.
I have none today. None for you and none for me.
I might as well be the doctor scientist I loathe.
The scientist doctor examining his patient.
The patient with her back to the doctor and doctor’s
hatred, centuries long, of her blue gown.


All I want right now is the world. Little world outside
my window. Little crunchy world with bits of blood
in its bones. Little meaty parts of world you dig for
with a little fork. They keep passing by, the drivers,
and don’t they know they are in the best little world
there is—driving by all day so perfect, alert and happy?


I don’t know what this bird is whose call is
You can’t catch me, you can’t catch me.
I don’t know the names of any of the birds.
We have you surrounded come out with your hands up.
I did not do it I did not do it I’ve been framed.
One day every person you know will star in this scene.


Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
makes sense now. And Thoreau. And Emerson.
Here I am feeling a sense of wonder—then there I
go developing categories of wonder. For the first
time in my life I feel this mad curiosity
and I do not want to die or care that I will.


Dear reader you have already known and felt wonder.
Dear reader why did you not tell me about wonder?
Dear reader I understand now that way you smiled
and after you got to know me you were less thrilled
to let me take off your clothes. Dear reader it is
utilitarian all the ways we deny ourselves the hope we need.

April 11


was my assemblage last night of Magnetic Poetry
words on the fridge door, then I thought twice
and disassembled it. You need to be broken first,
preferably in half, on bloody knees in the gravel,
before any half-ass God will move a finger.


I feel like I’m in school again!
That’s what my wife said minutes before
we made love for the first time.
All this talk here about making art,
so furious and absorbing and destined
to make us all fail utterly.


Aaron made coffee, and I had an apple from the farm.
Dan G. called and told me he’s okay and maybe he is.
Kit B. texted and said she’s proud she fought last night with Chris.
My sweetie is taking her mom to the medical center this morning.
What would a wise man say, in response?
An ordinary man, battered into wisdom, what would he say?


Certain things: the light, the long expanse, the rhythmic
(though they may not have planned it) urban planning,
the collective decision to get fatter, the farmer who loaded
his shotgun to go find the intruder but the intruder was his nephew.
When you begin to pay attention, really pay attention,
you are owned by every blade of grass.


A text message that reminded me of when I was down.
I always want to turn life into a blues song.
But it was, in this case; I was broken in half.
I was pleading for mercy, I was listening to
“I’m Gonna Get Dressed Up to Get Messed Up”
over and over, singing and laughing and singing.


Alone at the lodge at breakfast I played
who could I take in a fight and in what order?
In what order would I have sex with the guests?
Who will die first? Order?
A convention of dietitians! I fought
with my brother in 1979 for the last bacon slice.


Thanks to one of the dieticians for the information.
I was practicing making small talk.
I asked is brown sugar just as bad as regular sugar?
Because I have always wanted to know.
And I had just loaded my oatmeal with brown.
Both of them said it’s just as bad and one said we’re asked that all the time.


At least we will be able to vote out that crook Obama.
I don’t know if Romney can do any better.
We need Palin in there—she would tackle them all.
And Gingrich, he’s a brilliant man.
I overheard this conversation at the Lady Bug BBQ.
What a weakling. I just kept eating my pork sandwich.


So when are you going to write with blood and aphorisms?
Why are you lolling about in your sad little face?
When will we know you as a man not a scared little child?
These are just some of the ways an artist thwarts his own attempts.
I bet I have a hundred more. Another one is developing
a genuine sense of wonder. Another one is apoplexy.


The lecture I’m writing in my head
is why Frost’s “Once by the Pacific” is a great poem.
But as soon as I think it is, I don’t like this poem at all.
I think it’s one of the worst I’ve read—so basso profundo.
I am spreading my enmity now
to include dead great artists. Thanks, mom!


Did I just text Jenny and say “genuine sense of wonder”?
The best thing about bad furniture is no worrying.
I wonder if Joan from the meeting will stay clean today?
Green tea with mango is better than green tea.
Henri Bergson (in translation) is so clear but also so difficult.
Right now I can only hear cars on the cobblestone.


Something potent with which to end the day.
A little flavor, lime squeezed into the seltzer,
with a flower, for good measure, in the lapel.
Something to devastate the senses.
An otherwise soothing concoction, an antidote
that’s merciless, a rush of sugar straight to the heart!

April 12


A poem about waking in a strange place.
A poem about waking in a stranger’s bed.
One about a zephyr; a poem about someone
who is incorrigible, effervescent, wry.
Though we know reliance on just one of
these attributes and the little poet-man’s in trouble!


It’s too early to be thinking of where
I want my ashes spread.
And all the kindness here has me startled and vigilant.
I said my prayers this morning
and I put in something a little dark for good measure.
I said, PS, I know you enjoy having us all cornered.


Here I am, at the café at the lodge awaiting oatmeal again.
Only three of us, all solo.
Man in black T-shirt, back to me.
Woman in orange T-shirt, back to me.
Waitress in black and white, both hands full.
There is no café better than this one.


I like arriving best and leaving almost as much.
The present tense defies me.
One time I had a dream a Muslim had married her,
and I was invited to attend the wedding.
I’ve never been so angry in a dream. Stranger
in a colorful robe holding my lover’s hand.


I really hate all the syllables of my name.
If I could change one thing about my body,
it would be that it exists in time.
If I could change my mind, one thing,
it would be the echoes and the longing.
Fortunately, we continue just the way we are.


OK, I thought the film last night was emotionally dishonest.
I only believed it when Beau Bridges was talking.
I thought the director over-thought every shot.
One scene more than the others made me want to vomit.
I don’t mean vomit from a physical reaction to something
disgusting. I mean I wanted to leave the country behind.


Thinking of reluctance, maybe it’s how you’re selling it?
Thinking of chili, maybe it’s the pinto bean?
Thinking of lawn mowing, maybe it’s the word swipe?
Thinking of salvation, maybe it’s muteness?
Thinking of birds of prey, maybe it’s the osprey?
Thinking of the daffodil, maybe it’s the yellow one?


So what is your project? Eternity.
Who is your audience? Eternal misfits.
What about the distinction between narrative and lyric?
No comment.
Many people are promoting their poetry these days.
No comment.


After a birthday party for a grown-up child my father-
in-law would lean and whisper, Another baby’s ass is wiped.

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