By Roger Aplon
Writer Roger Aplon propels his readers on journeys through an unusually challenging variety of voices & places - worlds where men & women love & rage in equal proportions, where social injustice is keenly observed & momentary observations resonate with profound truths. A fearless & imaginative artist, Aplon finds inspiration everywhere: from the backstreets of Barcelona, to American politics, to jazz performances, to the complex relationship between men & women. Whereas his early work had a more narrative quality, his latest work has a surreal feel & an improvisational – free associative rhythm. Always in search of the simplest quotidian image as if to remind us – everything we see, taste, hear or touch has a metaphoric counterpoint – that every poem, if done well, expands our universe.
--Allyson & Sean Riley with R A
To listen to Roger Aplon read his poems, please click on the audio player that appears above each text.
SHE WEARS A SCAR
She wears a scar that curves from her lip across her cheek to her ear.
She was cut by a man who found her home &
when she smiles (which is rare) it rises like another mouth &
puckers like it would open & speak &
when she runs (which is often) her features tense & her new mouth
glows like a wire – hot & powerful &
she wears one glass eye on a thong around her neck to see in the dark &
a needle taped to her leg &
she flies a black flag with a man’s face at its center & has etched
a red scar on its cheek & the number 6 between its eyes &
at the end of her street she’s painted a door in the eight foot wall &
when she must, she opens it & runs through &
down the hill to the river & to the ship that carries her back
to the beginning.
Published In: The Man With His Back To The Room
Selected Poems 2000 - 2005
AS OUR TRAIN PASSES
As our train passes through the valley the men huddle at the windows to watch the women dance in the waning light. As the train picks up speed they dance faster, some run along side, one lifts her breast to be kissed another lies down in the grass & spreads her body wide for he who has the nerve to come into her. The train passes onto a red plain where a town once stood & relics still burn & there’s a lone black horse & a wolf with green eyes & a boy with a whip & we’re in the canyon & half-way across & the bells begin & we hold ours ears (as we’ve been told) but they pry their way inside & there’s the clawing of the cat (as we’ve been told) & we reach for our lover’s hand & look into her eyes & wait for the wind that’s been promised & the patiently evasive moon . . .
Published in: Intimacies: Prose Poems & Stories - 2008
A DRESSING GOWN
It may have once embraced the moist & perfumed skin of a Japanese Geisha as she plucked the strings of her Samisen & sang praises to her prince . . . It
may have served as the leisure robe of a dark-eyed Tahitian goddess as she tempted the passions of a lusty sailor from Lisbon or Marseilles . . . Its green
satin sheen may have once graced the long lean body of a fiery courtesan from Barcelona or Paris or Marrakech . . . &
who will know & who will come to tell.
Today it hangs in the privacy of my bedroom where my lover comes to treat me to her unique & eager style of love &
when she lets it slip Oh so slowly from her shapely shoulders it colors my dreams with its red & yellow peacocks & pheasants & soaring hawks &
as she straddles my mouth & treats my lips to her exposed sex I hear the peacocks scream & feel the hawk’s breath in my ear & it’s then
I roll her on her back & ride into the night remembering the light & tawny lovers of the earth & the dreams each has shared with each.
Published in: The Man With His Back To The Room
Selected Poems 2000 - 2005
IMPROVISATION: WHILE LISTENING TO MINGUS IN THE RAIN
Thunder. Counting beats. Her red lips. The barking dog. Simonize. Who will clear the airways? Who will unload the heroin & baby formula?
A bucket of chicken. Two Tyco drummers. Alabaster. The ides of March. Ripe bananas. Cappuccino. Chloroform.
At the end of the house someone is playing a fiddle out of tune & another is about to collapse as his blood pressure drops precipitously.
A monkey with a cold. Mother’s milk. Anagrams. Evidence of an erection after years of impotency. Bluetooth. Smog. Scars.
Tattoos. The Day The Earth Stood Still. Harmony. A kid’s locomotive. April afternoons. Home away from home.
Has love been too hard? How about a one-night-stand with the person of your choice? Someone who reminds you of your sister? Or . . .?
Creamed corn. Octopus. Rambling Jack Elliot. Darwin. A god without heaven. Smoking Monte Christos on Christmas eve.
As they prepare for bed he rubs a little salve on her clitoris with the promise it will double her excitement. He was right.
Napkins. Nephews. Oil of Mulberry. Teachers with agendas. A smoking gun. Blood on the sun. Marlborough Man on fire.
Take two at bedtime. Stroke the cat. Mustard. It’s a long way from here to there. Wish for a trumpet. Swing upon a star.
The last lap. Santa Claus. Irony. In the back of bus number thirty-nine under seat fifty-two you’ll find your mother’s maidenhead.
Bye-Bye Blackbird. Kiss me again. The way you did in the movies. Don’t you remember? Saturday afternoons? We were fourteen.
The Herby Mann Trio at The Stage. Iona’s pussy. Her brother’s right hook. Lunch time on 63rd St. Who knew?
An argument with the devil. Cold Turkey. Marshalling martial arts. Out of respect. This is no honeymoon. Where are the orchids?
When the goat mounted the sheep . . . Havoc. Holsteins on the run. Your aunt comes to stay & brings Oscar the Parrot.
One by one. She lights his fire. Order out. Take what comes your way & don’t act so surprised. Jack of hearts.
Robbing Peter to pay for the cocaine. In the wings. After the fact. Before the mast. & so it goes. One bad joke after another. Rhubarb.
She unceremoniously unzipped his pants & lifting his hardening cock leaned forward & began to suck it. Sunrise at six forty-five / sunset at eight fifteen.
Quarter horse. Gatling gun. Amelia Earhart. The disquiet that follows. Amnesia. A better tomorrow. Orange drapes. Cousins.
It takes two. What can you offer? I bet the farm. Carry me back to old Virginny. Tienes para mi un beso negro?
Ripe balloons. Torment. Sale this Saturday. Thirty-five laps to the mile. Third place at Thirty-seven. Not bad. Sequoia.
A trunk full of monkeys. Uncle Mike always made time. Stamps from the Saar. Hitler’s mustache. Six million Jews. Poverty.
I sit by the window & watch the rain. I sit by the window & drink my wine. I sit by the window & remember Chicago & Miles . . . &
I remember Denny roiling the keys at the Am-Vet’s hall in Champagne- Urbana, butterflies & that foxy Cordilla in the closet.
Marble & car horns. Amputees & Sri Lanka. My mother’s ample breasts. My Father’s judgments. Arial bombardment. Qwest.
Sundown. Arrested wind. Time for a walk in the forest. Remove your gloves. There’s sure to be Chanterelles &, if we’re lucky, Morels too.
Taos, NM 7/26/09
First Appeared in Malpais Review Spring 2013
THERE'S A STREET WITH NO NAME IN A CITY YOU'VE PAINTED BLACK
The arms that wave from the windows are black & the cats that roam the street are black & there are black beards & black hands & black market toys & you’ve blackened the windows & shut my eyes & locked my door & painted a black X on my back & when they come to claim their prize you feed them black bread & black beans & black rice & lift the black iron pan & toss your black mushrooms & black butter & when I reach out to make you stop you drown me in the black rain that falls from your thick red wound.
Published In: The Man With His Back To The Room
Selected Poems 2000-2005
IT'S ONLY TV
She sips her red wine & watches him. It’s the final day of the offer & there are thousands waiting in the wings. Waiting
for her decision.
She’s been at it for months. This rehabilitation. This resurrection. This charade. Complete with sobs & tears.
& he’s followed, refilling her glass, planting kisses in the furrows, massaging every opportunity, muscle & bone,
skin & moist sex.
On her last trip to Egypt she rented a young man for the afternoon, taught him how she liked to be touched, where
& with what.
In Marrakech it was a young woman & hot oil. He was there too with his eager fingers, improbable & passionate
At this writing, they’ve not been seen for a week. The documents don’t lie. There are orders to fill: baguettes & bayonets.
She’d always been capable of magic. Remember her disappearance from the box with the sword, snatching the bloody ace
from the deck?
Two months have passed & not a word. Even after an arm was found in the alley, a hand in the deserted street. The dead
Chihuahua. Even after
the exploding tower, four feathers, appeal for blood & organs, nurses crawling in the rain, Marcia’s rape.
In this town,
few things matter. We’ll get along. They were only window dressing, a good laugh, money well spent.
Let it go.
Published in: It’s Only TV – Selected Poems 2005 – 2011
NEW MEXICO DREAMS
They’re infused with suspicion: hammers & whips & no sign of relief. Remember, if the surface is slick you learn to chisel grooves:
Once, when Renee & I were young, she’d lifted me above her head like a bird ready for flight & airborne
we admitted our treachery & sins of omission. Later, home with a broken heart, she came to me & asked forgiveness.
Our next year was hell. No word from those she’d invited. We’d lost touch. Or so we thought. Once, a red dog appeared in flight.
Bitterness. That was the word. Bitterness & loathing. Those crippled by the fall from grace are always in need & then,
here come the recruiters, polished & brave who resemble our fathers but lack that sinister pleasure to judge.
April came & went. By July we were convinced there was no need for truth. Lies were the currency of survival.
& horses, always horses: Arabians, Appaloosas, Mustangs. Running. Across valleys, rivers, mountains.
Black & brown, dappled & cream. Racing against time & the confrontation with the ‘other,’ you know, the one with the missing arm, teeth askew,
the one with the reason to hate & hate he does. See. He’s etched your face in the palm of his hand & waits
for the fire to catch & the cinders to blind your last good eye. You’re merely meat & he’ll toast you well.
Never forget the chase up the ladder to the loft. When you kicked him in the chest he went down & stayed there.
Forget the telephone that never stops ringing in the room you can never find. It was her. For sure. Or was it him again?
There are some questions best left unasked & those unanswered. Even the priestess with the necklace of bones will admit.
Take the keys when offered & don’t look back. So many have been lost here. This neighborhood is cursed. Take a long last look & go.
Published in: It’s Only TV – Selected Poems 2005-2011
Ellen & I usually take a break each afternoon, you know, a little breather in the sun.
There’s this quiet café just across from our pension & the wine, Ah . . .
the wine’s sensational.
Jordi, he’s the owner & our self-appointed guide to Barcelona,
makes his own
at his father’s country house & stores the oldest here. A basic Tempranillo,
deep purple in the afternoon glow & a white, thinner than Chardonay but full of fruit & almost
perfectly balanced. Jordi says, “My wine is like a woman, over time,
the budding breasts &
spindly legs of adolescence, firm to curves & blossom like hibiscus in its season.” “Age.” he says,
“That’s the secret. We are used to that. Serrano hams my uncle hangs for years, Mama’s holiday Paella
she begins on Monday for a Sunday feast.” His café’s just a block away
from a Gaudi masterpiece,
Antonio Gaudi, whose ‘Church of the Family’ is still being built these hundred years – Jordi says,
“When the last scaffold has been dismantled & the masons have retired,
it will be polished to perfection.”
He urges, “Don’t rush these days in Catalunya, savor its scent, its taste, its rugged textures,
like the building of this monument, like the mandate of a marriage,
we must practice patience, ripen & mature,
like my wine in oak & in its time we’ll come to draw a glass &
toast our luck!”
YOU SENT ME TO KILL OR BE KILLED
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the enigmatic figure at the center of the worst American war crime in recent memory, admitted for the first time on Wednesday deliberately killing 16 Afghan civilians last year, most of them women and children . . . Critics of America’s decade of conflict in the region . . . seized on the stresses experienced in the war by soldiers like Sergeant Bales . . .
June 5, 2013
It’s Late. Night hangs heavy in Kandahar Province. Scorpions. Wood lice. A Mantis prays. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales injects his nightly dose of anabolic steroids, buckles up his gear.
Four tours in ten years. No time to reminisce, no time to dream. He’s careful to climb down the ladder reserved especially for him. At the bottom is the
pit, Dung Beetles scurry. His head throbs.
You’ve seen your buddies’ shredded bodies baking in the desert sun, babies dangling dead from barbed wire, a woman blown to clots & bone by the bomb she’d wrapped around her waist.
The medic’s say PTSD – The lawyers say, booze & drugs. Tonight, Robert dreams mayhem: Spirits of the brave & lost will cross the devil’s river –
He’s locked & loaded . . .
Night goggles & high octane Wild Turkey 101. My enemies are everywhere: In their tents, behind their walls, in their gardens & in their beds. They babble in tongues, sneer & wail.
I need silence to think. My throat chokes on our renegade soup. There’s nothing to be done. Extermination. I am the champion of justice, the avenger & the priest. Locked & loaded.
Bless me father for I . . . I am a missile unleashed & proud, a drone in desert camouflage. I’ve been sent to redeem my country’s honor. I am without home, without mercy, without guilt.
Pray for me as I kneel in the sand & light my torch. Nothing is left of me. I am slag. I am heroic. I am disaster. See me for what I am, what I have been trained to be. I am a machine.
Running on fumes. Nothing matters. The mission is at hand. How many must die? & why? I am marked. Absurd. Without guile. A bomb. Fused. As intended. Poison. Catastrophe.
Collateral damage . . . It is – I am – What must be known – What must be expected.
Published On-Line @ The New Verse News - 2013
THIS IS A STORY SOMEONE IS TRYING TO REMEMBER
If I can,
I will tell you of the deer dying in the yard & starved pullets
that wander in circles in the snow &
how I need to find the place they scattered my father’s bones &
to hear my mother’s final words.
If I ever can,
I will tell you again of my need to caress my first wife & not be thinking, ‘Would Gloria take me back as I was.’
When I remember,
I might tell you volumes of lies that disguise faces & florid afternoons with wine & sesame cakes & visits from . . . but
chances are slim & the train will leave soon & before I go I wish you well &
warn you of the blizzard that will come in the night (as it will) &
the family that eroded as some do &
the marriage that was doomed & the evil that kids do to one another &
if you remember to tell this story as it was told,
I will send you a letter with a number & a key & when you find what
you are looking for
maybe you will remember me.
Published In: The Man With His Back To The Room
Selected Poems 2000-2005
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Roger Aplon was a founder and managing editor of Chicago’s CHOICE Magazine with John Logan & Aaron Siskind. He has had eleven books published: Ten of poetry (most recently It’s Only TV) & one of prose: Intimacies. Given his love of jazz & experimental music, he often reads his work with musicians from the Avant-Garde ensembles Wormhole (In Yokohama & Tokyo Japan) & the Trummerflora Collective (San Diego, CA). In the course of his career he’s been awarded many prizes and honors including an arts fellowship from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. After an eight year writing retreat in Barcelona Spain, he now makes his home in Beacon, New York where he edits & publishes a poetry magazine: “Waymark – Voices of the Valley” & is at work on a new collection: Poetic Improvisations after works by John Adams, Elliot Carter, Miles Davis, Denny Zeitlin, Jason Robinson, John Zorn to name a few. You can read and hear examples of his work at: www.rogeraplon.com
All Photos by Roger Aplon, except (from top):
1 and 6 by Jason Aplon
3 by Patrick McMahon