Alamo Theory

Alamo Theory

by Josh Bell


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Thursday, March 28

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556593994
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Publication date: 04/19/2016
Pages: 82
Sales rank: 968,016
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Josh Bell: Josh Bell earned an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Ph.D. from University of Cincinnati. He is the author of No Planets Strike, and his poems have appeared in The New Yorker and Tin House. He is a member of the writing faculty at Columbia University and teaches at Harvard University.

Read an Excerpt

Alamo Theory

Night falling once like a horse through a bridge. Page God refusing to be survived. Page God hollering over one dirty haystack at whoever’s hiding behind the next
dirty haystack, and no one’s getting off this tractor alive, no one without
a pod of vanilla, stuck like a witch’s finger in the throat. Often who goes there isn’t the bees. Isn’t the cherry trees.
No one’s darker than me. No one’s big enough for pogroms. No one’s grammar gets a pass. Can’t you hear the popping of the karen-gun?
Why the Hittites, why the Etruscans,
sore and lost between vast greatness?
See the mountains, their trauma halos
of power line? Okay now show me your anagram. No I don’t even care.
We bury a prom dress in the sand
of every coast; sew a new prom dress
from the flag of every coast. Jesus sat down, calmly, fashioned himself a whip of leathern cord. Page God
had never recorded premeditation at such levels. We never really learned the correct usage of the voice-box,
either, but when we took ourselves by the neck, it was ancient, our language,
brave the living mammal pinned
to its duration, the problem with the orgy always witness, witness, witness.
Your breath comes out in a pretty
cloud of blue, which is a different color than most people use. What a brand
new giveaway. Students of the game have noticed that, often, before I shoot,
I take the time to mention vegetation
fretting somewhere across a fact-lit red hill. It’s getting late and I’m the only
American on the dance floor. Still.

Vince Neil Meets Josh in a Chinese Restaurant in Malibu (after Ezra Pound)

Back when my voice box was a cabinet-full of golden vibrators, and my hair fell white across the middle of my back like a child’s wedding dress,
I made love to at least a dozen girls
dressed up to look like me: the hotel bed a sky
filled with the flock of our South-Flying mic scarves,
the back of my head and the front
appearing simultaneously
in hotel mirrors, and the twin crusts of our make-up sliding off into satin
like bits of California coast. I heard my own lyrics coming out of the greasy tent
of their beautiful wigs, my lyrics driven back towards me, poled into me, demanding of me the willing completion of vague circus acts
I’d scribbled down, once, on the back of a golf card
or a piece of toilet paper. Sometimes I myself wonder what I was thinking then, but those words went on to live forever, didn’t they, radioed out
into the giant Midwestern backseat
and blasted into kneecaps and tailbones
by that endless tongue of berber carpeting
blanketing the American suburbs, boys and girls
strung like paper lanterns from here to Syracuse
along my microphone cord. Who rocks you now rocks you always, I told them all,
and all of them somehow wearing a homemade version of the same leather pants
I’d chosen to wear on stage that night;
all of them hoping to enter me—to enter anyone—
the way they thought I entered them,
and the way I entered them was wishing
I was somewhere else, or wishing I was
the someone else who’d come along
to enter me, which was the same thing.
I am no fag, my new friend.
Love in battle conditions requires a broad taxonomy, queerness has its ever-more-visible degrees.
Josh, I know you know what I’m talking about,
you have the build of a stevedore. Which reminds me,
as a child in Nanjing,
I sculled the junks for my bread and I slept in a hovel along the Chiang Jiang River.
In a cage there, I bred mice who built their nests
from the frayed rope I’d taken from the decks, and one Spring,
when the babies did not emerge, I lifted up the rock that hid them, and I found they’d grown together, fused with each other and the tendrils of the nest. I held them up, eleven blind tomatoes
wriggling on a blackened vine. And now you come to me
in this Chinese restaurant in Malibu,
asking if you can help me. Please tell Circus Magazine I love them
truly, and please pass Pamela this message:
If you get back to Malibu by springtime, drop by the houseboat,
and I'll rock your ass as far as Cho-Fu-Sa.

The Last Critique

We think Elizabeth’s poems suck. We think Steve’s poems suck. And we think Rachel’s poems suck Elizabeth's poems. We didn’t remember how or why the Stranger’s poems sucked, but we thought Holly was good, so it scared us when the Stranger’s poems refused to suck Holly’s poems. A lot of people want to suck Fred’s new poems, which suck, but they are too difficult for us to suck, and we’d rather suck his old ones, for though they are old, and suck, it is much easier to suck them. When she reads them out loud, Clarise’s poems suck pretty good, but we are reserving our final judgment until we’ve seen them sucking on the page. We think Martha’s poems suck. Sometimes when we think we’re sucking on one of Theodore’s poems, we’re actually sucking on two. We think Ed’s poems have that girl-scout look which make us want to start a family when we hear them through the keyhole, sucking. Philbert’s poems suck like they’ve been sucking Annie’s poems too much. Annie’s poems sucked, but at least they brought something new to the act of sucking, we’d never seen a poem sucked like that before, and we thrilled to suck on them, as if sucking on household appliances. Many people enjoy the austere sucking of Terry’s poems. Still, no one pays to suck Terry’s poems like they pay to suck Anton’s. We think Tom-Tom’s poems suck so hard. We think Wendy’s mature poems suck near the unassailable power of the Stranger’s poems, and at first we are frightened, as if forced to suck an entire opera, when Wendy gets that Viking look and makes us suck her poems. Maybe we could arrange for Terry’s poems, Wendy will say, to suck the Stranger’s poems, but the Stranger’s poems are missing, and Terry is afraid, and we do not blame him, as some of us recall the first time we heard the Stranger’s poems, which enter sucking bird and beast and flower, sucking Queen and beggar, Oldsmobile and go-cart, saying long-time-no-suck me, saying Terry: suck Wendy, suck Holly, saying suck the redwood forest, saying suck me lonely mannequin, saying suck the abundant splendored thrice jismatic suck of lonely mannequin, saying suck theology, missile launch, stirrups and ballet. Some of us choose to recall, instead, how the Stranger’s poems seemed capable of sucking themselves, as if they no longer required us to suck them, and filled with obsolescence we had to run next door to suck our neighbor’s poems, real quick. But we all agree on the way, when the Stranger’s poems end, they appear to suck the entire round planet, all at once, the planet which—in the Stranger’s poem’s unhinged jaws—comes dressed up like the Bride who was a Sailor, but all in the white of clouds and with a metallic S&M rig peeking through underneath, showing the chaste girdle of skyscrapers inside of which we suck and sleep and suck the poems we’ve written in fear of sucking the Stranger’s poems, which go on sucking hard for us, through the disastered warp of Time, the Stranger’s poems uncanonized, built to be sucked in a way we will never understand, as the Stranger’s poems are a work of genius, and only our children’s children will ever fully suck them.

Blue Safari

Or bring along an extra shovel for me, a map of the area, some new
interferences, we may need to plant something. Normally I’d leave
the important digging to you
because I am afraid of tools and how my fingers fall to rest so easily on handles, of the earth when it’s been opened, and furthermore
I’m afraid to close it when I’m done with it,
there are baby teeth down there, beetles
in the hollow of a doll’s head. Though let me say
I am hardly ever done with it,
Earth, or whatever it was the first ones called it, even when it’s signaling
that it’s done with me. The timeline unwinds,
weeds firing up from the window box
like rockets, the rowboat sun
somewhat closer than recorded. Additionally
we may need to capture something
in advance of burying it: a wild animal,
a wild animal, I am almost certain
we have been commissioned to capture
a wild animal, ears like radar dishes
turning always toward the racket we are making, despite how quiet we must be stacking tools and tent-poles
in the bed of my pickup truck. Or at least
that’s how I’ve drawn it
here in my sketchbook. Or first it was
the tools, and then it was our hands
were built for them, and they were built
with other tools entirely, over whose wooden bodies and crooked metal heads
they never let us speak of the weather
or of the day our bodies will disappear, taking all their secrets
and favorite paintings along with them
toward the sun. Long and thin, your hands are for the removing of beetles from a doll’s head, which is why
I am so happy you are here with me
even though you’re far away,
it’s just your voice on the cell phone
which confuses me. And as if I thought of it myself
I say this thing about your hands
but I had to read the story of them
on them, while you were walking down the street
and of their own accord they spun your hair in pigtails. I always loved that painting. You always got
a signal, even in the jungle. Also the photo of you held here by static to the center of my television screen, so that your face plays over
the roles which flicker there
behind it. On one channel, you take the stage at the Apollo. On another, you’re crying
because your husband’s in a coma.
I’d like for you to take him
off the respirator—it’s
the kindest thing to do—then bring yourself and the respirator over here to my house, we’ll take it on safari, don’t forget to pack the respirator, or maybe on a picnic, don’t forget to pack the blowgun and the radio, the one that plays the song forever, the one with the list of rejected names
for the planet Earth, the one with the darts made up
of Detroit steel, the one with the giant voice
and the pretty wraith inside, exactly
how many blowguns do you have in there? Many radio signals go all the way, clear into the root system
and the water table, where they pick up other trees
or re-emerge as these giant flowers
we are busy hacking a path through
on the way to our room at the Safari Diner Motel Inn. I love that picture of us
they hung above the coffee maker:
forty is the new death
and we've been up all night dealing
with all the wrong satellites.

Sci-Fi Violence

Would a true prophet use an electric
salamander as a tongue?
That’s what I thought. Last rainfall
in the new city, held here
until we ship the wounded home,
the enemy collecting like aberrant
cells across the river.
Like me, they are afraid a rainbow will notice and destroy them. Like me,
they were born believing
their body parts didn't get fucked together right. Is it fate we name? Is it countries? One enemy in whom I planted sixteen seeds.
One enemy who attempted
to tongue-kiss my eyeholes, and two cakes of arsenic tucked
beneath his armpits. Look
carefully around you, then return
your look to me. As with a small
percentage of my countrymen, I die if I sleep in a horizontal position, sucky
little prostitute of muscle
in the chest. Pinned down by guerrilla holdouts
in a rooftop dumpster, I think
of my imperial home,
of walking the orchard rows with childhood friends, half of whom
I own, some of whom
have names. Each night, they’d tape me upright to the wall, so that I could dream
safely in the vertical, as God
intended me to do. An elegy
is someone left alone, for hours,
in a room with a dead body. And there have always been rules against that sort of thing.

One Shies at the Prospect of Raising Yet Another Defense of Cannibalism

"You can't kiss a movie," Jean Luc Godard said, and this is mostly true, in that you cannot initiate the kiss. The Movie could initiate the kiss if The Movie wanted, as it is so much taller, leaning in, no way to demur, you would be too polite anyway, and, as the Roman poets have stressed, there is always something porous in the decorous. So there can be kissing between you and The Movie, and it would be amazing, better the more incoherent The Movie is and the more you had to pay to see it, though in the movies it is said that prostitutes don't like to kiss as kissing is too personal, though I disagree, as sometimes the human will make a show of locating you with a kiss, almost to prove to you that you are a real person with a face and that, absolutely, they know where the face is and the face isn't, and this is how you know, for sure, that both of you have been paid. But I don't want to make you feel bad here, and I apologize, for you are entirely kissable, as I have watched you through windows and keyholes even though, up to this point, you do not appear in movies. Often you appear holding a book in your hand and with God knows what playing in your head—I imagine you repeating to yourself, over and again, "the horse knows the way, the horse knows the way"—and remember: even someone as learned in film as Jean Luc Godard got it a little wrong. You can kiss The Movie, if The Movie wants to kiss you. It's just that The Movie, finally, isn't all that interested in your mouth.

While Josh Sleeps, Vince Neil Recites His “Love Song for Flight Attendant on Continental Express 1147, to Austin, Texas”

I am a system of oppression
and you’re a Scorpio, with Austin coasting toward us as the shark, though all we can really see from here is a polar sheet of clouds, the world not round at all
like we’ve suspected, nor in possession
of the manufactured edge, but flat alone
and going on forever, nothing up here
to walk across or screw a headboard to,
and I fear we won’t be able to maintain this level of honesty
with each other. People are listening. Depression
is the normal body, just the giant thing
strapped to G-forces, so hard to lift one’s head, and in the final analysis
I hate a cup of tea: it always tastes like roots to me, and roots are so proud, headed for the hidden sources
like scholarly experts, moving always further
away from what they feed. You know
I didn’t want, along with the earthward mermaids, to honor my way
onto the beach, pectoral fins evolving
toward the better flag of hands. Rather than that earth,
if we should break into it, I’d like to fall into the sea
from here, grow tails with you, return to where fish robs fish and the big snails move
ponderously, alone as automobiles
and far from grace, as we were told,
the word salvation not invented yet
nor the forfeiture of sound. Microbe and harness,
the ocean will not invent us, and 1) as I have said, honesty is important; 2) in stature, yes, you are a very tiny person, and yet, 3) you know how it is with some sharks: younger
in testament, emergent conditions
in the water park, but never leave a tooth behind. And so it is
I fantasize that I’m a smaller person
on airplanes, though history teaches us
that bodily confinements—
the tray stand, the void—sometimes lead to thought and vision. Josh will tell you
if you ask him it was William Blake
who walked outside one day
and saw a tree, teeming with angels, and I think
Blake may have even thought they were a pretty sight. I wouldn’t have been so sure: hard to tell an angel from a ghost:
both of them repositioning chains in high branches, both extremely dedicated to craft, both with the heavenly light streaming out of their mouths, both utterly and horribly dead. In truth I don’t like flying at all
but not for the usual reasons: I think they should make flight
a more terrifying experience, the employment of glass bottomed planes, or pilots
reciting the Lord’s Prayer, other bits
of inspirational verse, flight attendants
who pretend to hear me say
I have a bomb, come live with me inside this bomb. But mostly I feel so vulnerable
with all these strangers looking at the back of my head. I wish I had eyes
back there, but also a living nose, and a mouthful of working teeth, though this of course
makes me wonder how it would feel to kiss two women at once,
on both sides of my head, with the regular mouth
and the back-up. You would be
such a conduit, the women sending messages
to each other through your skull, and since you were the implement, you would never know
if they were telling lies about you
or just speaking intimately, like sisters,
who dig their tunnels through a hill
from both directions, meet in the middle
where they hold hands and collect grubs and earthworms in a Holly Hobby lunch-box.
But I like it best, with the single mouth,
when the woman misjudges the spacing a bit,
then cracks into your teeth
with her teeth, like a shark hitting the cage, and this all well before
the underpants and the nicotine patches
hit the floor, you and your partner the known center
of the named tradition, the body’s mystery unanswerable
(sweet, sweet lunch-box)
yet completely exhaustible, the male
still the taller of the species, and not a different
kind of animal. There’s an honesty, at least,
in these collisions, maybe just because
you get reminded of your skeleton, there beautiful but hidden, so no one ever gets to see it
in the light, at least not during the parley of affectionate conditions, its vision only sanctioned by the body through a windshield and later in the weird
flirtation of the trauma ward. When you were just a kid, I rocked Austin on back into Mexico, afterwards walked the strip
without bodyguard, my tongue like a sheet of sand paper
working the roof of my mouth
into a vaulted proscenium, the angelic orders inscribed into the fish scale patterns
of the hard palate, and I wished
to be small enough to...

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews