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Lewis Warsh 5 Poems


The emergency medical worker
Stretching his legs in the parking
Lot of the local hospital,

The tour guide taking a piss
In the bathroom of Shaker Village,
The half-naked woman leaning

Out the tenement window
Calling the man in shorts
Home for dinner, the air

Train delay from Newark Airport
To Penn Station and the man on the
Intercom announcing that full

Service has been restored, the left-
Over sushi, the woman
Sitting on the side of the bed

Watching cable news, a slice of
Stale toast with jam, the wall
Covered with graffiti, the bags

Of garbage in the deserted lot, the
Mountain-climber’s fall, the cemetery
Plot, the words on the gravestones,

The abbott at the door of the
Monastery, the bark of a tree
When you’re hungry,

The book on your knees
When you’re falling asleep,
The dud avocado, the overdue mortgage,

The bare-chested men on the street corner
Playing dominos, a turkey and her brood
Crossing the road.


Night-life in the country,
beyond the sighting
of a raccoon,

and the headlights
of a pick-up returning from the

night-life in the treetops. The
3-legged dog next door
doesn’t bite. Do I hold

on for a moment or do
I slip over the edge?

Night-time in the
parking lot outside
Arizona Pizza, the Metro

North train
arrives in Wassaic, I get
off at the last stop.

Tuesday matinees
at the Triplex. The forklift
operator’s wife at the end
of the bar.

Night-life in the Bronx.
A dead carnation
in your lapel.

My mother knots my tie
before I walk out the door.

Night-life on the Pacific
Rim. I wear a bullet-proof vest
in Coconut Grove.

Night-life anywhere filled
with stars in the night sky.

Night-life in the baggage
claim area with no where
to go.


No one asked but
I know a modestly-priced
Barber named Steve

He has a barbershop
On the main street of town

His partner is also named Steve
Which is why the shop
Is called “Steve’s”

Mostly, the younger Steve cuts my hair
And clips my eyebrows
And shaves my sideburns

If it’s too crowded
You can always go to Moe’s
Just down the street

People rave about Moe’s
But I’ve never been
I go to Steve’s and read the newspaper

And wait my turn,
And then, a few
Months later, I return

With a lot more hair


I disappeared through
the eye of a pin and came
out the other side. You will
regret everything you ever
said about anyone.

You can pretend you don’t
remember who kissed who,
or what happened the night of June 3,
1960, when you went on a blind
date and never returned.

You can buy some comic relief
over the counter, a small dose
before you go to sleep, one pill with
every meal. Some Belgian waffles
with a side order of grits

might hit the spot around now.
The sidewalks are filled with people
who like to smoke, but don’t.
Instead, they shuffle by in their boots.
Some soporific platitudes might

be in order, an alphabet of long silences
and shortness of breath. We can
forego the antipasto and start with
the dessert. For once in our lives,
nothing matters but the footnotes

at the bottom of the page. I need a seat
on the aisle so I can make my escape.
Sometimes I have to go to the bathroom
before the first act is over. Sometimes
there’s only one act, and the stage is empty.


I slipped away at the first light
Of dawn and slept on the ground, a stone
For a pillow. It’s possible to travel
(In your head) from the Belle Epoque to the present
Some things are different, but many things are the same
And there’s more than enough to keep you busy during
   the day
And far into the night
I slipped away when no one was looking
And stared at myself in the bathroom mirror
I was a child thinking of death for the first time
My body against the sink to make sure I was still
And this was what I felt
The cold sink against my skin—it was one way of thinking
You could touch someone in the dark and that was enough
“Living” and “touching” were almost the same
Part two was to remember what it felt like afterwards
Sometimes it happens outdoors, on an empty beach
A chill in the air when you step out of the water
Your mother wraps a towel around your naked shoulders
Sometimes it happens in sleep when you fall through a hole
   in the sky
And land on the other side
Or step off a train that’s still moving
Once I stared into space and couldn’t come back
From where I had gone and where I had been
And the hands of the clock moved forward but I couldn't breathe
A boat adrift on the ocean with no land in sight
I can change into another person if you want
It’s enough to see the light come up over the tops of the hills
And the clouds in the distance, the blocks
Of ice cracking like a broken heart, a radio
On the beach in La Paz playing our song.


Lewis Warsh’s most recent books include Piece of Cake, a collaboration with Bernadette Mayer (2020), A Free Man (2019), Out of the Question: Selected Poems: 1963-2003 (2017), and Alien Abduction (2015). He is editor and publisher of United Artists Books.
This issue was guest-edited by John Olson.
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