We are thrilled to run “Layover” from Carl Adamshick’s latest poetry collection, Saint Friend (McSweeney’s Poetry Series / August 5), winner of the 2010 Walt Whitman Award. “In Saint Friend, Adamshick explores the nature of relationships, from friends and family, to travel and distance. Adamshick’s introspective poems are about leaving your family and beginning your own. They are about cities and how we spend our time in them; how we interact in person, online, and by phone—and how those modes of communication relate to intimacy. Saint Friend explores our elusive closeness to the people in our lives and the reasons we separate.”
They keep paging Kenneth Koch at the airport.
Someone should let the announcer know
he is dead, that there is no city he can go to,
that no one is expecting him. Once, I applied
to be a horse. The mirror of night had shed
its clothes, and I needed to be something
that mattered. I needed to scrape my brown
flank against the bark of a ponderosa.
My friends have moved away. They sleep
in places I’ve never been. And here we are.
It’s the most miraculous thing. We walk
over counter-weighted bridges in love
with snow tumbling through their lights.
The terminal’s long glass walls dark at this hour.
I feel we live similar lives, only the time zone
and language different. In the cab,
on the way, I saw what was real and humane
in front of a pub: a bicycle leaning
against a thin trunk, lights strung in trees
reflected in shop windows. I loved the way
they loved out there at dusk. Tables littered
with wallets and phones, hats, a beer divided
between two glasses, someone showing someone
a new shirt, sheltered in the camber of voices.
I thought nothing will ever be easier or better.
We will not rise. It is too late.
The year we write on our checks too high
to ever expect anything to be different.
We will always live here, ancient and new.
These are the people we are. Saint friend,
carry me when I am tired and carry yourself,
let’s keep singing the songs we don’t live by.
Let’s meet tomorrow. We don’t have to wait
until the holidays. The distance is long,
but it is nothing. Remember when we lived together,
when we kissed, when we talked about fog
on the morning lake and the markings
we wanted on our graves?
The city is lit. I’m up in the air.
It is yes until I die. And when I die,
I want to be paged once a day in an airport
somewhere on this earth, so people
will think I am just running late or lost,
will think I am in transit, sad about the last
embrace, or sad to leave the city of snow
and bridges, or eager to land, to walk
the small wooden streets of my house.
One city, once a day. I wish that for everyone.
An unknown elegy briefly filling the ears
of strangers. I picture my friends dead, nightly,
because I can’t see them, because
I can’t hear them. I want to love them
enough. I want to dress the wound of their absence
enough. I thought I would be the dead one,
stretched out on the coffin of my bed,
the white bull come to mourn one of its disciples,
its head of fourteen stars, but my body
keeps telling me it’s my friends
who have vanished, that they will no longer tip
a dollar for a few pints of porter
or stand in a kitchen full of words and laughter.
I tell my body I will keep their memories
and my body says: they will be anchors.
Then I will collect their shadows
and my body says: you are not a reliquary.
Their eyes are stitched shut, their mouths are stitched shut,
and all the verbs surrounding their names
are dead verbs. I don’t want to hold my body.
I don’t want to hold my body or listen to it.
From above, the clouds of Stockholm
are a tilled white field and from below
they are a low gathering of gray letting go
their misery. Tomorrow I see the Vasa,
a ship inlaid with so much gold it sank
a few meters into its journey. It was raised
from the water some three hundred and thirty
years after its descent into the silt
and had a museum built around it.
The voyage sallied forth in all its beauty
and finally became a treasure. Just like
your life or mine with its quiet, dark room
holding a golden boat. A destination
different than expected. So many paths.
So many apologies. So much gratitude.
Luggage rides the carousel turning
with a repetitive clank. The floor shines
like a museum’s. Art often seems
a kind of funeral. The important things
we leave. I half expect to see bouquets
under the paintings. I never much believed
in the muse, never much believed my belief
was carried too far out into the world.
In the gallery, doesn’t everything speak
to relations, hasn’t everything always spoken
to relations, to the smallest gesture?
Let the muse make whatever needs to be made,
let the muse tend the fire. Your whole body
is curled like an ear I wanted to talk
into all evening. Your hand, a ring
of articulated keys. I want that moment
when we climb down the bright ladder
of ecstasy, when our breath comes back,
when everything is alive, present
in the moment with nothing to wait for,
nothing to worry over, only the need to rise
into the beauty that is. The folded clothes,
the interior of a suitcase with its personal logic
being carried on elevators and escalators,
the moving walkway. Being alone
in a theater and seeing the latch, handle,
and the old stickers stuck on the leather
helping the narrative along. Then
an open umbrella floating on the park’s
pond. The screen holding all that blue light.
I always thought death would be like traveling
in a car, moving through the desert
the earth a little darker than sky at the horizon,
that my life would settle like the end of a day
and I would think of everyone I ever met,
that I would be an invisible passenger,
quiet in the car, moving through the night,
forever, with the beautiful thought of home.
Like when my mother calls from the far side
of history saying: honey, everything brings
everything back. A red-barked tree applauds
the day. Summer is warm and light so late.
The bruise which was hers. The map
she folded and gave to me. I think
of her in the quiet house. In her death
I see her eyes closed in prayer. Her hand
that was never a star. Her foot that was kissed
but never a bridge. Her heart that was never
anything but a heart. I see her smoking
her first cigarette, hip and shoulder against brick.
I see her laughing in the blue car
as it crosses the border. I touch a picture
of my brother, born in early February.
I remember the dream where she held a stone
like a book of fables. I see the year of my birth,
my mouth searching for her body.
She often says: stars are cheap glass
held in burnt tinfoil, space the unliked cousin
to nothingness. I spent my life avoiding my life.
It’s easier than you might think.
Time is a younger sister hiding her anger.
I don’t want to hold my body,
the minor keys or the dissonant chords.
There is space in here for you.
There is more time than you can imagine.
The purple tulips buck in the wind
as if their white roots were a cavalry
marching. Approaching the mountain
they are swallowed first by its shadow,
then by its mystery. I’m confident
there are different ways to think within
my own thinking. One illustration
of this is to look at a handful of bubbles
from a bath. Across the concourse, a plane
comes to a stop at gate F7. Soon, people
will come through the door at the end
of the hall. It’s one thing one second,
another thing another second.
The chess clock counts forty-seven minutes
before a rook is moved one square
to the left. It’s in the way you listen
to the outward flow of another’s resistance,
and to your own. You cannot lie.
Each person watches the same accretion.
None of us language, none of us silent
to the way days happen. The blunt head
of a pawn is stuck in the mesh of pieces,
in the beautiful contention to survive.
Sun warms the window, half the globe.
Wind pushes through trees clustered with acorns.
Cars line the gray-pocked street. It’s so peaceful
at eleven a.m., I understand light as a thing
we breathe. Last week, the doctor let me
use the otoscope to look into her ear. Hidden
in the hollow, I saw a small cataracted eye,
an eye not meant to see or be seen, translating
everything that comes to it. Like my mother
I don’t know how to live. If only I could travel
fast enough and far enough to see what has happened.
The evening is trying to slip through a seam
in the horizon. The moment I believe bats
sleep in their cave like a dying black fire, I know
I’ve begun my walk back to the beginning.
Carl Adamshick is the co-founder of Tavern Books. He is 2010 winner of the Walt Whitman Award and the William Stafford poet-in-residence at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. His work has been published in Harvard Review, American Poetry Review, The Missouri Review and Narrative.
Copyright © 2014 Carl Adamshick
Author photograph by Liz Mehl
Cover art by Ian Huebert