poems by Rena J. Mosteirin

Blog Archive

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Three surfing the winter
ocean wild and whales too close to shore
two of us on the beach watching
if one falls, you and I alone will know.

Ocean wild and whales too close to shore
purple and black sand pulled into rough patterns by the tide
if one falls, you and I alone will know
and I will go.

Purple and black sand pulled into rough patterns by the tide.
I can swim strong, translate bitter cold to breath, re-write death
and I will go
into the icy ocean. My blood is hot thinking about it.

Three surfing the winter
two of us on the beach watching.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Eagle, Buzzard, Moose

Push the ice-milk sky, my black bald eagle
on wings longer than outstretched velvet, reach.               
I see her white head—that’s how I know she’s an eagle,
and then there’s the ghost, sitting on the green tractor, wearing a ski jacket.

On wings longer than outstretched velvet reach
the buzzards circle
and then there’s the ghost, sitting on the green tractor, wearing a ski jacket
by the moose carcass. Most likely mauled by a bear.

The buzzards circle:
“We have-it-all, have-it-all, have-it-all,” they scream at me
by the moose carcass. Most likely mauled by a bear.
“Give-it-back, give-it-back, give-it-back,” at the good dog who takes the spine.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


From the portrait you can’t tell he called it the red quench.
My heart is a blue plastic chum bucket, you can’t tell anyone.
The gold mat around the frame is red/ a sort of fire always all around him
clean like the ocean is clean. Hold me still, wooden arms.

My heart is a blue plastic chum bucket, you can’t tell anyone.
Collect the oldest books you can find, and that one portrait:
clean like the ocean is clean. Hold me still, wooden arms.
When I die, cut me up/ out on our boat/ where the sharks are.

Collect the oldest books you can find, and that one portrait:
Grandpa, he tells the sharks I am coming.
When I die, cut me up/ out on our boat/ where the sharks are.
I sit in his chair. His portrait will always be bigger than my body.

Grandpa, I am coming.
What sharks we are.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Start at the end. If that doesn’t work then it’s possible you don’t understand the flow of all this towards the end and the power of termination. At the end we’re all wearing hats. If you suspect sadness is the problem remind yourself that it doesn’t go away sadness has nowhere to go (one of the turkeys actually attacked him) and the power of termination is really no power at all. Sadness can be neither created nor destroyed. (There’s just so much junk on TV.) It’s more that you’re in the loop of it and different positions of the loop feel differently right now I’m hanging, not ending, just suspended. Start at the end. If that doesn’t work then it’s possible you don’t understand the flow of all this towards the end and the power of termination. At the end we’re all wearing high collars. If you suspect God is the problem remind yourself that it doesn’t go away God has nowhere to go (male turkeys in the same brood fight for the females) and the power of termination is really no power at all. God can be neither created nor destroyed. (Now there’s high quality 100% viewer supported Free Speech TV.) It’s more that you’re in the loop of it and different positions of the loop feel differently right now I’m hanging, not ending, just suspended. Start at the end. If that doesn’t work then it’s possible you don’t understand the flow of all this towards the end and the power of termination. At the end we’re not wearing anything. If you suspect love is the problem remind yourself that it doesn’t go away love has nowhere to go (in the end most of the turkeys get killed by wild animals) and the power of termination is really no power at all. Love can be neither created nor destroyed. (You might feel more at home if you got yourself a TV.) It’s more that you’re in the loop of it and different positions of the loop feel differently right now I’m hanging, not ending, just suspended.  It just doesn’t feel impossible that the turkeys will take over. They’re never sad.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Free Mohammad al-Ajami

In the silent room
we wait. No poems but by
poets. Please pardon.

Submit a haiku through CODEPINK here and sign the petition to free poet Mohammad al-Ajami.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Paragraph about Gestures

I don't need to be a good poet; you are enough of a good poet for both of us. I am such a big, sleepy, sloppy fish. I can't help you. I have only one idea: if you watch the birds long enough, you might be able to change the direction of your pilgrimage. If you watch the stars long enough...like I said, only one idea: to change. In your poems there is no room for anything that refuses to fly. At the very end, we discuss the merits of embarrassment. There was a woman at the reading sitting in front of me, farting. She was bent forward, my husband gestured and rolled his eyes. Her farts surrounded us, like a sacred poetic hideousness. In the very beginning, everyone said: "The poet is late!" And then you came in, and you drank water, and you said, "This is water. So I'm not like James Dickey."

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Monday, October 22, 2012


The heron blends in. The heron is hard to spot. The heron is the charge.
The heron is the most vital. The heron looks like sticks.
Everyone else drives past. Invisibility: that's my superpower too.
I can be invisible. Natural. I can go without
any human-hands-made-things. Driving by, people peripherally notice
all the brightly-colored trash that has washed down
to the riverside. I stand naked in the middle of the flood
and no one sees. Ducks tell me secrets then. Herons are royal and ignore me.

This is the spot where we saw that small cow leap into the road
and I made us stop. We drove back. This morning there is no small cow
to care about. Maybe it's good
that we have the rain and the grey light, so the colors can really vibrate.

Water is deep around these bones of trees. A charcoal sketch of trees.
The trees have no leaves but each has a crowning nest.
On my side the water is green. Behind everything there are always
mountains already old and we’ve loved them forever
in geological time. Humans live in leaf-turning time
which really isn't long enough to love anything
or to write anything more meaningful than a note anyway.

So this is my note,
set in this atmosphere of leaves and raindrops,
beside a grey horse in a green field,
where the deer blend in perfectly except for their little white tails
and a huge branch covered in hawks
is loudly protruding from the reservoir.

Driving west into America, there’s a certain plateau. The air changes.
Over there is it raining. Over here it is all cello-music.
When I was a girl I had nightmares about being buried alive.
Now I am a woman and in my dreams I explode.
The landscape says “love me” as purple leaves shake off the trees
and we’re busy filling our mouths with unpronounceable town names;
Schoharie, Wynantskill, Owego.

Cows in the valley. Cows on the ridge.
Black/ Brown-Red/ Black-and-white/ Look
the mountains are imprinted with red/orange/yellow vegetable fire
in the rain/ in the here and now/ beside us
there’s a circle patch of sun
making it seem that the trees are reaching up towards the light.

There is so much purple over there.
When I was in elementary school my parents would drive upstate
and we’d look at the turning leaves
and I’d come back and dream about them
and make crayon drawings in school where I used all the colors
in the box and once my teacher said to me; Rena, were the mountains really purple?
I didn’t feel like I had the authority to contradict her. Perhaps
there was something wrong with my eyes. Something wrong
with using all the colors.

Evergreen trees and ever-grey pavement,
farms always seem rectangular in the flat parts of America,
clouds, trees, grass, grain, cows, sun
(what magic feeds the whole country) that hill is in the clouds
and the air of the fields
make the bighorn sheep fuss
and the bulls lay down in their own weather
while a pony gazes into the pond and her foal eats grass.
The pond is full of white ducks
and in white letters on a green sign it says “Fairgrounds” and an arrow points
vaguely sideways at more cows.
America rises westward.

Causeway. I love that word.
As I loved the thirteen years before I turned thirteen
(years that befit childhood) more than I loved the thirteen years that came after.
That birthday is a sort of causeway. On my side the reservoir is green.
Birds love dead boughs. Anything can be a perch. It has nothing to do with love.
Pitch shifts in the mouth. It doesn't have to be sturdy to work.
I don't always have to stand up. I don’t know how to stop being a child.

I can't fly.
That's a good thing.
I'd flock to the light,
a little girl
dressed as folly. Ribbons. Make-up. The works.
Ribbons are supposed to be beautiful but they are never beautiful.
So what is truly beautiful, besides the grass and the trees and the animals?
Is there any one thing people make that is truly beautiful?

In the movie No Way Out But One, the woman
left her children notes in the refrigerator, so they’d say, “Can I go get a root beer?” and they’d find the notes. That was beautiful.
Also beautiful: how she made a photocopy of her hand
for them to reach out to her when she wasn't with them. Put your small hand
on this piece of paper
when you are afraid.

Canadian geese in formations are southerly screaming across the sky
and I have a picture of a whale in my pocket
to remind me of the sea.

I made lines of cinnamon on the table
(that’s not true, they didn’t have cinnamon, I had to write it in hot sauce)
I tore off a corner of the menu and wrote you a note
(at Lights Coffee in Elmira, New York)
and if you never find the note
(I don’t expect you to find the note)
that’s okay because leaving notes is my protective strategy
(otherwise how would I or anyone ever know that I was here?)

Alone at a diner writing poems
while people standing in the parkinglot outside the bleachy window
blow cigarette smoke into words and plumes. Poems, maybe? I think
I can read that one, it says:
We are written together in a certain form
where I haven't yet figured
out what the rhyme scheme and rules are.

The note I left you says:
Life is a short cigarette smoke + air poem.


The note says: you are perfect
even though I love you
sometimes you’ll feel alone
and that’s okay.

Better to be the invisible heron—
what wings that bird has!—
than the offensively orange soda can; ultra-visible but obviously empty,
both hard and crushed.
Don’t bother coming here, or looking for the note.
I’ve told you all I have to say.
As though I know how to be a good mother.
As though that should come naturally to all the female animals.

Next to Elmira is a town called Horseheads.
The first person I asked was a woman and she could not remember the war
(because it was “before my time”)
but said it was from some war where horses
were just dying all over the place. Various reasons. War-related.
She said the town was called Horseheads because the children
in the town would make a game out of lining up the dead
horses heads in various states of decay
and jumping from skull to skull.

The second person I asked was a girl. She said it was the Civil War
and that there was a hospital in the town but no resources for the horses
because the sick soldiers had to get the resources first. So the horses were just
tied up outside the hospital and they died. Horses that had taken bullets
just starved to death there. A travesty, considering what heroes they were.
And then what remained were the heads. And people saved them.
And maybe traded them. Or maybe it was that if you needed a horsehead
you knew you could come to this town to get one.
Every town has its thing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Specifically the Lungs

The ceiling is falling, white rectangle by white rectangle
and it’s very hard to get the attention of those people who should fix it.
The tiles you need were made so long ago, they tell me,
that they no longer exist, and above the old tiles and dust there’s asbestos.
It’s a great product, that asbestos, really keeps the heat in.
The only thing is the effect it has on humans. Specifically the lungs.

Is it really a problem?
No, I don’t think it’s such a big problem.
It’s a wonderful product.
Yes, asbestos really keeps the heat in.

Don’t tell anyone, but tonight
they will sneak in a team of Mexicans to do the work
no one else will touch. Don’t tell anyone, but
tomorrow when we breathe
their undocumented suffering (so carcinogenic
that the ceiling on my life will entirely dissolve)
we will deserve the psychotic weather that comes with it.

When it rains we all go down
and when we drown there will still be someone standing where I am standing
now, saying how good it all is:
these products and the work we do here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chipmunk by the River

Last week I made you pull off the road because I saw a heron in the river
but I closed the car door too hard and it took off
all blue wing span and wild/ shallow river,  rocks and sticks. I am terrified of love.
The sunflower road to the river has a chipmunk heart
and when I’m quiet like a bear, nothing moves.
Everything that sounds like that means empty. I stand
still for a listen, then
each of my steps seems so significant,
causing the birds and chipmunks and bugs to ruckus and riot.
How I chase love away, with heavy steps, pretty little chipmunk
skirts the sunflower road and I am listening still
for rain or the white spread of milkweed.
Perhaps today love begins like this: it’s both the car door closing
too hard and the silent stand by the river
waiting for rain with that same secret song,
all beats and flows, saying: it’s okay to be afraid, my little chipmunk heart.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

(Recursively) Reading Lewis Caroll at my Grandfather’s funeral, Age 8

It is legal for one function to call another; it is also legal for a function to call itself. It may
not be obvious why that is a good thing, but it turns out to be one of the most magical
things a program can do.

-from, Think Python (Chapter 5.8 Recursion) by Allen Downey

Welcome to the hotel called Heaven,
Welcome to the underground, Welcome Alice
in Wonderland. There’s nothing
different here, space is measured in dirt instead of air, that’s all.
It’s the same as the space between the stars—
didn’t you ever notice all that space?
There’s so much more empty space in the sky than stars.
It’s not necessarily lonely.
Don’t cry. There’s a singer, from the opera,
and just think, there’s a logical skeleton at school
that hangs in the corner
and tells us what we really are. Dear
Skeleton, all of your bones are crying.
Crying is a function that calls itself.

When we first got in the car and I played the song
I could tell by the quality of your silence
that you thought the words were meant for you
and it’s true, but more than that, I meant the sadness for us both.
This is called recursion.

It was never a house. It was always just paper,
nothing permanent—a view out the window, a lovely bog
where I sit to write, where I type out
a single line
from Moby-Dick every morning
in a sort of skeleton way, each day a tiny new bone
of the body is worked into a method. I am trying to be friends
with Herman Melville. I would not want to have been friends
with Lewis Caroll.  Forget the smell in the morning when the air is river mist.
Get away from the field.
There never were any stars in the sky. Tonight I’ll show you stars.

Tonight we can make light with our eyes, like
the headlights from the car parked across the street shining in the window
almost by accident, and I noticed but
her baby was screaming and screaming and screaming in my face
and I didn’t know what to do—sometimes when I am sad I listen
to Radiohead, sometimes that makes me cry, but—

“Forget about your house of cards,” I sang, trying to be louder than her baby crying, because I was supposed to “shush” louder than the crying
but it’s such a soft-spoken sort of song:
I don’t want to be your friend
I just want to be your lover. How inappropriate. Sour,
like being given Alice in Wonderland at Grandfather’s funeral
and asked to understand, the operator overloading, shapes of bones,
how necks and shoulders move and shouldn’t move, before
knowing how to ask a question. Featuring information. Being told:
No matter how it ends
No matter how it starts.
Forget about your house of cards.
This bowl of land out the window is the subject,
is full of red leaves on yellow-greens: everything is mine, yours, mine.
No autumn can wake you.
Start early, start falling,
as all stars logically fall.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The title should have something to do with silence

A goose from the cattails and lupines flew away calling my name,
into the night by my window, the call
mixed with the cold air and came in,
echoed through the cathedral silence of my sleep
(herds of dreams/ with a stick I lead them/ down the road like goats)
different than the silence of libraries
in the way that the silence of the twentieth century is different
from the silence at the end of the nineteenth.
Goose honk/ goose honk/ goose honk/ Rena/ Rena/ Rena.
I got so drunk I took off my shoes at the restaurant and when I put them back on
I was wearing them the wrong way
and I couldn't figure out how to make it right. Foot pain like a goose
honking in the night. Then I noticed the silence of the forest.
Then I noticed how the lights in the church across the street
went bright all the way up, mixed with cold air and breathed into my bedroom window.
Tomorrow I'll wake up in the dark for a nineteenth century reason.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cutting down the magnolia tree in the front yard that my great-grandmother planted (perhaps the only magnolia tree in Queens)

The light is changing:
as the eyes of the Earth make tears for no real reason,

(sometimes you add water and sometimes you add milk.
I’m with you in the bowl, both ways,)

and the wind sweeps the sidewalk; lost tickets, dead leaves, ends
of ribbon and chewed cigarettes, the parched confetti

(genuine hair of great white George Washington.
Has anyone got a horse that they’re not using?)

of last year and last year and last year changes color: the hair
of the Earth is turning grey and white.

(The British are going, the British are coming,
taking their semantic exercise.)

How old do you want to be?
How do you imagine the world began?

(Where is our heron today? Has he found a new place to fish?
We will just have to wait for the cows to get up and wander over.)

How would you like it to end?
No, I know, but we have to talk about it now.

(When you die I’m gonna put you in my purse
and take you to the café so you can sit next to me while I write poems.)

The tree approaches, saying maybe the heron today
disguised himself as sticks. I hug the tree, he meets me with a fine place to kiss.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Early attempts at the beginning of time

Heat in the center of the earth is trying to get out.
Imagine cobbles rolling down the bed of a stream in springtime.
Can you hear them? Can you listen for whales in the ocean?
People used to say those were mermaid songs.

If it melts it becomes an igneous rock.
Repeat after me: the world is flat.

And: the earth saves itself.
Fossils, we are patterned in the text,
under pressure these electronic pages will become a sort of molten rock,
pushing one way and then the other,
because from time to time the magnetic field reverses. Repeat after me.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Birds at the Beach in September

In the language of the fields all day,
I mean everything, Saturday my soul.

Yes to art
by the meat.
This is the ocean.
This isn’t the ocean.

These are the (break)dancing days.
Fly down to the water-roar and I can still hear you, screaming:
North, No Matter What!
All birds know
fifty ways to fly/ and one true name.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I will find something for you to hunt
before you become mine again.

Show me where the fish are now
in my tunnel between the bog and the river, we find

white butterflies wrapped in white spider thread. Oh enormous music,
of the crowded sky, the tides that decide what we lose and long for in daylight.

The song always comes back to the same midnight question:
if I dance for you, what will you kill for me? 

Hunting does not fill the galaxy with constellations.
We are not even stars. We are just eyes and mouths to the silver flash of fish.

Silver like the face of your watch
as the watch makes small music.

What I want is to feed you fish
while slow satellites trace lines across the sky.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Planting Fields

On the Gatsby coast/ there's an outdoor dollhouse
the size of kids. Built by the original owners
of the mansion/ where they would (play?)
send their kids to imagine things/ these days
there are huge dolls in residence. Beyond the words/ there’s a little
house/ sized to fit/ the grief of a child. If I take you
off the list for my birthday party/ does that mean you will never come back?
Teach the children math.
How close is close enough?
Take gold as a parameter.
In Montreal the lines
(either a recursive function call or a loop)
of the old city sparkled like gold out the window of his apartment
(a loop in which the terminating condition is never satisfied)
where we were always above the entire city and never wore pants
and stayed high and burned ourselves. I was his for the asking.
Import math.
The North Shore of Long Island is lined with gold. He asked.
(The homeless man said: “I specialize in problem recognition.
Use previously-solved problems and apply a previously-developed solution.”
No. That’s not what the homeless man said. )
A string is a sequence/ strings are immutable;
lists are mutable/ why didn’t we use a list?
He criticized my syntax
my methods/ my invocations.
If I take you off the list…

The gold coast is littered with old mansions no one lives in anymore
kept for historical value/ saving an old face/ retirees give tours.
He didn’t want to take the tour/ never intended to get old
or to save anything/ so we walked miles of trees in rows/ for hours
as he tried to convince me not to go back  (take love as a parameter)
to college. He took me to the Planting Fields to ask me to marry him;
he proposed just outside of the full sized doll house (take a knee)
and it was clear: that we were the dolls:
I mean, we were the kids/playing. That's why I said no.
The night before he killed himself, he took his mother out to dinner.
The movie he took me to two nights before he died
was called: The Road to Perdition. We ate sushi that night
we lived on Long Island. I called him
that dead morning because I knew
something/ because I didn’t know anything/ because
there was a sink dripping in my heart and I couldn’t turn it off.
When a stranger picked up his phone and I said my name I knew.
Nothing. His little sister called me back/ nothing (take suicide as a parameter)
she said words/ nothing/ I said words/ I said nothing. Maybe I said:
“The North Shore of Long Island is old gold for the asking.”
Or she said: “How close is close enough?”

Today it’s ten years later. Today
there’s a homeless man in the town by the sea
where my husband and I have found a café to do Sunday things.
The homeless man is attracted to my husband
and he says: “Be humble and be kind.
She will worship you for the rest of your life.”
He has no words for me. Maybe he sees himself
in my husband’s frown. The homeless man wears a wool hat
even though it’s August. He calls a cab and it comes,
even though he’s not going anywhere. He gets a cup of coffee for free
and it’s basically a miracle: fishes and loaves from his fingertips.
On the way out of the café he stops
at our table again, to sniff and spread his wings out like a seagull and say:
“We’re all going to heaven, so don’t worry about that.”
We’re all going to heaven. I agree
that we’re stuck
in a loop in which the terminating condition is never satisfied.

Friday, August 10, 2012

There's No One On This Road But Us And The Night

“There’s no one on this road but us and the night,” you say
the bugs are invisible and everywhere: summer.
Winter will naturally debug the kitchen
but tonight I need a drive.

You said your father would drive you around when you were sleepless,
together you’d cruise the night roads of Maine.
I imagine if you were sleeping when you got home, he carried you in,
used his foot to close the door. I imagine the weight of your little boy body

as he placed you in your bed. I believe an idea can have weight before words:
I was with you there, though I wasn’t a body, but a math.
Black and white headshots of old movie stars
somehow always look familiar. It must be an algorithm.

“It’s the clothing my soul wears,” I say, picking at my skin.
On television they are running races.
The code you are looking at is not the code that is running.
On television Gidget is surfing.

Change the station: an anesthetized alligator
goes into the bag like a body bag.
The options are: copy/distribute/modify:
or take me home/ in kind.

In our strange extinction history
we are on the chapter of death: in a rainforest there’s only that one pretty math:

and it goes into the bag like a body bag.
On television they are drowning.

The code you are looking at is not the code that is running.

I can see you sometimes as a little boy, there are ways you turn
and your boy-self flickers on. Hit save.