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John Godfrey reads from The City Keeps

“The beat’s only a dream unless you dance,” John Godfrey wrote and read at the Poetry Project on February 28, 2018, as I thought to myself, “Have there ever been truer words written?” True words are what you get at a reading that John Godfrey gives. The occasion was the fairly recent (two years ago) publication of his selected work, The City Keeps, that stretches back to the early sixties up to the present circa 2014, but at Saint Mark’s on the 28th, John read mostly what he’s written since then so that is what you’re going to get on the Vimeo below, the newest stuff. Enjoy.

I’ve typed out the title poem, The City Keeps, for you to read.

The City Keeps

Frosted moths dance over your sights
Your cycle is interrupted on ‘AIM”
For the third time in ten minutes
you cross corners past an old
Latino, toothless porkpie, fists full
of his own pants, thoughtful
He stares at a short-haired
sturdy tan stray, of proud
saintly restraint in relations
with the domestic class of dog
How self-reliant, what inconsolable
carriage, safe only alone!

Do not be so moved by everything
that belongs to the city
Glazed brown-sugar wheel troughs
Zhivago ice desert street light
but not quite a night for
burglars to call in sick
Not a night for discontent to
surge in heavy boots of principle
Hands are not clasped in power-chain
of mutiny, the sun will
only bring ripening, towards
ego-damage on some clawed doorstep
The creeping lying reflexes stretch
cheap ants, empty pillow
stains, strange remorse in light-
impairing clouds, there’ll be enough
bleakness for everyone, for zealous
missionary lovers standing-in us
bartenders and bargirls, nights throwbacks
Do not be so moved by everything

that clings to the city for its shape
in preternatural drag, narcotic
morning liquidity scare forgotten
as the showgirl, seventy bucks richer by
evening, floats out of The Frisco
coin-op clit spread booth tease
ringing her high and wet, fantasy
transformed into equally useless chains
clinking through dense rooms, drowning
out anxious shouting childbirth’s hours
when cold new light carries the tattle
when the name mentioned ricochets and
rises to heaven from the walls of
the prison, illumined by window visages

Steer clear, O victims, for rubbing fingers on
my teeth are the least bit of mud and
a roasted, frazzled corsage from the coast
There’ll always be someone else slicker
among vagary lumpen metallic waltzes
They all motor talent sparring whole platoons
in music truce stemmed from manifold
least-elastic lux, they on top of it alright
Do not be so moved by their fanfare
so close to the bottom of the city!

It is my luxury to recognize their painlessness
to associate their unpleasant lusts with
preservative acid fruits, delayers of decay
I suck in their souls in order to say
they belong here, all velvety with suspiration
and I esteem their resistance, sunless
and the glowing concaves of the city pour
desolated accretions born of still fists

The City Keeps is published by Wave Books. You can check them out here:


By the way, John was kind enough to send me the poems that are not published yet to be included here, those that he read at Saint Mark’s Church on the 28th. Enjoy.

Best Mosey

Ratface dooryards squeeze
food smells out of hoodie
Whetstone girl with
a jugular scar
And you best mosey
‘less your name Rosie

Where the arrogant
mood gets unspun
Where six-bed blues
gets surely undone
three windows high
Slings heart in her
camouflage rock

From where I see
it the question
stands out fine
You have to move
the crate first
In the sink
you’ll find blankets

Your thoughts call to
me as they wander
into streets of chill
Ripening inhibited
Sound of car door, mutters
Quick glance at her
Braids reflect on car window
Baby, you’ll never
see Julius again

Slab Stone

Call it seldom, part fatal
part design of my own
The ruffles never happen
and then there she is

Slab stone steps for a change
Feral eyes or water beads
on brick by streetlight
If they are, so am I
The question is narrowed to a conduit
insulated by appetites
and leads to the business end
of all gravitation

Not how they’re hanging but why
Not when invented but for how long
Time hastily leafs trees and throws them
through windows
I’m so tired and I don’t mean
that barbecue now
I hear the trees sway like
independent-minded women
Waterfront in all its crenellations and
lights in all their ivory

Every time of day supplies a chord
and demands a melody
My exhaustive and exhausted repertoire
In protection of the guilty alone
would I brother a judge
Not flames, a steady cool drizzle
to muse on from the breezeway
Wait there, someone will be along shortly
to watch you unseen

Always Full

Passion in public
a current, hot or cold
but always full open

the sticky arm
of the cherished one
and the braille
of my abstraction

In debt to an
exquisite mind
who hangs pictures
the length of
the excitement

Nerves stand on
cables of the bridge
There is a starburst
Go to it

The Hotseat

A plucky bitter wind
tugs on afterlife
First question:
What’s the odds
these neighbors
each other
A room in which
bricks show through walls

Rarity exists
It’s all I can do
to lay my
hambone down
on a low ceiling of smoke
and radio waves
The cemetery boasts
a hundred cats
and the vigil is
on the hotseat
The air of peace
might surprise most
when I breathe

Instead brick presses
against my forehead
where idiosyncrasies
float on Styrofoam
Peace is not endless
and I have only
a very few seconds
to make up my mind

Umbrella and Eyes

All’s in motion, mostly retreat
like water to leak, like trees
to bird’s-egg-green paint
It arrives, rain of misty expectorations
The human voice carries feet, not yards
I pick up my roots and flow

So different in temperament
umbrella and eyes ascend over
rooftops up the dress of sky
It is home in a hotspot, grease
on the side, manifolds of appetite
Further from the skin, great pain

Mandibles sadly responsible
Panache to panache, trees heavy
with sweaters have long residence
and no obligation to shelter
The very young step forward
A retouched sky, ghostly
jurists behind it
Air with grimy disregard
waves hallway to hallway
which is when we meet
down here, where the gods are


As with all other brands of decline
No one meal tasted ever again
Never the same hand on the banister
Face lifted to the light
on a fork of lyrics
The window glows with it
awake or asleep

Gusts toss the kerchief of faith
like a demand for immodesty
written on tree bed sodden
with her perfume
Presume that what rises is pride
Overlapping drapes
of facetious questions
She cuts through
with words for you

At her disposal the blank
envelope falls from a pocket
Hidden by breasts a key swings
Full extension hand plucks
from institutional floor
the unsoiled unsealed packet
that proves who she is


Breath-temp gust moist lips late with runny hours
Pre-existing borders I can’t tell from
rhymes I hear in a vacuum
Roscoe comes on after dark air heats waves up
Let’s say my next step is finality and
the one after is empty staves

By autumn I don’t mean powdered bones
don’t mean uproot olives
Decline tells in a tarnished yellow on masonry
Shawls in late afternoon fruit plucked with insight
Multicolor ladders wait for frost
How many earth days equal winner take all

Horizon at your-guess-as-good-as-mine level
Leery dissent of the glut come to rest mid rotation
In all directions unhoneyed speech
Table shines under your hand that spreads like
a puppet airman on the last planet he would ever expect

Affinities or Being

Labor at affinities or being doesn’t feel
One of us does either and tells no answers
Your wetness is my dream of vulnerability
in a time of tinsel eucalyptus and ferrous youth
Just slip me some juices they are sap to me and

make my chest a poitrine
Make my eyes see the difference between twins
Reason takes her sliver out
and the box lid closes over sunset
Soundtrack: Hawaiian yodel
Your saint name in the middle endangered
Your wetness spreads a shiny blot

in the MRI of starved impulse
Antimaccassars from Madagascar
your elbows press down on
your hands limp in air

Good Outcomes

In April you try plans
Turns into May
Best thing is I don’t know bleep

Take dressing for sun
Time after time bad target
Elevated by ungodly machine
is of good outcomes

Of all sacks what sack fits?
I call you without lines
Does anything come of no one?

And turn into sand no salt
Deep hole it all disappears
Guttural languages: lost
Sliver in tragus: rare
Armband from funeral home

Don’t go away in madness
Don’t go away too sure
What a devil says computes
Go ahead, have a hey-day
Sun squeezes into tight sky
Man walks blocks in search

Divine Bones

Windshields float lightNowhere lacks a lass
Twos, threes, solos walkdon’t stroll
14th Street Waltz for Winds
Minimum posture: intent

High in the heavens –
well, not
Threnodies of tap
Shoe gargantuan
Head-of-pin shoe
Tap tap
Spare a dollar?
Have George Washington
nary slept here?
That’s called a squint

Less eager comfort
Temp’ll overnight rise
to foggy alarm
My breath my noose
Red vinyl boots nag
on a woman with divine bones
Vapor softens her brown chin
Coat belt loose
Feet in tears

Double Trap

Bridge of guitar
Lovers on it
Elsewhere, a chapped
sort of space mask
for dude breathing

On 14th Street lowroad
Stunning unmatronly
grandma with grandson
she raises, washed blue
of their denim matched set

And you say, play
the rigamarole like you
used to play it, and
I say:

Who dat? Who you do?
and play the muhfuh
way a double trap say

Back to today
Intermittent frisson
Coarse heart still soft

Carnival Fluid

Complexion of daylight and pretense

Nightfall and soulful prudence

Nothing really nothing to turn off
Street corner elements who kept rents low, ago

Indigenous and autonomous, same time
When carnival fluid drains they
move to Queens

Acrostic windows there
really make a muse out of you

Clowns stretch out under trees
in the backroom

River of quarks
Iceberg of buboes

Earth-defying humans

Infinity minus one


Lucky in
the wrong bed
White boy in
the wrong hat
Tropical depression
moon shines
the wrong night
So who wants Mr. Right in
the same dress
she wears?

It adds up, payback
The course waxed
for speed
Stalker ripe for
whipping chair
and news cartoons
Folk art in the hands
of assholes, you’ll
never sleep

Conscious banjo knee explodes
Deep river jubilee
in takeout quilt
Sink without a bed
to spoon in
Got broken code on me
she says
Red and blue random
idiot lights
Night will be
no less dark if
I dream of
safe sleep
on streets

The Idle Short

You don’t know them unless you learn ropes
Town-size kid with spacious daydreams
Brother a shade against mashed Studie chrome
Deep-freeze snow as temp plummets sound on
Temptation closes-in on maple roots
Crystals make drug-like appearance
Chemicals with religious fumes

Now the years are late and one city per person
Star of all dogs with jets in the sky
I read a banknote in the underpass
Democratic train wee-hour doze
Phones drop from Z-slackened hands
The Bronx in an hour

Underground: oppression on parade
Enormous men non-athletic
Petite woman wig private eyes blouse
fit tight to modest breasts brown
against tropic colors of cloth
For even the idle short rest
short end of stick short hairs


Trees less filthy after violent rain
Ships ride in moon rings
All of Olympus the Vedic crew and relativists
swallow soft matter
Safe house stinks of Shinola

Some noisome relic behind my eyes
Panty line of blue dips between street facades
So few children braid street door numbers anymore
Matrilineal dialects gone makes bugs in my head
Vapid mainlanders unaware walk on hand-helds

Make me merciful O Dog in pandemonium
integrity and ill health to forgive those
who do not know they are surrounded

Wrong Truck

In darkness the plaintiff reciprocates
Same unbreathable dust
Mercy in poultry sleep
Eggs and cutlet on pedestal
Sky flares and ground takes punch

Wreaking physics, wings scoop over
Rubble the least imported product
They will discover who doesn’t lie
Woe to the heirs

Commit memory to photos
Scratch and sniff unhygeinics
See how fleshy is hunger
Tranquility no term of address
Wrong truck blows up tomorrow
No surprise, it happens right
Feel it without feeling
Shocks to the head

The System

The system that works is
one of the forgotten
A law you can guess at
if only you can observe it
Like hammocks don’t
care which human is real
Only you will learn that
fucking in trees is for nymphs
Don’t mistake that for a law
Depends what your stake is
Marbled steak sweepstake
or high stakes
You get a flash come up with
prior results one of which
is extinction

The sea levels with you
Royal flush in sulfurs
Four of a kind in acids
Where you came from
is no place to go to
Bedtime approaches for H. bonzo
Not for all the horses on flags
Not for all the eyeballs in seas
Tighten straps on mask
Protect hair from micron dusts
Skin from searing forge
No more separate ways to go

Sands of fantasy fall in glass
Conjugation at the bottleneck
Time will be relieved of math
Last LED’ll crap out
Last inarticulate pain buried
No one left to hide

One Air

There is one air over the wall
It is a stride ahead this Friday
Land falls like raw sugar and the poisoned flood
kicks the plastic out of their teeth
Speed gun on theatrical skies
Can’t go through this alone
Still there are too many in town

Eye-candy rumpled stunner runs in flood
stretched sweats across brown Texas skin
while those with only wrapping cloths
covered heads above river
to Bangladeshi mud scarp
Sky as overfilled sieve and
grave as salve nothing to nothingness eyes
Whimper little babyLittle baby cry

Unhappy Folklore

The composition goes loopy the longer he plays
Reeds bust the windscreen
Dresses unfurl and furl throughout the Savoy
Ecstatic discipline for small fee
The beat’s only a dream unless you dance

Seventeen-chair blowout, Casa Loma
Van Vechten takes the dream to darkroom
Couples take the street as real
Liberty so momentary
Jim Crow one car behind
Drive home that third-hand Packard
past dark windows of unhappy folklore

Race to the Side eighty years on
Hands on the wheel, wheels on the shoulder
Driver’s-side palaver is racial
Dash compartment is
All conveyance is racial
Color deepens to be alive and ride
Halfway free should you die

Granite Bowels

I count lit windows
Less dread sparkles on lapels
Water whirls by river railing and
first-quarter moon clings
like an off-white crawling man

I cut myself off at the Sunoco
I imagine myself sun-baked lizard
When I am young and flight then
is more than survival
Now it is to defend pillow case
and boudoir of a goddess
Trace of black lip gloss
in her granite bowels

Acute feelings of my body
don’t come from my body anymore
Glass and steel without glass humors me
Die or cover my head with scaffolds
Forboding is a comic kind of reckless

So, I want ululating grief?
Far from frontlines far from peace

Civ Dis

Watch you don’t step
on my shine, punk
Between my elbows
and my glasses
is No-Fly
Between my fly
and my thigh
is outer-space capsule
You just be quiet to we

Hanging ‘ffense, mon cul

To all non-binary guerilla cadres:
His gender mind’s
a scant two inches
To all multi-maroon intransigent cliques:
His color lacks obedience
To all fernhead body-downs:
Lay them down
on denialers’ werewolf
Ain’t no living wage
in Armor Garden
Ironic camouflage is our exposition
Subvertationist catwalk knows time

Observe without you hide
Change mode of muck wash

Can’t predict change
So change like it’s yours to do
Them who back walk
don’t see the curtain drops
Don’t see the separated
baby head ain’t Martian

Them who back walk:
Stay in their way


John Godfrey with Bill Kushner

John Godfrey with Bernadette Mayer

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