Tony Tost

& selfhood begins with a song

a sudden irruption historicizes the divine

the poem’s knot disappears
only to determine

which of my contemporaries I am to walk among

looking into the wolf’s eyes

approaching the self in victory

singing by the light snow’s subtle

series of heavenly bodies

the kiss of origination begins in doubt

ends with my tongue in your mouth

getting to know your name

each angelic immersion
a vision & not

only the suggestion of what one is carried with

a whisper and/or the song of what I am




It is not to wander in intuition

here one seeks one’s confusions

as a dream in which exactness rides

grabbing the throat
of what the eye divides

who should not be spitting up blood

perched upon the mind’s throne

I gnaw at the hammer and its blood

disappears within my own

it is between sentences we must argue

to keep from collapsing
like some balloon

crouching in wonder is not enough

we have come down here to believe

between sentences one translates the grief

any body is the major image of




Drawing the boundaries one collects

a variety of passages over the text

a beginning to the conditions by which grace

may speak
the expense of experience relays

thinking as sensuous registration

an act unbearable as a singular innovation

yet the brilliant images are tucked away

the distances between each
one may carry

our science is that of astonishment

interrogating the aesthetics I am yet to invent

doomed to speak in the same tense

my knowledge ascends there

clarity has its costs
a rearrangement of the air

getting it said is the exact expense




Outside the words relation seeks

the touch of wisdom as a sign to break

into the sentences that follow
ratios of paradise

the song of limits
if writing I half-close my eyes

to be either forged or forgotten among my needs

a moon on the roof of a mouth

a contemporary delight I do not think about

pulling the sheets about me as I begin to feed

what have I not written in the air

to arrive as wonder
I’m still here

biting my fingers
each thought is immense

the shaking of the sheet is an accompaniment

the telephone rings sounding the violent

a career of terror the call invents

Tony Tost is the author of two full length poetry collections, Complex Sleep, recently published in University of Iowa Press’s Kuhl House Poets series, and Invisible Bride, winner of the 2003 Walt Whitman Award; he is also the author of one chapbook, World Jelly, published by Effing Press in Austin, Texas, in 2005. Recent poetry and prose appear in Hambone, Talisman, Mandorla, Typo, Denver Quarterly, Wildlife, American Literature and Third Coast. He is alive–with his wife Leigh and their son Simon–in Durham, North Carolina, where he is beginning work on a dissertation concerning media, critical theory and an American modernist poetics of knowing at Duke University. The sequence “Elephant & Obelisk” is dedicated to David Need and is from Tost’s larger work in progress, called Consequence.

“Very few front porches in my early development: when my parents and I moved from the Missouri Ozarks to a rural, wooded and perverse spot in western Washington state, there was a small step-up from the grass in my grandparents’ backyard to the camper trailer we lived in. When we moved from various apartment complexes in town there were usually concrete walkways connecting all the doors with a black metal railing riding along. Once we moved into our single-wide home in the Misty Mountain Trailer Park there was a three or four step walk-up to the front door and the awning connected over to a small wood garage. When we purchased and cleared out an abandoned, overgrown lot several years later, near my grandparents’ house in Cumberland, WA (as Wikipedia puts it, ‘an unincorporated community in King County, Washington. A former mining town, Cumberland is accessible only via backroads’) my father built an expansive red-stained wood deck to connect to our new double-wide mobile home; a few years later, he enclosed the far end in order to protect my parents’ adored hot tub.

“My grandparents’ front porch, where I spent more of my time, was small, but sturdy; they purchased and essentially re-structured the house in the late 1930s when it was basically a barn; from the cellar you could see the enormous logs of the foundation give as my grandmother moved through the kitchen. The porch was also a spot of Tost family lore, as the location where my adolescent father (about 6’1″ 280 lbs and barrel-chested in his prime) finally stood up to and punched out his drunken uncle. It was also where we snapped pole beans and shucked corn. But once my grandmother died, my parents, grandfather and I moved ‘into town’ (Enumclaw, WA: population 11,000, ‘derived from a local Native American word meaning ‘place of evil spirits”) and into a nice retirement trailer park. Less of a porch here (and also no grass: my parents had it removed from their lot and replaced with red lava rock) than a double-sided four-stepper. Expansive awning, though.

“My parents now live back in the Missouri Ozarks, and after having their nice two-story house (enclosed front porch with deep freeze, small deck with hot tub added on later) taken away from them by the bank (ask me about this when I’ve been drinking), they now live happily in a fixed-rent duplex which they share with a cycle of single-parents and/or addicts. No front porch there, though they have managed to fence off a twenty by twenty foot portion behind the duplex to keep a new hot tub in.

“Leigh, Simon and I live in a nice little two-story house near downtown Durham; our front porch faces a busy connecting street. We have, in a gesture of wishful thinking, two rocking chairs on the front porch, which we don’t use. We also put out ferns and flowers in the spring; here wrens have been known to nest and procreate. The back deck is much more conducive to a domestic life–if we’re going to shuck some corn, or get drunk to music and late night talking, we’ll do it back there. No hot tub, though. Kind of fucking hate them.”