Poems by Askold Skalsky

Pic by Jill Burrow



Zero Point

I was not having an experience of any kind. (Adi Da Samraj)

Nothing has happened. Does that help? (Rainer Maria Rilke)

If you want to know the secret
of nothing, you must carefully
observe the differences
around you.
The commonest objects are best,
the necessary ones without
which your moments would be
unbearable, the cradle between
whose poles you hang
suspended, pinning your story
to an endless wall, like a display
of crayon drawings
in a child’s garden room.
It doesn’t help at all.


Keys in a Row 

Perhaps someone
will play a melancholy
keyboard piece as I am
leaving, and, stopping
to listen, I’ll have a vision
of what is to come if I
linger, if I walk up
to the player, wait,
then ask some pertinent
question with an eager
mien, the seconds gone
when I would have been
outdoors in the clear,
the moment interrupted
with a careless insufficiency,
the scattered patterns
of my life converging
into a broken string,
a clappered wheel
on which the hours
tick and dance to
their inoperable end


to be released from a long
slow slough, much of it
impenetrable like the circle
of a dream manifest as reality,
frightful and avoidable,
a bag in a corridor laced
with shadows and squalor,
which the mere eye of me
is afraid to undo


moving through
the veins, a fire-
ball with dim
obbligatos and
dark copper
bangs, like old
radiator pipes
when the steam
hammers at high
velocity into their
joints, warming
the room and
almost waking
the sleeper from
his sleep


here in this morning’s morning
self-forgotten sullen twang
comes a star gilded and silver,
climbing still like the pine
branches tipped with needle-
frantic green, yes, caught
like a tiny chip on the great
waist of some specter surface
emerging into the dissolving dark.


Awaking From A Noun On A Verbal Day
After Li Po

Life is an immense harridan.
Why pick and delve? All day I scratch
myself with bottle necks and lie
on the welcome mat at the back door,
cigaretting, gazing at the garden burrows
and awkward beetles mounting flowers.
What month is this? Some bird behind the fence
tweets out the dried up planks of spring
while I perturb myself into a fit, sifting
my dregs once more with all the agitation
I can muster in the crawling lizard-light
of memory. Where is my squeaky song?
Gone like a troubled fork bent out of shape,
its prongs obscenely stuck into the dirt.



I am pursued by Father Zero,
Cronos of integers,
ready to gulp me like a bloody stone,
a sunya with an attitude,
the grim goose-egg at my back,
a hungry ghost
remembering the body
it once had,
a void with a jaw,
omega, omicron,
Kali with her deep dark hole.

I’m a disappearing dot within her circle
of aggressive nothingness,
wanting to undo me,
working her forbidden function
from below
on which a whole science has grown up,
separated by one thin line.
(What does she care
for our frail-strung rules?)

O mega, O my crone,
my vacuous hermaphrodite,
inserting yourself anywhere at any time,
draining the bones
on which the flesh appears.
Already you’re sucking at my heel,
nulling the feet, half the spine and hip.

Everything you touch
turns to a golden cipher
grinning in its naughted plenitude.

Of all the numbers that are merciless
you are the prince and princess,
king and queen, the ought of multiplicity,
the devil lord of emptiness made visible

of whom we lumpets beg for pity
while you twirl your rings around us,
gnash us with your gleaming skull,
knowing full well that we’ll get nil-

zip zilch nada,
nix and none.



I can’t get him out of my mind,
the man sucked 200 feet down
a drainage pipe, his breath
quashed in the reservoir basin
like a ductile toad; or the wife
cooked in the family
restaurant by her husband,
the clot in his bloody brain
making him see the devil,
snub-nosed and smirking,
in her face. Quickly I trace
my endless aptitude to be
astonished by mortality.
I’ll end differently from these
fortune’s dregs, I tell myself,
not snuffed on a knife’s edge
like a plum already drying
in its pit. My fingers brace
under their skin like gloves
in a cold sun—dogs growl
at my back, the caged larks
twitter in my chest.
Give me another ten good years
on the road to the gravel hole,
I ask, unshrouded and unhoused
in the silver-needled scents
of no. 2 pine, no killer
mushrooms after summer
pickings or morning blasts
of green insecticides.
I’m doing it my way,
meandering through half-open
doors, sopping the seasons
dutifully like a kitchen sponge,
and buying next year’s
discount calendars.


About the Author

Originally from Ukraine, Askold Skalsky lives and writes in Frederick, Maryland, and has published poems in over 300 periodicals and online journals, including sites in Canada, England, Ireland, and mainland Europe. He has won several prizes for individual poems as well as two Individual Artist Awards in poetry from the Maryland State Arts Council. The first book of poems, The Ponies of Chuang Tzu, was published in 2011 by Horizon Tracts press in New York City.