Proteus

By Don Bogen Don Bogen
To take,
              like water,
whatever shape you flow through, fill, or rest in.
 
And to choose that shape.
 
   *    *    *
 
As: Brian, become a gangster,
six feet from my face.
Voice no longer a caress
but a sharpened projection,
belly a ram in a buttoned vest.
 
The whole body shows                                                                                                         
                                       the thing done:
goat-song in the rites of a god,
transforming, starting to speak now
through him
                     as he walks on stage.
 
   *    *    *
 
Remember when you turned
into moonlight, the bark of an oak,
an orange going to shreds
in your own cold palm?
 
Everything you saw
                                 you were,
and you saw everything.
 
No choice.
That face light gnarled around a tree
was your face.
 
   *    *    *
 
Flesh is approximate.
We clothe it in dreams,
wrestling with our eyes closed
down through layers:
                                   thug, wraith,
chieftain, devouring angel (held
by my shoulders I
am trying to make you
stay put) daddy mama breath
balm a man a woman in
separate desires
                          overlapped.
 
   *    *    *
 
Curious,
               cautious enough
to disguise himself as a woman,
the voyeur peeks at the rite.
 
Women, leaping, mothers and daughters—
their rapt beauty draws him out.
 
The god
              has tricked him:
they will tear him apart.
 
   *    *    *
 
As: a virus.
                   Never alive,
but a frantic mimicry of life
to pierce the cell, make over
its orders, move, repeat itself, mutate
in sped-up mini-evolution—
now it swims the blood, unravels
in light, never alive, now
                                         it floats on air.
 
Lost in the host a thousand years,
inert chemical mechanism
asleep in a rain-forest cave.
 
   *    *    *
 
To mime—
                     not a statue
or a gray accountant picked from the crowd,
but a robot.
 
Steel jumpsuit and boots,
greasepaint turning the eyelids
aluminum.
 
This hand a crank, this grin
the edge of a disk,
                               I am Mister
Silver Mister Silver—tape
loop syncopating
over the drum machine.
 
   *    *    *
 
As: a child’s toy,
its intricate language of joints and swivels,
creature within creature:
the robot
                a wolf on silver feet,
in his boxy jaw
the tiny half-robotic
head of a man
                        who will drive the car.
 
   *    *    *
 
Who will drive the car
                                     to the hospital
after the cancer has metastasized?
 
   *    *    *
 
These knots rising in my palm—
look, in the photo album,
he grips the mower like a sad hawk.
Grandfather, father, son—flesh
tightens, branching genes
send up more
                       of the claw each year.
 
After the operation
skin comes back thick as bark.
 
   *    *    *
 
A boy, a lion, wild boar,
snake no one will touch
holds the changes.
 
Dream he is a sea god,
                                       and he is.
Dream he is a stone, a bull, no,
a tree
          rippling over
the waves’ quick light, he is
shape always becoming, he is a flame
and the stream that drowns it.

Don Bogen, "Proteus" from An Algebra. Copyright © 2009 by Don Bogen.  Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.

Source: An Algebra (The University of Chicago Press, 2009)

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Poet Don Bogen

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Coming of Age, Health & Illness, Life Choices, The Body, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Sciences

Poetic Terms Series/Sequence

 Don  Bogen

Biography

A writer and critic, Don Bogen earned his PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of the poetry collections After the Splendid Display (1986), The Known World (1997), Luster (2003), and An Algebra (2009).

Bogen’s poetry engages the private, public, and historical realms, often in formally innovative ways. Commenting on An Algebra, poet Ron Slate found Bogen to be “cutting narrative loose . . .

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Poems by Don Bogen

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Health & Illness, Life Choices, The Body, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Series/Sequence

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