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  • Writer's pictureRyan Nowlin

Notes from an Open Channel

Notes from an Open



These are the gauchos roaming

the pampas and those are the Gauleiters

gliding through a series of Zoom meetings

like those Hollywood squares we loved

as kids with everyone glugging

down jeroboams of Pouilly-Fuissé.

Some early glimmers of fame;

a few islands of camaraderie.

The tempo of August is quiet, even monastic

I may be able to communicate

by going through the correct channels

or communities of practice.

The interesting coveys of city poets,

their speech acts and interrogatives

into the nature of existence

bonds between kinsman or kinship,

mutual exile--getting lost--Wayfinding--

I hit rock bottom in Philly in 03,

except there was no bottom to hit.

Pennsylvania was a long state

just like Tennessee. Sounds coming

from the checkout, but nobody moves

Country music, with its dismal two

not theme, I’m drunk and ready to dance

and I am really drunk and she loves me.

The papers are calling for snow piling

up in Philly, or as we say here Fluffya.


Spring birds in flight

orient themselves and correct

for drift by listening to a chorus

of peepers in a pond far below

and rock lobsters scuttle from

head to tail in tandem conga lines.

The state of being lost

is a kind of vertigo--Not all

who wander are lost.

I think of the enlarged

posterior hippocampus of taxi drivers

whose words are of themselves

a point of entry, but those worded

inscriptions describe distances

like the genetic imprint of an ant

as a hot metal is poured down the heap,

leaving tiny ant legs disturbed

in their little sanctuaries.

A cloud mirrored in a painting

by John Constable without even

a view of what actually is the silt

brown Bristol Channel between England

and Wales. Why can’t I explain

the irrepressible dialectic of history

( two steps forward and one step back)


American democracy has

always reinvented itself.

The Wyoming frontier was once

stitched with Buffalo grass.

To reach the nearest city

just follow the rail line,

our permanent zone of transit--

a train, an ark--a fleeting vantage point,

slow to pass, yet still we rocked

in their wake as boats on the sea.

That one wouldn’t be able to cope

without spending at least three consecutive

days in the city was the unintended

complication of having a home

in the suburbs to which one could return.

A sovereign surveyor abruptly

ended his term looming above

a mountain of contending theories

about how our institutions

came to be inculcated in the dark

expressive waters of white supremacy.

The polis at the bottom

of our existence, the bottom

of the sea masks all civility,

relieving idlers of all

their convictions. The scapegoat

is dead in their lifetime

of some public darkness.

He may be ugly, but he is not

stupid. The moon is now a tangent,

an opacity on someone else’s

distant horizon, yet one need

not travel to Niagara Falls

to feel the impact of falling water.1


They say SCOTUS is the eye

of the storm, the branch of

government least swayed by

partisan politics-Gorsuch,

Kavanaugh, Garland

impressions fading into

the background, yet the obscenity

of President Trump belies all our

efforts to write or paint.

A push for a conservative

seat after R.B.G.‘s death as if

Roe v. Wade could be overturned

by some hydraulic pressure

like a gauge at a taking on the grounds,

uncomfortable room, caught like a bird.

Swedish Prime minister Olaf Palme,

inspired R.B.G. to open channels

of work force as a result of the military

industrial complex. Women began to occupy

positions of power in industry and politics.

I found out about R.B.G.’s death

while I was eating at a Mexican restaurant.

The grail of guac began to taste bland

and the chips were stale as cardboard.

Lincoln’s hand is clasping

a fasces-a leather thong that

tightly binds all thirteen rods--

one for each of the original colonies--

but there is a twist--

a bald eagle head sits atop the axe,

an American touch,

“E Pluribus Unum”,

or Out of Many, One.


A Swedish photographer once

propositioned me, saying, I was perfect

for the camera. I couldn’t be convinced

Still that interaction wasn’t a scene

or a support where something comes to pass

and it had nothing to do with fantasy.

We Swedes, on the other hand,

are more direct. Well, that’s civilization,

to disguise the elemental nature with the glamorous

socialite in a black, silk evening dress

Class consciousness is knowing what side

of the fence you’re one,

who’s there with you and are we

on the same page?

Next door the shoulders

of a house the color of yellow

bathroom tiles are half raised

as if in apology. The kids

have thrown the pool noodles

onto our lawn as well as tubs

of firecrackers, tulips, magnolia.


I was on my lunch break

from the Complaint Dept.

at Western Union when I decided

to go to the Museum

of Natural History, with its

endless interior hallways

and then I found

my friend Olivia rummaging

through a bin. She was listening

to F.D.R.’s Four Essential Freedoms

as read by James Baldwin.

Never have I heard such musical

talking, a waltz really.

Kerouac once read his novel

about Neal & Maggie Cassidy

while Steven Allen noodled

on the piano. So what’s Kerouac?

Kern being “Cairn” and “auk”

language of. Then kerr means house.

A scattering of bachelor mags

have loosened their hold like noodles

in a flat brine of city water.

The fence dog has lifted up its legs

and run into the house.

The dawn sky blushing. Crow’s “auk”

16 years with a cackle absent raven mind

all day the wind stirs up the magpie

brown carpet of leaves unweaving

at the slat fence.


At the concrete bridge

in an alcove of leaves

green thumbprints from

an unseen hand.

A wind hammer demolition job

of surf suite roofs and palms

trees imported from Florida queue

up Lumina Ave. A hand bears

good tidings.

A voice in the hand

is worth two in the sand,

said Feel Good Phil,

a voice of the proletariat

whose presence on the crew

of roofers stapled to present

punctuality the enigmatic origin

of the cotton kingdom

which was built by hand

out of fever, sun, water

and soil, animal energy,

human labor, and mother’s milk,

grain, flesh and cotton, pain,

hunger, of fatigue; blood,

milk, semen & shit: (John Locke

lodged no complaint against human bondage),

his whip, his gaping mouth;

A licked interface, a salt lick;

the forever poised shift

between forced bondage

and the stained foot-prints

the roofers left behind

to mark their passage--

Each word such a constituent

particle--units of labor,

money, raw materials--more

“simplified” less likely to accrete,

snag or clog somewhere in the circulation process.

Asphalt bubbles black ooze

under the crumbling bridges

of California and in the overflowing

sewage drains of Houston

and the rusted railroad tracks

of the NE corridor

Streets of the capital lined

with parking spaces, haystacks

and a slow opening of sycamores

in Metuchen, NJ toward the end

of knot weed season

A red mirage followed by a blue wave

Opposite colors mingle

from yellow to purple

like nebula where the welt

by the hot metal’s impact

blooms on the underbelly of America.


Roger Williams sought

to make head or tails

of the language spoken

by the Narganset

A brief observation of

the costumes, manners

and worship etc, a little key

may open a box wherein lies

a bunch of keys

A certain word in Cherokee

meant “I love you” and “I will bear

your children, but I won’t

give up my seat on the bus for you.”

In the farmer’s market

cherry tomatoes are sold out,

but cobs of corn are sold

just before rotting.

Half empty tour bus

passes by. I write

the Great American

tour bus epic conjuring

cities of farmers

markets with fresh bread

and sassafras tea


Fifty miles North East

of Charleston, SC where

350,000 acres of former

rice plantations were bounded

by the Ashepoo, Combhaee and Edisto

rivers it was rumored that the Lumbees

were the last descendants

of the lost Roanoke colony

now obscured by the mist

swaddled cotton fields of Robeson County.

The table of contents

of American history is a

fusillade of facts:

(The Fugitive Slave Act,

The Tuskegee experiment,

the Birmingham church bombing

& black creativity Phillis

Wheatly, The Sugar Hill Gang,

Jesse Jackson)but despite

the turnings of this

400 year gyre there’s little

evidence of an arc bending towards justice.

At the metal railing

of the bridge I vent by throwing

the peanut shells on

a passing tugboat, the memory

sticking like rough honey.

In duet:

hogsuck, Pigsuck

Swine Swine,


we understand not one another,


Is there a bridge

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