the incognito lounge

Here in the electric dusk your naked lover
tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall against her teeth.
It’s beautiful Susan, her hair sticky with gin,
Our Lady of Wet Glass-Rings on the Album Cover,
streaming with hatred in the heat
as the record falls and the snake-band chords begin
to break like terrible news from the Rolling Stones,
and such a last light—full of spheres and zones.
August,
        you’re just an erotic hallucination,
just so much feverishly produced kazoo music,
are you serious?—this large oven impersonating night,
this exhaustion mutilated to resemble passion,
the bogus moon of tenderness and magic
you hold out to each prisoner like a cup of light?

Denis Johnson, “Heat,” The Incognito Lounge: And Other Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1994)

August,
         you’re just an erotic hallucination,
just so much feverishly produced kazoo music,
are you serious?—this large oven impersonating night,
this exhaustion mutilated to resemble passion,
the bogus moon of tenderness and magic
you hold out to each prisoner like a cup of light?

My sleeping
bag has little
cowboys lassoing bulls
embroidered all over
its pastel inner
lining, the pines are tall
and straight, converging
in a sort of roof

above me, it’s nice
oh loves, oh loves, why
aren’t you here? […],
the pyjamas are so
lonesome without
the orangutans—I write
and write, and transcend
nothing, escape
nothing, nothing
is truly born from me,
yet magically it’s better
than nothing—I know

you must be quite
changed by now, but you
are just the same, too,
like those stars that keep
shining for a long time after
they go out—but it’s just a light
they touch us with this
evening amid the fine
rain like mist, among the pines.

Denis Johnson, closing lines to “From a Berkeley Notebook” The Incognito Lounge: And Other Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1994)

My thoughts are like that,
turning and going back where nothing wants them,
where the door opens and a road
of light falls through it
from behind you and pain
starts to whisper with your voice;
where you stand inside your own absence,
your eyes still smoky from dreaming,
the ruthless iron press
of love and failure making
a speechless church out of your dark
and invisible face.

Denis Johnson, from “The Flames” The Incognito Lounge: And Other Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1994)

In the night I watch
how the little lights
of boats come out
to us and are lost again
in the fog wallowing on the sea:
it is as if in that absence not many
but a single light gestures
and diminishes like meaning
through speech, negligently
adance to the calling
of the foghorns like the one
note they lend from voice
to voice. And so does my life tremble,
and when I turn from the window
and from the sea’s grief, the room
fills with a dark
lushness and foliage nobody
will ever be plucked from,
and the feelings I have
must never be given speech.

Denis Johnson, from “Now,” in The Incognito Lounge: And Other Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1994)