Fantasia on Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time


I place a call and find myself on hold
All day to what we used to call Muzak,
An aimless unsung fog of sound.
It takes a while, and then it comes to me:
It’s “Hotel California!” Holy shit.
How jealously the body guards its fat.
How horrible everything seems these days,
Once so golden, now broken or ablaze.
I dream I’m a king who reigns beyond time . . .
The City of the Young has drained its wine.
The pepper, halved, reveals cathedral light.
The City of Suns compels itself to rise.


No need to do more work. Just call it art.
You know, they feel it’s easier this way,
More civilized, in a manner of thinking.
We never tried to care this much before.
They reassure each other that they’re smart.
They say that furniture is little more
Than bourgeois convention. Naked on ash floors,
They sip Bordeaux. This high, they see so much.
They make their art from what’s at hand. They’re so
Advanced they hardly know what’s going on.
Shhh, quiet. Don’t frighten them. We watch.
They never even guessed that we exist.


We knew the bonus box was filled with snakes
Before we shook it up and reached inside.
The crows are loud today. They call to us
Beyond the railroad tracks. The sun has set.
Our luck’s been kind of weird but good for once.
We’ll always have these vespertine desires,
The bats that loop their loops so close to us,
The fireflies showing in bluer darkness.
We simply have to stop and watch a while.
Jesus God it’s fucking hot out here at night.
We’ll wait for lightning. Till then we have the dark.
You’ll feel it now. We made the storms we swim. 


Ernest Hilbert is the author of Sixty Sonnets, All of You on the Good Earth, Caligulan—selected as winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize—and Last One Out. His fifth book, Storm Swimmer, was selected by Rowan Ricardo Phillips as the winner of the 2022 Vassar Miller Prize and will appear in 2023. Visit him at

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