Tag Archives: poetry


Not what is said, but what is redacted,
what is lost, what is left to remain
rotting unused, the surplus of being,
the bare inch scribbled in ordered margins,
the cast-offs, the dog-ends, the what-have-yous,
repurposed, made new, orphans adopted
and put to work at once, small hands hefting
the litter of some dark pop svengali,
and what remains? But the lulling refrain
of so many shekels, falling like rain
into the beak of the sky-staring cock,
a new Narcissus with the same sad fate.
Better the dirt; better to be grounded,
forgotten, never known. I know. I know.


There is nothing so worthless as a hole
that any matter seems preferable,
tossed in until the earth is closed, sated,
spaded shut with dirt or shit or the like,
mere quantities, trafficked in disregard
if not contempt, if not loathing – more words;
more matter that does not, more hot horseshit
for the hungry ground, for the green to grow,
for the shifting gifs and clever-ish memes
to chew the edges from – and what remains?

I read once of a famine so severe
people made cakes from meal mixed in with clay.

I consider writing five hundred words,
and only when I don’t, am I content.

A Few Words

A few words can scarce express
the measure of the emptiness
that is filled, if only to half,
with your twinkling piano laugh.
A few words can scarce express
the least degree of my distress
when I grasp that I’ll see your smile,
not forever, just for a while.
A few words can scarce express
a thought I dare not confess
so I conceal it in my dreams
and in these simple, rhyming schemes.
A few words can scarce express,
yet here are a few, nonetheless.

Grecian Heights, Southern Hollers

Unthinking ain’t’s, I reckon’s, and yawning I’s
pepper a tongue not meant for an enterprise
so lofty: loading lines with sound, sense,
suited to voices with British accents.

A language not my own, but continually
deferred, always already the property
of faceless hegemon, unnamed they,
happy to teach, for a price, the right way.

To hell with it, a part of me says, just write,
long I’s be damned, I reckon, the words just might
fall into place, by God, the sun shines
down on me same as on them, their proud lines.

Yet all my damn-nears end up as prudish quites,
sincerity forsaken for Grecian heights,
soul sold for silver sounds of small sense,
damning my I’s in stressing the past tense.

Look at Me

Look at me – I am young,
forever young,
a glossy smile frozen in a moment
of manufactured abandon
dancing motionless, still, unravished,
across airbrushed pages, pop-ups,
billboards, until all you see is me, me,
I am young – look at me.

Look at me – I am young,
far too young
to wear what she doesn’t wear
a million skin-baring times,
to gild this unbudded lily
with nature-hastening agents,
urge men to their urges give in, give in,
I am young – look at me.

Look at me – I am young,
forever young,
made 39 with white-out,
29 with scalpels,
19 with my daughter’s clothes,
9 with diet,
so I have earned it, earned it,
I am young – look at me.

Look at me – I am young,
far too young
to stitch a 16-hour day
that lasts well into the night,
making clothes for models,
little girls and old ladies
too far away to hear me plead, plead,
I am young – look at me.

The Inconstant Gardener

I came to believe women were flowers,
fragile things, ever ready to wither;
the briefest neglect, the slightest insult,
and the petals would darken, fall away.

My father was a gardener; I learned
of the flower’s fickleness first from him,
who had hurled curses at his rosebushes
and drank when they ceased to bloom at his touch.

He still likes flowers; he still talks of them,
of their briars and thorns and soft sadism,
but no more of their beauty, their perfume,
the feathery caress of inner down.

So I, too, came to see them as a task
and when I came to the garden, I came
to work, to till and plow and sweat and bleed
for precious things that had lost all value.

I spent years in that garden, hating it,
hating the bees and the heat and the ache
felt only by those who have shouted hoarse
at ever-almost blooms, ever only almost.

I never bothered to water; tears sufficed,
as I watched joy thrive in my neighbors’ lots,
where flowers were tended like so many weeds,
vivid hues struggling past discarded beer cans.

I envied them their tattered, brilliant blooms,
marvels bursting uncoaxed from harsh soil,
and I would scale the fence, from time to time,
to liberate a lone, forgotten beauty.

I adored these stolen lives, every one
a shard of stained glass, ready to shatter
at the touch that, in my ardor, always came
too soon, and I would weep as they wilted.

I thought the love I bore gave me license,
as my father did, to lay claim and lament
when the transplants longed for foreign soil,
growing again only when given away.

And so, my garden became a graveyard,
and I, a drunk, content to curse and wallow
and preach the inconstancy of flowers
to fellow failed gardeners, broken men.

I walked through fields of light, bottle in hand,
and saw only colored tumult, the blues
of bruises, the rouge of whores, brassy golds
filling my absent heart with fresh loathing.

In my youth, I had dreamt of a garden,
a garden of my own, full with but one bloom,
one perfect flower to last forever,
but dreams are for children, and I had grown.

My garden had grown, too, in my absence.
A single seed careless sown, then left wild,
was now in full flower, and through dull eyes,
still I saw the glory, the grace, that could be.

But I had broken so many of them,
and I blamed myself for each fragrant corpse
and feared for the fate of this fragile sprout
in the care of this calloused gardener.

I became ill with her, when she fell ill,
neglected her, when I felt neglected,
repaid imaginary slights with real ones,
and spoke of love, when I felt only fear.

Each day, I awoke expecting her gone,
another victim of an inept gardener,
and when she lasted through another night,
I would smile, and say, “So, tomorrow, then.”

I have since lost count of the tomorrows
that have passed in my garden, now called ours,
where she rises like the sun, constant and warm;
still, I doubt even the surety of sunrise.

She never doubts the sun, for she has faith,
and where there is faith, fear cannot take root,
so each day is the first of all the rest,
rather than one day closer to the last.

Oh, to have the faith of such a flower,
to stop plucking petals of love, love not,
to sit in our garden, watch the sun rise,
and rest assured it will again, my love.

I am a gardener, like my father before;
I worked so hard to grow one, as he did,
yet now that I have it, work is all that I know.
Teach me, love, to have the faith of a bloom.


Wakened again by the cicadan scream,
I crawl from under the broodmate’s forelimb
to scrape away the prior day’s detritus
and climb in the awaiting carapace
of flayed cows and mothchild effluvia.
I exit the cell; I boil black bones,
one hive-traverser among the millions.
I arrive; I am chittered at by drones,
and I chitter back the same nothing sounds.
Directives spawn tasks, and the sun-hours
bleed away in the doing, and none ask
why, for there is no why, only the must
of the moment that demands an action,
forgotten even as the action ends.
Then there is night: but the day ran reverse,
chittering leave, boiling back, and home,
that place of intervals where I consume
what remains of an abandoned repast,
dead matter to coal the embers of life,
then enter the room where the larvae sleep,
half-shed of their cowboy-coated cocoons;
I stare at the silent forms and take note
of how each is as alien as I
before returning to where I will rest,
where I will climb free of this silken shell,
prime the cicadan cry, replace the limb
left when the day was new, and, as I fade,
wonder if I will ever leave this bed
a human.

The Unarmed Education Mercenary

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Nathaniel C. Oliver

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