Thursday 17 November 2022

Five Poems by Rustin Larson




You occupy the last room on the left,

Blouse off, socks on, red hair, nice legs,

At the end of a long white hallway.

This is a re-titling of a painting by Toulouse.

Friends (ladies) bring you gifts of jellybeans.

In my opinion, the boy could paint.

OK, next slide. They bring you a brown toy terrier.

Here we have a portrait of an author with dementia.

You step out into the hallway in a bathrobe.

Having lost her ability to write, she places

About thirty sheets of blank paper

On a windy beach, keeping each page

In place with a small stone. You clutch

Your crock of jellybeans and then

Cross into a common area. Next, there is

A nearly incomprehensible tract called

The Gospel of Judas. If this is a hospital,

It must be 1912. If you didn’t like

The original, I don’t think you will care

For the sequel. The architecture is spare

And painted a glossy white. And finally,

There is just me. You are not speaking

To me, that much is clear. You might

Note the shirt I chose to wear, how

Much it is like a map owned by someone

Who decided to go everywhere at once.





I am looking at pictures

Of seafood gumbo.

The colors are pretty:

Lots of reds and browns.

The weather has been hot—

There is a lingering

Drama of metal burning

When I slide into my car.

A white-haired woman

From the sidewalk

(I am not making this up)

Asks me about Maslow’s

Hierarchy. I draw a blank.

In reality, the hierarchy

Of needs is a pyramid.

Physiological needs form

The base, and then it

(the hierarchy)

Narrows up the triangle

With: safety needs,

Social needs, esteem needs,

And self-actualization

At the steep pitched

Penthouse at the top.

Since I am mulling

This over, I am currently

Fulfilling the green room.

There is a sliding

Door that overlooks the city.

I read a post, a cry for help,

From someone who is too

Poor to see a doctor.

He can’t sleep.

He has anxiety and panic.

Someone offers: Head straight

To the V. A. if you are a vet.

Sometimes I can’t sleep.

The fill-in-the-blank is often

Too overwhelming,

Outright terrifying.

I sit up to meditate.

I have strange dreams:

David Cassidy sings a tribute

To his father, Jack, who,

If I recall, died in a penthouse fire.

I doze and hear voices

In the wind the fan blows

By my ears. I feel a great loneliness

And love for my family.

Most of all, I feel very, very sorry.

Let me say one thing:

It is July 2, 2012.

I name this date

So I can look back

Down the corridor.

Are you alive and kicking?

I wish you were here.

We could play Sandhog

In Shangri-La and sing


This is just a Beggar’s Opera.

Again, wish you were here.

She Loves Me.

Fade Out – Fade In.

A girl with a screaming

Asian elephant

Printed on her shirt

Opens a door.

The door

Closes by itself.





Peacocks and turkeys. They both fan

Out their tail feathers. I once

Knew a woman who was chased by a turkey

On a walk through the woods.

Have you ever been bullied by a peacock?

The gooseberry wands droop

Full of gooseberries. The Mayapples

Shyly hide their fruit. The winds

Embarrass us with their sensuous pull.

The path is scattered with last year’s

Leaves: new green shoots through them

Here and there. Turkeys are on the move.

Peacocks are defending their landscape

Architecture, their faux castle ruins

And crèches. It’s a damned

Interesting thing to say. The mind feels

Dead in some respects. The women

Of Istanbul are fond of touching beautiful

Cloth, cloth as blue as the Bosporus, cloth

As blue as the dome of a mosque.

I have been befriended by box elder bugs.

They criticize what I have written

By a flick of their antennae. They can receive

Public radio. They describe in detail,

In a language we can’t hear, women wrapped

Beautifully in bolts of Bosporus blue.





i. Feverish & Quaking


I awoke this morning, and, having slipped

From unconsciousness, feared returning

To a different kind of sleep

From which there would be no waking.

My body radiated heat. I trembled. I took my medicine.

I pulled back the curtain to watch

The morning light. I sat with my eyes closed

And felt my body.


I had breakfast. I sat to read.

First, I read Cesare Pavese’s poem,

“Earth and Death.” I didn’t understand

It at first because I couldn’t figure

Out to whom he was speaking.

When I discovered it was Aphrodite

(procreative-drive goddess, sex goddess,

Urge goddess, goddess of erotic love,

Goddess of life and by consequence

Death) I understood it for what

It was. “You come from the sea,” he says.

I also sat and read that part of Portrait

Of the Artist where Stephen drops

The idea of becoming a priest

And embraces his freedom,

Sees the girl wading in the ocean-pool

(you come from the sea)

With her beautiful white legs

(the goddess again, this time

The muse, birth-giver of the artificer)

And feels his new life

Surging into the sky, an angel

With the wings of a raptor.


So, this time the snow comes down

In flakes that hover questioningly

In the air, just at the level

Of my breathing, and then plummet

To the ground, creating a carpet

That yearns slowly to the cottage door,

A frozen surge. I’ve left no food

For the birds; the squirrels are hiding;

Last summer’s vines cling like wires

To the porch railing; everything

Is a transmission of white.


ii. Harvard Classics


A long green row of them I had donated

To the library where I work: Dante, The Voyage

Of the Beagle, Emerson—quite an eclectic crop.

In one of the books, the cataloger had discovered

A felt pair of snowmen: a snowman and his bride

Neatly yet childishly colored with liquid-ball

Craft paints. A decoration, a project my mother

Had made years and years ago, bored and wanting

Out of the house, leaving my little brother

In my sadistic care, she, my mother, attended

A class at a crafts shop in a local strip mall,

Near the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop

And the dentist’s office where my jagged,

Broken buck tooth had been neatly filed

Into a snowy pearl. “Merry Christmas,”

I say, even though it is February, to my mother,

Nearly twenty years in her grave, I holding

The felt snowman and snowwoman she made.


The snowflakes are becoming fatter now,

Like white bumble bees. The flower they seek

To pollinate is vast and white. They dive into it

And become the flower. The flower becomes

The world, as far as you can see. This is a storm

They say. A storm they’ve named Q.

Q for Question. White bumblebees brush

Silently against the window’s glass.

Who are you? Who are we? They ask


I think the writer feels as lonely as a field

Of unmown hay. I think the writer has subtracted

Himself from the occasion. Redwing blackbirds

Shriek, clutching to their broken cattails.

The field is the bottom of a river of wind.

The writer has subtracted himself totally.

Someone calls and calls. It is a woman’s voice.

It could be his mother. Does the voice

Call him into soup and pieces of cheap bread

And a glass of milk and a bowl of sliced pears?

No, he says. I will not answer.

Let’s keep all our business private and personal.


Is there a stringed instrument the angels

Have left unsmashed, unsoaked in lighter fluid,

And not set aflame, as feedback screeches

From a wall of amps, and the strobe lights

Flicker and ooze over the heavenly congregation

Like sunlight flickering through layers of the sea?


The soul only wants the sleep of a great snowfall.

I think about the people I love, and I try to connect

With them by closing my eyes.


Even in 1933 the city was magnificent and sophisticated

And intricate. If a person didn’t have a center,

He or she had reason, in a philosophical sense,

At the very least. If a person didn’t have reason,

There was alcohol, and plenty of it. The panelled

Walls of the library looked like education.

Good enough, the writer would say. Fair enough.

This will probably work.


Of course I think of the people who have died

And the books they left behind.

If they didn’t write themselves, they at least

Could curate. That’s a statement, or a stalemate.

There is an archangel torturing his guitar in the firmament.



Rustin Larson has been published recently in Poetry East, Pirene's Fountain, The Briar Cliff Review, London Grip, Poetryspace: spring 2022 showcase, The Lake, and Lothlorien Poetry Journal. Among his latest books are Slap and Anvilhead, both published by Alien Buddha Press in 2021.

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