Poetry: John Gallaher

These poems will apppear in John Gallaher’s new book, In a Landscape, forthcoming from BOA Editions in October 2014.

In a Landscape: LXVII

Is there anything that isn’t hit or miss? After the believing game
comes the doubting game. There’s an unstopability
to it. And then a “Why the hell should I care about your maundering?”
We want a finishedness to things, except for ourselves, of course.
It’s best if we continue unabated as long as there is, passing a lot of places
where, in the past, people defended themselves against other people,
and the elements. Right now, The Flaming Lips are on,
and singing, “I asked you a question. I didn’t need you to reply.”
The story continues in both directions, forward and back:

One of us, my brother or me, was born in Gresham, OR,
and the other in Troutdale. We were born two days apart. I was
on the 6th of January, and he was on the 8th. His mother
was the sister of my father, until years later, when we were adopted
and became brothers. Our mother now, back then, was the daughter
of the brother of my birth grandmother. We scratch our heads about it
now and then, how every family has these stories, these little shufflings,
somewhere. They give us something to talk about, research
opportunities, the occasional father we never knew. But even things
that bother one can’t bother one all the time. We get tired. We yearn
for connection, like how I’m yearning now for some reason,
and mostly it’s just people sitting there, which is enough, often.
“Learn to Accept Uncertainty,” the magazine in front of me goes,
or perhaps one doesn’t, right? For the rest of the day
I’ll say only things I mean. I’ll call people and tell them I love them,
but maybe I’ll wear a fake moustache, and no one will know.
Maybe I’ll cross my fingers. Some little release. Some go at silence.

I went to a poetry reading in North Carolina a couple months ago,
and met a guy named David, I believe, who was upset about my mention
of John Cage. “He was wrong about silence,” he said. “Could be,”
I replied, thinking that being right or wrong about silence is outside
the question of silence. But then again, maybe not. Perhaps
there is someone out there who is right about silence,
which is, as they say, the secret language the dead share with God.

In a Landscape: LXX

What does a person need, finally? What, specifically,
do I need, beside water, air, and food? “I have this
and need nothing else.” Or, as Thom Yorke has it, “I’m
an animal / trapped in your hot car // . . . I only stick with you /
because there are no others.” This morning I’m sitting in my pickup
in front of the gym, drinking my coffee. My door’s open
in the present tense. (And now there’s a second now, two hours later
typing this up.) And I have this feeling
of complete happiness. I know where everyone is,
and everyone’s OK. A song is playing on the radio,
“Exhaustible,” by DeVotchKa, that I like. There’s this part
where a chorus whistles—it just came around again—
that’s going well with the light wind and people going by.

When I was a teenager, I read a story about a man
who made a deal with the Devil. The Devil gave him a watch
he could use to stop time when he was completely
happy—the Devil knows human nature, right? No one
knows you better. So the guy’s unable to ever hit
the stop button. All his life, through kids
and lovers and success and failure . . . and so then he dies
and finds himself on the hell-bound train,
and the Devil comes for his watch and the guy’s soul.

We’re always happiest between things: the rush, the
whoosh, the empty space, the impossible
to estimate. I think so, at least, right now, two years
after writing this book, slipping in something new
because I don’t want it to be over. So, yes, the guy
pushes the button right there on the train, as I
should be pushing the button right now, I guess, only
there’s no button. It’s another of the ways
art tricks us, how we might think there’s a most
happy. There are some kids practicing soccer
in the field behind the gym, by the water tower.
And “happy” isn’t the right word. The right word
is “Landscape,” or “I feel I’m on a train.”

I’m currently reading Night and Day by Pierre Alferi, translated by Kate Campbell and published by La Presse (2013), and it’s described in this way on cover: “These are poems improvised like a conversation. . . . and what they say is quite obvious: what is less obvious is what they mean.” I love that conceptualization of things so much it makes me want to jump up and down and cheer. Yes! I wrote the long poem, from which these sections are taken, in the fall of 2009 at a time when I just felt like talking to someone, that presence we all sometimes feel with us in a room or in the dark. Sometimes it’s malevolent and sometimes comforting. It’s ourselves, finally, some trick of the brain. But it’s still someone worth talking to.

OurGameCROPJohn Gallaher is the assistant coach of his daughter, Natalie’s U-12 travelling soccer team, The Maryville Twisters. He also subs when his son, Eliot’s U-8 soccer coach can’t make it. Turns out, this is a lot of fun. On weekends, he plays as well, though unbeautifully.