Went Like It Came by Geoffrey O’Brien


Each of these poems is some sort of story about stories. A crowded city undergoes a spell of enforced confinement. In a war of rumors and conspiracy theories, identities are stolen and shapeshifting outsiders infiltrate urban parks. New fiefdoms consolidate under the sign of pervasive unease. A landscape of dry rivers and toxic weeds reveals itself. Within the zone of isolation, all the stories play out again in the mind, through memory or dream or unexpected waking flash—spectral trespasses, plays staged in empty theaters, messages concealed in drowned books, lives that might have been lived but weren’t, hermetic histories, lost paradises continuing to unreel in a subterranean screening room. The stories hang at last on a thread of melody, resolving themselves into a connecting filament that persists even at the core of silence.


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 80
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: August 2023
  • ISBN 978-1-953252-87-6


“Geoffrey O’Brien’s Went Like It Came is riveting, delightful, an ‘encrypted manual / for a universe invented behind your back.’ While leading the reader through a labyrinth of tantalizing yet unstable mysteries and geographies, O’Brien ‘delineates the musculature / even of what is not here.’ At the center of this work where nested story meets Zen koan, he offers us what can’t be seen, only sung.” —Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.

“Geoffrey O’Brien’s poems are haunted. By whom or by what, you may ask. By the ghosts of the poems—the poems that come in dreams, the poems that could have been written otherwise, the poems that were never written but call out to be heard. These poems bring us an endlessly elaborated sparklingly detailed narrative suffused with nostalgia—a verbal cinema of exquisite harm and lurking fear, a ‘dream in a story about a dream / being more elegant than any ever actually dreamt.’ The pleasures of this work are not to be missed.” —Norman Finkelstein


The Bed

There are moments
when the sun is nothing
orange glow
staining a blank wall
and the dying see doorways
not visible to others
but cannot enter them
or even stir from the bed
where they beat their hands
against the barrier


Geoffrey O'BrienGEOFFREY O’BRIEN, born in New York City in 1948, has published nine collections of poetry, among them Floating City (1995), Red Sky Café (2005), Early Autumn (2010), The Blue Hill (2018), and most recently Who Goes There (2020). He is also the author of prose works including Hardboiled America (1981), Dream Time: Chapters from the Sixties (1988), The Phantom Empire (1993), The Browser’s Ecstasy (2000), Sonata for Jukebox (2004), Where Did Poetry Come From (2020), and Arabian Nights of 1934 (2023). His writings on film, music, theater, and poetry have appeared frequently in The New York Review of Books and other periodicals. He worked as editor at Library of America for 25 years, retiring as editor in chief in 2017. He lives in Brooklyn.

Additional information

Weight 5.7 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in