from The Hollywood That Lives Underneath the Fake Hollywood: For the Life of Freddie Herko

by Nicholas Beren

At dawn
a field of peonies
Gray flakes arrive

I wake, move slowly
Vertigo again
And notice

Certain windows
creaking open to the street
Below is a mess

I won’t clean it up
I take dictation
writing it all out

Malibu’s waters
say “hello”

And “I miss you”
And “don’t make me cry”

Or “I’d rather get
A boring blow job!”

On a likely
afternoon in my
studio apartment

I rub catnip
into a toy shaped
like a fish

I throw it to my cat
who bats it around and
rubs her face against it

I assume the thought patterns
of a cat are like a Hans
Hofmann painting

I read an article that says one
in three art school students
can’t tell the difference

between a Hans Hofmann
painting and one painted
by a cat

That is why I gave up painting

I prefer lines over colors and shapes

I prefer empty space
I prefer the caress of a judicious goodbye

I prefer my father on the phone telling
me he doesn’t have any money and
not to call him again

I am aching to feel red cloth

Sometimes I smoke cigarettes
Sometimes I do not

Of all the things
I’ve given up in my life
smoking has been the hardest

If one exerted a modicum of effort
they could find photos of me
smoking cigarettes

Sometimes I wear dresses
Sometimes I do not
Of all the things in my life

I have given up, wearing dresses
has not been so terribly hard

If one tried
I’m sure it’s possible

to find a photograph
of me wearing a dress

My hands are like
moose antlers at the
ends of my arms

I’m going to touch the milky tips
I’m going to expand upon
the definition of haunting

White milky cream

The loudness of chunks
The swish of a gentle chunkiness

I’m becoming an organless space
I am describing my award-winning speech

The phone is a heaven
Eighteen thousand beers

I am contacting the
Bureau of Human Affairs
looking for the Hollywood

that lives underneath
the fake Hollywood

I am looking past
the grand boredom
into the desirable shunk

The word “cunt” is
clearly obscene, but the word “pussy”
makes me physically shudder

“Pussy” is dirty and sexy because it’s infantilizing

I find the word “snatch”
more repellent than the
word “pussy”

I don’t understand the word “trim”
I don’t get what it references
about the vagina

I wrote all that down
on a napkin during lunch

Then swallowed it
thinking strange things
about someone’s suicide

A wet spot grows beneath me
My sneakers are soaked
Every individual path

The building shakes
when trucks trundle
past on the highway

I consume yellow breaths

Yellow pad with laws written on it
A motion, we move, the defense moves
or feelings, the yellow pad has feelings,
also known as complaints, written on it

Lateral blue slashes, one pink line
Two pink lines, legal notes saying 'move,'
Lateral blue slashes, an invisible pink line

Letting it melt
onto my teeth

July 28, 2004
76 Ryerson St.
Brooklyn, NY 11205

I’m waking up slowly
into an early evening

It’s a danger out there
I know it, I can see things

The state installed electric
signs over freeways
that report child abductions

They tell you the
make, color and
license plate number
of the suspect’s car

I want to write down the
information but I’m driving

Instead I repeat
the plate number
to myself ad infinitum

After a few miles
someone cuts me off

and I say, “Damn!
Lost it.”

After that, all I can do is wait until I
drive past another one of those signs

Nicholas Beren is a New Jersey native. This work is an excerpt from a poem composed over a 10-year period, which was released in 2021 by the author as a free digital chapbook, available here. You can find the author on Twitter @BerenNicholas. He still lives in New Jersey.

Image courtesy of Nicholas Beren