Ed Skoog’s poetry has appeared in many magazines, including American Poetry Review, The New Republic, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, and NO: a journal of the arts. Born in Topeka, Kansas, Skoog graduated from Kansas State University, and holds his MFA from the University of Montana. Currently, Skoog is the Jennie McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington Fellow at George Washington University, and splits his time between D.C. and Seattle. Previous to that, he was the writer-in-residence at Richard Hugo House. The following five poems are from his first full-length collection, Mister Skylight © 2009, Copper Canyon Press, and appear here with his and the press’ permission.
RECENT CHANGES AT CANTER’S DELI
The telephone is no longer upstairs.
Cut fruit in a cold cup will never be whole.
Nothing is where it was. The plate
is beside the bowl. My mind’s all fucked up,
distorted, pale light reflected on stainless steel
of the walk-in-cooler. It is not where it was.
Here’s the spike to build a body of receipt.
Sweat collects on the waterpitcher lip
like the goodbye of a woman I loved.
The clerk bends his body to pray the miracle
of the handwashing station, turns knife to loaf.
The present pours into the pepper shaker.
It settles on the silk ivy of the now. Odds fade
in the sports section fallen between the counter,
where paying my bill I orphan a dime
for a silver mint, and the window snows sun
brilliant on Fairfax, demanding the commute.
They are not letting me drive anymore
and turning onto Melrose on the bus,
the driver, I overhear, has another job,
one he doesn’t know the name for.
Up in the haze some undiscovered animal
watches us, its plan mapped out, fire
swinging up the canyons, unfolding
until flame may flicker tip of sabertooth fang
in the museum where rare finds are hidden.
I, too, am a dinosaur. Rawr. My little claws.
I’m the dredge flopping for tar from the pits.
Click. I am a kind of David Bowie
in the Amoeba everything’s-a-dollar-bin.
I have four fingers and a thumb on my right hand,
equal representation on the left, and fourteen
billion toes. I’m a windup rooster. Who I am
and what I feel are irrelevant enough to be central
to the project of contemporary American poetry.
Or perhaps any art. Poetry’s just the form
of unimportance I teach teenagers above L.A.
under slanted windows that kill, by surprise,
the birds we then write about, gathering bonfire
around the small corpses, because it’s cold here.
in scarf and boot turn
around our neighbor’s pine,
spill grog into snow,
approaching our porch with
“O Come All Ye Faithful.”
A few stumble or sing wrong,
open the door, Jim for
come let us adore him.
Annual Christian, pipered
by their pied joy, I lean
to follow when they go.
A hand holds me back.
The lead caroler, encountering
our Ford glazed with ice,
undeterred, opens the door
and crawls right through,
knees on the seat, gloves
on the dash and headrest.
The rest follow, pulling
“I Saw Three Ships”
through the car like a rope.
Soon I am falling asleep
in vast winter bedroom silence,
and I am singing with them
through local traffic
houses towns lives
exile and years of night.
EARLY KANSAS IMPRESSIONISTS
Silly now, when she visits
dreams, or I visit her, my mother,
in new condos at brief’s edge
where the neon restaurant’s lawn
shallows with winter. She laughs
in the expanse, wordless, collapsing
into snow to wave arms and legs,
craft a figure. I do the same,
like an infant learning its body.
Dusting off, I rise and she’s gone
every time. I see our shapes
then, mine a mimicry of myself,
hers a rectangular silence,
inhuman, without room
for rage shame guilt or scold,
the curves that let us recognize
each other in the air, O,
in our dynamic world today.
My last look around the house
took so long that the vine
climbing the rosebush climbed
into my eyes, and a lizard
climbed, too, mouthfirst from grass,
its skin changing color
from grass green to a green
almost without green,
the color of dust on feather.
How changed from last winter’s
midnight when I let the dog out
and rats ran from the mimosa
to the fence while shingles
sparkled on the lawnmower shed
and in the grass, a cold lizard
raised a claw. How changed
from next week’s water
writing its black line across plaster
I cannot read in California,
where I hold the cellphone hot
while Lofstead, early returner,
kicks the back door in
to tell me of the damage.
Images come fast to the small,
linoleum sandy and streaked,
walls dice-dotted with mold,
and through a broken window,
the rosebush ash-gray, the yard
ash-gray and without lizard.
MISTER SKYLIGHT (excerpt)
When you enter the city of riots, confess
what turns your life has taken,
what is hard-on and what is mineral. Confess
until the wind catches itself by the tail.
Or find some solace. Mr. Skylight captains
a houseboat downstream like a vitamin.
I can only just begin to bear the chain-link fence.
Reflected in a puddle, the image trembles
as I tremble. The image freezes, I shiver.
It is like the enormity Gregor Samsa
is hoping to sleep through, but, well, can’t.
The woman playing Atari in public has, has…
Everything’s hauled away. In buckets.
These peaches, for example. I have heard
of you, yes, the monkey says. The moon
offers its offensive and ridiculous bulge.
Out in the salvage yard the snowy drifts
are not snow. White paint on frames,
they lean against front doors that won’t open in.
Mr. Skylight, stumbling through, asks
“Didn’t we just finish painting this wall?
Aren’t the brushes still drying on the sill?”
When the moment opens again,
remember to feel the immense province
pulling in, a hand here and here,
remember to smell what first was sweet,
apricots just sliced, one half-globe still rolling.
His wife ran upstairs to call police
as the “assailant took the victim’s own
paring knife from the counter.”
We show this on the snowy channels
most sets veil, between the black and white:
how they dragged Mr. Skylight inside and made
demands, then went deeper into his building,
and the iron gate lifted off its spindle.
Hill of stubble in moonlight, the hog
bristles across the lawn,
eats whole bouquets, eats bouquets whole,
plowing tusk through silk rose, a fresh lily.
Our headstones surrender their salt.
Wilder animals would not perturb us.
Worse hogs will cross and sand
down names. This one, at least, grunts life.
He would eat hog, could he make one die.
If there is a man inside the hog costume,
wanting to feel unchanged, so there is a hog
wearing an inferior fake man.
Read a review of MISTER SKYLIGHT here.