Aliens
Playlist by Verse 6 poems
Whether in direct reference to the possibility of life beyond our own planet, or as a mirror to turn inwards, these poems reveal a fascination with aliens, abductions, and UFOs in highly personal and human ways.
1. How to search for aliens
Christine Klocek-Lim
2. abduction
Chiwan Choi
3. The White Fires of Venus
Denis Johnson
4. Scorched Earth
Elizabeth Rees
5. gigantic mountains
Brandon Scott Gorrell
6. Futurisms
Grace Shuyi Liew
At midnight we’d light candles
in the tabernacle and begin
our yearly vigil for the dead.
Mostly I remember the kneeling,
how the vaulted ceiling pressed
the congregation silent until grief
weighted the air. Sometimes I slept
as the incense censer chimed smoke
into strange eddies; often I dreamed
of falling into a vast darkness only to wake
in the pew with tears stepping down my face
as though death had come and gone in the space
of an hour. Even then I knew the spirit shunned
this drama, the artificial quiet shrouding the voice
of god in ritual while outside the planet spun
unperturbed. Four point five billion years
since genesis and the sky still hovers
like a veil between us and space,
wanting to be lifted before the unintelligible
babble dismantles the tower we have
half-built. At Arecibo, signals fall
from the dark like angels dropping messages;
there are miracles in the data waiting for discovery,
contact unrealized despite centuries of squinting
into the heavens. When our vigil ended we would walk
home in the cold, my mother mourning the past
while I tracked the stars that winked between
the street lights, listening for serendipity
in between footsteps. She held my hand so tightly,
perhaps she knew that prayer was too simple:
not enough prime numbers hidden in the signal,
no small man standing on our solar system,
peering out into the universe.
this time the winter of 74, a year before we left.
it was always winter in that place i can’t quite recall.
but i have spoken of this before,
of the time i wandered through the nameless streets
in seoul, paper money crumpled tight in my right hand,
the tips of the fingers of my left hand sliding on the surface
of walls and steel gates; trying not to lose contact
because it is this thing that touches my skin in daylight
that guides me home, this surface until the end
where i lost myself at the fallen snow.

the point is not that my mother found me,
as i cried in the alley behind the house,
but the details i have so far left out—that my father
was at work again, building a ramp up to the church
a cab ride away, where grandmother would later
plant rosebushes and name them after her grandsons,
my namesake the one second to the left—
my brother and i would run to them each sunday morning,
up the zig-zag of the concrete ramp that father would
eventually finish, to stand in front of them, comparing
the growth, how i waited for my name to grow taller
than the world as i pulled at the sleeve of mother’s blouse.

nor is the point the cracks on the asphalt that appeared
after the snow to swallow the regrets of a city in january
as a voice abducted me around the bends.

this is not the lie i expected—
an attempt to put into words
the sparrow that kept returning each morning
to our balcony and our sunlight,
promising us a child, a daughter,
leaving a note with the name we were to give her.
how do i speak of these things?

i am now what remains of the details i choose to cherish
as i join my family once a month
and we do what we always have done to bare it,
tell each other new stories of ghosts
and shadows that we can’t explain,
as mother entwines her short fingers
and tells us that one, that story,
about the ocean and the waves rising like cypresses
and the spaceship that has come for her since she was a child.

when it is my turn,
i tell them i have been staying up nights,
my wife asleep next to me with her arms above her head,
and i tell them about all the UFOs over argentina
until he smiles, his mouth smaller now over his dentures.
“did i tell you about the chilean soldiers who witnessed
the spaceships before the war with argentina broke out?” he asks.
“yes, about the invisible dragons,” i say.
he nods, happy that i have once again embraced
the unseen guides that lead me to rapture.

but see, even here, it’s those things i leave out—
i don’t even begin to tell them about that sunday
at the emergency room,
walking through the hallways,
my fingers touching the surface of things,
of tables and curtains, of walls and telephones,
to find her there, sitting on a metal bed,
somewhere between laughing and crying,
the sparrow having come and gone with what it had gifted,
my left hand on her thigh covered in worn denim,
my right one in a fist around a crumpled name.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
We mourn this senseless planet of regret,
droughts, rust, rain, cadavers
that can’t tell us, but I promise
you one day the white fires
of Venus shall rage: the dead,
feeling that power, shall be lifted, and each
of us will have his resurrected one to tell him,
“Greetings. You will recover
or die. The simple cure
for everything is to destroy
all the stethoscopes that will transmit
silence occasionally. The remedy for loneliness
is in learning to admit
solitude as one admits
the bayonet: gracefully,
now that already
it pierces the heart.
Living one: you move among many
dancers and don’t know which
you are the shadow of;
you want to kiss your own face in the mirror
but do not approach,
knowing you must not touch one
like that. Living
one, while Venus flares
O set the cereal afire,
O the refrigerator harboring things
that live on into death unchanged.”

They know all about us on Andromeda,
they peek at us, they see us
in this world illumined and pasteled
phonily like a bus station,
they are with us when the streets fall down fraught
with laundromats and each of us
closes himself in his small
San Francisco without recourse.
They see you with your face of fingerprints
carrying your instructions in gloved hands
trying to touch things, and know you
for one despairing, trying to touch the curtains,
trying to get your reflection mired in alarm tape
past the window of this then that dark
closed business establishment.
The Andromedans hear your voice like distant amusement park music
converged on by ambulance sirens
and they understand everything.
They’re on your side. They forgive you.

I want to turn for a moment to those my heart loves,
who are as diamonds to the Andromedans,
who shimmer for them, lovely and useless, like diamonds:
namely, those who take their meals at soda fountains,
their expressions lodged among the drugs
and sunglasses, each gazing down too long
into the coffee as though from a ruined balcony.
O Andromedans they don’t know what to do
with themselves and so they sit there
until they go home where they lie down
until they get up, and you beyond the light years know
that if sleeping is dying, then waking
is birth, and a life
is many lives. I love them because they know how
to manipulate change
in the pockets musically, these whose faces the seasons
never give a kiss, these
who are always courteous to the faces
of presumptions, the presuming streets,
the hotels, the presumption of rain in the streets.
I’m telling you it’s cold inside the body that is not the body,
lonesome behind the face
that is certainly not the face
of the person one meant to become.
From The Incognito Lounge and Other Poems, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Copyright © 1994 by Denis Johnson.
I was watching my zealot neighbor
picking individual zoysia blades at dusk
when it occurred to me there was no way
he would ever be able to disguise
that UFO scar on his front yard.
He could subscribe to every right-wing rag
but he could not deny his perfect zoysia grass
had been scorched by a spaceship.
I thought about drones awhile,
 
watched him under my eyelashes
for another good hour.
I wondered how he explained
the chemistry of this burn.
He was an engineer, after all.
Even if he plucked grass in the dark,
he probably didn’t believe
in poetry or outer space.
 
But I’d seen them land
in the viscera of night.
They flew in from the right,
the far right, with birches in their hands.
I’d seen them unload their shovels and dirt.
I’d heard the yowl in their eyes,
smelled the sweat of their plans.
They were serious, and sure
they could not be stopped.
 
Soon, others would come,
alien multitudes
in a strident shield of color,
fisting the air with rage,
howling words my neighbor
doesn’t know, though
they speak the same language.
when aliens come to the earth

they will land on top of gigantic mountains

they will see the people everywhere

each alien will communicate telepathically with another alien

on the opposite side of the sphere

that is its clone and itself at the same time

like an atom in quantum physics

the same alien in two places at once

and this multiplied by millions

on top of gigantic mountains

'the strategy is to destroy humans'

each alien will tell itself and its clone

humans will understand this strategy once

the killing started, immediately happening

in two places on opposite ends of the world at

once, an alien and itself

murdering two humans by looking at their faces

then that happening repeatedly or something

for some amount of time

the humans falling over and their faces hitting the pavement

or the carpet, or the grass

or the side of a coffee table

on some dog shit

*

there will be resistance

soldiers on all parts of the earth will fight with lasers

citizen militias will hold resistance meetings

a resistance against death

a no-death resistance

a movement for death later

a movement for a different, still-uncontrollable death

'humans don't want to die this way'

will be their manifesto, one sheet of paper

or a piece of cardboard or something

*

there will be humans in basements looking at each other

wandering, solitary humans that want more to find another human than to avoid dying

solitary, severely depressed and/or enlightened humans that commit suicide by seeking out alien faces and looking at them; these humans may feel happy inside an insane nervous breakdown

humans that kill other humans because they feel insane

humans that sit in a corner, feeling extremely small, maybe considering intense killing rampages/some indefinable, positive emotion for humanity

humans that watch tv, use the internet to read the newspaper, and drive their cars around; they will be motionless on couches with their eyes open

*

the fish and insects and trees

will have the ocean and the forest

pretty sure they won't care
Carefree is one form of amnesia
Even wind contains a larger system of
Consumption behind that buoyant
Facekissing quality
When I think about being
Freed of care the way sludge
Slopping the bottom of your
Coffee cup never worries
About its own heave and taste
The exertive parts of my
Previous lives back themselves
Into the hopeless corners
They come from
Back through chipped off
Tombs mysteriously broken spindles
Made of
Deadwood my spirits
Gained their crystal edges to this
Orchestra of synchronized fading
Anywhere
I go my face is
A repository
For other people’s regressed
Versions of carefree
If an alien Lady Justice did
Once upon a time wear pigtails
And lifted her skirt for the winds
Maybe it’s true there is
No such thing as
An uncontainable wound
Originally appeared in The Wanderer. Reprinted with permission of the author.