Saturday, March 1, 2014

Steven Heighton Three Addresses


Bad luck, it's said, to enter your own name
and numbers in the new address book.
All the same, as you slowly comb
through the old one for things to pick

out and transfer, you are tempted to coin
yourself a sparkling new address,
new name, befitting the freshness of this clean-
slating, this brisk kiss

so long to the heart-renders—every friend
you buried or let drift, those Home for the Aged
maiden relations, who never raged
against the dying of anything, and in the end

just died.  An end to the casualties pressed
randomly between pages—smudged, scribbled chits
with lost names, business cards with their faded
bold-fronts of confidence, solvency.  The palimpsest

time made of each page; the hypocrite it made
of you.  Annie, whom you tried two years to love
because she was straight-hearted, lively, and in love
with you (but no strong-arming your cells and blood);

Mad Carl, who typed poet-to-poet squibs in the pseudo-
hickish, hectoring style of Pound, all sermonfire
and block caps, as AINT FIBRE ENOUGH HERE, BOYO,
BACK TO THE OLE FLAX FIELD . . . this re a score

of your nature poems.  When he finally vanished
into the far east, you didn't mind the silence.
Still, this guilt, as if it weighs in the balance,
every choice—as if each time your pen banished

a name it must be sensed somewhere, a ballpoint stab, hex-
needle to the heart, the treacherous
innocent no of Peter, every X
on the page a turncoat kiss . . .

Bad luck, it's said, to enter your own name in the new
book—as if, years on, in the next culling,
an executor will be leafing through and calling
or sending word to every name but you.

               DRUNK JUDGEMENT         

                    A night address  

The world is wasted on you.  Show us one clear time
beyond childhood (or the bottle) you spent your whole
self—hoarding no blood-bank back-up, some future aim
to fuel—or let yourself look foolish in reckless style
on barstool, backstreet or dancefloor, without a dim
image of your hamming hobbling you the whole while.
Voyeur to your own couplings, you never did come
with them, did you, even when you did?  You said Hell
is details, when Hell was just the cave, the concave-
mirrored skull you dwelt inside, your left hand
polishing while the other shook to clinch a deal—
Provide, provide!  Sure, in the end, like any soul
you were endless and yets—brave, deft with phrases, kind—
three cheers for you.  Too closed to want what others love
you vetoed life—
                                were there other worlds to crave? 

           HOME MOVIES, 8 mm

What holds you here, besides small shocks
of delight, then embarrassment, seeing these too-fast
films unravelling, mute but for the sprockets’
plastic chatter, an outboard roar as the almost-

antique projector, Yashica 1965, splashes clips
of faces in their once-loved form (forgotten
till now—interred in the nerves) on screen. What keeps
you here tensed, if not frustration

at your impotence to intervene—reach back
and brace the hand holding the camera that pans
away, again, with a young hand’s
impatience to contain all: slaphammer first home, a block

of Main Street rising between houses
to a mine’s brontosaur headframe, in the laser-
blue noon of subarctic winter—
then, in a dress-coat the colour of roses,

a mother, breaking the frame, waving a newsreel’s            
sped-up wave, while from the left a dog lollops in,
unrecalled as ever so small,
so awkward!—and you rush the screen,

kneel closer and again the camera
swivels away—
stout neighbour in dark overcoat and fedora,
mouth going—while to the left you can almost see

her and that dog in the dark, or wherever the place
is, forty years out of frame (both dead now), as the man in the coat
tips his hat and the scene cuts, to white.  Greece
then, Nipissing, faces in flashes, the light

sallowed, even children stained by that ambery
tone, as the lens pivots faster, refuses focus,
close-up, the patient frame.  I know how memory,
what these reels were meant to fortress,

aims the same fickle lens, leaving gaps and blurs
in the record, but what of the eye itself, as it glides 
over a lifetime’s loves the same way—careless
and rushed, a manic amateur—

and the little reel clicks down inside?                  

If I could start over, I would stare and stare.

Steven Heighton is a novelist, short story writer, and poet, and he also reviews fiction for the New York Times Book Review. His novel Afterlands has appeared in six countries; was a best of year choice in ten publications in Canada, the USA, and the UK; was a NYTBR editor's choice; and has been optioned for film.  His poetry collections include Patient Frame, The Address Book, and Stalin's Carnival.  His poems and stories have received four gold National Magazine Awards and have appeared in London Review of Books, Poetry, Tin House, Best American Poetry, Zoetrope: All-Story, Agni, TLR, London Magazine and Best English Stories
Photo: Mary Huggard

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