Quincy R. Lehr
Quincy R. Lehr was raised in Norman, Oklahoma and presently lives in Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in print and online
venues in the U.S., UK, Ireland, Australia, and the Czech Republic, including American Arts Quarterly, Cadenza, The Chimaera, Crannog, The
Dark Horse, Measure, The Raintown Review and The Shit Creek Review. His first book of poetry, Across the Grid of Streets,
was published by Seven Towers (Dublin) in April 2008, and his second, Obscure Classics of English Progressive Rock, is due out shortly. He is
associate editor of The Raintown Review.
No ghosts as yet, but just a hint of fever
(the fan’s still in its box) and foreign noise.
A virgin phone squats on its new receiver.
Undusty window sills are bare but ready
for clocks, for brown, anaemic plants, their poise
temporary, fragile and unsteady.
There have been other places, across the river,
or oceans, time zones—other furniture,
with curtains cutting light to just a sliver,
those old apartments populated still
with women whom you recollect as ‘her’.
They haven’t called; you doubt they ever will.
Each lease becomes an act of... not forgetting,
but somehow letting go. Old places live
with different faces in a familiar setting:
lives you’ll never know, but comprehend,
scenes of errors not yours to forgive,
broken hearts no longer yours to mend.
The bit-part actor takes a hurried drag,
stubs the cigarette with a velvet shoe,
and makes his entrance from stage left to say,
Clubs, bills, and partisans! strike! beat them down!
Down with the Capulets! down with the Montagues!
First Citizen’s speech is over. Exeunt.
The scene’s been set. The actor heads backstage
then has a whiskey in the bar next door.
Four acts to go on stage. We know the plot—
the balcony, the swooning, the belated
realization the Citizen was right—
although he’s gone and long since out of costume,
faded into anonymity,
the greater, uncommemorated suffering.
Thou Art Weighed in the Balances...
This is the story of a bunny—
add batteries and watch him go
in every unforeseen direction.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Someone whispers on my shoulder.
Angel? Devil? I don’t know.
Signs and wonders? Choices, choices!
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Dream of graphs that rise like mountains—
settle for a slight plateau.
It’s all downhill; the lift is broken.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Fireworks and a beer-soaked picnic,
Auld Lang Syne, hung mistletoe.
Same old headache in the morning.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
This bunny’s not a mere digression,
a rude eruption of the flow
leading to your show’s resumption.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Pick a designated driver.
Use protection. No means no.
This is the blood of…Christ, go figure.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Another loophole in the system.
Bombs explode. Volcanoes glow.
Markets plunge. There goes the weekend.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
That pink-furred prick is always drumming,
pushing onward, to-and-fro.
Mene mene tekel upharsin.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Originally Published in The Irish Left Review
Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
Cold comfort, yes, that last descending line
that sinks into the rafters and the pews,
a seeming Pyrrhic triumph over death
that comes like backaches or the evening news
as we move on. A million lights will shine
against the empty sea.
We hold our breath,
or hold our loved ones. Cling with all our might!
Cling to unproven promises, the trust
that neither side has earned, although each must
preserve the proper forms and get it right.
Pause as the organ drones; the coalescence
of images and faces and abstraction
is broken by a cough, our very essence—
a sickly rasp, a faint, half-hearted action.
A fallacy, perhaps, and Lazarus
lies decomposed and stinking, while the stone
stays in its place. Neither alive nor dead,
we face that old uncertainty, alone
and in the outer darkness, each of us
pretending that we somehow hold the thread
that leads us out of here.
A murmured prayer
recalls a song and others who have passed
this way before. We wonder, at the last,
if other voices fill the rustling air.
Originally published in New Walk
There’s thudding from the floor above that never seems to
I’m trying to sleep, or waiting for the other shoe to drop
as midnight clomps toward 2 AM and hours of darkness
into the gray of going to work. This rent’s a fucking swindle.
Where’s my damn connection gone? The internet’s too slow.
Get me Jobs or get me Gates. Those bastards need to know.
I called her on a Friday, and we swore that we would meet.
I hailed a taxi, ended up along a different street—
similarly named, but swathed in layers of graffiti.
A drip of sweat ran down my neck; the air was cold and sleety.
Where’s that old-time romance gone? Who will sigh and blubber
over at hers at 3 AM with a lavatory rubber?
I saw a TV talking head while ordering a bagel
who talked about the budget mess—but then he quoted Hegel
about the end of history. Some Weltschmerz is okay,
but save it for the pop songs, man, and don’t get in the way.
Where’s my hometown paper gone? The owner’s on the run
from ranters on the blogosphere. Something must be done.
He met my eyes and shook my hand, and though you wouldn’t know it,
that jerk-off in a business suit calls himself a poet/
critic/impresario and manages quite well.
He smiled and quoted Dante, but I only thought of Hell.
Where’ve our tortured artists gone, Catullus or Syd Barrett?
Chasing after the latest grant and following the carrot.
The upstairs stomps are quicker now and spreading to the hall.
My head’s beneath the pillow. Damn it—won’t she ever call?
I half hope that she’s safe in bed and blithely fast asleep,
but fantasize her all alone and looking up mid-weep.
Where’s the just comeuppance gone? What happened to bad karma?
It got renamed and bottled up and bought out by Big Pharma.
There’s violence in the movies, and there’s violence on TV;
there’s violence on the city streets…. Fuck off! Don’t talk to me!
There’s anger in the headlines, and there’s fury in the verse
spat out at downtown open mikes. I don’t know whom to curse.
Where’ve the old-time standards gone? The censors look forlorn
from hip hop, emo, techno, goth. What happened to the porn?
Times Square’s gone all Disneyfied. The red-light district’s blue.
Godspeed to all you chicks with dicks, and hello, Scooby-Do.
Farewell, Adult Emporium! You’re now a clothing store,
maybe a Planet Hollywood—and God knows which sucks more.
Where’s my filthy city gone? They smothered it in bleach,
hired a doorman, raised the rent, and placed it out of reach.
What’s to blame? Is it our greed or lack of common sense?
Is it violence in our past, or just incompetence?
Perhaps it’s economic or the crush of circumstance.
Or was it just a thwarted wish to get into her pants?
Where’s that upstairs thumping gone? The silence settles deep
into the still and humid air. I still can’t get to sleep.
Originally published in Measure
Art House Cinema
Accordion music’s joined by clarinet
and then the director’s name, a cityscape,
a human form, still just a silhouette.
A shot. The shadow’s down. A quick escape
as the well-known actor’s name bursts through the gloom,
followed by the girl’s, though in this room,
we know the plot already, from a class
or book or film review, what to expect
from the director’s work—a weekend pass,
a retrospective, and a familiar name,
a shibboleth of awe, at least respect
or reverence, the reason that we came.
Think clichés—how opposites attract,
how he met her, or how the fight was won,
the underdogs who carry the second act
with dignity—although it’s in good fun.
But here, tonight, it’s slightly more abstract
in black and white. And this is how we like it—
take the convention, batter it, and strike it
with something else. The opening scene’s begun
on a European street
all age and shadows, early summer heat
implied by the heroine
in a svelte new sun dress, delicate and thin
as a modish cigarette
(the actress will get cancer, but not yet),
and the hero of the caper
sips coffee as he burrows through the paper
at a picturesque café—
ironic calm, since trouble’s on the way.
The actor speaks his line—
subtitled, yes, but we all think that’s fine
despite the bad translation
and revel in the iconic situation
and settle further in our seats to see
what lies in store for them, and you, and me.
The griminess of plot and seedy bars
that dot the film like tumors as our hero
chain-smokes through misfortune, dodging cars
in search of a fortune—or reprieve?—drops out,
and as we go from racing speed to zero,
we stop for a moment near a waterfront.
The key’s to always
get it, not to pause
or linger on ideas till the end,
but focus on procedure—the swift caress
of tracking shots, the way the lights portend
significance, the slight off-kilter clause
in a sentence. It’s all in the technique—
fifty years ago or just last week,
her face has stayed that oval of remorse,
her line that classic of the femme fatale
(though only understood as text, of course,
in yellow script). This is what we seek
in shadows-and-caves suggestions of celluloid:
a moving, pure alignment of it all.
Extras in the background play at cards.
The city’s emptiness becomes a void
beyond established landmarks. Her and him.
Or maybe not, although they’re at the center
of the shot, an alternate dimension
between the exposition of the plot
and some conclusion that will skirt convention.
But still we linger. This is the money shot,
the poster on a wall, the cultured hard-on,
the pregnant moment that the lovers part on
to be reunited only near the end
in farcical mischance that hardly matters.
Despite the car chase and the final splatter,
this is the mise en scène
that will transcend
the train ride home, the vagaries of style.
We won’t forget his shout, her rueful smile.
Darkness, always darkness, at the start,
and silence till the closing credits roll.
The audience retreats into itself,
an act of solipsism for the art
of reverential silence, of control
of feelings that we cannot call our own.
Our passions stay uncooled
within our bundled clothes, and all are fooled
by silent soliloquies
that argue with the images one sees
onscreen or in the slush
of a February night. The sluggish rush
to reach the train slows down.
Is that something glowing in the brown
of a melting pile of snow?
What’s that doing
here? We don’t quite know—
a cast-off cigarette
lies in a drift, smoldering and wet.
And then we walk away
to a city street, a different shade of gray,
and a static traffic jam,
and you’re still you, and I’m still what I am.
Originally published in American Arts Quarterly
A Change of Season
A sunny girl from Northern climes,
hair and skin both honey-bright
with wide blue eyes, and in the grey
of an early spring, exuding light,
she reeks of health. Her diary
is crammed with fitness, every date
a rushed itinerary, full
of things to keep her in that state—
aerobics and organic fruit
—rip the flesh and suck the pips!—
bike to work from a D4 home…
until one day, her bright gaze slips
and falls on him, Italianate—
subtle, with a hint of threat,
bling on his finger. And his voice
cloys with a charm that makes her wet.
So he’s ‘in business’—various things—
the sort of wealth with wads of cash
from nowhere in particular,
a sleek Mercedes, and a stash
of blow from South America
back at his place (with potpourri
above the toilet, and the sink
crowned with mousses from Italy.
Fast-forward through frenetic nights,
romantic dinners, snorted coke,
flowers delivered to her work,
their favourite song, their private joke.
He takes the gambit, and succeeds.
A ring’s produced, and she says yes
on a long walk through Phoenix Park.
The wind is blowing from the west,
wafting and dulcet, as the sun
sinks down behind the stands of trees,
promising in a breathless rush
a life of indolence and ease.
But still, they pack and make their way
to meet the ‘Family’, now hers,
with bodyguards and smoking wives
with Gucci bags and hideous furs.
Proserpina looks up and gasps,
stupid in her shock, her scream
unuttered as they pull her down,
beyond the reeking, corpse-choked stream
burbling with the failing pleas
that echo through the dark and wet,
rushing into darker caves
beyond forgiveness or regret.
Originally published in The Dark Horse
A Certain Point of View
Take an errant strand of hair
And hold it to the mirror.
Observe the shots of grey
That will not go away.
Your vaguely sunken chest is bare.
The warning sign is clearer.
No signal of distress
Will spring you from this mess.
You got the girlfriend, took the job
But swore that you were missing
The promise of a dream,
And soon enough the team
Dismissed you to the bench to sob
Your useless reminiscing
That might as well be true.
A certain point of view
Refracts the truth like spectacles
Bend light to aid eyes’ weakness.
That aching in the wrist,
That winsome girl you kissed
Who grabbed you by the testicles
And forced you into meekness…
Was it all a lie
That led to that good-bye?
Some men marry; some do not
And sleepwalk through their lives
Half-dressed with noses filled with snot
And glares for those with wives.
She kissed you in the parking lot
And whispered in a stammer
Of things that people do,
And after it was through,
You wished there was a second shot
In timing or in grammar.
But no, there's no such luck,
And so you pass the buck
To parents, preachers, passers-by,
The economic system,
Your current state of health—
Or current lack of wealth.
The constant silence of the sky
Reminds you that you missed them:
The one-off shots at fame,
The season-clinching game.
But life goes on like TV shows
Re-run on basic cable
Past any relevance.
The pesky present tense
Will melt like February snows
Seen from the kitchen table.
The spring comes like a bet
Left uncollected yet.
But dreams sustain us like a pill,
And so we dream and hope
To fight off bouts of getting ill
With mantras used like dope.
Originally published in Across the Grid of Streets
The Rest of the Story
There is no cause but this—a speeding train,
a damsel on the track. But it's not clear
why she was hog-tied as the train grew near,
or why the hero dashed across the plain
at great risk to himself. And did the villain
want her money, did he want revenge,
or what the hell’s the story? Who will fill in
the damned ellipses? Therein lies the tinge
of bias, pious declarations, stock
melodrama, studies in archetype,
varying degrees of smut and hype,
specifics added in for added shock,
piano players plonking through a score
of tunes we know by instinct, our certitude
the girl’s, the hero’s. He’ll be back for more
next week, his hair in place, his methods crude.
Originally published in The Battered Suitcase
It's All Just Work
An urban yokel slack-jaw yawn
Came belching from behind his teeth
At curses of graffiti scrawl
While drifts of garbage spread beneath
The train like shrapnel. Just past dawn,
Commuters winced at the subway’s squall
While powdered sugar caked a sleeve
And the caffeine kicked in. Time to leave.
The train ride ended, and the walk
To crowded offices was fast,
To blinking screens and new accounts
Of someone else’s money. Past
The back-and-forth of aimless talk
And shuffling of the screens’ amounts,
The crowds were settling to a hush
An hour beyond the sugar rush.
The pitch was weak,
But the ball’s in play
For the five-day week
And the eight-hour day,
For the two-week trip
To a distant land
For a big, fat tip
From the cash in hand.
And in the evening, sheets of sweat
Clung like cologne to pallid flesh
Cooked grey by sallow lights indoors.
A change of clothes, and all was fresh
Or something like it, but the wet
Of thwarted yearning leaked through pores
And spoiled that briefly polished air
A new shirt short of debonair.
She felt no better, and her face
Relaxed in mute acceptance, bit
The rubbed-off lipstick of a smirk
As if to stop a laughing fit,
Then forced her mouth back into place.
She muttered, ‘Well, it’s all just work’,
Then settled on an absent grin,
Her mouth locked tight and eyes fenced in.
The joints will creak,
And your eyes will say
That the flesh is weak,
But the soul’s okay.
Still, the tongue will trip,
And the words you planned
Jumble up and slip
Like a groping hand.
Originally published in Across the Grid of Streets
The driving scourge, the contour of the flesh
that, flayed past any wisdom, turns to mush,
the sudden surge of wounds exposed afresh;
they lead to ruptures. As the fissures gush,
Bathsheba’s bastards from the illicit tumble
will stare at shadows, too fucked-up and frightened
to keep their act together, let things crumble,
and leave the kingdom weakened, unenlightened.
His clothing crumpled by the mantelpiece
seems to rustle slightly with his snore
that echoes with a vacuous release.
Though no one’s there, she glances at the door.
And now she turns to stare at the pictures on
the mantel, disarrayed by last night’s passion,
disturbed or just knocked over as the dawn
approached—but a progression in a fashion.
A dark-haired little girl, with all the schmaltz
of knee-length dresses, ponytails, and dolls,
a gap-toothed smile that doesn’t (yet) seem false...
or maybe a tomboy dressed in overalls
with Tonka truck in hand. A ballerina?
A Daddy’s Girl? A miniature of Mom?
A gymnast aiming for the sports arena?
A future heartbreak waiting for her prom?
A picture’s static image can’t reveal
the uncommemorated days—nor can it
capture in light the way she used to feel
some day beneath the sun on this blue planet.
The past is breached; the front collapses in.
She grasps his hand, a gesture faked by rote,
rehearsed in daydreams, wheedled out with gin.
A rumbling noise comes belching from his throat.
The neighbours note the unfamiliar car
and wonder how their property will smell
when downwind from the backwash of the bar.
His car’s up on the kerb, parked parallel.
The burglar of the body shifts and farts.
He gets up, staggers off, and urinates.
She groans, and her defences come apart
like shredded cocktail napkins, but she waits
for him to come to bed to throw him out.
Shock ricochets across his face. He rises,
dresses, holding back a furious shout
against the ‘fucking bitch’. He leaves. The crisis
is done for now, until another night,
another business trip that leaves her stranded,
lonely, and bored, with ravenous appetite
for some companionship, cajoled, demanded—
with the same results. Convenient fictions,
raw material for the shrink next week—
catharsis, yes, but mixed with dark predictions
of too much booze, a passable physique.
It does no good when he has gone away
to say it didn’t happen. Nonetheless,
she sets those thoughts aside, and through the day,
the light streams in; she watches motionless.
And where the hell’s Uriah as she moans
another’s name (or was it his?) in bed—
‘off on business’? Even though he phones—
she knows his mind is somewhere else instead,
perhaps his job and keeping her in style
while keeping far away to play at power
in conference rooms. She’ll bear it for a while,
but waits for David to see her in the shower.
The chic cafe in the poshest shopping centre,
a caramel macchiato and a paper,
while strains of some obese Italian tenor
stir in the background. But his arias taper
into some singer with a soft guitar.
The CD’s at the counter, and her friends
shift the conversation to the star
they barely hear. The tangent hits its end,
then on to the news and gossip and the kids
that Katie hasn’t had, persistent rumours
that she’d hit—and here I quote—‘the skids’.
Innuendoes metastasise like tumours.
The sagging eyelids give it all away,
the fumble for her purse, the murmured hex
against the brightness of this Saturday
afternoon. A subtle stench of sex
clings to her body like cologne. She shifts
self-consciously beneath their judging gazes,
narrowed with knowing, and by the time she lifts
the coffee to her lips, the staring blazes.
‘Are you coming to the benefit?’
Yeah right. They have to ask. Recall the scene
last winter? Then they’re talking baby shit,
God knows what else. How to keep things clean
without the hired help. And what was that?
Yes, it's Dior, and yes it's new. I know
you only mean to say I'm getting fat.
But you can’t say these things out loud. God, no.
The etiquette of malice is quite subtle,
especially served cold, reduced to craft,
shrewd as diplomacy. Emotions scuttle
the delicate interplay upon a raft
of those who tolerate each other. School
or charities or work; it doesn’t matter.
Each has its own, unstated Golden Rule.
‘Do unto others...’? Bullshit! Stick to chatter,
never show weakness. Don't come out and say it,
insinuate. And never show your hand
but damn well know how you intend to play it,
aggressive and ruthless, eager for command.
there she is, a model for us all,
brunette and buxom, eyes widely set and blue,
wasp waist, long legs, ever so slightly tall,
the stuff of songs. And what’s a man to do
except applaud? This woman’s our ideal,
a huge collective hard-on, and we see her
emerge from the contestants, almost real,
as also-rans exhale and want to be her...
drunk and spoken for and slightly mad,
a strapless gown but frumpy underwear,
weeping as the scene turns mopey-sad—
tragic or pathetic, do we care?
Well, not tonight. The moral is the same
as it is every night, at home or out,
alone or with another. Sobs of shame
from well-known sources follow every bout
till she collapses, sick, unsatiated,
into a pillow with a lusty snore.
Turn out the lights, angry but sedated.
Head for the couch and softly close the door.
The nights are cold despite the thermostat,
the duvet that she wraps up around her feet.
The nights are always dark despite the flat
outside glimmers—pale, devoid of heat.
‘It's hard being beautiful’; the expectations
prove too much sometimes, and so she rests
swathed in blankets against these situations,
arms crossed defensively beneath her breasts
against intruders, husbands, and such lovers
as come her way. It’s much more cosy here
behind the door and underneath the covers.
Repeat, repeat. There goes another year.
A few more hairs turn grey; a few more lines
crinkle from her eyes; a bit more sag
lowers her bosom. An old dress underlines
a thin expanse of flab. But still, she’ll brag
about the pictures on the mantelpiece,
a woman she resembles, but never was.
She’ll pay a shrink to rant to for ‘release’,
trying to figure out the things that cause
her to be like this, but in the night,
there’s just recrimination as the drink
recedes, and fears of age and cellulite
take over. Screw it. Tell it to your shrink
if you’ll feel better, but I’m through with you,
your false ‘new starts’. That tragic diva pose,
the things you weep—even when they’re true.
Hangovers wait beneath the pile of clothes.
Originally published in Census