Two Poems by Jake Romm

by Jake Romm

In these poems, the promise of America and the promise of poetry become one and the same: a longed for freedom that always seems just beyond our grasp. In recalling Ginsberg’s “Howl,” Romm uses the richness of language to underscore the failure of our political discourse to address our most urgent needs. For Romm, poetry offers reflection and solace, even if the way out of our personal and cultural experience of belatedness is unclear. 


Memphis, TN (Misquoted)

I saw the best minds of my generation become consultants (that’s how the line goes, isn’t it?),
stark white un-mad in the parking lot wastelands that close by nine,
all months equally always un-cruel. Crowded in lawns or long
street-side medians, we never had lilacs but dandelions
and onion grass. The onion grass chewed sweet
in our mouths but left our breath ravaged as we
sleep-eared listened to the friendless fleeting whine
of freight trains and Hondas in flight…

All of this,
all of this piles into itself, into the careful weight of the in-between,
the weight that crushes meaning flat, that crushes me
to look at the crowds and see no harvest wheat but crowd minus
“s” as the monolith of streets and stores and the moving parts that pass

So to old Prince Hamlet I might say, “So be it,
but there’s a lot less here than you might think”
though there’s very likely more and perhaps I’ve seen…
no (“they’re writing songs of love…” and so on), ah, and even if there were more,
which seems altogether certain now,
old Alexander conquered more lands such as I
have never dreamed of, and besides,
even a lifetime of sleep is not enough and a life of waking
is less even still and so I’m killed, slain by the places I’ve never lived
and doubly by those that I have and I’m left only
with the wait wait wait for that time
when I might say goodbye, goodbye goodbye
to the in-between and the never-ending.

But always, memories
toned red by tail light traffic on a rainy wet window come
crushing, calling back that I once saw a church in Memphis…

and calling again I come undone

and splash and babble on the dirt


ah shit,
ah, America, you pistol, you rifle, you slay me, you kill me, you kill me again and again and
Ha! your listerine ladies, they kill me, their lack of moral latitude
and scared garish pressed puckered spilling putrid oozing words, ah, spitting
milk flecked phlegm, your Volkswagen Valkyries, look at them
ride thunderously hurt to Wagner (whenever he returns to fashionable heights) rolling roiling
quick and thirsty, juice drunk, demanding a word with the world and the world
all the same ah killed, killed again, slain by those moderns screens with mobile
sheen stretched over our ageless anachronistic empires and neon shiva
four armed god of clicking blue white light and grave respondent
garbage thieves the Sunday saps who hidebound sticky suck at sing song
songs of brave and born to die for David dancer distant
Duke and oh they kill me…those…ah, oh christ, oh jesus,
oh god, oh no, it’s all too…

I once saw a church in Memphis
with a cheap (not so cheap I imagine) replica of old
green old lady liberty (isn’t it time to put her in a home?)
dull rusted torch replaced by dull gold cross, a single
comic tear rankling her guise.
+++++Oh lady, you were never all that much but now look how you’re dressed!
+++++Oh lady, please tell me that cross of gold is only paint and wood!
+++++Oh lady, please tell me you’ve laughed that lonesome tear!
+++++Oh lady, oh christ, look what they’ve done…

Dear dear traveler,
+++++centuries hence you will see
+++++no colossal wreck nor annihilated place,
+++++no abandoned pedestal nor long decaying face.
+++++Look on our works in wonder and despair to find
+++++old green old lady cross standing sneering still.


Washington D.C. (Fall, Dupont Circle)

Despondent and drunk deep within the whale’s belly of the D.C. metro
I start to notice that the square grid ceilings look more like Lichtenstein cartoons
than ceilings and suddenly my mood improves and my shoes don’t feel
so damp and the concrete doesn’t loom so gray and I forgo
the train and leave the station to go walking through the cold blue
light of a six o-clock November, and the way the roof spires sleep
across the sky and the way the coffee shops glow creamsicle
like so many distant cites and the way the air feels
so forgetfully weightless that it’s barely there, it all conspires to tear me apart,
to tear me down hair by hair, particle by particle until
there’s nothing left and it’s all I can do to keep from crying
from that strange melancholy dusk-time joy that makes
a lover of everyone and everything – rolling together burrowed beneath fall sheets, naked
beneath fall sweaters, sighing inside each other and breathing
too-big breaths and laughing silent jokes at the world and the mystery of it all
and how nothing matters except this and not even this but yes
it does it does it does we all repeat and nod
and agree that of course of course of course it matters, oh it always did


Jake Romm is a writer living in New York. He is a Contributing Editor for The Forward and his writing and photography have appeared in The New Inquiry, Humble Arts Foundation, Ain’t Bad Magazine, Reading the Pictures, and other outlets.

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