PoetryMagazine.com
Since 1996 Volume XXI
Alan Soldofsy
USA


Credit: Pamela Pennington

Alan Soldofsky is the author of the 2013 collection of poems, In the Buddha Factory (Truman State University Press). He has also published three chapbooks: Kenora StationStaying Home, and a chapbook that includes a selection of poems by his son, Adam Soldofsky, Holding Adam / My Father’s Books. Over the last three decades, he has published poems widely in magazines and academic journals, most recently in DMQ ReviewThe Georgia ReviewThe Gettysburg ReviewPoem-a-Day (poets.org, Academy of American Poets)Poetry DailyPoetry, Flash Rattle, and The Rattling Wall. His criticism, interviews, and reviews have appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, Narrative: The Journal of the Society for the Study of Narrative Literature, and Poetry Flash. He is a professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at San Jose State University. In 2009, he received an Artist Fellowship in Literary Arts in Poetry from Arts Council Silicon Valley.  

 

 

 

 

 

WORDSWORTH IN SANTA CRUZ

 

Before the flood he lived on Love Creek Road,

and with his sister read Tarot, flipping cards

on a red velvet scarf outside cafes 

along the Pacific Garden Mall.  From the point 

he watched surfers in black neoprene paddling out

sleek as otters, lining up to catch the head-high sets

and get pounded in Steamer Lane where the waves break 

both right and left, and in the backwash

the water sprays up through itself like smoke, 

as if the bay were composed of cold blue flame 

that smolders against the rocks.  In the parking lot there’d be 

the usual dross of VW vans and Rancheros,

people half undressed, toweling off, brushing sand

out of their suits.  Overhead a flock of cormorants,

winged migrants, trolling for fish or garbage.

At dusk he’d head back to his cottage,

a garage behind the boardwalk, where the wind

had scrawled obscenities in the dirt in Spanish.

Swallows making wide blue arcs would dive under

the eves. He’d sit out through the poverty of the evening

and listen to voices overflow from the amusement park,

like the smell of cotton candy.  Hungry,

he’d wander over to the refreshment stand,

order French fries and a Coke, only to discover

that the word for starlight had vanished 

as had other words consigned to spontaneity’s  

leafy passages.  All thoughts confined to memory, 

which the more he’d try to access the more 

it seemed he’d forgotten.  Though there were times,

walking home, when he could almost remember

golden flowers in the wallpaper, 

nights when his friends came over with a jug

of Carlo Rossi.  And they’d talk almost until dawn,

the experience even as he was having it

gone, melted away, not an imprint preserved
in the daylight’s famished vernacular. 

 

 

(First published in In the Buddha Factory, Truman State University Press, 2013)

 

 

JOHN CLARE IN SANTA CLARA

 

He can’t forget what this place used to be, 

wind sending a flurry of apricot blossoms 

falling from the one tree left in what once was an orchard.

Black-eyed Susans like helicopter blades in the ditches,

their wide eyes steering for the sun.

 

Home again, he’s traded his Harley

for a Honda Civic. A casualty of the times, he knows

what one word can do to another.   Storm clouds ride 

over the mountains, the summits swathed in silver,

the slopes, rock strewn and broken, clad with a glassy sheen.

 

The days are not long enough, the air glossy

with the sibilance of a desert oasis.

To calm himself he holds his breath, then lets it out, 

his face a thicket knotted with the darkness

that stirs beneath the earth.  Finally, the rain comes

that marks the ground he hopes not to die in 

when the world shows signs of

sliding off its axis. He wants a life

that will not dissolve so quickly, clean

as terracotta, a protracted life of perpetual ease.

 

There is never enough sweetness in these

raindrops, as if they should be sugar 

ricocheting off the pavement, not water

encrusting the cuffs of his trousers.

His mouth sharpened like a fox’s or a badger’s.

 

He’s afraid he might swallow the flame of his tongue. 

Then, they would certainly try to send him back 

to where the locks are cinched at six o’clock,

and he behind a colony of doors would be

shut in, held fast, his red mind orbiting.

 

In a landscape hacked up and paved for tilt-ups,  

he navigates from memory the blazing seam 

of his garden—a good place to be buried.  Although 

he likes the airport, how dependably one can feel there 

the tension of departure, the soul subject to inspection.

 

The only problem is that sometimes he can’t 

follow the arrows.  And wanders the terminal,

knowing he’s under suspicion, a traveler from home

moving dimly through the crowd, attempting

to get by by not to standing out too far.

 

(First published in In the Buddha Factory, Truman State University Press, 2013)

 

 

COLERIDGE IN WEST MARIN

 

 

Addicted to the alphabet, he stays up nights, 

and mornings descends the path that winds past the lagoon

to the narrow wedge of beach, his breath blooming in the wind. 

Unfinished pages on his desk, lines

eroding like the cliffs that crumble

more precipitously with each downpour 

into the rock-ribbed sea crowding 

the headland north of Bolinas.

 

His cottage on the mesa leaks, the pot-bellied stove 

puts out more smoke than heat.  Books heaped 

on the floor, about to topple drunkenly as haystacks.  

At his age he wonders what he writes for. 

Crows roost in the eucalyptus across

the road—feathers iridescent

as the lining of a suit.  He’s quit

the San Francisco scene for good.  

 

His wife and kids moved to West L.A.  He visits 

them occasionally, unable to endure the curdled air 

or the miles of elevated concrete.  He prefers 

a less encumbered location, inventing

another self in the company of 

younger women.  Or observing an egret 

in the eelgrass, impossibly balanced,

dredging his head though the water.

 

Tall bird, he preys on 

whatever there is—small crabs, fingerlings, 

anything he can slide down the hose of  neck.

A bird doesn’t want to know how good feeling bad can be,

nurturing his hunger, with the world in such abundance.

What reason is there to be depressed?  Christ, 

was anyone depressed before the nineteenth century,

or whined so damn much in verse about it? 

He’s begun to think of poetry as a form

of self-medication, a sort of substitute for love.  

Or is it a kind of self-advertising?  On the way home 

he’ll stop at Smiley’s for a drink before 

he enters the drizzle of afternoon.  He thinks maybe 

he should spend more time out, drive to Marshall to hear the new 

Dead offshoot, or start that idyll on the new sewage plant—

or oh bloody hell, just screw it. 

 

(First published in In the Buddha Factory, Truman State University Press, 2013)

 

 

HYPERREAL: VIRGIL IN LOS ANGELES 

 

after Sandow Birk’s Inferno

 

 

In the canvas, you blink dust

out of your eyes, gazing into a perpetually-

burnt sky as if remembering 

 

the future. You lead tours down

defaced and fiery streets.   But your hunger 

for misery seems unsatisfied.

 

In this translation, a sentence is half heard; a page

half deciphered.  The key doesn’t fit 

the lock, the car won’t start. 

 

So your imago will not make it over

to the home for the last supper 

with parents who dribble silence 

 

onto their pastel velour sweat suits.

Your excuse: it’s too warm in the dining room,

the food infused with high fructose corn syrup. 

 

Though you’re certainly one who knows the way 

through this bizzaro city, where the boulevards  

end at the beach beside the ash heaps. 

 

From the heights you overlook the set 

of the golden gate snapped in half in the distance, 

clad in remnants of light, spanning what’s not there.

 

You always get what you’ve postponed—skid row’s 

motto engraved atop the golden arches, “abandon all 

hope on entry here.”  You stand with lost souls 

 

from downtown like Whiskey Dan 

who each afternoon takes a cab back to 

the house of pain.   You can’t expect him

 

to follow directions.  You must drive him  

to the brink of this flaming canyon 

where the architecture must burn.  

 

You know it’s not wise to stop here, but you’ve come

to discover what future remains:  Chevron,

IkeaCarl’s JuniorSearsWal-Mart.

 

Perhaps some lesser brand will light the way

out of the shit storm.  You’ve driven

half an hour to find a restroom. 

 

Here’s a gas station, but the privy’s chained. 

A figure silhouetted against the molten edge 

of darkness hands you his card.  Tells you

 

go down a few blocks.   The experience repeats. 

Even after there’s nothing there’s still

traffic; the ramp ahead 

 

as far you as you can see

clogged with a blur of brake lights. A plume 

of disconsolation hangs over the avenues, 

 

occludes the trashed emblems of suburban   

civilization.  The marquees and mausoleums, 

the shuttered Giant Burger with its char-broiled sign.  

 

An oil derrick on the precipice still flexing

its sinews like a demonic bird pulling 

from the exhausted earth a larvae of flame. 

 

Whiskey River take me my mind is the tune 

you want to hear, looking down at these freeways, 

winding through the gashed and gnarled city.

 

From the arroyo cable cars ride up the side

of a smoldering hill, framed by date palms.

This could be Brueghel’s version of L.A.

 

after the next quake, its downtown towers

looming against—if can you believe it—a volcano spewing 

along the horizon its sulfurous  steam.

 

Or Hieronymus Bosch’s San Francisco 

burning again for its sins.  It makes you want to lean 

over the rail to better see the disaster coming 

 

You hope you won’t succumb to the pressure

to admire the grandeur.  The apocalypse in 3-D. 

Below, an inundated city awaits to incinerate you.  

 

You can’t rewrite the Book of Revelation

or concoct a new book of nightmares.   

Nevertheless, it’s your pleasure to gaze upon the ruins 

 

to merely circulate among the spectators, 

and watch crows land on the high-tension wires  

while you shield your eyes against the view.   

 

(First published in In the Buddha Factory, Truman State University Press, 2013)

 

 

SHOT

 

It’s all provisional.  The rock for instance

thrown into the green murk of the pond,

scattering in the sprawl of its wake a spume

 

of clouds.  The garbage collectors have judged

my recent offering inadequate,

although I’ve given them my best shot.

 

Was that a shotgun that woke me

in the middle of the night or a car

backfire?  The bureau of weights and measures

 

has decreed there are some things which you can’t

write about.  Breasts for instance, and darkness.

I’ve devoted the portion of my life

 

to exhausting such subjects.  Now silence reigns.

So why not take a hike in the country.

There are still one or two garlic farmers left

 

for whom it doesn’t matter how much I

stink.  We all try to get along, even

if I am asked to speak in a language

 

no one alive still understands.  That

was the first day.  On the seventh 

we rested and did shots of Wild Turkey.

 

There must be some sort of vaccine for this

sort of thinking. Tomorrow, I’ll go

to the doctor’s.  Even if no one asks me

 

I’ll roll up my sleeve.  What I’m telling you 

is confidential.  I need to get a shot,

but I’m afraid of pain.  I still smoke yet

 

I don’t owe the IRS.  How much longer

will I live if I don’t have a colonoscopy?

President Bush did and I don’t want to

 

do anything that he would.  He’s a menace.

There’s a chance he wouldn’t even know if

Oakley is a man or a woman’s name.

 

Fuck him.  And the wreck he’s made 

of history.  My aim is to be revered

at least for a few centuries.  And if not

 

to be forgotten quickly.  I like to think

of myself as the murmur of a river,

a voice that prowls about in underwear

 

smelling the gardenias.  I don’t believe heaven

is the answer to our prayers.  But I still pray

silently.  My favorite color is blue.

 

Sometimes I lip sync the words.  Other times

when I drive across a bridge I want to shout

for help because I know it will be me

 

sliding into the water, caught in my seat belt,

chunks of concrete plunging around me.

I want to cry out but my throat is shot.





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