Skip to content →

Category: Matthew Lippman

Still Still Still

It’s enough to sit down in the middle of the street,

the garbage trucks picking up trash,

the school buses stopping and starting,

the dirty rain falling from the neon clouds;

it’s enough to make you collapse in the middle of a speech you are

giving on human rights

or animal rights

or the right of the Earth to be as clean as it was 10,000 years ago;

enough to make you put down the pen, the gavel, the scalpel,

the international phone call,

and get on a bike and bike, hard,

to your child’s school, walk into her classroom,

and hold her tight

without apologizing to the teacher for your interruption;

it’s enough to toss the phone into the river, the computer into the lava pit,

turn to the person next to you

and offer them your hand, eye, maybe even a lung.

I’m saying I’m tired. We are all tired.

All around everyone is doing the best that they can do.

He makes the best pot roast,

she crafts the tallest building,

the bagel people whip up the best bagels,

the lovers love,

the students write the smartest papers on governmental corruption

as humanly possible and still, still, still,

there is someone outside the room with a backhoe

filled with battered Clorox bottles,

steel-tipped bullets, and vice grips ready to tear apart hearts.

It’s enough to take your feelings and slide them onto a towel,

all of your feelings, all of your human and animal feelings,

jam them into a towel,

all of your decency and rage and joy and bullshit and horror and

excitement,

walk out into the street and into the mountain, the cave and the field,

and wrap up any live thing you can find in that soft cloth,

the whole world of live things,

to turn back that backhoe,

push it away into some place in the imagination

that won’t even let us imagine it anymore.

from Mesmerizing Sadly BeautifulFind more by Matthew Lippman at the library

Copyright © 2020 Matthew Lippman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

I Wish

Tony Hoagland wrote a poem called “Dickhead.”

I wonder how many poems will be written entitled “Shithole?”

How a word becomes more than a word

is a terrible thing sometimes.

Last night, watching the football game,

my friend’s daughter, Orly, came downstairs

and handed us The New Yorker.

She is ten.

There was a picture of the president in a onesie

sucking on a pacifier.

She said, Makes me gross.

Her father said, Shithole, really loud.

She smiled, and said Shithole back.

That’s what happens now.

Across the country

ten-year-old kids wear baseball caps

with the word Shithole on the rim

and if you imagine it long and hard enough

it becomes the country of your body

which is a terrible thing.

A terrible, horrible thing.

I miss Tony Hoagland.

I miss his poem.

His poem is about the high school locker room

and jock straps

and other boys saying nasty things

and owning words

and turning words into sunflowers

when they have been bricks of coal

hurled at other people’s heads.

It makes me sad and the sadness takes over

when my friends’ ten-year-old daughter goes up to bed

and takes that word with her

instead of a book on rare gems,

or a cassette player with a mixed tape

her mother made for her

of all the cool songs from 1976,

the first one “I Wish.”

I wish Stevie Wonder, Tony Hoagland, and Orly¸

could sit down for dinner one night

adorned in long Technicolor robes,

laughing so hard that the sound of their laughter

eradicated the word Shithead from the lexicon,

erased it so thoroughly that there would be no more cartoons of him

in his infant clothes,

sucking his thumb,

watching television clips of himself into oblivion.

from Mesmerizing Sadly BeautifulFind more by Matthew Lippman at the library

Copyright © 2020 Matthew Lippman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

The Infinite Joke of a Freezing Rain of Shuttlecocks

It doesn’t matter how much Van Morrison you listen to,

how many Museum of Fine Arts that you visit,

the shuttlecock of time comes down extraordinarily fast

and smashes you to pieces.

There was that time in Sag Harbor when we played badminton for hours

after a day at Windmill Beach.

The hot sweat, the cold Labatts.

That shuttlecock rifled its little plastic nub at us

but we had no idea that this would be the way of things.

Our children birthed, our parents on the way out.

Some days we’d put on Veedon Fleece to slow it down

but all of a sudden the kids were sixteen and kinda drunk.

We went to the Richter exhibit,

the Rothko retrospective—didn’t matter,

one mother slipped into dementia,

another father dead in the ground.

We ran to our record collections with our museum memberships

and threw Moondance at Monet,

Common One at Caravaggio.

Nothing helped.

The shuttlecock slammed into our faces saying, “Listen to us, listen up.”

And we did, the welts growing wider and faster, bumpier and pink.

Time just marched on.

The body began to sag in weird places—under the tongue,

between the ribs—

and then one day we woke and couldn’t drink beer anymore,

get those greasy fries from The Frye Shoppe.

Tonight, alone in our rocking chairs beneath a frozen moon,

we raided the radio for “Brown Eyed Girl,” for “Hyndford Street,”

and found both.

We turned up the dial to ten and walked outside.

But it was too late.

We had lost to the infinite joke of a freezing rain of shuttlecocks

that drove us back into our small rooms and stained white walls

littered with the posters of Picasso and Murray,

Hockney and Hopper,

and that one original Miro

hidden beneath the floorboards

so when the thieves came

there’d be something left.

from Mesmerizing Sadly BeautifulFind more by Matthew Lippman at the library

Copyright © 2020 Matthew Lippman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

The Ocean is a Flower Called Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente kicked my ass last night.

He came out of the darkness like a train whistle

with his 21 Pittsburgh jersey tucked in

and laid me out with a left hook.

I fell to the grass and screamed,

What’s your problem, Roberto?

Couldn’t sleep, he said.

Get a motel.

He said, My plane crashed. I am dead.

Go home.

He said, I come from Carolina, Puerto Rico.

So, what’s the problem?

He said, My name is Roberto.

I have three sons and three thousand base hits.

My name is Roberto Clemente.

And when his plane took off from San Juan,

overloaded with bananas and gauze

for the earthquake victims of Managua,

it was New Year’s Eve

and his eyes were bloodshot bullets

under the canopy of the Atlantic Ocean.

When the sharks got their teeth into him,

the turtles,

the manatees and sting rays,

the vapor trail of his gait around second base

brushed back the wind.

Ten hours later my father woke me to say, El Padré, Roberto,

no longer swings for the fences.

I was seven.

I have been seven ever since.

from Mesmerizing Sadly BeautifulFind more by Matthew Lippman at the library

Copyright © 2020 Matthew Lippman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

If You Don’t Want Your Kids to Have Sex Don’t Finish the Basement

This guy, Lev, at the dinner party said,

If you don’t want your kids to have sex, don’t finish the basement.

I don’t remember anything anymore, my fifty-two-year-old brain a

soggy piece of kale,

but I remembered what Lev said.

It’s because Lev is the heart in levov

where all the stories come from.

Here’s the story: we were eating the salmon and he was talking about

his kids,

all grown up,

and my kids were in the basement playing ping pong,

not yet thirteen.

There was beer and wine and gluten-free challah and gluten-free Tiramisu

and the walls were red and gluten-free.

That’s the whole story.

The other story is that when a guy says something like that

you have to remember where you were when you first had sex.

It could have been in a car, in an attic, between two trees, under the moon,

near the factory, inside the deep blue sea, in the onion patch.

Sex is an onion.

It’s translucent and sweet and will make you cry your face off.

It’s a swimming pool on fire and a gorilla who knows how to speak

seven languages.

If you are lucky enough to have sex in a finished basement,

this is a good thing.

If you have sex in an unfinished basement, not so good—all that dust,

those exposed water heaters, boilers, and rusted rakes.

So when Lev said,

If you don’t want your kids to have sex, don’t finish the basement,

I took a bite of my salmon and here’s the last part of the story.

My kids are going to grow up and have sex.

A sad and wide-eyed, ecstatic sex, if they’re lucky,

and so I left the table in the dark middle of winter to finish the basement—

buy some rugs, some cheap pillows, and a jukebox,

one of those old school Wurlitzers with the automatic eye.

Fill it up with all the songs that make your heart burst, I will tell them.

Play your music

till the needle runs those records bare bone beauty and glisten.

from Mesmerizing Sadly BeautifulFind more by Matthew Lippman at the library

Copyright © 2020 Matthew Lippman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.