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Poetry Foundation Michael Gessner

Works featured at the Poetry Foundation include Fiddlers at the Desert Valley County Care Center, The Poem of Death, Innocents at Sandy Hook, and Wilde's Tomb.

I cannot find the voice for you, 
Something left unsaid, impossible
In your presence, culture-bound to vogue, 
The central attraction of runway values, 
The tights and blouse that cling
To contours of bone, sharp ridges
Of hips, the pubic mound, are Christian Dior.
The mouth dry from crystal-meth, 
What you take in your defense, 
A charmed life of sea-kelp and spritzers
Through palpy lips, vulnerable
Vortex of sex, beauty, and early death.

You bring your papers to my desk
With eyes moody, promiscuous
And leave with an endless line of boys
To be controlled, spent, then sent away
In your search for the perfect cure
Which somehow always returns to pain.
The golden image of the golden girl
With skin cool, marmoreal, you turn
To say, 'I'm sorry, ' once again.

The black hollow eyes of marble Greeks
Through which the world is said to stare
Are yours, product of a consumer culture, 
First to be consumed, 
Your eyes grow dark, you descend
Past anything that would have led
To self-discovery, flesh following flesh.

I cannot speak for you.
You will remain your wish, 
Something left unsaid, 
Obsessive image, in five years
At the outside by physicians' count
Those studio teeth will calcify
Hard as stone-the heart gone-
And I will insist I have some voice
In the matter, asking
For what you would only scorn, 
Some small honor grieving still. 
An Anorexic Student, Michael Gessner



My father stands in boxers,
back to the sea.  He holds
my hand.  I am five.  We are a pair
on this Florida beach.  We’ve remained
for years this way in black and white.

At forty-seven he looks ‘washed out,’
a phrase I learned from him, 
used by a generation without pigment
spray, or tanning booths, to explain
the pallor of the face in age,
its waxiness from lack of circulation,
its corollaries in cotton fabrics hung
too long in the sun, 
or what hurricanes do to ports,
and the conch on the beach
bleached of color.

He was no longer ‘in the pink,’
as his childhood chums would say
of each other when flushed 
with health and expectation, 
but not washed up, either,
not like the bloated things
that bellied-up and were pushed
away by tides, the undesirable
forms on the sand we stepped around.

Still we are here,
squinting against the sun,
still casting shadows.  
In a few years I learned another phrase,
‘Life is cheap,’ he’d say,
Odd, for one who held it so near.   

Yale Poetry, Michael Gessner


At 2 a.m. Irish paces the hall.
I hear her collar tags when she shakes
and she shakes every few minutes
due to the fullness of the moon
my wife claims, and there is no place
where the dog is at rest,
not in her bed at the foot of our bed,
not on the couch downstairs
or in my son's abandoned room.

Maybe it is the moon pulling us
away from ourselves, an agitation
of the central nervous system.  We too
are awake tonight and though we do not
pace the hall, we are restless
like the dog who cannot sleep,
and imagine a state of consolation,
a return to dreams: the silhouette
of Irish against a gray dawn dancing releve.

Ann Arbor Review, Michael Gessner


The poet in a lawn chair by the side of the sea
had been reading another poet, perhaps Neruda,
and since it was summer and languid, and he had been
reading a long time, he fell to sleep.

When he woke, he called out to his wife, to tell her
his dream, and when she did not answer, and no
one was about, and the house was empty and there was
only the sea, he took his pen and wrote:

The poem is always its own.  It is true and it cannot die.
At our own death, from the chest, the treasury
of the poem, a baby white dove, invisible,
flies out to find its flock in eternity.   



The lovers write their names on locks

then fasten them to the black chain-link fence

on both sides of the Pont des Arts,

that wooden footbridge over the Seine.


There are rows & rows of lovers’ locks,

the chromium latches glint in the sun,

& the lovers, in a grand gesture of fidelity,

toss their keys into the river, & depart.


The keys lay on the bottom, sometimes turning

in the wreathes of the current, or they may remain

still for years, or they may roll,

crossing over one another.

Cavalier Literary Coulture, Michael Gessner



Occurred tonight for an hour only, 
An hour spent around the back porch
Where I was sent from the family, exiled
From myself. It was a world of order, 
Order and presence, the final meaning
Of forms conversing through the night
As large as all thought must be
This house a ragged piece of locale
Torn and adrift in the space of a dark mind.

Every variety of matter floats by, 
The blue-silver dust motes of the moon, 
Distant lights of unidentifiable aircraft, 
Colored, small as fireflies
In the tilted sheet of my cigar smoke, 
Vegetable flakes, dried insects' wings, 
Luminous bits of debris, fanciful nuclei
Circling themselves like smiling opinions
Without destinations, souls that surround

And surround their forgotten voyages, 
Sparks from a funeral fire sucked whirling
In a draft, a cigar coal added
To this effluvium of references
Describing presence by glimmering
Forms only, no destiny other than a world
Without desire, a world without end, 
A description I could take inside
Long after the family retired.


The Wallace Stevens Journal, Michael Gessner



The planter above Stein’s headstone holds small stones.

We looked about until we found two smooth agates on the

ground, one black, the other amber, and set them in place 

with our left hand like ancient Jews, to mark the place, 

to say someone came here and  someone thought of those below, 

for Gertrude at her best, for Alice tucked in back without a view 

like misplaced punctuation, and we prayed our prayers for what

lives souls take, for bad winters, dusty apartments, war, shabby dress.



Transversales, Michael Gessner



From his pose in the garden

just as his voice became

my own Froebel stepped into the evening


of my dream for his uncommon love

of the young and with his notes

at the close of another century

collected from an elemental source

of children, my children of the forest

and the perpetual lily pond mad for the end,

playing and sometimes translucent

against the sun endowed with beauty

which has become commonplace

and for beauty’s tension they never cease

from the pursuit of themselves

as though they inhabit this place

only to breed themselves to death by error.


As forests were once ferns

and ferns infant in the dumb morning

existing of notions

which were also geometries

copious among us


as they were always among us

even in the dreams of twelfth-century girls

dreaming at the edge of the forest

in anticipation of the unimagined season,


the caress and the still 

of ferns

on seacoasts and on the white porches

of summer homes 

or hung from the platforms of wooden depots,

how they bowed along the boulevards

welcoming victors to the city,

and atop cool Corinthian planters

in the lobbies of grand hotels

there were ferns


in the background of photographs,

pharmacies and funeral parlors,

and in the corridors of museums

positioned carefully below milky skylights

that are sealed and permit no entry,                                                                                                                   

but most in a memory of children

there were ferns

copious, still and sometimes swaying

in the settings of their stories,

in the stories of their sleep.

Pacific Review, Michael Gessner



Wallace said, 'What the eye beholds may be
The text of life, ' and in this case it is
The Springer, Cynthia, whose eyes
Are the brown corridors of vacuity, 
Moral deserts where the absolute Nothing
Is, or nothing but her repetitions, 
The fenceline patrol, the daily quarrels
With the cat, begging always for scraps
And a nap to sleep it off, then waiting
Alert for something to be known.

Agent of operation, living primordium, 
Memoir of Something clearly in her stare
Which would say only, 'I have known this
For a very long time, ' retriever
Of the stick locked in crocodile teeth, 
Living the life of the fanciful
Scenario, chasing doves, the evening
Meal, her wrinkles busily playing
Out a program, a contemporary opinion, 
The repetitions that govern her earth, and mine.

Dog Poetry, Michael Gessner



All performances today have been cancelled.

Make no mistake. There must be nothing
out of the ordinary, it’s been posted,
no marching, we must stand fast.
The myth of the exploding star
and the next extinction have been
put on hold wherever you are
it too has been, innocence and the isolation
of the justice gene, the paper cut-out
on Valentine’s Day underscoring
the shadowy lattice and blue thatch
that came with the biothermal work,
day labor grinding away again
without the special knowledge of anyone
not even the curators of armies
like the pencil sketches they made
of dark figures hiding in cellars,
no one in particular, going where they are 
going, and the part-time return, agitated
about the revisions, the supreme biological
auction and the disagreeing classes of thought,
the grumbling forces, but they’ve been
shut down, as we speak, even the factories
across the street have closed for the day
until we get it straight, which cannot occur
because of all the new business coming to the valley
and all the others who remain uninformed.


Del Sol Review, Michael Gessner

Del Sol Review 

WILDE’S TOMB                      

But these, thy lovers, are not dead,

 . . .  they will rise up & hear your voice,

and run to kiss your mouth.

—“The Sphinx”                     


 In the garden of Père Lachaise,

 city of the dead, we passed angels

 covering their faces in shame,

 & nineteenth-century trees, with tops bowed

 as if their only purpose was to grieve,

 & crossed the Transversales to Wilde’s grave.


When lovers leave, they leave their kisses

 glistening on the slab, 

on impressions of lips themselves,

a tissue of strangers’ cells

the conservators cannot leave alone,

& scrub the graffiti, as the plaque decrees 

by law, no one can deface this tomb,

& still the images of lips remain, 

dark gray stains of animal fat

imprisoned in limestone.


Lips are pressed as high as lovers

climb, against the Sphinx’s ridiculous 

headdress, on the carved trumpet

of fame, & on the cheeks of its voracious face

of mindless passion flying with eyes pinched tight,

that some farsighted lover tried to open 

with lines from a red pen, like a blepharoplasty,

while others kissed its sybaritic mouth

to make a poem a prophecy.


So here is love alive

surviving the wreckage it survives,

a lipstick envelope of hearts on their flight

to some other place, less aware,

more receiving, a final Champ de Grâce. 

Rue De Beaux-Arts, Michael Gessner




Some things are best left unsaid, 

the long-term promises of lovers, 

the life one wished one would have led,


Other things are best left unread, 

tomorrow's obituary, the bad review, 

the things about us others said, 


Some things are best left undone, 

the great project that could never be,

misunderstood by nearly everyone. 


Some things are better left with the dead, 

so much of what is best said, 

dies with its owners, unloved, unread. 



Best Said, Michael Gessner


The greatest statement ever made,
the magnum opus of all things,
is the manifest of desire.


Desire the perpetual, desire
the profound, the everywhere,
texts whistling
in the trees of Ceylon,
blowing up gulf coasts,


desire in the heart that ceases,
still as red coral, made so by it,
and in the heart that remains,
and in the dissolving pool
after the rain and in the rain.


It is the dumb giant gone
to the children's tea party,
the return of the lava avalanche
and the rarest mountain flowers,
the tsunami that washes out
generations, whole islands.


It is the earthly organism
cooperating with systems
here and beyond the moon,


while we stand, desire itself,
forever awash in bright danger.


Verse Daily



Nothing collapses so easily

in the fist than this,

the onion skin that crinkles

like the sound of the word, creation.


It is the twig that bows

in the wind & sweeps over the forearm,

or the peach that brushes

against the peach,


& these are found in pages

as if among a feathery crowd

of angels jostling in awe

toward the next wonder just ahead.


It is all the round syllables

of nature’s decorations,

the talk of the world

trying to fill us with sense, again.


10x3 Plus, A Poetry Journal

Additional Publication: POETS & WRITERS

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