Hugh Behm-Steinberg


She is smoking a cigarette on the porch. Of the house she is sitting. Reading a book. It is customary to wave goodbye until the person’s body disappears. Or rounds a curve. Is no longer visible. She reads, look at how he bores into us, and then he goes below that. A shelter nailed up. The porch with flakes of ash. The night lit by lamps behind curtained windows. She thinks, this isn’t my house yet I’m still living here. Sure, this is living and why not, this is the life. Feed the cat. Clean the aquarium. Watch the bird. Into the spaces she breathes there is smoke. She is happy. A glass of filtered water. Cable TV. A new street in an old neighborhood.

Learning a New Language

Of the unspeakable. That which is beautiful, opening, welcoming. The net of dreams. In which you slip through. Like your lover’s hands. In which you slip through. The universe doesn’t have any obligation to you. I don’t know myself well, she tells him. Others know me even less. I was on the train he says. We were stuck underground. It was so crowded and two people were arguing in Chinese. I would have climbed out the window. Or gotten off at the next stop, and quit my job. Why didn’t I do that? What stops us from doing what we want to do? Her brother tells him. We each do a little. It’s not enough. When it is enough. Or you can always marry someone who speaks Chinese.

Love Among the Slobs

You get me wrong and I like it that way. The look you want. The look you got. Is one of searching and its opposite. The house was a mess because the room was a mess and I did too little to hold it together. Little joke about you and me our friends tell each other. I figured I said yes to something. You put your hand on my neck and we cha-cha that way. A bit of charm, a bit of flutter, for the eye; cards get dealt and the story we tell a thousand times. How they know what they are doing because they are doing it so badly. Invitations of night. Possessed by hours. Tigers telling that story. You telling your own story.


Mud in shoes come back as shirts. As streaks on the sides of buildings. Weeks spent as bricks drying in the day. The earth is open like two arms, but don’t think of it as a person. Because we float it rises to meet us, and we stop thinking of ourselves owning things. Old men in the water. Old men buried in mud. Their levees and sandbags. The birds your dad warns you about. Picking out nightcrawlers. See that beautiful house as it is swept down the river? How it folds like a paper boat. In the red water which is full of garbage and waves. Men in shallow boats calling your name. The mud on my body holds me tight to this city. Which I will live in if it kills me. Which I will live in if I’m forced to wear a disguise.

Hugh Behm-Steinberg is the author of Shy Green Fields (No TellBooks) and two Dusie chapbooks, Sorcery and Good Morning! His poems have appeared in such places as Crowd, VeRT, Volt, Spork, Cue, Slope, Aught, Fence, Swerve, dirt, ditch, Zeek and Sweet, as well as a few places with more than one syllable, such as Foam:e. He teaches writing at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where he edits the journal Eleven Eleven.
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