Robert Lundquist | Two Poems

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    The following poems are from our June/July 2019 issue, which you can buy here

    Robert Lundquist


    The Road Through You

    You were sleeping when I left,
    your breath fogging the mirrors of our cold room,
    the ceiling collecting dew and frost,
    the road through you
    winding down to deer crossing,
    to barns you played in as a child.

    Outside, the same pine trees, manzanita,
    the bush of bougainvillea with barely a blossom.
    Inside, the limes on the table fade.
    A cockatoo lifts its wings in a corner of the room.
    You feel helpless as you hang up the phone.
    On the other side of the street
    a child hides her head in the crook of her arm,
    her father lifting a bottle to his lips,
    slurring his words over an empty plate.
    You are surprised by the doorbell ringing.
    After, you check your breasts for lumps.

    The road through you
    winds down to deer crossing,
    to barns you played in as a child,
    barns in which your brother first touched you,
    where you stared into the sun,
    listened to the cows in their stalls,
    flies between your thighs, in your hair.


    Mass

    1.

    It is in the interest of the right question, what needs pinning down. Perhaps the inside of a moment at rest. Perhaps the part of the idea missing. Don’t be concerned about each dot, each dash, worry about their sound. The ice slips out to sea, slices a ship in half. Always prepare for the possibility no one survives. Wait for sunset, wait for the last one to enter. It will be dark, find your way by the light around its edges. Keep it in a box and tell no one. When it springs out, starts to dance, give it the floor until the applause. As bars close down for the night, rumors begin. Privately, other things could be said, things unlikely mentioned because a leak in the conversation shadows then leads.

    *

    Previously, there was only the dry leaves breaking under your feet. Now the place is alive with sound. That, and the sounds of clouds about to rain. There is no design, but there could be a plan. Retreat into a small village and place a guard inside every doorway. Grab onto the horse, the cop  with the reins in his hands looking down at you looking up at him. Take the reins into your own hands and kick the beast. Under birds forming a perfect wave, new hope arises even as the others lock their doors, close their curtains, because anyone can see the air just not inside of it.

    *

    That the journey could not be done on two legs alone begs the question, can you feed the extra mouths, mend the hooves when stones lodge inside a soft foot? The ropes to cross the rivers all belong to you and you have no idea if the last strands will hold. Thankfully, the light remains around the edges and the dead are no where to be found. Your biggest fear is the light completely fading, your sense of direction the tips of your fingers inside a world loosing its sun yet still revolving around it. How this will happen, how you will keep your feet on the ground is anyone’s guess, and the money is not with you, the bet is on the strings wrapping around your legs, dragging you into space while your loved ones, close behind, have to guess which gas to breathe and when.

    2.

    Through your skin, flowers bloom on a hillside scattered with the memories of which leaves fall and when as a kindness, for no reason, drifts out of reach in a gentle wind. Still, with no one to hold onto in the coldest of nights, tiny blossoms wait patiently for the smallest gesture, like a hand gently, tenderly, touching your cheek. When you finally rest, the softest chair on which to stretch your legs moves beside you. A rug settles inside the pasture. The paintings, at the base of each tree show various families in conversation. This is your family now, flowers and furniture spreading over you, a bouquet of many days and many nights lying alone beneath the stars.

    *

    You are only here until the roses bloom, until you notice a second skin folding like ribbon through your dreams of one last embrace, until you realize that you are, like the rest, not built to last. To accept this is to accept the past and all who perished along with your wish to give each child, who stayed to march beside you, a better life. And you did. At least better than those living inside the darkest thoughts of who will finally lie in order to hide the truth that no one made it to the end where leaves fall to open the sky, grow back in to close the sky once more.

    3.

    You stand here delicately separating flesh from flowers on a bed of moss you cling to, like dry ice sticking to the hand of a child. When you turn to face the wind, you are the log floating next to the bridge you walk over each morning. Dirt and time take turns spreading through your leaves. As winter approaches, you feel your stems breaking. If it is up to you, you will hide inside the shadows that separate you from all who travelled under a cold sun, waiting for the earth to part, the water to spray from pools just beneath the surface you have come to depend upon.

    *

    It is not up to you who will survive, who will follow you past the meadows to the cliffs you are about to descend. Who will follow are those who listen to the right wind at the right time while hearing your voice when the wind dies down. And as the wind dies down, you become another source of knowledge. As a source of knowledge you study the paintings in the rooms of the caves in which you wonder. It will take time to understand the sunlight gathering the shadows filling in the drawings on each wall. As you look closely, between the cracks and the lines of paint, it seems like something between light and dark holds tight all of the shadows spreading like water as the hooves, pounding the rocks on the banks below, run to you now, knowing the way.

    About Robert Lundquist


    Robert Lundquist’s West Coast croon is soft, tremulous and caring. It is the voice of someone who has discovered a deep peace after decades haunted by trauma; who can now, finally, thaw out of a long paralysis and open up to old visions.

    The poetry of Lundquist is full of longing. A longing to heal and a longing to be healed. His central theme is suffering; how we suffer and the ways in which we experience it. Broken romances, addicts, neglected children. Destitute characters cry out through hallucinatory abstractions. Far from hard nosed noir, these voices are cradled with an extraordinary sensitivity and romance. Through wild experiments with form he builds an idiosyncratic surrealism. Repetitions and half rhymes drum up strange hymns, and power a tension between overwhelm and control that drives the work into a state of ecstatic compassion. 

    Like many great poets Lundquist has a strong sense of place, Downtown LA. His father – who he describes as a “rageaholic” – was an LAPD cop who went undercover on drugs busts. Robert’s mother was committed to a sanatorium when he was thirteen. He was looked after by his grandmother, a waitress in Union Station. She took him on long walks around the city which began a lifelong preoccupation with LA’s homeless: “I always had the feeling I was going to end up there”.

    The world of his adolescence was violent. He escaped it by entering a Zen Buddhist centre. This “saved his life” and he began to write poems. By twenty-two he was a rising star in Santa Cruz, published in chapbooks, The Nation, and the Paris Review. He met and knew many poets such as William Everson, George Hitchcock, and Charles Bukowski. Perhaps success came too soon and he went off the rails. Alcoholism, poverty, and trauma blighted his mid-twenties, stopping his writing.

    At twenty-eight he recovered and began a second period of creativity, writing brilliant and admired long form poems that were featured in Raymond Carver’s magazine Quarry West. He remained sober, and built a career as a social worker, teaching in prisons and working with addicts. At thirty-six his creativity was disrupted by a more eccentric crisis: a crippling obsession with John Ashbery and Paul Celan. For years he read them everyday, awed by their powers of imagination and abstraction. Though he continued to “experiment” in private, he saw no reason for any other poets to publish at all.

    He spent thirty years training and developing as a therapist. He saw a psychoanalyst four times a week for thirteen years straight, got a PhD in attachment theory, and dedicated himself to helping patients. Today he and his wife Nazare have their own practice on Spring Street, DTLA – a place where many of his poems have been set.

    In 2014 a chance meeting with New River Press founders Robert Montgomery and Greta Bellamacina led to the publication of his first full length collection, After Mozart (Heroin On 5th Street). It is the culmination of five decades of work from a life dedicated to poetry. It feels justified to say that a lost genius has been discovered. 

    Today Robert Lundquist is writing with confidence again, finessing years of private experimentation. In Mass, published by The London Magazine, Lundquist finally makes the abstraction he admires in Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery all his own. Here he pushes the limits of metaphor in poetry; writing poetry as art rather than criticism, a rebellion against the too academic culture of contemporary American poetry. The vagueness is immersive. Spiritual, though more intimate than doctrinal. Lines speak back to other lines. Themes of loss, death, and broken bonds cycle in and out. Through spontaneous writing, reordering, and rewriting, Lundquist captures the imagination leaking. The stock images of his oeuvre bleed into each other; water runs out, cops grab, and flowers bloom. Images of dying, of authority, and of hope. These personal images are made universal through the open ended metaphor of mass – as the property of a physical body, a measure of resistance to acceleration, and religious rite. This is a layered, generative work that invites multiple readings and interpretations. Its publication here is a major event in Lundquist’s career.

    The London launch of After Mozart (Heroin on 5th Street) is at Housman Books in Kings Cross on July 5th and will featuring readings by Robert Lundquist and other poets. More information on the event here.

    ***


    Introduction text by Heathcote Ruthven of New River Press. To buy AFTER MOZART (HEROIN ON 5TH STREET) by Robert Lundquist, visit New River Press.


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