Welcome to Sean Cole’s The December Project 2021.
From the time I met him in the late ’90s at the first of what is now-called The Boston Poetry Marathon, Sean Cole and I became friends and he one of my favorite poets. After the fest, Sean would mail me the occasional postcard, and I would inform him how much I truly dug his writing on them.
In late November of 2001, I sent him an overnight package with 31 self-addressed stamped postcards, asking him to write me a postcard a day for the month of December. And he did, and continued to do so for the following three Decembers, 123 poems in all (one never made it through the mail to me the first year). A year later, Boog put out its only single-author perfect-bound collection, The December Project, one I’m still damn proud of to this day.
Now, last month, November of 2021, 20 years since that first invite, I met Sean on 8th Avenue in front of a McDonald’s by my apartment, with a new invitation. This time Sean is emailing me a new poem each December day, and for the month’s final poem he’ll use the one self-addressed stamped postcard I provided him, an old flyer for our Boog Year’s Eve 2001 show at the much missed C-Note, where Sean read that first December’s final poem to those gathered.
I once gave Sean a blurb where I said, “If I could only publish one poet for the rest of my life it would be Sean Cole.” More than two decades since I met and fell in love with him and his poetry all I can say is “Ditto.” Enjoy.po
—David A. Kirschenbaum
The December Project 2021
By Sean Cole
I was 50 when I wrote this. It’s about December and her
concrete gargoyles cupping themselves “down there”
for entertainment. Not sure what Prince meant by “parties
weren’t meant to last.” The man-boy, or mannish-boy, in me reaches
through a portal in my aorta for two mezcal negronis
and a stoag. Joe Pernice called them “dirts.”
“You got a dirt?” I thought he’d said “dart” and averted.
Prince was 57 when died which means I have seven more
annos to write 1999. A man can dream, as can the kid
inside him. Tomorrow’s third hypodermia volume
looms Cheshirely like a kind moon. A girl who
threatened me one time is set to get to the bar fire
early tonight to nail us a seat. For now I slide
Brooklyn-aimed underground, clutching
the pearl onion in my dreamy martini glass.
A man just boarded the C train in order to sing
that old chestnut about Jack Frost and I want to
whap him. Moisture mooses up my nose and beard
behind my mask. Some kid is right now riding
between cars like the train cops say not to
over and and over, recorded. I can tell you there are
no trees anyplace close and I need my hands
on one to feel natured to something, some force.
It’s a need, an eagle, I never have. A city park
floats within each specimen canned up down
here, I know. A person is a kind of park, I know —
a whole arium. But it isn’t enough right now.
If a felled and naughty angel is our dinosaur
it makes sense the sullenness contained in this
jar. But we’re all parks. I’m a park, you’re definitely
a park. Curated but also doing the phantasmic work
of cells. Soon I’ll emerge at street height and breathe
the dressy air of Herkimer while I roll like a sweat
crescent down an asphalt brow hot with needle fever.
Heading back Manhattan-ward.
Man napping in electric hat.
A billboard crawl across his cap
like a brow-sized Times Square.
Red words scrolling right to left.
This is what they say:
“Check This Out…
‘The visitors are NOT our friends!
They’ve come to RAPE our planet and KILL us!
They are NOT who they appear to be!’
That line came from what 80’s mini-series?
The clue is on my jacket.
Tap me and tell me if you know.
Don’t be shy.”
JFK bar for afternoon beer pre flight
to Sandy Eggo and, later, Los Angry-less.
I nervous-travel only and tremble ‘til
I’m safely gate-side or plopped at a nearby
hop fountain like this one. Jet Blue terminal
is dull and brine-less, everybody
still tippling their Cokes except we
few, we happy band of six souses lifting off
like binge clouds. When an albatross has
an albatross around his neck does it, like,
notice? Or is that more just him, like,
visiting his mom? I’m happy
unaccountably given how different life is
now all my folks have died. There’s no one
stopping me. No stopper to this health-less
tub, though I still run some mornings
and even look up on occasion.
Baldly I aim my pointy orange boat to the loose
ocean. By “baldly’ I mean my scalp is clinging
to its last vestiges: smidge kingdoms falling
unwitnessed. Yet here I am. At 50. In a craft
with black “skirt” stretched over the body hole.
A paddle in both hands. James aims his needle
vessel seward also. We claw the jetty water past
our asses, gulls above like noisy cut-out stars.
Fishy people sentrying the boulder wall.
The vastly open, when we hit it, sounds like fear.
To me at least. James an old hat at this, keeps
dulceting “you’re doing great” type noises.
I don’t know. Half an inch of plastic’s all that’s
condoming my butt from the Pacific.
Snowman twigs for motors. A smoker’s heart.
An indoor sort. Today I learned that grunions
loft themselves upon the sand at night to lay
their eggs then somehow scuttle back to flappy
surf. I guess if they can leave their living
rooms for a minute then I can also.
Black’s Beach. We saw nude people.
The birds weren’t wearing clothes either.
United on the broad sand, birds and boobs
modeling equality. Many more of the former.
Tide so far out they’ve gentrified new sand.
Sand of new hue. “Why’s this sand so gray?”
I say. “What sand?” says James. “This,” I say
pointing down, “It’s blonder over yonder but
this sand is black.” Then it dawns on me.
“Is that why they call it Black’s Beach?!” I say.
“No,” he says.
They say it never rains in Southern California.
They are wrong. It does rain. It does not pour.
More the sky just sours, infant sadness moistening
your scalp. This day of chairs is long an studious,
an animal in pants. I won a staring bout against
a dog. We were well-matched but Scout blinked
first. Embarrassing how thrilled I was. Things
in Sandy Eggo vacillate from still to rapid
within hours. Traffic backs up in your veins
then rushes. Hot and cold running weather slowly
thrills you with its indecision. The way
tentative affections will wild your blood –
especially that gush and trickle, gush and trickle
of the unkind brand of candor. Sometimes
I feel so guilty I could just spit.
I’m on a train ride reading Train Ride by Ted Berrigan.
Andrei gave it to me, inscribed it “Take the train
with a grain of salt, Sean – you 50 year old poet in 2021.”
So I am! Surfliner from Sandy Eggo to LA. Total
other coast from Ted’s and 100 years after, minus half.
What am I doing on this train? I should be… no I should be
on this train. Next stop San Juan Capistrano.
Couldn’t find it on a map yet here we are!
There’s no other word for “conductor” so I’ll say
the conductor sounds bored as shit, intoning stations.
Coast is clear but hazy too, oh, it’s ’cause I have
my glasses off. Ocean lapping at the toes
of beachy lovers. Don’t they know I see them
necking on a bench? People write about lovers
‘cause they’re inspiring. In this shit world,
to kiss and cuddle up and even make new Teds
and Andreis and so on is just daffy faith. I love it.
It’s not my sport but what luck to get to
spectate from this shiny coach. Some mom
and dad and toddler brightly waving from
the sand just now as we caboochooed past.
Everyone’s said sorry and explained it never
rains like this. I know it’s me that’s brought it
here and feel potent like a full fog. “You don’t
have to worry,” I fail to say to them. “You’re
welcome. You can tell me any lie you want –
I’ll still wet the edges of your envelopes with
my thin spell. Everything could ruin with just
one spill. Chair season carries its holly bells
astride it. Deluge ukulele strains. One plink
then another. Then a wink. Pause. Then
the heavens mailing letters to our shoes.
I’m watching Kelly in the waves.
She paddles out. They bash her.
But she stays. Soon distinctless
from the other shadows frogging
in the breaks. They sit and wait.
Tips high. Patient. Then a lot of
spider-leggéd chasing. A spider
on a snake. Then — arrival. One
flash of victoring the tide.
One ride. Then utter decimation.
The ocean always wins.
Me, I’m chilling with the gulls.
We look for clams. Dead ones.
Or ones that won’t complain.
My gull-friend over here she’s
on one leg. A yogi of a bird.
It’s weird. The others puff
their stuff but she demures.
It’s regular on shore, in air
even. We, none of us, have
truck with all that wet – the wil-
derness of swells, its chills.
Leave that to these finly people
challenging the seas.
The moon is out. It’s 3pm.
Swallows peck by, practicing
their swallowing. One puffs
himself (or her-). I don’t care.
“You can look as tough as you want,”
I tell it — from my beach chair.
Sun is major butterer of surf, still.
Waves are perfect quote-unquote.
They sure sound perfect. White
noise machine called ocean.
Bottle this. Bottle me. Bottle my
illegal beer. Bring us to the moon.
You may ask yourself
“What magnificent genius invented the outdoor shower?”
And you may say to yourself
“Well that’s a stupid question – everything used to be outdoors you idiot!”
And you may follow up with
“Yeah but I mean… since there’ve been doors.”
I’m at the bar at LAX with the poster
of Carlos Santana looking down in orgasmic thrall
at his instrument. We’re all leaving LA — all
of us. Where else can you claim to know
at least one small aspect of everyone’s plans.
These planes — they send us like sound
waves down a wire. Our voices, silent, but
transmitted with our whole bodies attached.
We are embodied voices. Vehicles for words.
The white-haired woman beside me gets
on her phone before ordering a drink, says, “Fine.
Fine, fine, fine.” Hangs up. Bartender tells her,
“Be right with you.”
Trying not to get blood on this poem. Bashed
my knuckle on the turnstile trying to make
the C — it was the E instead. Just want
the inside parts of me to stay inside. Feel
feverish with a home Covid test in my ancient
green L.L. Bean backpack. Pleasure
travel sure can end with a loud thud.
In Response to Mary Elizabeth Frye (Or Clare Harner Lyon)
Do not forget that I am dead.
I’m not asleep. I’m not in bed.
I’m not a candle in the sky.
I’m not the eyelash in your eye.
I’m not the tuchus of a cat.
Why must I even tell you that?
When you wake up consumed with dread?
That’s ’cause of me! It’s ’cause I’m dead!
Feel free to curse the clouds and say,
“Why did he have to go away?”
A jillion poems won’t bring me back.
I died. Accept it. Have a snack.
Warm night. Warmed over
sausage pasta two weeks old. One
year ago my Ed was in decline.
I call him mine. Knew him
all my years but six. I’ll keep
enumerating things until I’m old.
It’s how I get my arms around
a chill. “How men get” I almost
wrote. It’s what sons do, some, we
genderize our instincts during death.
There’ll be more death; it’s coming.
There’ll also be more plants. I’ve
got one. One. Despite my skills
it’s huge. Needs new pot. Damn poets.
We’ll find our way to pasture somehow.
Calm down, soldier
I say to the manic sort in the train
car corner but only in my head. We’re
the same except all his thoughts come
out. Rocking back and forth like a live
event in 2019. I’m on a date.
Or I’m on my way to a date. It’s the city that
no matter when you leave,
you will be late.
I’m thinking about Bill who died and Gerrit who
died. I’m sitting here spooning too much yogurt into
the toddler of my belly, thinking of my mom and dad and stepdad
all dead. You like to think they’re together
somewhere, that Ed and Gerrit met and are
discussing Spinoza, whoever that is. (Just
looked it up, good to know.) That mom
is giggling at some dumb pun Bill
made, his tilted gourd. How big is
heaven, or jannah, or nirvana
or wherever anyway? As big as America?
They’d all land in the New England
of heaven I’m sure and still be
rivers away from each other. How’s
all this work? Who should I talk to?
The long fart of winter is upon us.
Fear is back. As is the certain itch
of a tailored suit when you’re seated in a dry
kiddie pool on a roof. Not so cold out and yet
can see everybody’s breath. Like the distant gold
fog exhaled by saints. Once
I knew a man who could see yawns.
“That one’s green,” he said to a student.
You squelch your loud exhaustion like a sneeze.
At least the evening sky is clear. Stars out.
Some of them are planes. Moon as high as
anyone else in Brooklyn tonight.
I’m going to think about moose tonight and their aggressive
mousey-ness. They hate to mess around due to hip dysplasia.
At least the ones I’ve seen. Okay the one I’ve seen and, okay,
he was Canadian – what else? (He? Someone.) This year
I’m 90 in hip years and 17 in moose years. We trundle
rocky paths in city parks, our ears cauliflowering. We hear
all, and hear moose especially, no matter where
they are, with our spider hearing. There’re 10 moose
in the woods standing one behind the other so it looks like
one moose. What do they write about in their borrowed
Moleskines? I saw one smoking once and another chomping
nutmeg. We were told – in high school – chew nutmeg
and you’ll hallucinate. ’Course moose would need a bunch
more than us and prolly just become sullen. The thing
moose hate the most is when you decorate them
for the holidays. Like, I’m here all eating
“try again” popcorn – that is, hoarded kernels
from the bottom of the Orville bag reheated – listening
to Miles Davis and enjoying the Christmas fuck
out of myself while also thinking, “Wouldn’t a moose
with cheeks for roses and a crush of tinsel in his antlers
be just the best right now to waltz through?” and, duh,
no wonder they’re hostile! Noiselessly hostile. Moose
hate us and they also hate merry-making. They’re not
mirthful. And we’re always tryna mash mirth
into their fronts; they’ve had enough! No wonder
they’re hecked in the hip flexors. You think they
got to be that hobbled on their own? Are you high?
I don’t have no clothes on in a sexy way.
Now that ruin, I mean winter, has begun in earnest
I’m the pale, white thermometer of Brooklyn
and the world. You stick a single toe, a soft swab
out the covers every morning into December’s
nose. It stings but there’s a succulence in that.
Every day you weigh the air for bad atoms.
Stray mail is always carpeting the stairs. You have
to parse the sad stuff from the worthwhile grist
and decide which matters. ’Course everything
matters at some point and is matter always, even
the prognosis you composed in the park grass
with your writer’s foot. It says: “No
road technically leads anywhere.”
Yeah today’s a palindrome but all days are.
Awake, white curtain tied at its navel, make
brown drink, lift body with hands, splash
belly and arms, enclothe, leave hovel, walk
shoe dogs to loud heartbreaker, wipe
glass and plastic picture fang, fall out
of head of rattlesnake, thrown brain
at gerund factory, shove cathedralized ideas
into pinch purse, leave, come, leave, come,
leave, don’t look at Gomorrah, regret
something, buff crosswalk with foot rubber,
drop soft self down manhole, glue butt
to gut of steel cheese grater, dick with
flat grenade some more, exit blink hotel,
stamp-stamp down tomaine strip to bendy
me-place, grace mansion, doff trou, suds
type-ticklers, brow drink, tank
all memory and color and amorphia
into Morpheal clam shell. Evoke.
The city is scary but so is this place of dark
garage trees where every sound is meaningful. Smoking
outside Aunt’s place, neighbor crunches ice grass at foot
of driveway. Flashlight and dog. Could be anyone
at first. Drove five hours here exhausted which is its own
kind of scary. Shouldn’t complain except the guy
I used to smoke with nights like this is dead, yet
standing beside me somehow. I imitate his voice
just to normalize the moment a bit. That’s normal, right?
Imitating the dead while smoking alone in the cold
blanching at cracked branches and mild illumination?
There’s a brand new baby inside and wine candles.
First year “home for Christmas” means
my sister’s place. First thought upon waking
in her guest room. Should count my blessings.
Snowy house where hugs and gravy overflow,
where your presence is assumed. Just hard when
three ghosts hover here all night screening
Christmas past and present, contrasting
them. We all stand and nod, not solemnly
per se, just with explanationlessness.
Once I was a thought – a taut wire between
belly buttons. Now, an outfit
on a couch stuffed with photographs.
Everyone knows what happens next.
One year since they evaluated Ed for in-home
hospice. Santa brought an oxygen tank and hospital
bed. They said, “If you need it,
the fire department can come and lift him.” The men
in red. But he stood and lay down on his own.
Didn’t stand again. Eating had stopped already. Then
Hallmark movies. Then talking, mostly. Spoke
in quick, dismissing swipes. Then liquids. When I think
of that week, and what it took, I don’t want
Christmas to happen again – and also
only want it to be Christmas. To be that close
to him, always. Ed alive. His short, mute breathing
enough. Today I ran in the rain. Four miles. Glasses
fogging up. “Long and Winding Road” came on. My new
and permanent carol. Hark, how the bells all seem to say
“Why leave me standing here?”
I’m always late for everything. Was late to
Mom’s death. Last one at hospital at 3AM. Everyone
else waiting so I could say goodbye. Today
it’s just brunch at my niece’s. Same sized
crowd plus three kids and bacon. They said
as I entered, “You’re timing is perfect.
We’re just sitting down to eat.” Perfect.
They said something about me is perfect.
Sooner than have kids I’d grow a new dad
from a rib and have him take me lake fishing and make
fish pancakes and other offal fathers make. I’ll ask
questions there aren’t answers for and swell my
estimation to an over-meaty shoulder globe. Unmet
expectations crash like a crib window via thrown
rattle. We both cry and curse a bunch. I knit boots of dis-
appointment and search forever, over and over, for other
papa types to first love then bloodlessly “murder.”
Why subject some unsuspecting pupa to a new
baptismear when we know how round the wheel is?
When you told me you didn’t need me anymore,
you know I nearly broke down and cried. Nearly.
I never fully broke down, just teared up kind of.
I mean my eyes got moist and there was a choke.
A catch. Like an engine lurching and you think
“oh no,” but then it turns over and everything’s
fine, which is to say I am. Fine, I mean. I mean
when you said that, I got sad and could have
wept. I didn’t but was weep-adjacent. Sob
possible even which counts for something, yeah?
I mean must you enumerate my tears? Ought
there be, say, 96 of them? I dassn’t ask that
but see I could have kept quiet and never told
you about the near tear I shed but didn’t ’cause
I still can’t make it alone, I mean mostly can’t. I’ll
cry if you want or if I want to but just to note
the proximate edge of emotion I danced along
like a bent angel churlishly tracing the oval
of “over,” i.e. your lawn bowling toward some
ending of us. That overture. Do what thou
wilt but I’m over here almost losing it
and need at least glancingly to be unalone.
Luckiest toil to pack for yet another
long drive north to see loved ones
to revel in love but still feels like
a chore. Been home from Cape three
days and only alone this one. I thought
I didn’t like alone or at least didn’t
need it. I’m mister revel candy or I’m
s’posed to be. It’s an It’s a Wonderful
Life type of luck to have to hurl yourself
from bed so folks can hug you but it’s
still a pull. Or push? You’re depended
upon. All nights I want to push pause
and disappear into the cushions like a damn
dime. ’Cept I’m lucky. I’m lucky. Lincoln.
Copper-coating. Held tight. Fountained.
Mashed avocado on thawed white
toast, boiled egg spilled over it. Gerrit’s
egg cup on sill still. Can’t bring myself
to eat out of it. You don’t eat out of sacred
icons, even small ones. Tom Lux said
“you do not eat that which rips your heart
with joy.” Had he never dropped acid
or encountered Katz’s pastrami? Would
I could combine those two things I’d
be a saint. You’d follow only me and think
I was feeding your words direct unto
the cochlea on high. High. We eat
each other’s breast ideas until we’re
Gods. It’s how we get through this.
In between crowning and moondom, there’s
oranges, ecstasia beans, and fabergé.
Boog published SEAN COLE’s first chapbook, By the Author, and first perfect-bound book, The December Project. Cole is also the author of Itty City (Pressed Wafer) and One Train (Dusie). His collection After These Messages is forthcoming from Lunar Chandelier Press. His poems have appeared in Court Green, Black Clock, Pavement Saw, and other magazines. In the anthology Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days, his was day 95. Cole is a producer at the public radio show and podcast This American Life.