Four Poems by Arthur Russell


Early June

Yesterday, as I stood under the canopy of
the golden rain tree, looking up
at the sunlight coming through the newly
sprouted leaves, my depression
allowed me to imagine I was happy.
Thank you, depression.


A waitress named Anne,
at the end of my shift,
took me home to her place.
She poured me some wine,
and gave me a towel,
and told me to shower
to wash off the kitchen smell.

I was so new then,
bunnies could nibble me.

Hulk Tee-Shirt

I had that happen with an old girlfriend,
at a party we both wound up at, in the doorway to the kitchen
in this person’s house we neither of us knew very well,
where I went in for a cheek kiss, and her lips half pivoted
so we met corner lip to corner lip.  I think lips have fingerprints,

and the other person’s lips are lip readers, like fingerprint readers,
so when two lips touch, one reads the other,
a set of inner elevator doors slides open, and libraries
of information shoot the gap; and while we were mid this kiss,

it had changed from hey-how-you-doing to a light-switch kiss.
We were going to have to move from that doorway
to someplace more private, even if it was only a few feet down the hall
towards the bathroom, because another kiss was coming, and that one

involved our hands on the back of each other’s heads,
ear touching, nose breathing, time travel, a knee
becoming wedged between thighs amid the silly framed photos
that some people insist on mounting the whole length of their hallways,

why? because they’ve seen this overstuffed style of decoration in some
English country-house magazine but they don’t have a country house, so,
I was staring at a kid in a red and blue striped jersey decorated
with an embroidered canoe, and after that, we went back to the party
and didn’t hang out.  Five whole days, I didn’t want anything:

food, sex, argument, money, sleep, nothing, from one kiss
in the hallway of a Sackett Street apartment,
in the brownstone of people I barely knew.
I didn’t want to see her, but I left the tee shirt I’d been wearing —
black, with a picture of The Hulk lunging forward behind a big fist —
hanging on the doorknob of my bedroom, charged
with the calmness of waters smoothed by a big boat passing,

and nothing more was needed until the shirt’s nirvanic
resonance receded; and even though I’d left it hanging
there for weeks, I did finally wash it; but I wouldn’t
wear it anymore, so it kept sinking further down
into the stack of tee shirts in my tee-shirt drawer,
until it reached the bottom.

Poem Afterwards

I wanted to keep you in me.
I wanted the taste and the safety of you,
the taste and safety and the slightness of you
a little longer.  I wanted the warmth of you,
the warmth and the weight of you,
the warmth and weight and the mercy of you.

I wanted your heat and your sweetness on my tongue,
to hear your humming sweetness in my cheeks.

I wanted to be a horse in your corral,
your corral containing my heat,
your sure hand reaching to the spigot of my heart,
past my ribs to the long-stuck spigot of my heart,
like the brass bib outside the house that attaches to the hose unused all winter,
opening the spigot of my heart.

I wanted the time between the waves, the foam they left behind;
the ceaseless repetition and the tiny little blow holes in the sand,
I wanted something broken to repair, to be repaired.
I wanted the cords in your wrists for resistance,
and the blue in the veins in your wrists for their shadows.

Words I’d said I wanted you to say, your saying gave me license to believe,
and you, with thighs that widened to the delta of your hips,
held me as in shallow, salty water barely moving for an hour.

Arthur Russell is
a car-wash born, Brooklyn, non-stop talker
Of Ukrainian Jewish dissention
buried in beach sand, a literary appropriator,
slave to ceramic fragments
who fits catawampus in the field of law.

His debt collection of poems is
Unbent Trumpet (Nutley Arts Press)