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.