Bob Hicok’s “Duh”

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Right now, I’m sitting in a hotel in suburban Denver. The lights in the room are fluorescent, which makes my skin appear almost gangrene. There is a painting of a bouquet on the wall. Nothing good’s on TV. I could be anywhere in America.

I suppose this is one of the pleasures of hotels–losing one’s bearings. All the beige carpet, beige curtains, the dull drone of the ice machine, the distant chime of the elevator.

I’m lying on the bed reading Bob Hicok to bring me back to earth. Have you read him? He’s a loquacious, lively poet who takes me by the hand and says, “Let’s talk about French kissing and grammar and death in the span of a couple dozen lines, okay?”

The book I’m reading of Hicok’s is This Clumsy Living (2007, University of Pittsburgh Press) and my favorite poem so far is “Duh.” I want to share it with you. The poem, full of non-sequiturs, in a roundabout way discusses family relationships, death, love, and primal desire. I’m always a fan of a poem that tries to tackle so much and somehow, astonishingly, pulls it off.


My father is silent and distant.

The moon is up though sometimes

to the side which is also called

over there. Coffee is better brewed

than eaten straight from the can.

When someone is dying

we should unpack the clever phrase

I am sorry. Wrenches

the wrong size should be distracted

until the right bolt arrives.

Inside your head is a map

of your house and inside that map

is where you actually live.

People doing jumping jacks

look like they’re trying

to start a fire by rubbing

the sticks of their body

together. Vague nomenclature

is not the correct response

to thank you. It’s surprising

that pencils and erasers get along

as well as they do. When dogs meet

it’s the scent gland not anus

they sniff. There’s the conviction

in every head that someone else

is happy. This is why we drool

from jets at green rectangles

of earth, why when we kiss

we push hard to reach the pillow

of the tongue. If we swapped

mistakes they might fit neatly

and with purpose into our lives.

I’ll lend you the day I locked

my keys in my mouth

if you give me the night

you got drunk and bought

a round of flowers for the house.

Whatever my father wants me

to know he tells my mother

who tells me. This reminds me

that if I put my ear to the ground

I’ll hear the stampede

of dirt no cowboy can keep

from rolling over my head one day.

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