Rob Cook

Inferno Tulips

To survive a New Brunswick apartment

during an upstairs summer

without air conditioning
without one’s own television or music

the breeze used up

by the families
I heard yelling
and falling apart
and reassembling
in Spanish

I threw crumbs
to a restless roof hatchling
and gauged

from the ravenous humidity
how little was left

And helping my elderly landlord feed his

inferno tulips

his tulip infernos (he called them both)

“I heard you walking last night,” he said

(I stayed awake pressing my ear
to the carpet for what the last
roommate thought about,

(that is where he mostly patrolled

the roaches he stacked
in a single grave

“Everything up there is alive,” I said,
the landlord pruning

what had already dropped away

“The tomatoes look like those heads you told me were gone,” he said

(I informed him, by rent check,
each time I felt attacked
by the books I was sleeping with

“Sometimes I just like to stand,” I told him

“Other times I have to keep moving”

He kept watering his beheaded tulips

(They had no eyes with which to recognize him

(I grew up in a latch-key town
and none of the passing car lights had recognized me

“The air looks spoiled this year,” my landlord said
“And the fruit’s been bitten by too many bugs”

He remained in his observation, and I kept quiet, my breakfast still biting at me

I had drunk the same water
and eaten the same tomatoes

(as all water was the same water
(as each tomato was the same tomato

“Even at 10 a.m. it’s too hot
when I look down,”
he said, rubbing his eyes

where the garden had roosted

and where the dull wet heat was walking around in circles.


Rob Cook is a social dropout trapped in New York City. His most recent books are Empire in the Shade of a Grass Blade (Bitter Oleander Press, 2013), The Undermining of the Democratic Club (Spuyten Duyvil, 2014), and Last Window in the Punk Hotel (Rain Mountain Press, 2016). Recent or ancient work appears in Hotel Amerika, Birmingham Poetry Review, Caliban, Epiphany, Verse, The Laurel Review, Chattahoochee Review, American Journal of Poetry, Redactions, Phantom Drift, The Antioch Review, etc. He is currently working on an as-yet untitled novella. His favorite sweet: cinnamon buns.

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