August 9, 2021

“Finding Progressions in Mere Lists,” by M. A. Istvan

“Finding Progressions in Mere Lists,” by M. A. Istvan
finding progressions in mere lists 
 
when none of the facts 
so integral to who you are 
can be reached 
 
absenting oneself from a situation by fainting 
 
sitting on a wood fence for hours 
in hope that a new face  
will show itself to talk 
 
failures loom larger in places where little else is around 
 
pinching the tongue of one seizuring   
 
the flood displacement would have been 
a glorified camping vacation 
had he not learned of her betrayal  
 
feigning knowledge of facts 
mentioned in an offhand tone 
as if you knew them already 
 
thoughts of suicide  
to stay in the game when  
mere to-do lists fail  
 
making the position clear threatens to make it vulnerable 
 
even the sexual organs of family 
are open for dinner conversation 
once stricken with severe illness  
 
trained up enough not even  
to think of your wife’s sisters,  
friends, as women  
 
not introducing your daughter  
to the old friend in the supermarket  
because she is unattractive 
 
glances crossing through mirrors 
 
immigrant businesses marked by American flags in the entrances  
 
hated by one’s mother for good reason 
 
where do you go when even your parents are homeless? 
 
restrain your envy of artists 
lest you find yourself one— 
alone, weird, ridiculed, poor 
 
small towns where loveliness goes wasted 
 
crushing the infant, asleep in the most absurd place  
 
 
 
 
phone book on the seat for height 
 
did Hitler come off as a buffoon during his rise to power too? 
 
dreams where you are no longer wheelchair-bound 
 
what is most important about most of us goes unseen 
 
feeling inauthentic under makeup, but covering that up too 
 
notice-me attire  
 
the realization that the future  
in which we placed our dreams  
is no longer ahead of us 
 
the license that being an artist gives to neglect loved ones 
 
time, which no face-lift  
can outrun, curses 
the gorgeous  
 
the pet was never more terrorizing  
than in the decade following  
its disappearance from its tank 
 
oily rainbows, contorted, in gasoline spills 
 
struggling to write  
what you forgot  
you had once written 
 
what remains in the typewriter after death 
 
fights where vases get shattered against walls 
 
books from sunken boats 
 
mothers wondering, not whether  
you had a good time, but whether 
you were the prettiest at the party 
 
rejecting new art on grounds that it rejects  
beauty relieves one from having to state 
that those finding beauty in it are wrong  
 
cans rusted to the shelf 
 
couch cushions to muffle the noise 
 
fake chicken squeaking under the old person’s knife 
 
coloring within the lines to get the Christmas bonus 
 
the flagrant sharing of child porn in the early days of dial-up 
 
not inviting people because you do not want them not to come 
 
you knew him so well—until you found his body hanging 
 
fur thinned out at the base of the tail 
where the dog bites itself in a frenzy  
of holding back pee and shit 
 
reacquiring your identity, past 
vistas, through hearing  
the songs of your youth  
 
degrees rescinded due to atrocities later committed 
 
accusing someone of pulling away too quickly from a hug 
 
 
 
 
crows chasing squirrels into the roadkill lane 
 
the urge to scrape the weapon  
hidden in your hand against  
the walls and railings you pass 
 
sewage shallow enough  
now to wade through  
for bodies of family 
 
what just happened, and what now? 
 
withering without attention 
 
the thing you love turned into a career 
 
every White House solar panel  
torn away for cameras  
on move-in day  
 
wondering how to get the beloved  
out of your house, not knowing  
what to do or say next  
 
afraid of change, you would be the Jew who did not get out in time 
 
education as a proxy for class 
makes it easier to ignore how poor 
all of us—even PhDs—are becoming 
 
between family members long-separated  
filling the silence takes time and energy,  
and so the poorest are less likely to reach out 
 
assume that someone 
has something to say 
and even silences speak 
 
those for whom a fortune cookie is just as good as a therapist 
 
just because the river’s water is holy does not mean that it is drinkable 
 
dependent on the distraction of daily troubles 
 
to a creature in need of words, why not 
just say the words if you already show  
the love those words are to designate? 
 
studying the photo, which you normally overlook each day 
 
that urge to prove one’s belonging  
to whatever group it may seem 
to advantage one to belong to 
 
in a white grade-school, the one 
dark girl finds herself in the role 
of note-passer between crushes 
 
behind the camera in order not to participate 
 
a former student ends up being your nurse as you battle to live 
 
avoiding cliché at the expense of beauty 
 
the secret guilt of medical professionals 
 
those who do not want to appear 
to have missed a joke, but who 
hold back laughter just in case 
 
searching for someone to make sure you should be avoiding them 
 
comedy to defuse an attack and uplift the dying 
 
 
 
 
when being fired speaks well of you 
 
startled to find him looking so different than he had in life 
 
still visiting the grave—the last one left to do so 
 
transitioning from a heartbeat 
to a heart tick—one too loud 
in bed ever to get used to  
 
watching the one next to you sleep, 
wondering how such a face 
might one day break your heart 
 
pictures of former homes 
 
every U-haul move exhumes a mess of memories  
 
bath-towel scarves 
 
layers poking out from flannel cuffs 
 
punched around by your spouse  
the night before the start  
of a new job 
 
neighborhoods where you are afraid to catch a red light 
 
love does not turn out well 
for so many, all of whom figured 
things were going to be great 
 
for being careless about the relationship, 
you reach out after years to a friend, who claims  
you apologized already a decade ago  
 
wisps of snow enter with the booted man 
 
on their turbaned heads they see 
who can balance the biggest bundle  
of white-people dirties 
 
the metronomic stability of drum-machine music, bereft of the organic shifts 
in tempo expected from faltering humans, both reflects the shift in humanity 
to a mono-machinic mode of being and—along with fast food—encourages it 
 
reviving someone only to beat them 
 
toes curled away from the cold floor 
 
wondering whether you were liked because of your race or in spite of it 
 
illegal to eat a swan in a land that will not feed you  
 
cult indoctrination undermining years of parental investment 
 
criticized for having subjects 
too posed even though poses 
reveal something about them 
 
Gucci bags over homeless legs 
 
liquor-store candescence in the wet street at night 
 
bra and panties for the beach 
 
the killer’s reservoir of tenderness for dogs 
 
the days of walking along, rolling some junk car tire 
 
the urge to sew together identical twins 
 
prisoners devouring each word  
of a loved one’s letter, fingering  
each indent on the page 
 
putting in more work for his recovery  
than he puts in himself will have him 
guilt-flee into the well-known bosom 
 
cursory editing of old work 
so as to get to new work 
is a curse of the overflowing  
 
 
 
 
prison hospice 
 
not having any of your own, 
you ask others to read aloud  
their own letters from home  
 
power directs guests  
to sit in the seat  
with sawed-down legs 
 
flying phobics who become driving phobics  
after learning, in their therapy sessions,  
how much riskier driving turns out to be 
 
is that the upright body  
of a shaved bear, or just that  
of an old madman in the trees? 
  
between funerals 
 
feigning illness to get attention, 
even if only clinical,  
from a distant doctor-father  
 
the friend who stays to burn 
and the other who leaps  
part after a final embrace 
 
when those asking for change  
were at their best—how would  
they react to such images of themselves? 
 
bits of steel from the fallen towers given out as gifts 
 
enough gay-therapy shocks 
to have you forget 
how to put on underwear 
 
cold air rolls over the racecar bed 
and along the floor from the window 
peeled of its winter plastic for escape 
 
the notebook doodles behind 
what would ultimately be 
the official Nazi logo 
 
regarding what the spouse left behind— 
lotion, brush with tangled hair— 
as a sign that she will come back 
 
motorcycle club patches, and the process of sewing them on 
 
you just knew that the coffin bed would go  
once your funk phase was through,  
but here it is decades later 
 
driven away by the retard’s presence  
less from disgust than from how 
it bars all indulgence in self-pity 
 
fear that breathing in too deep might allow germs to take deeper root 
 
treated as if a child for whom they have to pretend 
 
no one mentions that people die here too 
 
coffins afloat down city streets 
 
those acting from some official capacity  
to serve you (teacher, nurse, priest), somehow  
fail to count as people to talk to 
 
diaphragm and spermicide baby 
 
does God better hear a prayer when it is from an entire parish?  
 
smashing your head through a window to end an argument 
 
realizing that you are starting to forget what she looked like 
 
the feeling that there is nothing to do now that you have survived the disease 
 
when you will do anything to avoid  
the sickness of withdrawal, who cares  
what people think about your smell? 
 
unable to shake the feeling  
that all construction, from bridges 
even to paper planes, is pointless 
 
work just to survive—so much 
to result in what for your children  
you will later call “the lost years” 
 
birth trees choked out by disease 
 
preferring the known of misery over the unknown of change 
 
scientists drunk in celebration 
after detonation, smiling—but 
only for collective reassurance  
 
wearing a photo-mask of mom so that the orphan will feed from the bottle 
 
traumas transmuting across generations without deliberate effort 
  
that same stock pattern of dolphin squeals in each TV episode   
 

***

Finding Progressions in Mere Lists

M. A. Istvan Jr., ever on the lookout for what he might strip-mine for his own art rather than for what might help him speak well at dinner parties, has forfeited becoming a “cultivated person,” which is hard on his vanity especially now that he has entered into cultivated environments where the chief measure of status is being able to speak well on all topics (preferably with a Mid-Atlantic accent). The big roadblock to Istvan’s goal to becoming less moved by others is that he is deeply offended by mediocrity—indeed, even while understanding that each human cannot fail to be mediocre to some extent. Visit his website or Poets and Writers.

Finding Progressions in Mere Lists
#artists#imagery#m. a. istvan#poetry
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