:: Article

Four Poems

By Robert Bohm.

To Kate After Losing My Job

A dead horned owl in the dirt
near the fence that separates
me from you. Its beak

dark as the blackboard on which
the physicist chalks
light’s equations. Think what you want
about the rotting wing

or the land you see. Blowing
silence through my teeth, I make noises
that awaken no one. Years ago

I studied how Yonkers’ vagrants, leaning
against telephone poles, smoked cigarettes
while looking around. My father

lowered his head
every time he passed them. Not
as wise as he, I eyed them, thinking
fate could never
do that to me.


While listening to Sun Ra
for Mary Stricker

in groups, others

alone, all
heading in their own
willful directions, the

piano notes, like pedestrians
on the corner of 4th
and Market on a

sweltering day, zigzag ahead in spite
of the heat, sometimes taking

a few steps
back in order to re-

formulate “ahead’s” meaning, thereby adding to it
something most so-

called progress forward doesn’t have: an attitude, one

that revels in how
a clogged carotid artery or an under-

sized heart, in ruining
everything we know

about order, teach us that
disharmony, regardless of
the odds against it, is a
signpost along the way to finding

the melodious where
(everyone agrees)
it can’t be but nonetheless

is, right there, for instance, where

Catherine St. ends at 8th and goatherds
looking around curiously
wander down from the Pamir mountains

in Afghanistan straight into Philly
while the kids in the park across from your house stop playing
and gaze at them
as in the background

— I can hear it through my Creative Zen’s headphones now –

the piano man shows
decades ago
how by including notes known not to exist, the known disappears
replaced by a

far more
complex music


Love Song for Brown

At the Legion picnic
drinking beer from a keg,
you hobble with the has-beens
on your one good leg

as I listen to you babble
how below your stump
the ghost-limb’s blood
pulses and thumps

and then you’re sliding
deep into a dream
where you walk through paddies
in which children scream.

I’d kiss you Brown
and drive away the pain
but my lips were amputated
in the Indochinese rain.


The old ones… after thinking about Ted Joans

My teachers are gone. All of them.

I followed one past Volker’s farm, another
to the Cherry Island landfill’s
far side, still another
to an empty room in Vancouver, the body
decaying for days, the trumpet
long gone, and then there was the time when . . .

Ssshh, my mother used to say.

When I feel the need, I sometimes
kneel before an altar
of fumigated grasshoppers
and white phosphorous
and pray.
If there’s no holiness anymore, I’ll create it.

My hymn of praise
for the old ones is an unfinished road built by workcrews. After
a hundred miles, and then
jackhammering 30 more yards into a mountain of rock,
they stopped.
“There’s a goddamn
Mohawk burial ground ahead,” one worker noted wisely,
“we ain’t messing with that.”

The dead ones understand. Even
the best art must tread cautiously, never
starting campfires where the brush is too dry
or inviting
highway engineers to ride giant mowers toward
the Queen Ann’s Lace growing everywhere.

It’s the end of the day now. Coolness
creeps into the shadows.
Deer stand alertly behind the old waterworks.

A sad evening? Or joyful?
A covert mood, hidden further west
near hand pumps and silos, dominates everything.
While the card player and midwife fuck under a cottonwood
the moon rises higher
although they don’t see it, but I do.
I’ll tell them about it later.

In spite of not hearing the sound
of missiles in the distance, I know they’re there, soaring
like words whose meanings, programmed
to explode on impact, will leave nothing alive
in villages where delinquents spraypaint messages
in banned vocabularies on the walls.

In a tiny city yard, I look up
years ago
through clotheslines
at a lit apartment window, behind which
my mother and her 5 sisters, crowded
into grandma’s Cedar St. kitchen, make
a soup out of ingredients scrounged
from the rubble found
where the church sexton’s root cellar once stood
in another country long before
any of them were born.


Robert Bohm is a poet and culture writer. He was born in Queens, New York. His poetry volume Closing the Hotel Kitchen will be released by West End Press in Fall 2010. Other credits include two books, two chapbooks and individual pieces published in a variety of print and online publications. Bohm’s long antiwar poem Uz Um War Moan Ode (Pudding House Publications, 2007) was praised by award-winning poet Sharon Doubiago for his capacity “to unearth an underground vocabulary that can erupt up through the lava rock of dead language with the force of an explosion” and also for the overall “quality and depth of his vision and work, its deeplived root in the world.”

Over the last 40 years, Bohm and his wife Suman have spent much time in India while keeping their primary residence in the U.S. He is currently completing What the Bird Tattoo Hides: The Belgaum Poems, a book consisting of decades of writings composed mostly, but not exclusively, in the village of Vijaynagar outside the city of Belgaum in Karnataka. More information on Bohm’s work can be found at his blog Lethal Injections for the Conditioned Mind and his Selections from Online Works (2006-2010). He can be contacted at rebsalerno (at) comcast.net

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, September 6th, 2010.