Bob Hicok was born in 1960. He has just released a new collection of poems entitled This Clumsy Living (Pittsburgh, 2007), and his other books of poetry include Insomnia Diary (Pittsburgh, 2004), Animal Soul (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Plus Shipping (1998), and The Legend of Light (1995), which won the 1995 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was named a 1997 ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. He is currently Assistant professor of Creative Writing at Virginia Tech.


O my pa-pa

Our fathers have formed a poetry workshop.
They sit in a circle of disappointment over our fastballs
and wives. We thought they didn't read our stuff,
whole anthologies of poems that begin, My father never,
or those that end, and he was silent as a carp,
or those with middles which, if you think
of the right side as a sketch, look like a paunch
of beer and worry, but secretly, with flashlights
in the woods, they've read every word and noticed
that our nine happy poems have balloons and sex
and giraffes inside, but not one dad waving hello
from the top of a hill at dusk. Theirs
is the revenge school of poetry, with titles like
"My Yellow Sheet Lad" and "Given Your Mother's Taste
for Vodka, I'm Pretty Sure You're Not Mine."
They're not trying to make the poems better
so much as sharper or louder, more like a fish hook
or electrocution, as a group
they overcome their individual senilities,
their complete distaste for language, how cloying
it is, how like tears it can be, and remember
every mention of their long hours at the office
or how tired they were when they came home,
when they were dragged through the door
by their shadows. I don't know why it's so hard
to write a simple and kind poem to my father, who worked,
not like a dog, dogs sleep most of the day in a ball
of wanting to chase something, but like a man, a man
with seven kids and a house to feed, whose absence
was his presence, his present, the Cheerios,
the PF Flyers, who taught me things about trees,
that they're the most intricate version of standing up,
who built a grandfather clock with me so I would know
that time is a constructed thing, a passing, ticking fancy.
A bomb. A bomb that'll go off soon for him, for me,
and I notice in our fathers' poems a reciprocal dwelling
on absence, that they wonder why we disappeared
as soon as we got our licenses, why we wanted
the rocket cars, as if running away from them
to kiss girls who looked like mirrors of our mothers
wasn't fast enough, and it turns out they did
start to say something, to form the words hey
or stay, but we'd turned into a door full of sun,
into the burning leave, and were gone
before it came to them that it was all right
to shout, that they should have knocked us down
with a hand on our shoulders, that they too are mystified
by the distance men need in their love.

[Originally published in Poetry ]

Some of my zoo

When I'm honest with the animal kingdom, I admit
I resemble a raccoon. The circles under my eyes
appear to be chocolate dipped moons
or someone's setting coffee cups on my sleep
and not using coasters.
I've taken to spreading vitamin E
directly below the orbs of my unsexiness,
these tools for looking at my neighbor
as she lectures the rooster who crows
at 3:30 in the afternoon, when he tells the wide
awake sun to get up. I guess this is thorough
on his part, like bringing a sprinkler
into the shower or staring at a toothpick
and yelling timber, and it makes the whole endeavor
seem subversive, if morning isn't necessarily
at the front of the day, with the yawning
and wanting to have a career in staying home
and assuring my pillow it's as useful
as democracy. Eventually I expect
she'll edit the rooster with her axe,
and for a moment, he'll run in circles
of not being quite himself until his body
notices the estrangement and breaks down
in a ceremony of twitching all of us
get to know sooner or later. Speaking of stupid,
the vitamin E makes no difference in the extent
of my pretty, but I've become attached to the moment
I hold a tube of what appears
to be lipstick to the two places on my body
I'm positive I've never kept lips, feeling
for a second I can change how things are
to how they used to be, which I was never sure of
anyway, like the future, by the time it gets here,
is the past, which means I was young once
but missed it because my head was turned
to a bird that was so red I disappeared
into the emotion of how red it was.

[Originally published in Field ]


Most people I've met would clap along
if the singer asked them to. A few
would compete with the clapper beside them
for the "Most Athletic Praise in the Joint"
award, but the average vagabond is pleased
to reach one side of their life across
to the other side of their life and meet
somewhere in the middle, palms sparking
in reverence. That there are no actual
sparks doesn't stop anyone from feeling
there might be, not the flat hand
clappers or the cupped palm clappers,
who sound like horses going by in a hurry
to be happy about oats. I think I love
oats in one of their guises in a bowl
with milk. It would be good to know for sure,
like if a bus came by full of poets,
would you wave at the bus going by
full of poets, would you think, I know words
too, words like "people exist." They do.
It's easy to forget this, necessary
to forget sometimes the clamor-mouthed
singers and the horse clapping folk,
the shebang of the hullabaloo,
to break off a chunk of shhhh and hug
the stuffing out of it. And then, after
the sometimes, to put your mouth
against the air and fill it
with what we have to say to each other,
when it listens and then wipes
its listening clean, as if to tell us,
now try again.