The Iraqi Hilton
~This poem was previously published in the Indiana Review (2003).
All this reconstruction is hopeless.
We will never lawn over our failures.
Failures are a lens to fry ants as they
travel on their invisible monorails of scent.
The smell of ants attracts
the bunko squad. Although disbanded,
each member of the bunko squad yips
like a Barbary ape caught between bars.
Sitting in bars, we watch the Nature Show and
the Food Show. But the Cop Show watches us.
In this episode, because he owns me,
the chief can put his arm around my shoulders
and say: "There's enough here to re-elect
the mayor without a single vote. A man
never knows how handsome he is until
his face has been irredeemably scarred."
During the night crows fell from the trees
and shattered onto the pavement below.
Each morning I had to sweep the shards
of black glass that littered the sidewalk.
Confession: I ditched the bags at a work site
for a monument whose very idea I detested.
One day while sweeping I took off my gloves
and picked up a bit of wing. Clean sharp edges.
The next morning my hand was brittle as praline.
We crawled downstairs to lobby head first.
In the middle of every room,
pools of mercury.
During the War of the Mini-fridges our emblem was:
The Frozen Exploded Coke Bottle.
Electricity rationed in tiny vials
and measured in sporks.
Famous Battles: Water Retention. Water
Retaliation. Meat Disposal. Attrition.
On Tuesday, an angel arrived
and committed atrocities on us.
Her left buttock was tattooed
with a skull and broomhandles,
“There is so much garbage in the world.”
In the Iraqi Hilton
there is something beige about
all the colors in the room.
The line dead. Two days,
and my body odor is a foreigner.
Outside, loudspeakers ululate.
In the TV snow, coming at me—
is that Godzilla, or the Dear Leader,
or the Parliament of Wolves?
Patella, femur, scapula, ulna.
I can hear the racket outside
my door, out in the dim hallway:
two skeletons, coupling.
Thirteen Ways Of Looking At Bling Teeth
~This poem was previously published in Gargoyle (2011)
Among twenty snow-white mountaineers,
The only thing moving
Was Original Gangsta’s bling teeth.
My mind was almost empty,
Like a bling teeth dispenser
In which a single grill is left.
How can we know
If it is the teeth that are blinged
Or the bling which is entoothed?
My poetry is a collapsing wave function
Whose upper limit is bling teeth,
Whose lower limit is also bling teeth.
A man and a woman
A man and a woman and their bling teeth
Between the bling teeth
And proper dental hygiene
Falls the shadow.
Wally, your gray trousers ensure
Respect. But at night you ghetto out
Your stanzas with bling teeth.
At the sight of bling teeth
Flashing in a red light
Even the pimps of euphony
Would cry “What the motherfuck?”
Grillz at Tiffany’s.
Grillz at Kwik-E-Mart.
Which are the true bling teeth
O thin men of Foggy Bottom,
Why do you disdain my bling teeth?
Do you not see how your Hermes tie
And BMW do jack
For the women about you?
Grillz filled the mouth
With barbaric diamonds.
The goatglare of the bling teeth
Patrickswayzed him, to and fro.
Traced in the glare
Some pimped out spinners.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s bling teeth?
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
My bling teeth
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
I started on "The Iraqi Hilton" before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as the case for that event was being concocted. It came out of several places. Obviously the events of the day, but also I’d been having vivid, image-rich dreams. The crows turning to black glass and the skeletons in the hallway came out of these dreams. This during the West Nile virus was rampant and the crows were dying in large numbers. Also, I had visited Izmir, Turkey several years before this. My hotel room window looked out on a minaret where the call to prayer reverberated from loud speakers in the tower. This got pulled into the poem. So I started with a set of images that were fragmentary but seemed connected. From there I felt my way forward, not consciously but more intuitively, slowly writing frames to put around those images. Having the poem in four sections allowed me to jump from one “event” to the next and hope that the connections made subconscious sense to the reader. Each section goes a little deeper. Although shadowed by the politics of the time, I don’t think it’s “political poetry.” What does all this add up to? Maybe a flanking maneuver on what it felt like at that time. As it turns out, it’s not that different from what it feels like now.
“Thirteen Way Of Looking At Bling Teeth,” on the other hand, came about in response to outside pressure. I was participating in the National Poetry Writing Month. National Poetry Writing Month (also known as NaPoWriMo) is a creative writing project held annually in April in which participants attempt to write a poem each day for one month. NaPoWriMo takes place in April, which is also National Poetry Month in the United States of America and Canada. It was started in 2003 by Maureen Thorson, a poet and publisher (Big Game Books). Writing a poem a day is a challenge and you have to take “inspiration” where you find it, or maybe it’s better to say you can’t wait for inspiration. I found myself in the poetry-writing mindset all through the day, looking for something to grab onto. In this case, someone mentioned a bubblegum dispenser with toy bling teeth and that’s where this poem started. The “Thirteen Ways of Looking At…” trope is worn down to nothing at this point, and any poet who attempts a variation on it is open to ridicule, or, more likely, sighs of exasperation. But having something as far afield as bling teeth made it seem worth a try. And of course I had to write a poem that day, and the Wallace’s poem was a convenient pre-existing mold to pour my effort into. After a little revision it solidified into the poem above. I stuck fairly close to the original to get the maximum effect out of using bling teeth. Also I snuck in some sly references and digs at Wallace Stevens and some of the other modernists, as well as Shakespeare. It was fun.
ABOUT MICHAEL GUSHUE
Michael Gushue runs the nano-press Beothuk Books and is co-founder with Dan Vera of Poetry Mutual Press. He runs the sporadic reading series “Poetry at the Watergate” with Deborah Ager. His work appears online (for example, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Anomalous 8) and in print (for example, Indiana Review, Third Coast, Hotel Amerika). His chapbooks are “Gathering Down Women,” “Conrad," and "Pachinko Mouth” (from Plan B Press).