Five Poems

by Daniel Bailey


A lesser poet once said
that his luve was like a red, red rose
and then went on to compare his luve
to a song’s melody
and he said that his love would endure
all manner of physical and natural tragedy
dry seas, melted rocks, climate change, etc.

My brain is the city in which dogs intermingle
My heart is the suburb in which dogs forever bark
I die in the countryside, found by dogs
for whom barking is a way of song

When we were all done barking
we went up into the universe
and made a baby together: all of us
It wasn’t pretty
None of it was pretty
The process
The result
But it happened
and now we’re here
and we can’t decide upon a name


Impaled on my brain
is the hat hook on which I hang
many haloes, those of my idiocy
and the people I enjoy
the voices of improbability
steaming on the hook
like a wet sun

When someone says ha
this is the h in christ
the stigmata that ingests
the hurt of the world
in which all the people
in my phone
laugh a non-prescription
laugh that is unhearable
but bright


Because I am dirty
I must be made clean

Because I am broken
I must be obscene

Because I am lightning
I must be so frightening

Because I am water
I must be drunk

My dreams that I dream
are closer than ever I thunk

As the water gets hotter
and time freezes over

The dirt I’ve collected will dance
its way off of my shoulders

☈ ☈ ☈ ☈ ☈ ☈

I am selling you a product
It is called shower lightning

You will hang the machine in your shower
and you will close your eyes

You will listen to recorded thunder
and imagine yourself naked in a cave

But it doesn’t rain in caves, you retort
but caves can have waterfalls too, you dork

The thunder piles in from the mouth of the cave
a wind follows, giving you goosebumps

There is bioluminescence enough to see
the tips of your fingers as they approach the wall

The life forms turn off their light with your approach
but you don’t need vision in a cave

The water from the shower hits your face
and your eyes are now closed to see it

The thunder erupts again
and shampoo stings your eyes

You will never be clean
sings the steam from the pipes

Your organs are vital and clean
Your spirit cadavered and splayed

This is what it is to talk and to think, you think
You are the inversion of a miracle, twilighting

The lightning strikes around you but never connects
to the branch on which you’re emblazoned

The branch soaked by your memories
like water soaked by the rust of its world

You turn off the shower
allow the storm to continue

You imagine your destruction
the teeth of the vice you maintain

It seems close to you now
The storm sounds so close

But as with destruction there is a dial
to create the illusion of distance and safety

It is measured in miles
and your fingers can move the storm away

You can make it seem safe
You can even turn it off

Really, you don’t even need shower lightning
but the truth is that you want it

I find it impossible to lie to you
I am the future of marketing

It is a matter of desire and not of necessity
that the storm surrounds and negates your sense of comfort

It is a matter of your own internal clutter
that you have not already noticed the eruption

Now open your windows
Let the branches breathe their way in


We allow the water to lick the plate clean
of its grease and its gunk
and we allow not time but tiny beings
to clean the skin from our bones

On a Sunday I am wounded
by the television
I use my hair as a tourniquet
and my other skin as a bandage

I have to learn a new heartbeat
if I’m to live in the future
string a tightrope between myself
and each person I know
fall into the chasms between us
and incubate
glide a warship silently into oblivion

They’ll write books about it
and in the books I wash dishes
at the bank of a river
and I leave the dishes in the river as rocks
and I turn off the river
and darken the sky
and I say, “I’ll tell a story
and then another story
but not today
and maybe not tomorrow”
and I put away the scenery
and I exit the scene


In a previous life, I was a swamp
and now in this life driving into a large city
feels like driving into the internet
I wish I had enough money to buy every billboard
between my house and the opposite side of the large city
In every billboard a picture of family
Family, in this case, being different swamps
Each swamp emitting a glitch cloud of gnats
Each inch of interstate a little heavier than before
despite its wear beneath the commuter tires

In the morning, I log into who I am
feeling like the real thing
I drive seven minutes to the school where I work
I cross the swollen river
Drive parallel to my city’s loop
Swipe a card to enter the building
Enter my numbers into the machine

Throughout the day, we talk about ways
to become better people
I try to settle into who I am at any given moment
I am honest about who I am, a former swamp
I sat inside myself so long that I dried up and a meadow replaced me
No one protected me
There is something there, I tell my students, if you look
A flip phone buried in the dirt - once the mud of me
Lost by a naturalist observing mating fireflies
My leftover spirit suckling through the wires, attempting to speak
I say all of us have our swamps or deserts or taigas
that will one day consume us
We grow up within them
Everything about us forms the breadth of the myth
of human nature
of atomic being

I drive home to my neighborhood cut into the woods above the river
turn off who I am as I hide from the world
bathed in the red of a new episode
consumed by the glow of my bedside clock
each digit a firefly mating across the dry skin of my face

How waking up thirsty I know I’ve lived better lives

But who I am at any moment is who I am at any moment
And who you are at any moment is who you are at any moment

And tomorrow I will forget what I’ve learned
I will point my phone’s camera into a puddle to collect my reflection
I will send my reflection into the wild of digitalia
where, at any moment, we are all who we are
Or at least we are the billboards of who we hope to be
standing on the edge of the city, ready
to jump off its edge and into its dirt packed hard
into the crystal that reflects its underside
A spiritual crime scene in which all criminals are free to go
We must coax them into who they are at any moment given
They, the names of complex systems of being in which
everything is of use, then respond by committing crimes against perpetuity
Dissolving infinities in unchristened sewers
We merely fit into the way of things
Read into our harm as if a scar is not merely the universe’s way
of autographing our bodies

My biggest spiritual crime as a swamp was letting myself dry up
How so much of me went up into the clouds
and followed the wind to the next thing
How unlike a god I am
How I wish to stand above myself with a watering can
and drink of who I used to be: a thing
that believed instead of a thing
to which doubt and belief are the same

My second biggest spiritual crime was not becoming a fountain
that churns the pools of everyone else, chlorinated and bright
whose lessons are learned in the acceptance of what fills it
and whose coins will tarnish amid the rivers of commerce

I am a swamp
I am a swamp
I am a swamp
This is my attempt
to regain my form
My third and final spiritual crime
is attempting to be anything
other than what I am
A transfer of atoms from now to now
I will be executed by all who love me
in the gentlest way possible
They will rain into me
and I will grow into a perverse thing
I will disperse
I will have no shadow
I will only accept the sun
I will grow into a cloud of memory
I will find a plot of sky and keep moving

Daniel Bailey wrote The Drunk Sonnets and Gather Me. He is a former ice cream scooper, currently living in Athens, Georgia.

Photograph: "Trash Planet" by Daniel Bailey