The Thing That I Was Then

Twisted black coil uncoiling along the Gulf Coast.

Sleepless trawler shaves and cuts at the horizon.
Sorry shadow takes the predawn cruise,

longing past yesterday past
these myriad scattered islands.

Dragged along
with a few entangled octopi
drained of color, like lost human parts.

Maybe Melville meant that nature would endure
no matter what we did to ourselves.

It’s not just this vintage beach-load of fat.

Not just that backward coal glare
nor the invading wave of men-of-war.

It’s also the otherworldly industry
of exhaust trails sticking to an ill-lit sky—

like persistent cicatrices, lines crossed
long ago, still eating at my back and neck
bloodlessly, through the skin.


All of This and Nothing

High-ethered afternoon
barely holding. Masses of shadows
press together, and a crooked window

throws light behind the bars.
Old sun crosses the theater of stone.
Tomorrow will be like today.

What happens on the other side?
Indecipherable unicyclist visions,
maybe. Fragile lives on bridges slip

together in a sequence of stories.
The park branches over my book table
despite the blocks between us.

I draw a profile; moth-wing of the sphenoid
folds. In the newspaper, bee colony collapse.
The lifescape vacating, my longer

questions dawdling.
I won’t describe the hushed protests,
can’t count the leafy breezes that carry them.

They acknowledge
the facts of transit:
life, death,

these tall and purposeless times.


Stephen Massimilla’s new 500-page multi-genre co-authored tome, Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016), won The Eric Hoffer Book Award, The National Indie Excellence Award, and others. Acclaim for his other books includes an SFASU Press Prize for The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat; the Bordighera Poetry Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday (CUNY); the Grolier Poetry Prize for Later on Aiaia; a Van Rensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch; and other honors. He has work in hundreds of publications, recently Agni, Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Daily, Tampa Review, and Verse Daily. Massimilla holds an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. from Columbia University and teaches at Columbia University and The New School. For more info: and