Spring 2008, Volume 4

Poetry by Michael Steffen

Consider, For a Moment, Creative Loafing

Oh, immobility, death’s vast associate,
you are the still center around which we jog.
- Stephen Dobyns

I think I’m hexamorous: if nothing else,
I love gimlets and jilted women and the Early Renaissance
and subjective idealism and sleeping late
and words like glottal stop
and verdigris. I can’t remember names.
I call every man “Sir,” because my brain
is full of stories and poems,
myths piled up in a heap,
yet all the heroes the night’s constellations honor seem
unabridged, each according to his tale.
My critique of the stars is an argument
against their nightly industry.
Of course, I’m speaking of myself. Fact is,
when the show’s over, I lie in bed each morning,
all morning, a supine tour de force.
And at my age, who could deny I need the rest?
“Never put off procrastinating”
that’s my modus vivendi,
which is why I have nothing left after taxes.
I am my own welfare state.
I’m studying herpetology (part-time),
because I need a new diversion, some-
thing to blame my lack of enterprise on, the fact
that gravity weights so heavily against me.
My house is falling apart; a wooden fence surrounds it,
as if to contain my vicissitudes
grazing in their paddock.
I am groomed by ambivalence,
but of course, I can’t be sure.

Cows, with your eyes closed

You’d live with them, adopt their customs—

humped breathing,

fantastical hides (black means death,
brown means birth),

cattle egrets perched on shaggy rumps.
Cow enthusiasms—

belly deep in clover,

testing fences,

You stand in a pasture, encircled
by the good and the beautiful,

your eyes closed, fingers tracing
long straight faces, lyrelike

horns. Cows get up,
lay down, fourteen times a day. They go

where you go,
head to hindquarters, if you say nice things. “Ah, Daisy,

back in my day,
disco was king.”

The Past

You won’t find the past stored in my attic,
no dried boutonnieres
crumbling in a cardboard box,
no cracked souvenirs commemorating
my many botched lives—
painter, salesman, software engineer,
divorced, re-married, separated. What for?
The way I loved the past
is the way I hate it now, remembering
when I owned my own house,
and in love, I thought.
I had a good dog, company car, but
I was drowning in what passed for a life.
It left a bruise when I walked out of it
into another, far worse, until I decided
the cheerless ritual of those days
could go on without me.
Always an underside, always
some tearful departure resurrecting itself
every few years, until, perhaps,
Death finally cuts the string.
Maybe we all have some wrong in our lives
we just can’t right, some sin
we can’t outdistance, the rank smell of it
always behind us, bumming cigarettes,
holes in its shoes.

Close Enough

You’d tell her everything, wouldn’t you?
What you think about happiness,
how it always seems to wear itself out, how you feel
you’re never the cause of your own good fortune.
No holding back the catharsis—
your mother’s ambivalence, your father’s violent
temper, that uncaged dragon flying through your dreams.
As if not laying waste to your life
each time you spoke to her would render
conversation useless. Everyone wants to get inside
everyone else. Who this? Why that?
What went down in the course of your life?
And she’s no different, desiring to see you
reveal your wounds, your flaws,
less for anything she might say or do to heal you
than for the way she simply listens,
merciless in her sympathy, like someone inching past
a car wreck, staring with practiced pity
at the half-naked corpses.
Isn’t it enough that the bodies remember?
The worst of all things, this sitting beside her
in couples therapy, exposing,
in the name of trust or love, your every mystery,
excised for the sake of someone else’s
version of intimacy, knowing she’d feel betrayed
if you kept even the slightest thing
to yourself, risking what you’ve always protected,
a safe place to hide. In that cold courtroom,
the levees break. Your wild heart is tamed.

BIO:  Michael Steffen is a Y2K graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Vermont College. His first book, No Good at Sea, was published by Legible Press in 2002. Poems and critical prose have appeared, or will appear soon, in a wide variety of journals, including Poetry, Potomac Review, Poet Lore, Alehouse, Isotope, Perigee, and Cave Wall, to name a few.