Detail of the Woods by Richard Siken
I looked at all the trees and didn't know what to do. A box made out of leaves. What else was in the woods? A heart, closing. Nevertheless. Everyone needs a place. It shouldn't be inside of someone else. I kept my mind on the moon. Cold moon, long nights moon. From the landscape: a sense of scale. From the dead: a sense of scale. I turned my back on the story. A sense of superiority. Everything casts a shadow. Your body told me in a dream it's never been afraid of anything.
“I want the freedom to keep some of my damages to myself so I can get through the day without being reminded of them. I want to make something that works even if—especially if—I’m not there. I like not being there. I want the freedom to wander off, or fall asleep. The work should work, or not work, without me. I’m the writer, not the story.”
-Richard Siken interviewed on Bomblog. “Click here” to read more!
"His hands keep turning into
birds, and his hands keep flying away
from him. Eventually the birds must land.”
-Richard Siken, from “Unfinished Duet"
"In the wrong light anyone can look like a darkness.”
-Richard Siken, from “War of the Foxes"
"Can you do that? Can you just plug in some made up thing and end up with solutions? Can you simply draw some imaginary lines and end up with a better map? You don’t expect to be acclaimed as a great scientist until you discover something, something big and useful, but shouldn’t this something have to be real? Let’s jump ahead 125 years. It’s 1922 and Ludwig Wittgenstein has just published his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus which insists, among other things, that the limits of my language mean the limits of my world. Or, put another way: how you say it is how you think it. And, more dramatically: if you can’t say it, you can’t think it. And, if you can’t think it, how can you solve it?"
I take off my hands and I give them to you but you don’t want them, so I take them back and put them on the wrong way, the wrong wrists.-siken
James Hall: I love that you risk sentimentality in the poems. Can you talk about how you construct a poem’s emotion without letting that emotion subsume the poem? What tools are available to a poet to mitigate emotion successfully?
Richard Siken: I didn’t see it as risking anything, and I suppose the tool for mitigating emotion is undercutting, but I’ll try to answer the question sideways: Even if you don’t believe in God, you have to believe in narrative. Things happen, one after another, world without end. Just because you’re self-aware doesn’t mean you can change what’s happening. Eventually someone is going to break your heart. Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking “I am falling to the floor crying” but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it—you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well and when you’re having sex with your next lover on this very floor they will also notice that you didn’t paint it very well and they will think less of you for it. And then you think “Is that sentence too long?” And then you have to hold the contradictions of sobbing uncontrollably and wondering about grammar in your head at the same time. I think if you are true to the entire experience, not just the sad part, you don’t risk sentimentality because you’re not overloading the experience with fake, melodramatic feeling. I also hear that whispering helps.
There’s only one thing I want, don’t make me say it, just get me bandages, I’m bleeding.
-Richard Siken, Wishbone
The Love Song of the Square Root of Minus One (i) by Richard Siken
I am the wind and the wind is invisible, all the leaves tremble but I am invisible, blackbird over the dark field but I am invisible, what fills the balloon and what it moves through, knot without rope, bloom without flower, galloping without the horse, the spirit of the thing without the thing, location without dimension, without a within, song without throat, word without ink, wingless flight, dark boat in the dark night, shine without light, pure velocity, as the hammer is a hammer when it hits the nail and the nail is a nail when it meets the wood and the invisible table begins to appear out of mind, pure mind, out of nothing, pure thinking, hand of the mind, hand of the emperor, arm of the empire, void and vessel, sheath and shear, and wider, and deeper, more vast, more sure, through silence, through darkness, a vector, a violence, and even farther, and even worse, between, before, behind, and under, and even stronger, and even further, beyond form, beyond number, I labor, I lumber, I fumble forward through the valley as winter, as water, a shift in the river, I mist and frost, flexible and elastic to the task, a fountain of gravity, space curves around me, I thirst, I hunger, I spark, I burn, force and field, force and counterforce, agent and agency, push to your pull, parabola of will, massless mass and formless form, dreamless dream and nameless name, intent and rapturous, rare and inevitable, I am the thing that is hurtling towards you…
A Primer for the Small Weird Loves by Richard Siken
The blond boy in the red trunks is holding your head underwater
because he is trying to kill you,
and you deserve it, you do, and you know this,
and you are ready to die in this swimming pool
because you wanted to touch his hands and lips and this means
your life is over anyway.
You’re in the eighth grade. You know these things.
You know how to ride a dirt bike, and you know how to do
and you know that a boy who likes boys is a dead boy, unless
he keeps his mouth shut, which is what you
because you are weak and hollow and it doesn’t matter anymore.
A dark-haired man in a rented bungalow is licking the whiskey
from the back of your wrist.
He feels nothing,
keeps a knife in his pocket,
peels an apple right in front of you
while you tramp around a mustard-colored room
in your underwear
drinking Dutch beer from a green bottle.
After everything that was going to happen has happened
you ask only for the cab fare home
and realize you could have asked for more
because he couldn’t care less, either way.
The man on top of you is teaching you how to hate, sees you
as a piece of real estate,
just another fallow field lying underneath him
like a sacrifice.
He’s turning your back into a table so he doesn’t have to
eat off the floor, so he can get comfortable,
pressing against you until he fits, until he’s made a place for himself
The clock ticks from five to six. Kissing degenerates into biting.
So you get a kidney punch, a little blood in your urine.
It isn’t over yet, it’s just begun.
Says to himself
The boy is no good. The boy is just no good.
but he takes you in his arms and pushes your flesh around
to see if you could ever be ugly to him.
You, the now familiar whipping boy, but you’re beautiful,
he can feel the dogs licking his heart.
Who gets the whip and who gets the hoops of flame?
He hits you and he hits you and he hits you.
Desire driving his hands right into your body.
Hush, my sweet. These tornados are for you.
You wanted to think of yourself as someone who did these kinds of things.
You wanted to be in love
and he happened to get in the way.
The green-eyed boy in the powder-blue t-shirt standing
next to you in the supermarket recoils as if hit,
repeatedly, by a lot of men, as if he has a history of it.
This is not your problem.
You have your own body to deal with.
The lamp by the bed is broken.
You are feeling things he’s no longer in touch with.
And everyone is speaking softly,
so as not to wake one another.
The wind knocks the heads of the flowers together.
Steam rises from every cup at every table at once.
Things happen all the time, things happen every minute
that have nothing to do with us.
So you say you want a deathbed scene, the knowledge that comes
and you want it dirty.
And no one can ever figure out what you want,
and you won’t tell them,
and you realize the one person in the world who loves you
isn’t the one you thought it would be,
and you don’t trust him to love you in a way
you would enjoy.
And the boy who loves you the wrong way is filthy.
And the boy who loves you the wrong way keeps weakening.
You thought if you handed over your body
he’d do something interesting.
The stranger says there are no more couches and he will have to
sleep in your bed. You try to warn him, you tell him
you will want to get inside him, and ruin him,
but he doesn’t listen.
You do this, you do. You take the things you love
and tear them apart
or you pin them down with your body and pretend they’re yours.
So, you kiss him, and he doesn’t move, he doesn’t
pull away, and you keep on kissing him. And he hasn’t moved,
he’s frozen, and you’ve kissed him, and he’ll never
forgive you, and maybe now he’ll never leave you alone.