Noah Hoffenberg is an American poet who lives in Vermont. His book The Man with Two Heads
is due out in June, alongside an anthology he has compiled, called The Brink. Noah is the editor of CRUX Literary Magazine, poetry from which has been
selected for The Best American Poetry 2002. He is an MFA candidate at
Antioch University, and has poems forthcoming in The New Delta Review, The
Minnesota Review and Exquisite Corpse.
Zero at the Bone
Cold one tonight in the hills of Vermont.
I have gone off early, leaving her bent-
frozen to sheet’s chilled seasonal lament.
While by the burning, I contemplate wants
of the flesh as molten embers die down,
remembering how Krishna’s soothing blue flame
creates light, consumes coal, and hymns His Name.
No corpses will be buried in the ground.
Frozen bodies must wait until Spring’s
and luckily our cord wood will last us till then.
In winter, love is locked into its pen
like stove logs blistering in icy death’s maw.
Her temperate heart beats in the upstairs bed:
a nose diminishes the Sphinx’s head.
This poem appeared in Troubadour's Best Rhyming Poetry 2000
the summer that never was
A strange winter chill lingers after Spring,
swathing slugs with vague mist on sodden backs,
and summer spawns no hot creative acts.
Ink-black curtains of rain blur everything
in glib suits of slime. Scant vegetables grow
as long as this August drizzle persists.
Gnarled bark erupts from intravenous cysts
while gypsy moths steal green, devouring rows
of immature second growth. There's no heat,
only mizzle, no buck-naked plunges,
no desire-drenched sex like sopped up sponges.
Cold rains drain us as leeches on live meat.
Fall drops its decay, dying in waves.
Our dead rise up from inundated graves.
Never Let Them Strap You to The Apparatus
Note to self: don’t write anything
subversive. B) Be calm. Nonchalantly
Nonchalantly ignore the secret agent
behind the counter at McDonald’s. & do not eat
that super-size fry and double cheeseburger
because everything is injected w/ cancer.
Pay no attention to the woman in the
hyped-out wheel chaise w/
the automatic weapon stashed
in the vehicle’s framework.
Don’t ask why electricians &
telephone repairmen are constantly futzing
w/ the cable TV & high tension lines.
I repeat, tension is high.
Who unscrewed the lid to the salt shaker
& left it to be dumped on my plate?
They watch you through
the unblinking eye of the typing machine.
Keep your eyes peeled
for shifty postal workers & for poets
who claim to be big fans of Ezra Pound.
They rummage through your rubbish,
& send your condoms to the lab.
Hair is analyzed. Habits monitored, graphed,
charted. They know that you like
spicy black bean veggie burgers. You
might be a pacifist or just too weak
to present a problem to Their
infinitely financed Project Nameless.
Even so, They still don’t trust you. They can make you disappear
or maybe you just choke on bad clams
after you slip and fall on an ice pick.
Even as I write this, They read it
from outer space with an electron
microscope. Another trick picked up from
aliens. They’ll come in the night to exterminate
you as an enemy of the state. An insect.
Never let Them strap you to The Apparatus.
Convince Them that you are the light
& They are the dark. Convince them
that you are the dark and they are the light.
the perfect hands of Max Beckmann
the perfect hands of Max Beckmann
are always grasping at things
which they simply should not
and yet his mitts do so
depicting hands that net fresh fish
off of a dinghy or grabbing ass
it is always impossible to tell which
and yet I cannot help but wonder why your name
isn’t Hans Beckmann
wouldn’t that be more fitting than
the magic "hands" of Max Beckmann that come to life
modernist manifestos and frescos
illustrating cartoony cubist fists that defy God
hell-bent on crucifixion
hands pointing up toward heaven
hands pointing down to pandemonium
hands clutching what is soon to become
the shroud of Turin
or the crotch of Christ of course
it is impossible to tell with Beckmann
who seems to travel in all directions at once
except for his hands those real hands
that always know exactly what they are doing
like smoking cigarettes nonchalantly
or lining up a long lit candle
near a woman’s naked spread open ass
the perfect Aryan hands of Max Beckmann paint flawless hands
unreal hands that appear to be
and yet we can thank the gods that the Nazis
despised degenerate art
for art’s sake
from the palette of Max Beckmann
who with his fat German hands
recreated the world
in the image of himself
self-portraits with so much attention to detail
like those hands for instance
always grasping at things just beyond reach
while most artists got hung up or strung out
on the eyes the supposed windows of the soul
Beckmann knows that it is the hands of human beings
that are culpable for all the destruction
and creation of our world
like the hands of God
who crafted the black iris
into a being of light
or like Beckmann who even created himself in a brushstroke’s svelte stroke
portraying kings and vagabonds
each equal at least in the creation
of their hands condemned to death
because we are all blind
to the reality of things around us
and we can only truly see with our hands
that scrawl ancient marks into a cave in France 10,000 years ago
or Homers that wrote poems fleshing out on the page
from simple pudgy fingers that poke the syllables
that make up the universe
finger painting the truth in colors
tinted with personal taste
or are our hands tied perpetually
like Odysseus at the meat hooks of the Sirens
who grab at pieces of the man just beyond our view
as in Beckmann’s tortuous dream of the sculptor
where unseen hands emerge from behind the curtain
and manipulate his every move like a marionettelike Christ’s descent from the
cross in which his hands speak volumes
saying like any good Jew "why me? why
hast Thou forsaken me?"
and everywhere in Beckmann’s world hands are clasped in prayer
at the bar in Baden-Baden
where the wealthy waltz around with eyes closed
and women accidentally brush their hands
against one another’s softly painted parts
because it is always the pink hands that we remember
those that touched us
either discreetly or indiscreetly
like Eve cupping her right breast proffering
her tainted teat to Adam
as the one-eyed snake watches unblinking
Beckmann’s hands protectively cover crotches like green leaves
or rest effortlessly on hips
always veiny and full of life
blood always pumping beneath the surface
of the canvas
and yet it seems that Beckmann’s hands are constantly tied
fixed forever in time
by the immortality of paint
as situations beyond our control exert their inimitable will
upon us all and we are laid upon the rack
with our limbs drawn and quartered in such a life-like fashion
as executioners and rapists and real threats begin to reach
for that which is not theirs to touch
but we are helpless as slaves caged by our own temptations
bound by desires that manacle us
like the perfect hands of Max Beckmann