Three Poems by Russel Swensen

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[Editor’s note: The following poems appear in The Magic Kingdom, which is available through Amazon.com and directly from the publisher, Black Lawrence Press.They are reprinted here with permission of the author.]

Elegy for my Twenties

They were spent, despite my best efforts
in the city of Los Angeles
where the palm trees never seemed real to me
floating in front of the hair salons & nail parlors
in their wooden dresses that shone slick
as taffeta or

the trees were
beauticians talking amongst themselves

knowing something about loss
that escaped me then (as it escapes me now)
about how it can be dressed up

or concealed or made to shine with a hard
cake-like light

that both dazzles & sedates. Like youth itself,
once you have passed it by as I passed derelict cars
on the 405

old carapaces leaking old & silent families onto the shoulder
or into the rearview mirror

where they hardened & turned red with distance.
But this isn’t about them.

& if I claimed to care about them,
perhaps that would be worse than simply not caring,
perhaps some things you can’t make beautiful, perhaps one
solitary thing

which you do not own, but hold, helplessly in your hands, this
self you’ve invested so much in. This self you’ve surrounded
with swaying

trees & abandoned cars & sentient perfume (that clings to you
because it loves you) does it even sound

familiar? Do you remember instead do you prefer
to regret

those condemned houses you used
to wake in those decaying recliners with bad cocaine on tv
trays your little parade

of women you drove mad with worry the needle you found
in your car the black rubber staff that had been inside someone
& left behind—

is this better, is this worse. It has to matter,
but it doesn’t.

There is this notion we have that
to write a good poem you have to be a good person
or seem like one—

which means you can’t trust anyone. This is a problem,
a real one.

You’ve never had any other.

***

Missives from the Emerald City

Blown by a storm of mild disinterest—or too many
acquaintances—

into that bar, the one I always hated,

La Poubelle, I find myself watching a girl in a white fringe dress
stumble through the exits, only to

spit out Texas across

the sides of her borrowed Lexus. She catches my eye; smiles

look mom, no hope, vomits on the other

side; drives.

***

Customer Satisfaction

Do you live for the weekend do you polish
your body like bone
…………………..does it put the lotion on its skin
when you’re down

do you get up again? Do you love the blue plastic angel
or just the unstable?

Do you remember
………………….would you prefer to forget?
…………….(your hand red
from her summer dress)

Is that, said the Lion, what you mean by regret? Is it hard to answer
with your heart in its teeth?

……………………………………(if on distant shores, we should ever meet
………………………..again…)

Why were you there standing in line? Why you were there

at that particular time? Is there someone we should call? &
were your injuries sustained

in the fall? (a singular accident—children dangling
from rides

like singular black tassels—did you

get there in time?

***

Russel Swensen is the author of Santa Ana (2012) and The Magic Kingdom (2016). His fiction and poetry have appeared in Black Clock, Quarterly West, Pank, Third Coast, Devil’s Lake, The Collagist, and elsewhere.

About Okla Elliott

I am currently an assistant professor at Misericordia University in northeast Pennsylvania. I hold a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Illinois, an MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University, and a legal studies certificate from Purdue University. My work has appeared in Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, The Hill, Huffington Post, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, and Subtropics, as well as being listed as a "notable essay" in Best American Essays 2015. My books include From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a coauthored novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), and Bernie Sanders: The Essential Guide (nonfiction).
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2 Responses to Three Poems by Russel Swensen

  1. jbarrettwarner says:

    “Blown by a storm of mild disinterest” seems just the right amount of sprezzatura for such a troubled soul as Swensen to bridge “place” with “the other” and “self.”

  2. russel says:

    look mom no hope should
    be in italics tho

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