Baby steps

The simple ways are the best. Roadkill
soup. Jumping out of airplanes
without a chute. Getting up with the sun
and sleeping when the moon
turns the night into a cyclops.
My ambition to be done with ambition
is complicated, like a butterfly
that wants to move pianos for a living,
so I break it down into stages.
I’m working on the phase
when I don’t run as a brown bear
fake charges, a small part of my desire
to live. This is my greatest vanity—
my desire to live—followed by my hope
that people say nice things
when I leave the room. If they said
nice things while I was in the room,
I’d blush and mothers would worry
that my face is on fire. I was raised
not to scare mothers, not to add
to their concerns about knives
and ants and radical mastectomies
attacking their daughters. But my face
is on fire. Underneath the parts
committed to the social contract.
When we love another person,
it’s this face-fire we love.
It’s the simplest thing, to know
you love someone. Until time
burns them down.


A 49th state of mind

The fireweed was tall and pink and everywhere
in Alaska in July—I’ve never known
such passionate dirt along roads
no one else was on but a moose or two
busy having small brains—the sun
not letting me go for weeks, as if morning’s
the Earth’s preferred complexion—I now understand
tourists come to Alaska to ask Alaskans
if they’re going to see a bear—that Alaskans
exist to nod politely while wearing guns
on their hips in case of bear and people
less courteous than bear and to dream
of mushing dogs—has anyone even tried
mushing cats?—I didn’t see a single cat
in Alaska but eight thousand two hundred dogs
in Seward alone—where I also met
a humpback whale taking rolling breaths
in Resurrection Bay, which is really
a fjord—and pink salmon
in Tonsina Creek facing upstream
to spawn, away from my hunger
to see their eyes and my cowardice
for visiting in summer, when snow
is reduced to Exit Glacier
getting shyer every year—glaciers
are blue on the inside
when you crack them open—
I am blue inside and out
when I think of how much bigger
Exit Glacier was in 1961,
a year after I was born—my life
a recording of its erasure—my life
a disguise of not knowing what to do
about huge things like climate change
or little things like being a tourist
who contributes to climate change—stay home,
I suppose is a thing I could do—or die
better still and never see a double rainbow
in Denali’s midnight sun, where mountains
are still churning and rising—
I was just bopping along in the woods,
jingling my keys to scare any bear
afraid of locks and ignition switches—tending
the little fire of poetry in my brain—
loving the irony of the sincerity of nature—
that it will kill you in the process
of meaning you no harm—when the air
decided the time had come for color—
a purity of shine and arch that cured my lobotomy—
I keep getting lobotomies—I don’t mean to—
it happens accidentally—I check out—vanish
into worry and the desire to be larger
than my breath—to be important
instead of angular or fragrant or comfortable
that I’m built out of words
forever distanced from the sticks
and elations they’re trying to be—
a rainbow so determined, the inside colors
showed up—indigo and violet—the rarest
and hard to tell from each other
in the way most days are hard
to tell apart—in the way wholeness
is strutted most clearly
by fracture—the splinters of being
that collect in my name—
light broken into colors
that reveal the gathering it really is
when it brushes our little faces
from so far away



There’s laughter in slaughter

I didn’t see this coming
when 12 were shot
when 21 when 27
when I was a boy by a river
better than the Seine
at wetting my appetite
for rivers

then I wrote slaughter
on a legal pad
and for the first time wondered
“are there illegal pads?”
and noticed the sick message
in the bottle of the word
and decided language
is the funniest thing
the cruelest April
I’ve ever put in my mouth

when 32 were shot
when 50
when the daily 1s and 2s
piled up I grew immune
to the measles but not this

I’ve written versions of this poem
as long as I’ve asked a pen to help me
be a better person
at falling down
at whispering to genitals
at going to Montreal
at cutting boards
into smaller boards
to make a house of what trees
do naturally

eventually I realized
the poems are all horrible
especially this poem
especially the next poem
due any tomorrow now
because rain
won’t fall up
cats won’t come
when dogs call them
Americans won’t stop
ordering fries
with a side of 45s
and I won’t give up
on the faith
of the Romantics
that a gentleman
always brings semantics
to a gun fight


Bob Hicok
Latest posts by Bob Hicok (see all)