The argument stretched and rolled like yarn
In the paws of G-d. The problem of evil was toyed with,
the problem of hiddenness, the one of what I want to do
I do not do, but what I hate I do: Why did we always give ourselves away
With a squeak, when He was safely distracted by that fucking yarn?
We never knew what was in the mind of G-d
When His tail flicked like that.
Excitement?—When the boy got lost,
We beseeched Him and posted flyers. When the body was found,
We listened to the rabbis: G-d wanted it.
—Or possibly it was boredom with this tired yarn
That always ends the same way.
Whatever was made was made
Out of green acrylic.
I doubted everything
and I believed everything.
It was my theology or affliction.
My first memory
was a story my mother told
which never happened.
My second memory
was unphotographed and lost forever.
When I left a woman,
I left her twice
and I felt
just what I’d watched
while I sat open-mouthed before the screen.
Shannon Holman, New York, 2002
published in Raised in a Barn
for Debbie Benson
Others have their own fires. Ours started small,
an accident with a cause: lens of ground glass, fire ants,
paper from a pack of cigarettes.
We ran into the woods to wait out what would happen
and, while we were not what we wanted,
we were what we were.
Clutched together, our breathing
became a third person, all smiles, without much English.
Puckers on both knees, sap in the scabs, tarry, sweet.
What we tasted: red hots and cut grass,
and you had a doll that wet,
which you left there, and another with a crank for growing hair.
Let x equal kiss,
because when we changed we changed the language.
The sun was not harmless. It was no egg in the air.
We strung up our clothes in the virgin forest
and sang I’m your pusher. For virgin, read
where the small trees fail. We started there.
We caught. And after? We smoked. And after that? We smoked.
Shannon Holman, New York, 2001
Either the dun bitch will bear or she will not. If she bears either you
will place the pups in a sack or you will not. If you place the pups in
a sack either you will tie the sack with a black dress shoestring or you
will not. If you tie the sack either you will carry it down to the stream
or you will not. If you carry it down to the stream either you will throw
the sack in or you will not. If you throw the sack in either one pup will
swim or it will not. If one pup swims either you will carry that pup home
in your arms or you will not. If you carry that pup home in your arms
either night will fall before you reach the house or it will not. If night
falls before you reach the house either the moon will show or not. If
the moon shows either it will show itself full or not. Either you will
turn the pup’s head to face the full moon or you will not. If you turn
the pup’s head to face the moon either a sound will come from inside the
pup or it will not. If a sound comes either you will know the sound or
you will not. If you know the sound you will know that you yourself have
been making that sound without ceasing all the days of your life. Prayer,
you will call it, or not.
Shannon Holman, New York, 2001
Horses and Beggars
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful opera, except that it hurts”
—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
We took confetti in our mouths
and wished on everything:
bridges, pennies, cars with one headlight,
train tracks, matches, first stars.
We were the Corps of Engineers
calling out to our veins, Will the dam hold?
And the dam was matter.
Under the same old moon,
Chögyam Trungpa drank whiskey
the color of holy robes. His hands trembled like pages
and he said, Whose hands, whose birds are these?
We rode skateboards
down the helix of the parking tower
and didn’t feel the need to repudiate our bodies,
and didn’t foresee.
The thing of it was
time still came back after all that,
us scrambling up the banks of the Vermilion River
with giant flowers on fire in our arms like flags,
that night of the surprise frost that caused the bees to waltz
from the petals giddy with solidarity as we sang out,
as we recited mathematics,
stained us like pollen,
and we shared the orange juice that was the only thing in the world,
as the various shapely contestants
for Miss Meaning of the Universe
disported for our favor.
Cause and effect, snap,
the brutal angels
in smoke and lurched
away, leaving us
with breath and lack,
systole and diastole alone
in the maw of the world
and we swallowed
asked for water
in our bodies as in a large room
whose exit we have misplaced
and we and the suns and planets
were juggled for a while, then dropped
Shannon Holman, New York, 1995-1999
You used to tell me, imagine a color you’ve never seen.
I was fifteen, learning to drink on sloe gin, shy and strange at the salt lick of your neck.
You were always trading in the impossible —
the unstoppable force of afterclap, the immovable object of desire.
We transgressed ourselves in my room and ate my father’s banana pancakes in the morning.
We were children pretending to be pretending to be children.
You traced my bones and named them as you went: scapula, tibia, ulna, clavicle, rib,
until I felt invented, newly minted, unequipped to live.
You placed the first tab of acid — copper pulp — on my tongue
and that confetti rained down on everything.
We climbed from my bedroom window into the noumena.
You fed me cotton candy and the world began her long strip tease.
Even between my teeth you weren’t secured; you always slipped away
into the future somewhere, to your next lover, Cincinnati, pregnancy.
Later, I thought of dusting myself to reveal your prints.
I considered chalking the outline of my body.
You were the color of the sound of a bell.
You were the color of the smell of water.
I loved you like pornography, like a fable. Soma, soma, I’d whisper
into your hair, as if it meant something more than body.
Why I wanted you, why you left, has everything to do with algebra: x has to stand on one side
to be solved, and the grammar of eros compells us to parse into subject and object.
You exist, then as now, beyond my eyes,
as imagined and real as mathematics.
Ask St. Anselm, loosing God upon the tender universe,
conceiving over and over of that-than-which-nothing-greater.
Shannon Holman, New York, 1999
First we resumed our bodies. It was all there,
jarred and labeled—afterbirth, teeth (both sets),
nail clippings, effluvium, huge skeins of hair,
sloughed-off skin, and the cells
of every seven years, each set in its own jewel-case.
We coalesced, a documentary of leprosy run backwards.
It wasn’t at all heavy, wearing our whole selves.
There we were, just as Paul promised: impassible, bright, agile, subtle.
We’d never looked so wonderful.
Next we rode bikes all around the great gates.
We sent up vast sprays of fall leaves, colors that, back in life,
we’d only seen in catalogs. We popped wheelies.
We had cards in our spokes—all royals,
famous historical figures, torch singers, ancestors,
whoever it was we wanted, pets included. Also trumpets
mounted on the handlebars, also tassels made of blond superstrings.
We were in a subjunctive mood. It lasted for years.
Then the gates swung open; we rode straight through
into the empty museum, wheels squeaking on the marble parquet,
into the Hall of VCRs, where history kicked its great legs
on a long row of flat-screen monitors. Then the diorama
explaining Human Suffering, then In My Image: A Portrait Gallery,
then the interactive map of the universe, drawn to scale.
At the end of the tour, a little placard asked us to kindly give Time back
along with our head-sets. We didn’t mind. Everything was pluperfect.
In the fullness of time burst Aloha!
The big tent blazed and burned out, flamed and was doused.
He stood there in His striped coat, straight-back chair in His hand,
roaring, holding Himself back, padding, tawny, bare-back, remembering everything,
stumbling on the high-wire, swallowing fire, juggling knives, in knots,
He kept coming over and over out of that yellow VW.
Shannon Holman, New York, 2000
The sugarcane burned in the fields and pleased you.
I said, “Caramel, c’est tout,” to please you.
My sweat and your sweat: simple syrup.
The men with long knives made the sound of wind.
The small animals scattered or else were caught.
With Mason jars of mint julep, we lay on the floor.
We’d been to Evangeline and Evangeline Downs
and picnicked on gumbo in the bough of the live oak.
On the raised gravestones, we’d taken our rubbings:
Thibodeaux, Boudreaux, Comeaux on rice paper.
We switched to rocks when the mint ran out.
You faced the pine as if you were reading it.
The bourbon went back and forth between us.
It tried to translate and then it fell silent.
Burnt sugar, cayenne, the air thick with water.
The bodies of crawfish lined up like toy soldiers.
What we would do we had done already, and you said,
“Touch my neck with your cold glass,”
just as I raised that cold dark glass to your neck.
Shannon Holman, New York, 2001
Leaving Coney Island
We took the B train and novels
and whiskey in Snapple bottles.
You went into the surf to pee
and came out with your feet bound in green-black weeds.
I squatted under the boardwalk
where a lattice of light and shadow
fell upon sand, bottles, needles.
I rode the Cyclone because you wanted to.
You pierced balloons and gave me a pink stuffed snake.
The man hawking cervezas told us we were in love.
It was too hot. The water was fine.
The beach scorched our feet. It was a perfect day.
It was a vast shell game, and we played
until they shut down the whole shebang.
The shell was rendered to the sea.
The empty cups came home with me.
Move along, move along.
Shannon Holman, New York, 1998
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
I knew very well I could not
I cast for comfort I can no more get.
I set it in a blaze.
You did not come.
Deep questioning, which probes to endless dole.
The heavy trouble, the bewildering care,
The light that loses, the night that wins—
Wild Nights—Wild Nights!
Passing away, said my God, passing away
The tongueless vigil, and all the pain.
Missing me one place search another.
Closer yet I approach you,
The little wheel moved by the Grace of God.
When the stars begin to fall—
O weary time whose stars are few—
Across the barren azure pass to God,
And bathe there in God’s sight,
Perhaps the one I want so much will rise, will rise with some of you.
Note: “Or I Guess It Is the Handkerchief of the Lord” is a cento.
Shannon Holman, New York, 2001