“In Tandem”, “Corpsing”, “Game of Thrones, S1 E7”, “Hudson Estuary”, “Alley Singer”, and “You, Again”

In Tandem

As my age gains on me, my mother stops short

of hers, buying toys yearly for my grown daughter —

who dug in her own heels at seven, skidded, overplayed

the cliff edge, and paused midair to doubletake

her abyss. Although her mother had borne down on

her, she lodged herself midway, to be borne in on,

cut from the blooded quick. We’ve learned to live

her birthdays up, she to make an entrance her exit.


An organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something

that it is like to be that organism— something that it is like for the organism.”

-Thomas Nagel

On my final visit, that stagey angle

of her head, once meaning “Methinks I

should know you,” now challenged with still lines

from not one hooked me — at screen edge, a man

appearing, speaking the hiss of TV. Unsure

of my part, I grinned long, kissed her skull,

shuffled and dealt us solitaire. Proudly looking

to the window, she carefully played club

on spade. My correcting her move she took as mine.

Slapping had been her mothering way. Fathered

at last by Buster’s Stone Face, I’d numb

my reactions, save for a cheek to sting her palm.

My deadpan lit a fear in her, corpsing our age-old

duo: Mommy Cuddles Her Hurt Boy, Nibbles His Ear,

Sips His Tears of Shame. When age drained her of names and faces,

she briefly spoke an English-as-a-second-language mother tongue —

for singles, her eyes snaggling on men chancing by. Once, her eyes,

distraught, implored mine aside: I thought of her yet-living

wits submerged, dying for a lifeline, struggling to surface.

With a long, side-long glance, she slowly raised her eyebrows,

and they did wiggle.

Fanfaring a glance at the ceiling, she played

black-lobed leaf on upturned black heart.

Chiding the card, I snatched it up. Ashamed,

I put it back. Which was good of me — is she not

my dear-old unlovable mother? I would, yet, like

to know.

There is something that it is to be her.

But there is nothing that that is like

for her.

My line, I’ll be back! Her role, oracular.

Game of Thrones, S1 E7

The whore master is training two of his ‘girls’


Touching the Other)

to give convincing sways

and utterings. The three, a research team, are confirming

the behavioral definition of pleasure, while feigning

ignorance of the life of the mind. The implied hands

are off camera while, for statistical significance, it counts

nipples. You theorize your fear, qua viewer, to act

turned on or off by an onscreen moan you mouth.

Hudson Estuary

Her divorce paid for this Hudson view,

the double panes shielding her from noise.

Not that I’m free of how he made me see. Ripples

and scattered glarings hinted through the frosty

glass at … Backing away, her image shrank to girlhood,

but a few more steps — the river buoy appeared, above her rug.

To his face (coming to mind): Yes, I know, the thing’s not here.

But, well … why not a thing of light, magnified

by plates of glass? Saying the words excited

her to more of her own, A truthful illusion! —

till the phrase snagged on her “acting so smart”:

Oh please, as if I’d ever study optics.

One morning, she smiled at patches of river ice nudging,

rounding, and parting: Who needs conversation?

Near the water’s ceaseless power, she was less unsure

of supposing: These ‘pancakes’ make up a script

of river speech, touching what they say, meaning

the moves of the water beneath. She was the first

at reading river. Watching its width, “The sides go slower—”

No, that’s him. Again: “From mid-channel, one would see

(his curse lifted?) the sides slowing … or, yes, reversing,

even eddying.”

The Hudson’s lower course, whelmed up

shore to shore, rolled upstream, rising to foam

— she riding the tip of ocean’s curling tongue.

Alley Singer

As if reading a metaphor,

A live voice!

Long at Feds and Gangsters, I heard a thrilling, a live singing at my side.

you walk along a bridge and reach midway,

My head swiveled: no one there. I looked room to room:

none of my family singing up this presence in the air.

but the deck ahead is blocked.

I made-believe I knew it an aria, knew its foreign words

of moaning mourning … present, loud, unamplified.

You pace back and forth, still get no farther

My face colored ear to ear with dumb pleasure.

until you run up speed and fling yourself across.

The kitchen’s open window — air vibrating through

disarrayed light — was singing!

I peeked around the window frame—


You land in a space without the Laws

They’ve tracked me down.

Good thing I’m armed and dangerous.

(At least I made Most Wanted.)

I shot back at them, scattering bullets

to cover my quick look down

to the ground.

of what was thought to be Thought.

The singer stood out bravely

from a wall, right arm raised, his deep voice

from underground.

“An alley singer,” Mom, stabbing me in the back, “a beggar,

throw him a dime.”

Over here, it is, is not,

I wrapped her coin in paper.

Afraid he’d see me, I closed my eyes, stood back a foot, and flung it.

is both

A bullet aimed at me hit stone

— a chip nicking my chin.

He stopped singing to intone, “Thank you!”

To me! What to say back? Say? You fool, he’s hungry.

Taking a corner stool, spilling his few coins onto the counter,

he’d look up for the waitress and wait.

the middle included.

Resounding off courtyard walls

into my ears and other apartments,

his singing rose (weakening, but with no word heard left behind)

past our kitchen window, escaping, to and over the roof,

to be heard in the street,

to be overtaken by the speed of light.

They’ve got me cornered.

I’ve plenty of ammo.

They’ll never take me alive.

You, Again

Deathless Aphrodite, on your fine-tooled throne,

crafty child of Zeus, I call you. Don’t blame my

spirit — she knows not which is the she she longs for.

Hear me, my Lady.

You, again! As ever and now, must I leave

father’s golden home for these wheels of war, yoke

lovely, tiny wings of my fast sparrows, straight dive,

answer your rally?

Here, again! Now, who — I must smile though I’ve faced

countless times — who now do you suffer? Who cheats

you, your frantic heart, of a dearest fancy?

Who must I alter?

Fleeing all, she’ll turn herself round to give chase.

Snubbing gifts, she’ll offer her own up freely.

She unloving will — and unwillingly — fall.

Come to me, goddess.

If you ever favored this music, free me,

trapped in wanting. All I must have to be mine

seize for me — make mine. Come now, you, my ally,

win me these battles.

-after Sappho’s “Hymn to Aphrodite”

Constantine Contogenis‘s collection Ikaros (Word Press, ’04) won a First Prize “Open Voice Poetry Award.”  He is co-translator of Songs of the Kisaeng: Courtesan Poetry of the Last Korean Dynasty (BOA, ‘97). Contengis was included in Joining Music with Reason: 34 Poets, British and American: Oxford ‘04-‘09, chosen by Christopher Ricks (’11), and Pomegranate Seeds: Greek-American Poetry, ed. Dean Kostos (‘08). He is published in such journals as Whiskey Island, Hayden’s Ferry Review, MAYDAY Magazine, Paris Review, TriQuarterly, Asian Pacific American Journal, MacGuffin, and Meridian Anthology. His work appeared in Poetry Society of America’s Poetry in Motion. He is a fellow with Incite at Columbia University.