Adrian Matejka


—after St. Joe Louis Surrounded By Snakes (1982), Jean-Michel Basquiat

In the purplish clutch between evening & more
evening, boys smoked cigarettes down to their minty
ends & talked about ass like mad hams & hips

like pow, mouths curling with avid adornment & vivid
hands shaping the air—palms down to palms up
in half circles of perplexity. The C shape the tobacco

still glowing between fingers makes is the closest
any one of these boys will get a girl’s hip today.
Which is why these boys, in thin tanks & hopeless

shirts, cut conversations easily from Watch how I get
at her to Knuckle up, fool, throwing shoulders & fists
at each other like minor superheroes with no villains

to fight. No capes in bare knuckles. No saving the block
either because every swing breaks something.


First published in The American Poetry Review, and most recently in Map to the Stars (Penguin Random House, 2017)


Adrian Matejka was born in Nuremberg, Germany and grew up in California and Indiana. He is a graduate of Indiana University and the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He is the author of The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003) which won the New York / New England Award and Mixology (Penguin, 2009), a winner of the 2008 National Poetry Series. Mixology was also a finalist for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature. His most recent collection of poems, The Big Smoke (Penguin, 2013), was awarded the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. The Big Smoke was also a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, 2014 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and 2014 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. His new book, Map to the Stars, was just released by Penguin in March 2017. Among Matejka’s other honors are the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, two grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Julia Peterkin Award, a Pushcart Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and a Simon Fellowship from United States Artists. He teaches in the MFA program at Indiana University in Bloomington and is currently working on a new collection of poems, Hearing Damage, and a graphic novel.