Two Poems

Poetry / Paul Otremba

:: The New Republic of California ::

I was not remembering the Republic—the cooked egg expertly peeled and split,
a more perfect union toppled by a hair—because that was love they split.

It’s a problem with the math, being told to pick points on a map, then to imagine 
your body in towns you’ll never visit, the distance constantly split.

On this side, a landscape of prisons, pox, slumping extractions of minerals;
on that side, prayer groups and quarterly projections, so hardly a good split.

It’s the recipe for taking what can’t be lost and smashing it
from the charge and orbit, the spin of the matter/antimatter split.

The climate never lets you forget—water might get into the cracks
and freeze, so the face of the statue would split.

On this side, the hand-dipped rag full of gasoline; on that side, the same 
hand offering the rag as a salve to your lip it had split.

I was ready to go Dutch, but your grand juries, emergency sessions,
and Sunday schools have racked up a bill I can’t split.

So what if we cry, Lightning! No hard feelings! Then slap palms moving  
through the line-up—Good game. Good game—just call the score a split?

Don’t feel bad if you recognize you’re just a little bit excited. Everybody  
knows when you come up aces, there’s reward in just saying you’ll split.

We still believe in fair warnings, like any good protagonist: One if by late night 
host. Two if by C-SPAN. Then I’ll know to get back on my horse and split.


:: Peripatetic ::

	—After Pablo Neruda and Tomás Q. Morín

I don’t want to continue as a root and a tomb.
I don’t want all this misery.
And I don’t think I ever imagined a workable future,

or any future, for that matter, reading in the bedroom,
or basement, or public park, although getting on
at Station A presupposed some notion of Station B.

And of course it’s not like a train,
but more like a slide, if a slide were full of holes
falling onto other slides with still other holes

opening upon new surfaces to walk along,
this street onto this street, this block
of condos with 24-hour concierge, business

and fitness centers, or these homes hugging
lot lines. Each encouragement announced 
for the continually updating optimal route 

inevitably leading where? It’s the kind of game
we can play interminably: was it getting in the car 
or not getting in the car? The absentee ballot

instead of just rolling over in bed?
If you ask me today, I’ll say I’m tired,
while in front of the cameras, a man in all seriousness

claims if you inspect a gift horse’s mouth 
and discover rotten teeth, it’s only the horse’s 
moral failing you are witness to. Of course,

it isn’t about a horse, and the gift
is only a gift in the sense that you didn’t ask for it
but woke to it in your bed sheets anyway. 

I’d say prop him up, look him in the eyes,
if they weren’t only divots plugged with coins
and palm ashes. His tongue is forked

and the tips can fill both his ears. What image
of the world does he summon forth
when his tongue beats the air?


From the writer

:: Account ::

“The New Republic of California”

It’s hard not to get caught up in the divisiveness of contemporary American politics, and I’m finding it harder and harder not to give in to some exhaustion about maintaining a more perfect union. When I read some tweets a couple months ago that joked about starting a new country on the west coast that would take as its principles real liberty, acceptance, and compassion, I had the thought, “Why not? I’d go.” This poem let me indulge in that rhetoric, with—I hope—a healthy bit of skepticism and self-mockery. The “ravishing disunities” of the ghazal seemed appropriate for the subject, and early on in the writing process, I had the idea for how I might “sign” my name into the final couplet.


This is another poem in the spirit of exhaustion with the state of contemporary American politics and governance. Finding myself literally thinking “I’m tired” reminded me of Pablo Neruda’s great poem “Walking Around,” and so I went and reread Tomás Q. Morín’s excellent translation of that poem, which let me feel that solidarity of poetry and its human companionship. The poem opens with two lines from Morín’s translation. That companionship of poetry helps me when I’m sliding into my despair.


Paul Otremba is the author of two poetry collections, Pax Americana (Four Way Books, 2015) and The Currency (Four Way Books, 2009). Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in West Branch, the Kenyon Review, Oversound, and Waxwing. He is an Assistant Professor of creative writing at Rice University and teaches in the Warren Wilson low-residency MFA program.