About    News    Events    Shop    Instagram    Contact

Tenement Press is an occasional publisher of esoteric,
accidental, & interdisciplinary literatures.

‘My head is my only house unless it rains’

Don Glen Vliet

Rehearsal      /     9. Wayne Koestenbaum

Wayne Koestenbaum, ‘He Eats Hearts,’ © 2020

(elegant toplessness stoned in stairwell)

Back in the ‘remember when’ of 2016

In July 2016, Hotel asked me to make a recording of my poem, ‘(elegant toplessness stoned in stairwell),’ which is an excerpt from Camp Marmalade. And so, while seated at the piano, in my apartment's living room in New York City, I recited my poem and spoke-sang into my handy ZOOM recorder. Sometimes, to punctuate or accompany the reading, I played fragments from pieces by Robert Schumann, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Isaac Albéniz, Vincent Persichetti, and David Diamond. At other moments, I improvised rudimentary melodies upon which I could string the text’s syllables. None of this mélange—except for the poem’s words—was planned. I am grateful to Hotel for giving me the chance to improvise.

Koestenbaum, 2016

they hated my poem about
a dead baby             

                    dead babies
in sonnets aren’t funny

I never said dead
babies were funny

                    imagine the
old man in wheelchair
falling over

                    will the
audience misperceive my
remark as anti-
Semitic and boo or
hiss it? don’t avoid
the screening just because
I’m afraid of being hissed

                    assemble an
entire life from found

could my life
begin with the fat girl
babysitting while Mom
and Pop see Odd Couple
for their anniversary?

boy follows
two steps behind doddering
master whose Cockney
S/M imprecations
toward rental dog
we overheard

elegant toplessness
stoned in stairwell

                    flatterer tells me in
steam that young guys
must be “after me”

on the other
Wayne in pool
looks like skin tag—

mistook him
for handsome workout
father with pudgy son

splodgy, ochre, dull
grey, pink-grey afternoon

                    he mentions me
once in vaguely sexual

                    says hello at deli,
surprisingly high
voice for a son

Diane Arbus for sake
of flirtation bait

pleurer I said as
dream in tango elevator—
expect chaos

applying makeup sedulously
while crouched on suspicious

                    fear of
being marooned with
Rowan and Martin or
not being tall enough
to see Martin’s squinchy
eyes, his distress muted
by squinch

thy ass from my presence

Cleo removes her

                    his ass
received verbal Nair,
semantic depilation

                    ‘fold’ I
said to Madame Grès

face mauled by age
or angry dog in’
53 restaurant

pre-K of you he
said at breakfast

no discussion of
need or nipple, the
damned ore’s lumpen
presence in whose earth?

Bangladeshi porn found
in grocery bags at gym

your French bread tantrum

                    was it
lipstick on blind glamour
face repeating
the invisible city’s
remaining condoms
as if beauty were
the result of our efforts?

pancake on jaw

                    —should not
they unplug my nose
and shout numbers into
a dead phone?

dead phone is mine—

                      —when someone
is pushed three times
out the express chute—
maybe a terrorist

Jane Fonda’s surprising
youth, running and

                     Jim is
the repeated desired name
but a hollow resides
where Jim once lived

                     LSD son
was Jim, a
suicide, or rumoured
to be a suicide in

erotic fantasy
of the suicide nude
answering a Victorian
pink lady door

here in Baton Rouge they’re
picketing The Vagina

stuffed myself on crawfish
étouffée and broccoli,  
didn’t stop to
judge extent of stomach

his eyebrows deserve
dissection, elegy, troubadour

                    why is my
coccyx always the tragic
Kundalini sore spot?

                    one more
bite of $3 vegetable

wonder why our emotional
and spiritual horizons are so
straitened, we realize
four serried trees are sublimely
waiting for me to announce them

not convulsive beauty
but not obvious beauty either

                     repose achieved as
landing strip where
dismal life attains
longawaited equilibrium,
and perhaps we extend the
‘high’ and realize getting
stoned is the origin of

                     or getting stoned by
angry homophobic journalists
and townspeople

                      a pause
before I say yes despite
Elton John and not
fearing loneliness or
the buttfucked girlfriend
who took it up the ass
from the sadistic boy
because of pregnancy fears

this story told to me
as the height of her
humiliation or as an
extension of what my
cruel gay body and draconian
Rudolf Serkin will
power did
to her

                        breasts felt
up by third wheel boyfriend
and I realized I was
a noncontender

upside-down mouth seen as
zucchini bread giftgiving
and The Fox reparations
received on Third Street
and my surprise that San
Jose had a good used
bookstore because I was an
impossible snob

why always is my suicide
fantasy poised on mother
of baby I adore more
than dignity allows?

my questions are my
father’s, precautionary,
nervous, dry, scape-
goated—like neighborhood
dog we
Jews feared

I’ve never seen such a
compromised set of
knickers or lowhangers—

                         his pedagogic
illocutionary lowhangers—

Festschrift on my behalf
including Princess Di
mourning’s profundity

                         —not sure why I’d
let him suck me off

his persistence reminds me
of Mary Ann at ditto
machine, stink of my

                          —not sure why
grease clings to my jacket
or why liberation is
achieved in unlikely

                          two boys
together in tub
when father leaves
bathroom (No More
Tears) and I experiment
with rubber ducks

                         the joke
(told on third-grade bus) of
snake as intercourse

the stalled Music Man
bus where my first dis-
obedience broke its waters

teaching Yahweh
about genitals,
grasping Yahweh’s glitter

                            and are
four recited nouns the
secret of his sudden
access to fountains?  

crucian rose goldenness of
failed immortality?

                             lost thumb
of matzoh ball purveyor
spooning goulash
near Hildegard Knef
LPs for sale
in thick plastic sleeves  

Wayne Koestenbaum has published over twenty books of poetry, criticism, and fiction, including Ultramarine (Nightboat Books, 2022), The Cheerful Scapegoat (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents, 2021), Figure It Out (Counterpoint, 2020), Camp Marmalade (Nightboat Books, 2018), My 1980s & Other Essays (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), The Anatomy of Harpo Marx (University of California Press, 2012), Humiliation (Picador, 2011), Hotel Theory (Soft Skull, 2007), Circus (Soft Skill, 2004), Andy Warhol (Penguin, 2001), Jackie Under My Skin (Plume, 1995), and The Queen’s Throat (Da Capo Press, 1993), nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. He has given musical performances of his improvisatory Sprechstimme soliloquies at the Hammer Museum, The Kitchen, REDCAT, Centre Pompidou, Walker Art Center, The Artist’s Institute, the Renaissance Society, and The Poetry Project. His feature-length film, The Collective, premiered at UnionDocs (New York) in 2021.  He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and a Whiting Award. Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library acquired his literary archive. He is a Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center.

︎︎︎    Back to Rehearsal

Were a wind to rise
I could put up a sail
Were there no sail
I’d make one of canvas and sticks

Bertolt Brecht, ‘Motto’
(Bucknow Elegies)


Tenement Press, MMXXIV