Peter Clothier


He darts in from the trees and hangs,
body motionless for a moment, wings
awhirr, as he surveys the scene.
Then, determining that I’m no threat,
he shifts gears, making a beeline
for the feeder, pausing again to check
for safety before he dips his beak.
Ruby-throated. Is this bird the same
who made a navigational error
just the other day, zipping through
the open door to our dining-room
before he realized, in a panic, the mistake
he’d made? For a while he batted
his tiny body frenziedly against
the window pane; then came to rest,
exhausted, on the sill. I trapped him there,
cupped him, held his palpitating body
close between my fingers, where he settled
quickly into defenseless resignation.
We took him out to the deck. I parted
my fingers just a crack, at first,
so we could see him, his diamond eyes
imperious, the minuscule ruby feathers
on his chest glowing, iridescent.
Then, in a heartthrob, he was gone,
back to the shelter of the trees in a flash
of luminescent green. And now, today,
watching, I feel him there again, a tiny,
weightless presence, somehow ineffable,
though, and great beyond imagining,
as though it were God himself I’d caught,
and held, trembling with the force of life,
in that dark space between my palms.


I’m amazed at how many I have kept,
most of them empty, down in the garage:
cardboard boxes, boxes inside boxes,
and boxes inside boxes inside boxes;
some stuffed with those lighter-than-air
polyurethane chips, whose fragments,
energized by body static, cling stubbornly
to clothes or fingers; or with the strange,
three-dimensional geometries of foam
core forms that screech in unnerving,
high, thin voices against stiff cardboard
sides as you drag them out, each sculpted
with meticulous technological precision
to hold some electronic product snug
in its box in transit. Black bar codes jostle
with logos and corporate insignia on the sides,
and printed letters proclaim the contents:
the new CD/DVD, the VCR we never learned
to program. This one contained the Sony
ghetto blaster we once thought we couldn’t
live without, but never used. And here,
this other, that infernal toaster, the one
that took ten minutes to turn a slice of bread
into a simple piece of toast. No microwave:
one thing we had the gumption to refuse.

So why did I hang on to their boxes, neatly
stored? Was it the thought that one day
we might need to send their contents back,
appropriately packed, to join the ranks
of other silent rejects on warehouse shelves
in some industrial park outside of town—
a cemetery for the electronically extinct?
Or was it in contemplation—God forbid—

of some other, future move? I marvel
at my need to keep these empty boxes,
some of them long after happily releasing
whatever they contained; and wonder now
if emptiness itself could be the final refuge,
the last addiction? If the empty space within
this cheap old cardboard box I call my self,
once recognized, could be hungering still
for the brotherhood of other empty spaces.

No matter, I conclude. Today’s the day.
One by one, I cut the tapes or rip apart
the staples at the seams, then fold them
back to flat and make a pile of them, ready
for the recycle trash collector. Bundling
them with string, I drop them curbside.
Who knows when, in some different form,
their reassembled molecules could return
to this identical place in the universe?
And who knows what new gifts or trials
they might they bring with them that day?


My concrete Buddha sits
silently, contained within
the aura of his smile. Dead
leaves from the eucalyptus tree
adorn him. The febrile ends
of invading ivy have begun
to gather him in the embrace
of sinuous tendrils. He smiles.
Flowers blossom at his side.
He watches where I sit naked
in the pool, and judges not.
Would that I could attend
to the sound of water as he does:
focused, unmoving, impassive,
and alert. Instead, I breathe,
watching how with each breath
my reflection shatters in a thousand
shimmering fragments as the surface
of the water shifts and breaks.
And the Buddha only smiles.


Go away, I’m working,
is what I should have said.
Instead, I let them in,
greedy thoughts, crowding,
dipping their tingling fingers
into my silence. Well, welcome,
now you’re here. Come, play.

I watch beyond the window.
The leaves of the eucalyptus dance
on tiptoe against a blue-gray sky.

So much for dreaming.


Oh, yes, I heard
she danced all night.
The marimba, was that the dance?

Anyway, who was she?
The initial came back, as they do.
You always remember the initial
of the name, with clarity.
An M, was it? An S?

Where is she now?
In Africa, perhaps.
That would suit her temperament.
Or, since she danced what surely
was a Latin dance, in Rio?
Yes, I can see her there.

This, I think, might turn out
better than I had imagined.
Come home often, and don’t forget
to pray.


Dr. Clothier is a full-time freelance writer, consultant, and lecturer in the arts. Previously he was Dean of the College of Fine & Communication Arts at Loyola Marymount University, and Dean and Acting Director at Otis Art Institute of LA. He has authored poetry books, novels, a biography: David Hockney, and numerous articles and reviews in international art publications such as ARTnews, Artforum and Art in America. "On Not Being Rich and Famous" was previously published in ArtScene, and reprinted with permission of Peter Clothier. He can be reached at peterellie[AT] (replace [AT] with @).

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