Some Old Poems, by Robert Basil

Briggs Room Reading

Stanford University Spring 1984

Hi there, everybody.

This August I was sitting outside the Student Union reading To the Lighthouse.

It was a spacey day, and out of the store comes this little kid

with a woman I presumed to be his Mom. The woman had three chocolate bars,

and she gave the child one half of one. The Union bees were waiting for him to open it.

They had already crawled into my coke can, too intent on sucking sugar up

to sting me when I waved at them. 

The woman gives the child her chocolate bar and she walks away, and I might have seen her start eating, 

but reading all day made me too tired to turn my neck, so I just heard her unwrapping.

Then the child said the first two lines of my poem. 

I was blown away by the beauty of his words and how they represented in haiku implicitness 

the perfect tasty union of mother and child. Then the child said the third line of my poem and

that changed everything. Because the words that are my poem’s second line were misspoken. 

The child was about four. And he meant to say something else, that, in order to say,

he had to add a couple of cloggy syllables.  What before had been sweet 

now signified a kind of craving I knew more closely, 

and I guessed that the woman was probably a sitter, 

not a Mom. The last three lines are mine. 

“Sweetness Alighting” 

“Me and my Ma

are chocolate. 



a ways



This next poem was conceived while working the graveyard shift

at a Mighty Taco on the east side of Buffalo. The key situation of this place:

Everyone I had successfully avoided on the streets for the four years prior all came in to buy food after drinking. 

The poem is about Deb, the junior assistant manager.

“Deb Says She Will Lose Weight Soon”

Your thighs are capsized canoes. 

But this is bliss.

My maya and your maya. 

You lean over my lap.

The handiwipe is in the sink.

And your breasts are encyclopedias.

They are heavy. 

They are stiff.

Never been used.

World Books.

We scrape the red right off our faces.


The first book of poetry I purchased was Wordsworth’s collected poems, near Edmonton, Alberta. 

I was working on famous Al Oeming’s Game Farm literally dawn to dusk, shoveling shit into the pick-up.

I memorized the first sections of  the Immortality Ode while trying to spot the buffalo who had the runs. 

Because once you saw the runs you had to report it and then watch for it to happen again

so you could shoot a dart into the animal and give it medicine. This was the only part of the job I liked.

“Under Wordsworth”

“There was a time 

 when meadow, grove, 

 and stream” –

  filled my genderless eyes 

  with steam

and with blood.

I kicked mud 

but being spry 

didn’t eat


Vapor sleeves slid up 

the waterfall’s drawers

  like football player 
  I plopped in

the hole the splashing gored 

and stayed there


until I heard my friends 

coming, throwing

twigs at the hanging 

pine cones.



This is a poem about a wimp from my childhood, Mickey Higgins, who was large but weak, who nonetheless had a large and strong dog, named Arhumba. 

Arhumba bit the ear off Dirky, my best friend’s dog. This poem is not about that particular incident.

“Remorse Years Later”

Those boxing gloves 

Given to Mickey Higgins

Made him even easier 

To beat up.


I wrote this poem the morning my first day working at Xerox,

a morning that marked the beginning of me getting back on the stick, 

said my Ma, who was driving the car. I was looking out the windows

and recalled that scene in “Taxi Driver” where Travis drops an alka seltzer

into the glass and, a Zen trainee, absorbs himself into its patternless plop and fizz.

“Rural Red Light”

He goes through it. We sink.

  without bubbles.

Our samsara waits 

on Fairport's nirvana.

A spent strawberry field

  and mushy yellow cambium

crave another galaxy’s smoother



Robert Creeley and Lou Reed seemed to take on a greater significance for me

after I left Buffalo and moved to Palo Alto and lived in an apartment complex called “Tan Village.” California! 

Only when I returned to Buffalo did I discover that the place was owned by a man actually named Mr. Tan.


“Proof ”

Proud words like lurid 
need lines longer than 
Creeley’s breathed-in ones

lines drunk with nouns 
aims for our irises

denting our nuts

or any kind of play 
biting the hair
of the night

or noon 
and after -- .

Live with 
out bur-
glary of



“Lou Reed is Saved in Newark”

(after Lester Bangs)



(what’s the difference)

for transforming a whole generation

of young Americans into faggot junkies.”

Is there any word I can use
and how much does it


to leave



sweet nuthin’ 

sweet Jane –


rock your hearts.


This is pretty much the first poem I wrote. I wrote it in Nevada, 1979:

East of Reno, on the banks of Interstate 80. I stood in one place for 25 hours 

with a sign that said “HOME.” Normally this was a fabulously successful sign.

Three cars emitted “Ohhhhs” that were split by the Doppler Effect

as they locked their doors. Although I was hitching alone, I imagined myself 

with my brother, Christopher.   When I rolled his boy-scout sleeping bag out 

I started having desert hallucinations. I overheard four people

arguing at a table that had a red and white checkerboarded cloth on top of it.

Then I heard the A side of Tom Petty’s “You’re Gonna Get It” album 

and understood and remembered all the words for the first time.

Me and my brother started to dance.

“Two Days in One Place”

The Reno truckstop is behind us

and Christopher’s halo and frantic rap 

have unraveled and scattered

into entropic bits of benzedrine psychosis.

  Morning is still early rinsed orange 

  but my sneaker treads are melting.

Mindlessly I roll

my dewy down bag just right.

My brother sucks breath from this skinny roach 

and sends melancholy streams of smoke 

skidding across seed-heavy heads

of ochre desert weeds.

I console my brother.

“Two more of these black ones

will wring what’s left

from your dopamine glands.

“So be happy.

And take my place by the roadside

and thumb till noon.

Dance where the roads merge.

“I am just one yawning fucker.

Tonight, brother, we are going to brush our teeth in Cheyenne.”



                                                                                        Tequila Mocking

“Tequila Mocking”

Shudder again Basil, at your success 

Better pleasures will surely follow

And alter your odor

So another shudder 

It all seems to be there now

What you have wrecked has been moved away

Between lunch and nighttime chocolate 

Fred found your blonde tequila

It was in a bottle it was on a table it was in 

Another neighborhood

Private language exposed.


“My Drive Home”

Driving home from the Main Street tequila store 

it hit me that this love

I am now suffering is not

a new kind of love remember

what you wanted to give the woman I wanted

to be her friend. She is married and has two young sons.

Promiscuity will save me from this

before virtue does. Should I put a hymn to her

here? What should it contain? Her hair

when it is parted down the middle & right now 

also my fear, that I would flood the one

who would alleviate my loneliness – my love

restrains itself from its object, her 

shoulder, eye, her hood & her nod, 

hymen, toe,

hair & ear.


“Tequila Man”

I will sleep where the dog sleeps. 

“The dog sleeps under my bed.”

The kind of guy you never get friendly with, 

“the kind of guy you miss the most.”

I closed my eyes 

“to see you”

near the coffee in my cup 

“and saw you”

on Bailey Avenue

“with a cup you cut with white tequila.”


“The Shine”

I have walked up another hill 

Hated its perfection

The brown shine of its beauty

  I know all the ways your sweater turns to beer 
  I have lied to your perhaps you know when.

But it must be 

Never merely 

This and here

Shutter tomorrow’s 

Minding, kiss

All four lips

And keep this 

As you have It. 

Love and 

Glow of gut.

With the endurance of tequila

I have found no reason to move 

My small wares to Budapest

For rage does not enhance reason

Though it feels necessarily human 

Like a vice, or an eyelash.

Your music, honeypie, was the new necessary. 

It was good as bone on a wet day.

First bone, final wet day. 

Just that you smack it 

Can I crave my

only body now.


"Tequila Morning" 


After four hours I’m up, & I smell

like tequila & piss & that too smells like tequila, & my teeth tequila, underarms are

my favourite & best, like tequila & also

you. My dreams one wash of you, that’s all,

I can’t believe I am alone right now or how much I talked just in order to

avoid letting you know you have given me

the quote unquote world & such coolness cost me! Who drove me here?

Running puff puff puff four no-shirt

sidewalk miles, my lungs will love me forever

& I smoke to spite them but I get thru my run hit the park for pull-ups but there’s two kids

swinging on my set & two others sprinting beneath them like maniacs in a queer kiddy game of near

collision. I check out the world.

Bark pieces are in between my toes (which smell like tequila) & all Moms

seem old today, wearing lots of coats.

But I know that this morning you too awakened with your cat, perhaps,

on top of you, but also I’m embarrassed I’ve taken this long

even to know

I haven’t been able yet, to say,

just what there is,

I mean, here.  Hi there.


I started by wanting to say I

was going to sit here

all night until I said it.

But it hit


the impossible


I had set

for myself

was to sit here 

& all night

until I did it.



Running with Ish

"Running with Ish"

  1. Run

The orphan. 

The family.

The neighborhood.

The striding.

The Sunday.


  The foods. 

  The beds. 

  The porches.

The restaurants. 

The generations.

The off-time. 

The marriage. 

The hammock. 

The payment. 

The working.

The abortions. 

The dresses.

The soirees.

The twins. 

The musicians!

The air inside. 

The lovely try.

The team member. 

The biggest race. 

The red present.

The cot-winners. 

The good sinners.

The take-home meals. 

The three watchers.

The faith-healers.

The one, one male. 

The taste of yum. 

The lovely look,

Around the arm.

Atop the mom,

The sweat and goop. 

The crack alight.

The motel room.

The rented car.

The near-deaf teen!

Money for time. 

Soup for you.

Match for me. 

Television for us. 

Ideas for travel.

Kisses for sleep. 

Blows for change.

And room for everybody. 

Help for us.

  Sins for that.

Locks for legs.

“Out for good, 

 oh, for shame.”

  Tears for effect. 

Shoes for parties.

  Hands for holding. 

  Rolls for noses.

Air for outside. 

Cotton for comfort.

  Extras for leaving!

  1. Back

Two divorced men, 

the desire to write.

the night within Palo Alto.

The music too loud,

the wear of masturbation, 

            the vodka in coffee.

The friends in Buffalo 

trust of the past,

the surprising poem.

Pissing in the backyard, 

the patience they all have,

the tape Ish listened to.

The brother’s brother, 

the inhabited apartment,

being on to something.

You are not in jail, 

clothes in the dryer,

Saturday is different.

Elsewhere I think, 

telephone one’s son,

the lovely landlord.

Loud all these years, 

unified isn’t it,

it made the driveway.

Increasing ugliness, 

the friend is immoral,

too dead to speak.

Unaware of this again, 

Karen Carpenter is back,

gossip gives birth.

My joy is yours,

the kiss on the arm,

two first names.

Finally got it down,

  anything in bed,

Christmas and holidays.

The alarming arrival, 

words in the morning:

what blood got.

It should catch you: 

It was hard to say:

You don’t re-

member a lot 

of it,

of spray on our ceiling.


“Clean As a Whistle”

The completed sentence 

to stand alone

away from all

things. Away from

a way to 

complete a lone


  sentence. The standing 

  thing away alone.


                                                                                        Bailey Avenue Buffalo Poems

"Prelude to a New Career"

Today is finally our day

To write poems whose lines 

Are exactly of equal length

When written in longhand 

And without enough weapons 

To show I

Can put up with your 

Pages and pants. Did I say, 

“Just love?” Yes, a mere

  Fair love, a fast ass, a
  Coquette, just 

  Stretched, to make it, to

Pack it,

Toward our night, our

Soiree, your thin opalescence,

Your men, wee bones, the pelt 

Of our beer, when broken 

Throughout, by straws.

The next movement from 

Epiphanies is the worst:

Cut clogged sod

Wadded in mouths before 

The end. I can’t stand it. 

Oh man: Are your dad’s hands like yours?

Are those dungarees heated 

In holy water, near

One Mouth in Twilight?

I am not guilty of that, but 

Of this:

An interrupting move

And reading a lot, about them, 

  Like wanting to find one:

Libya’s bee going backwards

Manoeuvring the steering wheel 

While other poets wriggle

Lamb embryos over the balls

Of that god.

Must I guess this, 

sniffing like a glug in a mug?

Their eyes peer down

Yanking an underwater 

Circle down into the dumb, 

Nearly deep enough to pleat

  Our clavicles, dent our 


        To avoid the bends 

        It becomes habitual.


“The Advice”

Miscegenate for world peace! 

Veneration should never find 

Blood allied with gratitude.

Your loves will be time-zones apart.

Scorned men explain 

Neither sleep nor insomnia

But remember the clothes they kept on 

To keep their love perfect.

And under 






“The Lasting”

Love is its own aversion therapy.

It is a harsh toke from a big bong

where favorite flavors find their connotations.

And even our sweeter vacations 


never lasted this long.


“The After”

Cold coffee does not necessarily 

Got bugs in it.

A large town can be a safe place.

But to your friends there

I was just a subject of interest

And we were momentarily the case.

Everyone I did not know wanted to 

Talk about it.



Primary human feelings 

Is a questionable act.


“The January Drive”

I decided not to hit the Pink Flamingo tonight

& didn’t turn off at the liquor store on Elmwood 

which I had forgotten was there

across the street from the doughnut store 

wine was at home

and I might relax for tomorrow –

Who should move in this 

place who should take

my son’s room where can I buy 

a bed and how big

must it be,

how big must it be

for a four leg fit 

to finish the bottle 

and cap the pour 

legs lip just yours.


“The Memorial Day”

A pubic brush 
has pulled back

pink bloom

from a pair 
of underwear

you borrowed 
to share.


“The Funny Valentine”

You yearning honeybun 

Sad eyelash honeybun

You make me cry in my heart.

Your hope is laughable 


You see your favorite work of art.

Is my figure less than Greek? 

It’s my soul, ‘s a little weak. 

When you open it and seek 

Is it smart?

Don’t change your thing for me 

Let yourself sing to me

Bye, yearning honeybun, bye.

Each love’s sweet funny day will die.


“The Romantic Song”

Count those kisses 

And let tonight 

Forget tonight.

Feel your back and when 

Rain covered our car

Where are your roaming lips

When they are near the words of love?

Break your breath 

Before that note dies

And bring your hands near

Sweet honeypie.

Oh hang back and then 

Wave fire at far stars

Where are your flat eyelashes

When they are near the one you love?

Break your breath 

Before the note dies 

Bring those hands near 

Sweet honeypie.

Where are your roaming lips

When you are near the words of love?

And where are your light eyelashes

when you while the one you love?


“The Deaths”     (a gloss on lines by Jack Spicer) 

No love deserves

The death it gets.

The same should not be said 

For the lover, or the other.


“The Brief Candle”

I’m going to fuck your brains out. 

And keep them out!

She is going to fuck her brains out 

And keep them out,

And he is going to fuck our brains out 

And keep them,


(as they say).



These poems originally appeared in sometimes-different form in Tequila Mocking (1992) and Running with Ish (1995).

Copyright 1992-2002 Robert Basil. All rights reserved.


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