Thursday 13 January 2022

Five Stunning Poems by Rustin Larson




Straitjacketed, dangling

from a construction crane,

Harry Houdini,


above 46th and Broadway:

two small navel oranges

roll on the newspaper editor's desk.


“Death, be not proud,

though some have called thee.”

Would you like some grapes instead?


The cats watch out

the screen door and wonder

where all the bicycle people have gotten to.


I have a slightly competitive friend

from Greece who says I will never

make it unless I enter the chamber


of the honeysuckle.

I eat from a jar of mixed nuts,

drink sparkling water.


The Grand Canyon

is still right where it was.

I make a conscious effort


not to sink.

Whenever I see Houdini's photograph,

his screams echo off walls

of brick and steel.



Song of September


The skeletons were sprouting

sky-blue flowers

from their fingertips.


One skeleton asked me, ça va?”

The skeletons drank white wine

from big green jugs. The wine


splashed through their rib cages

and over their coccyges

and drenched the polyester thatch


of the lawn chairs they scraped

across the concrete patio

in the dwindling peach sunlight.


Most of the skeletons

were tenured and laughed

at each other's bones in modern German.


Even though I was a new adjunct,

they invited me to their party,

and through a misinterpretation of their invitation,


I brought my children

which visibly upset the department chair skeleton

and made her drop all her sky-blue flowers


prematurely into a red earthenware bowl

made by New Mexican artisans.

Still, I spoke boldly of my love

of the orchard.





A table full. What now? Muffins?

Smoothies? Bread? Liqueur?

It's Sunday. The orange kitten sleeps


in the laundry basket. Try to move him,

you get a wrist full of claws.

I sit by an open window. Crickets sing


after a rain. A baby locust tree grows

all thorny in the middle of the back yard.

Won't you be my neighbour?


Music from the Kasbah plays on the radio.

The kitten kicks back and falls asleep.

A good example. God is with us:


black bananas mixed to a paste

in a stainless steel bowl,

vanilla, cinnamon. We adopt


a black Labrador named Mother.

Sarah's hair is apricot flames.

Jules sketches pictures of alpacas


who are the hippies of the animal kingdom.

Banana pancakes, safe deposit boxes

full of frosted banana nut bars.


I visit Nebraska and bring Mexican

jumping beans from Stuckey's.

I bring pecan nut rolls.


The orange kitten watches

the beans jump and bounce and roll.

He swats them across the kitchen floor.


I hear cows mooing. I have a table

full of overripe bananas.

I have a fridge full of expired milk,


black olives, transistor radio batteries,

acrylic paints, and master copies

of the Mona Lisa.


I saw them sitting together

at the poetry reading, plugged

drain and Mr. Plunger,


sniggering about his “way

too high” poem the college

girls adored. Simultaneously, I was


contemplating a fundraiser for

my impossible health insurance premiums

and also a fundraiser to have me put down


at the vet, curious to see

which fundraiser filled first.

Thankfully, I was distracted


by a friend who was constantly

haunted by his girlfriend who

suddenly spoke to me in a crystal chime


in my right ear. I told him

what I heard and he was pleased

and said he never felt lonely


anymore. When it was my turn

to read, they (the cafe) cut the

lights on stage and


I had to guess at everything

in the darkness, mumbling deranged

utterances into the braille of the


microphone. A former student told

me afterwards I had never sounded

more confident and clear and


entertaining, like I was a muffler loose

on a pickup truck, dangling and

sparking on the pavement

in the night. 



The Make No Sense Room


is where my tribe will dwell

at the end of time. We carry

that room inside us now and the


long corridors that connect that

room with all the other nonsense

rooms there ever were. Our fathers


stumble out of them and wander

in the rain looking for a late

night bi-carb at a 24 hour


pharmacy; vaporizers, camphor,

cherry cough drops, ex-lax,

small cans of Hormel chili and


cellophane packages of oyster

crackers. It is the flu of doom; I

am Swiss cheese talking to


the flash of a cherry-top ambulance

fainting into the fog of February 1964,

the sky no joke, Jesus so much


more popular than an insect, and

my mom drinks crème de menthe

after stirring it with her crucifix,


and I am Chaucer clipping his toe-

nails and vomiting Lithium 7-Up

and Campbell's chicken noodle. I


will close my eyes and you will

never find me; I will skip

a century. I will skip two.


public radio classical

november 6 pm pitch black

nativity of darkness

train heaving over rails


stirring a single can

of Campbell's chicken noodle

Joshua Bell plays many notes

on his violin meanwhile


my friend my friend my friend


mirror or the land of dreams

upside-down puddles of starlight


someone plays a drum over and

over as if asking

to enter the house of life

too wrecked with hostility


someone showed me the handwriting

of a holy man today it was

a neat and legible cursive in English


as if he had eternity to accomplish

his desires when he died they

shaved his head and beard and


set his body upright as if to

receive guests for a lecture Afterward

there was a long ceremony many people


gathered in boats to drop

his ashes






Silence, Earthling


The entire English Department

was high on angel dust,

which was scary as hell


as they bragged about it

at their public reading 

while swilling goblets


of Merlot

as their devoted

undergraduates shrieked 


like approving vampire bats.

The faculty was edgy,

in your face, 


dressed like organic farmers

in their Sunday best

as the cappuccino machine


performed multiple acts

of oral sex

and the barista smirked


and mixed froth

like a demented scientist.

In his Spider-Man


onesie, the department chairman

thrust his hands into his armpits

and led everyone in the German


duck waddle dance. 

He unabashedly relieved himself

in his PJs,


the urine stain like an old school

television test pattern

radiating out a hammer and sickle mandala.


I decided I was just too old for this shit

so I stumbled home 

slobbering like a sheepdog.

Rustin Larson’s poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, and North American Review. He won 1st Editor’s Prize from Rhino and was a prize winner in The National Poet Hunt and The Chester H. Jones Foundation contests. A graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing, Larson was an Iowa Poet at The Des Moines National Poetry Festival, and a featured poet at the Poetry at Round Top Festival. 

He is a poetry professor at Maharishi University, a writing instructor at Kirkwood Community College, and has also been a writing instructor at Indian Hills Community College. 

Among his published books are Library Rain, Conestoga Zen Press, 2019 which was named a February 2019 Exemplar by Grace Cavalieri and reviewed in The Washington Independent Review of Books; Howling Enigma, Conestoga Zen Press, 2018; Pavement, Blue Light Press, 2017; The Philosopher Savant, Glass Lyre Press, 2015; Bum Cantos, Winter Jazz, & The Collected Discography of Morning, Blue Light Press, 2013; The Wine-Dark House, Blue Light Press, 2009; and Crazy Star, Loess Hills Books, 2005. 

His honours and awards also include Pushcart Prize Nominee (seven times, 1988-2010); featured writer, DMACC Celebration of the Literary Arts, 2007, 2008; and finalist, New England Review Narrative Poetry Competition, 1985.

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