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These poems are beautiful. Theirs is a beauty that is aware of and at peace with hurt and failing and it is still determined to be beautiful. Brett Fletcher Lauer’s poems are wise beyond their years in their understanding of the world and especially of human relations. They embody ideals usually attributed to the elders—they are Blake’s Experienced Innocence, or the Buddhist idea of the path of enlightenment, which I always think of in the words Donovan used: First there is a mountain / then there is no mountain / then there is. In lines like “there is no spectrum / of ideas shining from above,” Lauer acknowledges the profound insignificance of the individual and his or her relations beneath the cold and stark Absolute. But instead of creating a fashionable despair from this, Lauer embraces it and uses it to construct a mature emotional resonance that, well, resonates throughout these poems. He has the stylized, elegantly wounded speakers of the great modern novels condensed in these stanzas, all their searching and their synthesis.
But there is no self-pity here, and none of the ubiquitous irony. Lauer doesn’t need it. His directness moves quickly past it. He has visited human despair and seen the Infinite and he has still come back to tell us something about Love. This vision of Love involves a certain amount of bravery, even moxie. He sums it up nicely “My brightest star is / barely of the sixth magnitude, but it’s still a star.”
Set up home near the river; near the sea, feel no harm.
Dreams are the unravel of rope that bound you to this ground.
The river bends but does not break, and the horizon,
though it stretches blue, produces the color of exhaustion.
This path I walk was walked before; there is no place
not occupied. Though the world does not hang in a sling
bandaged tight around the wrist, I continue to dream
of valley after valley of thorn. My eyes refuse to leave.
After much thoroughness, what prevails is exhaustion
glowing in fluorescent lights. I sleep it off as both the guilty
and the innocent must, though I am only one at a time.
I move from the one to the next; there is no spectrum
of ideas shining from above. The sunlight appears as cloth
covering the path. It does not lead to a pile of ashes,
to branches like words you cannot reach. The arms you grow
will reach, bend the branches back towards thought.
where one person comes to notice the other, where
the other becomes an answer. The shape of this
construct is a world. The world is made of each
reflected across the lakes and ponds of a region
known for its bodies of water. Each would not exist
without the other, without each other the world
looks medicinal. The world is made of roses
and ivory, each rose has petals to be plucked
during a chance meeting, during a nervous spell,
a sudden phrase: watching a boat drifting out
without oars. Without the other, there is no answer.
A mist of roses surrounds the lovers. There is a house
of ivory high on a hill, it will hide their story.
Each thinks this as they enter: There is a shape
to the one I love, potential would not exist without it.
The cardinals in the maples would not be filled
with beauty. Without each other there is no one
to answer. Despair sets in, a mistake, a phrase:
the silhouette as she enters hides a darkness.
With the onset of darkness each is filled with longing,
and with the onset of longing the lovers set out
to discover the other almost as ivory, almost as roses
near evening open to themselves. The other will
always answer: We construct a world. The world is
made of this room. This room is made of chance.
Here is the answer. The day is ordered for such purpose.
A Home for Head Injuries
lying flat. Place a small pillow
beneath my injured head. My eyes
may eventually go blank, always when
most excited. They may begin to lose
perspective: the sun in my throat burns a fever.
Please loosen the clothing around my neck.
I am beginning to see a dome of light.
It is a shrinking habitat. I might say:
My tongue weighs a ton and is made of sulfur.
I might say: My tongue is mostly phosphorus,
my lashes carry salt. Where was I heading.
I was heading in a direction. You know
how it must feel to make an admission.
It is easy to forgive. It is asked for. It is given.
Bring me back indoors, undress me, place me
in a bed and sponge my body freely
with sea water until my temperature drops.
I can get upset by the easiest of things:
blood near my eyes. The bleeding point
most likely in the lungs, stomach or skull.
Until I become fully conscious keep me
on my side to open up the airways.
I am frightened. It is difficult to grieve.
I am thinking it is cold, it is only morning.
I am uneasy on land and water.
My head hurts and I am trying to explain
that each person has a partner on the opposite coast.
When the two partners find each other
they sit down together and wait by the sea.
Everything is calm, peaceful, and cold.
People are arriving to build a home
near the sea. The sea will be late to arrive.
[Before yesterday, I was as they]
remarked, “A reflection of myself.”
I consider myself a wall so thin
you can hear the shuffle of papers
on the opposite side. I listen to
others, one called me “Divided
and Conquered.” I enjoyed the sound
of that very much, and so became it quickly
but found I did not possess the proper
attributes to persist in such a fashion.
The others were only thinking and
I could not yet hear their thoughts.
Today I will listen closer. Tomorrow I cannot
predict The Lord’s function for either of us.
Neither of us fills an empty room to the
perfect capacity. Neither of us can change a river.
I am located in a river, it is always the same river.
Today I do not look much like myself.
I dressed to look like a white snake but shuffled
along like an average son and led an average life.
Today I will not consent to any word delivered
from your opening. The value of which cannot
be underestimated. Across this table the body shall
not perform any function that The Lord does not wish.
I cover my loins—The Lord is watching now.
I have more desire than is typically healthy
to acknowledge. The Lord is praying now,
he always is. The Lord looks down and has eyes.
Occasionally an arrow of smoke will inhabit me.
If memory serves me correctly, we sometimes
confused The Lord’s voice with an interior humming.
The humming was a device to shut the outside
world down. Such as today, when I could not
consent to feed anyone but myself. Paradise
or no Paradise, there exists only a small city,
the outskirts always filled with predators.
Hence the fox traps, hence the poisonous weeds
planted near the canal. Hence the small seeds
we dispersed throughout winter, later they became
stones to grind eyes into a finely scented dust.
We rub the dust on our hands before a specific task;
such as grip the axe, such as rattle the cage.
Who knows what falls when we are on our knees.
Everyday I wake and pretend to be slightly anew.
A Hotel in Belgium
a calling card I was not curable and so they
placed me in a house with blue doors and yellow
curtains pulled tight. My inability for another
language kept me bound to a single room, though
the service was impeccable: small pieces
of chocolate in the shapes of familiar
animals. I walked from the miscellaneous
into the astral body. I was told somewhere
there was a royal staircase and a country
of horses grazing in empty fields but the horses
are terribly sad without a rider. I stripped
away my aristocratic clothing, my tight
fitting hose, my pointed leather shoes, my
doublet and sheer tunic. Finally I discarded
my timeless diamonds and then, and then
I went looking for a rider. I collapsed in
the railway station and was given holy tablets
and truth serum. For days I could not eat,
all the cooked goods cooled and needed
breathing on: Nurse, will you whisper over
this lamb leg. I want my sauces to be delicious
and warm, carnivorous with spice.
I don’t want a spoon, to use a dressing case
or study with the bishop. I despise the mirror
and its inability to understand (I don’t have
a normal penis). I ring the nurse twice a day.
I was told somewhere there is a teaspoonful
of country air that cures any aliment. The larva
grows and swells my limbs, a heavy winter coat
in the fall that sheds with spring. Every single
morning the nurses tell me that a strong horse
gets up and moves in small circles around
larger circles. I must be a little horse, inconspicuous
and of little significance. My brightest star is
barely of the sixth magnitude, but it’s still a star.
Brett Fletcher Lauer is the author of the memoir Fake Missed Connections: Divorce, Online Dating, and Other Failures (Soft Skull, 2016) and A Hotel in Belgium (Four Way Books, 2014). He is the deputy director of the Poetry Society of America and the poetry editor of A Public Space.
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