Poetry by Geoffrey G. O’Brien

Image by Sarah Gillespie / sarahgillespiefinearts.com


They wear a blue so dark it looks
Wet with the shine of surrounding lights
Staring at feels like falling in
Without any hope of support, starting to
Whether or not you ever end up
Doing so, are already seeing the white
Vans come round the corner, beginning
To practice a rush on basic things,
How to say nothing of who and what,
No longer held up by the previous
Days, lifetimes the mistake of someone
Else now, the one they insist
They want without having to know.
There is too much gravity, all kinds
Of pockets, each terribly useful,
Navy and ready. A stunning lack
Of embarrassment about the hats,
The sticks, misuses of technique,
Careful shieldings of the executive
Parts of the face. And the language,
An absence of responsibility
Multiplied until imagined
As care for our California,
Each other under mirrored glass
Amid the dream of plausible threats,
Stairwell and highway, alley and cell.
A search party finding everything it wants
Has to hide its face, move more slowly
As though in thicker, different time
Than the life attempted on the block.
For those who reflect night, wear it out,
Grip both its ends and swing,
Vision’s a chore there’s an end to.


My Complaint

After the first person there is another.
That I’m hungry and thirsty, a pronoun
Made from light, glass, and time,
An effect both German and French,
Something that will and did, but won’t.
It hurts back there, no, here,
How it moves around then goes.

Often I feel fine, another
Issue. My face a tell and if
You can’t see it you’re the mirror
In the room, already fading fast.
The Internet, vast distances,
Thick walls. London, the ocean,
The seas. Container ships, a word

Up from the waves. Whitman. Days,
Shots fired, the first of the month.
Examples. How hard it is to learn
The ratios, make allowances,
Make sing without embarrassment
The failure to see it coming. That
It’s prologue, the full thing to follow.

Having known what autumn is.
Now knowing only what it was.
A yellowness hemmed into
The green and brown and blue
So suddenly they’re only other
Colors? The death of uncertainty.
Signs I’m dishonest about what I know.

Maybe the old relation between
Sickness and likeness. Needing
A better tense than the angry
Few on offer, and my need
Needing one, the two together
Presenting as a frustrated sense
There are lost planes of perfect

Action, available but not
For us, in whom knowledge has
No basis, like swimming through bed
While the sun pours down unused
Outside in. Stability
Of that visible aspect of noon
Only for as long as it is

Noon, which it just was
So can will be, leaving me
Alone in clothing. Is that autumnal?
That its foliage foregoes
Conclusions rather than holding them
Hostage, the leaves preface to
A constant plural I don’t

Doesn’t quite yet agree with,
Which must be not why
Everything happens but how,
The garden purpose of all variety.
That why maybe hides a game
Version of how, cast down into things
Via sunlight to make them

Causally infirm, visiting them
With unpredictable venation
Each day alters as it spreads
Reluctant returns across
The green mouth from which
They came, their bursting forth
Again, fleeing the ground

Like a conjugation running out
Of cases, emotions proper to
The face of the world. Leaf shows.
The Berkshires. Any state
Or official region. Wanting you
To help me out here then there
As if this were an old friendship

Just beginning, not between us,
Among the ruined surfaces
Across which thought
Makes faulty bridges. That
They are there, constantly instantly
Felt in their dry implications,
Woven over and into the red,

Orange, yellow, green, blue,
Browns as they’re read out
Of the brochure. Maybe not
Knowing is the leaf change
Of why into how, though the reverse
Might be truer to a world
With so many men in it.

Either way an insufficient path,
Like a small cause before
It gains a crowd of adherents.
That passes through the face,
Sometimes even for it
Till it glows to melancholy
And becomes a lost art,

A countenance, something with
Which to deem what is
Painfully outside, what inside,
Why they seem to come in threes
But stand alone together, how
They came to, and from where
To what they are no longer.

Clouds, plans as they approach
Darkening the grass, wondering
Who arranged it, or why time and place
Can safely flame, tongues
Foreign to themselves. That it
Seems hasty to rest or go on
While the past does both—

I meant path (autocorrect)
Because I’m trying again to follow
Travel’s senseless advice to itself
To stop somewhere far ahead
I pretended to have overheard
Like a man who’s been in public,
Stood, sat, and lain in a square,

Almost experienced hardship
Once then always, drinking it in
To excess, to determine what
And whether anything from before,
The whole world-colored pilgrimage
Through decay, and I’m not
Just talking about autumn.

Friends at a distance, acting like
You haven’t been there before.
The realms of gold. Months, all
The done names for them. 2006.
And ’07, and ’08 for that matter,
Sifted infinitely thin. Why
Nothing but variance, a mirror

Gone sundry with lewdness
Summering on my shaven face,
And no remedy for having
A reflection. Even the furthest
Corners of the room are too hot,
Too cold, hard to sweep out
The meanest things caught there,

The standardized spelling greetings
Require of a face. A date
At noon on a day inside violence,
The doxing of Ferrante. Passwords,
Toy dogs, thunderless rain.
Finding drunkenness instead
Of taking up the sheerest cause.

Each test of the ordinary, updating
Stored information when the new
Card comes in the mail. Complaints,
Especially those of a personal
Nature. That I am no longer
Of you, though no one saw me go,
And happiness looks insane

In a world of sealed-up goods.
The other day. Shadow of
A leafless tree, its frivolous suit.
Encumbrances, impediments,
Up to and including this.
My birthday, that it only comes
Once a year and at all.

Having to stop before being done,
That or how experience remains
A new language. The fragility
Of bonds, face value of headway.
VR and its evangelists
Appareling the face
Making recognition disappear.



Geoffrey G. O’Brien is the author most recently of People on Sunday (Wave Books, 2013). He is the coauthor (with John Ashbery and Timothy Donnelly) of Three Poets (Minus A Press, 2012) and (in collaboration with the poet Jeff Clark) of 2A (Quemadura, 2006). O’Brien is an Associate Professor in the English Department at UC Berkeley and also teaches for the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison.