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Robert Bohm


In Memory of Vallana

What's beauty made of, or truth, or well-being?
Out of the same stuff as the words, I guess.
Well, maybe not the words themselves, but
the whole configuration of the words' existence,
how they arrive from wherever, dripping silence
just as newly washed grapes, their tender skins
stretched tightly over the flesh we want to suck,
drip water on the hand that lifts them
toward the mouth.


Night Thoughts in Little Gunpowder Falls

The tusk moon protrudes
from the black elephant's head.
The mammal, huge as a universe,
is too big to see.
Ignorant, we call its hide "night sky."
We don't know that what we see is alive.

The ego, too, is a tusk,
but of a different elephant: consciousness.
The tusk is only a tiny part
of the whole beast.
Forgetting us, the animal gallops, beyond the safety of known trees, onto a prairie.
Brighter than at noon, the light there shimmers crazily.




As if buried in the human heart:
beneath the soil obscure stems
culminate in tubers that we eat.
Above ground, rubbed raw by the wind:
leaves coarser than an acne-scarred face.
More than a century ago, unknown to those who lived there then,
something emerged in the sub-surface dark,
a hint of everything they didn't want to know,
a fungus like an awareness that would kill,
first their potatoes, then them.
Yet, even dead, Ireland couldn't let things be.
A thought of rebellion sputtered into existence
then petered out in pubs stinking of piss and peat
where the exhausted downed pints, while a nation
that didn't yet exist appeared in their imaginations.


What is it about the sky, in India, that makes it slide,
a cobra over a rock on a jungle hillside,
into a thicket too dense for human exploration?
Moments of illumination in a senseless time:
cremation fires burn on the riverbank; smoke rises,
the elusive remains of a plan that didn't work.
A diseased rice crop did it, coupled with British will:
wanting to outfox the enemy, the colonizers
removed what was left of Bengal's rice supply
from the countryside, so if Hirohito's troops invaded, using
Burma as a base, there'd be no food for them to eat.
Although the Japanese didn't arrive, confusion did:
2 or 3 million Bengalis died of starvation and related matters.
Like the imagination finally feeling unrestrained,
the Brahmaputra River disappeared around a bend.
In Calcutta, a coolie caved in a drunk British soldier's skull
with a rock extracted, as if by magic, from a planet which gives
those who have nothing what it can.


Subway-grating air warms what almost can't be warmed:
the city's January, at least a part of it.
Bundled in rags and bleeding slightly from the mouth,
the old woman opens her eyes and sees what others don't:
how the air's grayness, when studied closely, is the prelude
to another, more opulent gray,
lapping sea-like all around us.
Having eaten nothing in days,
she lies where she lies, surrendered,
like a Sufi saint focused on a dot of inner light,
to the one simple thing she knows:
nothing matters.
The crack addicts who act like she isn't there
know she's there.
At night, nursing her, they lick
the vomit from her face and hair.
Or do they?
Unmapped boroughs with no names lie between yes and no.
Something has been stolen by the nation's rulers.
In the land of plenty: famine.
Yet the wheatbelt's still there, warding off starvation.
Of a kind.
The city-burnings we vaguely remember
will seem quaint compared to fires in future times.
We're starving, but for what?


Seeking What's There

The snow's crust crunches under boots.
Sleet ticks against the underbrush.
All there is to know about silence:
an ice chunk floats south on the night river.
Tending the big vats in the Atlas Point plant,
Jimmy cracks his knuckles in an immense room, empty
except for him.
The narrow path winds through white darkness.
Sleet pellets sting my skin,
fragments of awareness trying to get in.


Robert Bohm is a poet. He was born in Queens, New York.

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