“Little Beast” by Richard Siken


An all-night barbeque. A dance on the courthouse lawn.
     The radio aches a little tune that tells the story of what the night
is thinking. It’s thinking of love.
             It’s thinking of stabbing us to death
and leaving our bodies in a dumpster.
   That’s a nice touch, stains in the night, whiskey and kisses for everyone.

Tonight, by the freeway, a man eating fruit pie with a buckknife
    carves the likeness of his lover’s face into the motel wall. I like him
and I want to be like him, my hands no longer an afterthought.


Someone once told me that explaining is an admission of failure.
    I’m sure you remember, I was on the phone with you, sweetheart.


History repeats itself. Somebody says this.
    History throws its shadow over the beginning, over the desktop,
over the sock drawer with its socks, its hidden letters.
            History is a little man in a brown suit
    trying to define a room he is outside of.
I know history. There are many names in history
                  but none of them are ours.


He had green eyes,
            so I wanted to sleep with him
    green eyes flecked with yellow, dried leaves on the surface of a pool–
You could drown in those eyes, I said.
              The fact of his pulse,
the way he pulled his body in, out of shyness or shame or a desire
    not to disturb the air around him.
Everyone could see the way his muscles worked,
            the way we look like animals,
                his skin barely keeping him inside.
      I wanted to take him home
and rough him up and get my hands inside him, drive my body into his
    like a crash test car.
              I wanted to be wanted and he was
very beautiful, kissed with his eyes closed, and only felt good while moving.
    You could drown in those eyes, I said,
                  so it’s summer, so it’s suicide,
so we’re helpless in sleep and struggling at the bottom of the pool.


It wasn’t until we were well past the middle of it
    that we realized
the old dull pain, whose stitched wrists and clammy fingers,
              far from being subverted,
had only slipped underneath us, freshly scrubbed.
          Mirrors and shop windows returned our faces to us,
      replete with the tight lips and the eyes that remained eyes
               and not the doorways we had hoped for.
His wounds healed, the skin a bit thicker than before,
    scars like train tracks on his arms and on his body underneath his shirt.


We still groped for each other on the backstairs or in parked cars
                as the roads around us
grew glossy with ice and our breath softened the view through a glass
      already laced with frost,
but more frequently I was finding myself sleepless, and he was running out of
But damn if there isn’t anything sexier
          than a slender boy with a handgun,
                  a fast car, a bottle of pills.


What would you like? I’d like my money’s worth.
            Try explaining a life bundled with episodes of this—
      swallowing mud, swallowing glass, the smell of blood
on the first four knuckles.
              We pull our boots on with both hands
but we can’t punch ourselves awake and all I can do
        is stand on the curb and say Sorry
           about the blood in your mouth. I wish it was mine.

I couldn’t get the boy to kill me, but I wore his jacket for the longest time.

~ Richard Siken, from Crush


I tried to get the line formatting as close to Siken’s as possible. To see the poem in its original format, you may read it in a .pdf version of Crush HERE or buy the book on Amazon HERE.

A wave of thanks and gratitude to Josie F. who suggested this poem for us via our Contact page.

“Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out” by Richard Siken

Every morning the maple leaves.
                               Every morning another chapter where the hero shifts
            from one foot to the other. Every morning the same big
and little words all spelling out desire, all spelling out
                                             You will be alone always and then you will die.
So maybe I wanted to give you something more than a catalog
         of non-definitive acts,
something other than the desperation.
                   Dear So-and-So, I’m sorry I couldn’t come to your party.
Dear So-and-So, I’m sorry I came to your party
         and seduced you
and left you bruised and ruined, you poor sad thing.
                                                         You want a better story. Who wouldn’t?
A forest, then. Beautiful trees. And a lady singing.
                  Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on.
What a sweet lady. Sing lady, sing! Of course, she wakes the dragon.
            Love always wakes the dragon and suddenly
                                                                                               flames everywhere.
I can tell already you think I’m the dragon,
                that would be so like me, but I’m not. I’m not the dragon.
I’m not the princess either.
                           Who am I? I’m just a writer. I write things down.
I walk through your dreams and invent the future. Sure,
               I sink the boat of love, but that comes later. And yes, I swallow
         glass, but that comes later.
                                                            And the part where I push you
flush against the wall and every part of your body rubs against the bricks,
            shut up
I’m getting to it.
                                    For a while I thought I was the dragon.
I guess I can tell you that now. And, for a while, I thought I was
                                                                                                the princess,
cotton candy pink, sitting there in my room, in the tower of the castle,
          young and beautiful and in love and waiting for you with
            but the princess looks into her mirror and only sees the princess,
while I’m out here, slogging through the mud, breathing fire,
                                                               and getting stabbed to death.
                                    Okay, so I’m the dragon. Big deal.
          You still get to be the hero.
You get magic gloves! A fish that talks! You get eyes like flashlights!
                  What more do you want?
I make you pancakes, I take you hunting, I talk to you as if you’re
            really there.
Are you there, sweetheart? Do you know me? Is this microphone live?
                                                       Let me do it right for once,
             for the record, let me make a thing of cream and stars that becomes,
you know the story, simply heaven.
                   Inside your head you hear a phone ringing
                                                               and when you open your eyes
only a clearing with deer in it. Hello deer.
                               Inside your head the sound of glass,
a car crash sound as the trucks roll over and explode in slow motion.
             Hello darling, sorry about that.
                                                       Sorry about the bony elbows, sorry we
lived here, sorry about the scene at the bottom of the stairwell
                                    and how I ruined everything by saying it out loud.
            Especially that, but I should have known.
You see, I take the parts that I remember and stitch them back together
            to make a creature that will do what I say
or love me back.
                  I’m not really sure why I do it, but in this version you are not
feeding yourself to a bad man
                                                   against a black sky prickled with small lights.
            I take it back.
The wooden halls like caskets. These terms from the lower depths.
                                                I take them back.
Here is the repeated image of the lover destroyed.
                                                                                               Crossed out.
            Clumsy hands in a dark room. Crossed out. There is something
underneath the floorboards.
                   Crossed out. And here is the tabernacle
Here is the part where everyone was happy all the time and we were all
even though we didn’t deserve it.
                                                                    Inside your head you hear
a phone ringing, and when you open your eyes you’re washing up
            in a stranger’s bathroom,
standing by the window in a yellow towel, only twenty minutes away
                           from the dirtiest thing you know.
All the rooms of the castle except this one, says someone, and suddenly
                                                                                     suddenly only darkness.
In the living room, in the broken yard,
                                  in the back of the car as the lights go by. In the airport
          bathroom’s gurgle and flush, bathed in a pharmacy of
unnatural light,
             my hands looking weird, my face weird, my feet too far away.
And then the airplane, the window seat over the wing with a view
                                                            of the wing and a little foil bag of peanuts.
I arrived in the city and you met me at the station,
          smiling in a way
                    that made me frightened. Down the alley, around the arcade,
          up the stairs of the building
to the little room with the broken faucets, your drawings, all your things,
                                                I looked out the window and said
                                This doesn’t look that much different from home,
            because it didn’t,
but then I noticed the black sky and all those lights.
                                           We walked through the house to the elevated train.
            All these buildings, all that glass and the shiny beautiful
                                                                                             mechanical wind.
We were inside the train car when I started to cry. You were crying too,
            smiling and crying in a way that made me
even more hysterical. You said I could have anything I wanted, but I
                                                                                      just couldn’t say it out loud.
Actually, you said Love, for you,
                                 is larger than the usual romantic love. It’s like a religion. It’s
                                                                                                 terrifying. No one
                                                                                 will ever want to sleep with you.
Okay, if you’re so great, you do it—
                        here’s the pencil, make it work . . .
If the window is on your right, you are in your own bed. If the window
            is over your heart, and it is painted shut, then we are breathing
river water.
            Build me a city and call it Jerusalem. Build me another and call it
                            We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not
what we sought, so do it over, give me another version,
             a different room, another hallway, the kitchen painted over
and over,
             another bowl of soup.
The entire history of human desire takes about seventy minutes to tell.
             Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time.
                                                                                                 Forget the dragon,
leave the gun on the table, this has nothing to do with happiness.
                                        Let’s jump ahead to the moment of epiphany,
             in gold light, as the camera pans to where
the action is,
             lakeside and backlit, and it all falls into frame, close enough to see
                                                the blue rings of my eyes as I say
                                                                                                   something ugly.
I never liked that ending either. More love streaming out the wrong way,
             and I don’t want to be the kind that says the wrong way.
But it doesn’t work, these erasures, this constant refolding of the pleats.
                                                            There were some nice parts, sure,
all lemondrop and mellonball, laughing in silk pajamas
             and the grains of sugar
                              on the toast, love love or whatever, take a number. I’m sorry
                                                                                  it’s such a lousy story.
Dear Forgiveness, you know that recently
                     we have had our difficulties and there are many things
                                                                                                  I want to ask you.
I tried that one time, high school, second lunch, and then again,
             years later, in the chlorinated pool.
                                      I am still talking to you about help. I still do not have
             these luxuries.
I have told you where I’m coming from, so put it together.
                                                            We clutch our bellies and roll on the floor . . .
             When I say this, it should mean laughter,
not poison.
                  I want more applesauce. I want more seats reserved for heroes.
Dear Forgiveness, I saved a plate for you.
                                                  Quit milling around the yard and come inside.


“Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out” by Richard Siken. From Crush, © 2006 by Yale University, published by Yale University Press.

“Detail of the Woods” by Richard Siken

I looked at all the trees and didn’t know what to do.

A box made out of leaves.
What else was in the woods? A heart, closing. Nevertheless.

Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.
I kept my mind on the moon. Cold moon, long nights moon.

From the landscape: a sense of scale.
From the dead: a sense of scale.

I turned my back on the story. A sense of superiority.
Everything casts a shadow.

Your body told me in a dream it’s never been afraid of anything.

– “Detail of the Woods” by Richard Siken


* Posted in parallel with Words for the Weekend: I’m the Last Leaf on the Tree – Vol. 19