- Birthday, Poetry, Reading, Writing

From the Archives: Ten Poems, by Brendan Lorber


Happy birthday, Brendan Lorber! Celebrate by reading these Lorber poems we published in 2019! After that, go read Lorber’s “How a Poem Happens to Happen”!


The working musicians

Nights make way     for each other
or the musicians do      when it’s working
Conversationally       it’s become unclear
who’s the drowning sailor      and who’s
the sea      Whatever we talk about
talks back about us        or who we made
ourselves      lost to       as though
it’s a pleasure to hear       of the face
plants not yet     taken      to the bridge

A long life of short songs    as a musician
whose favorite instruments        are dead
trees      filled with cicadas     or the weird
thumping sound      made by someone
who shows no other sign      of having
had a heart      Maybe it’s enough
to be slightly stifled      by never being
stopped from talking       about music
or politics         or any of those silly things
except by being told      they are silly
that leave us    to wonder in the aftermath
if it was a cool hang       we romanticized
or a romance      we almost got the hang of

All the topics      to keep what     one’s
demons might take     as encouragement
to pull off      what’s left       of the day
like a shirt      you didn’t want      to be
wearing anymore      or any clothes
in fact     in the challenging      dual
presence      of your mind and body
that you can’t take anymore      but still
count it off       on to take it to the bridge


Unjustified true belief

I have a wealth      of insider information
from the tiniest spaces      Like the inside
of a toilet paper roll       or the part of an olive
where the pimento fell out      that you hold
before your eye      as a Kalamata runner-up
to       the world’s most powerful telescope
in search of far-off problems       to bring
home     like opening for your favorite band
instead of the other way around      or searching
for a way     off the spectrum      of visible
fretwork where you only       either yearn
for the good life       or fear for losing it and
so keep cranking       out the plans for everyone
else       and they’re like      No thanks weirdo
We’ve got our own     concealed level of
expertise to stumble       over the edge of
into something       accurate but unjustifiable


The party lasted years but not this year

I’d get rid of the bees      but I need      the honey
inside this idea        of how to grow      Even
the belief       there was nothing new       wasn’t
new       which either       proved the point or
destroyed it       the way 2019      waved goodbye
to everything       remarkable       and good
with such conviction        I almost forgot 1986
did the same thing       and so did 1977

I can’t remember       the last time       someone
failed       to tell me       the only constant is
change       not in a cool      Stephen Hawking
way        but in the way        someone explains how
no      you should be excited       to get laid off

Every year      we get a little more       of doing
more with less        The kind of trembling      you
just can’t shake      Some people work      for a mean
boss       who means well       but poorly       I work
for living indoors      and feeding my daughter
And I love bees       just not in my tiny apartment

I’m writing this       in my head       at the office party
which I attend       for the free food      and memories
of this place       from another time    There was
the party       where I discovered        the art of
the      I am making an important point      gesture
and most photos since        invoke this mudra

I am making an important point        not connected
to completely freaking out       about the unknown
future        and trying to trick the rest of each year
into believing       I am not       to be fucked with
You should know       I have leveled up      and
away       from even limited success       into
categories more aligned        with natural calamity

The way professing my undying        and obviously
unrequited love       to Andrea       when we were five
or Karen a decade later       was both a terrible idea
at the time        and for all time        but explains
my current state       of incredibly awkward soulfulness
A kind of       stammering heart       filled with bees


Family feudalism

We were friends      I think       though mostly the kind
where they tell you       No the line forms over there
when you get to the front       and so we’re not anymore
except I’d still call        if I needed you       to remove a
bullet        or some lower drama equivalent      and once
almost did       but the problem      got resolved abruptly
by revealing itself         to have been less       a problem
than a lingering fealty       to some long gone system
like the Shogonate       or early internet        so maybe
our falling out      wasn’t real either       because
we were never friends        to begin with        A feudal
ambiguity        or capitalist or Sumerian      everything
is hard to say        and those that are easy        like Nice
to see you        have all the certainty       of election day
morning       or of this very poem      until some toxicity
steps out of itself        into a we have to talk moment
as a shortcut      to being a work of art       as though
a poem or friendship       could be an exchange of ideas
instead of the weird spaceship       or abandoned soccer
arena         that they are       where the ideas spontaneously
generate       whether anyone’s around        to notice


Longest year of the day

Each day       lasts thousands of years       on Mercury
the I’m not touching you planet      so close to the sun
A fact     you spent your whole life      not knowing
until now      For the rest of your life      it is always
the day you learned this     also the day your parents died
or your wedding day      if you’re more optimistic

I’m optimistic that     I’m going to get paid     though not
with money      or affection      or for my research
such as it      could be called that       Paid the way
inactive ingredients      are the ones     that give you
the weird dreams later      almost visitations      that leave
you wondering       if death kind of       comes and goes

I’m told by a stranger        that in Italy      when a child
has a fever       they are burning      everything they need
to lose      in order to grow       A fever is the tidal-locked
Mercury of the body        All your dead relatives return
from their thousand-year daytrip       and the first thing
they tell you      is the title of a poem      or how grief
on Mars       is even more complicated       where you
look from some flyer        in your hand      back up
to the person      who took their time      passing it over
and are like     Oh hi grandma     I thought       you had
been taken by time       or a friend      taken before theirs
and they’re half smiling back at you      their face in orbit
around ten ideas        of how each new day      works it


Hunter with a heart of mist

My calling        calls me       by the wrong name like
Brandon or Artemis       but it’s okay       my calling
is busy        and I’m not sure       I could say       what
my calling is       projected through        although it
definitely takes place      between the realization
summer has been totally upholstered       for three
weeks already      a chair into which we’ve slouched
so far       there’s zero chance     we could get up
without an enthusiastic team      pulling us      between
that       and the startling whoosh      of autumn’s
arrival     in the form of a bus      half a step over
as we stroll into the street      looking the wrong way

The problem      can be better understood       in deep
sea creatures       where the only thing worse       than
their eyesight       is a sense of time        We can see
to the horizon       or at least as far as East 4th Street
where the Bowery staggers       to trace the path
of a one-legged Dutch settler      and later an Ashcan
School painter       with a sketchbook      and bad
circulation      My calling       was to curse newcomers
to the neighborhood        which gave way to nothing
but nostalgia for their arrival        I stop to reflect
so many times      that saying      I don’t know what
do you do?       is the only valid answer      to being
asked      because then I get to be       the mirror I am

That and constantly emerging       from some memory
or anxious projection       into what I think of      as this
moment      the way a sharp vibration      in your heel
will make you       realize the sidewalk      is solid
but only for an inch or two      and under that      who knows
or the moment       someone is peeing      on a pregnancy test
A golden baby shower       ahead of the more formal
baby shower        with games and naming conventions


Now that it’s 8:15 I know some things

I am extremely lucky       but very little of it
is good     except in the educational sense
of having      learned my lesson today      or maybe
someone else’s     Someone whose panic attacks
are like the instrumental bridge      that gets
us      out the door       and into the next scene

The next scene       being the sort of      bubble
sorted       re-alphabetizing of our       tenure-track
aspirations      to wake up      after last night’s
damage       or the longer term      bone loss over
the many such      wash and rinse      repetitions

The present always saunters along      out of
what we mistook for the present      a minute ago
where so many imposters       call the past and future
home     but the real one       under a little cap
of steam      that warns you       not to touch it
for awhile       is a decision tree      chopped down
and burned       to fuel the even newer     analytical
engine whose elaborate fixity       can’t keep up either

Despite our expertise       everything fans out
further      like a scalp massager      with extra
tiny wires      at the end      of each wire      and
more tinier wires      at the end of those       or
the confrontational presence       on the sidewalk
of a signed         first edition      of the book that
changed your life       with a sign on it      that says
Take Me       but also says      Probably No Bedbugs


One has to take a stand

The lunch I want      is always for display only
An affectionate display       like the two t’s
in letters      make a show      of holding hands
at the expense      of even the immediate future
in which they build      a word together      and instead
make a little roof      a gazebo      in the middle
of a thought        too small       to turn around
if things      don’t work out     between them

The breakfast I had      was just as guilty      if not
much more      than a dollop of swallowed toothpaste
or the freshly drizzled coffee      on my pants
on the subway      en route to      the afternoon
I was grateful for a gazebo      to rest       in
the way       believing dinosaurs had scales
is a kind of rest       a mistaken      justification
for our own        leathery human dominance

They had feathers      of course      and our rise
like the gazebo’s       from an otherwise wild meadow
is always drawn back      to the generative lie
The gazebo’s built-in belatedness      that no matter
what year it is       you missed the picnic and band
by a hundred summers      with its tubas and bunting

But there was never either       Gazebos are all
seven years old      I would never presume
to tell you what to do    but once you’re inside
you can’t do anything      but retrace your steps
from the ramshackle      shed of tears     and find
the architectural antidote      to having arms in order
to hold people      exactly that distance away


That thing I sometimes get

Arrive home       to discover      your keys
are in your pants      but     these pants
aren’t yours      or even pants       despite
how you’re wearing them        We can
always tell      who it is receiving the win
or not the win        but the rough diagnosis
Harder       to pull off       is divination
between the frisson      of an unbeatable hand
and      tingling extremities      of a stroke

We know it’s underway       but not what it is
nor the rules      by which the clutching at us
is playing        Mortality always had the key
but still announces itself       on the intercom
only I can hear       I’m coming up!      But
then it doesn’t        which explains       both
how       I’m able to relate this        and also
the twenty expressions       on my face as I do

The device I use        to wipe the grin off
is akin to miniature      community building
by the light      of the solar flare       which is
normal      or underwater chess       where you
hold your breath      for the duration of the game
or cross-country sleep skiing       or competitive
eczema       or simply pushing      the barbed
arrow through      till it comes out      the other
side and you can just       get on with your day



A dog I love      loves chewing     everything else
I love       and some things       I’m just okay with
my face       which is difficult      because
my face     is a lot like faces       that don’t exist
except in memory     And this dog       his face
even more so       like others      who are otherwise
unlike him except in      having adopted the idea
of trying on      being born        Not a great idea
but even for us       the idea is arrived at      before
we turn up to think it       I think      and without it
there are no others      beyond traveling light
that is as pure light      half particle        half wave
half Rilke       or some other      third shoe dropping

Our inability       to find an answer        is assurance
that there is one       or that my charm      is just
a way of not being      uneasy by my own side
by not having a side      to be by      until the very
act of telling you       how I am today     refutes
the intimation     that I am      anything other
than an idea       this dog had      shortly after
running out of       more traditional dog thoughts

What was once a given      is now given over
to something      with teeth         that demands
you be gnawed     by them      to be allowed
further passage       into the tender world
It’s like launch codes       whispered to a dog
that the dog      being better at sticks       than
ignition       didn’t quite catch       And pants
a little       to let us know         our only shot is
that     one of the steps       we took was wrong


  • Brendan Lorber is the author of If This Is Paradise Why Are We Still Driving? and several chapbooks, most recently Unfixed Elegy and Other Poems. His work appears in the American Poetry Review, Big Other, Fence, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. Since 1995, he has published and edited Lungfull! Magazine, an annual anthology of contemporary literature. He lives atop the tallest hill in Brooklyn, New York, in a little castle across the street from a five-hundred-acre necropolis.

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