Paul Hostovsky is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently, Is That What That Is (FutureCycle Press, 2017). He has won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, the Muriel Craft Bailey Award from the Comstock Review, and the 2015 FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize. His poems have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. He makes his living as a staff interpreter at the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf, in Boston.
The Squirrel Guy
pulls up in his pickup,
the names of rodents written
in an elegant cursive scrolling
across the driver’s door and around
the tailgate to the passenger side – squirrels, mice,
rats, raccoons, woodchucks, moles, voles,
beavers, gophers, opossums –
enumerating his catalog of services
the way contractors do their retaining walls,
patios, porches, decks, masonry. This man
specializes in Rodentia. I found him
under Squirrels. I have squirrels under
my roof, squirrels in my walls, squirrels
in my sleep. “The largest rodent in the world
is the capybara,” he whispers to me
as we stand together gazing up
at the suddenly conspicuous silence
emanating from my ceiling joists.
(They seem to know he’s here.)
“It’s a hamster the size of a sheep
or a sow. There’s a family of them
at Southwick Zoo, across from the kangaroos,
catty-corner from the Patagonian
cavies. I visit them from time to time”
His plan is to figure out where
they got in, set his humane traps
and catch them one by one, then plug
the hole and drive a hundred miles west
to the Berkshires. “Any closer than that
and they’d find their way back.” I like this guy
with his ladders and cages, his mercy and rodent
trivia: “Rodens is Latin for gnaw. They all
gnaw because they have two incisors
that never stop growing, and gnawing
is the only way to keep them short. So you can’t
blame them.” I don’t blame them. I thank him.
I pay him. And part of me wants to join him,
ride shotgun out to the Berkshires,
and just keep listening, learning, rethinking
Rodentia, a large family of squirrels
barking and chirping in the back,
the names of rodents encircling us.
This Is the Way the World Ends
The world is getting ugly
and the ugly are getting
beautiful – they were
always beautiful of course
but the world in all its beauty
didn’t see them that way
until now, now that things are
really ugly, really brutal,
we can only cover our mouths
and wonder how such people
can do such things.
And what was ugly before
pales beside this new ugliness,
which is very, very old.
And that pallor and that
pose – the hand at the mouth
at the sight of so much
ugliness – is oh my god
that it blows the world
in all its beauty away.
We stumbled upon
a classical guitar contest going on
on the fourth floor of the music building,
snuck inside and sidled in
to some empty seats in the back, feeling vaguely
wrong. There were two guitarists up on stage
facing off like boxers, only seated, each holding a guitar
in the classical manner: left foot higher
than the right, knee in the curve of
the instrument where it flared like the hip of a lover.
One guitarist played while the other listened.
Then they switched, the first one listening
while the other played. Then two bearded stagehands
bearing new guitars as gingerly
as if they were bombs to be diffused or sleeping babies
handed them to the two guitarists
and took the used ones off their hands,
carrying them with the same solicitude
offstage. Then the same musical pieces
were played, more guitars brought out, and the same pieces
repeated. It finally dawned on us: the guitars
were competing, not the guitarists. The wares
of classical guitar makers from all over the world
were competing here: the audience was filled
with luthiers, and classical guitarists looking
to buy their next axe. It was the strangest feeling,
like all this time we’d been gazing east
while everyone watched a sunset in the west.
First place went to a Spaniard, second to a Czech,
third to an American from San Antonio, Texas.
Afterwards, out in the lobby, the only way to tell
the classical guitarists from the rest of us mortals
was by their unusually long thumbnails.
His life was this spectacular view from a window
that he’d stumbled onto in his early twenties,
a feeling like falling in love every time he came home to it,
just standing there without taking off his coat,
taking it in with a kind of dumb
gratitude and awe, this breathtaking
feeling of undeserved and unheard-of
happiness stretching out like a horizon,
the warm southern aspect welcoming him home
like a lover’s eyes meeting his
every time he walked through the door.
And this spectacular view
was his life and his life was this view.
But then somehow, slowly,
he got used to the view. He grew
accustomed to the unaccustomed beauty
and richness and luck of his own life. He walked through the door
and didn’t see it anymore. He didn’t even look.
He threw off his coat, threw down his keys and his phone
and headed straight into the kitchen
for another beer. The view at the window
had become just another wall
in a life full of walls. It was a kind of blindness,
what they call facial blindness –
he could no longer recognize the faces
of any of his own angels. It was also a kind of
defenestration – he had thrown the spectacular view from a window
out the window. And it was a kind of death,
though no one actually died, and life went on like that
bleakly, and blindly, and for a very long time.