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The Hotel Oneira: Poems

The Hotel Oneira: Poems

by August Kleinzahler

See All Formats & Editions

A thrilling new collection from one of the most original poets of his generation

"His work is a modernist swirl of sex, surrealism, urban life and melancholy with a jazzy backbeat." That praise appeared in the pages of The New York Times in 2005, but it applies no less to August Kleinzahler's newest collection.
Kleinzahler's poetry is,


A thrilling new collection from one of the most original poets of his generation

"His work is a modernist swirl of sex, surrealism, urban life and melancholy with a jazzy backbeat." That praise appeared in the pages of The New York Times in 2005, but it applies no less to August Kleinzahler's newest collection.
Kleinzahler's poetry is, as ever, concerned with permeability: Voices, places, the real and the dreamed, the present and the past, all mingle together in verses that always ring true. Whether the poem is three lines long or spans several pages; whether the voice embodied is that of "an adult male of late middle age, // about to weep among the avocados and citrus fruits / in a vast, overlit room next to a bosomy Cuban grandma" as in "Whitney Houston," or that of the title character in "Hootie Bill Do Polonius," who is bidding "adios compadre // To a most galuptious scene Kid"—Kleinzahler finds the throbbing human heart at the core of experience.
This is a poet searching for—and finding—a cadence to suit life as it's lived today. Kleinzahler's verses are, as noted in the judges' citation for the 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize (which he won for his collection The Strange Hours Travelers Keep), "ferociously on the move, between locations, between forms, between registers." The Hotel Oneira finds Kleinzahler at his shape-shifting, acrobatic best, unearthing the "moments of grace" buried under the detritus of our hectic, modern lives.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kleinzahler’s first since his new-and-selected Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (2008) finds the peripatetic, polymathic, and sometimes dyspeptic poet in terrific form. He is known for his poems about places, and his native North Jersey shows up again here along with rail trips and midair realizations, the snowy battlefields of 19th-century Russia, a totally empty American town whose clouds look like “Outsize JumboTron screens,” a Denny’s (“Do you suppose, in the beginning, there was an actual Denny?”), and “Hollyhocks in the Fog” in his adoptive home of San Francisco—“red purple apricot/ solitary as widows or disgraced metaphysicians.” Stranger and just as compelling as these locales are new installments of Kleinzahler’s continuing series “A History of Western Music,” including onomatopoetic verse about bebop (“YAHTZEE YAHTZEE SWEET DEW-DROPSIE”) and a backhanded tribute to the songsmith who crafted hits for “Celine Dion, Cher, Michael Bolton, Faith Hill” (the poet’s second career as a jazz critic comes in handy here). Like the clouds and the travelers in his own poems, Kleinzahler’s temperament comes and goes—some will find it delightfully grown up, others unfortunately will find it bitter; his moments of tenderness, toward his own jaded self and toward strangers, come as relief. What stays, and what ought to impress any reader, are the range and the command that Kleinzahler has over so many flavors and kinds of American English. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“Kleinzahler's music is not like anyone else's. His ear seems at times to have been shipped in from one of the moons of Saturn, and he hears possibilities in our daily language to which the rest of us remain incorrigibly deaf.” —Troy Jollimore, The Washington Post

“Kleinzahler's work, dreamlike yet savvy, is among the most delightful flowerings of American poetry in our times.” —David Wheately, The Guardian (London)

“[August Kleinzahler] might be the best poet in America, I don't know--I can't trust my judgment after I finish one of his too infrequent collections, high on its cartoon-jazz fumes. It's been five years since the astonishment of Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry in 2008 (and should have won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer), and, well, he's back . . . If you're unfamiliar with his work . . . start somewhere, for God's sake--you're missing out on one hell of a racket.” —Michael Robbins, Chicago Tribune

“Kleinzahler's poetry, like his name, is verbally lush, veritably cornucopian and always promising more . . . If there's a unifying characteristic to this ‘teeming,' verbally high-octane poetry, it's its ability to lean toward sentimentality without indulging in it. Memory, in August Kleinzahler's poetry, becomes a resource for reveling in words and proper nouns that might otherwise seem lost - for revivifying the dead both within and without the poet. And the poetry itself delivers bouquet after bouquet of lovely phrases, ‘profusion(s) of violets, turtles, snakes and cranes,' so that even if readers can't quite remember the lost world Kleinzahler is recovering, they can enjoy his skill, which is considerable.” —Aaron Belz, San Francisco Chronicle

“Where the acoustics of his poems are concerned, Kleinzahler is the model of scrupulousness . . . Here in abundance is Frost's "sound of sense," musically understood, as a poetic lingua franca . . . Things often look bleak in Kleinzahler's poems; but no inhibition need attach to pointing out how well these witty and enjoyable poems manage to turn out.” —Aingeal Clare, Times Literary Supplement (UK)

“Kleinzahler's first since his new-and-selected Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (2008) finds the peripatetic, polymathic, and sometimes dyspeptic poet in terrific form . . . What stays, and what ought to impress any reader, are the range and the command that Kleinzahler has over so many flavors and kinds of American English.” —Publishers Weekly

“Kleinzahler's poems amuse, challenge, and occasionally tease . . . his dark lyrics and mininarratives open doors to surreal, vividly rendered destinations that seem as real as any found in a travel agent's brochure.” —Fred Muratori, Library Journal

Library Journal
Reminiscent of works by American poets Kenneth Koch (1925–2002) and Frederick Seidel (b. 1936), Kleinzahler's poems amuse, challenge, and occasionally tease. His persona often emulates that of the solitary, noirish observer, recalling Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone—not caught up in the midst of life but rather existing as a wry, knowing presence on the periphery—"Who is to say if our friend is an epicure, a wastrel,/ or but a simple man, a paysan." And what weird, sharply imagined scenes they are—"the clammy darkness and floral decay of pre-dawn Pasadena," "grain elevators disappearing…like ships in a geography book," a strange hotel room containing not a Bible but "multiple editions of the one epistolary novel by K." VERDICT While Kleinzahler's more whimsical pieces, such as "To My Cat William" and "A History of Western Music: Chapter 44," aren't as clever or as engaging as their author might hope, his dark lyrics and mininarratives open doors to surreal, vividly rendered destinations that seem as real as any found in a travel agent's brochure.—Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY

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The Hotel Oneira

By August Kleinzahler

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2013 August Kleinzahler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-71333-1



    That was heavy freight moved through last night,
    and has been moving through since I'm back,
    settled in again by the Hudson at the Hotel Oneira:
    maps on the walls, shelves of blue and white Pelicans,
    multiple editions of the one epistolary novel by K.,
    the curios—my sediment, you mighty say, my spattle trail.

    Look at them down there by the ferry slip,
    the bridal party, organza, chiffon and lace, beside themselves,
    being wonderful, desperately wonderful, a pastel foam.
    Behind them a tug pushes a rusted barge upriver.
    Helicopters, small planes, passenger jets above.
    They behave, these girls, as if this is their last chance to be thus.

    You can feel the rumble of the trains
    vibrating up the steel of the hotel's frame.
    They move only very late at night, from three or so until dawn,
    north along the river and then west.
    There is going on just now a vast shifting of inventory
    from the one place to another. I can feel it, inside my head.

    I find myself going down there, late, behind the highway,
    at the base of the cliffs, where the track runs.
    Last night, what at first looked like a giant coelacanth
    strapped to a flatbed rattled slowly past,
    but it was merely the enfoldings of a tarp catching the streetlight.
    I remember Uncle Istvan at the lake, unaccountably.

    This has been going on quite a lot since I'm here.
    How is it that I remember him? I saw him but the one time
    and was a very small child, at that:
    the madras Bermudas, the foreign, almost spastic gestures?
    What is in those railcars is also inside my head,
    or I imagine it so—no, not imagine, know.

    How can one know such a thing with certainty? One knows.
    Visitors come by my rooms.
    The new one, black-haired Ileanna, I most hate to see go.
    It is always when the lights first come on across the river,
    late in summer, early in winter,
    but always when the lights begin over there,
    in the countless apartments, with their cloth napkins and vases.

    At first, only the late afternoon sunlight,
    glinting off windows as the sun lowers in the skies,
    but not long after, that's when the lights begin to come on;
    that is when she gathers herself and leaves.
    There is a story there, but one I choose not to know.


    You were still only a child,
    I, nineteen, the age of your eldest boy now.
    It was the evening of the Marijuana Caper
    your eyes first met mine at the China Chalet.
    I believe it would have been spring,
    early, but days clearly lengthening,
    a patch of ice maybe here or there,
    pussy willow catkins ...
    We nearly bought it twice that evening,
    my father swerving left and right,
    Mother, beside him, silent, stiff with fright.
    He was mad at something.
    Mad, of course, at life, but mad:
    only very occasionally, and on this occasion.
    They'd dose a man like that these days,
    or try. He'd never have stood for it,
    nor any of us, who knew the storm he sailed in
    and trembled to be on board with him, but still ...
    Your hair was black, or nearly so,
    and long for a child's, partway down your back.
    Your eyes dark, as well, roving, restless,
    then, as now, taking in the busy room,
    as you fitfully dug through your pile of lo mein.
    We hadn't planned to get him stoned.
    Improvisation was a habit in that household.
    He insisted we put it in his pipe,
    to prove that he was right, getting high
    was humbug, a notion fools entertain.
    Mother hid in the kitchen, out of sight.
    It was a long-ish drive for us of a Sunday,
    but not so long as it ordinarily might have been.
    His frenzy, that's what would have caught your eye,
    the way he went after it, like a dog at a carcass,
    scowling over his left shoulder, then his right,
    dare a stranger approach to share or take away
    the wonton crisps or dumplings, beef
    with scallions, shredded pork, whatever floated by—
    New Jersey Chinese fare of the day.
    It would have thrilled, or frightened, a child
    to behold an adult at table quite so wild.
    40 years ago, 40 years ...
    You don't remember all that, do you?
    How could you? I'm making it up,
    the two of us both there at the same time.
    It might easily have been true.
    If I made it up it's because it pleases me to.
    As you please me, poking through your lo mein,
    raising your head nervously to take in the room,
    me, and what's doing with the rain.



    They follow you around the store, these power ballads,
    you and the women with their shopping carts filled with eggs,
    cookies, 90 fl. oz. containers of anti-bacterial dishwashing liquid,
    buffeting you sideways like a punishing wind.

    You stand, almost hypnotized, at the rosticceria counter
    staring at the braised lamb shanks, the patterns
    those tiny, coagulated rivulets of fat make,
    both knees about to go out from under you.

    —Can I help you, sir?
    No, no, thank you, I'm afraid not ...

    It's mostly the one woman who writes these things,
    a petite, almost perpetually somber brunette
    in her L.A. studio, undecorated, two cats,
    traffic coursing up and down the boulevard outside,

    curtains drawn against the unrelenting sun.
    Because of your unconventional lifestyle
    you have been shopping among women your entire life,
    young mothers and matrons,

    almost no other males around except staff and seniors,
    the old men squinching their eyes, scowling at the prices.
    What sort of life have you led
    that you find yourself, an adult male of late middle age,

    about to weep among the avocados and citrus fruits
    in a vast, overlit room next to a bosomy Cuban grandma
    with her sparkly, extravagant eyewear?
    It's good that your parents are no longer alive.

    It's a simple formula, really: verse, verse, chorus
    (and don't take too long to get there),
    verse, chorus, bridge, solo, if any,
    chorus (good chance of key modulation here—really get 'em),

    electric keyboard, soaring guitar, likely a string part or two.
    There's no telling how much that woman is worth,
    a "misunderstood Jewish girl" from Van Nuys.
    How would one go about making love to someone like that,

    sitting alone in her studio all day, shades drawn, two cats,
    writing these songs of tortured love,
    up to the tips of her waders in self-immolation,
    often keeping at it well into the night?

    Celine Dion, Cher, Michael Bolton, Faith Hill, Toni Braxton—
    knocking you back one after another, all morning and afternoon,
    at least until the men arrive after work. I don't know why.
    Perhaps it has to do with the "emotional nature" of women.

    You, you're breathing all funny, nearly paralyzed.
    But there's one song they almost never play
    and I'll tell you why: it's the one Dolly Parton wrote,
    not the brunette, but it's not Dolly who's doing the singing,

    it's the one who just died. Because if they played that one,
    it wouldn't be just you dying in aisle #5.
    All the girls would be dropping like it was sarin gas
    pouring from the speakers up there hidden behind the lights.


    Thass me, your jibber-jabbering Sulawesi booted macaque, most amused to be
    braining rodents with fig buds from up high,
    near the tippy-top branch of my tuq-tuq tree, and that's no lie,
    when you passed by below wearing I forget now which look.
    You gazed up and smiled, sweet-like: "Why not c'mon on down, Joe?"
    How'd you get on to all that? And we're talking not just "Joe"
    but the local macaque lingo? No one else could possibly know
    but Mommy Catawba and Sorella-si, who'd prefer not to—know.
    So down I scramble, with that studied pause&pose, how I do.
    Curious, I was, thrilled, even reckless—given the prospect of jungly fare
    that might be awaiting me at the bottom there: vipers, crocs, cats—
    but careful of my fur, lest the bark catch it up and cause a tear.
    Then, hey presto, there I y'am, eye to eye with the buckle of your belt,
    Toenails painted crimson, lipstick too, like the ass of a certain baboon I knew.
    You opened your blouse, urged me to take suck. Talk about blind macaque luck!
    Oh, it was heaven, heaven past eleven, there in the shade of the tuq-tuq.

    Know what? She was almost like me, but human and seldom found up trees.
    She just kept on nodding as I spoke—or         jibber-jibber-jabber'd, no matter.
    What a marvel, the mess of riffs, tales&compleynt that spilled forth.
    Then because or in spite of, perhaps even by custom, she lifted her skirts
    and proffered unto me—mercy—the loveliest basket of warm desserts.

    A-monk-a-monk-a-mee, a-monk-a-monk-a-yoo
    I once knew a lady wot lived in a shoe
    Had so many laces she didn't know wot to do
    So many laces, faces, places ... Wot's a girl to do?

    I jibber-jabber'd, jibber-jibber-jabber'd myself to a proper lather
    and whipped that lather into a nice thick batter and baked up a waffle for you.

    A-monk-a-mee-a-monk-a-yoo, I baked up a waffle for yoo

    did "The Itch," "The Scratch," "The Scrunch," "The Shimmy,"
    first at the Macombo, then Bisquick Jimmy's,
    danced us some "Buzz Step" at the Du Drop till 4,
    slipped back into gear, closed down Pete's Notorious Zanzibar.
    Come dawn I played "You the Foo" on air-guitar.
    You shrieked, you coo'd: I was your macaque megastar.
    I filled your head with jungle lore. "Salawesi Baby Boy,
    says you, "tell me, tell me, tell me some more!"

    I once knew a lady who lived in a shoe
    Had so many laces, eyelets, tassels, hassles, faces to see, places to be ...
    Wot, oh, wot's a girl to do?

    Now I'm back in my tuq-tuq tree, where, you might say, I was meant         to be.
    Every so often I try to be human—
    Right time, right place, right face—
    then forget myself once I get to groovin'.
    Thing is, what I most need to remember,
    got to scurry on back up lest there's a change in the weather.

    But know what? DO YOU KNOW WHAT?
    I'm having such a ball, never ever do quite manage to get my act together.


    Get my ass caught out in the rain, all hell breaks loose.
    Fur gets so damn wet and funky, can't hardly move.
    Critter red alert!—might as well be stuck in a tub of glue.
    I get bit. I get stung. Pretty momma's gone back to wherever she's from.
    It's a long, long way back up, bloodied and beat.
    I'm hanging out with the flying squirrels from now on, believe you me.


    Don't take that call:
    Deft veronicas in an empty stadium,
    The wind's applause ardent but fitful.



    Kettles, rain hats—
    the small, unopened bottle of Angostura bitters,
    its label stained and faded with the years.

    The breeze is doing something in the leaves
    it hasn't been, not at this hour.
    The light, as well.

    Early yet for the cicadas,
    their gathering rush and ebb.
    Too cool,
    the sun not high enough.

    A cardinal darting among the shadows
    in back of the yard,
    only at this hour
    and again at dusk.

    What is it so touching
    about these tiny episodes of color
    amidst the greenery and shadows,
    now and at day's end,

    that puts to rout all other sentiment?


    The garbage truck compactor is grinding
    all 24 volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica,
    1945 Edition, including Index and Atlas,
    along with apple cores, bed linen, ashtrays
    and all that remains of an ailing begonia.

    It is raining, not yet light. The wrens
    will have put off their convening on the hemlock.
    The distant beach homes of Malibu
    come strangely to mind, high on the cliffs
    overlooking the Pacific,

    and how, now and then, after a terrible storm,
    the soil beneath washes away, followed
    not long after by the house itself, sliding
    then crashing to the rocks below, its side tables,
    vanities and clocks licked at

    by the gathering foam and, finally, pulled to sea.
    Every Saturday they awaken me before dawn,
    lights flashing, men shouting, the hydraulic whine
    of the compactor as it gnashes away:
    desk drawers, yearbooks, sugar bowls.

    I shall miss them. I shall miss
    the sound of passenger jets overhead
    making their descent into Newark in the rain,
    before dawn, the first arrivals of the day,
    with groggy visitors from Frankfurt, Bahrain.

    There is hardly anything left to take—
    lamps, a chair, bedspring and mattress.
    The last roses still abloom out in the yard.
    I can't tell you what kind, pink and white,
    the tallest of them 6, 7 feet high.

    Then, that'll be it till spring.
    That'll be it till spring.


    Even the crickets are unnerving me tonight,
    and the smell of camphor in the warm room
    worse still; my woolens will outlast me.
    Home again, from points north, west,
    a suitcase full of useless books and no prospects.
    There's a folk song that goes like that:
    insipid—pathetic, really—without the music.
    This appears to be a condition I shall not escape,
    a gravitational field to be suffered through all my days,
    like some wayward, doomed alien.
    At least the folks are asleep. Getting along in years,
    they shrug. A shrug means peace.
    The stomach knows, when the clams are bad, or worse.
    Perhaps that is truly the site for love,
    or where love takes root, finally, and sets up shop.
    I had imagined something much less uncomfortable.
    The dirty aureole across the Hudson is New York.
    Jets sink into it. Here, on the cliffs opposite,
    trees whisk themselves. The wind freshens for rain.
    Even George Washington, on the lam from Howe,
    hid out here. He ate and ran
    south. Ask any ghost along the Hackensack.
    It's late, very late; that I do know.
    Mother's bought new bed linen for the occasion,
    described on the package as "duck egg blue,"
    so clean and cool I could be afloat on a lake.


Excerpted from The Hotel Oneira by August Kleinzahler. Copyright © 2013 August Kleinzahler. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.

Meet the Author

August Kleinzahler was born in Jersey City in 1949. He is the author of eleven books of poems and a memoir, Cutty, One Rock. His collection The Strange Hours Travelers Keep was awarded the 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize, and Sleeping It Off in Rapid City won the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award. That same year he received a Lannan Literary Award. He lives in San Francisco.
August Kleinzahler published his first book of poetry, A Calendar of Airs, in 1978. In 2003, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published The Strange Hours Travelers Keep, which won the 2004 Griffin International Poetry Prize. His collection of poetry, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, won the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of the prose books Cutty, One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained (FSG, 2004) and Music: I-LXXIV (Pressed Wafer, 2009), and the winner of the 2008 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry and the 2017 American Academy of Arts and Letters Literature Award. A native of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Kleinzahler currently lives in San Francisco.

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