November 24, 2021

Brendan Constantine

A TOUR DE FORCE

I got a book and can’t
make myself read it, even
though my lover swears
it’s good, even though
the cover says we might
all beautifully belong
somewhere. Imagine if
everything you saw was
printed inside your skull
where people could see it
after you died. When
you do a lot of cocaine
it feels like that’s true, like
the gallery is struggling
to stay open because pipes
keep breaking and the floor
is always wet. That’s what
I remember, anyway. It’s
been a while since I had
enough money to be that
beautiful and echoing.
Of course, you can’t find
anything in my head that looks
like a sunset or a toy horse,
it’s all just goo in there,
that’s what memories become,
dark water and milk. You
could no more read it back
than you could drink the ink
from a novel and know
who loved who.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021

__________

Brendan Constantine: “I don’t have a single approach to poetry. That is, whether the thing I’m making is a poem isn’t even on my mind. I’m just writing, and the longer I do, chances are I’ll discover what is on my mind. Sometimes it feels like walking against water, each word difficult and liable to fall away. Other times, it can feel like the poem already exists and I’m merely ‘negotiating’ with it, to see how it would like to be born. This piece is in the ‘where the hell did that come from’ category. It seemed just to appear at the end of my pen. My third book was like that; the speakers just barged in at odd hours and said, ‘Take this down …’ In this case, I almost felt goaded. What I wrote made me uncomfortable and my discomfort became my guide. I hope this doesn’t sound ‘too’ crazy. Just the usual amount.” (web)

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February 2, 2018

Brendan Constantine

HARPING

How have I walked so far, filled so many hats
with leaves, to find a forest where no leaves fall,
where each new page grows out upon the last
and the boughs lay down like the arms of cloaks
in a cloakroom. The wind speaks up, loses its way,
starts over. I drop my arms, too, and think silly
thoughts about prayer. How have I slept so long
that I’m this awake. I’ve so much reading to do
and for once I’m up to it, starting with the nearest
branch. With bread and a lantern I could read
into the night. With no lantern I could be night
dreaming aloud for each tree. When was it I
decided to stay poor, poor as a library, so I could
walk like this. Where did I set my hat. The smell
of mud, of books wasting in the mud, sweetens
into something like straw. It’s a red smell, but not
urgent. Nothing’s urgent here, certainly not these
questions. I ask them because even the mouse
has a song and the mockingbird mocks it openly
and the river tends to digress and hangers
chime in a cloakroom. This is the sound the air
makes with me.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017

__________

Brendan Constantine: “I get a lot of inspiration from just going out and pretending I’ve never been to this planet before. It’s a great way to remember just how absurd, strange, beautiful, and unlikely everything is around you. If I can stay in that childish frame of mind, in that place of possibility where you watch somebody get into an elevator, the doors close, then open again and five people come out, and it occurs to you, ‘That’s where you go to become five people!’ Or you cut your hair and more grows out, and you cut your hair and more grows out, and you deduce, ‘The human head must be packed with hair.’ If I can practice daily astonishment, I find that I’m a little more pleasant, patient, and forgiving.” (web)

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July 18, 2016

Brendan Constantine

FROM THE BIG BOOK OF GAMES FOR GIRLS

Place your head in the split
of doll’s house, so you can look
out a window like a doll.

Tell yourself a child is coming,
one who loves you, who will
move you, give you her voice.

Wait for her. While you wait
try to read more from this book.
It won’t fit in the house.

You must leave, get heavily
to your feet and rub your chin.
Now you’re the girl.

Look in the windows, pull
the house apart; the doll is gone.
Go, check the neighborhood.

It’s awful outside: bright grit,
the weight of shine, your face
held down like a doorbell.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

__________

Brendan Constantine: “I have to say, I get a lot of inspiration from just going out and pretending I’ve never been to this planet before. It’s a great way to remember just how absurd, strange, beautiful, and unlikely everything is around you. If I can stay in that childish frame of mind, in that place of possibility where you watch somebody get into an elevator, the doors close, then open again and five people come out and it occurs to you “That’s where you go to become five people!” Or you cut your hair and more grows out and you cut your hair and more grows out and you deduce, “The human head must be packed with hair.” If I can practice daily astonishment, I find that I’m a little more pleasant, patient, and forgiving. You never know what you’re going to hear outside your window. Sometimes it brings a whole world with it.” Note: This quote is an excerpt from Constantine’s 20-page conversation in this issue. (web)

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July 15, 2016

Brendan Constantine

RED SUGAR BLUE SMOKE

My power animal is prehistoric, so far
undiscovered. I wait for its bones
to be found. I’m not hopeful;
it was drawn to bright lights
and may have stood directly under the meteor,
blue head cocked like a microphone. I have
twenty-eight teeth and can’t decide
if I’m a predator. I once killed a story
with tiny cuts, then buried it
under a tree. The guilt fed and sheltered me
for half a winter. My new landlady
is an astrologer/real-estate-agent who
refuses to say if my home can be trusted
with secrets. Her favorite nail polish is
a shade of dark red called ‘Girl Against
The Whole Damn World.’ I wonder
what color says, I left my drink
next to an identical one and now I can’t tell
which is mine? Tomorrow is a blue vein
in the back of your hand. This isn’t a figure
of speech but a fact of nature, like ink. Tomorrow is
also a powerful animal with undetermined markings.
Indeed it’s probably camouflaged somewhere
nearby. All we know for sure is it will be
eight letters long, the last resembling
a pair of fangs.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

__________

Brendan Constantine: “I have to say, I get a lot of inspiration from just going out and pretending I’ve never been to this planet before. It’s a great way to remember just how absurd, strange, beautiful, and unlikely everything is around you. If I can stay in that childish frame of mind, in that place of possibility where you watch somebody get into an elevator, the doors close, then open again and five people come out and it occurs to you “That’s where you go to become five people!” Or you cut your hair and more grows out and you cut your hair and more grows out and you deduce, “The human head must be packed with hair.” If I can practice daily astonishment, I find that I’m a little more pleasant, patient, and forgiving. You never know what you’re going to hear outside your window. Sometimes it brings a whole world with it.” Note: This quote is an excerpt from Constantine’s 20-page conversation in this issue. (website)

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December 22, 2011

Brendan Constantine

“SO GOD WILL KNOW YOU”

after Miroslav Valek

Go out, get us some money
and kill a dog. Take this coat,
this book of matches, a knife
from the wall to kill a dog
on the way. You need medicine;
if not now, you will—aspirin,
quinine, a packet of God.
These things are still strong
enough to heal the country
and kill a dog. Sulfur traps
in their intestines, from fruit,
toad stools; any limb off
a chocolate rabbit is death,
as it happens. This happens,
we spread a newspaper, cut
an onion, wait with each other.
You kill a dog; a shepherd, a bull,
a fool hound. Tell whoever
complains the dog has killed
your dog first, your older dog.
They won’t persist. The earth
is fed on the incorrigible. People
here worship this about the land;
that it is made rich by eating
thieves: the rabbit, the crow,
the pale gopher. Thus and so
we light a fire in a fireplace
and read half our book. Or sleep
in our beds and wake standing
by the window. If we call out,
the dogs inside us run away,
then creep back. They can
never come under our hands,
their softnesses. You must
keep the right things with you,
the family spoons, good spoons
to trade, to dig, to attract a dog.
You must expect to lose these
or not get enough for them. Have
some tea or ginger in your pocket
to offer the hermit, the widow
who takes you in against night,
the wild boy-man who thinks
he must be alone. Have a way
to mention us so they know
you cannot linger. At dawn
come home with money;
on the way, kill a dog.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011

[download audio]

__________

Brendan Constantine: “I grew up in a house where poetry was a tradition, something read at bedtime, something framed on the wall. I was such a part of my environment I didn’t notice it until I was 27. I was sitting in a cafe in London and I began to write on a napkin. The next day I bought a notebook.” (website)

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