Hugh Behm-Steinberg (California, USA): Four Prose Poems


In the movie everything splits in two, fortresses, autos, apartment buildings, neighbors, deals, and for everything there is someone between who grays. And there is this kid and he hates his father, who’s a vampire, because all he wants to be is a vampire too, only with better teeth and flashier tracksuits. And there is another kid, also hating his father, who finds another father, and this first father is not a bad man he gets to hang out with a woman who used to a doctor and another woman who used to be an owl. Lots of explosions, and the idea that if you can write precisely what you want with magic chalk you can mend what was torn from you.


When I’m a kid I’ll be water, I’ll be watched closely. When I’m seen I’ll change your mind. When I do chores I’ll be diligent. I won’t live in an empire. When I’m handsome I’m trying not to be imperial I won’t let myself be folded upon myself. I’m not a suit. I won’t let myself be a suit. When I’m a grown up I’ll be a kid and no one will watch me, when I’m a grown up I’ll watch myself. I’ll be water only different I’ll do chores and I won’t be them. Won’t be chores, won’t be laundry, won’t let my clothes be my costume, won’t let my clothes be my uniform, won’t live in an empire, I’ll be handsome like a statute but I won’t be legal anymore.


When I was dead the king of the dead challenged me. The most beautiful poem and you’ll go to heaven. Because I was dead I had all the time in the world, everything I ever said sat in my mind like a book, I could read my own mind like a book. But when I looked down into hell I saw Paul Celan, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and if they were there then I knew the king of death hated poetry, and I was fucked either way, so I kept my mouth shut. The king said what’s the most beautiful poem and I said nothing, and he said silence is most beautiful, but I wrote it first, so it’s a tie, which means you only get to live, and say hi to John Cage for me.


I’m seldom sparrowlike, the mud bothers me, don’t peck so much no more. The warm air lifts but it won’t even argue with me. I’m fond of my clothes, the hairs on my arms, my arms, my thumbs. I like to hum more than sing, I only know how to whistle one note, I’m not fooling anybody. This is the part where I’m supposed to turn, and if I was a sparrow I could do so very quickly and without thinking, it would be routine, you’d have to be really focused to remember it happened at all. This would be the part where instinct took over, the worm got what’s coming, but it’s sunny, and I’m not, I sit on a bench and watch, more patient than I look.

© Hugh Behm-Steinberg 2007