top of page

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!


Rude boy

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.


Bald torso

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.


Guitar licks

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.


Neurotrophic pleasures

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.

403 views0 comments


bottom of page