We are a public forum committed to collective reasoning and imagination, but we can’t do it without you. Join today to help us keep the discussion of ideas free and open to everyone, and enjoy member benefits like our quarterly books.
“I see through the eyes, not with them.” So says William Blake, a poet-ancestor stirring uncomfortably in Broc Rossell’s lines. Not that the influence is immediately apparent—true lineage hides beneath the surface, as blood is hidden in the vein, as a vascular poetry (to steal from Emerson) contains lines that, being cut, spill their heritage. The eye is also a vascular organ—to see through it is to see bodily, and the mind into which the eye lets light pass takes its myriad shapes within the theater of the poet’s psyche. Rossell’s poems contain in them a remarkable confounding of Blake’s maxim; not a betrayal, but the helpless (if subtly defiant) honesty of writing lines whose vision says that accuracy is hazed by inaccuracy: “I put on the glasses / and the room goes dark.” We see what we see, a simple ethic; that we see what we see as ourselves seeing it, well, that riddle inflates a simple ethic into a difficult aesthetic. It is that aesthetic—one in which a confessional urge is countered by, complicated within, a philosophical urgency—that pulses inside these poems. To the basic question, ‘What do I see?’ Rossell adds simultaneous questions, ‘How do I see?’ ‘How do I see what I see?’ ‘Who is this “I” that does the seeing?’ This poetry is difficult, not because it can be, but because it must be. It is a difficulty of great paradox, showing us how difficult being simple is: “If / I come from the infinite, I cannot return.” Rossell’s poetry subverts the intellect’s habit of making complexity into a refuge in which our confusion is also a mark of pride; rather, it excavates beneath the simple to reach a more basic simplicity, the fundament that disarms the mind. To Blake’s harsh wisdom, Rossell does not add, but selects, rearranges, repeats, humbly: ‘I see with the eyes I see through.’
Monologue for a Robot
Thought thickens in the veins and swells.
Bright arteries run into the pressures of the dark.
There are no pieces, just a point to
I look on at my insides, a cut shaft of
“Crush them up, they won’t bleed.”
“That much is over with, I can
tell you that.” “—I’m leaving.”
A silent visit. The music-player
broken. No one moves. He leans over,
plucks a loose eyelash.
The flower wilts at the stench of
the street whose current carries those
who can’t make it
To whose old money names make them face an exhibit
of synthetic memories they resent on specious
Piles. Everything arranged into broken,
Something tells me the horizon is my
name when I was in heaven.
Rubble that pitches over into a more
cobbled order—a map, a face.
Low tide’s muddy grit steaming in a
side-hit morning. Wisps, waifs
rise like seaweed anchored &
undulating in the bracken of
ocean floor midnight, not
requiring this support of sun.
Electro-blue of the vacuum tube dusting
a thick thrush of faces, near
enough to—in the same gesture as—
swimming over an open locket.
“The sun used to follow me.” (Pause.)
“The moon too.” Through air filled
with solder and sapphires, cosmic
meiosis in a neon tube.
The train from the north is blue.
A boy named Syrus George Halifax
Trinidad. Bridges, tunnels,
a Cisco truck, a stick in the spoke.
Wrestles his emotive reflex. A grimacing
alchemist. An addict of pleasantries.
When he doesn’t remember the system
of working things, I remember a
story. There were many men
honorable enough to dress even
their steeds in gold and silk
and they also, not only swords,
had blades in their boot.
Monsters rolled their eyes and dice
and broke the heaven’s bread. A
pinhole of light breaks through—
amber kitchen light—wake up—I’m
A strange scar. Half-scrubbed henna
shot through with scar tissue
the color of make-up, weaving its
way through august heather like a
river of sand,
muscles beneath the mandibles of one
standing on a trapdoor
Creek slotted full of fat summer trout.
Slotted with stripes of lead-lined
and brilliant light. She waits for
her most delicate, wet thoughts to
become the property of others—
When he’s on his back, he calls his
lovers down out of the bodies of
eagles; when he blacks out they
touch down like mosquitoes and
tickle his urethra. He wakes up
with kidney stones.
A seagull aching in the head. Between
compulsions: compulsion. Headland,
compulsion. Hanging in the steady
off-shore over the interstate.
I could try. What I should do is put my
foot down, then put it up.
The quickgone airwake of a butterfly redrawn
with ions and paint, a
Pick a straw.
When the steam whistle blows at eight and one
and noon and five at the plant
with what ridiculous chemical steams
folding like white worms against the light
into nothing, air
the whistle splits and the dropped belly of it
from some cavernous boiler, some sweltering tank
swells up profundo and undular beneath the shrill
and right as the train is about to bowl my drunk ass over,
it washes out into a brazen harmony
of reed instruments.
At that moment
I split in half.
And I don’t know
if the other halves survive
I see a reliquary ankle-deep in dust
a podium in the center and accoutrements of ritual arrayed
a beam of light comes through an opening
similar to the light which descends on the attic of the
library in Rochester, Vermont
several boxes or chests on the floor, foetid with grime
my head is as tall as a foot
I see these chests clearly
a single spear leaning against the corner directs the light
into a half-opened armoire
I roll my head toward the closest chest and open it.
coins or medals,
a globed compass of brass which tells you where to go
the way the magic 8-ball tells you your future,
and a pair of strange eyeglasses
which don’t look like they will fit my face
but when held up to try
turn the room into an orange and pink kaleidoscope,
and I see ribbons of a man standing in the armoire,
decrepit and tall, with a fine red sash,
holding like a Hussar’s helmet on the hip a head
that I suddenly see is me.
I put on the glasses
and the room goes dark.
I feel myself being held aloft
like a wick-lit lantern or the heart of a Mayan virgin,
undulating as if the darkened room was a little docked
which is how I know, whoever carries me can potentially fly
and this thought alone
trains my eyes to a point in space so sharp
they become a quill.
HELP ME LIVE.
I AM YOUR SON.
It looked like a juniper at that altitude,
weathered roots gripping shattered shale
the color of outdated money and branches pulled back
like a mayor’s haircut by the simplicity of elements—
it was a Jeffrey pine, which at lower elevations
are identified chiefly by the brittleness of their lower limbs.
I sat beside it and felt I had come there
so our companionship would be reaffirmed,
that our natural affinity would be revealed in our postures
and that among crags, precipices, and wild skeletal stoicism
I would remember how to sit.
It was unseasonably warm. The glazed snowfall
sluicing the panorama was not heavy or precise.
It lacked the terror I had hoped for
and I was aware of the abandoned towns—
Raymond City, Silver City—whose unlootable slabs
remained beyond the ridges burnished by that sun.
I guess it happens when you seek adventure
below ten thousand feet—the resurgence of the California
isn’t true enough to deny remnants of old trails,
trimmed logs wove onto steep pitch.
—But as I meant to conclude, and didn’t,
it took Jack Daniels to make that tree
recognize me. I don’t think it was cheap.
Sometimes I Think I Love Everyone
It was solace, and the charnel house I took it from—
violence induced by the necessity of innocent
brame—by which the silts of suffering lent
themselves to the deeper disguises of boredom.
Lately I’ve been changing myself;
on the morning’s rise, submerging the sills
in a light that transforms fear into silence,
comes this guy. So ill a jester as myself—
Broc Rossell, scrap wire, ageing automaton,
wastrel bumblefuck—should know what’s wrong
when I say, I’m two. I probably do.
But I still rise, I still believe in you—
my imagined coition, my time to burn. If
I come from the infinite, I can’t return.
The Deer Disappears
spell out too many of those days,
this I constructed
out of interpretable events
did I have hid,
what cud yung frens given me,
what’s this silence offer . . .
when she speaks
I am obligated to consider
eating the bruised meat of every Cadillacked deer
or relate the four opossums gathered individually
on a short toss of asphalt:
as two become a smear the next appeared
and next and the deer disappears.
As Christ untethered in me sails,
I find a muted christ prevails.
The only way to love in me
is to ignore what I don’t see.
I consider my silence and also
as I eat breakfast.
Often this fissure
breaks into angry poems.
I have been well
burning my eyes
pointing to the low sun
chumming the cups with laughter,
breeze, limp bodyhair,
I am writing to live ahead of what trails out of my ears.
Behind me the path is covered,
ahead is the river flowing toward me.
To stay ahead of what I hear, I look upon the hills
and imagine the world beyond them.
The bones of the mother of Deucalion are piled among
people the size of maggots feasting on stone.
They exhale the vaporous remains of jewels along the hem
of the ocean.
I can hear the river growing louder. The sound is
the involuntary and intermittent thoughtlessness of
swallows in flight.
I am a wind and
a wind flared briefly
in the cut-hay musk of batiste:
fugitive of whatever I said.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.
“The rising voices wanted to twist arms. The violence of their speech spread across her shoulders, inched down her backside.” A young woman struggles to have an abortion.
“Room, Room, Room, in the many Mansions of Eternal Glory for Thee and for Everyone” & “Publick Universal Friend Adopts a More Androgynous Appearance . . .”
Congratulations to Adebe DeRango-Adem & Simone Person!