You have a chance to be an artist, one chance. What do you do? I roll up my sleeves and scratch my armpits because it’s not getting hot in here, it’s just me in my heavy shirt. Stop sniffling and blow your nose. All things old are still old. I stand up to my bootstraps, only they are not straps, they are lashes. Mark me, please, I want to see if I grow anymore. Swelter, sweltered, sweltering, one big story is the impending storm, which is all hot with snow like an envelope threatening to seal us in and mail us nowhere, the other is the Republicans bickering on stage, saying things like “bring back the warrior class” and “I do a lot of doing.” Words make the headlines, but they don’t. A poem simply handles the unending loop of language and reality outside, the way the wind has the shadows of the trees on the invisible ropes of the square circle of the world. Animal thoughts, swallowed in the leaves, pages flip, flipped, flipping, the way Medusa’s head gets all over the place when it sheds. There are a thousand different ways to make art, and not enough. A studied savoir faire and practiced nonchalance, the enchanted diamond armor that we craft so that our characters can wear— a subtle difference not unlike the difference between “it will cohere” and “throw your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care.” I see your wild rhyming couplets and raise you rainwater droplets. Let’s go make Little Anthems that examine how evolution is a theme. I’m not going to ask you to trust me, but, believe me, we began as sensitive terrestrial mollusks, and now it is easier to imagine the kingdom of heaven when spiders surprise us. Wandering eye of the needle, excuse me, just passing through. Across the sky, the clouds shin, where one work ends, another begins.
The days fill with plots like sunshine I will never understand. Public water fluoridation has nothing to do with pouring flour into a reservoir. I know that much. I may be out-of-sorts, not to mention off-the-deep-end on a number of issues, like wanting gun control, or at least a GPS device incorporated into every sort of gun, but I don’t have to run for president. I drink my morning cup of Fog Chaser. You see, the day hasn’t actually got here yet. It’s 6:02 and dark as climate change outside. The waves of blue-tinted snow, like small breasts, like it’s my sunken chest that makes me sing. Not even my wife wants to hear that. “My purpose is to make my narrative as truthful as possible.” That’s what Custer said. Girl, that’s what we are up against. Suspicious days, long with truthfulness, yet short on truth. I feel one coming hither. Coffee gone, it’s time to walk such thoughts away to where the deer go when it blizzards.
Recalcitrant as the water in Flint, “Fuck that. We ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse.” Dear applause, we are all suspended. That’s why I slather my face in a bee venom mask and sleep under its dull stinging sensation for the pop-up tent of eight hours. I mean someone has to bring you the news. Look, there’s an empty beer bottle on the counter and thirty-seven more under the sink because ain’t nobody got time to return shit. Some GIF. I go back to the crisis in Flint. I am deeper than the water, murky as cake. Are you feelin’ me? “Can you Sexy Walk like me?” When I hum “row, row, row your boat gently down the stream,” I am deliberately emphasizing what comes next, what comes after the hard- to-pass anti-corruption legislation we table and untable in the congress of ourselves. Namaste and nae nae and if not now then when may my nobody be excused?
There are people who are not workers? Oh, I want to be one. Let me have a taste of that spinach. We are heroic couplets when we march side-by-side in a parade? But even standing on the sidelines next to the Gatorade, the sun gets in our eyes. Yes, that’s where the sun stands. Visible grammar, that which breaks in our hard- count songs, each of us trying to draw the other offsides, that which means “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” Impressive groove to pregnant pause. Unmendable guitar string of stop. Compulsory mistakes, language of quirk. We are done playing now get back to work.
I like James Franco. Not that I know him, but I have no problem with James Franco. If James Franco wants to be a poet, I mean he already is a poet, let him be a poet. If James Franco makes good poems, great. If James Franco makes shit poems, great. I will not sit in judgment of James Franco. Let this be a metaphor for the not James Francos. James Franco could run for president against Donald Trump and I would vote for James Franco. All right, that’s not saying much. James Franco could run against any Republican candidate (unless, would Bloomberg run, ever, as an Elephant?) and I would vote for James Franco. But who’s talking about politics? Not James Franco as far as I know. Maybe he should. Maybe he should make poems that protest the unnecessary killing of young black lives that seems to happen every night in our Whitmanesque streets, poems that illustrate the need for a living wage, poems that stand for a mental health care system with doors that open, poems that yawp for a semblance of gun retractability, so we stop shooting each other in our schools, in our movie theaters, in our glittering malls and neglected housing projects. But I would never say James Franco must write poems of social consciousness, no more than I would ever say any poet must write poems of social consciousness. If James Franco’s a problem, this poem’s a pantoum.
Like a young senator too inexperienced to be president, I say what I feel must be said—over and over and over again, I bring my hard programmatic message, putting myself on the widening disappearing spot every time I step out into the dark light of the stage that is a document’s opened page. Words undergo a transformation into print, a slow exaggeration of time, and you are with me in exotic anywhere, but our movements take us away from each other, away from the longevity of art sensible as fluorescent shoes at a funeral, the way answers flee our pestering voices, questioning one instant, chatting the nonstop next.
Scott Keeney is the author of Sappho Does Hay(na)ku (Sephyrus 2008). His work has appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, Court Green, Mudlark, New York Quarterly, Poetry East, and other journals. He lives with his family in Newtown, Connecticut, where he is production manager for a publishing services company.