we’re in a classroom, which is a store. the professor tells us the true
write must destroy his own ego. do not tell stories, he says, unless
they are someone else’s. do not say i. i look at the clock and the clock’s
the wind, it says one tongue per king, and that pulls on me like a sad
movie. i just watched five easy pieces, what a bummer. what a bummer
he left her and life up in the air like a dead piano. i’m sick of the road
as the end as if no gas station rots forever round the bend. one tongue
per king, the poem becomes its own thing. not america, not this professor
pulling maps down over the board, pretending to stand outside. he’s
the enemy, which is at least tens of thousands of people. i’m not looking
for the enemy. we look at each other and pass notes. call on me, call
on me. let’s see what happens.
* * *
we’re up 18-0, too bad it doesn’t count. i’m there in spirit,
someone says, clinging to his little piece of nothing. muted field
mown brown to the dead who swim underground. every passing
stranger hooks to every passing stranger—anger, the sea. history
of some “pure present” we can wave to in the window. both arms
are acceptable. the history of how to swim begins with drowning.
our mannequin comes up for breath, it’s monday. we chase
fragments. we will never kill all of these fascists. we are a
they, looted, so go ahead and cheers with your water. that’s
the heart holding out. that’s some pete rosey shit, you say.
you whisper, without a contract, i have no bosses in this room.
the room is hunger. we swallow.
* * *
we’re driving down washington ave, listening to “wonderful tonight.”
do i feel all right? i feel the dumpy heat, red light every fifty feet.
sad horns from the corners dismember the clapton, cluck-u-chicken.
cluck-u-seven eleven. cluck-u-a-plus mini mart. i remember, right
around here, losing my breath once from heartbreak, out of nowhere
just walking along here, at night. frozen music. architecture is frozen
music. people were drinking in the scoreboard, which is closed. we
closed it, remember, to drink inside and watch people kiss and turn
off the lights and be washington ave.
* * *
we’re doing unpaid work in the courtroom while temple university’s
lawyer attacks us for being poor. his tongue is a wet dollar. you
have no power, he says, it says so right here in this poem you
didn’t write. therefore, you should have no power—you can just
go home. but we just sit there and we can’t be fired for just
sitting there, for being a poet, for being a union. which is an army
of lovers. the lawyer’s tongue is then a wet piece of toilet paper.
part of it tears off and falls to the floor. pick it up, the judge
says. the lawyer picks up his tongue and hands it to the provost,
who puts it in his own mouth and begins to chew. wet shit runs
down his chin, dribbles onto his tie. the judge orders a five-minute
break. outside the provost tries to shake my hand, so i hand him a
fish, which he begins smacking on the pavement, smacking the fish
on the pavement over and over and he begins to choke, choking on
the poem we didn’t write. and we stand there and watch the provost
choke and choke and then, finally, die. then, on his forehead, we
write a big fucking F.
* * *
we’re playing chess on the unfinished concourse to nowhere. you
take off your gas mask and look at me. a train slides under us,
the heart flutters, the homeless who sleep in waves around us.
are we homeless, you say, the city unridden in your face, the
lines unbuilt. you want to organize the ocean. unwrap the fish,
i say. you unwrap the fish, and the fish squints. we begin where
we are. the king is dead, and the queen is dead, and the night
is fat with pawns.
* * *
what’s wiseblood? all the cleverness, all the being-outside-of. wawa
goose flies thru it and the vulture brains fall away. i am a person of
septa, laugh at me. everybody knows captain moneybags was hired
to dj the conversation, that’s fine: half-assed foreplay and the great
depression. knife on the roof, been there seven years. blood to rust.
so what should the maximum wage be? cockroach the size of an
alligator just slid under my radiator.
* * *
we’re in the steamfitters hall peeling walmart stickers off hundreds
of copies of the mark of athena. athena will be free, and kids will
love her, and kids will leave her for the sea of monsters, and the
sea of monsters 2. you can’t get away from blue, a little girl tells
me. then here we are—blue—blue rolls the street thru as each april
will. to mess you up a little. a little april pointed at the wrong
people. overproduction. over the rainbow, the luxury of committing
to nothing. blue peels off. liberty motel, liberty gas. liberty thru
* * *
we’re surviving, so there’s a show. some lines i grow jealous
of. bills flow thru my body, wet day dreams. you can have that
line. make it stroll out the mouth of a fish. see something, say
something. i wasn’t expecting to be moved by the zombies, but
i was. the vast pastures of irrelevance. the pervasive motorization
of petty individualisms. their detours of pleasure scribbled in
hurry–those streets await our faith. we can have them. like the
birds. birds are pervs. pervasive motorization, one tweets. one
squawks. one fucks.
* * *
we’re a hammer in the radiator, naming every instant of collective
joy—in person, in person, to make the platform each nothing and
pulsing, a sea of exes on a ship of toothpicks so the music’s a
question to match all the preaching. passenger pigeon to joe jerk-
off: can we just be people. then a quick row of faces—nope, nope,
nope, nope it’s just fall, a hole in the iris like a ten-cent cloud of
witness, and what evidence. transpass, leaf under shoe, wawa gift
card, a “moderate” who tells us to “keep working on that message.”
let’s dump out his coffee! dump that motherfucker already—yes
him to death, yes him to death!
* * *
we’re on record, skipping around in the washington post amazon
buys. the store greeter hawks a poetics: what is love? the answer:
heavy possibility, the sag of the feeling of a time you miss, the balls
full of cum—the the-the-the, that’s all. in other words, monopoly.
the year we did not see each other’s faces. in other words, wrong
question. that shit is adjunct, hole of the essential. like a septa we
sunk our life into. that tease of the page-to-page life. listen, where
we left off i was saying don’t play basketball when i’m talking
about heraclitus. but you play basketball. and i talk about heraclitus.
we dribble in the same river twice. the river is broke and the black-
bird is flying. the adjunct, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
* * *
we’re in jingo pipeline heaven, and you are a cloud, so get in
the car. there is no “becoming.” the poets, handcuffed, police
each other’s authenticity. their world shrinks to a nugget.
bukowski’s tombstone: don’t try. nickels and dimes, the wheels
on the bus, which is us. when you say “who you are” the sources
hurt, how the irony fails. if a word’s a flag just stick it in the ground,
walk out the cemetery. don’t stick it on your car. your car will
be towed. it will be towed by a christian single. what is a
* * *
we’re in toon town. gag orders pause a judge up the creek
like a FREE sign taped to garbage. your life is whose? the trees
sneeze and cough, we’re all dirty water, minor poets. it’s a
certain kind of person expects to be cleaned up after—every
body, anybody lurching for the jackpot. i hit it, jessica rabbits
hop all over me, make one great jessica rabbit. in her mouth
all weeks leak out thighs for sleep, no wait. rent paid then
monday heaves, shucks hi and this malaise you’ll forget—now,
which could be anything—amargi, sumerian word for freedom,
return to mother, literally. you die, love, whatever, still my
friends are buildings. they fight off despair all the time, all the
time. in their bricks heat of sadness of capitalism, god! fuck it—
to the beaches, the look of beaches in our faces, okay—zero
killed—oceans, oceans, oceans—down to earth, earth, earth—
* * *
we’re in mcglinchey’s, dancing to the juke box, iggy
pop. no dancing, says bartender, but we keep dancing,
the waitress comes over, for real stop dancing or you
gotta leave. it’s the law somehow, but we’re drunk
and we want you, come dance w/ us, please—please be
the girl we used to love way way back, she won’t crack
the slightest smile. i don’t know who i’m even talking to.
is this a poem? a poetry reading? she drags my dead horse
across the bar and says look, who wants this joke. you
think it’s my job to listen to you, it’s not—it’s to serve
you hot dogs while you drink yourself back to the womb—
which is what—you don’t know, and that’s your job—to
find out. i’m not the passenger. i do not ride and ride
* * *
we’re sitting in sallie mae’s driveway in delaware, arms locked
singing songs to cops in stupid hats. they won’t let us in the
shareholders’ meeting because we’re not rich and we don’t
believe in fucking people over. our heads get burned up in
the sun but we keep singing to the cops and to ourselves.
then all at once the hundred of us blow our little red whistles
that say SLAP, deafening everything—excruciating, it’s excruci-
ating, the cops are cursing at us, oh shit! i would give you a
trillion dollars to make it stop. i would give you five million
lamborghinis, i would give you 15,000 private jets, i would give
you 140 private islands and every team in baseball one trillion
times. i would give you one trillion decades of war in a country
you’ll never have to see. sallie mae, i would feed you the corpse
of your mother, inch by fucking inch.
* * *
why does your milkman whistle in the morning? because church
is a puddle we piss in together—no debts. no drinkus interruptus.
LA’s gone under, thank god, before new orleans. a toast to the ice
on our tail—chase it til hard work melts the carousel of progress
and we’ll swap spits like grandparents atop new year, stop being
the thing we were thought into. 11:59 pops into 12:00, looks fake
but isn’t. as if you were ever a citizen of anything. be proud of
your friends and the luck between you—call it a country, even, til
you gag on it—because you are a fool, and fools go on.
* * *
we’re in chik-fil-a spiking the sweet tea w/ birth control.
the deep state of coming hard spreads an all caps hush of
southern hospitality. finally i get it. we can barely contain
ourselves. hell dies, who wants coffee? all day the drip in
my step elects the ground i walk on—a joke you can bite
like a peach. see the coins we trust in—those are gods
passed out on the bathroom floor.
* * *
we’re in a greyhound station in baltimore w/ an hour to kill, staring
at the tv. cnn’s in love w/ the bombing of the boston marathon, and
cnn’s in love w/ 165,000 new jobs created, 165,000 new jobs, yes.
they can’t stop asking what it means. they zoom into their analyst
who’s been staring at the mayor’s face. i can see the mayor’s tears,
he says, the mayor means it. he’ll make a wonderful ronald reagan
some day, just as the last four presidents, just as the president
today who picks up your phone—anybody there? anybody says “my
dumb life” but in the station and on the bus nothing rings and
nobody means a thing, so we’re a tribe. it’s communism, calm as a
yawn til the next city, where we’ll be sucked out and dispersed
by vacuums of identity. finally we board. the man next to me asks
if i can watch his bag. sure i can.
* * *
what is marriage, and why do people want it. i mean, i’m open to role-playing.
if you want me to be a girl scout, for example, i’ll work for my ambassador
good credit financial literacy badge. i’ll close my eyes and open my mouth
and you can tell me what’s in it for you. the prophet says, “let there be spaces
in our togetherness.” the prophet sleeps around, and keeps it together, while
my job chews thru my life and the population explodes.
* * *
we’re in applebee’s, and you have a gun. okay. high art lives, the stomach
is greased. am i talking too matter-of-factly about suicide? there’s a reason
wal-marts and pet-smarts keep popping up all over: it’s hero time, still. your
daughter’s getting sleepy, the bus boy wants to take her home. watch out—
he doesn’t pay taxes, never will. look at him, shredding our right to work.
man this chase scene’s getting elitist fast. let’s slow it down, all right? sure
i’ll read your broke-ass poem for the fourth time. let’s let this place be
paradise before the next round of fires. take off all your clothes, and put
your hands on my head.
* * *
i don’t know anything about horses. pet the bus w / your breath.
window, go, it’s me. runs like new. what does love want from me.
before standard time a horse beat a train called tom thumb in
a race, 1830. train broke down under moon, horse had no name—
that’s time. old pain, moon, round and round. the horse’s eyes
roll back, run away. my mother’s last name is west, it’s empty.
she escaped it, laboring for everyone after her father lost his job
at quaker rubber, drank himself to nothing. we could reinvent the
whole disaster. my car is parked outside. i was born on february
42nd. i sat way in the back of the horse’s mouth for twelve years
w / my heart on fire. the future means no. the rest is history i will
rip apart w / you.
from Old News (free poetry) &
Ryan Eckes | General Motors © 2018
Published by Split Press
TtD supplement # 110 : seven questions for Ryan Eckes
Ryan Eckes is a poet from Philadelphia. His latest book, General Motors (Split Lip Press, 2018), is about labor and the influence of public and private transportation on city life. Other books include Valu-Plus and Old News (Furniture Press 2014, 2011). His poetry can be found in Tripwire, Slow Poetry in America Newsletter, Entropy and elsewhere. He has worked as an adjunct professor at numerous colleges and in recent years as a labor organizer in education. He won a Pew Fellowship in 2016.
His poems “injury music,” “injury music,” “horses” and “for what we will” appear in the eighteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.
Q: Tell me about the poems “injury music,” “injury music,” “horses” and “for what we will.”
A: “horses” is from my latest book, General Motors, and is part of a series of prose poems called ‘chase scenes’ that deal with desires for speed and escape from labor and how the history of transit shapes personal or family history. I was writing poems that blur easy distinctions between “public” and “private” realms and trying to undermine the U.S. myth of rugged individualism. After finishing General Motors, I started writing poems called “injury music” and “for what we will,” not entirely sure where I’m going. I’m thinking about pain, trauma and more questions around work. “For what we will” comes from the old labor union slogan, “8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for what we will.” It’s sad that 8 hours of work/40 hours a week is still considered normal, considered actually natural by many people, a century after it was established as a protection. Why aren’t we at 4 hours by now? Why is the minimum wage still so low? Why do Americans worship the rich? I could go on. But these are the kinds of questions that I let propel my writing at the same time that I am trying to understand myself as a living thing made of relations.
Q: How does this work relate to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?
A: I’ve also been experimenting with essays that address similar concerns, to dig deeper into history. I try to use the paragraph the same way I use a line in a poem, letting associational thinking lead to unexpected connections, new ideas. There are some essays called “spurs” in the new book.
Q: What do you feel you are able to explore through the blend of poetry and essay that you might not have been able to accomplish otherwise?
A: It’s easier to convey information in prose. Because I’ve gotten more interested in writing about history that’s been erased, I accumulate factual material that I want to share, and so the essay has become the vehicle. I think of the essay as a poetic form, keeping in mind the meaning of the verb to essay, to attempt. The exploratory nature of the essay is what makes it still feel like poetry. I’m just putting pressure on language in a different way. But to answer your question in one word: history.
Q: With three full-length collections over the past near-decade, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?
A: The writing has become more overtly political over time as my sense of urgency has grown. By sense of urgency I mean an awareness of time fleeting—mortality and consequent desire. Desire for justice, desire for pleasure, desire for human connection. Poetry is about living, and as we live under capitalism, which is about killing everything, writing feels like cutting through the wind, and that feels right. It’s harder to answer your second question, about the future, because I’ve never had too much of a plan and have moved through life largely intuitively. Sometimes I feel that poetry is not enough, that I should do something else entirely. Then I think nothing else makes sense to do, and I keep going.
Q: Have you had any models for this kind of writing? What other poets have influenced the ways in which you approach your material?
A: So many. In terms of mixing prose and poetry, William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All and Jack Spicer’s After Lorca were early influences. I’ve always liked the idea of a book as a book—as all one piece—rather than a “collection” of standalone poems. I think of poems in relation to other poems, and in relation to non-poetic material. This is because of Philly, too. Advanced Elvis Course by CAConrad, for example, will change how you think. And becoming a poet in Philly in the 2000s, in the post-9/11 era, changed how I think. It radicalized me for sure. I learned far more about history and politics from hanging out with poets in bars than I ever did in school. That is not an exaggeration. And I think it’s because of knowing poets like CAConrad and Frank Sherlock that I so often go back to influences from the 60s-70s-80s—Amiri Baraka, Diane di Prima, Allen Ginsberg, Audre Lorde, Ammiel Alcalay, and so on.
Q: How does one “become” a poet, as opposed to, say, simply starting to write? What does it mean, in your definition, to be a poet?
A: I think a poet is a person who writes poetry. But people quit all the time, and I know would’ve quit a long time ago if I hadn’t gotten to know other poets. Poetry, any art, for the most part, can only exist in a community, but people suffer from this dominant conception of the artist as an isolated genius—that’s what museums usually present to the public, this idea that an artwork sprung up out of nowhere in the middle of a field, when in reality it came from a complex social dynamic. Influence is played down and originality is played up. Any time I teach an intro creative writing class, I have to explain this to my students. When I was 20, I fell in love with poetry because of a class I took, and it happened that two of my classmates also fell in love with poetry, we were very serious, and somehow we figured this out about each other and we started hanging out outside of class, having intense conversations, trading books, etc, and among the three of us a whole other little world started to seem possible. It felt like magic. That is how I think I started to “become” a poet. At a certain point, in my late 20s, I realized I would never stop. I was too far in.
Q: Perhaps you’ve already answered much of this, but who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?
A: Well, over the last year, here are a few: Abdellatif Laâbi, Frank Lima, Anne Boyer, Marion Bell, Diane di Prima, Alice Notley, Amiri Baraka, Raúl Zurita, Lewis Warsh, Maged Zaher.