Photography © Chad Parenteau


The Hat in a Game of Salugi

What does the poem want?
It wants to stand on its hind legs and beg.
It wants to be made to speak.
It wants to be the baguette in your bicycle basket.
It wants what the poet was afraid to want,
to be a cat toy, a can of paint in a new apartment,
the hat in a game of salugi.

It wants to be grandpa in the nursing home
astonished to see the children
piling through the common-room door,
or the piling at the end of the dock,
splashed by a passing boat’s wake,
a place from which to see the world,
the bubble in the pizza cheese,
the Tin Man’s oil can,
the view out the heart’s back window, the heart’s back door;
it wants to take a seat on the dried, warped step on the heart’s
          back deck.

This poem wants children of its own,
aunties to chide it, uncles with a fridge
filled with Bud in the garage.

You say the poem is just an avatar
for the poet, and this joke is getting old,

Not just the view from the deck,
the poem wants to be the pressure-treated lumber
they build decks from, the stuff that goes grey,
splits, and throws up the nails that held it in place,
refusing, at the end, like any good corpse, to stay put.

Now, I love the wooden fire escapes
I saw in Chicago, a city with alleys,
balconies and stairs built into the backs
of small brick buildings, for the way
they zig and zag to the ground,
like an Aztec sculpture of lightning;
clotheslines too, the way they reach
out into the world with their clothes,
like words that are offered and taken back.
Pants, no pants.

The poem wants to be a birthday party noisemaker
that unfurls with the poet’s breath and rolls back up to rest;
it wants to be taken up by whales as whale song,
and evolve from whale to whale from ocean to ocean;
it wants to grow up to be a tune that Thelonious Monk
wrote while waiting in the womb to be born,
with the sense of longing as cold as supper in prison.

It’s not like the poet wants to get laid
so the poem wants to get laid.

Remember falling down the stairs
at Robin Flam’s house
at Leslie Gaulin’s 13th birthday party?
To be out in the middle of the sea
is to tell yourself the truth, that loving
the place you were born is a neurological condition
in which the homeland beckons to the traveler,
who wants nothing but the next wave and the next,
even if it throws their wooden hull on a rocky shore.

The poem wants to be a gang of a hundred men
chopping down a California redwood in 1890
by hand with axes. And on the third day, the tree,
this magnificent shaft, fell, and the men watched it fall,
men driven by stronger men driven by greed;
so the poem drives the poet.


Arthur Russell won a fellowship to The Provincetown Work Center, but turned it down for a fellowship to Syracuse University. He is a member of the inaugural class of the Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program, winner of the BKP Poem of the Year for 2015 and runner up for the same prize in 2021. He is the co-leader of the Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow Tuesday night workshop, an editor of the RWB Journal, and the 2nd place winner of the Allen Ginsberg Prize for 2021.

Chad Parenteau is Associate Editor of Oddball Magazine.