Poem of the Llama

Nick Sturm



Flowers unevenly spread over everything, 
which for a while seems to mirror the mind’s continual fuzz, 
but still certain subjects are clearly communicated
and who is responsible for that? We, I think, 
in our labor look around, but far from it. The hours 
slump away, each somewhere announced, tucked in 
a thin folder, and promptly lost. Here, the stars were 
a mess to begin with and that was our point,
or at least that’s how we imagined it, the concerns
of the sources quickly becoming our own so that we knew
none of this was really our idea, we were only hungry
and saw something of ourselves in the mouthy hive
that performed us better than we ever could. 
Life was a flotsam of notifications and sunlit rooms,
some of us reimagining the ethics of stealing hedges,
some of us playing tennis with periodontists in Michigan,
but every now and then someone would be seen
carrying a vacuum cleaner through the snow. Therefore, love
is real. Over the years the carpets are replaced but only
perhaps once or twice in our lifetimes, and what else
is like that, other than, for some people, their hearts.
Are we those people? How long do most birds
live? In times of darkness the thought of a blue dress
might scramble your soul’s intercom proving, at last,
absence always creates a more interesting music.
Happiness rips us along, a purpose in mind, honk,
and whose life are you living? The answer becomes
more than underlining important statements in the preface.
Beautiful things tend to happen and that is, for our
own good, beyond our control. Spending too long
looking for connections in the corresponding appendix
is a necessary waste of time if only to realize
the appendix is its own always opening wound. 
The frame explodes, it rains in French, the clouds
turn over their pink sweaters, and we’re all stumbling 
into someone else’s dream, complete with lake of fire
and wolves. 
                                            My friends agree
and the couch comes through the door despite our doubts.
The trees were beginning and although the furniture felt real
the years passed verbally, each of our stories preoccupied
in some margin’s antechamber, the morning’s acres of possible
consciousness tilted before us, our love for it expressed
in an equally resolute confusion, each assertion groping
like an eager crowd on an unnamed wharf for some pretext
to celebrate their gathered impasse. Actions were taken
to beautify the walls, what windows there were, and chairs
were placed at certain intervals, but no could help feeling
the exhausted pang of being deprived the plot
our compasses had caught glimpses of so long ago. 
And now, when the rain in your dream is the rain in the world,
what conclusions are we to come to? A general impossibility
accompanies our curiosity and watching things move along
a certain stamina builds. Even at a great distance 
and in the blue wind of cities, friends are able to assess 
the general shape of things, point you in the direction of 
a vermillion something you’ve been missing and amidst
the continual slippage sing you a damn fine song.
Aside from devotion to fingers that do not grasp,
the main thing is to come out of the woods laughing,
carrying a reasonably-sized cudgel, romanticism behind you 
and a flotilla of soon-to-be-broken windshields ahead.
Yes, certain officials might become involved, but
most days they’ll be too busy monitoring the most
obvious kinds of traffic, unconcerned with the migration
of the East African dik-dik or the quiet necessity 
of potholders. Only a few of us remember it’s been raining 
in the capital all along, where we went like dawn 
stealing the jewels from the pines, which is to say
the system’s neon underwear has been shining through
all along. 
               It doesn’t seem to matter where it’s going
with the day before us like a newly arrived ship,
the raspberry light of the harbor licking the crates
we’ve filled based on the recommended number.
You might go a thousand miles just to laugh
in someone else’s kitchen, to touch a red bike
next to red curtains, evidence of some other
overwhelming articulation that we, for the most part,
are only trellises for, and to think about what was 
important to you when last you were here, or even 
when you began, which wasn’t so long ago, shoes being
a good record of this. To go forward is always in
some way to go back, willingly or not, and borrow power
from what you’ve kept in mind, pigeons over the sea,
a yellow porch, some moments on a bridge, metaphorical
or otherwise, the faces. Our tribe gathers around this
luminous theory, sensitive mangoes in hand, some clinking 
always just below the schematic’s veneer proving
we came together for a purpose, what’s happening now
on the other side of my voice being just that, a failure
to reconcile the mind’s constant addition and subtraction
with the acceleration of the banquet’s perpetual symptom,
i.e., it’s going to be over. Yet still there are boats in the morning 
like we’re each a tiny flag of desire, or else, yours. 
Runners move on and off the path not to avoid what’s there 
but to illustrate the grand list of options before us 
and, when it’s over, sit on a bench in the sun knowing
something or maybe, who are we fooling, not. The rain
buttons the windows, death owns us, cell phones
are being used. How much of your life do you think 
it’s been snowing, and what after all really ends? 
For so much of our years we seem to struggle, unable
to put out the fire, parts of ourselves ahead of ourselves,
and a few of us getting up to leave before it’s time, and you 
clutching a left-behind scarf, a simply-patterned thing
never demanding meaning, suddenly filled with the soft
articulation of remembering its owner say something inane
about the weather, this now being immensely important
and, hopefully, able to be carried with you the rest of your days
like a yurt of feelings, the yak licking your baby just beyond
the door, and farther off, the novel mountains, their blurry 
narratives shoved into the undisguised clouds.
if one is not looking to know anything directly, the fact 
that the method of lighting varies from zoo to zoo 
might become a known fact because it is written
and one has found it written in the thrumming silence
of some library where each line, acknowledged or not,
must be, if we are to believe at all in our purposes here,
of some importance, however vaguely, here where 
one is always hoping to be found or to find a reason 
to discard the hours, becoming more and more a blank thing 
carrying some larger blankness, in which any number 
of gases combined might, at any moment, explode, 
rendering this light or all these actions meaningless
other than what we have said and repeated to those we love, 
perhaps something about ducks, or how bells sometimes 
must be broken due to slight imperfections, which, of course,
is not a metaphor but feels so resolutely like one,
as if the world were a book in which everything is constantly 
on the verge of becoming something else we beyond ourselves 
must be willing and ready to carry, as in the morning
we step into the air toward others so close to us and 
our small concerns one may forget there is anything at all
weighing on our joyful backs and then, this, while our hair
grows long, becomes a part of us we are asked to love, 
if not to be understood than to be kept, ridiculously if not at all, 
intact. Indeed, as the guide books attempt to explain, it’s often 
difficult to give the dream direction, borders always sifting 
into boundaries, and vice versa, and salsa verde, a faithful
careening into the heart of some larger uncertainty
filled so many times during the course of the evening
we wonder what we were paying attention to the entire time.
Meanwhile, the waiter has brought more water.
                                                         The fog
tucks itself over the fields and when, if ever, has your body
not made you feel unknown to yourself, your body a word 
that means time in one language and sounds like plural in another, 
and that, of course, explains it. The tiny shift from wonder 
to wander enough to turn horses to smoke, a highway in Virginia
into a critique of transcendence, this life into the dissonant
thereafter, wet socks and all. Experience becomes a place
our bodies drag around us, systems emptying, that voice
happening, and all we really need is, now and then, some
small warmths, five blue seconds, a series of young breezes
however ongoing. Holding this, we make a point of believing
and what other options do we have? The transmissions
are siphoned through the ruins as we wait patiently 
in the half-finished sentences of our bodies, senators 
spazzing in the forest, the path ahead a dateless flex 
of circles where the message happens like light
with no axis, reason enough to eat the flowers and, 
not looking back, love something. One vibrating leaf, 
two unused tickets to see the magician, and us, in the trench 
next to language, mostly secret, even to ourselves, stuck 
in our bones and trying. It didn’t seem like too much 
but it was too much for now, the room beginning to feel arranged, 
drapes fluttering around empty boxes with that little 
active bit of meaning, and a couple friends at the table scribbling 
their own music around the day. As it moved along we developed 
a tendency of using each other’s names and drinking coffee. 
Elegies were restricted to the wrecked backgrounds of the orchard 
and, in lieu of broader trends, we ate plums, recycled everything, 
and, in pieces, understood. The mountain is, after all, made 
almost entirely of rubble and our satchels, huddled 
with illegible pages, come along. Most of it confirmed 
the dreaming between us, that we were happy not to feel awful, 
our hair unchanged through this moonless age. What does
that mean is a question we let the windows answer
because, in the long run, which we are clearly a part of,
nothing has the impenetrable, phantasmal shape of truth
except cookies.
                     It’s true, no one can talk about
local authority and mean it. Larger joys are always
drawing themselves together, leaving you voicemails
in the graveyard, knots of keys turning your heart on
to its own furious little doors. It’s all music in the wound 
and in the end, which is what the middle teaches us, 
that indistinguishable lake where the sun, at just the right angle, 
reveals the submerged church steeple so many of us 
have been talking about lately. The landscape might be 
balanced and function purely but the argument here
is one of moments, the physics of clods, meaning on
the pink edges of our encounter, so that you ending up 
in Wyoming again and again starts to make sense, 
at least greenly, while the air takes on the sweaty density 
of chlorine, your membership about to expire but too much 
else on your mind, how we sometimes wanted leaders
not openly willing to kill each other, for our heads
to be pastures, the war to be over, though such desires
didn’t attract much attention having been for so long
and clearly hovering over all the content’s geometry. 
Meanwhile we, orgying in the middle, want only
for objects misplaced to give a little, banana, tingle.
But no one’s pretending that will ever be enough. 
History, majestic as a parking garage, spits us out
into the flinty twilight and look how nice it feels
to be constantly dissolving. Regardless, we endure this series 
of stumblings, our minds galvanized by the mutinous air 
and, though our point disappears behind its own static,
signs of the move are everywhere. As miniatures of the vital 
impulse, what we do next should be something beautiful: 
eat a torch, light an orange, focus on the parts of the dotted line 
that were never line to begin with. There are backhoes 
and there are omelets. There are cherry trees and there is blood. 
That’s as much a narrative as anyone needs. 
of this, what matters? Having come this far, a decision 
seems necessary. Or maybe that’s just another worshipful 
incoherence trailing us into the pupil of the abyss’ hazy clamor.
Gladly have we committed our mouths to this incompletion 
of worlds, for I am eight kinds of rain and you are a river 
named Janice, and that’s only the beginning of our enigma. 
Time drools on our ontological garbage, the primary accident 
of our lives’ lemon substance. Shaggy with echoes, the day
survives us, our half-uttered magenta inability to document 
the specifics successfully eroding the enemy sensors 
blundering in the ceremony each of us calls a heart.
Eating ice cream isn’t always a form of resistance 
but it depends on the nature of your crisis. It would be easy
to say it was only a distraction, but its purpose, or rather
its affect, is to celebrate the fact that your body is an eyelid
emotionally gyrating over a network of wildernesses 
not so quietly annihilating, whether you know it or not, 
every kind of dialectic. Walk out your door and leaves
will hit you in the face, and that’s the least we can hope for.
Filling the desert with air conditioners could have been 
a work of art but the children who gathered there, as everywhere, 
were not bulletproof. Against such circumstances, thinking
you know what to say next will only maim your harp, already
meager, and we’re all guilty of hitting butterflies on the highway
and not calling it violence. In this way, and with a bouquet
of tremendous yellow wreckage ensconced in our gowns’ decibels,
attention overflows into the shapeless piano inherent 
in the architecture of time’s dizzying mismanagement,
what was always intended, the anomaly of our own hands, 
and all this stupid bliss. I have come to live with you
in this kingdom of tiny thirsts and tiny tears. 
Battered by lusciousness where the llama reigns.  


Nick Sturm is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His poems, collaborations, and essays have appeared in The Brooklyn RailPENBlack Warrior ReviewThe Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. His scholarly and archival work can be traced at his blog Crystal Set. His first book of poems, How We Light, is being reissued by Big Lucks in 2018.