Frank Osen

Frank Osen’s work has appeared in publications including The Dark Horse, POOL, Pivot, Blue Unicorn, 14 by 14, The Spectator and The Wallace Stevens Journal.  He was a runner-up for the 2008 Morton Marr Poetry award, won the 2008 Best American Poetry Series poem challenge, received the Lord Byron Award from The World Order Of Narrative & Formalist Poets, and was a finalist in the 2006 Nemerov sonnet competition. He was born in Yokosuka, Japan, graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and Loyola Law school, and lives in Pasadena, California, with his family.

Pacific Drift

We’re on the brambled slope above your house
And I’m still gazing west to Catalina,
Where the horizon’s shortly going to douse
An undulant, impossibly pink sun.
Sailboats are sifting north to the marina;
Laguna’s pastel patch beyond that palm
Is like a master watercolor done
In an eponymous pacific calm.

Four years ago, it was a different story:
Earth movers shifted all this rise away,
And evenings, you were on the phone to me,
Complaining that your place looked like a quarry.
The county called you, though, it was okay;
They’d shore, restore, and pay you for your trouble—
But, still, it hurt you somewhere deep to see
A once-imposing height come down to rubble.

Support has never been my strongest suit.
I tend to bulldoze things; I'd scoff and say:
Your lot was not as stable as it seemed;
What good were vistas that could slip away?
No purchase you had here was absolute;
You knew unanchored places often slid;
You’d have replacements that you’d never dreamed.
And by degrees, within a year, you did.

You drifted downward; evening’s fretfulness
Became upheavals of late afternoon
(I’d yet to learn the doctors’ term sun-downing).
A home of quite another sort came soon,
Erosion of more faculties and girth,
A sliding toward complete forgetfulness
From which you’d sometimes call, like someone drowning
Without a footing in familiar earth.

At sunsets, not so long ago, you’d stand
Out on that terrace, raise a toast and note
How man-made fine particulates enhance
These evening skies; so when I’ve drunk my fill,
In awkward mimicry, I raise my hand
And let the bagful of your ashes float
Into the placid sky and land’s expanse.
It’s fit that you’ll become your lovely hill.

Appeared in The Raintown Review

Cover Memo

Engaged at the office all day on a sonnet - Surreptitiously
              Wallace Stevens, journal entry, August 3, 1906

To: Distribution
                              Stevens was aware
That many poets must go leopard-like
Among the striped but not be spotted there.

This isn’t easy, when desire may strike
At work, although it called in sick last night
And, stricken, one must chase in search of tea
Or oils or oranges to some distant height —
Or only to the nearest OED.

Yet when protective coloration’s risked,
A job transcends that mental game preserve
Where fauna don’t go frolic, but get frisked.

For all who bear an office to observe,
We ought to mark each August third this way:
As annual Surreptitious Sonnet Day.

Appeared in the Susquehanna Quarterly and Umbrella

Unawares, by Parrots

The sky erupts in rabid, bright green shrieking,
A bedlam which can only mean that harpies,
Descending now, on prey they’ve long been seeking,
Have come to rend her to her very car-keys,
Right here—of course—in Target’s parking lot.
But first (she heard this in some softer universe)
They’re going to drive her mad, bereft of thought;
For what’s that caterwaul, if not God’s curse?
And then, ah, mimesis, your name is parrot!
She sees the tiny, arcing flocks that croak
Across her line of sight, sees how they share it
At no expense, the raucous cosmic joke
In which they wink above, as she trails after
And watches fates fly off, to sounds like laughter.

Appeared in First Things

Two-Person Ketch

Two novice sailors, terra incognita,
For so it was, and so we were, at sea,
Just wed, our rented boat off Punta Mita,

The sail unreefed, we tilted hard a-lee
And hugged the weather-rail until some sound
Caused me to stand aslant and scan around,
Not feeling how your hands had wrapped my waist
But sensing (if such things could ever be,
That then they would) a siren called to me.
I found then, how your arms held me embraced
And how you smiled, as if you hadn’t heard

Or heard much better, lilting of a sort.
I leaned to you, we kissed without a word
And brought our righted craft about, to port.

Appeared in Soundzine

Medicine Cabinet

The opened door discloses dental floss
And nostrums for inducing sleep/zip/zoom
And there in the apothecary dross,
Some pills I scavenged from your final room.
I gathered by the single word you wrote
Across their quartered envelope, these might
Produce a gentle deliquescent float
If taken with a beer or two some night.

It always stops me though, your ghostly hand —
Four palsied letters skittered out in ink
That seem to waft in from another land —
Much stranger than an agonist, I think,
With so much else of you now laid to rest,
To find your pain at home inside my chest.

Appeared in Measure and was a runner-up for the 2006 Nemerov award

Byron, To Auden

Dear Wystan (is it Wystan? Is it Hugh?)
Thanks for your letter dated ‘thirty-six.
I’ll own, I’d have preferred a billet-doux,
Accompanied by those referenced naked pics,
From some fair thing—still, nice to hear from you.
Before I get to art or politics,
Let me explain and then apologize
For this, the most belated of replies.

In Purgatory, as Virgil first explained
One wears one’s designated wreath—he, an
Old laurel—me, some thorny, brown thing. Pained
To find such rules here, I conspired Promethean
Revolt, though as in Greece, I nothing gained.
But, being dead (and bled) already, Lethean
Mail service was denied me for a spate,
And that’s why this arrives so late.

I trust it finds you well and still above,
Or else, that you’ve ascended higher still.
If that’s the case, and by some brook or grove
You find my daughters, or atop a hill
Chance on my sister, give them each my love.
My sin’s inconstancy, not wishing ill.
But Heaven’s not the end of every life—
If you’re below, please do look up my wife.

On second thought, I’ll not encumber Charon
With quires about events, for I assume
Not much has really changed with flesh or iron.
The Toms and Georges still, I see, presume
To render up the Eliot’s Guide to Byron.
Dim luminaries wear my old perfume;
Each of them aspires to be or do one —
But none of them can write a new Don Juan.

You, though, who’s over-fond of large machinery,
Don’t task me, sir, about the poor—recall,
I thought the mills a blight on scenery
And spoke for those who smashed their frames—this all,
Within the House of Lords, in sessions plenary.
So, why imagine that I’d be in thrall
To later sorts of fascists—Rome’s or Munich’s—
However much I might admire their tunics?

I like you, though, so please forgive my screed—
But, God damn, man! Icelandic travelogues
Won’t ever make a really ripping read
When mixed with duller parts from catalogs
And diaries. Hugh, you’re gifted, I concede,
But you’ve an eye out for the pedagogues.
Don’t be afraid to add some tears, some blood,
Some other elixirs—a sylph, a stud.

This last advice, I’ll put you most discreetly:
Good missives send their readers for the Kleenex.
In yours, though it was done and done quite neatly,
There’s (oh, my country, plus ša change) no sex.
or rather, it was there, but too obliquely,
And ships and trips by sea—but no shipwrecks?
If you can’t be a little more rake-helly,
Please send your future posts to P.B. Shelley.

Samuel Johnson and the Poets’ Corner

Johnson, though famously witty and crabby
Once failed to be either and thus was repaid:
With Oliver Goldsmith, at Westminster Abbey,
He’d paused in the corner where poets are laid.

Surrounded by busts of the best of the great
(For Chaucer and Shakespeare and Milton looked down,
Though Keats wasn’t there, as he’d yet to be late)
The doctor stood musing on fame and renown

And finally murmured with eye fixed afar,
Would our names might be found here, with those of our peers!
Then the two resumed walking to old Temple Bar,
Where the heads of poor wretches sat rotting on spears.

Said Goldsmith, who knew what misfortune oft sends,
And our heads not be found here, with those of our friends . . . .

Appeared in Light Quarterly

Refinishing Weather

With all of August crackled, baked, and hazed,
The soothing thought of watching paint congeal
Or smoothing where a bureau top had raised,
Began to hold a certain warped appeal.

He lathed away those days this way, revealing
A depth that wasn’t there beneath a surface,
Or mastering an art he’d use concealing
A flaw, then his technique, and then its purpose.

Some finishes are better not begun,
With others luster quickly disappears,
And some, quite literally, are never done—
French polishing goes on and on, for years.

But, then, re-anything implies a loss,
A lack of permanence, an un-remaining,
The way each burnished analine’s deep gloss
Some day inevitably needs re-staining.

That didn’t trouble him, the work felt good;
As when, in sanding down a table round,
His hands and paper whispered with the wood,
To shape an intricate, sustaining sound.

He was refinishing. He liked the way
The word proclaimed the task’s utility
Yet, looked at cool and clear, would still convey
A hand at faking and futility.

Appeared in The Raintown Review