Three Sonnets - Wayne Koestenbaum

Wayne Koestenbaum


[o razor in]

o razor in the bathtub, how you
     reify me—
     shampoo, too,
a species of Prometheus, promotes
     bubble déjà vu.
loving my imaginary son, and fain in
     verse to tell.
“you lack vocal chops,” he said, as if I were
     a Mies van der Rohe
     outhouse, a Big Mac
     chiming its grease bell.


Barbara Stanwyck is the Coit Tower on the hill
     of my discontent.
Slough of Despond is the coffee shop where I
     dine with Alan Ladd
gaslighting me into marriage, my hair
     a Stockard Channing 
     (Grease) rooster-comb.
I dreamt you fixed a dead lamp just
     by touching it.


Hudson river, your blue contains umber
     and lead:  slate
     Siegfried suicide-muck.
let’s conjugate Adorno:  adorno, adorni, adorna,
     andorniamo… I stole
     moral turpitude from you, padre.
“your pubes are a godsend,” I DM-ed him—
     “Star of David suspended 
     in chest forest”—wanting
     praise to land in his solar plexus.


quoth judge:  “your objection to daily spontaneous
     art-making habits
     is overruled.”
crispbread’s smooth soft underside, like arm’s
     inner skin, privatized,
     unsexed:  haptic
     regression’s mine.
her death ratifies my smallness—negligibility
     of my unanswered
     earthly envelope.


[the color yellow’s]

the color yellow’s importunate tendency to pose
     questions:  my eye
     omits the verboten “o.”
dreamt crafty Mildred Dunnock-esque French citoyenne stole
     Sontag manuscript
     (Genet essay draft)
     from my music stand when
     I shut my eyes to take
     a picture of Sontag-scrawl:
fingerpainted André Masson ligatures.  citoyenne hid the manuscript
     in her aqua housedress:  then
     she threatened to run me over
     with her Baby Jane Peugot.
at Singing Sands beach I dared her rage-car to slay me:
     I reached into her housedress
     to retrieve the Notre-Dame-
     revealing rare expression-
     ist prelude to a style later
     hardening into Volcano.


dreamt artist-baby despite speech impediment employed periodic
     sentences when interpreting
     mother-murals refusing
     to encircle and contain.
I hugged the artist-body into feral submission.  malted milk
     crumbs coated baby-skin
     like Yayoi Kusama dots.
dreamt Joan Didion draped her YSL gold-purple jacket over a couch’s
     arm near my exhi-
     bitionism:  no lunch for me,
     and a dead mouse in the pantry.
snubbed my cousin at café:  Botox-smoothed brother-leer in Rambler
     wayback discovered doppel-
     gänger’s career-gangrene—
     my debut, too, a debacle.


what if my butt produced peanut butter, edible
     economic miracle,
     nutritional nirvana,
     supernal natural resource?
think of the coverage in Scientific American!  in The
     Wall Street Journal
his cousin instantly exited life by falling
     off a ladder:
     heart attack pre-
     ceded and in-
     stigated the plunge.


moved by Moffo/Corelli Carmen and vague scent of marijuana
     by sere sidewalk’s
     soiled snowbank.
never gave proper credit to her “Seguidilla,” only now
     reckoning its late majesty.
seek non-toxic paint thinner, if non-toxicity exists:  suspicious
     tingle on tongue 
     augurs termination?


[seen, discarded in]

seen, discarded in stairwell:  Corning Ware casserole
     cover—glass, forever
     severed from the squat
     vessel it was meant
     to sumount.
toward you, glass lid, I feel no pointed grief—
     but I acknowledge
     your isolation, urn
     for pot roast fragments rewarmed.
dreamt I witnessed Julie Andrews prove again
     (on Broadway or in
     samizdat screen-test
     out-takes) her mettle—
     a knowledge staggered
(it arrived in timed phases):  my responsibility for proving
     what I’d witnessed
     lay at a 45-degree
     angle to her competence’s
     Agnes Martin arroyo-horizontality.


a line breached:  a Cherbourg pinnacle, oneiric yet actual
     (woke to discover
     Michel Legrand had died).
dream punctuation is too complex a topic to broach today.
that lonely aggrieved persecuted feeling when you post a photo
     you consider aesthetic/
     ethereal and it is deemed
     to violate community
     standards—verdict im-
     possible to appeal or reverse.
man, clutching flattened cardboard box, shouting
     “laissez passer,” voice
     hoarse, ravaged, then
     “take it easy, guys”:
     bilingual tragi-
     commotion, like dream


last night of early Callas Santuzza, voice cutting
     into stage flats, arc-
     light Voi lo sapete 
a reinterpreted virginity enclosed by rhombus-stain.
dreamt my mother-in-law criticized my dishwashing
     technique:  I in-
     insufficiently valued
     her faux-netsuke
     tea set.  my father,


telephoning her beach-cottage, used my childhood
     bedroom’s princess-phone:
     Channel 36 “The Perfect
     36” Bardot-fest poor
     reception UHF Sacramento
porn-hub of Reagan governor manse, my juvie
     nudie-addiction a rebuke
     Situationist-esque to fossil fuel’s
stranglehold on Volk-libido.  time to read Wilhelm Reich?
     time to multiply passerby
     orgasms?  stroke-utopia
     Timothy Leary animism,
     visionary jolt via taint?



Wayne Koestenbaum

Wayne Koestenbaum—poet, critic, artist, performer—has published nineteen books, including Notes on Glaze, The Pink Trance Notebooks, My 1980s & Other Essays, Hotel Theory, Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films, Andy Warhol, Humiliation, Jackie Under My Skin, and The Queen’s Throat (a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist).  His newest book of poetry, Camp Marmalade, was published in 2018.  He has exhibited his paintings in solo shows at White Columns (New York), 356 Mission (L.A.), and the University of Kentucky Art Museum.  His first piano/vocal record, Lounge Act, was released by Ugly Duckling Presse Records in 2017;  he has given musical performances at The Kitchen, REDCAT, Centre Pompidou, The Walker Art Center, The Artist’s Institute, and the Renaissance Society.  He is a Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and French at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.

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