John Beer's first book, The Waste Land and Other Poems, was published by Canarium Books in April 2010. His work has appeared in Verse, The Brooklyn Rail, Denver Quarterly, Seven Corners, and elsewhere.
J. BEER 1969-1969
It was when they determined that I had been born dead
That my life became easier to understand. For a long time,
I wondered why rooms felt colder when I entered them,
Why nothing I said seemed to stick in anyone's ear,
Frankly, why I never had any money. I wondered
Why the cities I walked through drifted into cloud
Even as I admired their architecture, as I pointed out
The cornerstones marked "1820," "1950." The only songs
I ever loved were filled with scratch, dispatches from
I spent my life in hotels: some looked like mansions,
Some more like trailer parks, or pathways toward
A future I tried to point to, but how could I point,
With nothing but a hand no hand ever matched,
With fingers that melted into words that no one read.
I rehearsed names that others taught me: Caravaggio,
Robert Brandom, Judith, Amber, Emmanuelle Cat.
I got hungry the way only the dead get hungry,
The hunger that launches a thousand dirty wars,
But I never took part in the wars, because no one lets
A dead man into their covert discussions.
So I drifted from loft to cellar, ageless like a ghost,
And America became my compass, and Europe became
The way that dead folks talk, in short, who cares,
There's nothing to say because nobody listens,
There's no radio for the dead and the pillows seem
Like sand. Let me explain: when you're alive,
As I understand it, pillows cushion the head, the way
A lover might soothe the heart. The way it works for me,
In contrast, is everything is sand. Beds are sand,
The women I profess to love are sand, the sound of music
In the darkest night is sand, and whatever I have to say
Is sand. This is not, for example, a political poem,
Because the dead have no politics. They might have
A hunger, but nothing you've ever known
Could begin to assuage it.
SONNETS TO MORPHEUS
Listen I want to tell you about Trinity.
I spent last night in a graveyard. I could hear
grass grow like hair. My love held back my kit.
I woke up bald. Edgar Poe
wrote a story that predicted it: "Lenore."
The dead return and we don't recognize them.
I woke up with wounds on my chest and shoulders.
"And then I saw the fields with my own eyes."
Listen, I'm trying to warn you about milk.
You're not the only customer. I began
to write my letter on the train to winter,
the last long winter train. Now I know
that I was born to sail. It's 5:15,
reportedly. The grass grew thick and hot.
SONNETS TO MORPHEUS
"This line is tapped, so I must be brief."
I've already said more than I was supposed to,
spilled words like bullets onto rainy pavement,
coughed them up like milk. So now they're yours.
Don't forget to thank the little dog
who catches your eye when you suddenly look up:
you've had enough of reading about how things are,
decide you want to have a look for yourself.
But don't expect him to thank you in return.
He wanders off past the vegetable stands. The air
gets thick and hot. Can you really
breathe yourself into existence, touch the world,
and still leave behind a path for another to see?
Nobody told you to come here. There's nobody here.