A PUPPY OF ROUTINE
I began my journey at a bright square.
I walked for thirty years.
On the third day of my thirtieth year
I found myself at the same bright square.
“That’s fucked up,” I said to no one.
Then no one said, “What do you mean?”
“Had I known the startling line was my milestone,”
I said, “I never would have left. Between here
and here, there’s nothing but dimmer squares.
I was all alone in a gridlocked digital nothingscape
punctuated only by the occasional other person
who would commiserate with me for a year or two
but then leave suddenly, with a shrug and a word ripped
from her mouth. My feelings hurt the whole time.”
Then no one said, “I know you’re a little tender right now,
but you should know those people you saw and loved were really
imperfect projections of a puppy frolicking in the fifth dimension.”
“Who are you to say?” I said.
“Oh,” no one said, “I’m a puppy frolicking in the fifth dimension.”
“I have no access to that thought,” I said.
“Yeah,” no one said. “It’s one of those things
language allows you to say, and math allows you to prove,
but the brain prevents you from picturing
because it’s not related to food.”
“Okay.” I said. “So, if you’ve been not-here
the whole time, then why didn’t you come to me earlier?”
“Oh, I tried,” no one said,
“When you broke all your teeth trying to eat
the dim squares, when you fell down
and didn’t get up because you felt deleted
like a dried lime in the back of a fridge,
I tried to intervene, but I guess you can’t really
hear me until after you rediscover your bright square.
Consider yourself lucky. So many
don’t even make it as far as you did.”
“Well now what do I do?” I said.
“Pick a different direction. Go that way.
Deepen the mystery by trying to solve it.
And weed out any shitty mysteries,” no one said.
“But won’t I just see the same stuff again?” I said.
“Yeah, for sure,” no one said.
“But now you’ll see everything
without the idea of hoping to see
a different bright square.”
“But that was the only thing keeping me going out there!” I said.
“Yeah, that’s one of the things that sucks,”
no one said. “Also what sucks is when you die.”
“Seriously?” I said.
“I don’t know, maybe it’s different for you?” No one said.
“Anyway, I have to go.”
“So you’re just going to leave me with that armless hug?” I said.
“Where do you even go when you go?”
“I don’t really have to go,” no one said.
“But if I don’t announce my departure at some arbitrary time
I get stuck talking to people,
which makes me late for other stuff, which is upsetting.
I’m a puppy of routine, and my course will not be altered.”
Areas of you will never brighten
for me, no matter how many
pears I watch you eat.
Some people find that thought
so despairing, stars
linked only by chalkline, old light
that may never reach.
But all you need’s an inch of sky
to see how deep it goes.
The dark parts web the stars,
and it’s our dark parts that glue.
I think of you much more,
the less I see of you.
(So goes for all celestials
but look how many rockets,
dishes, cows and spoons
we send leaping after them.
Flying blind so long has bound me
to my instruments, favoring feeling
the void I can feel like a thigh
over the real thigh heft of you, a figure
I may have loved in falling with
if only I hadn’t
WHEN MY HAIRDRESSER ASKS ME WHAT I WANT I SAY
I’d like a hairstyle that introduces me to someone
who weekly shape shifts into someone else
who still knows and adores me
though I, too, shift shapes for this fabulous other.
And could you trim my sideburns in such a way
so that I don’t lose total control of them?
Or, is there a way you can layer my bangs so I can see
two red lozenges on a pack of mini tissues
and a fly lifting off a blade of grass
and a woman taking small sips of orange juice
as imperfect 4-D slices of a 5-D entity revealed
as a flash of human interest and affection
in a 3-D world? And, working in reverse,
would it follow that art arranges the 3-D world
into tragedies and comedies and tragicomedies
which are imperfect 4-D shadows of a 5-D thing?
So I could say that a sonnet is a still of a shadow
of a higher consciousness, or perhaps its toy,
maybe even an open-faced sandwich it is offering to us?
And if I part my hair to the side—and stay faithful to the part—
could I eat that sandwich and be satisfied, emotionally?
The last time I came in you were selling a special shampoo
that offered good answers to the following questions:
Who stole the arms of all the seals and how could they?
What does all this stuff on my body mean?
When is it my turn to be Ricky Martin?
Where should I look when they’re singing happy birthday to me? Why?
Do you still have a bottle of that lying around?
On a related note, can I get a pomade that doesn’t smell like a rotten color?
And as long as I’m unbuckling here, am I asking too much
when I ask for a system of thought that eschews the violent core
spinning at the center of all revolutionary thought?
And just as a kind of cocktail cookie on top of this sundae,
I thought I saw someone walk out of here
who looked as if every time he felt lonely
a small, harmless fox would jump into his lap
and nuzzle him and coo for treats.
What kind of cut did that that guy ask for?
At the very least I’m hoping you could put a hot towel over my face.
Or, I’d be willing to experiment with a full-frontal blow dryer treatment that—
And she says, Rich, I’m gonna stop you right there.
All I can do is cut your hair
so that you feel for almost a month and a half
as if you’re wearing your favorite shirt
but on top of your head. It’s important
to understand the limitations but also the great advantages
such a feeling contributes to your ability
to tolerate the pain the universe administers
at random and with violence
on Friday afternoons let’s say,
when someone sits down in front of you
and tells you what they want.
Rich Smith is the author of All Talk (Poor Claudia) and Great Poem of Desire and Other Poems (Poor Claudia). With Kathryn Nuernberger, he edits poetry for Pleiades. Recently, his poems have appeared in Tin House, Barrow Street, City Arts, Hobart, Verse Daily, Pinwheel, Jerkpoet, Cimarron Review and elsewhere.