"The Shadow of the Valley" & Other Poems

Detail from Untitled #57 (Pruss) by Josh Azzarella, whose work can be found at joshazzarella.com.

A Note from the Editor

Matt Hart is a poet of enormous vroom. Vast with Whitman’s cosmic warmth but reckless with his own outbursts of punk intensity, Hart has been writing and performing his work among the broken dolls and mummies of the poetry world for years with an indefatigable diligence that fills me with optimism for the art. And he has refused to cool off; his passion for art and life is evident in everything he writes even as his concerns have become more domestic and domesticated: those of a husband, father and teacher. The once-lead-singer of Squirtgun is now a family man. All those years of willfully deranging your senses, then what? You become a college professor!

A fundamental challenge for poets of Hart’s generation, coming after the scorched earth, end-of-the-world ironies of language writing and post-structuralisms that have devolved in part to the perpetual air quotes of hipsterism, has been to find a means to say anything, to recover any sense of, if not the genuine, at least the possibility that the genuine can be achieved through artistic mediums. For Hart that is accomplished by action, the fury of making a poem, which is why so many of his poems are inspired by their own making, their own apparatus; they set themselves off by the clatter of themselves. Everything is instrument, is instrumental. One feels a voracious spirit that has a profound faith in artifice, that the making of a poem and the making of a life are inextricably bound together and not only worthwhile but capable of magnificence.
                                                                                              —Dean Young




Song of Myself

I think it as endless as a white-haired old man,
an old woman going greener with the mowing
and the grass. By which I mean everything absolute
and blendered. Nothing escaping the swirl of experience.

Nothing escaping the great distance of stars.
The great closeness of each other when we bend
to help each other. The minutes pass slowly over;

they are lights we rush into. Over and over
in summery bright boxes. And this afternoon, watering
flowers, I thought of by whom they were planted
and died a little as all of us die a little, dripping

and dropping, so unfathomable blue. But mostly
I lived a little more than I usually do, and the marigolds
whispered resonance, electrical buzz in the honeybee’s drone.

I say this as much for my own ear as any. I want to hear
Life as it motors all along. The mechanical deer
and the cardinal mostly rusted. The swing on its chains
hanging still with no body. All these worldly particular things

pay attention to something and/or are attended to
by something. A child’s mouth full of berries—when I look,
she isn’t looking. I think there a red and black planet

through the pulp. Reading later, Walt Whitman,
it occurs to me how alien is everything familiar
and also how familiar is the soul going hammered.
Orbic and galactic, I sink beneath a treeness,

like nothing on earth      I have listened.



The Shadow of the Valley

The shadow of the valley
is a placeholder for the valley,
a reminder that a body stands
between those stands of bleachers,
or this stand of trees or the neighborhood
watchers standing around watching
birds fly back and forth from their nests
to the gardens in every Westwood
neighborhood, all the while casting shadows
that somehow don’t look like birds
but like people wondering
what’s going on, like Marvin Gaye
in his song “What’s Going On”
from his album of the same name.
On the cover he’s wearing
a red wool hat, an image my friend
used in something he wrote and then
later read in front of an audience
in Iowa to get them to participate.
When I say, “Red wool hat,” he said,
you say, “Marvin Gaye.” “Red wool hat,”
he said. “Marvin Gaye,” we said,
“got murdered by his father in 1984
under somewhat confusing
circumstances,” but there was a gun
involved and an argument, so
how confusing is it? It isn’t
like we don’t know what happens
when people pull triggers
at people, even in broad daylight
listening to The Clash singing
“Somebody Got Murdered”
which was a song on their triple album set
Sandinista. The Sandinistas
were Socialists rebels who came
to power in Nicaragua in 1979
by overthrowing Anastasio
Samoza Debayle, a dictator
friendly to the United States.
The United States has been friendly
with lots of dictators. Anastasio
Samoza Debayle was only one of them.
Saddam Hussein was another.
Dictators usually meet horrible ends.
Many videos on the Internet attest to this
Recently the immediate events preceding
the death of Libyan dictator
Muammar Gaddhafi were captured
on a cell phone video camera.
He has blood running down his face
and can be heard to say, “Do you not know
the difference between right and wrong?”
Later he was ended with a gun
or maybe many of them. No one really knows.
Sometimes dictators are ended with guns,
but often, as was the case with Gaddhafi,
they are beaten first, or dragged
through the streets. I would not like to be
dragged through the streets or beaten
by a mob or ended with a gun. I would not
like to be ended at all, as I bet
you also would not like to be ended,
though we both know that some day
will be the last one we get,
and this often causes some confusion
and trepidation and fear, because
nobody knows what death is,
but it’s pretty certain
that on that day we will be utterly alone,
even if there are people who we love
right beside us. They will not go with us.
If we’re lucky they will sing us
an old, favorite song, or open a
so we can listen to the birds.



To You at Forty from Me Right Now

You are four and I am forty, and it is Friday at 4:40
in September, 2010. I have been waiting

for this moment to tell you some things,
or maybe this moment has been waiting for me.
It’s hard to know much of anything, but

everything seems in perfect alignment,
and I am not one to argue with perfection

when I can find it, though I do take issue with the way
things seem. Here is a grain of salt for you
to take me. The two of us kicking a ball in the yard.

This morning we were running late, and when you couldn’t
find your rabbit, you cried, so I helped you look for her,

but I couldn’t find her either. You took a pony
to school to show your friends instead
and I came back to a mountain of work

and looking some more for your rabbit.
Another cup of black coffee. Another list to check off

this lucky and frustrating life, this stressed-out every second,
this incredible constant scribble. At breakfast
you made a drawing for me, and we talked about expression.

I showed you pictures in a Cy Twombly monograph.
You said those are just like “me” and then

one of the sculptures you compared to the bones
in your arm, and I thought of dinosaurs, but didn’t
bring it up, and when I showed you the Basquiat drawings,

you pointed to one with a coal black face, “That’s me
when I’m angry” and a few pages later

you were tickled by a “monster” with “one pink ear
colored pink.” “Why is that one pink,” you asked, and I said
because expressive works aren’t necessarily about the way

things look, but about the way the artist feels and thinks.
You made another drawing with bright fast strokes.

Rabbit exploding with a runway tongue, devil-blue devil
in a suit with a contract. Everything happens so fast
I can’t take it. Yesterday is already tomorrow and the next day.

The grass and the leaves on the trees stay green,
and then suddenly it’s Halloween, it’s July, I’m in China.

You’re in Martha’s Vineyard. You’re at King’s Island.
If you’re reading this poem, I am seventy-six, or maybe I am not.
You miss me or I miss you, or we miss each other,

even in the midst of being together. It is always this way
with people. Call me right away when you get this.



These poems have been drawn from a portfolio appearing in the January issue of The American Reader, which can be purchased here.

The American Reader stopped publishing in 2015.
This is a living archive of our work.