Sunday, November 23, 2008

White Heat by Todd Moore

White Heat is a chapbook by Todd Moore that first appeared in Yellow Bat Review #5. It is reprinted here with Todd's kind permission.


What can I say about poems like these? They’re not like anything Robert Pinsky ever wrote. And, there’s no trace of John Ashbery here. Or, Billy Collins, the Language Poets, or any of the other usual suspects. There is no poetry poetry in these poems. None of the stuff that is usually associated with poetry, such as poet name dropping, hints of art or history or philosophy or literature. Especially literature. There is no literature in any of these poems, if that is what you are looking for. You may as well read the racing form, the menu at Annie’s Soup Kitchen, or your horoscope. As for literature, I think that has been pretty much cooked out of the bird. Actually, the carcass has been dynamited, washed, scoured, and flushed clean of any impure elements, and that last I heard it may be living under an assumed name in Argentina or Brazil. There might be a few of the old bones left, but they seem to have been sucked clean, very clean.

However, if you are looking for poems with real stories and people in them, you have finally come to the right place. In these poems you’ll more likely find tire irons, psychopaths, Hank Williams, cue balls, fish hooks, outlaws, car trash, whiskey, and shotguns. Hardly the stuff of poetry, but then these days what is the stuff of poetry, anyway? A rhetorical question and not worth bothering with, unless you are seriously working on an MFA. In that case, you may be in need of a good blood transfusion and proper medication. Or, at least, a very stiff drink.

The poems I wrote and have been writing for the last thirty years are products of having read too many well-written murder novels, catching one too many Bogart-Cagney-Raft black and whites, and living in a whorehouse hotel from the age eleven until I was twenty three. That, all by itself, may have colored my already lurid imagination. And, no, I never played piano in a whorehouse, but there were plenty of other games always available.

Funny thing about games and stories. I’ve always been a sucker for a good story but literary games I have precious little time for. I’m all Borges’d and Beckett’d out. I’m tired of the sophisticated soft shoe across a stage that doesn’t exist. I want more that just the Cheshire cat’s smile. Give me one good solid slice of dialogue out of The Killers or a paragraph with the sparks coming off from The Big Sleep. I love words that have real blood in them.

Wasn’t it T.S. Eliot who once said, “Poetry is a mug’s game”? After all these years I can at last honestly say, the son of a bitch was wrong. Today, poetry is a whorehouse and my Steinway is right over there.


colman had

saved a piece
of the rope
they’d used
to hang tom
horn claimed
old tom had
made the
rope him
self alls
i got was
3 feet col
man sd
waving it
above his
head like
a lasso
yippy yi
else got
the noose
it’s just
a circle
hell i
was just
lucky to
get this


every time

i see white
heat i think
abt kenny
& drinking
bootleg whis
key on the
back of his
pickup he
liked to say
no prisoners
& take that
shit straight
down two
three chugs
at the most
& you were
if you coughed
like the time
it went up
my nose &
he clicked a
pair of 38
slugs around
in his hand
sd kid if it
don’t burn
it ain’t fun


hanks williams

singing lost high
way on the car
radio while
i’m driving thru
the valley of
fire to el paso
heat waves
dancing off
volcanic rocks
shiver like
clouds of
wounded smoke
& i’m thinking
abt how hank
died in that
old cadillac
i’d like to be
lieve it
while he was
in the middle
of getting a
song & when
he opened his
mouth to
sing out a
line he
tasted the
electric sur
prise of
deep in
the heart of


joey waited

til martinez
turned side
ways to
laugh be
fore scoo
ping the
cue ball
off the
pool table
caught the
action out
of the cor
ner of his
eye but
cdn’t turn
fast enough
when the
ball hit him
at the hair
line he
off the
table be
hind him
& nobody
sd shit
to joey’s


i thought

larry was going
for a tire iron
when he yanked
the sawed off
out of a pile
of trash in his
trunk see how
it feels before
you give me
the money he
sd handing it
over i let the
grip drop into
my hand any
kinda hisory
i need to know
history larry
sd nobody’s
talking it
likes double
ought buck
& works
good in the


the fish hook

sank just
far enough
into dooley’s
right palm
to lock it in
sweat beads
were sho
wing on
his fore
head when
he whipped
out his
blade &
sd fuckit
i worked
the point
under his
skin while
he drank
old crow
from the
pint he
stole from
his old
man’s coat
when the
hook came
out he
used my
shirt to
wipe the
blood off
& gave me
the finger


ryker stood

on the santa fe
switch track
singing marty
robbins’ el
paso to a
dead coyote
the lines he
didn’t know
he made up
when he
stopped to
drink some
ten high a
crow dropped
from a tele
phone pole
it stuck its
beak inside
the coyote’s
skull to
scoop the
last of the


i watched

while keener took
a beating from
his old man the
belt slapping hard
across his bare
arms when the old
man got done he
shot me a glare
the veins in his
face looked like
welts painted over
more welts sd you
want some too i
didn’t blink then
he went away
later we sat over
beers in the weeds
down by the tracks
i sd how come you
just stood there
hell i don’t know
it felt like you get
w/the skin burned


you call that

rainey sd
leaning to
ward me
on his
he smelled
sour of
beer puke
& whiskey
when i saw
his hand
going into
a fist i
clicked the
open &
shoved it
close to
his belly
fuck you
& yr opin
ions i sd
you wdn’t
know the
poetry &
dog shit
talk to me
when you
start to
write w/
yr blood


frank was showing

me how to hold a
knife so the blade
wd snake halfway
up my sleeve when
the landlady came
out of the hotel
she was talking to
one of the girls
when she saw frank
& flashed a smile
that made the bones
& yellow skin go
funny in her face
she used an index
finger to wipe a
trace of white
powder away from
her upper lip &
nose then she
licked it candy
she sd moving
close sometimes
i eat little
boys like you

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