Beat poets

Usually Iím quiet as kept, more than content
to chameleon in some corner of some room,
become one with the dťcor. Iím usually less sure,
thoughts running laps around words, tongue
fumbling contortions to land splat on its face
if it had one.

I stopped competing with friends in games
of chance or skill, gladly took double-digit
beatings in bowling, mini golf, video games.
I can lose at pool all night and still live
with myself.

I gave up fighting with men over women
when I stopped imbibing. Stopped caring
how I looked when one eye started sinking,
that side of my face slanting to gravity.
Most days, I have no use for testosterone,
just let it clot my system, just piss it away.
Iíve given up constructing even the faÁade
of masculine.

(Because how in heavens can words like faÁade
ever be considered manly macho manliness?)

So when I tell you that sometimes, when I go to open mic readings,
I want to beat the poets, you need to understand my full meaning.
When a poet in flannel slouches in front of a framed fork
at an art gallery in Long Beach
                                                     and he
                                                     his piece
                                                     in this
                                                     the whole
                                                     way through
                                                     this piece
                                                     and the
                                                     next ten,
some mysterious alchemy of chemicals starts my skin itching,
and the screws in every muscle tighten, groan, screech.
When a poet in a beanie swallows every third syllable
and chews every fourth syllable to smoke, I canít help
but make and unmake fists, break and unbreak my neck.
When a poet in ass-tight jeans monotones a poem
five lines too far, I want to take his need for revision,
render it a paper ball, and shove it all the way up his

(I really am usually a nice guy, I swear)

What Iím saying is
I want to beat poets.
I want to take someone elseís metaphor and beat it like a simile.
Kidney punch someone elseís imagery and whack it in the face
with onomatopoeia. I want to go home with someone elseís rhyme scheme,
show it what a real poet can do, then send its ass home in a taxi cab.

I want to beat poets,
and Iím afraid itís not ego talking.
Id and super-ego like to fight over the wheel every time I hear a sonnet.
The inside of my mouth grinds until all thatís left are eyeteeth
whenever thereís an uncomfortable pause between one line       and the next.
And when a poet apologizes in advance for the piece he wrote just yesterday,
I can actually smell weakness, taste blood, feel my lips curve into feral.

I want to beat poets
with the microphone stand,
and for that, I suppose Iím sorry. I swear itís nothing personal.
No, really. Itís just that when I recite a poem,
itís the only action I can pour my heart into,
and a poetry reading is the only place
where my alpha can supplant my beta,
where I can think to myself without laughing at myself,
This is what I do, and goddamn, I do it well.

So tell all your friends Iím the crazy one,
that all this is a textbook example of repression.
I doubt I would disagree. But say it in a poem,
and I will come over there and beat you.


My grandmother is afraid of my poetry.
But she smiles and nods, all four feet, eight inches of her,
when a question follows a kiss across her cheek:
             ďDid you like what I read?Ē
She doesnít say a word the whole drive home.

My students are afraid of poetry.
I hand them packets, free of charge,
Bukowski and Yeats, Lorca and Ginsberg, page after page
soaking in toner still drying and brilliance,
and a few of them let slip a long groan in perfect,
teeth-grinding harmony. When I ask why the guttural,
one student says what people who are afraid of poetry
always say: ďI just donít get it.Ē
I tell him: ďYou already got it,Ē
and point to the stapled stack of paper
heís decided to turn face down.
He laughs with everything but his eyes.

Iím afraid my poetry
can only really contain a fractal of what I see, hear, feel.
Oxford says
there are two hundred fifty thousand words in English,
and maybe that will be enough, or maybe not.

Iím afraid my poetry
means a forest or two will have to fall
and no one will hear my poetry.

Iím afraid of poetry
like I used to fear God, before the poetry in the King James Version
burned me with its brimstone, left me with angels branded
across my eyeballs. Itís fear wearing respectís clothing,
all pinstripes and ivory buttons, because poetry is where my prayers
find storage space, crammed into the space between syllables,
or else buried underneath text and subtext.

People these days say
the whole world is afraid of poetry,
which just means more
for people like us.

Lloyd Aquino is a professor of English at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, California. His poetry has been published in the Pomona Valley Review, Suisun Valley Review, and Creepy Gnome, and his first play, ďPromises, Promises,Ē was published by Atlantic Pacific Press.

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