David Koehn

Hocus​ ​Pocus

Pick a card any card, the ace of spades, the tarot’s magician, your American Express.
What the hand knows the eye can never know. Shuffle the cards all you like.
The stop start stuck in traffic syllabary strikes the mouth’s spark in mockery.
As a child, late night TV was my god. Watching “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” changed my life:
The murderous somnambulist let loose on us by the insane hypnotist.
I dreamt that the affection I felt was legerdemain.
Fan all the cards to show the shuffled array, the random order of things.
On the back page of the September 11th 1908 Nashua Telegraph
There is an ad for Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment
Where “the body is a machine of flesh.”
I did not dream of ten bassoon players arcing the air with a B flat.
The card trick always looks like magic until the trick is revealed.
The orbs would float between us, hovering, absorbing our attention.
They would drop from the air into a copper bowl I could not quite put my arms around.

Cut the deck anywhere. There they would disappear.
While he performed a boy became uncomfortable in his skin.
A woman stopped loving her children.
I became thirsty and walked to the spring where I drank
And no matter how long or how hard I pulled the water into my throat I could not stop my thirst.
We revered him. The mock latin that invoked our attention was nothing but a distraction from a distraction.
The body’s repositioning of what the body senses
Just after surprise. There is a deck of cards in the drawer, the fourth card, the 7 of clubs, has your name on it.
The snake oil salesman that sells snake oil that contains no snake oil has won.
We have given ourselves over to the illusionist
Rather than the magician, to the vacant house’s porchlight at the end of the street
Rather than the dragon in the stars, to the dream of something rotten
Over the love of knowledge or our children or our lovers about to fall to their death.



We’ve​ ​Heard​ ​Rumors ​The​ ​Water​ ​Hyacinth​ ​Was​ ​So​ ​Thick

You can walk on it. I’d try to, to say I did.
On tonight’s walk the wind drove in a heavy load
Of skunk, we imagined a whole family sashaying
Their way among the light brown skeletons
Of the new homes, the maze of studs and joists.
We imagined the scent was like the oil of a perfume
Tipped from the nose of the big dipper onto the neighborhood.
Almost too late we noticed two stray dogs between us
And our return path, one brown, the other tan, one a lab
The other a rottweiler mix of some kind. They meant no harm
But in the dark, unexpected as aliens, they make us rethink
The difference between our idea of safety and incurvature.
The tinnitus of the house where I sometimes live, where
My friend’s joke I am known as uncle dad, the emptiness
Has the timbre of a madrigal, the movement of Reuben’s red;
Has what’s left after Judith slaying Holofernes (Holofernes
Fighting off the maid). No, Anthony I am not referencing your post
On Artemisia Gentileschi, (You know, Artemisia Gentileschi.)
But Klimt. The sound of the dog’s claws scratch the glass
Of the back door. Sleep offers a foreshortened
100 ounces of gold flake in a cereal bowl. If desire for what I
Am not, have not, was a history, a fistful of sea lettuce
Slake for a the detrital echo of the waves, would be
The origin story. My story does not resemble the world ascribed
To me: my mother? Gay. My cousins? Black. My nieces,
Taiwanese. My CEO, a woman. My orientation? Beyond
LGBTQ. My abusers, women. My daughter’s sister? Inupiaq.
My oldest son? The son of another man. My youngest son?
The only white boy in his class. Not that he would notice.
Decades ago, boarding a plane for return to Barrow, Alaska
My oldest son noticed a woman holding a bundled child
In her arms. Its pinkish, almost-blue face a smoothness
In the rubble of the blankets. He said, “Dad, why is that baby
So white?” Growing up in the bush he did not identify
With this monolithic idea of whiteness. In Inupiaq lore
There is a belief that all things sing, everything has a song.
No stone, no caribou, no door handle have the same song
In a rare moment of camaraderie one of the women in town
Gave me an Inupiaq nickname, the word for a gnat, kirgaviatchauraq.
Today, the TV tells me we have the Texan’s versus the Chiefs.
The drag of an old razor over 3-day old stubble. The cardboard
Box’s reaction to the packing tape torn off its back.
Every football game I watch taints me with the imperial.
My company will not reimburse my cell phone bill
Because the amount due is too high. Bad Brain’s
“House of Suffering” plays in the background
Of my consciousness
From earlier in the day on the drive home.
The line? “…i gotta let some joy in…” My family will tell
You, this is not because of personal use. There must be a Zen
Koan about a peach orchard, where the owner refused to pay
The laborer for picking too many peaches. Or perhaps I refer
You to, Ishiguro’s “Remains of the Day.” Easy Street
Is a real street in an imaginary town, or is it an imaginary street
In a real town? An open-side down clear glass jar wrapped
In gray paper sits atop a red brick’s vertical parallelogram
Beneath the sumi ink drawing of a chevron’s version
Of a butterfly bush. The idea of Amanda is not Amanda.
What joy we take in her amusement of her amusement
Of my friends. The Hannah Nicole winery sets aside the plow
During grape harvest season. Hands preserve the integrity
Of the grape: one must then taste the fingers of the man
Paid too little — the flavor must possess its dispossession.
This is necessary but not sufficient for a great vintage.
The indecision about what to do with old birthday cards
Lingers. The teenage daughter whines. The dog whines.
The only thing never-ending is discontent. The Texan cheerleaders
Wear white spandex shorts and blue shirts: to notice
Is to put myself on notice. I noticed your pink shirt. “Oh No””
Oh no, not another “Oh no!” Everyone here knows the sound,
The refrigerator’s tight-lipped suction uncupped from the frame,
And closed, a drawer opened, or a jug shuffled, and closed and opened
And closed again. Then the tink of the silver in the sunset
Yellow bowl. What we remember begins with cows on the ridge
Of the saddle, the edge of the ocean crashing into the continent
Just past their nose, and the queen palms
Sultry in their entertaining haberdashery, bowing
Toward Highway One and car after car of applause.




Lay a set of spoons on the table in front of the audience.
Nothing brings back source.
Watch the daughter crawl into the hospital bed

With her now dead mother. The word
On a seven-year-old tongue catches:
Not the ruse of hocus pocus or the slight of hand of presto.

Show the audience the spoon in your left hand,
Bend the spoon held in the right.
The daughter had been waiting bedside for death to arrive –

Which is a kind waiting for her mother, the resident, to depart.
Say the word out loud, abracadabra
Just as she did that day. The room’s encircled a small town

Called Hope Mills in North Carolina.
The eye loves the roots of the tree
Grounded in Aramaic. The ranch

Home, white, with gray shutters, and three street-facing windows,
The largest one set within the frame of the front porch
Lined with small evergreens: the grey lizards, angled and opium-eyed, bask

In the sun and wait for capture.
Millais’ Ophelia drifting on the river
By her left knee look for a purple flower,

Just left of there, a spoon. Hold the spoon up in line with the audience
And shake it. I showed our mother my first magic trick,
Some part of me wanted to be Uri Geller –

To change the world with the power of my mind.
When I bent the spoon, she seemed truly amazed,
Her face lit up with what I assume must have been mock surprise.

No incantation brings her oddly stilted Fur Elise back,
No trick allows us to feel the way we do with the living while they live.
Turn the spoon sideways to show the bend.


Poet’s Bio: David’s first full-length manuscript, Twine, now available from Bauhan Publishing, won the 2013 May Sarton Poetry Prize. David just released Compendium (Omnidawn Publishing 2017), a collection of Donald Justice’s take on prosody. David’s second full-length collection, Scatterplot, is due out from Omnidawn Publishing in 2020.

Image: Timothy CollinsEphphatha City. Mixed media assemblage on museum board, 12”x12.”

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