The Rat's Nest
poetry by Mickey Cesar (Микки Сизар) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
[updated Tuesday, November 16th, 2013]
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INTRODUCTORY NOTE FOR WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21ST, 2013
No updates in months… computer crash, little writing,
chaos in every aspect of my life in Ukraine.
I finally have a sort of a break during holiday season;
no money, but time to write, alone with my language,
these images inexpressible.
So, as usual, find enclosed a few new unedited poems, with the usual caveat:
some gems, some trash.
Enjoy or don't.
Sunday, still no snow, and I am
an old man in a hat smoking cigarettes
At the leading edge of winter
the eye traces lines to the usual points of interest
past barred windows to sedans parked behind dumpsters
the babushka beating a carpet in the courtyard
the cold afternoon girls’ asses and ears strain for the source
of an intermittent metallic slamming in the distance.
A lost sock lay draped over a low-hanging branch
the sidewalk unswept, and after all the car wrecks
the heartbreaks, the riots, evolutions, treatments, therapies
diseases, wars and funerals you wait dissatisfied
for a cat to slink by, a cat
which never comes.
Five lines on Alla’s eyes
or some such other. Suffice
unadorned grey. Languid
small hands, pale skin.
Her life will end as cold and alone as my own.
Among city canyons littered with the last bit of autumn
we walked. In our bags, tangerines, grapes, chocolate
and cognac. We pass
a balcony where I have seen
a woman with a dress much too short for October
smoking slim cigarettes. Today a blanket lay in her place.
The bags twist in my hand. The asphalt
brokenly meets your heel as well. In our bones
snow soon, and the weight of the days
provisions aches us both. We are a moment away
from falling flat in the alley. The days are shorter.
The sun sets soon, and the last few meters of shadow
seem to stretch endlessly ahead.
soviet bingo kiev
When life grinds to nothing and
anger no longer sears your clothes, no longer
drives you screaming into dark hallways
and shadowed exteriors. Instead, every story
is dull retelling. Would that an audience be born
a dozen dozen attentive angels: the world reproduces upon itself,
each a novel in search of
they check their clocks and calculate
the distance to closing time in napkins and coffeespoons
wavered and unfocused where you would have them. All
is forgotten the childless, yes. All is,
sir, your boots will be repaired by noon tomorrow
Beneath the street lay factories
cranking out cuts of flesh and soft limbs.
The railway stations stream on
as an early ice forms. You see one stranger
then another, and despair of giving
impossible greetings. The machine
is tense when you’re being observed
by a cold girl on a balcony smoking cigarettes
beneath a thin blanket.
You have prayed for sense, wanted
to fall headlong into a continuum
but all is just scenes and fleeting vignettes
you grasp like a drowning man.
“Like all pure creatures, cats are practical.” ~ William S. Burroughs
leveling through september
We fall like rain, pigeons
on a corrugated tin roof. There is no music
in our heartbreak, only the first intimation
of congestive failure. We hang
clothes and tails on ourselves, trailing
descent and entropies. From the window
morning obscenities drift in. Rain day seven
finds a bald man in a leather jacket
making tentative steps toward a door.
The apricot leaves which still cling to summer
shake as if stung, and here while we wait
for the city to turn the radiator on
we lay naked, wedded to second-hand sheets.
Come with me. We will rifle through
empty closets. We will find
multiple nothings amid inkless pens, worn socks
and souvenirs of lost loves, the dry blanknesses
of late summer blossoming from our hands.
The detritus of uncountable dislocations
dog our every step.
In every place
we set stakes which splinter under the hammer
tie down with unreliable moorings. This place has suddenly
become heartless. Come, trust only the uncertain
the failed promises
the God of Things Lost.
of moths & holocausts
There is little left untouched
by the violence of summer. Pigeons scatter
at the sound of breaking teeth. An afternoon beer
beside the metro station does nothing
for anxiety. We travel – drift – casualties
of flash flood, lightning, endless farewells
lodged in our throats.
We must continually ask the cats who stare back suspiciously
if this is our last meeting.
It can always be the last.
And what if you are not done?
You strike back at phantoms
your fist a whisper.
There is no more when the eggs have all been cooked.
There is no more when the hot water runs out.
There is no more when the dogs have been chased off.
And if you ask yourself in August
if the river, wet-sanded between your toes
is even paying attention, write your prayers on the back
of a receipt for cigarettes, then burn it.
Did you, my friend, begin with an assumption at age seven
that set the stage for life’s agonies?
Maybe. Every day there are new spiders in the corner, and
moths, sad and beautiful.
On a short leash
snapshots all look backwards
a significant angle, slope
or compelling curve. Repeated patterns
and recognition assail the photographer
always aware a composition has been staged
before. Her lips part, her back arched
she escapes moments
before ever possessed.
Stop cataloging, my friend. What is
baleful always remains; what delight
epiphany number two
Day whatever in exile, you
reflect on those suppressed and illicit
moments the hours absorbed. With the evening’s
fifth shot of cognac, you celebrate
the petite woman who pressed her left breast against your elbow
on the metro, the snatch of your native language
eavesdropped passing through the park, the occasional
transparent dress brilliantizing near-summer nakedness
on the street. Shot six is just to forget loneliness.
Shot seven is for tomorrow, and the wretched hope
that its same mistakes will bring about a different result.
Day whatever in exile closes with fevered sleep
and the no-longer surprising epiphany that half a world away
at home, poets lie awake in sweaty beds
the last place to hear a cheesy american pop song
Behold towels, sand, cigarettes
a book, a beer, a tea. I have set
our picnic. The sun on the river
is wordless, here slightly interrupted
before the Black Sea. The cats have overrun
the café, Laika shouts at play. The day
warms, then cools, then reverts. Nothing
I might want to say translates, and
silence is not an option. The smoke
of the river cruise hangs low above the boat.
The crackers stay uneaten. The scent of shashlik
Summer lay before us like an endless sandbar
untrammeled, undisturbed. May fifth –
the sun slips, and I wonder on how many beaches
this vignette is repeated, how many
old men alone.
outlines and habitations
Oh sad and beautiful city
I still have candies for you.
Your bony daughters
rotting. Here I see
another year waiting for a girl.
Seven-fifteen, the fountains
weaken to a slow, unsatisfying gush.
Twenty minutes to the metro, forty-seven
checks of a cell phone. The policeman
must believe I have business here
I don’t believe it myself. Kiev
is almost a pleasant exile
a good place to die unremarked
as good as any other
squeeze and release
Snake eyes, craps. Busted
the seventeenth time since Lisa
touched you, and taught you
the word “adorable.”
Time is running out. Old and grey
and poor and lonely. This world
is insufferable: certain secrets
you can never admit, list, the
consistently compelling image of
a 1911, trigger cold in your hand, the
squeeze and release like a wicked
kind of pornography. Also
the desire to live to be one-hundred twenty
to fuck teenagers, to publicly
tell God to piss off. To just be broken, to
die brilliant. Some day
you may, but in truth, experience teaches
you never will. We each
just suck it up and continue
ragged and desperately unhappy.
If I were all the man that she is cat – if if there were men like this, the world could begin.
epiphany number one
Heavy machinery, dogs
the sound of an unattended wedding
fools and funerals, April.
Mr. Black sits on benches, considers
his fortune, ninety-two Hrivna mostly
in ones and twos. On the stairs, bags of
potatoes and parsley and spinach and
radishes and lettuce; unmitigated disaster.
Even the sparrows realize
he is wrong for everyone.
Dreams of tearing flesh. Rip back
the skin a little bit, let
the rain in. Mornings you awake
moist and shivering in the sun.
Uncountable tremblings, sheets
indignities. What began in the kitchen
spilled over into the sink, drained
and left you bloodless and disinterested.
Some find solace in the easy phantasm
but you are a veteran, lately
wandering the warehouse district
debris, ripping your hands
on the edge of a chain-link fence.
The afternoon, an insistent telephone
ringing in the wind. This winter you passed
the gravestones, the funeral wreaths, the dip
in the road for the last time, and as
the gusts die you find a vague satisfaction
in your worn-out shoes, so poor
you’re back to feeding eggs to the cat.
Today, even the memory of happiness
seems more to embitter than assuage.
So this is what it comes to: an unending accumulation
of images better than this.
Ptitsas ring out among the newly-blossomed Kashtans
the schoolgirls are dark and thin, and phones
ring incessantly in the distance.
and the frying pan needs to be replaced
You are getting sleepy.
At night, you trade bodies with butterflies
and gasp at the improbable breeze-borne lusts
which batter you. You must
take a spike and crucify them.
On the threshold of Easter, you stand in mud
and slush of receding winter, sure that
years recently have all been autumn and worse.
In your purse, old tissues, metro
tokens, lip balm, a torn
five-Hrivna note, chewing gum, two-for-one
coupons for coffee shops. Your bones ache
and you wonder if you ever will own
a mattress and a morning. The faces
at the grocer’s are in a slow rotation
and the most striking thing
about you is weariness, and the last batch
of Cypriot tomatoes gone rotten.
“Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.”
~ from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
on eternities and endings
You have seen farm fields
vast oceans of wheat, seen
a plague of locusts and
sandstorm. God offers no subtle
signs of His reserved antipathy.
This morning, sitting in the snow and ice
you saw a long-faced woman on the steps
with arthritic hands suffering a cigarette
and her eyes caught you twice, reminded
you of something you cannot explain in
any language, but made you ask
God to stop. Yet the day went on
a thousand faces on trains indecipherable
advertizing frightened women asthmatic old
men swinging briefcases Kazakhs went on
to be crushed between Teatralna and Kreshchatyk
slaughtered tenses, and came home
to ask the cat
how long it lasts.
notes on escape: nothing is easy, or romantic
Outsiders, we have our own exiles, and
the terrors of walls and fences.
The human touch
electrifies, convulsively. Shock. Wash
your hands of it all, the beggars, the crows, the
dispirited continual winter. We want
nothing more than an island
a ditch to dive into
an unmarked grave.
next stop Belarus, believe:
Five March, Березень, пятый, these
clouds, butterflies, this old anger and
this rotten coffee pot. Mold and clouds.
The insufferable beauty of potholes, we walk Yulitsa Kikvidze
and note buildings blotched with satellite dishes
(mushroom sprouts from Soviet brick) concrete
proof that we exist. Yesterday, I say
I will not be a prime squared again
for seventy-two years: happy birthday, маленькая кошка! Snowlit
clouds, ice and broken asphalt, springtime in Kiev is all
disappointed dogs, life after love.
“The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory.” ~ Franz Kafka
sudden declaration, confession
I have sat beside a number of snow-numbed
train stations. I am the smoking man, invisible
in my ivy hat and grey wool coat.
I have been thinking of you
for decades occasionally
sipping coffee from a paper cut.
The cats have more sense than to loiter
where the dog with the compound fracture
begs scraps among the cigarette butts and slush.
It would break your heart a thousand times
in quick succession, create a fluttering
like a cold pulseless breeze. The old women
on the wet stone steps sell onions, parsley
potatoes, pickles, spices and wooden matches. The
veteran of the old war sleeps hard on his
shoulder, and I think of you again
no country for old cats
In an otherwise quiet snowlit night
the chelloveck ahead has shuffle-skitch shoes.
I have clock clock boots.
The fog train to Voksal at this distance
hoots like a toy. Some meters trailing
someone’s step is a sticky squick-squick.
As I turn left, I think of nothing
save cognac, cognac and koshka (Marusya),
the mild entertainments of loneliness so far removed
from my mother tongue:
through snow-covered courtyards the dogs hours ago abandoned.
What good is it to be fluent in one’s own language
when the mashrutka slush and hiss
down Yulitsa Kikvidze in the distance?
At home, the cat chews the cords to the blinds
of the kitchen window, her wants
more important than mine.
what international bartender’s day means
Small berms of snowice and cigarette
butts line beneath the awning sidewalks
of Yulitsa Pushkinska, impenetrable.
We have yet to decide
how to slice ourselves open, how to
conspire for casualties. Desire
lingers like four days’ melt mid-winter.
Who really feels day to day that
nothing will change? This faith
in schedules, taxes, credits, furtive
moments with a familiar lover, this
lack of spasms and undramatic intent
can suffice for half a lifetime, but you’ve
become an unreliable narrator in your own
novel, prone to
wild speculation and impulsive looks
at other women.
almost eve’s birthday
In the caverns of winter
cosmic color splash and shape and pattern
old echoes receding on the rails. Horizons
are for the young: here slick stone
the rush of exhaust, the blacks and greys and
overcoats and boots, the broken jostling
of unoiled joints, the noise, the inescapable
sadness of set schedules, slushmelt
seeping through crackragged concrete.
Age is a passing train too full to board.
an open question
Does anyone really greet the
seventeenth snow with certainty
that summer will ever return?
Frozen fog dust exhaust ache
absence white dark sunfall, the radiator
shut off again, the cat shaking cold
hungry in the corner of the closet January
misprints and empty bottles of cognac
acidic mornings faith. How many prayers
are necessary, and what
they are not enough. The sun
shudders disheartened, its heat
hands and losses
The leaving trains taste like wine and oranges.
The platform scuffles and dirts, wet
with the sad melt of winter. There are
packages and bags, oil stains on the tracks
and crackling. The arriving comes with
a gust that ruffles and disorders
you and other passengers. We each endure
a set number of stations, the repetitions
of twenty-four years of coffee
temporary accommodations, qualified promises
and unsolicited offers. We both have come
to get lost, with little success.
IF I WERE ON FIRE
75 poems, with photography by Allison Richardson
was released by Spartan Press on May 12th, 2011
and is available at
Prospero's Books 1800 West 39th, Kansas City, MO
Raven Bookstore 6 East 7th Street, Lawrence, KS
and of course, Amazon if you're not lucky enough to be close to Prospero's or the Raven.
[SAMPLES FROM IIWOF]
54 poems, with artwork by Alexis Cullerton available at:
Prospero's Books 1800 West 39th, Kansas City, MO
Raven Bookstore 6 East 7th Street, Lawrence, KS
KU Bookstore 1301 Jayhawk Boulevard, Lawrence, KS
and, of course, through Amazon.com
PISS OFF NO PROPHETS: EXCERPT FROM II KINGS 2:23-25
23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. 24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. 25 And he went from thence to Mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.
Poetry of Matt Porubsky, author of Voyeur Poems and Fire Mobile (The Pregnancy Sonnets)
Laura Kitzmiller reading at Prospero's
Hep Cat and Fab Art-boy Andrew Jilka.
Jason Ryberg, author of Devils, Dice & Car Parts, Blunt Trama and other goodness.
Bronze Conduits poetry by Julianne Buchsbaum, author of Slowly, Slowly, Horses and A Little Night Comes
Mitzvah poems and random niftiness from Robert J. Baumann
My Favorite Barista Michaela on Lawrence.com and blogspot
OTHER MICKEY SCHTUFF:
me on Facebook
feature in Present Magazine July 2007
interview with four other soldier/poets from WarNewsRadio May 2007
interview with Bill Radke of Minnesota Public Radio Weekend America June 2007
write-up on the book release from the Lawrence Journal-World January 2005
interview with Laura Spencer of KCUR-FM Kansas City January 2005
OLD AUDIO POEMS:
spearmint tea, tracks, and trestles
the psalms of wasps
Jazzhaus feature, March 2011
Jazzhaus February 2011
Prospero's Poetry Filibuster (setting a world's record for longest poetry reading!) June 2010
“the afterlife” at Prospero's May 2010
lindsey & the f-bomb at the Writer's Place, March 2008
natalie 3:28 Kansas City Lit Fest, June 2008
and just for fun, I'm the “star,” but have no lines: how is this possible? The Priest in the Porn Shop.
Prospero's Books used books, local poetry & events, and UnHoly Day Press
Flutter Poetry Journal
Glenda Rolle artwork
Rough Traces by Jason Wesco (review)
The artwork of C. Elisabeth Bear
Church of the Subgenius
and, of course, the amazing and talented Josie Wrath
The amazing Alexander Nevsky
(April 15th, 1999 – September 4th, 2009)
“The incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles... is to live in company with a memory that serves no purpose.”
~ Albert Camus
increscunt animi, virescit volnere virtus