April 4, 2021

Bob Hicok

A BRAID OF UNKNOWING I TIE BEFORE YOU

Eight minutes, almost nine. I’ve been seeing a star
to the east in the morning. It’ll be hard
not to give four or five students Ds this semester.
Are optimists fools? For eight minutes, almost nine,
one man knelt on another man’s neck. A star or planet,
I don’t know. Many have stopped turning in poems
or coming to class, more than ever in my twenty years
of teaching, during this third semester of COVID.
Obviously there are more problems than solutions,
more shit than Shinola. A white cop kneeling
on a black man’s neck. I’ve been meaning to ask the internet
what the light is so I can refer to it in the first person,
Dear Vega, Dear Saturn, when I’m grateful for company
from so far away. They expected to be going to parties
and football games, to be drinking and dropping acid,
to be rubbing against space and time, but the friction
of bodies and growing older, into adults,
has been replaced by fear of breathing
in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To think we can change or get better at changing
our oil or not clear-cutting forests or listening
to opinions we don’t hold or sharing our wealth
is insane in an evidence-based system of analysis,
if you look at the data, if I remember back
to five minutes ago when I scanned the headlines
and Chicken Little was right: the sky is falling.
How is it not murder, clearly and simply murder
to kneel on a man’s neck for eight minutes, almost nine,
and what happens, what rot overtakes our hearts
when we can’t admit this, can’t white admit to black,
old to young, sane to the crazy world in which one man
tries to justify kneeling on another man’s neck
after subdued, after compliant, after hearing him
call for mama and say sixteen times that he can’t breathe,
that this is wrong, so obviously and clearly immoral
that we’ll step from this cruelty in unison
and cast it in steel and touch it every day
for the rest of our lives to remind ourselves
of what we’ll never do again. Dear Vega, Dear Saturn,
tell me something I don’t know about the universe,
that as it grows we grow, that as light leaves us
more arrives, that entropy is actually patience
in disguise, that love is the only way to explain
why atoms cling to each other and something more than the zero
exists. Is it kind to set aside their failures,
what they haven’t done or said, the stones they’ve channeled
with their silences in class, and how do we ask something
of each other, or give, in ways that lift and teach,
how can we lay this period of time on a blanket
and wrap it, roll it in softness and concern
and make our way to the other side? Optimism
is the source of karaoke, light bulbs, mosh pits, kissing
and fucking and birth and thinking a man’s pointless death
can have a point, can be a fulcrum or lever or both.
How do you a lift a world already afloat in space
or convince people that we’re surfers and gliders
called to be animals of grace, that we cling to speed
and grand motions and need each other to hang on?
I am lost in every way except my certainty
that the only true mirror is each and every other face.
Eight minutes, almost nine. It’ll be hard not to sit
in an actual room with their actual eagerness
to overcome gravity and time. Optimists are oceans
and skies at heart. A star or planet touching me with light
I want to deserve.

from Poets Respond
April 4, 2021

__________

Bob Hicok: “Everything.”

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August 30, 2020

Bob Hicok

TO SERVE AND PROTECT

You end up in a particular body, you who are you
and not me, and me who am I and not you, and she, and he,
and all the theys we meet along the way. Look at her
rocking her mumbly lips back and forth like a seesaw.
That guy’s forehead is so tall it could dunk on his hair.
She’s got hips that know what time it is in Paris.
We’re insides wed to outsides without choice, shotgun
marriages all, we fall into our breaths and spend our lives
shadow-boxing our natures with our nurtures or vice versa.
I guess. I suppose. I propose nothing new: do unto others
as you’d have them do unto your mother, the sun.
Would I shoot the sun in the back seven times for the crime
of walking away, would I kneel on its neck
until it were dead, would I shoot the sun in the head?
Who are you? Are you safe? Has anyone shot at you
since breakfast? Are your shoes on backward so you’re ready
at all times to arrive to your departures and say goodbye
to your hellos? On their way to a black man’s back this week,
seven cop bullets cast their shadows on me. I ended up white
in a country and time when that’s a shield and sword combined.
If you see something, be something, if you say something,
scream something, if you scream something, scream it again,
write it down, tie it to your pillow, mail it to your congresswoman,
build a house out of noise, a cathedral of no more. There
but for the grace of fucking go we all. The soul isn’t what’s in you
but how what’s in you makes its way out: the soul is a door.
Is mine opened or closed? I sit here wondering how some of us
get it in our heads and fists and guns that we own the world
when we’re guests at best, at worst, a smattering of atoms
deluded that we matter beyond the circles of hate or love
we walk. Hello. How are you? Are you surprised every time
a mirror has the temerity to look back and ask, Are you the best
we can do? I could have been an ant, a tree, a bomb, a cloud,
a poem or a lyre buried in a field for the earth to strum.
I guess. I suppose. I have imposed on you long enough.
I wish you a vast and happy life, a sky to call your own,
that your body isn’t held against you and that you’re free
to walk a city or valley under the power of your turmoils
and joys. As I’ve tripped and stumbled, grumbled
and glided forward, I’ve not had to look over my shoulder
to see if I’m being followed by a gun or noose,
which is neither too much to ask, or to give.

from Poets Respond
August 30, 2020

__________

Bob Hicok: “’It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.’ I can’t recall a statement that connected the personal and social as simply and movingly as what Doc Rivers said this week. What he said and how he said it—that he chose to remove his mask before he did – has lived with me and culminated as this poem.” (web)

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April 2, 2020

Bob Hicok

FLY

We are alone.
At seven o’clock around the world, people are clapping
at open windows and on balconies for everyone trying
to help us stay alive, doctors and nurses and pizza delivery guys.
We are alone but not alone. At the same time, a man plays clarinet
across my valley to neighbors and cows. We are alone but not alone
in being alone. Friends drinking virtually get actually drunk
and sing all the show tunes they know. We are alone but not alone.
A call arrives: a woman I loved and lived with has died. I am alone.
She joins a growing number on TV each night. When I was a kid,
Cronkite tolled the dead on CBS every evening. Then a war, now a virus;
then far, now at our doors. I am alone but not alone. I open every window,
take my drink, my desire for wings, my scream outside.
It’s warm, sunny, there’s a jump in the grass and the trees: spring.
I am alone but not alone in looking more tenderly at daffodils
than I have in years. Go you yellow dreamers, go: rise. We are alone
but not alone in feeling lucky as others die that we have been left alone.
At seven o’clock around the world, people are clapping
at open windows and on balconies for God and the air to hear
that we’re still alive.

from Poets Respond
April 2, 2020

__________

Bob Hicok: “Thank god for Zoom and Dr. Fauci. I wish you all well.” (web)

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November 30, 2019

Bob Hicok

THINGS RICH AND MULTIPLE AND ALONE

The litany goes on. First your hair
in the toilet bowl casts a shadow on the bottom
that resembles bacteria under the microscope
at Livonia Stevenson, then there’s mice in the wall.
These are pearls, he says to me, meaning the days
I think, that I have them at all, I just want concrete
from him, not a lecture on the no-armed man,
how he doesn’t complain under the underpass
where he lives. I say finally, how would we know,
it’s not like we hang under the underpass,
not as if the no-armed man could write you a letter,
“Dear Seller of Concrete, This is wonderful,
not having a grip on things.” I’ve been running
very fast up a hill. At the top, I stand and feel
for a moment how I’m at the top, it’s a sensation
all its own, as is turning to run back down,
as is spinning the Lazy Susan to watch flour
come into view and leave me again. Drinks
at five, dinner at seven: now you believe
in structure, little slices of beef on red plates,
her explanation at your elbow
of why the granting agency said no
to the man “you both know causally.” It sounds
like there’s a game of catch in that phrase,
or wearing familiar pants, or looking at cards
in your hand without any intent to win the game.
It’s more about the conversation around the table,
how we need these excuses with Kings on them
to pull up chairs to the moment and let it be
inclusive of us. I’ve always read monads
moan-ads, I don’t know why. Everything with a shell
around it, even the moments when nothing
seems to have a shell around it. One is left
with the sense that romanticism was a response
to the hooks people saw on every bird and lament
but had no thread to connect, or had vast spools
of thread but no feeling for the various eyes
of the various needles, and everything was lost
in full view of everything else. A vortex, if you will,
or a closet with no discipline, or a discipline
one order of magnitude above our understanding of it,
such that, when we’re being shown a face,
we see static. You didn’t know, at the exhibition,
that you were looking at a spiderweb full of pubic hairs
until you were told. Most of us thought it beautiful,
then the fact of the matter went around the room,
then we were disgusted by life and turned
against the artist, saying to people the next day,
it wasn’t much of a show, then looking at the bill,
trying to decide who had the calamari.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008

__________

Bob Hicok: “I think of myself as a failed writer. There are periods of time when I’ll be happy with a given poem or a group of poems, but I, for the most part, detest my poems. I like writing. I love writing, and I believe in myself while I am writing; I feel limitless while I’m writing.”

 

Bob Hicok was the guest on episode #19 of the Rattlecast! Click here to watch …

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July 3, 2018

Bob Hicok

REDUNDANCY IS ONLY A PROBLEM WHEN IT GETS REPETITIOUS:

a poem of patriotism

A kid was killed the other night in America
running from cops in America without a gun,
knife, egg timer or thermonuclear warhead in his hands
in America, his fault in America for not being made
of stone in America, shame on him. Statistically

I don’t have to tell you in America what color
his jeans were, you’ll assume blue in America
and be right in America ninety six percent of the time. King too,

had he been stone in America as he is now in DC,
wouldn’t have been shot in America, same for Lincoln
a short walk away in America, amid cherry blossoms
in America if I go when there are too many people
for my taste, I prefer Christmas
and having these men to myself in America
waiting for their statues to blink. Half a century

after King was popped in America, it’s still hazardous
in America for a lot of kids to bother being flesh
in America, they need to go straight to stone or steel
in America, the stuff we turn our dead heroes into
in America, need to be cold before their time
in America to survive being Americans in America,
and how many more times in America will I
and every other poet in America who’d rather
be writing about trees or the sadness
inherent to American expressionism in America
or love love love in America and maybe Amsterdam too
have to write as an American this god damn
bang bang another kid is dead for no reason
in America other than melanin in America poem?

from Poets Respond

__________

Bob Hicok: “I love Pittsburgh, have felt connected to it since I helped one of my sisters move there when she went to Pitt decades ago. For a couple years, my wife and I have swung around to Pittsburgh on our way back to Virginia from Michigan, mostly because there’s a pop and vitality to the city that’s rare and fun to be around, to walk within. Pittsburgh feels young to me, juiced about existence in the way kids often are, so the killing of Antwon Rose seems doubly cruel, not just a murder, an attack on an individual’s right to exist, but also an attack on a way of being in the world. When I think about what I want America to be, these murders by police are the least American thing we do. When I think about what America is and has been, these killings are America at its most honest: we do not value all lives equally, and prove this over and over, as if no one is watching and no collective loss accrues. To have a democracy, all people have to believe their bodies are equally valued and shepherded within the public space. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Step one is life.” (web)

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June 22, 2018

Bob Hicok

GOING BIG

For Hanukkah,
for my wife, I tried putting candles
on the antlers of deer.

It’s not that I believe in God:
I believe in light, and deer,
and a man pulling his weight
in the adaptation of the species.

I believe antlers
the most natural menorah,
in a twelve point buck
glowing in falling snow, in hunters
dropping their rifles to their sides,
in the cool air
cupping our faces in its hands.

To say it didn’t work is to miss
that I got to know how to wait
for deer, which is different
than waiting for bear, or love,
or a phrase of sufficient tenderness
to capture the evanescence of life
to arrive, and last beyond the feeling
nothing lasts.

Light lasts.

Light runs and runs
without tiring or giving up, the universe
is bigger now, and now, and now,
just as intimacy grows
when my wife lights candles
with a scarf over her head,
holds her hands up to the light
while repeating a prayer
repeated millions of times,
adding to the distance
the words have traveled
and the complicated life
they’ve lived, and better still,
reminding me there’s a bloom
in her face only I can see
in this light, so yes,
I know what luck is.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018

__________

Bob Hicok: “I like starting poems. After I start a poem, I like getting to the middle, and after the middle, an end seems a good thing to reach. When the end is reached, I like doing everything that isn’t writing poems, until the next day, when my desk is exactly where I left it, though I am a slightly different person than the last time we met.” (web)

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June 20, 2018

Bob Hicok

I AM WANTING

After I missed a week of class exploring the o
in opium, my World Cultures prof
gave me the chance to make up ground
by writing a paper on why European explorers
didn’t knock first on Asia or Africa
and ask, Is anyone home,
before claiming scads of real estate
as their own. I knew two things:
it’s boring to read history
if you’re American, given how deeply
we believe the saying,
Those who don’t remember the past are doomed
to be us, and I could spend years
prowling the Hubris section of the library
only to end up here: Because no one stopped them.
Instead, I flew to Spain
and as soon as I got off the plane, exclaimed,
I claim thee for Zug Island, Detroit.
While there, I figured I might as well take in
the running of people away
from the running of bulls
and try to find where the ravenous shadows
of Goya were born. My prof was impressed
by my ambition, if not my footnotes
being seven times longer
than the paper itself. But why
opium, you ask? To answer that question,
I’d have to tell you a story of crying,
which was a story of love, which was a story
of trying to hold a woman as an answer
to the question, Why is heaven so far away
when I am so short, and not as a cloud of atoms
trying to discover their own shape.
Just like England, I got busted
for possession and kicked out of bed.
To this day, I have to fight the impulse
to say of my wife or America
or the sky, That’s mine,
as if possession is nine-tenths
of the law, that desire is one hundred
percent of the battle.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018

__________

Bob Hicok: “I like starting poems. After I start a poem, I like getting to the middle, and after the middle, an end seems a good thing to reach. When the end is reached, I like doing everything that isn’t writing poems, until the next day, when my desk is exactly where I left it, though I am a slightly different person than the last time we met.” (web)

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