Rae Armantrout | 5 Poems | Electronic Poetry Center




The clerk half skips away in his jaunty-officious hurry. Oh, he's telling me a joke about our common inability to occupy two planes. What he can't know is that I hate body language. "My life had stood, a little speech, a clipped coupon."
Hell is unredeemed experience?

If I were dying in a hospital bed, would I get pencil and paper to jot down passing thoughts? Not likely. I, myself, was always a forwarding address.

But here's the joke: syntactic space predates and dominates these words.

We must take reasoning tests
before passing
through a cut-out
in the Islamic
facade beyond which
small boats wait
to carry us
to the icebergs.
We hunker down
with short pencils
in front of the ticket booth.


In the excitement phase
we think we want something
we're made up to seem
exaggeratedly unfit for,
say, touch.

This is the funny part,
but also the dangerous
moment. Right away
we're talked out of it -
no harm done -
by a band of wise-acre friends.

"I don't know
what I'm thinking," we say,
to a spike of merriment.
Here is the warm,
human part
which dissipates tension.



Despite our infractions
we are loved
by the good mother
who speaks carefully:

"I love you, but I don't
like the way you lie there
pinching your nipples
while I'm trying to read you a story."

Once there was an old lady who told her son she
must go to the doctor because she was bleeding
down there,. She didn't look alarmed, but suppressed
a smile, as if she were "tickled," as if she were
going to get away with something.

"Look," said the doctor, "you are confusing
infraction with profusion. Despite
may be divided into two
equal segments: Exceptional and Spiteful."

But the stubborn old woman just answered,
"When names perform a function,
that's fiction."



It is my responsibility
to squeeze
the present from the past
by demanding particulars.

When the dog is used
to represent the inner
man, I need to ask,
"What kind of dog is it?"

If a parasitic
metaphor grows all
Why stop with a barnacle?

A honeysuckle,
thrown like an arm
around a chain-link fence,
would be far more

more precisely repetitive,
giving me the feeling
that I can go on like this

while the woman
at the next table says,
"You smell pretty,"

and sends her small daughter's
laugh, a spluttery orgasm,
into my ear-

though this may not have been
what you intended.

It may not be a problem
whan I notice
the way the person shifts.




Poppy under a young
pepper tree, she thinks.
The Siren always sings
like this. Morbid
glamor of the singular.
Emphasizing correct names
as if making amends.

republic of the separate
dust motes
afloat in abeyance.
Here the sullen
come to see their grudge
as pose, modelling.

The flame trees tip themselves
with flame.
But in that land
men prized
virginity. She washed
dishes in a black liquid
with islands of froth-
and sang.

Couples lounge
in slim, fenced yrds
beside the roar
of a freeway. Huge pine
a quarter-mile off
floats. Hard to say where
this occurs.

Third dingy
from right. Emphtic
is revealed as
hostility. It is
just a bit further.

The mermaid's