Slushies, do you know your shades and types of blue? Do you know how to say blue in Russian? When we talk of St. Petersburg, are we talking about Russia? Or Florida? When we discuss Max Lasky’s poems we discuss what we call things and how we write things and what to call the things we write. (Discuss what ‘lyric’ means amongst yourselves.) “Come Here” takes the table to a scene in Maryland, once home to Jason and his long “O,” and is heavy in Hikmet. After reading “Prothalamion Poured from a Copper Cezve,” a love poem or a poem about love, we continue to praise Lasky’s juggling of images and figurative tight-rope walking.
This episode is brought to you by one of our sponsors, Wilbur Records, who kindly introduced us to the artist A.M.Mills, whose song “Spaghetti with Loretta” now opens our show.
At the table: Samantha Neugebauer, Alex J. Tunney, Kathleen Volk Miller, Jason Schneiderman, and Marion Wrenn
Max Lasky is a poet from New Jersey, currently living in Maryland with his fiancé where they are raising two plant children: a hardy mum named Thomas, and a basil plant named Bunting. Max is finishing up his final year in the MFA program at the University of Maryland and earned his B.A. from Ramapo College. His poems have been published by Trillium and Frontier Poetry, and he is the co-founder and editor of the literary magazine Leavings. He lives in and for the slush.
We read Hikmet during what she called
a picnic, though we brought no wicker basket,
no plaid blanket, we rolled our jeans up
under our knees to wade across the river,
wide and knee high, the entire riverbed
bedded with sharp rocks covered in moss,
slick enough beneath our bare feet to make us
walk slow, half cautious, as a group of five men
flyfishing spoke Spanish, reeling in fish
too small to keep, taking swigs from warm
beer cans at the shore when they turned bored,
wanting us to leave. We stayed. As did the birds
pitching in a nearby thicket, almost inaudible
near the pop blaring from a portable speaker,
and a quiet drone flew high above the water.
Which is to say nature’s no more, at least
not there in Catonsville, Maryland, mid August,
where the Patapsco flowing toward the Chesapeake
could double as the sound of traffic passing
on a highway. All the plastic, all the tin cans
and wrappers littered across the rocks, the sand—
and yet hopeless is not something to be,
not for me or Hikmet or my love, who smirks
when I say a new Turkish word correctly.
My love, what are we to do? We lounged
on that ripped towel, smoking, when we should’ve
scoured the shoreline picking up trash. In masks
because of a pandemic, not one person
walking past on the trail looked us in the eye
or said hi, how are you? I lose a little hope…
I hope a little less and learn a new language,
or try. I learn how the river was commandeered
from Native American tribes by dead men, white men
who wanted to fuel their new plants and mills,
men who never imagined the future here,
hundreds of years later, or else just didn’t care,
not for us or the two women who walked
hand in hand, a leashed dog barking at their feet,
not the men who spoke Spanish and looked at me
confused when I asked what kind of fish is that?
I already knew it was a trout. I already knew
Hikmet was a communist who loved Marx and Lenin
and each of his three wives. Some of us strive
to better the world, some strive to better ourselves,
and the striving sometimes transcends joy.
Hikmet tried both not long ago when he wrote
“My strength is that I’m not alone in this big world.
The world and its people are no secret in my heart,
no mystery in my science. Calmly and openly,
I took my place in the great struggle.” I turned
to face a warm wind that laced my face with sand,
for the future’s everchanging, before it even happens…
Come here and change me, you whose tongue
on my tongue tastes of Turkish tobacco, and sun,
you who say the unsayable. Come here, aşkım,
lend me your hope, teach me how to grin again
after two decades of elegy and a broken language
rife with misogyny, and god. We took Nazım
to the water’s edge and read the translations
energetically, sweating, as the park closed
and the sun lowered, and for a few moments,
it seemed as if it was just us three and the river,
carving through the earth like the blood through
our veins, I learned a new word for landscape.
Prothalamion Poured from a Copper Cezve
Zuleyha read my fortune
in the dried coffee grinds
and tossed the saucer toward
the future, its arc across
left a chem trail renting
the sky, and I didn’t ask why,
I didn’t point it out or make
a scene about the vision
I’d been led to believe, as if
with a shovel in a lame novel,
as if my ears were a septic chute
that accepted every story,
no matter how far from true.
I didn’t mention my nomad past
or how my brain’s forced from place
to place in caravans, canal boats,
tents reeking of frankincense, pine,
or how that’s just another story
I’d been fed with a shovel.
I realized somewhat early on
in this early life that most people
are eager to live their lives
like stars beyond a projector,
a drive in, seemingly unaware
of the dark screen, and willing
to wrong anyone if it means
someone lifts the loose noose
from their own bowed necks—
they almost sprint down the steps.
I crawl up the steps to every
bad decision I’ve let happen,
happy to say I’ve changed,
took notes on each mistake
and if I ever turned back
I was sure to take a different path.
When I go home to the house
I grew up in, it’s not to stay.
As for the story, neither one of us
could say if it was imagined.
I wake some mornings to find
signs that don’t make sense,
suspicious of my own breath
and the sunlight through the slats,
because the world’s senseless
and nonsensical and tense.
A paranoiac and a high priestess
make for one hell of a couple,
our studio’s more like a circus,
we’re trapeze swingers swooping
from corner to corner, blowing
clown horns as we paint our faces
in a shattered mirror. Our strict
schedule requires us to weep
all day and dance at night,
saying I’m so fucking lucky
I met you. I’m so fucking lucky…
I rejoice, I digress, I paint two
red lines under each of our eyes
and step in line, waiting stone like.
I’m well aware it could be me
paranoid and schizophrenic
on the side of the street, paranoid
past repair, not knowing where
the self ends and society begins,
it could easily be me if not
for five or six good people.
As for the lover, I’m damn sure.
I put a poem around her finger
because I couldn’t afford a ring,
which means I’m always already
all in. I push the stack of chips
to the center of the table. I grin.