August Kleinzahler's new poems stretch and go places he has never gone before: They have his signature high color and rhythmic jump, but they take on a breadth of voice and achieve registers that his earlier work only hinted at. Ranging from Las Vegas and Mayfair to contemporary Berlin, these poems touch down at will in tableaux where Liberace unceremoniously meets with St. Kevin and Gustav Mahler with Ava Gardner. This is the strongest collection to date from a poet "equally at home anywhere between the jets and the steppes" (Alexsandar Hemon, Poetry).
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August Kleinzahler is the author of ten books of poems, including Green Sees Things in Waves and Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club. He lives in San Francisco.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Strange Hours Travelers Keep
The markets never rest
Always they are somewhere in agitation
Pork bellies, titanium, winter wheat
Electromagnetic ether peppered with photons
Treasure spewing from Unisys A-15 J mainframes
Across the firmament
Soundlessly among the thunderheads and passenger jets
As they make their nightlong journeys
Across the oceans and steppes
Nebulae, incandescent frog spawn of information
Trembling in the claw of Scorpio
Not an instant, then shooting away
Like an enormous cloud of starlings
Garbage scows move slowly down the estuary
The lights of the airport pulse in morning darkness
Food trucks, propane, tortured hearts
The reticent epistemologist parks
Gets out, checks the curb, reparks
Thunder of jets
Peristalsis of great capitals
How pretty in her tartan scarf
Her ruminative frown
Ambiguity and Reason
Locked in a slow, ferocious tango
Of if not, why not
The Old Poet, Dying
He looks eerily young,
what's left of him,
purged, somehow, back into boyhood.
It is difficult not to watch
the movie on TV at the foot of his bed,
40" color screen,
a jailhouse dolly psychodrama:
truncheons and dirty shower scenes.
I recognize one of the actresses, now a famous lesbian,
clearly an early B-movie role.
The black nurse says "Oh dear"
during the beatings.
-- TV in this town is crap, he says.
His voice is very faint.
He leans toward me,
sliding further and further,
until the nurse has to straighten him out,
scolding him gently.
He reaches out for my hand.
The sudden intimacy rattles me.
He is telling a story.
and at some point they blend together.
There are rivers and trains,
Oxford and a town near Hamburg.
Also, the night train to Milan
and a lovely Italian breakfast.
The river in Oxford --
he can't remember the name;
but the birds and fritillaria in bloom . . .
He remembers the purple flowers
and a plate of gingerbread cookies
set out at one of the colleges.
He gasps to remember those cookies.
How surprised he must have been
by the largesse,
and hungry, too.
-- He's drifting in and out:
I can hear the nurse
on the phone from the other room.
He has been remembering Europe for me.
Exhausted, he lies quiet for a time.
-- There's nothing better than a good pee,
he says and begins to fade.
He seems very close to death.
Perhaps in a moment, perhaps a week.
Every patch of story, no matter how fuddled,
resolves into a drollery.
He will perish, I imagine,
en route to a drollery.
Although his poems,
little kinetic snapshots of trees and light,
so denuded of personality
and delicately made
that irony of any sort
would stand out
like a pile of steaming cow flop
on a parquet floor.
We are in a great metropolis
that rises heroically from the American prairie:
a baronial home,
the finest of neighborhoods,
its broad streets nearly empty
on a Saturday afternoon,
here and there a redbud in bloom.
Even in health,
a man so modest and soft-spoken
as to be invisible
among others, in a room of almost any size.
It was, I think, a kind of hardship.
-- Have you met what's-his-name yet?
You know who I mean,
the big shot.
-- Yes, I tell him, I have.
-- You know that poem of his?
Everyone knows that poem
where he's sitting indoors by the fire
and it's snowing outside
and he suddenly feels a snowflake
on his wrist?
He pauses and begins to nod off.
I remember now the name of the river
he was after, the Cherwell,
with its naked dons, The Parson's Pleasure.
There's a fiercesome catfight
on the TV, with blondie catching hell
from the chicana.
He comes round again and turns to me,
-- Well, of course, he says, taking my hand,
his eyes narrowing with malice and delight:
-- That's not going to be just any old snowflake,
now, is it?
Copyright © 2003 August Kleinzahler
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