Seven poems by Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech University. His books include The Legend of Light, (1995) Plus Shipping (1998), and Animal Soul (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has published two other books — Insomnia Diary (2004) and This Clumsy Living (2007), both with the University of Pittsburgh Press. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review and The American Poetry Review, as well as four volumes of The Best American Poetry. Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008 and an NEA Fellowship in 1999, his work has also been reprinted three times in the Pushcart Anthology.

Another form of catch and release

Yesterday morning, I was two hundred miles
from the headwaters of the Mississippi.
I've come home to miss 
what I didn't see. In movies, when a pact 

is needed, men cut palms and shake hands. 
What if blood betrays, what if movies 
aren't real? Simply by looking, I oathed myself 
to the swamp, green at the exit 

for W.W. Mayo's house, tree-stumped 
not far from where canneries 
once sealed corn in tin and put a green giant 
on the can, pledged to return 

and push on to where the country begins 
to divide in two. I make these promises 
all day long, they're as easy 
as crucifixes, wearing them, passing them out 

to the cedars, it will distract to say 
I'm thinking now of the man 
who recommended fucking the stigmata of Christ 
but I am, thinking of, not fucking 

all the ways we try to get back
to a beginning, as I'm thinking 
in the next now of the man at the party 
who said, those who actively seek meaning 

feel less meaning. "Shived in the brain,"
I didn't offer in a house full of writers 
the night before the morning 
of learning the continental divide's 

where the Gulf and Pacific watersheds 
go their separate ways, a slight tipping 
from join, it would have sounded contrived 
though it feels descriptive, feels honest 

to hold in mind a single drop of water 
issuing from a cliff or stone or a cleaving 
of ground I couldn't help but see 
as motherly, that I promise to never visit 

with my disappointment, that river, 
that undertow of language I ask language 

to save me from, and it does, lift me free 
and clear, just long enough to let go.




Rate of exchange

From a distance in late light they're more painting
than people, two under a tree, standing and possibly 
nude, possibly Adam and Eve, this is the start 
of desire or articulate gravity, the first restlessness 
of hand or tongue, more dream than I can tell, now 
that a year may have passed, moved forward or back, 
I am either younger or older than when I saw them, 

if I saw them or felt them, I can't say, 
if they were fawns or two sticks on a pond, 
though the image, the marks that say tree, torso, 
lean, when I close or open my eyes, all look at me 
as if I am alive to hold them, and I look back 
as if they are alive to hold me, while the space 

between is warmed by this affection, 
this estrangement of particulars from the drift




An adaptive response

She'd come a long way to applaud. 
So though the concert was canceled, 
she went into the alley and applauded 
the back of the theater until she cried 
as she'd have cried had the singer 
not caught cold or gone back 
to smack. The others, who she hadn't noticed 

at first, were sniffling too, and a week later, 
when there was no concert, appeared again 
beside her and every week since 
for years, among the rats, who are confused 
but adaptive, wildly so, it's said by people 
who know such things. The theater owner, 

remembering his business classes, charged more 
as time passed, until, when managers 
or agents called, he hung up, looking at the phone 
as if to say, why do you bother me? 
The phone, for its part, wanted to live 
where someone would speak to it, not through it 

to someone else. So it left, just as stars 
are on the move, just as our dreams 
cling to the notion we can fly, naked, 
if our gray matter wants, which, if asked, 
will admit that it doesn't think of itself 
as gray, red some and yellow some, 

as all oracles, in what they whisper, 
want to be beautiful, given that the future 
has more rooms that need to be painted
than people willing to paint them, 
if you look around where you are dying
to feel your private weather more deeply.




Depilatory habits

When my moustache awoke, it didn't know who it was.
The nurse assured me this would change.

In the hospital, I wrote to my future life, 
why did you leave this white room 
of kindness? I had no answer. By then, 
the moustache had moved to my neighbor's face;
when I say hello, he thinks I'm talking to him. 
I hear my hair scream when I shave. So I hum. 
There was this moment recently 
when I found myself standing 
beside a wind-tunnel. No preparation, a sign 
on the highway, wind-tunnel ahead. 
I put an ear to the metal roar 

of measuring the lift of a wing. My other ear, 
feeling left out, stopped reporting 
what happened on that side of life. To make amends, 
I've let it take the first shift 
on the pillow, the cool shift 
of feathers settling into place, the sound 
of a V going by overhead, pointing 

or driving a wedge. The new razor on TV
is up to five blades, when does it end, isn't infinity 
an ever-slightly cleaner shave? I'm tired, 
camouflage, of wearing your face for you. Hiding's 
more fun in the open.




A relation of gestures

A piece of pie and a gun on the table. 
He got confused, shot himself with the pie, 
it was too late by the time 

the ambulance arrived. Two possums 
as dead as the sky. Both of these stories 
are true. Gray sky. Miles apart. Possum heads 
tucked to possum chests 
like sleeping children, our flexible 
sleeping children, my sleeping wife, 

who is and is not a child. 
Poor road, to be a killer
of slow moving marsupials. When we stopped 
and got out of our cars, each face an act 
of non-denominational prayer, I had the feeling 
that my back was an ocean, my left scapula 

a boat adrift, no sails, a bell far off, clanging, 
unheard. Next time, he tells me, no pie. 
I know the woman at the bakery, 
she'll take this personally, she'll flip 
through the model magazines and feel ugly, fat 
and ugly, fat and midwestern and ugly. 

None of these women are from Indiana, 
she'll tell herself, without proof. It's a theory, 
really, that the window behind me 
and the field behind the window and the trees 
behind the field are there as I wonder 
if they're there. The night after 

the murder show, I saw the guy who died 
on the murder show on the lawyer show, 
he had changed, was alive and seeking 
punitive damages. So yes, I believe in time travel, 
tele-portation, that everything is touched 
by every other thing in a gravitational 

if not phenomenological way. You haven't asked 
what kind of pie, gun, cars, boat, I'm thinking 
schooner, I'm thinking my right scapula 
long ago sank, that I want to dive 
on the wreck, and you, please, to wait above,
praying for me to break the surface of the water.




I am always somewhere when I think of somewhere else

In movies, in San Francisco, 
when they need a long shot of someone driving 
toward or away from trouble, they usually 
pick the Bay Bridge, but if love's 
to be sought or fled in a car, the Golden Gate's 
the likely star of the frame. I'm in Blacksburg 
when I realize this, noticing that some 
have turned over, leaves 

of the silver maple, rocks of the Cambrian 
in my hand on a hill 
that isn't Kite Hill or Billy Goat Hill, a hill 
I haven't named, so what good am I? I promise 
out loud to name the hill, out loud 
so I can't go back on my word, out loud 

so the tall grass of my brain 
can pretend the tall grass of the wind 
was listening and I owe it the language it so 
doesn't crave. But I haven't. That was five minutes 
or years ago, my watch has stopped, the one 
I never had, all the watches I never had 

have stopped, I'll call you 
Hill Hill, I'll take pieces of you 
to your cousins in San Francisco 
when I tell them how politely 
you ignore me. I have the sense 
this is a Bay Bridge day for me, a Bay Bridge 

life. Night. A gun on the passenger seat 
as I drive toward Oakland, poor Oakland, we sing you 
no songs. Do you know my dog 
can no longer hear what I say to her, that the world 
is deaf? That's why the gun 
is loaded, why the movie of how I feel 

is smoking, why I miss you, Coit Tower, 
where it's reasonable to look at Alcatraz
rusting away, pining away 
for its cons and killers, and ask 
if there's hope for me yet.




A wrench or shoe, you choose

Shall we be innocent of banging on the pipes?
I suggest not. Or the children, let the children 
bang on us, let the whole hour be the flame 

we're adamant about. But not this potato-salad.
It's horrible, the potatoes too big, the mayo
too thick and heavy in the frightening way
of gills on the neck in that picture
in the magazine open on the table. Life
shouldn't have this mayo or gills in it,

bang hard on the pipes, give the children
water canons and set them loose on our lies, 
can you honestly say "The Department of Commerce" 
is how we thought this would come out? No one 
had that dream, no one I want to vote for 
or make love with in the potato salad, in the dark, 

in the light of shooting stars. See 
how they don't go down without a fight? 
It's not too late to be why someone says
oooh or aaah as you go flashing by. 
I've given you this pep-talk so you 
can give it back. There's only one pep-talk 

that I know of, so we have to share.