Two Poems by Albert Goldbarth

"the mind lights up [...] / at the altruistic pleasure of building / shelters for the homeless or at easy / blowhard internet shaming of strangers"

June 24, 2019  By Albert Goldbarth

Rumi, Hawking

What if our lives are an alien planet’s computer game?
Or what if we’re the dreams they have in another dimension?
Dana’s been doing a drug that has her
asking the questions a prophet would ask.
Or a six-year-old. All night, all night.


Those goosey conjectures always sound better
attributed to the ancient sages.
Zen masters. Rumi. Sumerian priests.
Hobbling village wisdom women.
Blind beggars with inner sight.


Will there come a day when the CEO convenes
the Board of Directors in the oak and leather Meeting Suite,
and clears his throat sententiously, and begins:
What if we measured our profits
in units of serotonin?


What if the cosmos we know were built of series of “strings”
and countless invisible “bubble-universes”? Right. What
if the utterances of our seers were the same
as the visions of the insane: and the pronouncements of the insane
were the same as the theories of astrophysicists?


What if the gods are walking us,
as we would dogs?
A crazy idea. Still. . .
how do we know that our free will isn’t
the length of a leash in a deity’s hand?


The Drugs

I say the dendrochronologist
I say the foster parents up the block
the astronomer specializing in lunar cycles
the married porn star couple
I say the saint

are addicted     I say if addiction is coming back
repeatedly to the source of pleasure
repeatedly     to the x-spot of fulfillment     then it isn’t

crack or meth or the mesmerizing lights
of the casino across the state line
it’s the man who can’t remove his head
from its halo of orbiting tree rings
in his dreams     in his blood     in the way they circle
his love and his prayers and his money it’s

the woman calling Family Care     maybe they have another
adorable baby to send her     maybe a woman has sacrificed
her child and her husband to a gibbous moon
a bewitching honeydew moon     an eclipse     a cuticle     this

is what the brain relies on in a world
we enter only once we’re forcibly ejected
from the womb     the all-providing     the utero Eden
into this nightmare realm of giants
and sharp sharp edges     and monsterdark
and so we crave the nipple     the thumb     the booze

the leering crowd of voyeurs
that enhances a couple’s stage-set fucking     I say
the saint in the story returns to the pus
of lepers     crawls through pestilence to minister
to the oozing sores of lepers     returns
and returns     because this is where her wellspring Nile
of psychic comfort originates     she’s addicted     we’re

addicted     and if there isn’t any specific
drug to point to     we’re addicted still
to life itself     the claw marks
in the algae-bloom on the side of the pool
attest to how the drowning wasn’t suicide     and what’s
that green scum under his ragged fingernails
if not an eloquent metric of addiction
to a next breath     I say

suicide even     the suicide
is addicted to life     and might be seen
as not weaker than us     but stronger
in finally severing the bond    oh whether

the mind lights up like a plugged-in winking Christmas tree
at the altruistic pleasure of building
shelters for the homeless     or at easy
blowhard internet shaming of strangers
the lights

are strangely alike     the need to return
to the pleasure     the rush     the rightness-zone
is strangely alike     the need to repeat it
is what we are     here

not in Hades     or Paradise     but
here on Earth     here in our skin
in the only life we know

Albert Goldbarth
Albert Goldbarth
Albert Goldbarth has twice received the National Book Critics Circle Award. His new collection is The Now (University of Pittsburgh Press). He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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