Alexander Long


One of the chief virtues of the prose poem, as I try to write them, is space: space for despair and beauty to exist side-by-side; space for control and chaos to work interchangeably; space for subjects that perplex me as much as they obsess me; space for a voice that can sound only like me, whatever that may come to be someday.



Meditation on Anxiety

It comes from the slightest shift in light or from one cigarette too many or from too much or not enough bourbon or from Wolf Blitzer and Tony Snow and Karl Rove or from checking my bank statement or from a broken air conditioner in August or from that random memory I had today—not even a memory, really, but more a fraction of an image—a flash of a shelf-less curio with mirrors for its insides my ex and I trash-picked in Michigan seven, eight years ago and tried to clean up and used as a centerpiece in our living room to make it look bigger before she moved out and all the old shards of childhood resurfaced in quiet torrents of guilt and long of bursts of regret and muffled bouts of crying before, during, and after my trips to the shrink. The strangest thing, that half-flash, that fractal of an image: no people, no sound, hardly no setting at all, just white walls, sheer curtains caught in mid-billow, the curio’s glass doors and mirrored insides and faux mahogany finish there. Undeniably there, centered and unmovable. Neither of us wanted it anymore. For weeks, we’d negotiated who would get what: she the couch, me the coffee table, she the bed, me the TV, she two cats and the dog, me the other two cats, she the car payments, me the credit cards, she the Tiffany lamp, me the signed hardback of Wright’s This Journey, she the grief and guilt, me the grief and guilt. The curio stood there in the corner of the empty living room—I remember this distinctly, she standing there and me standing there, our arms folded, the two of us standing there, a new distance—looking at it, at us, and what to do, what to do, what to do, the sound of a foot tapping, multiple exposures of us inside the three mirrored walls of the curio, the shapes of light careening and shifting. I wanted this poem to be more than a re-telling, more than a complaint, admission. I wanted to move beyond—or at least understand—the faint pitch and frequency of what I remember and why. I wanted to talk with you, maybe help you out a little, and help myself out a little. I wanted to document one of those fractious images that seem to matter because it keeps shining and shifting until it can’t not be seen, denied. I didn’t want to end up staring into a curio again, shifting foot to foot, speechless, arms folded, walking finally into another room. That curio must still be standing somewhere, reflecting whoever is front of it.



Meditation on Denial & Isolation


I nod for coffee, and the diner table wobbles a little as I rest my head in my hand. In my other hand four sparrows quarrel over the crusts of bread B. has tucked in it. He's laughing. Apparently, his death is no different from a star's—implosion and light for at least a million years. When he asks for water, I go get it; when he drinks, it runs over his chin to his white oxford shirt. Now go get me a smoke is what I hear, so I do that too. I loved doing this, and he blows three halos the size of beer cans. Since he is here, I ask him what love is. A river in childhood when you're not a child anymore, punches me in the arm, wuss. I ask him what he is now. Depends. Bad days, for you, a cyclonic vision of salt braided over the eyes of your wife, who's bald from chemo. Good days, I'm a familiar name with some photographs…. The bell on the counter dings and someone else gets their coffee or Key lime pie. I stand up and pay, sleepy.



Moonblind is what Ground Control called Aldrin after he kept saying Sea of Tranquility over and over for an hour straight. Isolated, he compensated with a litany. Sea of Tranquility; au revoir for the air strapped to his back; affaire d'amour for those of us doing circles on the blue-eyed marble he'd slip behind his thumbnail. Many young men, with all sorts of shapely eyes, right around that time, were struck with the familiar look of puzzlement as bullets whisked through them, as if no one were there to stop their trajectory. Rice paddies, mines, LBJ, Pol Pot, Tricky Dick. Whatever works, Buzz. Keep them coming: data fata secutus; clarum et venerabile nomen; Gott mit uns; che sara, sara; zoe mou, sas agapo!



On Two Scenes from The Deer Hunter



Because B.’s a line break that hasn’t come yet. Simply because. Because grief stills his image, his image that breaks like a silver wave or a blue vase on a gray marble floor. I will always have words to fall back on, though they‘re rarely right. They form after they shatter in the eye and ear. But my grief’s purpose? To recover a white beach’s fleeting panache and wash, to piece together an indigo vase shattered and shimmering, to get to the line that never breaks too soon, as if it were in a script composed under this winter sky…? No. I can’t explain grief. It is its own end.


II. “God Bless America”

One of the last frames stills the gang over scrambled eggs and beer, a full-room shot of those who‘ve remained, more or less. “God Bless America,” and at the end Cimino zooms in on Streep, who, for a moment, smiles before memory turns on her and changes her face into that side-glance of grief directed at no one, nothing, the floor. Light shrouds her, and, for a minute, while it’s wrong, I’m in love. Then, a guitar I see in blues and grays. Her glance hovers. The tape rewinds. The TV turns to snow. The glance, the guitar, the light blue twitching across the floor flashes above my eyes, flecked and flowing, never the same way twice.

This is the grieving mind in memory, a white hush, the guitar’s ellipses and the ellipses of stars gathering outside, which I don’t see right now, but remember well enough, when I imagine them stuck in a sky that’s plain and dark.


III. Roulette

Somewhere in the middle of the film, DeNiro’s Michael returns, says take care to his friend’s wife, who's long since been trapped in her dread, mute with cyclones of imagination, what some may call a lack of closure. This friend, her husband, loses his legs to Charlie and the Red River, lives in a VA hospital now, doesn't want to leave because it's like a resort; they've got bowlin' and basketball. A third friend, AWOL, plays Russian Roulette in a Saigon basement. He dies. There’s nothing involuntary. There's nothing subtle. It has to be. DeNiro brings him home. And later, because they can't speak to each other, they sing. If no one’s home, I cry and cry and cry.



What do you want me to say? Go ahead. I deserve, like you, to be judged. Let me say that I evolve to infancy, that it’s self-inflicted, that I’m grasping at the unreachable root tip of suffering, image and after-image, free from harm, welcoming pain, gazing astonished into the mutable past, into a foreseeable future that transcends its identical twin: a stare of bewildered infatuation with the present. It’s only dangerous because the stares so closely resemble each other.

Last summer I went home to Philadelphia and, to tell the truth, I'm not sure what I went looking for. I visited a church, but I didn't go in. I didn't have to because a friend killed himself on the steps of it. You almost know his name. You know this already. And though I like to repeat myself, it is tiresome for me too, like wind. He was baptized in that church, knew nothing of that day except from pictures and the little sky-blue folder holding the certificate in the sacristy. Bland declarative sentences. Catholics. Too many times he turned the other cheek from himself and found, waiting there, himself. He didn't talk about doing it. It's none of my business. Now he's mine. Now he's a line break that’s taken me years to get to.





Alexander Long was born and raised in Sharon Hill,Pennsylvania.  He's worked as a fry cook, obituary writer, and musician.  Vigil, his first book of poems, was released in 2006 from the New Issues Press Poetry Series. His second book—Noise: A Fragmented Memoir/Prose Poems—will be released in late 2007 (RockWay Press).  Co-editor (with Christopher Buckley) of A Condition of the Spirit: the Life & Work of Larry Levis (Eastern Washington UP, 2004), Long is also the author of a chapbook, Six Prose Poems (Brandenburg Press, 2004).  His work has appeared in American Writers (Charles Scribner's Sons), Blackbird, Box Car Poetry Review, The Cream City Review, 5 A. M., Quarter After Eight, Quarterly West, The Prose Poem: an International Journal, Rivendell, Third Coast, Three Candles Journal, Unsplendid, Zone 3, and elsewhere.  He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize five times, was awarded an Academy of American Poets Prize three times (in conjunction with the University of Delaware), has received a residency from the Vermont Studio Center, and has received a fellowship from the Prague Summer Seminars.  In 2007, he was awarded an Individual Artist's Fellowship in Creative Non-Fiction from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.  He has taught at Western Michigan University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Delaware, West Chester University, and (currently) Philadelphia University.  He writes, plays, and travels with the band Redhead Betty Takeout.