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David Van Etten Poetry, May 2019

One of our Flapper Press resident poets, David Van Etten, shares his work for the month of May.

Pas de deux

Your head is an abandoned

outhouse filled with bats

came out wrong. I meant to

blurt out the only two people

in this room are laughing-

at me. Bridge vision, tunnel

traffic. I made an interesting

bid at couples counseling

and you said double or

nothing. Daisy makes no

noise when her lungs are about

to cash in. We spent all day

calling things sins except

the coiled worm of aloneness.

Your head is a bower

of birds in a mystery novel

is a little much. Everyone waits

for the blood bath in the grande

pas de deux, the dizzying

sequel to Swan Lake, when

Swazye lifts Baby but we’re afraid

how things will end. They asked

permission to land before leaving

Otis Redding in the water. I didn't

come here to discuss my rapidly

aging parents. I didn’t come here

to bury the lede. In his final coda,

Axl Rose will plead for home.

I see bird songs and hear

stars and we might want to stick

around until I’m done spinning.


Sauce for the gander

We played chicken in a small circle

of upper graders. We went on double

dates and didn’t doubt who wasn’t

with us. Against me, a wall; ahead of me,

my first kiss, followed by several dozen.

Do you remember your childhood

phone number? My butt looked good

in that haircut. Peppermint schnapps,

puppy style, Doogie Howser, record

scratch. You played possum; I didn't want

you to call me teacher’s pet. Let’s meet

at the dips. Lip service, room

temperature. If you drop a few blades

of grass on the warm breeze, you can tell

when to quit baseball. Sauce for the goose,

sauce for the gander. The coyote call

of youth sounds like a wounded rabbit.

The saxophone, a gaggle of journalists.

When you passed away, I was holding a phone

in my back pocket. When I was six,

I didn’t know the difference between on

purpose and on accident. All I knew was

I didn’t push you off the swing.

All I knew was you started paying

attention when I got a girlfriend.

Seven minutes in heaven must be at least

six minutes without eye contact, but everything

after that gets a little fuzzy. It seems like

forever since I saw you disappear into

the girl’s bathroom. Two two six,

four nine two six.



From the neighbor’s yard, you could

attack San Francisco. Some hailstorm

of arrows once chastened the turkey’s

soul. And this darkness falls but the blueness

wanders, so select your switch and pile

the firewood. Any eight-year-old can murder

the box office. See, you smell the flames

in your eyeballs. Bambi is generic

like Kleenex, but the buck doesn’t

and the does don’t. The blueness stops

dead in its tracks. Fear separates

living from livelihood. The ladies roost

high in the trees because those toms aren’t

predictable. Tomorrow never comes

is my favorite song I can never remember.

Kung-fu soufflé is how eight-year-olds

consider cold-blooded killing, but the arc

of the covenant was ultimately aimed

haphazardly. It’s better to ask neither

permission nor forgiveness if you can

pull it off. By the time my sister’s niece

graduates, we’ll all be Lyfting to work

as the crow flies, descending

from each ridge line in Contra Costa

toward the sea. The primates of the future

will have bigger brains and smaller teeth.

Theologically, you asked for it and

these panicked birds answered. I’m all

alone on this terra firma. Trust me

isn't the sort of thing that high school

buddies get tattoos of. We just need

to slouch here like sworn apprentices.

The staff you handed me had a crook

for trapping snakes and casting shadows.


Mark Rylance

We couldn’t cast a household

name for the triptych’s last

beheading. It costs a king’s

ransom to pay the pope’s henchman.

The sound of shadow is nothing.

Death crackles. This frostbite appeared by

moonlight, the way North Milwaukee

disappears in South London. We needed

to know the no name we lost

in the first act. Let’s take this from the top.

Bowing and scraping is cartoonish

delivery of one’s head. Curtsy your womb

to the nice man. You can’t tell

whether the Venetian slave is saying hello

forever or goodbye just this once.

The Blue Angels revised the word

for lost comrade. Glasnost follows

Kristallnacht, matins follows vespers,

the night lasts so long they sleep in

two shifts. The season of the lord’s

prayer ended abruptly. You won’t lose

your breath if you hold my hand.

I’ll see you on Snapchat when they add

the Hans Holbein filter. Brooklyn was

an outpost of the Dutch Renaissance.

The next awakening will be tethered

to the last, like tandem horses on TV.

Medieval ladies showed so much neck.

Hold me and hope the trilogy

never ends. Michaelmas follows

Lammas tide. I don’t know what happens

next and I won’t hold my breath. I won’t

stop until these lungs have lost their words.


Photo: bmeabroad on

Honest blood

The wonderworker waits

for weeks. The poet priest

walks on factory walls. You

can’t fathom why wordlessness

is mystery until you marry

two silences. The missed, the most;

the lesson, the lost. The burnt rice

at first sip of green tea this dusk.

On top of Moeser Lane, those

Fogerty boys disappear downstairs

to the rumpus room. When are you

going to use your words? Weregild.

The sound of one hand fiddling.

Shropshire. Hey big spender,

the russet moon of youth was yours.

Why squander honest blood

on blessings learned in books.

She falls like hedgerows over glen.

You married the King of Cups.

Every son’s sins trigger sunset

clause. Break glass. Mrs. Claus,

Mama Bear, Bloody Mary.

Catopromancy is divination

by mirror and words. If you stare

for long enough, you find the future

in a stranger’s eyes.


Above the knees

Turns out the no-hitter was

because of LSD rather than

in spite of. The economic Trinity

is the imminent Trinity and vice

versa. Yeah try catching that house

fly with a spoon next time. These

truths we hold to be evidence

of self: Diogenes’ lamp, Martin’s

cape, Isaiah’s last verse at

the first rap olympics. He spit

his seed in the marketplace

of ideas. Athens is a southern

Madison is a midwestern Austin.

He spit his seed at strangers

and slept with stray dogs, which

make such meaningful eye

contact that our DNA evolved

to better lock stares by moonlight.

Wrap your dark heart around that

love story. I’m trying to read

the catcher’s signals but God made

a flame dwelling in the hyssops.

Our first kiss was in spite of

my creepy look not because of.

Some ancient redhead lurks among

us not within us. I was a slave

to my children until they were

a slave to me. Merovingian

kings carried an old scrap

of cloth into battle. The winner

didn’t always advance to

the next round. Angel Kisses

is next up at the freckled strip

club. I still have the red

bandana we soaked in vinegar

as young men. Daisy sounds

like Bruce Lee preparing to fight

grown-ups. There’s a lot

more to life than blood and words.

You followed me through

town until I wasn’t lost and struck.


Crystal Corner

The apple doesn’t fall far but

still falls. Your hand holds Yorick’s

head but you’re not scared of old

haunts. I once proposed with the one

ball from the dive bar where we

first met. Before vowing your life,

review recent texts. You don’t need

me to slow down your mistakes,

young man. I hear your heart caught

up with your height. Holy Cow,

Crystal Corner, Crow Bar.

I was unsure whether the two ball

wasn’t a better message. I once

posted Obama holding cue stick:

“Chess player.” Everyone knows

the knight is the wild card.

You were touched by our ruminant

god, dear nephew. The chase scene

was added in the remake but removed

in final cut. I wore a basketball jersey

to play Buck Hunter. Blood shot

is a bad drink but works.

Spud is a name that sticks.

Someday you will find

fulfillment on a long flight

of stairs. I never know when

the evening begins or where it went.


Read more about David Van Etten.

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