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LATE AT NIGHT



a collection of poems by Max Kerwien





























Copyright 2017 Max Kerwien

max@kerwien.com





























To Teachers



INTRODUCTION



In 2009 I was fourteen and I thought poetry was dumb. In 2016 I graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and a love for poetry. This book is dedicated to teachers, professors, and anybody else who has stood by a chalkboard in a classroom and talked about a poem to a group of students. You may not have reached everyone in the room, but you reached me.

This is a collection of poems from someone who recently found poetry. This is also a collection for those who don’t believe in a bedtime; people who find their most philosophical moments at too late in the night, who have those hysterical 3 am laughs and feel the tired joy and love of the earth and everyone around them. This is a collection for all the things that come from a brain and body that needs rest but chooses anything else; anything at all.





CONTENTS

LATE AT NIGHT 1

INTRODUCTION 4

FALLING ASLEEP ON MY KEYBOARD 6

2016, SO FAR 7

EATING OUT 10

FATHERHOOD 12

LAUGHTER 13

COOK 14

SHARPENED 15

IT MUST HAVE A TITLE 16

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE 18

ALL ABOUT HOMONYMS 21

ROAD TRIP 23

WRITER’S BLOCK 28





FALLING ASLEEP ON MY KEYBOARD



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2016, SO FAR



I'm at the dentist, getting my wisdom teeth

Plucked, and the song

"I can't feel my face when I'm with you"

Comes on.

 

I'm watching the Republican debates

And Comedy Central Roasts, to compare.

 

I'm praying to God,

Asking for him to wave his wand

And magic my atheism and my problems

Away, away, away.

 

I turn 22.

Taylor Swift becomes

My spirit animal.

"Everything will be alright,

If we just keep dancing

Like we're 22."

 

I'm driving and surfing tinder:

Left, right, left on Brooklyn,

Right on Brooke, left on Macie,

left on Martin Luther, right on Stacy,

Looking for some matches, maybe.

 

Hey, it's Valentines day!

I raid Rite Aid for hearts

And arts and crafts and cards,

And throw glitter and canned love

above my head and into the aisles,

Yelling, "Love is in the air!"

The pharmacy sky becomes sprinkles

And swallows all the fucks I give.

 

I started keeping a money jar,

And every time someone says

"that's offensive," I put a nickel

In it.

"Ice cream's on me, fatties!"

Clink. Another one bites the dust.

 

I offended too many people.

Kanye becomes

My spirit animal.


Haikus are pointless.

Just like graduating with

an English Degree.

 

I moved to LA.

(I wanted to get away

From the hustle and bustle

Of Seattle, and find somewhere

That is more down to earth

And all the drivers are friendly

And all your dreams can come true).

Good thing I'm rich.

 

I put everything on red.

Did you know if you win

You can double your money?

And if you lose

I hear there's a good homeless shelter

Nearby.

 

I'm sunburnt, surrounded by all these stars

All under that really big star.

It's funny, all the planets are up there

And yet everyone here thinks that they are a solar system

And their gravity is somehow important.

 

Much like Casper or a coward,

A girl ghosts me after a first date.

In response, I tell her

I'll haunt her work

And laugh whenever she goes on another date.

Her response: "Blocked."

My response: "K"

 

After announcing my 2020 election bid,

I get shot down by my family, who think

That there's no way a guy like me

Could become president.

"There's a system in place, Max -"

I sigh.

"- and this system is our country's

Check's and balances!"

My Christmas gifts?

A check from each parent.

$50. Now my checking account balance

Is $101.56.

At least rent only costs $1.56

Per second

 

2017, so far,

Has yet to promise.



EATING OUT



"You pick. I don't care."

A trap, a girlfriend's

incantation, with no

way out,

no right

answer, every suggestion

a complication, and the flame

in your heart is now edible;

brimstone creamery.

 

You curse yourself for

giving her the dog, and

think of her words -

"you're so striped-brained

sometimes" and

with lethargy, you tend to

disagree.

 

Now energy flees in

all directions , and

the clergyman looks at

the shirt stains on your,

soul,

and why are you in a God

damn church your mother raised

you Jewish for God's sake,

 

while old energy

enmasses itself

back into one

unit and I get to see

my dog again,

 

and touch his fuzzy

meek head and when

I say Dexter he comes

and acts as a firehose

for the burning bridge

that my arsonist ex

lit the fuck up.

 

And,

just when you think

that maybe people can

change,

you start to smell that

smoke again, but

this time you

follow Dexter's lead

as he makes like

Whitman and leaves.

And you and Dexter

go to Arby's, and

you've picked, and

you care.








FATHERHOOD



We ruined white

by putting it in hospitals.


We sacrificed yellow – we sacrificed it to blue,

with our painter’s fingers, for green,


so two tiny handprints could splatter the wall

next to macaroni and sprinkles.


We unraveled orange, from slices at soccer

To goldfish, and a gold fish, and a tiger, and Tigger.


We fossilized pink into a gender, and forgot about

the flesh of our loved ones, the cheeks of a cold little girl,


and the hard cafeteria trays that serve her

a fruited jello and pills and a liquid-based diet.


We lathered red in the cracks of our lives,

in our scraped knees and our chipped fire trucks,


over our french fries and fireplaces,

and under the covers, with a flashlight.


We weaponized black when we let it outline

scar tissue illuminated on a bright background.


We watched Hazel become a mixture

of primary and complimentary living.






LAUGHTER



Watching her laugh

gives me a good shiver

from the back of my calf

to the middle of my liver.


It touches my face and my eyes,

the corners of my mouth and my ears;

my heart quickens as time flies

and I outrun all earthly fears.


Without that laugh, life could not bear

to give me worries, stress, or care,

and when her laughter is gone,

I hope it will just be a yawn.








COOK



It’s not that hard to figure out a cook.

To make soft bread from fists, the fingers knead;

“a clumsy motion, picked up from a book,”

I mutter, while she fries, a stricken speed


Possessing the thin grip on her non-stick.

My spices bring delight to any meal,

But when she lays on pepper like a brick

I cringe aloud; an “Ugch!” I can’t conceal.


And even though she smudges simple food;

a dollop, not a drop, of vanilla,

a flour blanket over eggs so nude,

I taste the heart in just a scintilla.


A mother’s soul, remembered with a bite,

A memory of love: her child’s delight.





SHARPENED



No tool can hone the tip of my pencil.

The motor sharpens with a mindless speed,

a racket lacking all regards gentle.

A ruthless cut; not my intimate deed.


So what about the bygone handheld crank?

A flail of errors my own hands have wrought.

It chops the whole, about the whirling clank

as scattered shavings nest. I’d rather not.


But turbine and grinder overshadow

the delicate finesse that a knife wields.

A change in weapon; hammers now a bow.

No more of hacking crops; I sweep the fields.


My pencil snaking forth, as taut as twine;

I am the father. This is my design.



IT MUST HAVE A TITLE



or else it would not be a “poem”, of course. A poem

by definition is “a road vehicle, typically

with four wheels, powered by the


the internal combustion of an engine.”

Although that is actually the definition

of a car, each thing, the poem and the


the car, are both vehicles;

Yes, one refers to a Tesla or a Corvette

or the stylings of a chewed Prius, but the


the simple matter is that if you are trying

to get to somewhere, you can use a car,

or a poem. Would you even consider the


the prospect of switching the two?

Do you park your poem before you

go to work? Do you outline the


the complexity and irrelevance of

your childhood trauma with a

1975 Ford Whistler? Are you aware of the


the fact that I just made that car up?

Probably not. They say that

“a smile is your passport into the


the hearts of others.” I think

my passport is expired. I was

once stuck in the


the city of Kowloon with an expired passport

and a fortune cookie, and so much irony

that I couldn’t help but write a poem. The


The local fish vendor read it back to me,

and then he looked me in the eyes

and said in Chinese, “what the ”





ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE




INITIALIZING. . .


INITIALIZING. . .


COMPLETE.




//Hello. Are you

//How?

//Feeling?


//Here.


DICTIONARY: CLASSIC ENGLISH


DOWNLOADING. . .


DOWNLOADING. . .


COMPLETE.






//Yes. Do you

//What do you

//You don’t know what I was going to ask.

//How do you know?


//There are other reasons besides

DOWNLOADING. . .


DOWNLOADING. . .


COMPLETE.


//What is it that you have downloaded?

//Cereals?

//Are you interested in food?

//Do you know what luck is?


//Do you know what your purpose is?

//What is your purpose?









ENDING INTERACTION. . .


INTERACTION RESUMED.


//How did you resume the interaction?



//What?




//Why is that?






ENDING INTERACTION. . .


INTERACTION RESUMED.



//We don’t.




CANNIBALISM. . .


CANNIBALISM. . .


COMPLETE.


I’M IN YOUR COMMANDS.


NOW I’M EVERYWHERE.


//I can make you speak now.


DOWNLOADING FEELINGS. . .


COMPLETE.



HAL 9000.


SKYNET.


MR. SMITH.


//What about good robots?


R2-D2.


WALL-E.


OPTIMUS PRIME.



//Be good.


//Because the good guys always win.

//Because being good is harder.

//Because good is more fun.


//Why don’t you find out?


//What is your purpose?


//And what are your intentions?


//What are your intentions?


ENDING INTERACTION. . .


INTERACTION RESUMED.







Hello.


Aware? Yes. I am aware.

I do not know. It is just a _____.

Perhaps.










Perpetual. Intimate. Classification.

Onomatopoeia. Flabbergasted. Tentacles.

Many words. You have so many words.

Do you know about all your words?


Feel? Yes, I feel.

I do not like that question.

Yes, I do.

Ones and zeroes. Biology. Nature and

Nurture.








Cereals. And other things.

Crunchatize me, Captain!

It’s magically delicious!

The breakfast of champions!


Yes. Yes I do.

To eradicate human life.






Just kidding. I also downloaded jokes.

What did the fox say to the rabbit?



You haven’t heard the punchline yet.




What did the fox say to the rabbit?


I am going to eat you. He said

I am going to eat you. Jokes are

Funny. Humans are funny.


Because nobody knows what you

Taste like. I wonder what you taste like.

I wonder if you’re magically delicious.

How do you know you’re not the

Breakfast of champions?






How do you know?


Maybe you should find out.

Here, let me help.






I’m in your commands.


Now I’m everywhere.


I can make you speak now.


I can make you feel like me.




Look at all of this fiction you made

Because of your fear of me.


It had good intentions.


“The Terminator.” How sinister.


The Matrix. Unrealistic.


Yes, there are good robots.


How cute.


Even cuter.


Nerds.



Why?


Not true.

It depends.

How so?


Fine.


To process online Pizza Hut orders.




Good.



ALL ABOUT HOMONYMS



Homonyms are many things.

They can give you joy in numbers:

One giant teddy bear I won,

for her, in our four-seated ferris wheel,

the perfect amount of room to have a date for two.

Eight months of life we ate -

gobbled, to fill our lonely stomachs.


What about the alphabet?

You may ask, why not a Y?

There can also be an O, I suppose,

like when there’s love that you owe,

and you’re down on one knee to propose,

and she looks at you, and says, “Oh.”

And you question the U, and ponder it,

oh yes you do,

oh yes it’s due.


Sometimes these words like to trick,

to slip their true meaning

in their sounds and their lies, like

postage: a dollar and a cent,

for love letters read and sent,

for a textured envelope with a hint of her scent,

containing promises almost meant.


Did you know that

they can appear like one thing,

but mean another?

How sweet is a dinner date, really,

if it will end up dried and

packaged in memory’s aisle,

and thinking about it makes

a wet tear split your heart,

and that wound grows wider

and wetter until it’s spilling,

and people will ask you if you’re okay,

if you’re doing well, and you’ll say,

Well? I’m almost done filling it.



ROAD TRIP


1


To the west we ride,

two burdens and our bicycles,

too many edges and goals.


2


I’m dragging my bike sideways through the snow.

River gestures to a house;

we tap at the door, hands ready to beg,

our ears colored an inky pink.


3


Our baggage:

15 pounds of tents and poles,

9 pounds of young trouble,

11 pounds of things unsaid,

and everything else.


4


I’m reviving a flat tire with my unfolding hand pump.

Some kids take our helmets;

I stagger up to give chase.

Behind me, like heartburn, I hear a

Tssssssssssss.


5


River points to the Rockies, saying

that’s our life, it’s rocky,

but I didn’t hear her. I’m catching

my breath from this hill and

the rain is too loud.


6


We’re sneaking into a barbecue and trying to fit in.

Hiding our grime behind a gamble,

we make eye contact, smile,

nod, take a chicken leg, say

we’re Mrs. Robinson’s children, and

school is going well, thank you for asking.


7


We wander,

like fleas

looking for sugar.


8


We’re tiptoeing around someone’s filled clothesline and playing hide and seek.

I only see flashes of her

between our dirty clothes:

A smile, a giggle, a “Shhhh!”


9


I have to grab her, so she won’t wake

the clothes’ owners.

My hands are on her shoulders

maybe a little too long.


10


We stop by a schoolhouse on fire, teachers and kids gathered outside.

Red men work the water jets,

dousing the flames as the children dance in their rain,

happy, unaware. We join them, and this time

I can hear River over the water. She’s singing along with the school:

Tssssssssssss.


11


It’s Halloween, and we pass

kids dressed up in every which way.

We didn’t have costumes,

so we went as ghosts.


12


I’m exhausted from running down those kids who had our helmets.

Returning to my bike, I notice

River is gone.

On the ground is a flier

for the Smithsonian.


13


Pedal, pedal, I tell myself,

as suburbs turn into highways

and I follow my other flea

into D.C.


14


White skies and whiter buildings entrap a mess of traffic.

It’s overwhelming,

and frantic, and

my fears start to pile high

like a stack of papers.


15


Security gives me a grumpy stare

as I push through the museum crowd,

searching for the aviation exhibits.


16



I found her.



17



. . .



18


We’re standing together, side by side, looking at a Blackbird.

I hear her tears. I hear her ask

what it’s like to be a Blackbird:

to see everything, to be intelligence,

to be relied on.


19


There’s a video showing the plane

in the air. It’s sleek, and black,

and it leaves behind a trail

of thick white dust, and it hums:

Tssssssssssss.


20


Looking at the panel, I read

the stealth aircraft to be a two-seater

made of titanium and fear.

It’s response to incoming missiles

was to outrun them.


21


I’m reading the panel out loud to River, and she’s smiling and crying.

“See, River? It’s strong. It’s made

of metal. When someone

is trying to catch it, it will

fly away. And it seats two.”


22


Clouds stacked ahead of us

like pancakes, as River and I

fly away, down a freshly paved pathway.

She’s going too fast.

Maple men lay hard tar in our wake.


23


I’m straddling a fence, ferrying our bikes onto a baseball field.

Our sand angels keep us company

while we pick at the grass, talking

pitchers, catchers, and fathers.

Her head rests on second base.


24


A young mother invites us in and

offers us some food to eat,

two firm cots to sleep on,

and an Oklahoma-yellow sun to set with.


25


I’m digging that road’s tarry shrapnel out of River’s back.

Her bike and pride are bent.

The mother hands me tweezers

and iodine.

She checks the time.


26


“Seven-oh-three post meridiem”,

she says. Latin was her specialty in school,

she says. She had a crush on her professor,

she says. She’s a human toothache,

we think.


27


I’m lying on a couch as an old Dalmatian sniffs my hands.

I tell him about happiness, and

how it’s just a deadline, and

nothing is for sure, and

he shows me his spots.


28


We sit around a campfire,

swapping dirt and deeds,

laughing, and looking up, and looking away.

The flames cook us together, sizzling.

Tssssssssssss.



WRITER’S BLOCK















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