The Anxiety of Coincidence cover

The Anxiety of Coincidence

Mark Bibbins

Copyright © 2012 Mark Bibbins. All rights reserved.

Automatic Changer

We used to stand in lines for bread,
now we stand in them for cupcakes.
In between, noticing a defect in the sky,
we invented music, which fixed it, then birds,
which broke it again. The minute you draw
yourself a head, somebody crosses it out.
The lights of our toy city wink off for a second
and we overshoot the runway by a year—
this is how we get from one event to another,
beleaguered and spooked by the hubris of planes,
the lines they leave on the sky blooming
behind us into aberrant clouds. Not enough rain
had fallen for longer than anyone could measure,
and we were so distracted with trying to catch
whoever had pushed the fuses back into the bombs
that we forgot how to dig a well.
When winter came we burned up
all the looking. Listening went next onto the fire.
If spending your time decorating a culture
that doesn't pay you for doing it is a political act,
I'm going out on a limb and saying so
is sleeping until noon, and that from now on
when you write a story about the body,
you have to include the name of every part,
from mitochondria to mind. We like to be right,
even when it's awful, and pride ourselves on confusing
language with the font. The minute you grow
wings, somebody comes and chops them off.

What Are Predators but Parasites that Kill You Faster

one conundrum is that you sew
a bunch of ghosts
only to end up with a smaller ghost
—you mend the hem / I'll tend the holes—
—chomp chomp choke / little bloodclot on the yolk—
thus you deviate as I scrape away
  a cleaner spot
Short digression on decorating
the tree: find a wood-chipper, feed
in honey, blankets, books. Treasure's
better decked in ketamine feathers
and wetforever lemons.
—hide us in a pit / rip the furtive flap / the stitched-up gut—
Short digression
on the middle of the desert:
we're in it.
under other accomplishments
      you can put "mimesis"
"Ouija realness"
    and "blinking when forbidden" please
love the desert
squeeze it
take it home
  put it in a cage
with what's left of the ghost—
—even you should admit it's sweeter
than the pet leech
  you used to keep

Penny Pincher Leaves Millions

A child was entrusted to me
but I gave back a mouse.
  What is it
to dream of someone else's teeth
in a ditch, what is reason
but a dead corsage
pinned on the id
before the dance. Reason, I would
have liked to have known you better.
Instead, we'll keep
the passive voice
in business, and maintain
that mistakes were made
when we mistakenly
finger Penny Pincher
   in the lineup.
When I was in pictures, I was known
for the look in the amnesiac's
eyes before he asks his beloved,
"Who are you?"
   I used to nail that one
    every time—
the line, not the beloved, although
there were incidents.
I never could recall,
so how could I improve.
How many more lion cubs
must I return to the lion store
before you understand
  how adorable
but dangerous they are
when there's more than one to mind.
Penny's left me
in too many messes to measure,
but I maintain I saw them coming.
Trust me with nothing.

Fishermen on Sea of Galilee

A citizen said, Every action
born out of pure spontaneity
is correct. It's possible
he said corrupt but I was
eavesdropping. Correction:
minding my business: he was
performing, saying, also,
to his fellow citizens, I know
you agree with me on this.
Look, it's autumn in our
hairlines and some smear
on the pavement's been run
over so many times we can't
tell whether or not it started
out as an animal.
My heaven is populated
with conures, llamas,
and adolescent bears
but is otherwise
fairly quiet. I'm done
looking for approbation
from people for whom I have
no respect and would respect
less if I met them.
Was this the sea they parted.
Understatement, so rarely
biblical: there is no quill pen
half as sinister as the lone
piece of penne in a dish
of farfalle. Today we rock
anonymity and tomorrow find
further evidence of same
dying in the comment fields.
Wake me when you can
tell me whether every taxi
must engage in a dialogue
with all previous taxis,
when you do something
impossible, when you leave
the party, when you take
my worst advice. This is,
friends, this was the sea.

My Three Last Names Are My First Three Names

I was born in
money I was born
of no money. The caesura
is my reservoir
of reserve, site of don't
you even dare.
Our priorities frozen
midcentury midpresidency,
what I lack
in precision I compensate
for in love notes
to future friends. Safe
in the desire of millions
of denizens or not
so secure, run up and up
the avenue with my tongue
in my hand. Catastrophic
twit, sniff
out your hot misery, the blink
of a snake,
a nod of its head. Touch money
then touch your lips—not
the safest way
to measure a world
whose readings keep vibrating
against one another:
little arrows, but in big
directions, each border
more decadent
than the last.

More Strategies for Trapping the Dead

A perilous poetics balanced in a doorway
               feet up          its shadow
               thus an ad hoc tarot poetics
An acquisitive poetics in a range
               of verdant tones implying undulating snakes
A mouthy poetics
A poetics of idols on an altar
A poetics of winnowing demented candidates
A poetics of quarters of sedatives
               and halves
Another poetics of a different doorway
                  past which the clientele is filing
A poetics of oh no          what are these          symbols
               or chickens hastily butchered
A celebrity poetics and a poetics
               of plain old longing
A vulture poetics
First one then of all of these hunkered in a series of rooms
               thus a poetics of variable thresholds again
An oxymoronic poetics
A discursive poetics
A flaccid poetics
A peachy poetics
And one of pronouncing it like "politics" and noting
               any change this makes to the room
               as in
               an insufferably gorgeous póetics
A utilitarian poetics of everything
               online          last          year
A poetics of uncles
               and a Johnny-come-latently or two
Ever and always               one of upgrades
A predatory poetics
The poetics of a monochrome palate
               but within it
               jostling shades
The poetics of the Theremin
               which like language you play
               without touching it

The Perspective Fairy

Henry Fonda didn't die on you,
he just died. Carol Burnett
says this to Liz Taylor in
a movie so Liz gets wasted
and puts a shopping bag
over her head, or Carol
tells Liz this to make her
feel better after trying
and failing to kill herself with
a bag. Certainly we all need
a visit from the Perspective
Fairy now and then but you
have to be careful because
not just anyone
can play him.
Ernest Hemingway was summoned
to coax a friend down from a roof
with a cold-cream jar of opium
that Ezra Pound had left for him
with the instruction to bust it
out in case of an emergency—
really if these were the guys
in charge of my safety
I'd take to the roof too—
but when the friend finally
came down, he threw the jar
at Hemingway's head because he
knew that the real Perspective Fairy's
got gigantic wings you can
almost see through.

Lyrical Billets

Cheers to the Lyric Aye
We all have it
and you can too.
Tear in the Lyric Eye
You had to blink
to miss it.
Fear of a Lyric Agency
Hold on tight or they
take it back from you.
Queering the Lyric My
Like it
or lack it, you lock you out.
Veer to the Lyric Right
That's not
Nearer the Lyric Sigh
It's a whisper
while you O…
Dear to the Lyric Why
Because its taste
is the way I taste.

This Land Is Mylar

balloons collapsing
onto sites of un-
  speakable sadness,
it's an orchestra
  whose conductor
wags a corn dog                    at the horns.
This land of ours
eats up marches
     and techno
   and heartstrings
       and spit-shined shadenfreude.
     If you get hurt at the circus
you have to join—
  no better way to see
this land,
which a big bland hand shook out
like a sheet          and everywhere
   shit went flying,
some of which was us.


All around there are pictures of people
with their hands cut off. Where's a better
way to say there are when it's all I see
(i.e., what's wrong with me).
    —Lighten up,
Crabcake, you'll sleep when you're asleep.


Warm thanks to the editors of these publications, in which it was an honor to have some of these poems appear.

Boston Review: "The Perspective Fairy" Conduit: "Penny Pincher Leaves Millions" The Journal: "My Three Last Names Are My First Three Names" LIT: "Fishermen on Sea of Galilee"

Mark Bibbins has published two books of poems, The Dance of No Hard Feelings and the Lambda Award-winning Sky Lounge. His third, They Don't Kill You Because They're Hungry, They Kill You Because They're Full, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press. He teaches at The New School and Columbia University, and edits the poetry section of The Awl.