The Poetry of
Jack Scott


Givens: things you can’t subtract
-and those you won’t.

Time was needle-sharp when new
to separate skins.
Each longs for unadulterated blood:
the fresh pink veins of childhood’s girl,
the blue of childhood’s boy
when love flowed sweet
as milk from mother
directly from each lover
to the other.
Love is heroin to the spirit,
which could have lived without it
well, and less expensively.

Untoughened by the skin’s abuse
withdrawal strikes
like rusty nails bent double
back and forth by rival hammers
until fatigued and broken off
bluntly flush with wooden skin.
The appearance of surfaces
as smooth and even
is far preferable to stubble
and the risk of others
grading you and keeping score.

The nurse who ghosts her station
lingering last on call,
polishing perfection dull,
scrubbing at the germs,
taking secret inventory
long after sister angels
have flown back to their nests,
self-medicates against
her homeward journey
and what lies at its end:
second morning of the day-
Snow White’s Prince-less-
prepares for solitary exodus
pulling out chin whiskers
in acned mirror,
brushing her lackluster hair,
sniffing smells that won’t wash off
clinging to the uniform
she’s dreading to take off
and expose her image
to possibility of eyes,
especially her own.

Withdrawal is lidless snake
coiled into a question mark
lying deadly
in the sentence of the trail
interrogating all who try to pass:
Why me? Why me?
Wordless password
Resonated deeply.
Statistically asleep,
though no one knows for sure,
is lying in the middle of the only path
between what never was
and what will never be,
clogging it for others.
Though the snake may seem asleep,
the fangs remain awake.

Tanned by time,
toughened by too much of it,
leather is the tightest fit,
tailored by myopia
a quilt, a potpourri,
well proportioned
for a flashbulb instant,
but with no room
allowed for growth-
straitjacket skin.
The bible might well have said
that god is thread.
Though one eye’s on the sparrow
his other’s on the needle
tautly stitching souls into their sacks,
a sermon at a time.
Straight shooters
don’t always hit their target;
suicides leap off the bridge
and sometimes miss the water
because their skin’s too tight,
never broken in just right.
Claustrophobia’s hell.

We needn’t know just what it is
as long as we can use it
and it remains within the rules
we conjure for it.
Plug, receptacle and wire-
it is that simple
in our worship and our practice.
Raw power raging in,
obedience trickling out.
A something to keep nothing
beyond arm’s reach
and mindless.
another name for deity.

Specific life is short,
appetites long, insatiable,
lusting to outlast death
and, as instincts, able.
Starvation dies only
when appetite has eaten
itself and every crumb
then, regurgitating boredom,
attempts to piece into the puzzle
Rorschach silhouette of remorse
for not fulfilling promise
made at birth.
Appetite is hunger, passion
for anything the mind’s bent on.
Starvation takes too long
for tidy suicide: amnesia.
No union for hunger artists,
Who, uncommissioned,
go unsung, unpaid,
no royalties or tips,
and no applause.
The larger hunger, fast,
is eaten by the longer, slow.
My appetites are older than I will ever be.
Life is longer than all its appetites
served as a single meal,
stronger than any single passion to curtail it,
but the one that pulls the trigger.

Tetanus, one of many
blood brother godlings
of intravenous pantheon
joins around the fire
burning streambeds crimson,
dry, and scumming all the moats,
sometimes lingers
within the tender blood
when the party’s over.
If you must burn rocket fuel,
get a proper rocket.
Your ticket cost you dearly;
you’re due a longer ride,
than three weeks maximum
if your needle’s tetanasty.
You’ll be denied your right
to voice complaint-
also your ability . . .
Shame, shame on you.
Grease that squeaky wheel
lest it run over you.
And patronize a better circus.

God isn’t up,
and compasses are flat and round,
unsound .
It’s unsettling to be so unfound.
Much like history,
travelogue is travesty:
core borings all.
Geography of spirit is terrain
where being found requires confession,
credentials, passports and degrees.
geology as well.
Searching is a strange profession,
rarely overpaid.
Finding’s even rarer,
but is its own reward.
Although maps and charts proliferate
there are far more trails and paths
than can be found upon them.
Wilderness abounds
for those who don’t get lonely
in space that is too large
or small
and won’t settle down
on just one planet.

Musty smell of much hugged pillows
without cases, without softness,
comfort in appearance only,
surrendered to the sheets below,
beyond semblance of concern,
now that urgency’s been fed its bottle.
Dirty needles
dirty now, dirty always,
running sewer pipes containing
urine yellow tears
above a grave of unwept sorrow
as they dry upon the unmade bed
among the other fading smells.
Like the user,
on the outside sometimes clean,
but far less so within.
Why make the bed?
It will be lain in again.
Why go home?
It isn’t there.

Marijuana look-a-likes,
cigarettes are tubes of solace
for the poor of lung
who will bequeath,
but not inherit.
Treated air is surgery
for the loyally afflicted;
the sutures, twenty to the pack,
come with twenty filters
at no extra charge.
Coal miners are so lost and lonely
in too much shallow open space.
They must go back to work again
to breathe deeply their familiar air.
The pendulum of law,
an application of Poe’s fiction
carried further than intended
into courtrooms and chambers
of legislation
where Kafka’s mirth presides
ironically as handcuffs and leg irons.

More politicians smoke tobacco
than have, in all the past, smoked pot,
but the times are changing,
followed slowly by the law
with justice lagging out of sight as usual.
Now they card you when you’re eighty
and have their connoisseurs’ choice
of confiscated pot.
It all makes equal sense.

Alcohol is legal, help yourself.
Each evening
you can be an actor in another play.
It’s alright to slur your words;
your audience is thespians
who also can’t pronounce them.
Within limits, legal:
speed for one
and you can’t wobble;
cars are heavy, lethal weapons;
drive with care,

at least as if you care.
Alcohol is solvent,
dissolving many things.
You don’t have to be a chemist
to benefit from them.
But you can be an artist:
design your own credentials,
and draw or paint
your imaginary portfolio
in any medium:
a big game hunter just back from Africa,
a captain who barely made it ‘round the Horn,
a casting couch recruiter from Hollywood,
anything, anybody, anything.
As they say if you believe,
you’ll be believed
or not, and then so what;
no law’s been broken.
Don’t sweat last call,
there’re many more to come,
So what the zoo is closing,
you have your own cage.
Bedtime for the seesaw.
If tomorrow’s lost
in tonight’s leftover haze,
that’s just another kind of clock
alarming sleep from sandbags
between the dream and dreamer
sleeping tight,
negotiating morning
against another supersaturated night:
another shoe, another floor.
Read the paper
reviews hot off the press,
can you remember what you drank,
what you had for dinner if you ate,
who you said whatever to.
If so, you’re safe and healthy,
another lie which you believe again.
That glass you see half empty,
is sloshing at the brim.

His canvas:
hammock between too distant trees
upon which he levitates
in barely shade
while watching games
between the Furies and the Muses
on his inner eyelids.
He’s taken a commission:
a portrait of reality
which won’t hold a pose,
so he works from memory
and intensity of vision
breaking all the rules
with no resistance from his subject,
surprising him.
It’s easier
than he ever thought it’d be.
No deadline here, no quota,
he is his own employer,
though not his boss, his driver,
no one over him,
none under.
He answers to no one,
but paints his questions,
and in painting, answers them,
balancing each equation
in his own way
His work will never end-
he knows it.
You don’t have to swim an ocean
shore to shore,
only stay afloat,
while avoiding sharks.
There will come a time
when he’ll be out of paint and canvas,
his brushes will be stiff or bald-
no matter.
What’s in his eye is in his mind
and that is in his hand
paint on.
You’re all you need.

Some mangers are too crowded ,
no room at any inn
and no way to get out
past those in line behind you,
extras for the sequel.
Reservations are for those
who think they know
what’s going to happen
and plan ahead.
In the East, a lodestar,
was for three,
compelling them to make a journey
timed to seem no accident
to the eyes and minds
of those who later read the book
and watched the movie after.
But they made just one mistake:
arriving thirty some years early.
They were meant by god
to rescue him.

Stopping is addiction,
as much as going on.
When not smoking gets you high
looking at what’s in that glass,
celibately staring at her ass,
how powerful, Interruptus!
How dangerous
to stand in its way!
How long can you keep it up?
How long can you swim,
be up for one more stroke?
If you can’t turn away from it, whatever,
condemned to watch without touching
you’re hooked,
you’re dry, not sober,
without pussy, pussy-whipped.
How can you quit quitting,
give up the giving in?
Are there more steps than minutes in a day,
the ones you must take at a time
in this mirror existence?

L11 ®Copyright 1975 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.