Craig Arnold

Craig Arnold Poems


I'm cooking Thai—you bring the beer.
The same order, although it's been a year

Of many reasons I love you here is one

the way you write me from the gate at the airport
so I can tell you everything will be alright

so you can tell me there is a bird
trapped in the terminal all the people
ignoring it because they do not know
what to do with it except to leave it alone
until it scares itself to death

it makes you terribly terribly sad

You wish you could take the bird outside
and set it free or (failing that)
call a bird-understander
to come help the bird

All you can do is notice the bird
and feel for the bird and write
to tell me how language feels
impossibly useless

but you are wrong

You are a bird-understander
better than I could ever be
who make so many noises
and call them song

These are your own words
your way of noticing
and saying plainly
of not turning away
from hurt

you have offered them
to me I am only
giving them back

if only I could show you
how very useless
they are not

The chain uncouples, and his jacket hangs
on the peg over hers, and he's inside.

She stalls in the kitchen, putting the kettle on,
buys herself a minute looking for two
matching cups for the lime-flower tea,
not really lime but linden, heart-shaped leaves
and sticky flowers that smell of antifreeze.
She talks a wall around her, twists the string
tighter around the tea bag in her spoon.
But every conversation has to break
somewhere, and at the far end of the sofa
he sits, warming his hands around the cup
he hasn't tasted yet, and listens on
with such an exasperating show of patience
it's almost a relief to hear him ask it:
If you're not using your body right now
maybe you'd let me borrow it for a while?

It isn't what you're thinking. No, it's worse.

Why on earth did she find him so attractive
the first time she met him, propping the wall
at an awkward party, clearly trying to drink
himself into some sort of conversation?
Was it the dark uncomfortable reserve
she took upon herself to tease him out of,
asking, Are you a vampire? That depends,
he stammered, are you a virgin? No, not funny,
but why did she laugh at him? What made her think
that he needed her, that she could teach him something?
Why did she let him believe she was drunk
and needed a ride home? Why did she let him
take her shirt off, fumble around a bit
on the spare futon, passing back and forth
the warm breath of a half-hearted kiss
they kept falling asleep in the middle of?
And when he asked her, why did she not object?
I'd like to try something. I need you to trust me.

Younger and given to daydreams, she imagined
trading bodies with someone, a best friend,
the boy she had a crush on. But the fact
was more fantastic, a fairy-tale adventure
where the wolf wins, and hides in the girl's red hood.
How it happens she doesn't really remember,
drifting off with a vague sense of being
drawn out through a single point of her skin,
like a bedsheet threaded through a needle's eye,
and bundled into a body that must be his.

Sometimes she startles, as on the verge of sleep
you can feel yourself fall backward over a brink,
and snaps her eyelids open, to catch herself
slipping out of the bed, her legs swinging
over the edge, and feels the sudden sick
split-screen impression of being for a second
both she and her.
What he does with her
while she's asleep, she never really knows,
flickers, only, conducted back in dreams:
Walking in neighborhoods she doesn't know
and wouldn't go to, overpasses, ragweed,
cars dry-docked on cinderblocks, wolf-whistles,
wanting to run away and yet her steps
planted sure and defiant. Performing tasks
too odd to recognize and too mundane
to have made up, like fixing a green salad
with the sunflower seeds and peppers that she hates,
pouring on twice the oil and vinegar
that she would like, and being unable to stop.
Her hands feel but are somehow not her own,
running over the racks of stacked fabric
in a clothing store, stroking the slick silk,
teased cotton and polar fleece, as if her fingers
each were a tongue tasting the knits and weaves.
Harmless enough.
It's what she doesn't dream
that scares her, panic she can't account for, faces
familiar but not known, déjà vu
making a mess of memory, coming to
with a fresh love-bite on her left breast
and the aftershock of granting another's flesh,
of having gripped, slipped in and fluttered tender
mmm, unbraided, and spent the whole slow day
clutching her thighs to keep the chafe from fading,
and furious at being joyful, less
at the violation, less the danger, than the sense
he'd taken her enjoyment for his own.
That was the time before, the time she swore
would be the last—returning to her senses,
she'd grabbed his throat and hit him around the face
and threw him out, and sat there on the floor
shaking. She hadn't known how hard it was
to throw a punch without pulling it back.

Now, as they sit together on her couch
with the liquid cooling in the stained chipped cups
that would never match, no matter how hard
she stared at them, he seems the same as ever,
a quiet clumsy self-effacing ghost
with the gray-circled eyes that she once wanted
so badly to defy, that seemed to see her
seeing him—and she has to admit, she's missed him.
Why? She scrolls back through their conversations,
searching for any reason not to hate him.
She'd ask him, What's it like being a girl
when you're not a girl? His answers, when he gave them,
weren't helpful, so evasively poetic:
It's like a sponge somebody else is squeezing.
A radio tuned to all stations at once.
Like having skin that's softer but more thick.

Then she remembers the morning she awoke
with the smear of tears still raw across her cheeks
and the spent feeling of having cried herself
down to the bottom of something. Why was I crying?
she asked, and he looked back blankly, with that little
curve of a lip that served him for a smile.
Because I can't.
And that would be their secret.
The power to feel another appetite
pass through her, like a shudder, like a cold
lungful of oxygen or hot sweet smoke,
fill her and then be stilled. The freedom to fall
asleep behind the blinds of his dark body
and wake cleanly. And when she swings her legs
over the edge of the bed, to trust her feet
to hit the carpet, and know as not before
how she never quite trusted the floor
to be there, no, not since she was a girl
first learning to swim, hugging her skinny
breastless body close to the pool-gutter,
skirting along the dark and darker blue
of the bottom dropping out—
Now she can stand,
and take the cup out of his giving hand,
and feel what they have learned inside each other
fair and enough, and not without a kind
of satisfaction, that she can put her foot
down, clear to the bottom of desire,
and find that it can stop, and go no deeper.

You have towered here
leaning half over the wall
all my awareness

years before I knew
what silkworm was or China
I felt your berries

pulp under my feet
tracked your purple all over
grandmother's carpet

a sapling planted
by some sea captain to make
shade for a future

This winter you lost
one of  your long low branches
to a backed-up car

and the old woman
who has known you all her life
wept at the split wood

Your bark is wrinkled
more deeply than any face
you live so slowly

do our voices sound
to you like the fluttering
of  paper moth wings

do we seem rootless
holding fast to the anchor
of  the saddest things

To wake when all is possible
before the agitations of the day
have gripped you
To come to the kitchen
and peel a little basketball
for breakfast
To tear the husk
like cotton padding a cloud of oil
misting out of its pinprick pores
clean and sharp as pepper
To ease
each pale pink section out of its case
so carefully without breaking
a single pearly cell
To slide each piece
into a cold blue china bowl
the juice pooling until the whole
fruit is divided from its skin
and only then to eat
so sweet
a discipline
precisely pointless a devout
involvement of the hands and senses
a pause a little emptiness

each year harder to live within
each year harder to live without

For Rebecca
You are the kind of  person who buys exotic fruits
leaves them out on the counter until they rot
You always mean to eat them sometimes you rearrange them
rousing over the bowl a cloud of tiny flies


How do they balance the parrot who chews a walnut
sideways holding it up in his right foot
the owl perched on a just-lit lamppost
scratching behind its ear like a big dog


Your pencil eraser wears down long before the point
for every word you write you rub out two


Where the slice of  toast rested the plate is still warm
a film of fog little points of dew


Love is like velocity we feel the speeding up
and the slowing down otherwise not at all
the more steady the more it feels like going nowhere
my love I want to go nowhere with you


I cannot bring myself  to toss the cup of cold coffee
you set down by the door on your way to the taxi
all day I have sipped it each time forgetting
your two tablets of fake sugar too sweet


Running down the street
dodging between raindrops plump as cherries


The ground was feathered with wild strawberries
I picked seven as many as I could bear
I ate two I saved the rest for you here
hold out your hand take them taste how sweet


Please hold me the forgotten way the wall pleads
spray-paint face and voice of a damned poet
the darling damned poets save them from themselves
maybe it is us they need saving from

for Boyce
They are threatening to leave us the nimble-throated singers
the little murderers with the quick pulses
They  perch at the ends of   bare branches their tails
are ragged and pitiful the long green
feathers are fallen out They  go on eating and eating
last autumn's yellow melia berries
They do not care that you approach cold corpses
rot in the grass in the reeds
The gray-shouldered crows hobble about the wren
barely a mouthful cocks her pert tail
and threatens to slaughter the white-footed cat in the bushes
They do not understand that they are dying

They are threatening to leave us how quickly we forget
the way they taught us how to play our voices
opening soul to weightlessness like the Spartan poet
singing under the burden of  his old bones
to the chorus girls with their honey songs and their holy voices
how he wished he could scoot like a kingfisher
lightly over the flower of  the waves who boasted
I know the tunes of every bird but I Alcman
found my words and song in the tongue of the strident partridge
Where will we find songs when the sleek-headed
mallards are gone who chase each other around the pond
the reluctant duck and the lovesick drake
The way she turns her head to the side to scold him
whack  whack  whack  whack  whack the way her boyfriend
chases off  his rival and then swims back reeb  reeb
with feeble reassurances the way
he sits on top of  her the way she flaps her wings
to keep above water the way they look
pleased with themselves wagging their tails smoothing
each feather back in its right place

They are threatening to leave but you may still catch them
saying goodbye stealthed in the cedar and cypress
at dawn in the dark clarity between sleep and waking
A run of  five notes on a black flute
another and another buried deep in the mix
how many melodies can the air hold
And what they sing so lovely and so meaningless
may urge itself  upon you with the ache
of   something  just beyond the point of  being remembered
the trace of a brave thought in the face of sadness

After D.H.L.
Your first thought when the light snaps on and the black wings
clatter about the kitchen is a bat

the clear part of  your mind considers rabies the other part
does not consider knows only to startle

and cower away from the slap of  its wings though it is soon
clearly not a bat but a moth and harmless

still you are shy of it it clings to the hood of the stove
not black but brown its orange eyes sparkle

like televisions its leg  joints are large enough to count
how could you kill it where would you hide the body

a creature so solid must have room for a soul
and if  this is so why not in a creature

half  its size or half its size again and so on
down to the ants clearly it must be saved

caught in a shopping bag and rushed to the front door
afraid to crush it feeling the plastic rattle

loosened into the night air it batters the porch light
throwing fitful shadows around the landing

That was a really big moth is all you can say to the doorman
who has watched your whole performance with a smile

the half-compassion and half-horror we feel for the creatures
we want not to hurt and prefer not to touch

For Alicia
The bird who creaks like a rusty playground swing
the bird who sharpens the knife the bird who blows
on the mouths of milk bottles the bird who bawls like a cat
like a cartoon baby the bird who rubs the wineglass
the bird who curlicues the bird who quacks like a duck
but is not a duck the bird who pinks on a jeweller's hammer
They hide behind the sunlight scattered throughout the canopy
At the thud of your feet they fall thoughtful and quiet
coming to life again only when you have passed
Perhaps they are not multiple but one
a many-mooded trickster whose voice is rich
and infinitely various whose feathers
liquify the rainbow rippling scarlet
emerald indigo whose streaming tail
is rare as a comet's a single glimpse of which
is all that you could wish for the one thing
missing to make your eyes at last feel full
to meet this wild need of yours for wonder

There is no I in teamwork
but there is a two maker

there is no I in together
but there is a got three
a get to her

the I in relationship
is the heart I slip on
a lithe prison

in all communication
we count on a mimic
(I am not uncomic)

our listening skills
are silent killings

there is no we in marriage
but a grim area

there is an I in family
also my fail

Teach me a fruit of  your
country I asked and so you dipped
into a shop and in your hand
held me a thick yellow pinecone

no knife between us
you put it to your teeth
sideways like a bird and bit
and peeled away the fleshy
scales or were they petals

crisp white at the core
peppered with black seeds
sweet and light like a cold cloud
like some exotic sherbet carried
hand over hand from a mountaintop
by a relay of runners straightway
to the Inca's high table

we sat on metal chairs
still pebbled with rain the seat
of my pants damp we passed it
back and forth no matter how
carefully we could not help

spilling the juice making
our cheeks sticky our fingers
getting sticky our fingers no
not even once touching

Craig Arnold Biography

Craig Arnold (November 16, 1967 – c. April 27, 2009) was an American poet and professor. His first book of poems, Shells (1999), was selected by W. S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.[1][2] His many honors include the 2005 Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize Fellowship in literature, The Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, an Alfred Hodder Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, an NEA fellowship, and a MacDowell Fellowship.)

The Best Poem Of Craig Arnold


I'm cooking Thai—you bring the beer.
The same order, although it's been a year

—friendships based on food are rarely stable.
We should have left ours at the table

where it began, and went to seed,
that appetite we shared, based less in need

than boredom—always at the cheapest restaurants,
Thai, Szechwan, taking our chance

with gangs and salmonella—what was hot?
The five-starred curries? The pencilled out

entrees?—the first to break a sweat
would leave the tip. I raise the knocker, let

it fall, once, twice, and when the door is opened
I can't absorb, at first, what happened

—face loosened a notch, eyes with the gloss
of a fever left to run its course

too long, letting the unpropped skin collapse
in a wrinkled heap. Only the lips

I recognize—dry, cracked, chapped
from licking. He looks as though he's slept

a week in the same clothes. Come in, kick back
he says, putting my warm six-pack

of Pale & Bitter into the fridge to chill.
There's no music. I had to sell

the stereo to support my jones, he jokes
meaning the glut of good cookbooks

that cover the whole wall, in stacked milk crates
six high, nine wide, two deep. He grates

unripe papaya into a bowl,
fires off questions—When did you finish school?

Why not? Still single?—Why? That dive
that served the ginger eels, did it survive?

I don't get out much. Shall we go sometime?
He squeezes the quarters of a lime

into the salad, adds a liberal squirt
of chili sauce. I won't be hurt

if you don't want seconds. It's not as hot
as I would like to make it, but

you always were a bit of a lightweight.
Here, it's finished, try a bite.

He holds a forkful of the crisp
green shreds for me to take. I swallow, gasp,

choke—pins and needles shoot
through mouth and throat, a heat so absolute

as to seem freezing. I know better
not to wash it down with ice water

—it seems to cool, but only spreads the fire—
I can only bite my lip and swear

quietly to myself, so caught
up in our old routine—What? This is hot?

You're sweating. Care for another beer?
—it doesn't occur to me that he's sincere

until, my eyes watering, half in rage,
I open the door and find the fridge

stacked full with little jars of curry paste,
arranged by color, labels faced

carefully outward, some pushed back
to make room for the beer—no milk, no take-

out cartons of gelatinous chow mein,
no pickles rotting in green brine,

not even a jar of moldy mayonnaise.
—I see you're eating well these days,

I snap, pressing the beaded glass
of a beer bottle against my neck, face,

temples, anywhere it will hurt
enough to draw the fire out, and divert

attention from the fear that follows
close behind … He stares at me, the hollows

under his eyes more prominent than ever.
—I don't eat much these days. The flavor

has gone out of everything, almost.
For the first time it's not a boast.

You know those small bird chili pods—the type
you wear surgical gloves to chop,

then soak your knife and cutting board
in vinegar? A month ago I scored

a fresh bag—they were so ripe
I couldn't cut them warm, I had to keep

them frozen. I forgot what I had meant
to make, that night—I'd just cleaned

the kitchen, wanted to fool around
with some old recipe I'd lost, and found

jammed behind a drawer—I had
maybe too much to drink. "Can't be that bad,"

I remember thinking. "What's the fuss
about? It's not as if they're poisonous…"

Those peppers, I ate them, raw—a big fistful
shoved in my mouth, swallowed whole,

and more, and more. It wasn't hard.
You hear of people getting their eyes charred

to cinders, staring into en eclipse…
He speaks so quickly, one of his lips

has cracked, leaks a trickle of blood
along his chin … I never understood.

I try to speak, to offer some
small shocked rejoinder, but my mouth is numb,

tingling, hurts to move—I called in sick
next morning, said I'd like to take

time off. She thinks I've hit the bottle.
The high those peppers gave me is more subtle—

I'm lucid, I remember my full name,
my parents' birthdays, how to win a game

of chess in seven moves, why which and that
mean different things. But what we eat,

why, what it means, it's all been explained
—Take this curry, this fine-tuned

balance of humors, coconut liquor thinned
by broth, sour pulp of tamarind

cut through by salt, set off by fragrant
galangal, ginger, basil, cilantro, mint,

the warp and woof of texture, aubergines
that barely hold their shape, snap beans

heaped on jasmine, basmati rice
—it's a lie, all of it—pretext—artifice

He stops, expressing heat from every pore

of his full face, unable to give vent
to any more, and sits, silent,

a whole minute.—You understand?
Of course, I tell him. As he takes my hand

I can't help but notice the strength his grip
has lost, as he lifts it to his lip,

presses it for a second, the torn flesh
as soft, as tenuous, as ash,

not in the least harsh or rough,
wreck of a mouth, that couldn't say enough.

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