Back to Issue Fourteen.

la dolce vita


Massachusetts and the remains
of winter dissolve like cream

into grey lawn, snarled alders,
and Rogers Brook. Two birdcalls

compete between the branches:
one fluent, descending, the other shrill.

While the water is so flexible, effortlessly
skirting rooted stones—

footage of a helicopter rising
in a widening helix above St Peter’s

was broadcast this morning:
I was told and would later read

that the Pope soared, in it, away, as Romans
thronged their balconies to watch.

Blank azure vaulted the immortal city; here,
ghostly brightness broke through, ten minutes at a time,

painted weird shadows, quickened the water;
a kiss for the fat vines, the spindly trunks.

Then dusk fumed from the lawn, and soon
two coin eyes glittered there, as if casing me—

my house, that is—I was invisible
behind the blind, wrapped in my thick blue robe.


Benedict XVI

Wavering, changing


All around itself the crepe myrtle unfolds
ten thousand leaves simultaneously.

That pain: each blade slicing
out through the stiff vein
for a week. And crowds, as now

ponderous Arab governments are toppling left
then right.

My ancestors are seeping
from their graves;
the gods of cause, the gods
of effect, scrap in the shadows;
hot blood
floods my lips, my fingertips—a prickling—

Two destroyers, a trireme, a brigantine,
lost, sea anchor in darkness:
they let out gossamer ten miles long,
wind comes, the cords foul, the hulls shiver together,
black tonnages, grinding, grinding, and the ribs
open, men breathe ocean—

Our shadows
fall on the esplanade.
Evening, you murmur to the passersby.

Two promenading citizens.

Your sunglasses glint red, you secure them
in the massed coils of your hair. Overhead

the window of a condominium
is drawn up.
In my back,
the nerve tree tightens its roots.

I can sense the razed temple, it must be near.
Weren’t we made to wander on?
Weren’t we told to roof it well?

on the levee


Fat, tame, turbid,
the river ripples brightly.
Upstream the rain
droned on,
so these willows are sunk
and chunks of dirt are torn
from the bank.

The infrastructure holds:
the crest has passed.

This is accommodation.


In another month I begin
to teach again. I remember the Ethics
when I can’t fall back to sleep,
then over pho with my sister
as she dissects her breakup,
her demi banh-mi.

A year since I worked.
I don’t think I am worse,
but have determined that I can’t know.
A post-Catholic remorse
lingers: aftertaste.

Whenever I regard my past
at middle distance—
specifically, the little, grandiloquent myths
I nurtured and (saving grace) hid—
my perception, thus judgment,
darkens to an irony so dense
it admits no freer hatch.

I hate that I can’t get past the dreadful
naïveté of those selves, can’t forgive them
their bundles of earnest expectation,
their stubborn attempts to distill
the quotidian into meaning.

Poor things, proud as Huck,
drifting downriver,
getting smaller.


At twenty-two I wanted to see purely.
(I knew less and less, even then, what that meant.)
But by exertion or hunger
or sex or abject failure
I could arrive at a state in which my body
was hollowed out, leaving
a skin which lived
and seemed to see.

I wanted not to need other people:
I needed a platform that I would build
from my experience, my silence.

Chasing that,
I neared Cathedral Mountain—
its gloomy strata
loomed above the clearing
spotted with house-sized erratics,
past the icebound saddle
and the arête.

Slowly, the forests I loved
resisted me. The rock flared white
in the sun, and that blankness spread through my mind.

Tore through it.

Now I can remember just
laboring through deadfall, a sourceless
smoke smell, fistfuls of ibuprofen.

And I remember when an August storm strewed
my gear a mile down the bed
of Joseph Canyon.

I saw the lack
rising toward me
through the surface of each thing—
I turned.


Whatever logic shadows
this form of thinking forces me
to claim for the present,
if not triumphant synthesis,
the growth of knowledge—

But uncertainty is my new way,
it was found, then sought,
and now on a weekday afternoon
I can lounge by a river in mild flood
failing to identify the intermittently hidden
and fast-passing fragments of flotsam.


I came here, and sensation
for three months
held me up—

the fan-palm striped the blue stucco wall
in a chilly afternoon
which continued
until suddenly wet warmth filled the wind,
the Japanese magnolias popped big magenta
fists on their bare branches
and the thrushes were floating back and forth
across the city, at the center
of their piercing cryings-out—

Even when my moods came over me,
when I had to huddle over a desk
and work desperately at thought,
at that proving,
there was still enough of it
in me to sustain me. Elsewhere
too, winter held.


But as that ebbed the person I had made
and worked to make for twenty-four years
resurfaced: the self-impatience
that bled over onto others,
the useful guilt,
and its black, corrosive parent.

I fought it: I wanted
to save this new uselessness,
to make it useful—
to make it moral.

(Such an awkward, powerful word—
which I use to hope
that if I strain long enough
I may be able to justify
that part of my life to me.)


Carnival built, struck, faded—
It was an afternoon in March.

I walked streets, then the louche park.
It flowered madly.
Braced on my roof in the sun, I read a novel,
then came down and fell into the daybed—

I can discover no line between my dreams. There
I am often a rain of glass
tinkling on the cobbles. Flanked by tugs and a pilot boat,
I am a laden tanker
creaking down the Mississippi’s
final sigmas,
and I think I am the flood itself—

I awoke in unexpected dark.
I began to walk—
night began to end, which meant

that in loose bands the disappointed
bachelors were marching home
through the Quarter.

Good evening, one said.
Good morning, I said, heavily—

my sadness was absolute.

I could smell the early jasmine
blooming on both sides of Royal Street,
and I could see, beneath its tangle, the wrought iron screens
gorgeously excluding,
the jagged glass that topped a wall.


This, though, is the levee.
When wind fans the willows’ leaves
they whisper.

Then the breeze abates, leaving an enormous silence,
the silence in which the river lives. Jealously
I conceive of its power—

and I remember my house at my back,
three blocks,
a cheery pastel purple.

The crest has passed into the Gulf.


I will be meeting children, charming parents.
I will take shelter
in the world’s idea
of worth.

I need to save this year,
I will need to return here.

So lightly,
in this indolent heat,

I let myself break
the word that sticks: de, cadence.

If my life is sad rich music,
very well—
may it fall upon the ear
drop by drop.

If I am tumbling from a high place,
may it last.

Noah Warren won the 2015 Yale Series of Younger Poets for his book, The Destroyer in the Glass, which will appear in April 2016. A Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, his poems have appeared in AGNI, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, Poetry, and The Missouri Review.

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