Arthur Vogelsang









No one was learning French fast.

I was learning French too slowly and

Some were learning at an average speed.

We had to learn it fast.  There was a great plane

Coming for us and we had to know French

When we got on it or else.

Later we found out there was no or else.

We boarded the plane knowing an amount of French.

Enough that the others covered for me.

That was easy, I never spoke French,

I never spoke.  Far up over Earth and France

Where we floated which of course was fun

In the great plane, in the great swift plane as I have said,

That high, the French spoke to us in French,

Numbers, “milliéme des soixante,” and other manifold numbers

For hours – division and multiplication are the hairiest,

The epitome of difficult, for a non-native speaker.

According to my character I did something else,

No counting, no speaking French.  I was there

To float and study and be studied and do unmentionables

So I forgot about learning French fast and I forgot about

Their or else, I said to myself I think I am their or else.

I was not.  In such a risky venture or spéculation hasardeuse

I think it was decided to include somebody not fast and not smart

Like a slow horse that keeps a posse at its safe pace, unambushed.

The endless arguments about this had been in French and English,

Back and forth endlessly they had gone at it,

So we began by trying to learn French fast.



From Orbit (The University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016).






One sought an utter purging of emotions, which led him in

To a voodoo church in a Los Angeles canyon

Where there’s a clothes-line in the long room with many and various objects.

The line or rope stretched between two poles is operated by a pulley

And the apparatus—with its hanging shoes, clocks, underwear, utensils,

Seashells, matchbooks, staplers, feathers, towels, hammers—

Is the only thing in the room, no chairs or podiums or statues, just the clothes-line—

With its paper clips, photos, oranges, cigarettes, bananas, needles, twigs,

Flashlights, sandwiches (which have to be changed every week), coat hangers,

Glasses, keyboards, stuffed toy bears (two, side-by-side),

And more objects dangling unidentifiable at first sight without time to stare

As he sought an utter purging of emotions

Not for himself alone but for others too

He thought no not here I need a maturity in the people which

Is not here, a magnitude in the theme, which is not here,

Plus their fate may not be accidental nor may mine.  No, not here.

There was room on the rope for more stuff, and another empty rope

Strung waiting on the pulley.

He felt he had hit bottom.  The previous

Day he had been searching in the great libraries at UCLA and USC

And had come up empty-handed, and then driving away along Jefferson

Made a wrong turn into a ghetto street with several gang members on

It parked in two cars and the ghost of Anna Akhmatova

The Russian poet (1888-1966) walking straight toward him on the sidewalk

And signaling him to roll down his window.

The ghost was untouchable even by the gang because you could see

Through her and it told our hero you are searching

For someone to whom it is impossible to give anything

And from whom it is impossible to take anything away.

He did not follow her implied advice and give up seeking.  He backed up back out

Onto Jefferson, and determined to try one more day.  Had

Dinner with friends, breakfast in his room,

And then (against the ghost’s advice—he had asked her

About the place) unfortunately found the voodoo church and stepped in.

Bitter and disappointed he stood, a dessicated mannequin of a person.

Now he, our hero, is not me.

Every year or so I go and pull the pulley back and forth,

Sometimes twice, sometimes three times.

There is a little senseless energy in it,

There is a little disequilibrium and then a little equilibrium.



From Expedition: New & Selected Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2011)






I got stuck in Daggett on the third of July.

Everybody I knew knew where I was and so did I.

It was a friend’s house and the friend didn’t live there

May, June, July, August, September, or October

Because he didn’t have any air conditioning

Or he didn’t have any air conditioning just so he couldn’t live there.

My car needed new pipes to swallow water.

There was plenty of water, the 752 Daggetters made sure,

But they had to send for the pipes.

Thank God I have friends all over the country

And they keep plenty of water in their fridges.

There were no vacancies in Daggett and one mechanic

Who is prospering, guess why, I drank two

Bottles of my friend’s water and looked at all his books.

It was a hundred and eighteen on the radio, no special deal,

But this was a lie.  It was actually a hundred and thirty-four

Which is of course impossible except on my personal thermometer

Which was a hand-held Honeywell sitting on the sofa

Beside me like a person and at $199.95 would not even think

Of lying.  Under these circumstances the books were boring.

All that was interesting was running around outside in the phenomenon

And coming back to a cold water bathtub

And three bottles of water.  I did this twice.

It got dark.  I had the impression it got really hot

In the dark, a few degrees above the day.

The Honeywell lay on the sofa in the other room and whispered

In English twice, pleading, but I did not answer

Or help it.  I drank two bottles of water

And spoke to the desert which seemed like my best friend,

I said Please get hotter, it is the only interesting thing.

The next day late I drove into sight of the ocean and was ok.

I told no one, though each friend was heavy into everything about books,

Even about boredom toward books under a special circumstance,

And I told no one what was truly

Exciting then which I had done twice or about me speaking in the dark

To my new best friend or about the machine speaking in the dark.



From Expedition: New & Selected Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2011)










Arthur Vogelsang is the author of six previous books of poetry, including Twentieth Century Women and Cities and Towns, which received the Juniper Prize. His work has been included in numerous anthologies such as The Best American Poetry, The Pushcart Prize, The New Breadloaf Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, and American Hybrid. Vogelsang was coeditor of the Norton anthology The Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review. He is the recipient of a California Arts Council fellowship and three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in poetry.

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