I met Eliot Wilson one evening during a coffee house open poetry reading in Lafayette, Colorado. Sitting beside one another on a tattered couch, our conversations seamlessly leapt from writing to our favorite local restaurants to a lighthearted (okay, playfully sharp-tongued) running commentary of any poems that weren’t quite resonating with us that night.
Fast forward four years and I’ve come to know Eliot as a friend and vital contemporary poet who is the author of The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go, published by Cleveland State Poetry Press. He has received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Pushcart Prize, a Bush Foundation Fellowship, the Hill-Kohn Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the Robert Winner Prize from the Poetry Society of America. He currently teaches at the University of Colorado Denver.
Eliot is a worldly thinker whose writing offers a seemingly effortless lyrical grace woven with historical, political, and cultural awareness as well as substantive introspection, evocative cynicism, unique wit, and often laugh-out-loud humor. His work is purposeful in that it shows us a distilled individuality, albeit imagegistic, sullen, comic, or all these things, conjointly. These are smart, wild, vivid pieces—enjoy!
Three Poems From Eliot Khalil Wilson
…and I’d like to add that I will mind like a dog. I will wear whatever you like. I will go wingtip. No more white socks. A necktie stitched to my throat, turtlenecks in August. New York gray or black, only colors that dogs can see. I will know of squash, vermouth, and wedges. I will do all the grilling because I love it so. I will drive the wagon, man the bar, weed-whack compulsively. I will make money, the bed, never a to do.
I will build like an Egyptian, a two-mile pier complex, a five-story deck. I will listen like a bat, attend to the birth of sounds in the back of your throat. I will remember like an Indian elephant, recall requests made of me in a previous life. Your date of birth will be carved in the palm of my hand. I will make good. I will do right. I will sleep on the pegboard on the wall in the garage.
I’ll have a tongue like a sperm whale, eyes like a harp seal, biceps like a fiddler crab. I will have gold coins, gold rings, stiff gold hair like shredded wheat. I will be golden at receptions, gold in your pocket, Paganini in your pants. Money will climb over the house like ivy. Excellent credit will be my white whale. I will always. I will everyday. I will nail the seat down. I will let you pretend I am your father.
I will be a priapic automatic teller machine, never down, never a usage fee, a stock prophet, a para-mutual seer, tractable, worshipful no matter what. I will always want to. I won’t notice what you don’t point out. I will entertain your friends, say how your love saved me. I will convince them. I will talk, really talk, to them. Deep meanings will be toothpicked and passed around.
I will need zero maintenance. I will be a utility or a railroad. There will be no breakdowns or disconnections. I will allow you lovers, Moroccan teenagers and Turkish men. I will adopt them. I will not cry. I will respond to grief by earning more. My sweat will smell like drug money, like white bread baking. I will be as clean as a Mormon, wholesome like Iowa. I will lead. I will be a star, a rock, like Rock Hudson.
The Forbidden Channel
Freud was right; we are such bad citizens.
Born febrile, remorselessly sexual,
and cut from that one principle we keep.
How he’d love these late-night half-blocked channels.
The vertical lines pinching, contracting
and pulling a “God, yes!” from the scramble,
from this blooming kaleidoscope of skin.
That’s you; that’s what you are, a mirrored web,
a body of hands, a small Hindu god.
Everything, everything, your reflection.
In this filtered field of objects and part
objects appearing and disappearing,
even interference is erotic.
And singularity is taken off.
Manifests breasts of some silver co-ed
warp and curve into two latent pillows.
The mouth of her Daguerrean roommate
throbs like a pulse then quickly vanishes.
The white couch’s arm bends into a thigh.
The in-and-out sound of a slow-motion
shower is that same sound of one hand cracking
an egg into the empty face of a pan.
Life consists of such naked suggestions.
Late at night on the forbidden channel
even darkness is not the final dark
just the floating dark of before you were born.
It’s true. What’s clear and certain leaves us cold.
No other channels. What could replace this?
And turning it off means you disappear.
Modern Language Association Job Search
for Antonio Gramsci
…and I’d like to add that will teach all the classes, I will crave the eight o’clock
I will teach whatever you want, Fuji Island poetry, gator wrestling, Lamaze all within my range. I will toil like a South African dockworker, my office in a men’s room stall; I’ll wait there forever like a hobo in a Beckett play. I will make the students love me; erupt in a lava flow of praise over their slightest efforts. I will coddle and pet. I will nurture. I will suckle them on a blanket in a corner of the teacher’s lounge.
I’ll go to every meeting I can find. I’ll be perky and upbeat, bye-bye despair. I will not silently mouth the words I want to die. I will chortle when others chortle, stop when they stop, sick smile stuck on my face like the Joker. I will be a frisky Marxist, an ersatz Francophile, I will join a gang of coiffed homosexuals. No more Xeroxing my butt cheeks, no matter how appropriate the occasion. I will convince the Chair of the Committee for Diversity Hiring that I am the last Mohican.
I’ll hobnob with nearsighted Victorians and acne-scared medievalists. I will show up each year with successively smaller black glasses. I will go under the knife, get a hamster overbite and pasty skin. I will come to your dinners and eat your bland food. I will move to the Galapagos of men’s fashion, a crepehanger’s satchel in a sea of bad tweed, drop cloth trench coat, sensible brogans, 30-watt power tie, huge pleats like I’m shoplifting an accordion.
I’ll request more students, shoehorned them in like the Middle Passage. I’ll have a roll book like a cast list from Cecille B Demille. No more office hours at the Moon Wink Motel. I’ll be avuncular and blinkered like Sea Biscuit, recycle my testicles, send my penis to Adrienne Rich. I will be as prompt as a star, punctual as a type-A Nazi, make your Rolex look like Stone Hinge. I will plan ahead to infinity. I will have lesson plans like Nostradamus
I will be your Apostle, applaud after all your dumb comments. I will work for no food. I will be my own dentist. No more classroom scenes like from Abu Ghraib Prison or Hieronymus Bosch. I will respond to all questions with Of course, Derrida….. The faculty handbook will be my Koran. I will not mutter. I’ll make eye contact like a Latin American optometrist. No more shaking my junk at commencement, no more rattlesnakes in the mail slots. I will be the ideal hire, your colleague, a twin, a mirror.
-Eliot Khalil Wilson
See also an interview with Eliot Khalil Wilson in Fringe Magazine
“Wedding Vows,” first appeared in Spinning Jenny. “The Forbidden Channel,” first appeared Beloit Poetry Journal. “Modern Language Association Job Search,” recently appeared Sonora Review.
Great to have these poems here. Wedding Vows should be winning prizes and read again and again. Thanks for sharing with NC!
There is little more satisfying than the kind of complex dark humor that makes me laugh through my wince. I’d like for myself to end up sitting next to Khalil Wilson during a reading of any kind.
Thanks Rich & Mary for checking out the poems. Eliot’s work is thoroughly entertaining and engaging–he achieves that great balance!
Like Mary, I am cringing and laughing, satisfied.
Thanks, Martin. Thanks, Eliot Khalil Wilson!!
Wonderful. Thanks Martin for posting these smart, intelligent and biting poems. I keep coming back.