Joshua Weiner

To a Near Degree

I was perched in a typical café chair, an iron frame and hard seat encouraging me to finish and move on. He was comfortably caught in a couch that enveloped him like a carnivorous flower. He was telling me something important, about the internal eye and the passion to unify, that moment in which memory is alive with the present tense? We seemed to be approaching a silence, but couldn’t quite get there, so continued talking. What he is really saying here, he said, and then the word science tripped me up and I lost myself in the brightly colored bottles lined up at the back of the bar. After a while, the word violence brought me back; now it was about the facts of things and it felt like I wasn’t getting it all, as if underlining existence with a felt tip pen, to find the place again later. The application is the point, he said. The point of the pen? The hardest thing, I said, is not putting yourself on, that you did something, or are doing it. He scooped some milky foam from his lukewarm coffee and lifted it halfway to his mouth. That’s not, he said, the hardest thing. I waited for him to put the spoon in his mouth.  Outside a line of six musicians passed by not playing their instruments, but that still made small sounds against belt buckles and wedding rings. Someone called out from across the street. So we were in Italy, I knew it! Was it Lucca? He was getting up, breaking the grip of the couch; he moved past me. I guess I was getting the check. Exiting the café, he turned left. Following him out at some distance, I turned right, and climbed stone stairs winding steeply up a hill. The sun was high, and it was like the air wanted to have sex with you. Looking down I could see him slowly make his way along the street, stopping to say hello to someone, a man waiting with an old style hat, a fedora, a word I learned reading Dashiel Hammett. A woman at a fruit stand buying grapes ignored him. I could see that he had a newspaper tucked under his arm. Did he have that in the café? High clouds gave a chuckle, like a quilt in the throat. He was taking his time.


i.m. Stanley Plumly

JOSHUA WEINER is the author of three books of poetry and the editor of a book of essays about Thom Gunn (all from University of Chicago Press). His Berlin Notebook, reporting about the refugee crisis in Germany, was published by the Los Angeles Review of Books in 2016. He has received Whiting, Guggenheim, and Rome Prize fellowships, as well as the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, which took him to Berlin in 2012. His translation (with Linda B. Parshall) of Nelly Sachs’ 1959 volume, Flight and Metamorphosis, was just published by Farrar Straus Giroux. He teaches at the University of Maryland and lives in Washington D.C.  

Read more by Joshua Weiner:

Poems, translations, and essays in B O D Y
Review of Flight and Metamorphosis in B O D Y
Review of Flight and Metamorphosis in the New York Times
Conversation with Joshua Weiner on Daniel Lazar’s For a Living podcast (part 1) (part 2)
Essay in Interim Poetics
Poem in Literary Imagination
Three poems in Manchester Review
A conversation with Andrew Joron at Chicago Review