John Schertzer was an editor of LIT, and teaches part time at The New School. His poetry and criticism has been or will be appearing in LIT, Salonika, 6,500, The Germ and The Psychotherapy Patient.
All poems © 2001
Four Poems by John Schertzer
This night is the middle of the day
No, it's morning. Do I believe
in the dogma? What are we having
for dinner, the dog, Ma? Oh well,
I'd believe in the log if it answered
my prayers, but relax-
is there any reason to go on like this?
I've earned a kind of Saturday
morning cartoon festival in my inner
dishwasher. That old woman
pushing the carriage of empties
wasn't the Moose & Squirrel
but she was afraid of death. What
on Earth would your poetry
be about, anyway, if it wasn't
for God or mortality, some god
even if it's only the god of lust
or money or a theory of language?
She stood up in the middle
of the theater and screamed, tearing
her clothes off. Scenes like that
are getting tired these days. The body's
too limited to find life interesting
after a hundred years or so. That's
the usual justification for taking drugs.
I took my drugs to the movies. I took
my drugs to the park. We were sitting
behind a column of air between
the front row and the vestibule.
I was impressed. Or I was arrested.
My nerves were a mess and I floated
blithely to the ceiling, snapping
my wrists while the trees barked
and animals twisted themselves
into a variety of shapes. Nothing
was moving. Nothingness
was moving. All of my allergies
when my dharma disgusted itself
and leapt out the window. I know
what it's like to feel as free as a bird
and totally in denial. Like that junky
on the corner, hollering someone
took her baby. See madame, I made you
into a thing and it hasn't made my poem
any better. What do you propose
to do with me? Remember, Suzie,
Maryanne, Morticia, whatever your
name is, when you were a young girl,
your first cigarette, that lovely, bitter
taste of freedom? The real thing's hard
wrought. There's no freedom in the way
you look at me, or the way you
think of me and speak to me
and I'm nothing to you. Imagine
if it was cold and rainy and I was
a tarpaulin over a garbage bin.
Seekers of knowledge have done
things like that for millennia,
but they hadn't started brushing
their teeth until the seventeenth
century. I sought my enlightenment
until it got dark again. I quit
trekking to Mekka and became
a vegetarian. Knowledge
grows on trees and in rhizomes:
the good book says all flesh
is its fruit, and I'll eat anything.
An Encounter with Philosophy 1
The natural spirit reclines,
saunters, in a kind of jellied motion
brought about by figuring out how high
the army pasted their idea additions
A blonde in a capsule grew seven
heads green and an evening
out among the tweed effects for launching
made wandering hair stuck to the ceiling
For without her golden buckle
there would be less of us to transpose
into a logical music. No earwax
to instigate more than enough load carryon
where she showed you ill effects
of landing why not house the candles in wax
if that was what they were. All day
An Encounter with Philosophy 2
There were forty thieves, and they drank from the same glass as the woman came down the staircase. Half of them were wearing blonde wigs, while the rest of them were hidden by tufts of white smoke on a pale silver plate. It was photographed by a man without any arms. They had been cut off in production to make room for the explanatory text. It was in an article called An Encounter With Philosophy (or The Prom Queen's Last Grossout). Few people had come because of the weather, but I heard it was quite a party. We got lost in the vestibule, where there had been a number of chilling views, and weather for everyone, and we crawled on our paws, dismantling the speakers. Nobody spoke Hindi, and nobody smoked Houdini, but there was a cake out in the mail. Who did it? It was Friday. We didn't have to go to work in the morning. It was Tuesday. Several of us had to blow our noses at once. There was an echo. There was a vibration and reverberation. A train pulled into the station. We were put back into the terrarium, and somebody laughed. The TV went blank. You were lost in your electric blanket.
That one was very interesting, it said to itself, looking for the other and both exclamation marks rounded in detail.
But with every vibration they ground into each other. The sound effects are important, they said, not afraid, but contemptuous of the weather.
The sound effects are important: a small child climbing hills of fractured glass evolves into a package of operatic tensions.
Or a man who eats like his mouth is made of rubber gloves strapped over headlights in dense fog, pouring rain.
The sound effects are important: the revolving light on the roof of the spacecraft led us to believe so.
A bone rocked back and forth, spent elasticity on the landscape: a root in a magnesium forest.
All without function and design.
But with every vibration they ground into each other until something resembling a large plastic duck flew out. We were standing on the edge of the highway watching it land on the upper branches as the light on the horizon faded from red to yellow.
Neither object served a function, though they had changed as we changed. The position of our eyes.
An open mouth spiraled through a list of convictions until everything was spread across the blanket, scattered among the crumbs the ants were eating. Several of the children disappeared into the trees, fell out of the branches, creating a fluid dynamics. Brain energy eats fire.
Two rocks crashing, rubbing at each other, trying to make a third thing out of two separate things.
Grinding until mouths form on both, correspondences carved, and there is a matching set, family resemblance, otherwise what would these two objects have in common besides the promiscuity of stone?
We lounge in an airport, watch yawns spread like teardrops on a sample-slide, miniature versions of the two you heard roaring in your pocket. Reliving the violence in the small, private place between your palm and fingertips. One for each eye, to excuse an other's blindness.
A matching set, and family resemblances, the shadow of the moon drawing dark grooves over a strangers face, images sunk like cities in desert fear, disappointments sharpened to carving tools, swallowed down into forgettable but disquieting compartments-
Giving off stench and smoke, wind-up music with whining cat choruses.
"Let me see them, be pretty for me."
And open wide so I too can disappear into the tide as it washes up against your sides.
Strange one from another plate or layer, we rub up and down and against each other like basalt or carbon, seeking flint, physicality of illumination.
Two rocks and red eyes falling off a swing running upstairs through a swarm of others.
The spring was said to be made of dancing things, rudimentary particles, displaced ions ripe for bonding. A clutch of animal hair reaches with pigment for rice paper or canvas, a fairy long ago in a European city, smeared and then another colliding
Distorted faces. Double vision, eyes too weak to focus on a perfect line.