photographs glossy and smudged

a whole city’s smog-dust on my
desk must have something to do with it

I think I’m supposed to say something
about all this        how about: I exist and
this sea turtle does not like oil under her shell

an airplane is landing at the edge of sky
it came here over an ocean though we don’t
know which one         my cold water doesn’t work
it’s all scorching steam every time I turn on
the faucet         tomorrow I’ll call the landlord

this sand crab does not like oil in her eyes
and this dolphin has oil between his
teeth      this shark turns and hides in oil
swallows oil      there was once a pattern
in all these motions

there are so many ideas about how art works and
what one should use it for but maybe nothing is practical
sometimes I worry about my friends and family
their health and what I would do without them etc.

this pelican does not like oil

from my window: around the empire state building the light is pale
and midway up brooklyn’s trees pale          then towards the top it’s darkening
towards where airplanes are now defined not by sun but by their own lights
and they move like twirly toys with undefined destinations         this blowfish turns
belly up       she did not like oil      this alligator does not like oil and this bird
I don’t know the name of used to have color

to speak of a photograph I would describe its colors
these men like oil        I would say there’s some blue at the top
and down below some red where a different shade of blue
used to be and when that red touches land like when blood
touches air it changes color but this red in the water changes
to black

maybe these men want to suck oil from bird feathers with straws
and spit it out and sell it

maybe these men who speak about all this think their hands
can change this         can change how sun falls on their faces
or values of oil          thank god prices have stabilized

but describing a photograph is different from describing what
I see there’s a whole different language used to describe things I can’t
touch         the slick spots on water and sand I can’t run my hand through
feeling the smoothness          if I forget all about thinking if I forget about
pores on the surface of my skin      forget about imagination which pulls
strings to help me think into the future       if I forget all this I can tell you
what the colors look like in the photographs glossy and smudged with
fingerprints from passersby who decided not to buy them
who kept walking onward into throngs of commuters at union square
like slowly untangling balls of yarn all intertwined

but this stingray is swimming towards antarctica trailing lines of oil

I quit smoking recently to improve the way my lungs feel or felt
but many of my close friends smoke in fact most of the ones I most
care about smoke so I’m not thinking of my health when we’re together
watching movies smoking in the dark or standing on a rooftop listening
to trains clack and pass         I’m thinking of how smoke changes how I feel
and I inhale


My poetry is mostly concerned with pushing into what one can see and speculating about what’s just beneath it, or just beyond it. Therefore, an image from my immediate surroundings is necessarily tied to what’s not immediate, what might be elusive, and what, therefore, requires imagination (of poet and of reader) to believe in. And that’s where asking the reader to care about both the world and the world as re-presented in the poetry becomes important. The drama and gravity of the oil spill inspired a reaction which is ultimately very human in its simplicity. I wanted to capture some sort of primal, animal reaction involving those who caused this catastrophe, but without losing track of the fact that I am human and in some way connected (as everyone is) to it. The simple diction is just one way of palpably re-imagining these connections, which sometimes feel as though they’re faltering, but must be re-introduced and emphasized, integrated into the quotidian.


Tony Iantosca is a poet living in Brooklyn, New York, where he’s enrolled in the MFA program in creative writing at Long Island University. He has work forthcoming in Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, and the online journal EOAGH: a Journal of the Arts. With good friend and extraordinary poet Daniel Owen, Tony is co-editor of the poetry journal Sun’s Skeleton.

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