Stephen Cushman

If Erection Persists More than Four Hours, Contact Your Doctor


Or sidle up to your sagging house
and pretend you’re a buttress. 

Or float on your back and hoist a bandana
to see if you sail. 

Or club yourself to death with it
and leave your poor doctor alone. 

Psst, Priapus, 
how can perfect potency 

consist of penetration   when only outsiders 
also-rans and runners-up
                                        evicted from
the sanctum
need to seek a way back in? 

Or plant it in the ground and spin.

Lumber Tracks Lumber


Lumber trucks lumber down the dirt road
hauling the woods of the ridge along with them,
bears once encountered there, two sable cubs
ambling upward, upwind, oblivious
to bystanding witness caught in a fix
when the sow straggled after; also coyotes,
same wind, southwest, providing the blind;
maybe the vireo, green-eyed, will sing still,
but lesser yellow lady’s slippers, 
patch down a side trial, thirty-some last year,
kiss them good-bye.
                                 Good-bye’s a good kisser,
just enough tongue to tickle and tease
if one takes it easy, no Hollywood slobber
ripping the lips off; come up for air
if gagging gets likely, that’s what it’s there for,
the requisite reflex. 
                                Sit back and relax,
this isn’t elegy, some sylvan sob-story,
bucolic boo-hoo, a logger eats too,
brings home the breakfast meat, thick-sliced and smoked
in apple or hickory, or if his home’s broken,
makes support payments, maintains visitation; 

this isn’t diatribe based on some bias
favoring environment, a term pretty worthless
when everything environs a given point of view,
and if we insist that view should be ours, then what really matters
is how does it suit us, our private environment,
is it salubrious, sufficiently comfy, lucrative enough?

Some will object that any point of view
is constrained by its viewpoint, so any talk of viewing
through other eyes is claptrap, all golden rules,
every faith has one, merely self-interest
once the gilding’s scraped away.  
                                                   Thoreau called it miracle,
imagined or potential, an instant’s glimpse through other eyes,
but don’t go dragging him in, please, his stock has crashed,
that Walden thing as obsolete as pens from eagle quills,
his mother did his laundry, what more is there to say,
never mind we never see Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad
do their laundry either, wave them all away, quick laundry litmus,
Leopold too, Aldo’s quaint land ethic, la-di-da, that is so yesterday,
so twentieth-century, now that eight of ten of us,
meaning the US, call some city home, as of last census,
with global demographics panting close behind, 

so leave it behind, we’ve had a snootful
of rearguard romantics’ sentimental drivel
essentializing nature; must admit some doubt about
what that mouthful means: are we poking fun
at fogies still deluded anything has essence
apart from mirage or prismatic refraction
of situated optics, funny how it doesn’t help
to call your loneliness a construct,
                                                      or are we smirking
at the figment anything’s essential. Is anything essential?

Water, light, and oxygen would seem the top contenders,
but maybe they’re just essential for us and things that we depend on;
one thing’s for darn sure,
                                         poetry’s not essential,
aesthete postures notwithstanding; if one had it to do all over,
why not needlepoint instead, Encroaching Upright Goblin Stitch,
sounds like kama sutra stuff, practiced at black masses,
but a novice would need some needlepoint pointers,
an answer, for instance: Does needlepoint come
with ethics included?  
                                   Aesthetics, check,
even beginners, all thumbs a-twiddle, can grasp the appeal
of steadily stitching, red yarn or blue now poking through
open weave canvas, there's one called Penelope, two threads together
in both warp and weft, counted embroidery, brick stitch then tent,
voilà, a finished cushion, see its felled hardwoods
crushing yellow orchids, and given a soft spot for proverbs or dicta,
maybe a motto from somebody famous, make it St. Catherine,
her Dialogue lousy
                               for oceanfront getaways
but no beach in sight, unless we pretend the snow into sand,
really white sand bowing trees down, here in late March
what a long winter, people are tired, full moon two nights ago
couldn’t be seen because it was snowing, March moon
is Worm Moon, no worms in sight either, except for the one
crawling one’s conscience, that’s from St. Catherine,
but it's not a motto; "Peace Is Given with the Mouth,"
that’s a good motto, that’s from her too, God said it yesterday,
God does the talking in most of the Dialogue, He speaks Italian, no problem for Him, she calls Him First Truth, Prima Verità,
P.V. for short, please don't confuse with insider shorthand
for one’s point of view, now come to think of it
P.V.'s exact opposite, any point of view will flaunt a fleck of truth
but rarely much more, First Truth speaks first person, Catherine chooses third
for her soul asking questions,
                                               whoa, Catherine’s soul, not many like it
outside of treatment centers, she died thirty-three, numinous number,
what a coincidence, don’t you believe it,
                                                                 but back to the ethics
for needlepoint rookies, would it be right to stitch on a cushion
Peace is Given with the Mouth? Well it depends on the meaning of right,
oh here we go, fine, have it your way, let’s call it right  
if it also preserves (vid. Aldo's Almanac) integrity, stability,
and don't forget beauty, look out, take cover, biotic community
didactic attack of incoming ick, not that again,        
                                                                           but he could be right
about more than just land, would it be right to quote from P.V.?
That worm in the conscience is starting to squirm, chopped out of
suddenly it’s naughty, you know what I mean, why spell it out,
mouth-to-mouth peace slyly goes south, what one appropriates
made inappropriate by chainsaw suggestiveness wrecking integrity,
let alone stability, prostrate with whirlies, bed-spin innuendo;
selected beholders like-minded might savor
some kind of beauty, but Catherine would hate the offense to P.V.
with her homegrown Siena hot holy hatred
                                                                    the way she’d hate poems
that do just the same, or something quite like it, this is the question
for more Tuesday snow, practically April, one week to go: what is fair use
when it comes to creation?
                                           Bluebird just landed in maple-branch fluff
finds itself quickly stitched in these stichoi, are they exploiting,
without its permission, the bird for their ends; if we say yes,
the bird’s its own being, a sovereign autonomy description invades,
don't morph it to metaphor, don’t even mention it, leave it alone
as it does you, if we say this, then what kind of poem
is left us to write; there’s a good prompt the next time you’re stumped,
write a new poem without using anything without its permission, 
bye-bye to sky poems and those about birds, history’s off-limits
and most people’s words, published or not, great poets steal
is chump rationale for Commandment-Eight-breakers, 
Seven- for Catholics, also for Lutherans. 
                                                               Now it gets tough: 
other people’s bodies, torsos or limbs, it doesn’t much matter 
if you’ve enjoyed them in fact or in fantasy, a body not yours 
is not yours to use, without its consent, hands off, no-go,
most verbal groping is forcible fondling 
and strictly verboten;  
                                   erotic verse lobby’s not going to like this,
ancient niche market suddenly at stake, along with careers
eked out at keyboards, whetting the blades
they rev to rebut
                            Muse rhymes with use,
so call it a harvest, not goblin encroachment,
soon as snow melts and sun dries us out, here comes the bride,
lumber truck trailing her veil of red dust, chastity’s past,
silence is hindmost,  
                                who ever heard of homage struck dumb.

Median With Mendicant


ANYTHING APPRECIATED / even the kerchief
you press to your vertex, there was a time
no mirror loved you more, 
                                           unlike several songbird species
the cardinal slurring its glycerin whistle (in curtain-call snow,
at least we hope so, almost spring and record low)
could be a she, mated pairs share many phrases
as we used to, but she can sing a longer song,
more complex, 
                         now I know you 
                                                   sing your songs
to mirrors mostly, anything appreciated
can also depreciate, something's come up
that brings me down, let’s not discuss it, let’s discuss nature
into mirrors we can preen for, submarine sonar
makes seal brains bleed,                              
                                        Greetings from Conakry Guinea,
With hope your are in good mood i pray my message
will reach you at your best mood,
                                                    let’s talk intimacy 
with the inanimate, after-dark air traffic
blinking between Orion’s legs, winter sky fireflies,
twinkling testicles,  
                               black in complexion, 5 fit tall,
i reached you to seek for your friendship, 
though we haven’t known each others, 
yet but i believed with God support
we shall become good partner in life,
                                                           it’s not that kissing
makes one sick, it's kissing can sicken
when tainted by telling, complex ditties of decking her couch
with colorful spreads, Egyptian linen, perfuming her bed
and tops of both feet, with aloes and myrrh, with cinnamon sticks,
let us take our fill of love, let us delight
ourselves all night, my husband’s not home,
having taken a bag of money, he won’t be back
until full moon,
                          this incident highlights
the complex challenge of mental health issues,
            what if Merton's M
had published their whole story,
                                                  holy ground trod shod,
Please I await to hear from you 
to enable me let you know my aim
for to seek your friendship,
                                            here we go again,
gossip magpie, now thieve this,
vilior et levior, allusion's collusion,
                                                    you should have to look it up,
penance on raw knees, bound and gagged and leashed at the neck,
while you're at it, this one too:
                                                  go into your room and shut the door,
but let's not brake for esoteric, you like speed, cheaper and lighter
both make it hotter, increasingly unspeakable
except for you, secreting secrets
                                                   no kerchief stanches.

Stephen Cushman

Stephen Cushman’s newest books are The Red List: A Poem (LSU, 2014) and Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War (UNC, 2014). He is general editor of the fourth edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012) and teaches at the University of Virginia.