How to Dance as the Roof Caves In: Poems

How to Dance as the Roof Caves In: Poems

by Nick Lantz


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555976705
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 03/04/2014
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Nick Lantz is the author of two previous poetry books, We Don't Know We Don't Know and The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors' House. He teaches at Sam Houston State University and lives in Texas.

Read an Excerpt

How to Dance as the Roof Caves In


By Nick Lantz


Copyright © 2014 Nick Lantz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-670-5


    Conversation in Which Neither of Us Speaks

    OK, yes, I'm in love
    with the sentence, the dependent

    clause like a pale toe sticking out
    from under a blanket. That toe,

    your toe, has more to say
    about the universe
    than I could in a lifetime

    of poems. To say you
    are under the blanket
    is insufficient. What

    could be sufficient? The official
    kilogram, a platinum-iridium cylinder

    stored in a vault in France, has lost
    the weight
    of a fingerprint, and what

    looks like an hour
    can chew off my tongue.

    Whole lives go mute
    in the waiting room, the voice

    eroded by fluorescent
    light and antiseptic.

    Though scientists
    cannot bring themselves
    to say

    lost. Instead,
    they say relative change.
    They say, a discrepancy
    of mass
, and when I was

    cleaning out your old office,
    I found a sheet of paper

    from where you'd tried
    and tried to revive

    an inkless pen. Now the rain
    interrogates the roof,

    and the house's gutters
    spill their guts, confessing

    each refugee leaf
    they've sheltered since winter, and already

    I'm telling lies
    about you,

    because all I'm left with
    is this sentence
    that I love.

    How to Travel Alone

    The same painting is hanging on all four walls
    of my hotel room: Ship at sea.
    Ship at sea.

    Ship at sea. Ship at sea.

    An empty bed won't say
    I love you
    until its jaw falls off. The rain believes
    the earth exists

    just to give it something
    to fall against. What can I do

    from my dingy little room but close
    the blinds and turn up the TV?

    Some days I come out wrinkled like a jacket
    exhumed from a suitcase. Some days

    I'm as constant as the last soggy corn flake
    at the bottom of a bowl of milk,
    that piece that keeps giving

    the spoon the slip. I'm that ship that can't
    find shore, can't be sunk.

    Just days without you and I've got
    that midnight streetlight tan,
    that Big Chug Jug caffeine carelessness, that one loose
    toll booth tooth, these highway hiccups.

    The wooden benches in the train station
    remind me of the pews in the clapboard church

    where my cousins are still swaying
    with the holy spirit. Oh, ship at sea, they sing, you are
    my ark, my raft.

    But where is the cross, the portrait of Jesus knocking
    on the inn door? All we have is the schedule board,

    its clattering
    numbers and letters, the clock that chimes and chimes.

    As pigeons descend to devour
    a dropped sandwich,

    the station agent's voice echoes over
    the PA speakers: Here is my ham on rye, with whom
    I am well pleased.

    I write postcards I don't
    send. Each one
    is a confession.
    I eat microwaved cheeseburgers until my stomach

    rocks and pitches like a ship at sea.
    Your voice on this cell phone is a bug
    trapped in a jar. Your voice on this phone
    is a sliver under my fingernail.

    How many nights will you be staying with us?
    Here is your key card. Here is a brochure
    to help you interpret the stains

    on the ceiling tile, to augur the roaches
    and broken glass. Do not be alarmed if you hear

    a shout, a trumpet. The high school band
    tournament is this weekend.

    Your signal faded. Your call dropped.
    I can't find my reservation number.

    Your voice on this phone is like a ship at
    Never mind, I found it.

    Meanwhile, the greasy clouds go sliding around
    on the sky
    like gray eggs in a skillet. Meanwhile,

    the laundromat beauty queens
    in their wash-day sweatsuits thumb quarter

    after quarter into the machines
    and pray for miracles. Meanwhile, a shut-in dies buried
    under a collection

    of snow globes of Paris, where tiny couples walk
    up and down the Champs-Élysées in endless winter.

    A stranger in mirrored shades says Take off
    your shoes, take off your jacket.

    I do, I do. I unthread my belt in one long pull
    that whispers it from its loops.

    Will a skycap please bring a wheelchair to Gate 7B?
    Jennifer H_____, please call your sister
    in North Carolina. Roger M_____, Roger M_____,

    please return to the security checkpoint
    to retrieve a lost item.

    Board by zone number. Sit in the wrong seat
    just to meet a stranger, to apologize, to say

    My mistake. You're breaking up. If the engines fail, don't worry:

    on our cell phones, we'll watch
    live footage of our plane fireballing
    into the ocean, our own
    bodies bobbing in the wreckage and surf.

    Look, that's us waving.

    I write postcards I don't send. They all start
    Dear ship at sea ...

    When I stop to throw
    them into a dumpster, I glance down

    into that darkness and see the continent where I was born, as if
    from space, its cities lit
    like clustered stars.

    There are only two directions in the map
    of my life: the way to you, and the way
    from you.

    Fork with Two Tines Pushed Together

    It's fast and cool as running water, the way we forget
    the names of friends with whom we talked and talked
    the long drives up and down the coast.

    I say I love and I love and I love. However, the window
    will not close. However, the hawk searches
    for its nest after a storm. However, the discarded
    nail longs to hide its nakedness inside the tire.

    Somewhere in Cleveland or Tempe, a pillow
    still smells like M_____'s hair.
    In a bus station, a child is staring
    at L____'s rabbit tattoo. I've bartered everything
    to keep from doing my soul's paperwork.

Here is a partial list of artifacts:

mirror, belt, half-finished 1040 form (married, filing jointly), mateless walkie-talkie, two blonde eyelashes, set of acrylic paints with all the red and yellow used up, buck knife, dog collar, camping tent (sleeps two), slivers of cut-up credit cards, ashtray in the shape of a naked woman, pen with teeth marks, bottom half of two-piece bathing suit, pill bottles containing unfinished courses of antibiotics, bank statements with the account number blacked out, maps of London, maps of Dubuque, sweatshirts with the mascots of colleges I didn't attend, flash cards for Spanish verbs (querer, perder, olvidar), Canadian pocket change, fork with two tines pushed together.

    One night, riding the train home from the city,
    will I see a familiar face across from me? How many times
    will I ask Is it you? before I realize
    it's my own reflection in the window?

    Forgetfulness means to be full
    of forgetting, a glass

    overflowing with cool water, though I'd always
    thought of it as the empty pocket

    where the hand finds
    nothing: no keys, no ticket, no change.

    After the Lightning Strikes, Count

    It is the window you sit by that scrawls
    the exact shape of your longing on you. Love is all

    afterimage, ghost
    of a lightning bolt haunting the retina,
    headlights swarming you

    as you walk the shoulder of the highway
    between your house and hers.

    The imprint of your jacket,
    the seam of chest and arm, jagged in her cheek.

    Change the window,
    and you forget the deliberations
    of hawks and rabbits, the soft elbow of road
    that showed through the trees. Now all you care for

    is the retarded teenager in a green smock
    sweeping the sidewalk outside the corner market,
    how he appears

    on the hour, a bird emerging
    from a cuckoo clock.

    Three years later, another window, and now
    you sit to watch the tide's
    retreat, men in waders
    digging clams, the sound of their shovels biting mud
    drifting up to you across the bay.

    When you close your eyes, you see her,
    a pale carp surfacing in a murky pond.

    What do you call the flinty part of you that misses
    winter, which here is only rain?

    Every morning the bed sheets are curled in imitation
    of the body
    that has left them behind.

    The clouds tick by like beads on an abacus.
    The halyard keens and keens against the flagpole.

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    Every locker room will envy you

    Is it you nicklantz
    Call me now nicklantz
    Where are you, Nicklantz

    4. Still single?

    Suffering from low self-esteme?
    Wish you looked like Appolo in bed?
    Like a pocket elephant in your pants
    Your trunk has shrunk?

    Get the most for your money here.
    Join millions who have achieved their size

    Don't suffer in silence in the bedroom
    Touch your ladys soul
    Drive her insane with pleasure
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    URGENT message re: your 401k
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    Which lender will you choose?
    Your wife need your attention?
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    Its me. Is it you?

    How to Help a Ghost

    Some days I leave the grocery store and walk
    all the way to the door
    of our old house without thinking. Even the strange
    dog waiting at the window seems to recognize me
    as I stop just short
    of trying my key at the lock.

    You were a thread of cobweb I breathed in and couldn't
    swallow, couldn't cough up. All our boxed-up letters
    can't fathom the indifference
    of the garbage truck, hoisting
    the cans like an aging bodybuilder.

    Hell is a country where it rains year round
    and you must spend all day writing postcards
    to relatives you don't love. Today, you write,
    it rained.

    And wasn't it the rain that caught you
    rushing between buildings, someone else's jacket
    on your back, face turned
    away, as if to avoid a camera? I wasn't

    there to see it, but I imagine all the things
    you never told me as a line of footprints
    dried into the concrete.

    My mistakes are throwing
    bunches of roses at me, cheering
    for an encore. So here is my aria: a dirt
    road, seven beers, the headlights
    off. Enough of this.

    Some day, one of the dark shapes wandering
    across the frozen lake will turn out
    to be you. I can already hear you at the door
    shaking the frost
    off your boots.

    Hawk and Rabbit

    A hawk nested on the roof of your building,
    and for six years every
    poem you wrote, every kiss you gave

    your wife, was a rabbit that either escaped
    into the hedges or died in the air.

    Millipedes are born and die by the thousands
    on the laundry room floor and never dream
    of the moon. The book's spine is broken

    out of love. The trumpet sings
    with borrowed lungs.

    You could try bending the mended wheel, weeping
    tears of milk. Jesus won't appear twirling
    a sword like a baton.

    To wit, the overturned garbage can,
    locks of hair swept
    across the barber's floor, the crow whose head
    swivels like a closed-circuit camera.

    The bus-stop shaman claims man has not one
    soul but many. A soul
    for drinking wine. A soul for kissing,
    for laughing. A soul for taking out

    the garbage. A soul for peeling apples
    at the sink, for losing
    utility bills. A soul for writing checks.
    A soul for doing
    nothing. A soul for sucking a blackberry-stained finger
    until the stain is gone.

    Carbon from all of the burned books is born again
    in the mustaches of generals and the long ears
    of rabbits. If you can hear

    the tremor of the neighbors' daughter
    practicing her violin, count
    yourself lucky. The world's oldest

    musical instrument is a flute carved
    from a vulture's leg bone.

    Though it is more correct not to say oldest
    but oldest surviving.

    Can you imagine: those lips? that throat? that music?

    You see a truck with "James Tate Plumbing"
    stenciled on its side panel, and you imagine
    the eponymous plumber
    elbow deep in a drain, coming up not with a fist

    of hair but snow globes of Pompeii, the jawbone
    of an ass, the endless red ribbon
    of a rabbit's intestine, the half-darkness

    of our bedroom when
    the shades are drawn.


Excerpted from How to Dance as the Roof Caves In by Nick Lantz. Copyright © 2014 Nick Lantz. Excerpted by permission of GRAYWOLF PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Conversation in Which Neither of Us Speaks 3

How to Travel Alone 5

Fork with Two Tines Pushed Together 9

After the Lightning Strikes, Count 11

Re: 5 ways to enhance your love more passinnate 13

How to Help a Ghost 16

Hawk and Rabbit 18

Origami 20

How to Tour the Historic Battlefield 21

To Paint Lightning 26

On the Lake Path at Night You Look 28


How to Stage a Community 31


How to Appreciate Inorganic Matter 59

Four Reasons You Don't Write the Letter 61

Help 63

Symptomatic 65

How to Dance When You Do Not Know How to Dance 66

After Seeing a 400-Year-Old Basket in the Museum of Natural History 68

How to Properly Fold and Insert a Letter into an Envelope 69

After You Taped Your Chest X-Ray to the Window 71

How to Forgive a Promise Breaker 73

The Chisel 74

Loyalties 76

Ways of Beginning 78

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