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“Recovery” and Other Poems


Christian Roberts

Art by John Paul Morabito



A poor forked creature contorted under a tree,
The tree of life, a phoenix tree,
A curative trunk
Snaking all the way through
The soul and back across again
In one valve and out the others:
Tricuspid, pulmonic, mitral, aortic
Tri pul mi tic
I try, and I try, I try
To pull my Ticktockman
Staggering syncopated before the window,
A widow of black forest wisdom
With the equal of signs
Crisscrossing aboriginal
Submarine valves and airtight hatches
For the long descent     UP.
Cats keep my head from exploding—
My heart shudders for the perfect absolution
Of fur and bark to counteract this sickness.



The evening glitters     slides
Sideless. It winds
Out like piano smoke in opium:
I want every part of you,
The chakratic to chiastic, that I become you
Staring into the arms of trees melting
Like the old beauty of night. We’re desperate
For appearance.
An apparition would do,
Slide me into place
As evidence of something to come back to—
The romance of a game,
The sound of pages being turned, underwater,
Above the ground,
The combined drop of every bridge
Bleeding into new strings
That I’ll wear like skin
Fleeing into shadows pushing
Out of stone
To begin.

I can’t wait for agreement
In a condition that disagrees with everything.
I shake from the glitter façade
Of this discord
And make it shine with glorious madness
Absolute     Elsewhere,
Ebbing from transfer to transfer with flowing
Broken forms crossing out
Desolation for elation since
El is short for elevated
Like El Greco
Not to be confused with this shadow flying burst
Of paper bared from Heaven
As the Art of Being is from Hell
And doing is Being
When your heart is relational
In the space between what needs to be done
And what gets done,

Hell is only stagecraft
On the outskirts of recitation
Where we’ll meet by the asphodel
Exchanging passions,
Revenant slips,
Since being and doing
Are coequal rations lining up for an act of Magick
To unmake my bed,
Liberate each head
Like a library before literature,
Then all I’ll have is a personal unknown
With its public kimono
Gusting sideways on aimless gliding plains
No plans but the next
In     Out
Of the stop and go meeting
The unbounded movements between us without control,
As if life depends on it, because it does.



What is the value of pure despair?
To know without knowing, feel
Without feeling. In the thickening air
A fake watch tells me what is real;

It is time, and it is not time. Time
Structured and layered remembers
So memory can forget herself. Signs
That point in all directions, embers

Spiraling upward through the fire,
And nothing but a dream to tear open
And climb into like a warm desire,

Back into those places where fear
And self-doubt conspire in the wild:
Hidden in reflection, opaque and clear.


Supermodels and American Literature

I turn on the TV,
And there's another
Supermodel blowing
Kisses at me.
In 1855 there were no
Supermodels in America.
But what if Gisele
Had lived next door
To Emily Dickinson?
If Emerson had dreamed
Of Victoria’s Secret
Would he have still
Believed in the
"Transparent Eyeball"?
If Thoreau had seen
Tyra Banks swimming
Naked in Walden Pond
Would he have ever
Left the woods? And
Can you imagine Melville
Writing Moby Dick
After a night
With Miranda Kerr,
Let alone Poe
At a fashion show?
Whitman, however, would
Have just been Whitman,
But Hawthorne would
Have gone mad after one
Lingerie display,
And Twain would have
Been a fiend.
It's good that there
Were no supermodels
In the 19th century;
American literature
Might have been ruined.

**Author’s note: you can update the names of the supermodels every few years or so.


Dandelion Wine

for Jess

Love is a purple toothbrush when your bicycle runs out of rain. I remember cocaine for days
In Union Square, Washington Heights rocket fuel ether, crystal and coffee in Palm Desert,
Being swallowed alive at the Royalton by a pink electric anemone carpet, pulled inside
Of a wall, molecules and all, at the Byrne Arena, punching through a plasmatic Jell-O beast
The likes of which Hobbes could never fathom in his avaricious sea monster armada
Of homicidal politicos in perpetual summum malum malignancy of Man and his shiny object Legions pursuing breasts like the appetite of nature devouring herself
Since all the sane, stable fools are mostly unnatural cogs, fiends in a Janus-like state
Of repugnant underarm foot hair, olfactory vulgarism, a grotesquerie game of eminent passion And pain to be the better boor, infatuated Kingdoms of Darkness, licentiousness, a war
Against all things sapient but the demon-eared scholars of lewdness who pulled me out of my Skin one bone at a time until the wall spit me out like a wad of unchewed food with the telepathy
That we couldn’t compete anymore with this saturated world of antipathy
And its contagion of lesions spread by breathing, thinking, and fucking,
That is better than any worse creation compared to eternal solitude in the icy pit of self
Destruction through the auguries of preservation in the zero-sum patina of order and sense,
Of violence and death, choose your fortune dementedly and have more of everything
Until it’s an either-or poetry of poverty or abundance dwindling to a donut hole
In the middle that falls through the missing manhole cover never to be returned to the biological
Reactor crime of Evil chemical showers, the kind you get in prison to kill the lice
Who live anyway in the cracks and executions of ignorance and bliss which is why the needle
Doesn’t come with a ladder but a shovel, so deeper we dig into the madhouse of serenity
With the failures of offspring, and mine before them, and before me the cancer had already
Metastasized into a behemoth that makes an innocent monster look like a nice place to hide
Under the bed writing inexpressible surgeries to the prescription minions, soul anesthetized.
Where selenite bed post light, germinates even the most Catholic of daffodils, shy enough to pick
Themselves friendly when I can’t get the glass cage disclosure to terminate my diurnal
Suicidal Bible where Job stumbles out of his misery in a drunken Old Testament green
Soup fog and asks the Dr. for a little relief, something to smooth the pain into liquid light skin
Over the open sores of fate like a Dead Sea emollient, as the outside doesn’t always make
The inside work, the inside makes the material skip the entire phenomenological opera balcony
Of flying Moroccan rugs where the patient is the Dr. and the Dr. is an aura of a patient man’s
Application to rediscover his value in the guilt riddled wager between love and responsibility,
And the Dr. tells us Job’s best bet is a dialogue with God—what an old, Jewish Dr. thing to say,
But hey, it’s better than saying, “what difference does it make, we’re all gonna die anyway,”
Which is true but comorbid, not nihilistic, just hacksaw predestined when you need a toothpick,
A chisel, a way to make the CO pump back into the antechamber so you can watch it over again
While admiring the imploring petaled mane of the dandelion’s head. And yeah, a dialogic
Intervention for a friend no longer who’s taken the almost last skin from your elastic heart,
She said that was “our song,” and now I get it, there’s a certain length of rope to pull yourself
Back, even use like a genie to climb into the supernal peace for surrender…and I surrender, now,
The blown seeds of goodness resewn, nothing eternal since I can't stay forever, and I can’t
Exfoliate if I can’t loosen the rope from the neck of the slave, and it’s me, reborn like a rubber
Band, and the other Dr. thinks the mortal and the divine intertwine in medicated conversation;
Maybe they’re right—only patience will outlast time to let me rewrite your long-distance hands
Into my mind so I can rethink a less brutish modality of time (et toi, ma chérie?) so rub your
Palms together my beautiful healer piano player, and dive into the hole after me, pull us back
From what’s calling, tie me to the bed like you mean it, our lives could be unbound but secured,
And Job can rewind the universal gesture over his shoulder as he carefree walks away
Into fearless fields of so much salvation we’ll never have to wait to be saved again.



“In old age / the mind / casts off / rebelliously / an eagle / from its crag.”
—William Carlos Williams

There must be something else to this life
Other than death. I don’t care if that’s an obvious
Supposition, desire, fallacy, fantasy, love—
As you will, or will not, as far as the nearness of ending is in conclusion,
Forming its imago philosophical candlelight
With halos surrounding the flames. To feel the stroke
Of time, rage of lateral light, brain stunned in mid
Falling flight, back, back, into the gray of ice blue eyes
That lose their look to see, my father falling
Away from himself, from me, both weightless as a moment
In physical space. I reach out to catch his fall,
Tempers reduced, replaced by consciousness, gravity;
You never understand it until you’re whirling through it
Like a soldier fallen on the field.
The mind catches everything and plays it back
Incessantly, every ray of truth like a mirror takes in everything,
Each memory silent as glass.
It was the first time I asked God for you to be “just drunk,”
Without balance or remembering things past,
In search of drunk time, lost like your glass every hour
In every missed corner, cursing at the television, the weather,
Waiting for Frank Strait on the radio—
“Now that son-of-a-bitch can tell the weather…”
I picked you up as so many times before.
When you went out in the hurricane, trees falling around you,
Arrows of branches flying past, glass in hand,
Lear-like howling at the wind as an evergreen
Missed the shine of your head by a foot.
You pushed and fought your way through the dark
And the flood of water deepening with every step.
Somehow you made it to the lightless porch,
Found the right door and climbed exhausted to the top of the stairs
Like Hillary reaching the summit of Everest.
Twigs, leaves, grass and pine needles stuck to your face
And clothing, your shoes drenched, dirty mud sponges.
The winds blew their "cataracts and hurricanoes."
Mom sat in her room reading by hurricane lamp;
She wanted no part in the drink and surge, the sulfurous
Spray and uprooted trees split at the roots.
Can you remember the heatless nights of candlelight and flashlights
With batteries that died after three days? And boiling water
To shower? Turning on the gas stove for 10 minutes
To let the heat radiate as you put on your old Brooks Brothers
Storm coat with fake fur to button down for another
Bleak November night? I’d wake up shivering and check on you,
Pale blue skin, cold, I wasn’t going to let you drift off
In the freeze of sleep. I told you someday I’d write a book and call it
“10 Days in the Dark with the Old Man.”
Not even a superstorm could make you spill your drink
Or break your will. And here we are, four years later.
The neighbors call you a “cat whisperer,” a decoder
Of feline mystery, a man in perpetual motion, a paradox of "silence,
Exile, and cunning," out of the cradle endlessly talking,
And thinking, sadness, irony, on a Journey to the End of the Night.
After 88 years your hurricane turned inward, raged too hard.
And I’m the son of a hurricane now left to reassemble
Storms of stray winds while you dream supine
In a hospital bed plugged in, “wired” to a machine
That measures the digital beat of your heart,
There is no abstraction; the word isolated
From any distraction or elements diluted.
The ineffable and the absent before us,
This is a school of teacherless lessons: inexplicable,
Indefinable. We’ve come to it on our own without knowledge.
You, who’ve fought the lightning stroke of time
With speech in a gray storm of letters and clenched teeth,
Fighting to conjure a single word for release: “forgive.”
I hear it clear as oxygen rising and falling, “forgive,”
Clearer than standing out of my own body of blood
And bones, flesh whose sole meaning is to compose
A kingdom of forgiveness in the music that only a father can offer
His son, and repeat to him, “forgive,” as all that can be done
In this unanswerable interplay of body and imagination,
In this vocabulary stunned, in this bedside where I read
To you, aware, unaware, of every drop and pulse of the clock.
There is something else than this, the curious mind’s
Rebellious intelligence, to hold doubt and certainty at the same time
As words echo across their meanings, more like a sense
Of seeming than any transcendental “ah-hah”—we forgive
Ourselves first and let love which is a textured feeling
Like a father to his son whose words give him meaning—forgive,
The plainest sense of things, absolute, to live,
In the forest of sleep and dreams however brief,
Simple as a black beetle crossing a dark green leaf.


A Prayer for Jennifer

I went to the Sound to ask the night waves
And pray. It was more a scream that echoed
Around the frozen marshy shore, a sick
Spirit howling back at the wind; we cried
With the sound and her slow-motion light streaked
Waves pushing in to fill and swirl within
The dark divisions beneath my body
Sitting cross-legged on a high flat rock
Iced over while the salty froth climbed up
The sides with their hands of corresponding
Mist. I asked them about salvation, ruin,
And what impels the heart to go against
Itself so hard and permanent to leave
Everything it loves and that loves it back.
And the wind only blew harder, the pale
Absolutely clear water hit the shore
With its fist as if to tell me what I
Already knew, and will never forget,
Not on this lucid night or another,
And my body shook its fatal response
Trying to feel a spark of warmth out of
Nothing, the blowing highlight of clouds dipped
And briefly changed their suffocating gray,
I could almost understand how a child
Knows salvation as a word and a soul
Unguided in the ever-darkening
Where the stricken mind feels no other course,
One into the sharpened flow undressing
The ethereal flower of who you
Are and are not to let the sun pour out
As our last night together in this dream,
Just as I hear you right now telling me
“Stop writing about such depressing shit!”
And smiling in only the way you could,
I give to the Sound my prayer of love:
You are an undivided part of me.


“Karl Christian Roberts” by Jacques Houis

I call him Christian since that was what I called him when we first met in the Eighties. I was his French tutor, because, as an adult, he only needed to pass French to get his BA, retroactively. Shortly after we met, he informed me that he was a poet. For someone like me, with ridiculously strong feelings about poetry and absurdly high standards, who finds most of the poetry I read in, say, the New Yorker, little more than highly literate but dull prose, the prospect of being asked to read his poetry was terrifying. He did. I read. And I felt like André Breton “discovering” Aimé Césaire’s poetry in a haberdashery in Fort-de-France, Martinique in 1943. It was good, way beyond what I could absorb on first reading. Since then Christian’s production, characterized by several multi-year spans writing a poem every day, has kept me feeling the same way about his work, as if “only the dead know” it. The few poems selected here, out of many hundreds, are simply poems I like, some to give a sense of his range, some that relate directly to important figures in his life, his father and his ex-companion, Jennifer, who took her life last year at 38, and some that are very recent.

What stands out in Christian’s work, beyond scope and erudition, humor and emotion, form and freedom, is poetry as existential necessity, not simply as a way of life but as a way to stay alive. Antonin Artaud comes to mind. Of course, Christian is unknown to all but a few in the poetry world who have encouraged him over the past 20+ years (the poets Edmund Berrigan and Marty Watt, and the late Paul Violi, who helped publish some of his work in the late ’90s).

Knowing Christian as I do, there are many reasons why he has disassociated himself from the “profession” of poetry. Which begs the question: how many others like him are out there who are reluctant (embarrassed?) to show their faces because of the current state of poetry?