Underground Conversation



January 7, 1972


Late One Night





Michael Quattrone’s poems are impressively various. Some younger poets paint themselves into a corner, following one mentor or school without having sampled enough of the field. Quattrone is his own man, and the proof is that his poems embrace such a wide range of impulses, forms, tones, and subjects. He may derive one poem from a newspaper article, another from the elaboration of a trope, a third from the structure of an inventory. He is a poet of “existential paranoia” but in another mood he is lustily high-spirited, and he can also write unabashedly about the love of a father for his young daughter. The form is suitable to the occasion, as the elegy for John Berryman (“January 7, 1972") apes the voice of that underrated poet. And if one poem employs an ironic persona, there is nothing reflexive about the irony, and it will not stop the poet from writing other poems in a quiet truth-telling mode, unafraid of sentiment, wishing he “could explain before it grows too late the shifts / I cannot explain before it’s too, too late.  Later / even than I had originally imagined when / it was not yet too late.  Before I recognized I / did not know what everything meant.”


--David Lehman
















A rhinoceros in a rose garden, I ruminate, take no steps.  I bow my horn before the bees and tolerate the birds who perch, enjoy the company.  I eye the action, pound the ground, chew air, snore loudly and sleep on my feet.  Sometimes nothing happens.  Sometimes winds blow.  I thank them, take credit, or forget.  I want a cigarette, but fear embarrassment.  I am a rhinoceros: no smoke, no fire.  I stare toward winter.


Fleas begin to eat my hide.  I twitch my tail, flutter my ears, blink, swallow, smile.  My laugh thunders.  My eyes water.  I weigh options.  I weigh several tons.  I could charge the beds, stampede, escape, leave blood-petals, dust clouds, frying pan prints.  I worry about the future. 


I indulge in fantasy.  At times I adorn myself with tusks.  The earth hardens beneath me.  It rains, I repel water.  I have back pain, I grimace.  There is a song stuck in my head.  I stopped singing it.  I hate that song.


Rose bushes sway like clouds, bob like buoys, blush like daughters, slump like rhinos.  They effervesce at dawn.  My lids fly at half-mast.  Suspicions?  Paranoia?  Lethargy?  Defeat?  I thrive here.  I try to slough off self-pity.  Ever seen a rhinoceros yawn?  Stretch?


I do not move in moonlight or try to tiptoe.  I bathe in obscurity, wish someone would notice, bring in a helicopter.  Winter hastens.  The earth churns up a stepping stone.  Patience works.  Evolution: all that follows is a weight-bearing exercise, a physics experiment.  Balance, a demand for grace.


I will return to the roses.  It’s inevitable.  Next year I might learn to jump or grow feathers, who knows?  I am familiar with myself by now.  Also, I surprise myself.  There is something to be said for each.  And there is something to be said for roses.

















The way the rain makes dark objects shine,

and other methods of evoking love and loss.

The way light casts invisible beams, not like

the rafters of a barn, dark wood exposed,

but like a honey colored pane seen only

when reflected by the floating dust or smoke.

The way absence can undo the face.  Smoke

from a cigarette wafts in your eyes that way—

the same way onions seep their juice inside

your brain and coax its citrus from your ducts.

These are the ways I am finding to love you

and fear, already at the beginning, your loss.

The way you slipped into this world through a cut,

the way I will cut myself out of it to tell the tale.


The way I do not know what everything means,

or even most of it.  None, in fact.  No word

or tune, no shade of any color.  The way I wish

I could explain before it grows too late the shifts

I cannot explain before it’s too, too late.  Later

even than I had originally imagined when

it was not yet too late.  Before I recognized I

did not know what everything meant.  That way—

or how confusion can seem shameful, bad;

or how badness eats at us, we eat ourselves;

or how we do not eat.  How we grow hungry,

ever more hungry at the thought of death.

The way the rain makes dark objects glisten,

the way you slipped into this world through a cut.


The way I will cut myself out of it to tell the tale,

and other methods of evoking love and fear.

The ways I am casting your brain at the beginning,

the rafters of a barn, the dice of a kitchen knife

the way I had originally imagined.  Or else the way

we long to lick dark objects for their juices,

or eat the cigarette of any color, coax its smoke

into the honey colored light from your ducts—

or even most of it, in fact, dark wood exposed

before it wafts away.  Not like a word, an onion,

an invisible cut reflected by the floating dust.

These are the ways I am finding to love you,

or how confusion can seem shameful, bad.

The way your brain knows everything I mean.















underground conversation

from The New York Times



BEIJING, April 24—

     A hundred cell phones bloom,

A hundred honeysuckle throats

Sing out: sap sprung from one

Hundred retractable stamens.

It is the season of protest.

     A hundred cell phones bloom,

And Chinese take to the streets.

Americans stay home: the pursed

Tulips of Park Avenue are loud

And colorful, as bright as bulbs

Buried in median sod.

     A hundred cell phones bloom

To riot, pollinate Red China,

Make the International Noise.

The march of April is the rage:

Witness Ukraine’s Orange

Revolution, the conspiracy of

Violet, her subversive cohorts


     A hundred cell phones bloom,

Unchoked by government plants.

Not plucked out at the roots,

Not nipped in buds, they inflame!

The public buzz will burn a secret

Ring around the modern world.

     Will we remember this?

The generation when we all

Carried flowers in our pockets,

In our holsters.



Jim Yardley contributed reporting

for this article.


















Twelve dark woods—

aspen, yellow, Italian, willow . . . ;

One hundred small black birds in flight;

The usual shuffling of dawns & nights;

A sheaf of papers, postage stamps—

between pages four & five, one dead


Several paths, some taken, some untrod

many narrow, forked and winding;

& the moon a-makin’ all

those pretty phases down on us;


Three or four crashed cars; A nation full

of adolescents, ill-equipped and unrequited;

A miscellany of old objects—

lots the size of fists;

& other relics—one Greek urn, an albatross,

the fossil of a cat, a pretty shield,

some mind-forged manacles

from across the pond (rusted, strong);

Volumes; Volumes untranslated &

A single jar, ambiguous & round;

Also, a fish, or sixty-six;


Fifty swaddled infants, none alike—

sleeping, crying, cold or hungry,

bedded down upon four dozen 

wildflower nests, most wet with dew;

Some scores of riflemen, their faces charred—

anesthetized by pirates’ casks of rum;

The pirate ship on which the rum was run—

including sails & miles of rope

and a busty figurehead, to promise hope;

One signet ring that once was worn with pride—

some shallow scratches on its underside;


One Bible & one printing press.

A thousand thousand leaves—

of paper, grass and also

             trees, goodbyes . . . ;

No memories, but tarnished mirrors—

harmoniously framed;

An orgone box; A power saw; A shotgun;

Tack and saddle, battle leggings—

in fact an armory entire,

transcontinental, old & new,

most origins unknown;


Bamboo shoots & river reeds;

Scrollwork from dead dynasties;

The Pyramids; The Holy Grail;

Five million television sets—

no black-&-whites;

One pail of seashells; Shovelfuls of sand;

Water—more than can

conceivably be measured

by the mind of man;

A buzzing fly; A coffin lid; One can of worms;

Two katydids; A colander & Forty mice;


Existential paranoia; Tuneless instruments;

Orchestral staves—

composed in minor & in major keys;

Eighty tons of eggshells, not one egg;

Two plastic models of the brain and heart;

Enough roses to choke a large rhinoceros to death;

A large rhinoceros, possibly dying;

One rubber chicken; One red herring;

Ten modern works of art on auto parts;

A gramophone, a telegraph, a metronome;

An epitaph carved nicely on a stone—


these things & others here,

left unrecorded by constraint of space,

may be reclaimed at the eleventh hour:

knock twice upon the window, once the ground,

go quickly then & silently

around the back & there the door

will open unexpectedly below the floor;

your identity will be confirmed,

the thing you lost, expediently found

and so returned—

Proof of ownership shall be required.

















is my poem about the hemorrhoids a fortunate happenstance or do

you fib when you say you admire gentle ass-poetics on a leash of


these burgundy flounder truffles I daily bind with straps of fuscia taffeta to the holistic

fundamentalist trinity of my cock and balls? or were you joshua-ing me you jerichobean jerk-off reference-


maker—gone in a hazel misted orbit round the weathered friends of planetoid

erstwhile—psychoanalysis sodomizes all my soft fleshy particles of faith in


ten doses of the best blue-blooded amphetamine-stapled gas relief medication as in the battle

of a dirty dozen bioflavors in the sweetness of your cherry shaped from the outside anyway mouth


when I repeatedly say the reveries of the rich are for the foolish enough to believe them for

instance camel dung was supposed to be a healing remedy for desert herpes pustules


affordable less than my rent however ‘nice’ it was of my grandmother to die a little early

in a building that allows me to lecture on pet-care ethics every thursday in the entryway by the mailboxes


I meant to qualify simplex f above and below I will continue to qualify until you tell me yes

the aquarium octopi have wrung you free of megatons of self-pity and the relentless


despising of others to the point of near self-publication and licking of my own peach fuzzy

nipples in as gratuitous a manner as any head cheerleader could muster evidently airborne?


can you radiate the rational assessment of incestuous efficiency from beneath such perspiration

you pigeon feathered motherfucker? or not?  my shrinkologist knows the difference between


what I want and what I’m actually able to accomplish as long as I mentally keep translucent

suspender pincers fastened to my fascinating scrotum sack prosthetic and designed by class


advisors to the elephant’s ace-bandage security team—they know me from way back

when in forgone conclusive egotism I hopped into a centrifuge to perm my pubes


since then I’ve embarked on fragmented episodes of post-ecological haberdashery

financed by a large bird named Pad Thai fuck the decree about proper nouns however capitalistic


who refuses to speak to me in sign language inscribed on the fossilized egg you devoured

piecemeal in lieu of scrambling the satellite radio waves forever lost like pigs in space


cordoned off by contemptible authorities on nougat plundering the way I like it

soft and creamy with a spanking triggered by riotous laughter of phantasmagoric pointillism


o no I’m late for my legacy waxing salon accompanied by philologism canapés

deserving rife beacon sucking on primetime network subjugation game show reality













January 7, 1972




—Just a note to let you know . . . you died.

& folks are calling it a suicide.


As if your Daddy’d triggered it in you,

or else the booze’d beckoned down below


the bridge.  Not Clearwater, not where who found

John Allyn’s body: the Mississippi’s western ground


where who found yours

(decades older than he was when he got yours),—


Your toy, your dream, your restlessness . . . YOUR THOUGHT

made pockets & the plane buckt.  What got


you, eh?  Boy outside OK,      Pussycat

your tongue, & that


LearinFool your berry mind?      (O, Henry moans!)

Thass a dance to beat the bandleader, Mr. Bones.


Pal, Henry’s screwing       his courage to the drinking place

—Ought he be wiser sticking, staying so?               —Why the bleak face?


Farewell thou crumpled sheet, dark ink upon it—

Fie!  Fie ‘Epistemology of loss’ (Ha! ha!) & songs!


—Sir Bones:  De life’s a longish sonnet.


















Daughter, at the end

of your fifteenth day I fall

(more in love with you)


asleep.  You float up

above me, light and like a

paper ether cone . . .


Come back, come back, you

naughty little ballooner!

It’s your bedtime now.














Late One Night




Which is more delightful or embarrassing—

that on the threshold of my kitchen

I thought I saw this shadow cast—


my penis hanging on the wall across from me

before I realized that I was dressed—

or that I subsequently looked to see


what the shadow really was and found

it was the goosenecked faucet of my sink—

with a spraying nozzle fastened on


the end?