5 POEMS – LANE CHASEK

Talking about weather

they say meat substitutes are spies
like prose poems or undercover agents
who can’t keep their mouths shut,
who keep talking about the weather

meanwhile my grandpa died the way he lived— 
talking about the weather, flirting with nurses,
dead-set on never letting tofu pass his lips

when you live in a farming town long enough
you learn that weather is rarely smalltalk— 
farmers and ranchers take cloud formations very seriously,
more seriously than buttes, canyons, yucca plants, and marriages

the next time I’m stranded in Olathe I’ll pull an atlas
from my phone, study the land, feel the weight of my skull against 
my topmost vertebra (it’s called our atlas)
and complain about weather and topography
like the farmers drinking their weak coffee,
chewing the remains of yesterday’s biscuits and cold sausage,
convinced the post office is brimming
with government agents, spies
bent on the destruction
of the American way of life 

it’s not weather, really, I’m worried about— 
the hurricanes in Miami are indecisive this year
and we’ve never once seen a hurricane
in all of Kansas’s history—
and my aunt is sending me pictures
of the lizards she believes are forming families in her palm trees,
so the world isn’t (entirely) going to hell

I don’t have the heart to tell her
that lizards aren’t the kinds of creatures
to form familial bonds, but they’ll enjoy a leaf of lettuce,
ten hours of sunlight and perfect stillness, 
like their skies will never change


 
In response to learning that David Foster Wallace died a year before John Updike


I could have sworn
Updike died first—
but DFW hanged himself
a year earlier,
like the reflection
breaking before the mirror—
I’d always pictured
Updike dying peacefully
before the turn
of the millennium,
some unfinished novels
resting on his nightstand,
and he’d snagged
enough Pulitzers
to die with a legacy, 
even if his centaurs 
and rabbits would never
resolve themselves, no matter
how many novels 
they found themselves
snared in—but no,
he died in 2009,
lung cancer,
which sounds worse,
somehow, than DFW
hanging himself, leaving
his manuscript
for The Pale King
to be discovered 
near his body hanging on a rafter—
DFW and his obsessions
with single mothers
and lady poets,
bandanas and tossing coffee tables—
and here I was
thinking I’d had 
my timeline straight—
nothing doing
except writers
and the bodies 
of work 
they leave us

 
To my friends who didn’t grow up listening to Kanye West


did you hear the latest
on Kanye? turns out
he ended the 2010s 
early—sometimes
decades end like that—
I never realized
our era had already turned—
one more revolution of the wheel
but I hadn’t stopped to notice
*
all my friends have
professors for parents—
they all had childhoods 
so free from
the pollutants of popular
culture, so free from Kardashians
and Kanye that, once
they hit adulthood,
they drank the same
bourbons and red wines
their parents drank,
quoted Latin sarcastically
like their parents,
and preferred MF DOOM
and A Tribe Called Quest 
to Kanye West
*
meanwhile I, with my 
corn-fed construction-company
family, witnessed Kanye
rhapsodize on Power and Pablo Picasso,
watched the Kardashians
through each power struggle
and scandal until
rappers became poets
and gossip became royalty—
those same friends
with their professor parents,
starched shirts, and French
vacations only cared
about Kanye when he
donned the red cap,
abandoned his meds
and catapulted himself
into a new mythology—
and they asked me, 
since I’d followed Kanye
for so long, if I thought
his religion and politics
made him more like
our century’s T.S. Eliot
or our century’s Ezra Pound—
and I said, Neither, he’s
Gertrude Stein.
*
we quote Kanye and Stein
in the same sentences
sometimes—did you hear the one
where Kanye became his own Picasso?
he doesn’t need much company
these days—and Stein, I hear,
didn’t need Toklas as a muse,
or any muse for that matter—
she just needed words on a page
and a black umbrella,
blackshirts and brownshirts,
her love of Vichy France
*
did you hear the latest
on Gertrude Stein?—
she told some reporter
that a rose is a rose is a rose
and that Kanye’s wearing red
wherever he goes


 

Some people talk in flowers


a bouquet has its own language—you can convey
any love letter or declaration of divorce
with the proper arrangement of petals and bracts


arrangement and syntax 
are fast becoming lost arts 
among floral fanatics, while
just decades ago, any amateur florist
could convey a simple story through a vase of daisies
*
chameleons were once thought to subsist on air
and New Orleans was once thought
to exist above sea level but
we know better now


we know so much better now, but
tell me, when was the last time
you found a star or flower
and knew its name?
* 
when I’m in Kansas or Louisiana, I picture Truman Capote
at his typewriter, surrounded by vases and bouquets and porcelain cats,
imagining his marigolds coming alive
and devouring the world in a single bite— 
the man had a love for vicious flowers
and vicious cities 


 
10 pictures of Caligula


1
I once witnessed a young Caligula
dancing with maids in a hotel lobby and
admiring the mass-produced landscapes
hanging in the hallways


2
Caligula, when his face
still beamed from the front
of the $1 bill, found time
to shake hands with the pyramid
and eagle on the back


3
you can’t mention Caligula
without mentioning his horde of wild horses


4
Caligula in the mafia,
the stock market, the senate,
his yellow fingernails
breaking the surface
of every stew in the world


5
Caligula in childhood—
the terror of his neighborhood,
Tom Sawyer with porno mags,
switchblades, too much pomade
and lead-sweetened wine


6
Caligula with his ermine handtowels,
his bathtub and sink
bearing his name in gold lettering


7
each night, before bed, he meditates
on the weight of empire—his empire, he hopes


8
Caligula eating his breakfast off a sentry’s shield
while the lesser sentries, no bigger
than garden gnomes, stand guard
before the emperor’s wine cellar


9
Caligula stroking the hide 
of his beloved white horse, 
twirling the crown
he once shared with his sister


10 
Caligula drinks like a bear sleeps,
breaks knees like the world turns,
knows love and history when he sees them

~

Find Chasek’s book on HUGO BALL & Sound Poetry here.

Read the CACTI FUR review of Chasek’s book here.

Find Lane Chasek on Twitter: @LChasek

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