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The Elephants

A Poem is not a Tree / Poetry is not a Forest

Matt Nelson

A poem is like walking through a tree
predestined fire//descendant’s ash

A tree is not a forest
ground air//only science grades below holy
A poem is like a tree
in that a tree
cannot protect you—
Its fall through color undoescolor
what an amazing lack of logic
Forget the encounter’s shadow (chorus) because
a path above is now below

A poem is like walking in//away//
meant to trap yourself in//escape
A direction to address but not inhabit
Lonely one by one the archive is built

A poem is not a forest
for one to denude—
I last in a firm voice now
Will you still book
my worry ants?
We were exactly the samenumber then
and slept in a bath of wool carpentry
Every wink met
an elevator’s tidal smile
//It is easy to forget
doors don’t need to go anywhere//
//or stay on one floor//
Our drawers sat richin wet rot
brought in with life
to live
then painted shut//for legal reasons
My name is easily changed
//a privacy setting//
switched to I don’t know you//anymore//
Like planting a seed then forgetting
the smell from a low moment
Chain link fencelet in the lightlike want

Did you know I might live by the lake?
The one PETER climbed over night to touch
The one NICK taught me how to turn my back forward
The one where RYAN gently played tennis with a child
before he took me home to yell and cry
and cancel//inside privacy
A tree is not a forest
because a forest cannot fit in a car
A car could fit five maybe six trees at most
and only if some were shared across lapse

this is the moment the poem changes planes
and all above-head is forever lost

An occasion for sadness:
upended orange traffic cone used as
a hat on Halloween
three days after Halloween

this new poem/branch is called Things I See On The Walk Up the Hill

Predictions of youth
traced through dimensions and a skeleton
suit powered-slammed onto nostalgia
I miss you MARK
Idaho lake house
Washington beach house
The cabin above the Columbia

Go ahead, step on the lava
everything is a lie
and if not a liethen bruised
and for sale
Jesus has as much potential to burn you as a carpet
sudden with pillows
I’m jealous of people who are funny
I’m not jealous of funny people

A poem is a tree
A tree is not a forest
I walk past women with Abortion = Death in their arms
They are white and scary
I am white and probably scary plus a man
These signs of script and shame
paid for by men who punch from behind//abomination
These women share hand warmers
and smile at me as I walk by
not afraid
like I’m just another creature with hair on my skin
and blood in my gut
and heaven’s redemption stitched into my northern face
I look up at Planned Parenthood
and am revisited by their kindness untethered
their scale for love
which does not slide
I’m a terrible chaperone//I can’t spell
and the whole flock is touching
What can I say?
Please don’t. Justdon’t?
You’re scaring the apples
You’re acting on feigned knowledge
I believe that you believe
that you are saviors
you’ve mistrusted your fear
and Google translated it into hatred
What’s real is this bus stop
and your face in the window
your rain on his ear
Smoke fills
the empty trees again
no longer empty
Wait, no
Everything’s leaves

Empty as a verb
Empty as endurance
Love as a verb
Love as something we endure
I walk past men with oversized yellow helments
shielding their heads from gravity’s load
and courtesy’s instincts
Of course not all
but the most male eye is protracted
and hung below a belt
on a coat rack poorly secured
to new vet drywall
See the man without a shirt mid-October
studying health’s holding dance
See him
catch surprise under safety brims
overtaking the edgewise form of aggression
known otherwise as isolation
How fast can a hook dislodge a cornea?
You would think a firebomb had vomited
inside their starry hearts
they react so hotly
It makes sense to open a window
to laugh through
but for some reason that’s socially illegal

It makes sense since each mode
of transportation takes a unique time
each mode of transportation offers
a different space
Nothing sacred is safe
or free from scars cars or seers
When what you use to envelop and express emotion
in combination
is a weapon
the taste of danger extends long past the mouth
These men
of which I am counted
these men are anything//
leaning without offering support
Discarded background
Two of them drunk before seven
tossing pyramids in a bush
I’m drunk by eight
although the sun bends the other pole
This wine is free welcome
Exploitation encourages an emergency exit for justice
with the alarm cut off
The fading paint shocks those who do not know
Sound carries furry
The sound of someone eating
while you talk

The sound of walking through a poem

Mary’s Place is one point six miles from school
where I talk to a woman cleaning
up what her friends left behind
A few sharps one open to the fall colorless
She puts them in a plastic water bottle
says she’s been trained
and knows how to handle and contain
the source
I don’t know what I’m doing
but I pick up an orange cap
and hand it to her
and think about walking in the rain
reading this to fog lights and grapefruit skin
trying like a forest to refill a tree

I am afraid my walk
has too much arm in it

Do you see what I’m saying?
My gut is to reach
focus too far forward
on undue stress on future
shame the square not visible
I’m not trying to look
like I’m constantly about to wave

My eye in the viewfind
but I’m crying here
so everything is water colored fuck all cup
Have you ever been sublime?
Can you picture me crying?
Does the word crying feel
for your hand?
I’m not talking about you
on purpose

But back to love
Can you prepare for it?
Security filling doorways
containing its growth
My love cranks at me
Throws sand underfoot
then asks for clearance
What’s out of season?

It’s funny how a break
births company
What kind of earthquake
goes best with these socks?
Slide back into smoke
Gin flood and blood swarm
It’s like I left me
and my love indifferent
to time

Is it morning yet where you are?
Are the birds broken there too?
No no I’ve been awake for a while
But just because you’re right
doesn’t mean I can’t hurt
I’m in an old shape
bent underground
for too long
If you don’t drive for a year
and then say you’ll pick them up at LAX
be prepared for prayer

I am not 18
I am not 25
I am not dead anymore
I do not know how to pull away
the plastic anger knife from grief
sadness pinned beneath it all
inseparable as ink
beyond numbered dust
The kind of ink
that spoils skin

When you balance your love
on a chest not your own
remember what you cannot see

North on I-5

and not driving but dreaming of 90 East with an arm in the sun, hidden music ditch scratched but spinning. I’m no good driving while dreaming. Dangerous. Reckless. A delicate fold inside of sure. A broken leg, too, is just as bad. Mary Ruefle’s hot flashes. The cloud cover up. A crisp wanting to make capable a mother’s head again. At least it hasn’t been. The leaves seen three hours ago rejoin thirteen to a rush hour rest stop just past the rain shadow backdrop. Damn it. Speed as a function of resolution. Like hair brushed over the fear (THE FEAR) of tomorrow’s shame, I fall asleep. An apple in trouble. Tomorrow’s fever sick branches, is never not yet connected. I feel like I’m playing a game of cup-and-ball where the ball is something seen in script in loop, say eternal happiness or love, and the cup is always my throat.

The second lake leans into the road to kiss my window. My brother’s car is worn, an old hat left to sun, soft in its fellow. The leaves were swollen with lost sex, green yet untapped and dreaming electric. I feel free like I can’t remember feeling. But that feeling is a tongue at my chest alone and hidden among the ferns, meaning: Where’d you go? Old man dreams. The leaves were always the first to call, collect the best local high school fight songs for a chance to win more shit for the wall already adorned with pissed-on street signs. Leaves, though, age. Unlike words. You have many sets of eyes.

They sang of a week at least in change. A coda t-shirt tan put on like a new syllable. I listened to a lot of fools back then, in the rain. Back when I went on road trips, you’d let your hair grow. I’d steal security footage of our favorite Target. Shortened season. The same shift (sigh) (sigh) (sigh) going to dusky volunteer, discovery at twilight from the lower lot’s darkening swollen belly. Walking from car door to make-shift dunes and then a pillow on a couch. I can never hold my self close enough to make an impression.

How many times have I felt this? This pin from the pit of love’s paw pushed into the pulp of my thumb. Free of body. A mountain left back like a hotel left open in the morning. Halleluiah. I went to church, once. We’ve got four kinds of free cereal. Are you available to collect palms? I am a temporary pew warmer. Pencil stealer. Lifetime affiliate of the awkward. The beat of a half-empty paint can stopping when you stop walking away. I am a debate against the well—all the way around. I don’t know what it is about bolts at night, but shit do they make me bite my lip.

The word finder is down because of course. I played when I smoked the cigarettes I started smoking again. My crisis of faith, not yours nor your fault. Someone outside a wedding once told me, bad shit is always going to happen. The air is tender. This much is true. I bail and I swipe to find words out of contained and manipulated confusion. It only matters what you do.

No Retreat

There is romance in spit
and allergies known.
Circumstances the sizeof the sky,
the shape of wisdomretreated.
I am held like a courtesy
basketball foulin the rain.
Haystack line divider
and the coast is careful
not to apologize.
The dog is thoughtless.
Her tail retreated in
like every other bid for the past
trying to remember that onenight.
We can never kiss ourselves correctly.
The actress reminds my mom
of her daughter-in-law.
Maybe it’s her name:
Maybe’s it’s because
they’re both small tongued,
both reclaimed.
Can you be too alive?
How many times have we been
married throughout,
rooted the set to contain more rings?
I believe all breezes are good,
especially ones that don’t pay.
I was an autoworker.
I bought books without rubber
while I sold totes to tourists;
incongruity in life is like
eating all the display food
in your local furniture megastore.
Our union throws away the siding
so we never have to retreat.
The actress is now asking the former mayor
for love advice. Retreat, he says. Fast. Go
make your house a hotel.
Supply towels that feel like songs.
The dog runs in circles. Retreating from time.
I am scared of my contribution to our home
because I am scared of myself
and what exactly I might owe.
Because what I owe is exactly what I lack.
A hole inside of growth,
a gap made into something whole.
I want to give you
even my need,
which is my lack.
You are the staple in my dreams, as in,
you bind by a corner
my consciousness
to the residence of my eyes
when the residents of my eyes
are infinitely you.
You the dominate-defeater of my children
owned by no one and all
powerful in my dream garden
as the border between groceries
and cake further dissolves.
I guess I could of said flowers and sea, or.
Your staple holds through, though,
my future. One arm here, I hold you,
accounted for like the kids before us,
those names enjambed.
The other arm a hanging wonder.
Who is next,
who is us, and then, them, together.
When a retreat is a place for those who feel
none of love’s weight, I will know how to give
my dues.

Matt Nelson lives in Seattle. His work can be found at Gramma Poetry, Fog Machine, Susan / The Journal, The Brooklyn Rail, GlitterMob, Real Pants, and on Shabby Doll House (Please Don't Make Me A Character) and Big Lucks (An Apology for Apologies). He once interned at a library called Mellow Pages.

This originally appeared on December 10, 2017