Every life a moment of oratory


I expect to be told any minute

I'm a character called Hopsbadly

in a play that will never graduate

from rehearsal. I explain to the doctor

I think this is why my neck hurts, turning

forever quickly to catch the person

running up to me with a clipboard

to tell me that. I've no clipboard

of my own on which to write little notes

about birds or the sexual leer

of one boulder to another in the field

full of erratics. Glaciers

held these boulders

as long as they could, in the mouths

they didn't have, you can think of them

as the dying words of ice

if you'd like to, no one will know

that thought exists

if you don't tell them, or what you do

with that bolt of silk

in the attic on stormy nights,

or how you hop if you hop at all,

like a bunny or kangaroo or what else

hops? Bellhops don't actually hop.

This is another way

we've been lying to each other.

The truth I'd tell

if I told the truth is that I want

to tell the truth all the time

but lying is quieter, since those

who do it well set up an easel

by an intersection and paint

a mountain scene day after day.

Cars zoom by and crash

but these liars keep working

a notion of beauty

that includes a speck of black paint

in the corner, which is either

a goat or a little boy or a hole

in existence through which

sinister forces enter or menacing

forces leave. I would clarify

this dangerous traffic

were that my area of my scholarship,

but I study the fourth petal

of five petal flowers.

Think of it as the ring finger

of flowers if you need an image

of a garden full of hands

taken in marriage, every sunrise

an invitation to a wedding, every sunset

signaling the beginning of toasts

to this future or that memory,

always a man on the veranda

holding his divorce

like a pound of hamburger

in his chest and asking

the stars to drink with him

to a vision of true love

that includes his face.




I am in the shower in Williamsburg.

(I was in the shower in Williamsburg.)


I am writing the poem about desire.


(I was thinking that the shower was the poem

about desire.)


There is no way to be authentic.


(I said to the shower head, we are always authentic.

The shower head agreed.)


I'm at my desk

listening to the keyboard. Listening

to a tree come into bloom. April

has found February. Green

is being fooled. A bird

is borrowing the tree

as an alternative to sky.

I slept poorly last night,

thinking about whether this poem

could exist, if I could exist

without the poem.


(The consensus of the shower

was that it cannot tell me

if I have wasted my life. The shower

was not Rilke. I turned the handle

in the wall and a river

believed in my face. A shower

is possibly a religious conversion.

I am possibly a physicist on PBS

talking about string-theory, my cats

love string-theory.)


I am thinking desire is an attribute of matter.


(I was thinking that if I slipped and hit my head

in the shower, the shower would dutifully clean

my unconsciousness, my death.)


I am thinking desire is the full extent of matter.


(I am dead, the cleaning woman finds me, she is reminded

of her own mortality, which is always

theoretical but less so when you're wondering

if you should close the eyes of a stranger

or shut his mouth, so his dead language

ceases to fill with water.)


I am talking to the poems of my students.

I am pushing the poems of my students

and being pushed by them

like we are adolescent boys in a film.

We like the same girl. There is a homoerotic

necessity to our letter jackets. I am pushing them

until the flower of an arm

stabs my chest from inside the poems.

I am pushing the poems until the poems

punch my breath.


(The cleaning woman kisses my dead mouth

full of water. She is sixty three.

She has not kissed a man

in twelve years. Her father

was the only dead man she ever kissed.

His casket breath

smelled like she was two

and he was a shadow

saying good night, sleep tight.

I do not come back to life.

She takes a picture of me

with her cellphone. This is becoming

a movie. We think in cinema. Action. Print.

I couldn't play me, I think

in the shower. That the director

would probably use a stunt shower

for the shower. Only water

would be itself.

What is my motivation? That's the one thing

I've never heard water say.)


I want to be myself. I want to know

what that is in terms of standing in a room,

of looking at a painting alone

or with people in the room. How do I move

through a museum? How much

am I watching myself

watching how I feel

I am being watched?

In all the time I've been alone,

was I ever alone? Words are eyes.

Are they my eyes? Do I look at myself

to let you look at me

looking at you?


(I am resurrected in the shower. I have done

some of what I needed to do

with the day. I have driven

to Williamsburg. I have selected poems

to read to strangers. I have prepared myself

for the moment when applause

is genuine or polite, is a fire

or where a fire thought, why bother,

darkness wins? I remind my bones

I depend on them. I am naked

and wet in and out of the wet mirror.

I have more gut than allows me

to want to be touched. My chest hairs

are as gray but not as sensual

as fog. This is when the work begins.

I want to throw a rope

to mirror me. Poor reflection.

Are you a stutter?

There should be a marker, a totem

that tells you, you

are on the right side of the mirror.)


This poem is running out of energy.

Autobiography is the story

of entropy. All along,

this should have been a poem

about which book in translation

I would leave where to be found

by whom. Paul Auster's

anthology of French poetry

inside the basket

beneath the guillotine

that will tell my head, you are free to go.


(Once you step outside

of this embrace, this poem,

this life is over.)



Bob Hicok's most recent poetry collection is Words For Empty And Words For Full (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2010). He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA. Currently, he teaches at Virginia Tech.