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patty seyburn

New Poetry


by Patty Seyburn

Pinocchio wanted,
more than any spoils or
treats, to be a real live

boy. You could smirk, say: this
is overrated. Toys
have no conscience, despite

their eyes measuring us
at night. They have no
imperative to do right.

You could say: that’s
the life for me.
Your face could have

one expression.
Your body could sway, crumple.
You could bray.


As a child, I spent most of my time
in the contrary. Mary, Mary.
Now I live in the Yes, Sure.

If you must take me back,
let’s return to that cruel pool game,
blind explorers in the deep,

displacing small waves,
desperate to touch anyone:
Marco! Polo! Marco Polo!


My liege, my legion of
bad habits batters the
diminishing rank and
file of my decency.
What would you have me do?
I judge, curse, rue, malign,
run out of cereal.
Everyday world depends
hardly at all on the
details of atoms or
galaxies — a lesson
in stratification —
and the feeling, woe is
me, must be mutual.


What propelled us down
the rough-hewn mountain road I’ll never
know, though we never reconsidered, practicing

pinball syllables — Ha’aha’a — humbleness —
ha’awina — lesson — five vowels, seven
consonants plus the hokina, the glottal stop

that looks like a comma. Seizing
quadriceps, our bodies’ angles acute
as we leaned back into our descent,

but like all tourists, we had a goal, edenic.

In the valley, we veered through
canopies of trees, we’re told, exist here
alone — volcanic rock, minerals inflamed,

makes soil fecund, original.
The Waipi’o’s curved water baiting us,
we reached the vaunted beach, grains

sultry, velvet, enveloping.

The children lunged into waves and waves
lunged back, swept them out,
returned them, flanked and doused them

in white spume while I
shouted into wind that made me mute
and useless. Ke‘olu‘olu — please.

I don’t want to worry you.

Wind berated us with hard-edged grains,
stole our clothes, coated
our legs with souvenir particles. We trudged

back through the green, game-faced,
kids tracing hearts and initials
in mud with crooked walking sticks —

the strongest said he couldn’t — we insisted —
until we found the incline
we’d descended and saw the pastoral

path for what it was: broken macadam
with no shoulders, steep
as a story problem.

Praying for irony: a stranger in a van.

Have you figured out where
we went wrong? I sicken of my own
stupidity, sweat-soaked in what

some call luck; others, grace.
The trust placed in us, too,
we placed, in what I am not sure.

We cannot risk looking back, makai
toward the ocean — and cannot resist.
My chit used up, I will not ask again,

though this is likely a lie.


and though the source seems far

it becomes so, as the proscenium

and your bit part continues

critic. The only thing we all have

once in our sleep, for Who

some ancient plant, the panacea

and engraved the voice’s signature

a noise to give even the wise lover

into rest and restlessness, and while

than the genius loci, the echo of no

to others, despite our claims of

and the angels, droning cynics,

to tell your fortune, if you can

terrible guises and you do not

pretty, pretty, pretty? Even now

is current. Even now I dream it

from elusive, on dwelling

of possibility fills with players

to survive the Pedant’s inner —

done is muttered, whimpered

Can Heal All or Her talisman —

with pallid leaves and curious stem —

upon the entablature of night,

pause. From there our ways digress

we long to be nothing less

memory we made tethers us

separation. Call out by day

will ignore you. Implore Proteus

hold him while he assumes

let go. You think the future is

I know the imagined cry

and it becomes legend.


You’ve made soup from that
same bone for a week,

said Hardy Har Har
to cohort Lippy
the Lion who heard
Why haven’t you made
more of your life?
stormed off how cartoon
lions might were they
jilted lovers, licking
wounds while thinking of
a cutting comeback —
l’esprit d’escalier
though his compadre
looked so forlorn it
was hard to stay mad
for long, so they went
to find another
cold war adventure —
optimist, pessimist
bound by frame after
frame, animated
animals cursed with
humanity: hyena
who does not laugh and
suffers consequences
of his friend’s well-meant
schemes, and hapless jungle
king — straight-man/sidekick —
all these episodic years.


Found its way to France during the Saracen Invasion
and obtained its name — tenez — when one player said:

be ready. The serve comes from servants who put the ball
in play (such a demeaning task) but justice has two kings

kick off from playing jeu de paume — one gets a chill
(though poison might have helped) the other bumps his head

(a lintel bears the blame). The origin of “Love” is oeuf
for egg (nought’s shape) and “deuce” from a deux

two points in succession and you will prevail.
Cranky Robert Frost opined, “I’d sooner write free verse

as play tennis with the net down.” And so a metaphor is born
for lack of rules, an oath of form’s necessity, lament of excess

ease in poesy. Strange, we are not sure how, why, when
the net arrived or if, centuries down the road, it will have

survived. Darwin right about so much — even our leisure
adapts to fit our needs along with language — poor racquet,

sharing sounds with fraudulent behavior, or hubbub —
be ready, change is noisy and has strings attached.

Patty Seyburn has published three books of poems: Hilarity (New Issues Press, 2009), Mechanical Cluster (Ohio State University Press, 2002) and Diasporadic (Helicon Nine Editions, 1998). Her fourth collection, Perfecta, is forthcoming from What Books Press in 2014. She is an Associate Professor at California State University, Long Beach and co-editor of POOL: A Journal of Poetry ( Seyburn grew up in Detroit. She earned a BS and an MS in Journalism from Northwestern University, an MFA in Poetry from University of California, Irvine, and a Ph.D. in Poetry and Literature from the University of Houston.

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