Three Poems

1. Techniques of conscious hunger

I fall asleep by thinking of a strong bird
swerving over vacant parking lots
enjoying the abandoned landscapes
that push up against the shape of the air
not considering the tormented human destinies
taking place so far below him. if he looked too long
at how slow they move on that surface, his wings might falter,
so the surging continuation of his footsteps into the same sky
where their bodily tracks stop, holds him in his roving place.
why live like those who make their homes so close to gravity?
all day I travel in his light-boned skin,
and go to sleep like a whole room full of feathers.

I wake up by feeling that same bird stiffening his tiny heart
for the plunge toward his oblivious prey in the waters,
he flicker of a fish taking its piece of splintered sunlight
through the trembling waters bright with light
just before the darkness where the meat almost has a tangible soul,
where the strong beak that curves from the pinched face
like a desire to devour made manifest in the flesh
grabs up its prey like a dagger made soft,
no longer a blade to cut the water but a soft blade
to be eaten in order that the body can be carved
into health from within, and still soar over the earth
with its own cutting force, the persistence of animal motion
changing arenas to show how life must brutally transform itself.

I feel the downward plunge that is not a descent
but a plunge ecstatic toward the hottest part of earth,
furnace that will someday burn for us both,
letting gravity take the focused body into its plunge
to stun its victim, using the strongest force on earth
to make its beak stronger than any muscle.
I know that I myself am the desires of earth made flesh,
and that if I let the glory of life flow through me

that I will stun my own prey, the tenderness inherent
in the human heart, and grab it up out of its dark waters
as it sometimes lashes the air, urgency of a second trying to become a minute,
in surprise to be so flawlessly consumed,
in only a few delicate flickers, of violence like water,
the little piece of sunlight that clung to their body
descending into my stomach yet remaining
draped on their form like a white towel
that all the other solar systems have thrown down into ours
to be churned out with the force in two sets of human wings
that grow in the perfumed air of each other’s suddenness.
this is how God feels— the life of a completely cleansing fuck


2. The man who won’t die

(dedicated to the spirit of Van Gogh)

a man sits on a park bench
on a boardwalk in front of the ocean.
time has departed from him.
he no longer feels the drag of time’s anchor
under the boat of his life.
the ocean fits in his amazing eyes.
seagulls moving through the air
are moving through his body.
he has a pain like a little lizard
filled with poison crawling in his jaw.
it’s crooked and he never had the money to repair it.
a town is flickering clumsily to life
behind him and he thinks of finding someone
waking up inside the blinking neon blankets
there to repair all the parts of his body
that don’t line up properly.
he looks at the glistening blanket of the town
and imagines the unreachable cure,
the numbers stacked up to the correct level
so that nothing human will collapse.
the pain becomes a part of the sky above him.
the birds fly through his vast and tiny body.
each crest of wave overlaps a sand year of his life.
he gathers the memories of friends,
their expressions and their laughter,
the inner numbness that always kept him
from entering their lives.
he recollects that he hasn’t had a job in weeks,
but the realization seems to come from another lifetime.
the ham sandwich in his hand
is the last piece of food he’ll ever pay for.
the meat glows wet in the last of the moonlight,
he knows that once this meat breathed
and that it was cut from his own carcass.
he throws the tough edges of the bread
into the air against his hunger
and two seagulls swoop down
from the open mouth of heaven
and grab it in their beaks inside his body.
nothing can be given to feed the world
without resulting conflict; more than one
thing always wants to eat, millions of mouths
crowd the same small moment.
at once the hard mouths gather
in the air that is his flesh
and rip a part of the sky’s bread to pieces,
then the fighting begins somewhere else.
the man smiles not from emotion but to see
if he still has capable muscles in his face.
he is seventeen years old and the circles
under his eyes already forecast a very old age.
he is seventy years old and the smooth parts
of his cheeks between the silver stubble
remember a very young age.
he takes off his shoes again and again,
begins to sprint down the boardwalk
into frail man-made eternities screaming
with glee to see if his voice is real.
wind like sandpaper painfully
wears away his years and makes him a boy
for as long as his lungs can hold the earth’s breath.
the miracle of the air fills the miracle of his lungs,
potted pine saplings on the edge
of the boardwalk that faces the town
away from the ocean become a part
of his tear ducts as they stream with ragged water,
the sand on the other side shines with the beginnings
of the day’s sun and drys his eyes
in the middle of the same miracle.
if someone would come out of the fracturing atmosphere
to hand him a brush he would paint us all a canvas:
a fleet of shimmering angels coming out of a great swamp,
the green slime in their revolving eyes
their crocodile teeth beneath blonde hair
sprouting from the shaking palette
in a timid hand forgetting its mortality.
his soft feet meet the boardwalk
and become tough within seconds.
pain roars through his throat
as if the air held murder and into his lungs
a river of blood too hot to hold,
stop-signs leaping out of the limited oxygen
into the visible air, but he keeps pushing
past them and each one sends a sliver
into the walls of his lungs become the pulsing world.
he remembers the body of a woman
he’ll never touch again, the jellyfish far out
beneath the ocean’s parade of waves
palpitate with his remembrance in the water,
squid suck in water and push it out in invisible spurts,
just as his breath meets the air with no answering sign
because the heat has risen through his flesh
to match his temperature.
there’s a tiger shark swimming near the place
where the smooth sand drops sudden miles,
and he can feel it prowling through his body.
it gives him strength to proceed without wings
into the human world. he walks panting
through a neon wall that is an immense eye
aching without sight. the first waitress he sees
is a thing torn from his ribs, the world begun again,
her angular features tearing the soft air to pieces,
earth’s kaleidescope unable to resist
projecting the sight of her on the blank walls of everything.
faces flash onto the television walls in yet another life,
some of them the leaders of his lost country.
who are they, were they born of the same mother?
after the sights of morning, the white blades of the seagulls
cutting the empty air wide above the ocean
before any boats, beaks colliding in the air
over a piece of bread from his flesh,
who is the authority over him?
faint voices from the screen
do not speak of his life,
the television past can’t touch
the things he has experienced.
he asks for a glass of water
and a bird cuts through the wind of his body,
still moving through the orbits from the long run.
he is a god who will die soon
without a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
the water hurts his throat,
the things that give him life
make their draws on his energy,
there is no release from memories of faces
pressed into his distant chest on hotel beds,
the demanding voice at the door that should never enter.
when you are about to die you finally realize
how little it would have taken to save you.
but how complex you always were,
how full of inexplicably intense needs.
the face of the last waitress on earth
shines faintly on the polished table.
he keeps his eyes on the slight reflection,
afraid that if he looks up at the real thing
she will hurt him very badly with her beauty.
if she asks him to leave he will have to find a way
to kill himself again. if she brings free food
and smiles at him with something
stronger and better than pity in her face,
his life will find a way to begin again.
he wavers between the two possibilities,
hoping that nothing waiting for him
will be less intense than life or death.
the wait is longer than any of his memories.
he raises his ancient face,
his tiny action making flesh of stone.
through the battered cloth suns of his eyes,
his face marbled by homelessness,
his vision climbs the ivory legs
of his own flesh several times removed
and leaves the restaurant in painted flames.
we have not yet seen each other’s faces in this world.


3. This is this

This is the voice for nobody.
This is the trumpet without lips on it.
This is the quick fuck in the woods while the car waits
humming on the human road. This is
the hopeless moments of everybody.
This is your crazy aunt running through the backyard
breaking a white picket fence with her waist
on the way out of your family stumbling slightly,
reaching the driveway with bloody feet,
throwing a beerbottle off the edge of the world and screaming
as it shatters in hell and hell becomes
smaller than the inside of a glove.

A man, having seen this, leaves the family reunion forever,
stops on a bridge, stares down into a river,
sees a large toothless mouth trembling
beneath the currents, thinks
“there might be a doorway somewhere there”

This is a poem sick of its own bones.
This is your roommate having sex with your girlfriend
wearing a snarling grin while the washer and dryer
spin downstairs covering their gasps
and you sit lonely on a windowsill in your scentless room,
waiting for a breeze to knock you out like a dead moth.
Fingernails can’t find the moon. Want something big enough
to scratch at. Argh. A little girl the size of my thumb
stares at the Grand Canyon
where her parents just drove off. The smoke from their car,
now small as a beetle on the canyon wall,
wafts through her hair and she gently smiles.
This is. Because it can happen.
Your heart is fucked out. Young, you can’t say no
to the wrong people, or yes to the right ones.
And finally the refusal to attempt smiling
leads to a smile of relief. You grow up,
and your frenzied roots
wrench buried human throats

Luke Buckham is a prolific contributor to Spread.