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Ten Poems from Passagen

“[… A] cradle rocking back and forth between modernity and antiquity […]”
The Arcades Project

Pan speaking panisms at the church
of Christ, Pantokrater, in place
of the usual docent, breast of sportscoat
bulging with his pipes.  Pan, with high,
horned forehead, gently receding locks,
takes one back to the river, the skinbag,
the basket.  Leaves of aspens overhanging
wave yes, no, sayonara.  It’s Pan speaking,
now.  He points out frescoes, polite
hooves shattered by mosaics.  And before
that, the womb, and before that,
the shiver that made mothering possible.


“[… S]uddenly a roof, a gleam of sunlight reflected from a stone, the smell of a road would make me stop still, to enjoy the special pleasure that each of them gave me, and also because they appeared to be concealing, beneath what my eyes could see, something which they invited me to approach and take from them, but which, despite all my efforts, I never managed to discover.”
The Arcades Project (Proust)

I admit it, as one ill with possession,
eyes two molten pockets.  Under
my long coat is a tiger pit, and yet,
I’m in the market for shovels,
depth, bamboo.  It goes without
saying, tigers.  And a bomb-riding
mascot to indicate when we’ve arrived
at the banks of the Bosporus,
exhausted east or west.

This long coat does not smell like fear,
exactly, more like settling up, sweat
and sweet grief.  I’ve never seen a tiger
in the flesh, says the man being stalked
by one in the jungle.  What, praytell,
does he imagine a tiger will get him?
Exotic carpet sex?  A complete set?
Or home?  Home is the sort
of thing that needs a tourniquet,

all the mother-smelling gowns
and father-smelling bath robes
clawed to pink shreds.  Will there
be enough to stop the bleeding?
If not, try elevation, above the heart,
but the breeze smells like birthdays
here, like metallic kisses, like bats
raising their latex young in chirping
darkness set like a trap for tigers.


“[… T]he arcade, too, is a windowless house. The windows that look down on it are like loges from which one gazes into its interior, but one cannot see out these windows to anything outside. (What is true has no windows; nowhere does the true look out on the universe.)”
The Arcades Project

You’re stop-moth, a shocking,
implausible scrawl, in love with
your own neon.  In sex with
your muzzle mute swan.

You wish there were a way
to be less mortal, less tragic,
but specters are stay-at-home,
lily-watering types.  Lakes

have a way of containing
your umbrage.  Overpasses bear
with your rush hour.  Pinpricks
look in on your sleep as though

they were adults and you
their child whom they might
possibly protect from all that
waits to befall you.


“[… E]ight days later the crinoline had doubled in size.”
The Arcades Project (Du Camp)

and our sense of being estranged
from the infinite had halved.

Layer, layer.  There must be
something at center.

Liar.  No one is coming back
with cigarettes, with milk
in their arms like a permanent payload.

We don’t have time to wait
for each layer to wither, fall away.

You said we have nothing but—
Whip-Poor-Will.  Sounds nothing

like.  Maybe a kettle.  Or a child
blowing across the mouth
of his father’s beer bottle.

Maybe this is why I find peonies
disturbing.  White after white.

I’m supposed to remain wanting,
Poor-Will.  And it’s true.


“It is curious that every time we buy a house, a boulevard passes through it.”
The Arcades Project (Dubech and d’Espezel)

plainfuls of Canadian arctic wind

a truck with thousands of laying hens in crates

I turn to my daughter in her car seat
how do you begin to explain something like that

all the houses of the village
illuminated as though from a single
interior light

the ocean longing of landlocked salmon
practicing their lines

old-growth forests dying to be left alone


“And in no other way can one deal with the arcades—structures in which we relive, as in a dream, the life of our parents and grandparents, as the embryo in the womb relives the life of animals.”
The Arcades Project


two black stallions as bookends their hooves dipped in gold and through the thick polycarbonate sheets of the Mystic Aquarium pale-bodied beluga whales see how long they can hold their breaths on the television special glaciers are calving solid ground circulating air a series of jolts as when the dry barbed tongue of the cat first startles so many of them now we are running out of songbirds and the bushes wail with the distinct frequency of abandonment registering as a shadow on a sonogram


“The relation of the Jugendstil interior to its predecessors comes down to the fact that the bourgeois conceals his alibi in history with a still more remote alibi in natural history […]”
The Arcades Project


In the Royal Botanic Garden,
a rare cycad grows in a wrought
iron bell jar.  Fruit bats hang
above, leather laments
for the bygone Paleozoic.


In the elevator of Tacoma’s
Park Tower, a disgruntled tenant
scorches the green wall carpet
then carves out leaf-shaped patches
with a utility knife.


“What I have in mind here will become sufficiently clear if I say that I find in Balzac no interior life of any kind, but rather a devouring and wholly external curiosity which takes the form of movement without passing through thought.”
The Arcades Project (Alain)

so maybe the pleasure specific
but the contraction extension
are general   to obviate the boundary
between body and body which
more than one poet has warned
me is a dirty word   I say jump
in the ocean   where do you end
where does the water begin   if you
think you can say you have my pity


“[… T]he briefcase with interior lighting […]”
The Arcades Project

the whale with Jonah reflux

neutrinos let loose, a signal array
of recessed volcanoes

Iditerod dogsled heaped with extra large
bags of Purina Dog Chow

hecatomb with rave glowsticks

The real question is what is
on final approach, what stunner
has come home to roost?

mares’ tails swish over beige tracts of Roswell

Will you be like one of those extras
in movies who softly exclaim then hurry inside,
or come out, hand on hip, for a better look?


“The Ministry of the Interior refuses to issue its stamp to Les Paradis Artificiels.”
The Arcades Project

Actual Paradise.  Heavens of flesh and blood
stalking supply closets, interrupting the tele-
conference to beg, Come over and say that to my face.

Paradise of clicking heels in the parking garage,
a jack dropping firs exactly in their shadows.
Edens of fading bouquets, downtime, blue-

bottle flies touching everything, everything.

Benjamin Landry is the author of Burn Lyrics and Particle and Wave. His poems have appeared in journals such as the New Yorker and Kenyon Review, links to which can be found at his website. He teaches creative writing at SUNY Potsdam, where he also directs the Peace Poetry Project.