Rob Chalfen

Sixteen poems

log: 1519

If we know only ropes, we hold
                    all to be roped, lashed, windlass’d on
                                        the pounding main

so long as the Viscount holds
                    the Pope’s tolerance
                                        we have the islands
to ourselves

I can gather these rumpots to arms
                    should the tide rise and the Spaniard’s
                                        sails come to thunder

We are the savages here

I’ve sewn up my sacrifices in powder
                    heard the cutlass sing
                                         across the bow

We must hoist before the rains
                    hove-to on expedient tides
                                        pull our anchor from the sucking mud

get on the line and pull

comply or you’ll be lashed


ten pathological epigrams

diselect your provident sorrows.
                chances are taken cases
                        you don’t know the furtive logic
                                at play in the underside of things

you’re too chalked-up – revisit
                the crime scene. There’s not much
                        you can do after the fact.
                                The word is a retrospect of innuendo

Throw down your peasant overtures
                pharmacies are overturned for less
                        you could have discovered the electron
                                or some other viper science of small packages

Mercury is in armor and the saints
                have left their spit in Paradise.
                        anyway, any way you can reinvent
                                your inventions is ok with me

Time is much more of a pastry cabinet
                than a selection of ones and zeros
                        This bad music will put us all on a diet

I had never dissolved your silence in a baptistry
                the throat has gusts and waterspouts
                        ether winds within and out

The point is we’re missing the point
                god plays with radioactive dice
                        ears, skies, whimsy, air, silence
                                the image resists form

you can grow an acceptible eye
                in an original hour
                        recommend yourself to desire
                                and desire improves itself

pluck the feathers of your brow
                memory is ripe and the shadows
                        have wings

welcome all your gorgons in for sandwiches
                to sigh allegiance to the wind
and the mind’s permean forest


not so easy to distill the cargo from the sound

and I, some avatar of bohemian dread, not fit
for her castles, and pallisades, candlesticks,
cats, mantles, hair, Vermeers...

ruination of Theosophical night
summon the wind cavalry
                 for intangible ministrations

”we’re not very removed from company operations,
pretty hands-on”

poetry is dead because no one wants to sample the wind –
the mosaic is too intimidating
the corporate fuse has been lit
and we are the bomb

technically we are disporting in
mandarin shallows
investments are made and its a
stand-alone operation,
the pay off is in regional markets,
hydrostatics and flood control –
when the crash comes
move the priests to the jungles
and set the cadences to stone


OK what’s the strategy? we move out
and cover the landscape with typewriters
and engine parts, deploy a phalanx
of rhetoriticians to confiscate receipts,
dial back the dialogue with imperfect thunder.
Back-hoe your obsolete education into
the public landfills and derelict tectonics

The problem with time travellers
is that they have a lot of very specific,
highly-detailed information
that almost always turns out to be wrong –
amateur dreamers and side-bet sharks

they end up as novelists and are better off that way;
the real players can tell where they are
just from the sound
of the way a coin lands
they know the name of the world
and who’s in command
they can dig themselves
out of the rubbish heap of history, they can
read the time-shadow
as it were. Before the sun sets
they are doing box-office,
if they’re any good –
not the main attraction, but
the numbers just behind –
the inconspicuous window they set up
to breeze the fates – then roll it over
to collect when fortune waits


Puritan Foodchain

the great slowdown proceeds
                 in the Decembering of light
in the ruinous causeway
                 of all that’s been provided

Excuse me for being restless
                 in all the harmless architecture
or is it all so harmless?

The idea of any task lies behind it
                signalling like a silent hieroglyph
waving us through
                a hieroglyphic verb
if such can be imagined
                 or since time flows, a stone,
of certain shape, that shifts the currents
                 into semblance of a thing
and so the wise eye of Horus is wrapped up
                in his hours


The house beside itself is singing
               to the other houses –
                      and so the town is but a song
with coffee and transportation
               as sorts of counter-melodies

iterates things into being
like a hymn to chaos
in the tangerine sunset

any complaints registered in Cambridge, Mass
must be taken in grano salo
anyway a calm foot for flying buttress

alms for peregrines

the dance you do when your point of view is overcome by your ability to see

site of stasis


Sequester Elektra

unsound practices and infirm minds
erect your oscilloscope to contact the dawn
apply your scratchpad anaesthetics
reclusive mindhorns
pointed at Orion
cloud-shorn star minstrels
missing lights rise through the trees

make tea from the mists that arise
from the shredded novel of your eyes

libraries burn not from kings
but because librarians go mad:
Alexandria was an inside job

despair is a platform anyone can borrow –
certain levels have been eliminated from view

orders of magnitude are magnified

Pulitzer electron

sequester Elektra!


The FCC of Poetry (in progress)

Halloo! Halloo!

Dark transmissions o’er Platonic seas
cankerous salads and ammoniated graces
short wave of forbidden spleen
the untuned psaltry of the airways
roasted in Camaro blonde
is anybody listening? Halloo?

daffodil aspirants shit asunder
              on microphones glumly receptive

bilious spatterings!
               avantgarde dipshit galore!

we are trapped in the watchtower
               and no one is coming!

cadaverous bibles with reptilian psalms!
lung-trees hung with sandwiches, hurrah!

up the ante – up yer auntie

(I’m being rehydrated by experts)

Now to resume an aspect of professorial calm:
no one is listening
               the signal’s fading

baboon with telegraph engines!
sartorial bathyscaphes!

Is that pithecanthropus erectus
or are you just glad to see me?



The Anvil of Glossolalia

You over-salt me, sir
and hazard the realm
my eggs are in a lurch
and as stochastic as a current of sardines

The Churchwarden is encambered,
proffers the wrens to a miscreant’s tooth
and a basket of weeping lillies
all sent asund to thunder and lilac light

Empty the cupboards to any passing pedlar
your loft has starlings and the hay
has blown into the sea

You quote your sorrows with a pirate’s feather
and enter them to a solipsist’s ledger


who goes by comets comes by gravity
it is an exercise in destiny
ascend by comity not depravity
simplicity is the only strategy

a southern god may hold you insignificant
to the furthest constant consonant
unremarked at the university of nerves
a worm like that is worth a thousand urns


The Arrow of Eratosthenes

Literature may only be a peculiar arrangement
of certain cities, certain times
and is disrupted by suburbia
and other renewals, so called, for higher
utopian purposes to save us
from dishevelment
and its haphazard arrangements
which we seemed to find so necessary
for the compound understanding of our natures

perhaps the reckless vanguard
of our capital investments
will crash upon the pavements
or some natural disaster
and save the sacred shadows
of some Babylonian experiment
that flows against the Tigris
of an afternoon’s enchantment

my high-frequency ire attunes itself
to any transpositional distraction
and discriminates its politics
with sacrificial actions
affilliates its microbes
with a microscopic cypher
and undulates its unctions
with a mesolithic viper


On the Purposes of Verse

my object may not be to pen delicate verses of self reflection –
think rather telegraph office run by Karl Kraus and Timothy Leary
you under-estimate my messianic tendencies

a single message that could alter global consciousness!

the ancient hymn to Maalox floats from a distant shrine

I fear she wants me to impersonate a normal human, pantomime
acceptable emotions, ‘yes I see now
it was my mother all along...’ Anything’s interesting
depending on the frame of interest applied – the past is a series
of mildewed paperbacks left in a frozen shed -
dial X for gravity – hysterical calamities of image police –
I may no longer project human form –
thank you doctor


are these my thoughts?
that I have while trying to demolish science?
are they said for effect, or to effect
a sort of regionalism of the imagination?
I think I lose myself or am lost
within and without words.
writing presents contingencies
which not writing does not –
no mere abstract simulacra
but staunch effects of poesie
on the otherwise scattered rhubarb
of experience and other cognitive artifacts –
don’t lose anchor at the lightship!
within the rue of antiquity
I continue these expositions


so who sponsors this infinite bullshit,
who generates all this shinola?
what wench were you beseeching
when the archive at the crimson tower
went up in flames? so much
for all your distractions and infirmities
that tower held all we'd learned
our suppositions
our conundrums
our comprehensions
our geographies and pale dreams
composed on index cards
our posterities and postulations
all gone up in a living torch of angry fire
probably just as well
could any of us truly justify
all the ruin wisdom made?
true thought calcifies in the moon's
hidden window
by the river



We swore up and down that the dark electronic
umbrella of late capitalism would not corrupt
us—why late? terminal state, perhaps,
trains of euphoreants arriving at terminals,
gobbled by goblins, gargoyled in their gazebos,
end-stage electronics prophesied by mutant caterpillars,
embryos evolved ecstatic electrons, katydids
and caryatids nestled amongst the extinct
specimens in the Cabinet of Furious Insufferabilia,
collected in the collective stormbasin of history.
The rebellion of hystrionic card-swipers corrects
any misapprehensions of progress amongst
the hyper-prisms of molecular egress.
What vaporous artillery now swims into view
in the Distractoscope? Screens ungleamed
now resurrect the notes of promissory zeal,
utopian sharpshooters now unfurl their celestial
magnetos over the sweat-shops of Paradise, where
we're still diving under the benches at the tent-show
nickelodeon as the Great Train Robbery
roars over our heads


The Mind-Cabinet of Eratosthenes

Who now knows of the Mind Cabinet of Eratosthenes?
a few scattered fragments
in the high wings of Babylon
a corrupted reference there in the careful
letters of a monk’s mistaken entries
all pieced together by some pedant’s wishful thinking
in his drafty library at Shoreditch
here a stray basilisk, there
a baseline temper of conformity
to fit contemporary wits and bevel
some supposed savagery
now all the music is invisible
and unlamented, collateral drift
amongst the frozen streetcars and
the cold religion of waiting hopefully
for these systems to cohere
a cylinder seal resides there
on the seventh shelf
cold remonstrance to our criminal instance
and there in a flask
some fell homunculus quivers,
a gorgon wrestles isotopes
in a fragment of a vase
his bad self, tongue out,
the original yadda yadda
if I try I can barely remember
the rites of madness we beheld
in the flickering darkness by the pool
beyond the trees

ROB CHALFEN's poems have recently appeared in The Battersea Review, Fulcrum, The Ocean State Review, and Literati Quarterly. He is currently at work on a first full-length collection, and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.