Deborah Landau's "Welcome to the Future"
from Welcome to the Future
Richard propped up the bottles
like bowling pins
I had fallen into despair
did this bother him
when Richard left I broke
my throat I bit my tongue
cracked teeth my mouth split my lip
smashed chairs in the bar trashed
poems I was writing
all this breaking was very expensive
there is no Richard but I think it was Richard
who had the idea of pouring libations
because of the stumbling thirst
because our lives are like that
I am writing this to do as right as possible by Richard
think back to the bed look out at the bar
the fragrant medicinal flasks
I don't care to drink anymore because when I drink
it makes me hopeless
Richard, are you going to come back
to the bar where you belong
or just leave me here
here is a flask
I am tired of being metaphysical
our bar is a winter bar
at night we need the dream
of all the objects lined up in a row
On "Welcome to the Future"
A few years ago I was in a writing group with some amazing poets—Noelle Kocot, Dorothea Lasky, Anthony McCann, Damian Rogers, Matthew Rohrer, Richard Siken, and Matthew Zapruder. The idea was we'd each write a poem every day for a month, and we'd take turns giving writing prompts. All of this was done by email, and there was great pressure to get a poem done and sent out by the end of each day—pressure which turned out to be extraordinarily helpful to me in generating a lot of new material. One day Richard Siken gave the following rather cryptic assignment:
Get a drink and put it in front of you.
If I gave you poison, would you drink it?
What if it made you stronger?
Now drink or don't.
Now write in couplets.
I'm not exactly sure how I ended up writing the poem I did from this prompt, but am grateful to Richard for provoking me to do so. The poem ended up in my most recent book, The Last Usable Hour—a series of linked lyric sequences set in a midwinter, perpetually-nocturnal New York City—and sits in the apocalyptic final section, "Welcome to the Future".
Deborah Landau is the author of The Last Usable Hour, a Lannan Literary Selection published by Copper Canyon Press, and Orchidelirium, which won the Anhinga Prize for Poetry. She is Director of the Creative Writing Program at New York University.
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Poem reprinted from The Last Usable Hour. Copyright © 2011 by Deborah Landau. Reprinted with permission of the author and Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.