Kathleen Ossip is the author of The Search Engine, which was selected by Derek Walcott for the APR/Honickman First Book Prize and was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including The Best American Poetry, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, the Washington Post, Fence, and Poetry Review (London). She teaches poetry workshops at The New School, where she serves as Editor at Large for LIT. Her new chapbook of movie poems, entitled Cinephrastics, is just out from HorseLess Press.

The Search Engine

"The Nature of Things" appeared in Barrow Street. "Nursling" appeared in The Antioch Review. "My Analysis" and "My Best Self" appeared in The Journal. "Aquí se puede comprar camisetas perro" appeared in Slope.

Five Poems by Kathleen Ossip

Aquí se puede comprar camisetas perro*

The light was red so we stopped, and
now it is green so we go.
The seabreeze was laparoscopic.

Here’s what we worshipped:

A watercolor
whose meaning is clear
but whose import is TBD.

And the casa recalled the perfect progressive!
I had been wishing you a good weekend, a good one.

*Sign on the gate of Elizabeth Bishop's former house in Key West

My Analysis

In ballet, there are only primary relationships.
I lay down prepared to acknowledge that,
hugging my ribcage with a ballet-like gesture.
That’s all. You supply the story.

After a while I felt much worse. The maples
went from yellow to blue and back.
Maybe I had no inmost soul,
only a crimped, crabbed, bitter kernel.

Talk was out so it must have been
coming back, and the shrink all but said
By this sign shalt thou conquer. There now,
that’s not exactly Iphigenia in Aulis. Pretty soon

I got up and joined the gang on the lawn
playing statues as in the Golden Age.

My Best Self

It’s the one in Malibu, or the one
with bitten nails, or the one that asks,
Which struggled harder, my infant or the surf?
Such reluctance seems, in the end, self-protective.

I believed that I wanted a paean, of all things.
I guess I had a really expansive mind.
When she put her fingers in my mouth I breathed,
Sweeter than hope of heaven, hellion---

that being something I hadn’t read.
Sheer plainness. We blew bubbles
at each other, and scenery became circumstance.
I swear I always wanted so much more.

If we could only stay in life’s frank, deft moments,
I thought on the occasion of my nth breakdown.


Over there, a fly buzzed---bad.
All ours: the bra, the breast, the breeze.
Starlet of the reciprocal gaze.
Something about her rhymed like mad.

And ours the sigh, the suck, the sing.
We forgave everything we could.
Ravenous palmist. I’m gone for good.
At last I gauged the brash, brash spring.

The skin fiend folded like a fawn.
Torso Magellan. Time’s own nub.
Here at the center of the dimmest bulb.
A mouth hovered before latching on.

The Nature of Things

       (after paintings by Robert Lostutter)

For ages and ages, they couldn’t have seemed less simpatico---street songs turned Brahms’ insane cadenza turned sharpening crack.

Which reminded you of all the novels you might have inhabited, of your daddy the routeman, of Easter’s spice-flavored jelly eggs, of the rowdy oleander, of the women at the xerox place, so petty. How privately (you simmered) Time can walk, or fall.

Heart. Couldn’t. Break. That was the problem here. A lonely boy. You were, just.

There must be no self-pity, your pal said then. And that means NO self-pity. Can we not do this anymore, please? Emanation of a wood fire, blue of blue, singleton, scamp: We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in a world of things.

He did you a favor, your pal, when he told you this secret: First become ordinary, if you ever wish to become anything else. By Tuesday, you were so splendid the bees rose.