Wim's poetry

My poems have appeared in many publications, including Heron Tree, The Pangolin Review, The Opiate, Dissenting Voice, Tuck Magazine, Vita Brevis, The Esthetic Apostle, Dream Noir, Visitant, Open Arts Forum, and SOL: English Writing in Mexico. My first collection of poetry, I.O.U., is scheduled for publication in December 2020 by Adelaide Books.

Advance praise for Wim’s upcoming book:

Wim Coleman’s poetry pulls us into his unique vision, a world of light and dark, giddy with magic and somber with truth—a world of mystery, relatable self-reflection, and a depth of feeling that’s all-too-human. 
—Jim Uhls, screenwriter, Fight Club and Jumper

Wim Coleman’s new book of prophetic incantations and reflections will take you whirling, drawing from great periods and great literature throughout history and winding you up with new insights into American reality today. You will be surprised and entertained.
—Lucina Kathmann, Vice President Emerita, PEN International

Whether exquisitely detailing the intricate dismantling of a bedroom dresser by his precocious adopted daughter or chastising the criminal assault of corrupt worldly powers on the integrity of our human experiment, the poetry of Wim Coleman always uncovers the astonishing wonder at the heart of all things human.
—Nicholas Patricca, playwright, Professor Emeritus at Loyola University Chicago

To read the poetry of Wim Coleman is to venture into an intimate realm of humor, whimsy, intelligent flights of fancy, and cautionary tales—all told in a uniquely singular voice. I.O.U. is at once an immersive and expansive work by a master poet at the top of his game.
—Rollin Jewett, award-winning playwright, poet, songwriter, singer, actor

About Wim’s poetry

One of the most common bits of advice a poet can get (or give) is “Find your own voice.” That’s not what I do. My creative roots are in theatre, and I use my training as an actor and a playwright to try to create compelling and entertaining voices and characters. My poems tell stories. I also think that one of the key ingredients of a good poem is surprise. I try to bring surprise to my poems—surprise, thought, passion, and sometimes laughter.

But what is poetry? Adrienne Rich once wrote, “A language is a map of our failures.” Poetry happens when words set us free from language. It is a liberation from unwitting collective prisons of thought and habit, for language binds us in more ways than we know. Fresh images, metaphors, and stories bring new vitality to our world of words and to our lives.

I also agree with the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai that all poetry is political:

This is because real poems deal with a human response to reality, and politics is part of reality, history in the making. Even if a poet writes about sitting in a glass house drinking tea, it reflects politics.

In these days when the forces of oligarchy and autocracy threaten to consume America and much of the world, poetry keeps us alive to the value of freedom and human decency.

Every poem is an act of resistance.

Samples of Wim’s poetry

The Minstrel Savior

If I remember right,
Jesus arrived at the trailer where we lived in Glenville
during the summer when Papaw Henry
poured gasoline all around the elm tree stump
and incinerated the Japanese beetles.

He could do anything, that man.

But Papaw wasn’t around
when Jesus showed up. I recognized
him at once as he emerged like a daddy longlegs
from his Volkswagen bug stuffed full of books.

“Jesus is here,” I said to Mom.

I knew because I’d seen him
gleaming in glass and sunlight at church—
the autumnal tint of his beard and long wavy hair
and his eyes as blue as the plastic cup
I used to brush my teeth mornings and nights,
and yet not nursery-hued
like funny pages or Sunday School booklets
filled with pictures of him and Moses,
but in dingy linen and gray corduroy,
with a face cavernous and tired
and veins of silver through his hair.

Mom offered him coffee—
yes, with cream and sugar please,
and my little brother was in diapers
and had scant knowledge of theology
so he wasn’t especially intrigued,
but like Thomas in a spasm of doubt
I asked him, “Are you Jesus?”
and he and Mom laughed, “You can call me Mark,”
and I thought maybe I could call him Jesus
after we’d spent more time together.

Out of his bag he took a shallow box
lopped sidelong like one of those slate markers
on the battle graves up on Tank Hill,
but when he touched its strings
with those infinite fingernails of his,
I knew it was a harp like I’d heard
the angels playing in the clouds.
He cuddled its cheek against his own
and set his arms caressing all around it
the way I’d always hoped and wanted to be touched
and sang in rhyme, and Mom sang too,
the vanishing parables of those hills.

(First published in Open Arts Forum, January 10, 2020)

Video of Wim Reading “The Minstrel Savior”

*

Quintains of the Red Death

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death
held illimitable dominion over all.

At the last midnight ever to fall,
the clock’s brazen lungs swelled full
and exhaled twelve sonic ebony sighs
that shuddered against the welded gates
and made the airtight abbey shake.

The dancers halted stupefied
and the music hobbled to a hush
at the advent of the uncanny guest
in his cadaverous eyeless mask
clad in the vesture of the grave.

Who presumes, who makes so bold?
Who dares dishonor this masquerade
of laughter and Terpsichore
and lotus-devouring lunacy
with uninvited grief and thought?

So cried the Prince, chasing the stranger
through his seven suites bedight
in lapis blue and lavender,
in emerald and tangerine,
in ivory and heliotrope,

until, in a chamber of sable velvet
glowing vermillion by fiery braziers
shining through panes of tinted glass,
the Prince cornered and challenged him,
guise to guise and mask to mask.

You! Profaner of mockeries,
delinquent in mandatory scorn—
kneel before your sovereign lord;
prepare your flesh for my dagger’s delight,
your blood to quench these stones!

But neither stones nor knife were sated,
and the Prince ached with unbidden sorrow.
How strange, he thought, that any mischance
should visit so noble a potentate,
so wise, so frugal, and so great.

Why, he wondered, should he be sad,
sequestered with his chosen kindred
while the Red Death raged outside?
He gazed upon the faceless stranger,
whose very silence made reply.

You fail to recognize me, sire?
Does the Prince deny his faithful son?
I’ve been too long from home, I fear.
But how could you forget a child
hatched fully grown from your lifeless heart?

You nourished me at your barren breast;
I learned all things at your cruel feet;
All that you are, so I must be;
what your will would have, so I must do;
thus I have served you throughout your realm.

No soul survives in Greed’s dominion;
No children play in the empire of Hate.
No life throbs in the kingdom of Conceit.
Do I appear in the guise of Death?
I am yourself—manifest, incarnate.

The privileged revels now all ended,
the stranger crumbled into dust.
The Prince retraced his wending steps
through the mute particolored suites
and found his merry throng all slain.

But tender no tears for the Prince;
rather you may envy him,
for Hell is Heaven for the Damned.
He abides in welded, airtight bliss
within his castellated walls

roaming among those putrid remains
(worthy companions at long last!)
sheltered forever from all he dreads—
new buds, new blossoms, new hopes, new laughter,
all bourgeoning amid death’s decay.

*

Amid the Ashes of the House of Commons

And Churchill wept as he saw his beloved House in ruins.
—Vernon Bartlett

Deliverance wears thus a mocking face,
the last bomb of the last raid
stabbing sharp and deep into our moral belly.
How rapidly may men, unteachable from infancy to tomb,
match long eroding centuries in ruin!
As England sighs reprieve and licks her wounds,
you creep amid the rubble toward the Speaker’s Chair
now pulverized beneath smoking debris,
inhaling the mortal residue of the Hun’s contempt
for norm and decency and truth and law.

I am a House of Commons man.

Here you first tested your youthful tongue and timbre,
your heavy but not very mobile guns,
urging a principled peace in the war against the Boer.
Heckled and prodded you were by riotous voices
as cacophonous as sirens and bomb blasts,
the warring factions kept from each other’s throats
solely by an invisible barrier of honor,
that inviolable corridor measured across by two swords plus one inch.
This never was meant to be a place of peace.
Upon your cheeks, twin tears cut rivers through the caking dust.
How shall you rebuild?

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.

The law has ever carved
its own path through the dust of chaos;
men must forever stand aside in humbled awe
and follow its chosen course.

Words are the only things that last forever.

Change nothing, rebuild it as you left and lost it,
so that rivers of words may find their way again
amid moldering wonders of stone, mortar, and timber,
vainglorious and doomed.

I am a House of Commons man.

The carnivorous sheep of the Reich
are done with grazing the bitter weeds of England;
the herd skulks its way toward fatal pastures of the East.
Let Britain prevail;
let the council of Europe join familial hands
and America bring forth her kindred vengeance;
let the sun set forever on the tyrant and his monstrous evil;
let him taste the bile of his transgression;
let presently burst from these coals the cleansing and devouring flame.
The Blitz has ended.
Let the True War begin.

(Appeared in Dissident Voice, January 20, 2019.)

Video of Wim Reading “Amid the Ashes of the House of Commons”

*

Alio’s Hair

We never saw her hair,
or at least not the truth of it.
It was bundled so tight
you could feel its pulsations across a room,
the latent forces stowed therein.

She assured us she had never cut it,
and said it hung below her ankles when she let it go free,
which made everybody wonder—
tied into a single strand, could it lasso the earth,
or maybe even reach out and tickle Pluto at its aphelion?

But no one saw it flow except one lovely Austrian.
When they lay naked together,
she caressed the tattooed numbers on her lady’s wrist
as if sheer tenderness could make them vanish.
“You can’t undo my pain,” the lady would say,
“but let me undo your pin.”
And then her hair would explode like a supernova.

When dawn came and her lover went away,
her hair crashed back upon itself 
into the infinite little knot we knew her by.
We learned to avert our gaze
for fear of tumbling over that horizon
into a singularity of love.

(Appeared in The Thieving Magpie, Issue 9, Spring 2020)

*

Willing Suspension

After Captain Cartoon
came back from the moon
to a tickertape parade
through Huntington, and
after his steamboat
the Cartoon Belle got
blown to smithereens
when its boiler exploded,
he took tothe rivers of
West Virginiain a one-man
submarine followed
everywhere by Myrtle
the Sea Monster while
we peeked through his
magic periscope into
the fabled lives of Popeye
and Little Lulu and
Deputy Dawg and Mighty
Mouse and Diver Dan.

Once when he sailed
the Kanawha River, he
dry-docked his submarine
for public view in
Charleston right in
front of the State Capitol
building, its great gold
dome gleaming down
on the turtle-textured
vessel in all its gloried
squatness. To starboard
it looked loftier than on
TV, while to port it gaped
ragged and wide open
to reveal the actual
innards of the thing. Only
when I climbed into
that rickety pine-frame
conning tower swathed
round with chicken wire
and old newspapers did
I realize the submarine
was real.

(Appeared in The Thieving Magpie, Issue 9, Spring 2020)

*

Ecclesiastes

(upon reading “Mind at the End of Its Tether” by H.G. Wells)

Saith the Sage,
there is no Shape of Things to Come;
there is only the Coming of Shapelessness.
Maps crumple—yea, and also the landscapes they signify—
into dimensionless wads of nothing;
the clock’s hands are blurred the whole way round;
the eons snap their fingers in our faces.
The very NOW contracts its steel coils
and breaks our ribs and squeezes our breath away.
There is no way out or round or through.

The bitter wisdom of the Sage
begins with the knowledge of vanity;
the multitude is not disposed to know and so it will never know.
In the glass-walled formicary of this world,
the ants keep faith in the magical placations of their leaders, 
whose bigotries blossom into radiant cruelty.
The subservient fear-haunted mind
in its blind libidinous craving to exist
retreats into a sanctuary of jaded reassurance,
the idiot’s recital of the everyday.

There is no way out or round or through;
the way ahead is steeply up or steeply down.
May mind climb the rungs of the air
and the worm aspire to the stars?
To go steeply up is to cease to be human;
our heirs are creatures we know nothing of.

Gluttonous time devours us all;
the cherished delusion of recurrence is dead;
gravitation’s golden cord is frayed;
earth slows in its spinning, and the years and days grow longer;
the equinoxes wobble in their precession;
night no longer follows day, nor day the night;
there are naught but new things under the dying sun;
we lie when we say we have seen them before.
There is no way out or round or through.

Now that mind,
that strange intruder,
that peculiar throb in matter,
is at its final ebb,
the grinning Antagonist goads us with the riddle:
“Is this all?”
For the more we reach the less we grasp
in saecula saeculorum—
for ever and ever.
Amen.

(Appeared in The Thieving Magpie, Issue 9, Spring 2020)

*

For Steven (An Email)

That rainy night in lonely dark Des Moines,
a glyph of lightning broke across the sky
and left an indecipherable scar
while Mr. Handel’s Royal Fireworks played.

I put my palm against the melody—
felt how the din of vinyl timpani
rattled and shook the streaming windowpane.
I typed a letter to you and said just that.

And you wrote back of Huck and Jim in their cave
and how Huck told the thunder and his friend
“I wouldn’t want to be nowhere else but here.”
(Wordsworth said this too, but fancier.)

And now—where is your letter of such comfort?
Lost, I’m afraid, amid the rainy nights,
across the thousands of despairing miles—
but not discarded, nor really lost at all.

I’ll send you this poem on the lightning’s back,
for times are very different than they were.
In this warm windowed room of words we share,
we can both read the writing on the sky.

(Appeared in Levee Magazine, Spring 2020, Issue 4)

*

Psalm

For you
I shall dance naked in the passages
to the sound of timbrels
heard by only you and me,
turn cartwheels on the crosswalk
at three o’clock a.m.,
and know that you have made me
just a little lower than the angels
and given me dominion
over intersecting streets;
even as the phosphorescent vapor
rises from the pavement
and as the dormant cop car
watches quiet disbelieving
and as the lead gray box behind me
clicks its tongue and buzzes at my back
and as that quick and luminous red
pupil dilates with rage                         
            I shall not fear
for I am fed with music:
I am satisfied.

(Appeared in The Concern, Issue 2, 2019/20)

*

America in 2019

(after Shelley’s “England in 1819”)

A demagogic moron mad with power;
his brood snapping their tongues at golden flies
with reptile grins of brazed entitlement;
the people’s servants rioting in rooms
reserved for dire and solemn undertakings,
crazed to thwart the law’s unerring hand;
children orphaned at the gates of hope,
lives heedlessly and gleefully destroyed;
trusted, trusting comrades in trust betrayed,
left to the mercy of their foes and ours;
blind Justice crawling on her hands and knees
searching for the scales some shyster stole—
are dung from which a mutant flower might grow,
of shapes and colors hitherto unknown.

(Appeared in Open Arts Forum: Poetry 2019.)

*

Tarot Trump XXI: The World

Up here so high that you and I
can peer into the secret deep concavity of the earth
and no one can hear us speak

I dare to tell you …

… that love is here
here tangled amid these raptures of ice
or else it is nowhere …

(click here to read more)

Prayer

Let the pebble learn from the wave
the art of its own shaping.

Let the wave be freed
of its bondage to the tide.…

(click here to read more)

American Recessional

The City on the Hill is turning out its lights
and closing up for a long, long night.
Heroes are cast out of their Valhalla;
the halls ring with a clamor of cowards.…

(click here to read more)

Story Catcher

The thrall of Scheherazade
is a hoop shaped of bitterest willow
stretched taut with sheep-gut webbing
that buoys a dozen or so ripe dangling gemstones
graced with dancing peacock feathers.…

(click here to read more)

Jimi Hendrix plays “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm on August 18, 1969

You stood in the morning on
that high square scaffold wet
with yesterday’s rainwater braving
execution by tangled power cables and
towering half-ton speakers and
2000 amp transformers
remembering your parachute drops
in the 101st Airborne.…

(click here to read more)

Postponement

Jade tree with big knuckles
and thick polished leaves

go tell the California ivy I can’t
pay back the sadness I borrowed

until the L.A. River flows
as ample and hubristic as the Nile …

(click here to read more)