The Poetry of David Van Etten
Updated: May 15, 2019
By David Van Etten:
Flapper Press is proud to feature the poetry of David Van Etten!
Public stoning is like the compulsory
draft: if we’re all doing the deed, we
better mean it. I pulled a good, long
pour before returning to my spot in
the bar light. If you’ve never opened
with a power ballad, you’ve never been
here before. I got stuck in the stairwell
without my badge. In ancient Thebes,
they'd kill you for mourning the wrong
person. Gudrun’s dad contacted every
joint in greater Stuttgart trying to bury
his daughter. I didn’t mean any harm
when I retweeted open mic night at
Your Mom’s Gas Chamber starring your
face emoji. I can’t tell where our hearts
will someday harbor. But these bread
crumbs fall lightly across the hillside like
snow flakes. Rhyging was the original
rude boy but King David ruled the cuts.
The raw steak of night hangs heavy.
Heaven is dependable but has a wild
streak. My life will bury everything
I once loved. All you can do is stand
before strangers and twist the blue
burlap inside you. You’ve been here
before but forget when the song starts.
The carbon life of this parchment
is forever but invisible. I made
a pact with the dealer: my blood
for your antigens. In the casbah,
blue jeans; in the fire, flames.
I’m getting choked up by dwelling
in the past, that mud hut that melts
in the sun. We never finished the hunt
of ten-thousand full moons. So many
are the heads that get cloudy with old
age. Stop everything. We need someone
to remember what was going to
happen. The bare bodega of time sells
tall boys and short stories are shared
on stoops. My blood is only a word
that I worship. Wheels was what they
called me in college. My grandkids
will carry Neanderthal words to
their graves. There’s one for bald torso
and another for not sneezing on the fire.
We weren’t the first to name
our firstborn after a flower on the year’s
longest night. Nexus mysteriorum
used to mean something. I’ve been
coding all night and need a light meal.
I submitted the paper several weeks
late but still hope to receive partial credit.
Fentanyl isn’t the best cure
for tomorrow’s foster-care
crisis. Steel country didn’t
vote for some bad acid
trip. Smacked off his tits
is 18 months from poisoning
American slang. Just some harmless
flirtation with speedballs, but you
can’t swipe right. Insert name
of songwriter. The smell of 60-watt
light bulb above flame intoxicates.
Fire-flies survive as small
bursts in the summer night.
They rushed me to the hospital
to tweeze a living moth from
my ear canal. It doesn’t help
to dunk your head in the kiddie
pool. The best cure for hard
living is dental nightmare.
The prenatal video of vacuum
extraction was less terrifying than
the real thing. Elliot Smith.
I felt like a god on the dance
floor, literally. I stopped going there
because it was better before
I got there. The basin called infinity
was an Ashbery line I loved
to pretend I understood. The toilet
never works when you’re an
adult. It’s like I entered some
waking rabbit hole and fell
asleep each night by gum drop.
Five parts CBD to one part THC.
You’ll run sixteen miles on the beach
near your in-laws. Your face will melt
from the guitar licks of the podcast
intro. You will hear chaos before
the doctor carries away the tweezers.
What if I told you this book’s
purpose was to hand wash
Soviet wealth, because the last
book failed as an underwater
debt balloon. We mixed up our
mating assignment; my dopamine
confused your oxytocin for
an eternal promise. Holler if you
mean hollow, brood if you can’t
be bothered, burn if you expect
something revelatory to behold.
I stand alone in the hippodrome
outside Taldykorgan, sniffing
god’s grey earth. The next book
will be ghost-written by shell
company, and my royalties
will be revealed in the final
algorithm. I’d show my backbone
and own these words if I wasn’t
painted light. Kokpar means goat
grabbing but the headless body
was once a fallen enemy. 100%
of irregular soldiers agree this
energy drink should marry
caffeine and nicotine. Brace
Beldon reupped in Rojava.
The teacup of logic rests on
the barnwood credenza. I’m only
dyed in the wool so they can return
me home when I stray.
I’m old enough to be dead
in a cave, but only felt orgasmic
grief the once, at my cousin’s
bedside days before he left
the cosmos. Slough is for suits,
husk is for horns, dust to dust.
I bought three yards of burlap
and barely finished the cowl.
Here stands Daisy, alive in
the kangaroo thorn. We asked
the city to review the tall grass
igniting hillsides in my mind.
We don’t know why controlled
seizures lead to neurotrophic
pleasures. Rolling meadows
under swirling azure, not
a pretty picture. I left the bar with
postictal confusion and anterograde
amnesia. It’s pronounced “sluff.”
Some decide to leave this world
for the eremitic life, celebrating new
habits in old garments. But Red
Riding Hood wasn’t ready to rid
her life of “self.” Is anyone even
serving this section? I’m a little
parched. I promised to look after
your kids, but I lost my forehead.
David Van Etten had eight poems published with the Santa Clara Review in the '90's when he was “varsity poetry.” He misses those days, and those who peopled those days. David began writing again when he married his wife, Susy, and witnessed the birth of their now-three-year old, Daisy Joy.
Life’s tribulations have added weight to David’s writings, including David’s current fight with colon cancer, family experience of electroconvulsive therapy, and ordinary aging unto dementia. David’s mother was a nun and his dad was a Jesuit when they met in theology grad school at USF in 1967, the “other summer of love” for those who left religious life to get married. David’s parents ran a home daycare called the Van Etten Zoo in San Jose for nearly 40 years, where David and his sister, Mary Grace, were the two kids that stayed and slept there.
David hopes you enjoy his latest poems of family and language and life.