Pat Nolan


I have a jazz library I can play
through my auditory cortex
sample at will the great riffs
some more obsessively than others

step out of my rustication
I am reminded that there are more
than nine circles of poetry hell

under the bodhi tree
plagued by the demons of doubt
and misgivings
they’re known as trolls now
preying on a digital presence
truth given to the grip of illusion

my social skills are so inadequate
I’m as painful as a kidney stone
forbidding as a twenty foot drop
I end up shaking my own hand
as Archimedes said give me a place
to stand and I’ll always be at the center

granularity and grit at the molecular level

reject the simplicity of assumption
although assumption is its own downfall

and there’s denial’s deep pit of despair
the polarity of believing and not believing
tuned to a synchronous harmony

off beat off key cacophonous unpredictable
the center may not hold but the bottom keeps it steady
a flow that is neither time or consciousness
and applause merely an afterthought

how to explain the passage of weeks
as if I just stepped out of the room
preoccupied by another language
itself another room dark stuffed with memories
the dapple of days through the rustle of leaves
isomorphic flickers across a blank page
fleeting contours of shape shifting thoughts
the world says a lot about itself in many
different ways of order or chaos turmoil and calm
the sense of time relies on a diurnal cycle
what has passed will remain in its own inimitable
way appreciated by a resignation that days
fly by without ever noting the difference

in the slide toward personal entropy
little hints of disorganization
I comprehend on my own terms
the choice is by denial or emotion
troublesome and sad is a skewed duality
the imperative of one moment to the next
that they should intuitively flow

eschewed materialism yet owned
by possessions the unimaginable
plays hide and seek with itself every
shimmer of light affects consciousness


Existence abhors doubt and
consciousness must constantly address
the possibility of its illusory nature
by underpinning physical reality with
the complexity of additional dimensions

consider how unexceptionally common
existence is putting on more bark
as I age though the amount of pith
remains the same the breathing exterior
exposed to the elements cracks and
sheds the inspiring interior reborn
to itself as cyclical cynical flow

Once you give a charlatan power over you
you almost never get it back.

thus spoke Carl Sagan although this
seems like a timely quote it is also
a lesson of history one of the saddest
it is not a first time nor will it be the last
questioning authority is a survival skill
although not a guarantee against
oppression Bruno the Nolan a prime
example just as there are more ways
to skin a cat there are also more ways
to be burned at the figurative stake
stealth is a quality of intelligence

doing the dishes I am of two minds
the body mind that scrubs and manipulates
the crockery and utensils and the other
mind largely located in the prefrontal
cortex that wanders about completely
free of the constraints of time crisscrossing
the bridge between hemispheres following
no particular path but to where the next
impulse leads as the shifting shape of
a gray cloud streaked by blue sparks

pleasure is not for someone who is exclusive
there must be two one who desires
and one who wants to be desired
the emptiness of desire is filled by
the desirable once desire is quenched
the desirable must transmute into
a different object of desire ad infinitum
so that sooner or later comes the inevitable
realization that desire originates regret
that most lamentable human condition

born before existence the mind
continually tempted to consider
itself nonexistent the universe
as consciousness that everything
in the universe is conscious and
consciousness at its unique scale

memory as the enduring presence
of the insuppressible continuum
of what’s left over of the lived

detachment is making use of the world
as if not using it from the beginning
my relationship with the world has been
one of an effort to find identity
with things (the exterior) and identify
things I am among (the interior)

let me start with the origin of
the word “man” from the Sanskrit
“manu” which means “to think”
which leads me to consider
the relationship between man and gods
as an endless exchange of guilt

I have to write my environment
and it can’t only include my intellect
I must borrow from without to
uphold the subjective self
design a landscape using real
trees flat planes of painted scenery
consciousness provides a backdrop
upon which my shadow plays as
consciousness the shadow self
(pace Plato) life enters language
through concrete utterances and
vice versa because where
there is style there is genre

the first speaker is the one who
disturbed the eternal silence
of the universe since then
everything’s echo built upon echo

any utterance is a link in a chain
a very complicated organized chain
of other utterances that go all the way
back to the ur-utterance “I am”
as meaning to answer the question
whatever that question might be

An Excerpt from the novel Ode To Sunset

His armpits had begun to pool, a trickle down the ribcage. He slung the silver suitcoat over one shoulder, and nonchalantly showed his thumb to the passing traffic. Maybe it was the arresting synthetic green of his polo shirt. A dusty blue older model four-door tentatively found the shoulder of the road a little ways past him and pulled to a stop. He had been right in the middle of a train of consideration that, as a poet, his expectations should be no less: that people give him money, and women throw their pussies at him. Or that strangers stop and offer him a ride.
                Opening the passenger side door he peered at the driver, cartons and boxes piled in the back seat indicating that he was a salesman of some sort, and said “Thanks for stopping.”
                “I’m going as far as Booneville. Where you headed?” He was a round headed man with a little nub of chin, in his thirties, maybe, a smudge of mustache over a set of full lips, hair neatly parted on the right, possibly Hispanic though light-skinned.
                “I’m trying to get to Elk.” He waited for the man to remove a sales binder and papers from the seat.
                “Well, I’ll get you part of the way at least.”
                Once he was belted, the car shot out onto the highway. The driver side-glanced, “Car breakdown?”
                “Uh, no, I caught the bus as far as Cloverdale.”
                “Oh yeah, a lot of people do that. Usually kids. Though I did pick up an old lady once. She must have been in her seventies. An old back-to-the-earth type, hippie. There are a lot of them hiding out in the woods in these parts. Pretty harmless, most of them. Unless they’re growing dope and then you never know, probably packing. I’ve picked up guys reeking of weed, stink like a skunk or something.” The driver shook his head and took a bite of the ice cream bar he was holding. There was a box of them in the center console, and as evidenced by the empty wrappers, he’d gone through about half the box.
                “Some of them will even give you blow jobs. The hippie chicks, I mean.” And a further qualification: “So I’ve heard.” The driver licked his fingers of the ice cream’s sticky residue, his glance expecting a reaction.
                Wouldn’t you know it, there’s always somebody who wants to sniff out your sexuality. He had been there before. Hang out in bars long enough and it was bound to happen. And Frisco? As Johnny Mathias used to sing, “Chances are. . . .” When he was younger, hardly a day went by when he wasn’t hit on by men, and women, regularly. But never in a car, and by the driver. The predictability of the next few moments was a familiar déjà vu.
                “Do you like men?”
                “Not intimately, no. Do I look like someone who does?”
                “I’m only asking because not many people in these parts dress the way you are. Or carry a purse.”
                “It’s not a purse, it’s a bag. I use it to carry my stuff. I don’t have a car that I can just toss my things in the backseat or in the trunk.”
                “Got a gun in there?”
                “No, but I’ve got a book of poems. That’s just about as deadly.”
                “Poems?!” The driver spit as if he’d spoken a dirty word. “You read poems?!”
                “Yeah, I’m a poet, you pretty much have to. I mean, some poets don’t read poetry and still they write it, but it shows.”
                “Is that so? A poet. Are you sure you don’t like men? That’s what I heard about poets.”
                “No, there are actually some poets who prefer the split tail.”
                “What’s your name?”
                “Carl Wendt.”
                “Never heard of you.”
                “Oh, do you know a lot of poets?”
                The driver frowned calling a mental effort to the fore. “Nope.” Then with a quick sideways glance, “What kind of money do you make doing that? If you don’t mind my asking.”
                “From writing poetry? Zilch. It’s being a poet that makes you the money, but you have to have a good hustle. You have to make your living off your rep.”
                “Oh yeah? How do you do that?”
                “Any number of ways. One is by being outspoken or doing something outrageous so that people will remember your name. There are grants, and awards, and residencies, lecturing to college classes and writer’s retreats, teaching writing workshops, speaking at Rotary luncheons. And poetry prizes. I was awarded the 2009 Pillsbury Prize just this last January.”
                “For baking?”
                “No, for my contribution to American literature.” He thought to add “such as it is” but it was a personal cynicism he needn’t inflict on anyone.
                “No shit? They have a prize for that?”
                “Yeah, it’s pretty common. There are all kinds of prizes for that kind of thing. Some poets, that’s all they do is go after prizes. It keeps them so busy they hardly have time to write poetry.”
                “Can’t be much competition, I mean, who writes poetry anymore?”
                “You can’t imagine what the competition is like, even in your most extravagant moment. It’s a blood bath. Poets turn into back stabbing creeps just to get their name in print.”
                “Seriously? I always pictured poets as a bunch of guys with limp wrists bitch slapping each other.”
                “Like cats, they’ve got claws. Two things you need to be a successful poet, a knife to stab people in the back, and knee pads for the amount of time you’ll spend kneeling in front of someone’s crotch. And bad poetry? You’ll never step into that endless shit stream twice.”
                “Eeeuw! Why’d anyone want to be a poet then?”
                “For the perks.”
                “Perks? They better be good.”
                “Sex. Unlimited opportunity for getting laid.”
                “Oh yeah, I know guys who claim to be poets just for that reason. They write a handful of poems that makes them sound like they’re the sensitive type. Women in particular fall for that shit. It has nothing to do with poetry and everything to do with the ulterior motive.”
                “So, ah, you must have got your fair share,” the driver said peeling back the wrapper of another ice cream bar. “I mean, just sayin’, you know?”
                Once, years ago when he lived in New York City he’d attended an open reading at St. Mark’s Church. It had been a free-for-all. One guy even got up and read his wallet, driver’s license, social security, business and membership cards, the like. And he got laughs. Another poet, this one with obvious name recognition, got up and read a poem titled Poets I’d Like To Fuck which included the names of well known contemporary poets, both male and female, as well as a few mighty ancestors. It was a very funny shtick and he had the poetry audience, mostly friends and cohorts, some of them poets named in the list, in stitches.
                He had borrowed the concept and improved on it a bit. He would declaim the alphabet and pick a woman’s name that started with the particular letter in sequence and improvise their sexual experience based on what the name suggested. And there was always some woman after the reading who would express interest in joining the list. Although the last time he’d used that routine, titled Twenty Six Women I Have Slept With, was a number of years ago, and the reception had been coolly correct. It had done nothing to dispel the rumor that he was a male chauvinist pig.
                “Yeah, can’t complain.” The driver wanted details but that wasn’t going to happen. Still Franny came to mind, a nurse he’d met when he brought a friend who’d been stabbed outside a bar on Second Avenue into the ER at Bellevue Hospital. That should have brought up a pleasant memory of Franny as a frisky compact woman with straw blond hair, but instead it called up the time he’d been sitting in a coffee house in the East Village and a homeless guy tried to strangle him with a ratty gray scarf. He remembered the scarf and the color specifically. Fortunately his table mates had pulled the guy off, and then the police came. Also distinctly, the memory of the one patrolman asking him where he was from, and when he answered Indiana, the cop had suggested “Why don’t you go back there.”
                “Oh, yeah?” The driver cast a wary eyed side glance, half finished ice cream bar in hand.
                “Yeah, I probably have an entire alphabet of women I’ve slept with, and while it may have been fun at the time, looking back I think I missed some real opportunities for a meaningful relationship.” Val’s name swam up. He hadn’t meant to conjure her name, more proof of her haunting even a year later. She had occupied his physical space and his emotional state far too long and painfully to let go. She would always inhabit a part of his being as an aftertaste of guilt-wracked regret. He didn’t want to think about Wendy, either. She had saved his life, but in the worst way possible.
                “Here’s a bit of free advice, a pity fuck always turns to shit.”
                The driver discarded the empty wrapper on the console and nodded as if he’d received the transmission of sage advice.
                He laughed at himself yet the set of his mouth also indicated that he had said as much as he was going to say on the subject, now that the x had been taken out of sex, and he turned his attention to the passing landscape.
                The dusty blue car followed the climbing road in a series of switchbacks, the forested land on either side creating a canopy through which the mounting sun cast its dapples, flickers of hypnotizing light accompanied by the swaying motion of the vehicle’s swing through the curves, all conducive to the dance of reverie.

Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry and two novels. His most recent books of poetry are So Much, Selected Poems Volume I 1969-1989 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018) and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018). He also maintains Parole, the blog of the New Black Bart Poetry Society. His serial fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusal at odetosunset.com. He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.
previous page     contents     next page


Post a Comment

<< Home