Luster

Wesleyan University Press, 2003

Luster takes on everything from bullhorns to the cultivation of olive trees in poems that are sharp-edged and open to surprise. It includes evocations of place and memory, character studies of figures from Coleridge and Tarzan, a verse epistle, and an extended meditation on machines in our daily lives. From racehorses to waterwheels to great cities, Luster traces the sheen of human activity that clings to the world around us: imperfect, irrevocably marred by time, but always gleaming.


Luster is nothing short of astonishing.
--James Kimbrell

Don Bogen has long been one of our finest poets, and Luster is his best book.
--Alan Shapiro

In Bogen's hands, the prose of life turns to poetry of sober dignity, ethical urgency, and wit. He sells nothing short, buys nothing cheap. Luster is a durable and valuable book.
--Rosanna Warren

Poems from Luster


Thoroughbreds

Blood flares from the nostrils.
The lungs, the enormous watermelon bellows,
are lined with it.
Legs conduits,
heartstalks that throb with each pulse,
each leap into air and two-beat thump
back on earth.
Their genes are a careful proposition.
They carry their sires like totems
in their names.
Their blood is as stylized as a strut.
Veins push out a nest of tubes to tunnel the meat,
branch like ivy stems beneath the drawn skin.
Nothing in nature reflects their taut poise.

In the boxes,
in the small rings with their necks enclasped by wreaths,
they skitter, coltish, annoyed.
On the track, they glide.
Fluidity comes with their lineage--
training sharpens the point.
In the dust and rumble of the furious brief loop
their purpose may seem blurred.
The curt whip speaks to them.
Their flanks are an argument with friction,
the structure of their haunches
an investment.
Robed in shining blankets,
they wait like fabulous emissaries from another world.
The heart lifts with their promise.
Windows slam at their start.


Pedestrian Song

Eyes behind car windows
don't want to see you.
Lungs don't breathe your air.
The head a bland globe
in the glare of glass,
neck a stick, spine a stick,
limbs four sticks tipped
in pads, rods and hooks
to press, twist, swivel.
Crab in the shell,
pale brain in the skull,
that wriggling thing cased
in bright metal follows
the lights twelve feet up,
out of this world.
Where is it going
in its carton of steel,
the body transformed
to a blunt dream?
It shines in the dark:
high beam, low beam
nosing a course
focused as a shark's
through a shipwreck--
you can't predict it.
The signs flash clear--
Don't Walk, Don't Walk--
you can smell the heat
from their hoods, you can hear
valves snapping as they wait
along the faint line
that keeps you safe.
Oh, you are soft,
tiny as a rabbit,
your only defense
a tissue of faith.
Stay quick, then. If you think
there's a person in there,
look again, think back
to your own long spin:
secure, controlled,
in touch with the wheel--
then reeling and screeching
till at last you can stop
and the whole world starts up around you.

Selected Works

Poetry
A selection from my current manuscript, Immediate Song
The University of Chicago Press, 2009
Wesleyan University Press, 2003
Wesleyan University Press, 1997
Wesleyan University Press, 1986
Translations from Europa: Selected Poems of Julio Martinez Mesanza (in manuscript)
Literary Criticism