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John Godfrey at KGB 11/21/16

I no longer teach on Monday nights so I can get to the KGB poetry readings whenever I want, and I was especially looking forward to hearing John Godfrey read. When host, Ali Power, introduced John saying he was the Buddha of the New York School, I liked that a lot because there is a unity and a loving honesty to both the man and his work whether he is talking to you or you are reading something he wrote.

Wave Books recently published John’s selected works, The City Keeps, so I was expecting him to read from that, but he didn’t do what I was expecting, and read poems he had recently written, which he was kind enough to send me later on to include in this blog, seventeen poems in all. As I read them and listened to John read them at the same time, I was astonished to find not one typo in the poems he had sent and not one misspoken word in what he said; at first I thought he had misspelled the word “rose” with a double R “rrose,” but when he trilled the R like a Frenchman would every word was where it belonged and I understood what I read and what I heard was one, you might say perfectly planned, but as John says in a poem to Bill Berkson:

It’s possible to forge
paths you don’t seek

I will include John’s surprising poems below so you can read along and follow.

with Bernadette Mayer

with Bernadette Mayer

with Bill Kushner

with Bill Kushner

for Larry Fagin

How many girls on roofs
in lieu of bygones
How many inkspots fade
in your tattoo
Bricks vanish and reappear
on which I dedicate this poem
Needle in groove begets microgrooves
in time to your life
Encounters without words
without rejection
Everything you cannot do better
lights up your fingernails

I focus distant haze down a
cul-de-sac you give your name
I sponge bathe sidewalk with
name-brand socks
I take your hand and
lift you into jitterbug
I make you smell piss-elegant
of surreal rrose

I measure your pillow for down
I measure your name for stone

Those Who Draw
for Bill Berkson

Clouds hunt close for food
first in hotspot
slip beach through arms
and shift eyes
It’s possible to forge
paths you don’t seek

During the salty lavage
body sinks into sable
Reflections make the whole sky
a middling sky
Look again and you will think
Your observation abstracts
Out of nothings
details serialize
They are shadows on highlights
Nothing is but
one class of Something
It honors those
who draw best

The unfathomable rests
lightly in its golden state
Ashy horizon, peaceful ocean
gives blur to air
Waves of pressure from
sudden trapped music
inside your chest automatically
astonish, the task
you finish of
a million years

Balance Beam
for Ted Greenwald

I throw in an extra three
like cherries in fruit salad
Spike the thermos
put it under my arm
for the picture
We all pile on, the pile
loses something, it
becomes a pie
of aromatic meat
No Swimsuits Beyond This Point

Identify the bitter as sand
in your iced tea
Uh-oh, the game is coming
to a boil
and you hog the radio
You write on an airwave
“Oooh!” once

Letters set to a purpose hang
above the balance beam
long enough
The floorshow begins
You’re dressed right
believe me
What’re you waiting for –
moon mom in Babylon?

Window halfway full
Cool sundown whiff
of child’s play
Man feeling feelings
That’s when you
locate your slurve

One Day Across

Vanquish toy with hash
One stovepipe hat away
from internalized broth
All zipped and buttoned
Watch cards turn over

Wake like a buzzard’s
Take off OSHA tags
On subway look at
feet in winter
Doors open, at faces

How many accolades
that there is one day
Across overflow I
save the broken line

One Cheek

Coarse dark tan sprite
High heel Chuckie Ts
Not like me she owns the joint
If I were to say lonely, no, lovely
Let no one vanish
You release her into
high-by-design sky
Visible ghost night and bye week

Repentance is how many words
Volumes she says and no pretense
See one cheek at a time
half turned toward bottle glow
Perennial request to be bad
Brain pan a skillet

Purity drains from bubble
Look beyond gait when she’s drunk
Her attic ain’t empty
Blossoming syringa bonds
Guttural clear panavision
Directional sense in doorways

Paradise Last

My first impression, the tap
runs honey
Mergatroids and morbidity
in paradise
Last place you want to be
a caught dog
When trees unspool
leaf cures
and the hounds have
thrill habits

Compared to where –
Psycho paths and
ballistic exceptions?
Got tame, man
walk-up chic
These days go miles
to see ferals
Freak youth don’t
count, they ballin’

Feet away Jen
sells a book
B side of park
redtail nests
Branch tips fuzz with
newby greens
Capital trees abide
bricks and frieze
Come again, they say
Like, fifty years
Overboard Quotient

Lonely heart gold and old
Maybe Hamlet’s, maybe Jonesie’s
Childlike saltwater hearts
between my legs
Peppercorns inside my toes
They grow crooked and beguile

Canvas tarp flags and snaps
Squalls are overboard
Quotient pre-exists division
and goose eggs navigate
the firm concrete boots
Absorbed in my sextant
I outlive my pants
Wedgies lost without
Coffee last within

Look through near mist
Handlers of love
out of pity bleed fate
Rocky anthems and
Guillaume too tells
Whom am I to say
I hear? in this flood
of readymade air
The flotilla picks up pace
A sudden change in
register as cabs express it
Corner, corner, wall

Plankton Heart

Such clinical intrusion
Eastern rim grays
Whistle, day’s first starling

My desires, and my
abdication from, shout
in native language

So, bizarre kinship, is it?
Neon fabric of plankton
Heart and mac-cheese flag

Feels like timeout for trident
Prow, my nose cuts
through air-borne river

I can leave only so
many fingerprints
You trifle, I do the time


Genre excitation
Same sort of skin
Words of the future
strain vanity
Whistle in the smoke
Drop fare in
the box of extradition
Magician fakes a bus

A night made for
ultra-light planes
Pull away from likeness
It’s too much to portage
Redirection of scorn towards
base contingency
Ugly catharsis is…
Physically negligent
and credulous

Everyone has a reason as
our first film demonstrates
You’d be alive were it closer
Skin even darker when pressed
Breath flavored apple
Sudden manifestation
of stability
Wrong has so much on its side
About the status
of, I’m sorry, your rescue


Infamous gadgets
fall out of sky
Body-part sequel face
disturbed, so graft
tattoo on leg
you push off with
in my own fitful mind
Blind? Then
imagination’ll do
No question
even in words
Streetside trees
dying for shrimp
Not every powdery street
Just here-and-there

Not-unreal barbarism
Wipes ass
on Montaigne
Asleep on the dribble
pockets wide open
Takes a city down

Piece by piece
and ersatz pizza
Commissary but one
of the evils

Nifty Walls

Harbor so far
Night in a jar
Lightning will be
lightning afterall
I wear my pants as well
as pants people do
My sarong says where
I sleep

Wets me not, the sky
Streetside trees
too, too dry
I replace my bib
with a spray
of fireballs
No shit, what a night

I been wonder
kwaz the name
you looking for?
It’s Burns?
From what I still see
rayon velour nifty
walls in these halls

Wouldn’t butter melt
Fie on your mopeds
Fie your snot
At sea, me
unfocussed desire
Stairs make sounds
not my pogo stick
Inside the door
my teeth are gold

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

Pooled Blood

Tin Pan Alley
rises to my feet
I entertain some
thought there
Others overtake the bus
play stand-up
blow a fuse
B-list responders all
No one else believes
a thrifty meal fine

Ruins backdrop the frock
Turn the page
to the version
in color
How red looks in smoke
that thick, jeez
all from one bust-up
only a mezzanine at that
My mental age are
janitor, and I
get pooled blood
Frame the shot with your fingers
just off center
on the bias

So, lobby somewhat blue
brain drain and all
You don’t be making cozy
right now, they might
come back for the rest of it
Getaway on wheels, ha!
Run for it, it
is what?
Collar sags
pull it off yourself

Gin rummy with vodka types
Best holiday there is
in the name of Charlene
“Charli the Fog” Macaroni
Say “cheese”


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

Finger of Dog

Marginal sidewalk, sort of sober, whistle
Wooly mammoth behind
multi-hued beetle ahead
I am touched on my nipples
by the finger of dog
Annunciation by fleas
Behind the right hedge
something notorious

There’s no better place to knit
picked-over bones
Bo Diddley on violin meets
the Brotherhood of Light
Yes, the wind tunnel does
raise hems and
same time, my eyes
As stated in the formula for
rocky roads

Hero comes in last, an American
Meager two-barrel
Giant rides shotgun
Footprint wide as horrified eyes
Mudflats from high window
turn to salt
Hand trembles to touch goggles
Elapsed time shrinks distance
Half blind
Lookin’ good

Guess Train

Daylight regrets, returns
fake receipt up sleeve
Policy stretches
to home shore?
Third-hand window
heat exchange
sweeter breath
Howl or siren
Fondle or script

Random chairs
lit by design
Markers contrast
with crimson felt
Dealer has a tip
coming, takes a right
a right, then a left
like thirsty Freds do
Rider debarks
from guess train
Aromas mix up odors
Best-washed scenario
halts, hand on knish

Time for a put-me-down
Warden walks into radio surf
No rush, no muss, usual
broken heels and
I organize so few deserters
Their taste for sweet wine
and gunnysacks
for dreamless shaves

Blue Blue

Lapful of cumulous in
French-blue sky
Pink baby pendules
do not rain
Sun conks out
All guidance pre-lingo’s
petty shawl

Wine stain infests
in some wise
the ramp
I re-dream on
Few specks
not of light
Every August
nose falls
Many ticks
Now’n then tock

Times behind me
lose factuality
Vigor in memory
pleases some
Feels as if heaven
is open today

Heavy air sticks
to hot body
Living room tree
pleads water
Too-tired minuet
Mosquitos kiss
Blue blue dark


John Godfrey’s new selected poems, The City Keeps, is published by Wave Books. Check them out:


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