The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

All Issues
JUNE 2022 Issue



Like giving a cop a donut,
or a teething baby applause,
which of course startles,
and so induces more wailing,
or a whale an ocean, or teenage lovers
a place to run away to. To surrender –
not to the winning side, the dream
of partiality, of what secures identity
by emphasizing everything it’s
both not and surrounded by, by
this sugared me stuck on the periphery
of the hole – but to the whole,
the impartiality, the already won,
or rather the not me that neither wins
nor loses.

Like removing a toddler from a candy store,
or Wonder Bread from its nutrients,
or fossil fuel from its home
and ancient burial ground,
or pouring a drunk out of a bottle,
perfectly pickled, ready to serve.
Service is the only way out,
but not because or to prove I’m nice.
I’m not nice. I’m an asshole.
The honeyed and redolent
self I shit sticks to my self.
Don’t use your fingers.
Use some paper
and pen to open you up.

Glad to the Brink of Fear

I was irritated that I had to get up
and move the car before 6:00
so the city road crew could repave our block
that didn’t particularly need repaving.
The fear of the parking ticket and tow truck
had sprung me out of bed with a pang
of panic, and as I walked out the door
I was replaying that awful feeling of
powerlessness one gets before the infinite
indifference of the city, the ugly
and hastily posted notices,
the truckloads of gravel and steaming tar,
the barricades and rerouted traffic,
the flashing light and helicopter overhead,
the guy in a high visibility vest,
a SLOW sign in one gloved hand,
a cup of deli coffee in the other.

But I was not expecting to feel
halfway down the block so powerless
before the pale early morning quiet
that must’ve stolen over the neighborhood
when I wasn’t looking, not a soul
on the streets, every car parked and still,
every sparrow and pigeon still sleeping
in their trees and eaves, that I entirely
forgot my irritation. When the universe
comes to visit, when it is moving
so much in your favor, when its empty
enormity is palpable and near,
when it’s looking over your shoulder
just to see what you’re seeing, if only
you will turn off the engine
and get out and close the door
and quietly walk alongside,
making sure to keep to its pace
back to your house, which no longer
seems to belong to you in the same way,
or in any way, there is nothing
that can irritate you.

The Reader

The first half of the loser’s life
can be pretty good. For a variety
of reasons, all of which act in
cunning concert, and none of which
is it ever okay to talk about,
let alone confront, get to the rock
bottom of, you never move out.
You live in the attic apartment,
which is really just a room
you stay up at night reading
novels in. Even when your parents
start pushing 80, and the house
starts falling apart, and the living room
rug’s worn spots are suddenly
wide holes over which runners,
sections carefully cut from other
previously worn rugs are thrown,
you’re okay. You’ve learned
to live on nothing. Read. Walk. Lunch.
Polish the silver that’s hardly used.
Nap. Run an errand. Help out
with dinner. Dishes. A little TV.
Back to the attic. Read. But

the last half, when you find yourself
moved, with all your boxes of
historical romances and carefully
numbered back issues of Opera
Digest, with all the knick knacks
and decorative lamps and period
props and backdrops and scenic
accoutrements of this long-running
vehicle that’s been inevitably
all of a sudden and at last pulled
from the repertory and stored
in some obliging subscriber’s
third home’s barn in the Berkshires
for the nonce, to an efficiency
apartment in Schenectady, is, for
a variety of reasons, all of which act
in cunning concert, and none of which
is it ever okay to talk about,
let alone confront, get to the rock
bottom of, always shortened
in direct proportion to that weird
way time can be both stretched
out and blurred, from 30 to 25 or 15
or 8 or, in your case, 2 years.

From the point of view

of the water cycle
all water is one.

A snow flake is a drop of dew
waiting to happen.

The rivulet running along the Brooklyn curb
started in the Antarctic.

The steam gushing from my kettle
might as well be a cloud

drifting over Harlem and the northern half
of Jersey and the lower Catskills.

The steaming stream of piss
hitting the base of the tree

behind the bole of which the wanderer
has taken refuge from the eyes

of everyone is the bottle of Perrier
on the table at the café

overlooking Broadway. Niagara Falls
with all its thunder

is nothing more than the bead of perspiration
on the under lip of your lover.

Yet I want to think that I am me
and my mind is mine

and my thoughts and feelings
are unitary and unique

and that my life, thus separate,
might matter.

The Zone

When you read a novel,
just to get into that zone
where you’re no longer aware
that you’re lying in bed
reading a novel, you necessarily
have to play that game of
identifying with characters,
with their feelings and thoughts,
their desires and motivations,
regrets and resentments and fears, and so
for a few minutes you take off
your mask, just as you took off
your shoes and shirt and pants,
and put on the character’s mask,
just as you put on your pajamas,
and climbed into bed,
and become that character. Thank God,

when the chapter is over
and it’s time to put the book down
and turn out the lights
and roll over to the middle
and hug, you’re not that weak,
self-centered prick who craves
attention and cheats on his wife;
you’re not that pusillanimous,
self-involved prince who
should be happy with his lot,
but, out of his total inability to be
here, drives his girlfriend to suicide,
which he hardly notices, and stabs
an old man who makes the mistake
of trying to give him a little advice,
which he obviously needs;
you’re not that ambivalent, self-possessed
asshole who just likes to swim
at the beach and be alone, whose
supposedly philosophical attitude
seems to be: “Life, I can take it
or leave it, mine or anyone else’s,
it doesn’t matter.” No, you drop
all these characters, all your selves
(is it possible?), put your arms
around your wife and say, “Ahhhh,
“this feels good, honey!”


Joe Elliot

Joe Elliot helped run a weekly reading series at Biblios Bookstore and then at the Zinc Bar in New York City for many years. He co-edited two chapbook series: A Musty Bone and Situations, and is the author of numerous chapbooks of his own, including: You Gotta Go In It's the Big Game, Poems to be Centered on Much Much Larger Pieces of Paper, 15 Clanking Radiators, 14 Knots, Reduced, Half Gross (a collaboration with artist John Koos), and Object Lesson (a collaboration with artist Rich O'Russa). Granary Books published If It Rained Here (a collaboration with artist Julie Harrison). His long poem, 101 Designs for the World Trade Center, was published by Faux Press as an e-book in 2003. Collections of his work include Opposable Thumb (subpress, 2006), Homework (Lunar Chandelier, 2010), and Idea for a B Movie (Free Scholars Press, 2016). For many years, Joe made a living as a letterpress printer. He now teaches English at Edward R. Murrow High School, and lives in Brooklyn.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

All Issues