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From the Summer 2013 issue of The Antioch Review.

by Jerome McGann

When the mutant music of morning spills 
Across these mute inglorious hills,
      And the heartsick scorpion crawls 
And the eager eagles cry 
As they beat at the desolate sky
      (Oh feeble wings! Ah forbidden walls!) 
As the angels of God zip by

(Those missioned minions from antique dominions, 
Like vacant Virginians with silly opinions).
      Then a lethal thunder unknown to that tundra 
Rolled on like a raving mad 
Cyclonic byronic jihad
      Of a creature committed to standing misunder 
And singing this freak ballade:

"My brain's not sane, I need champagne, 
A gravy train, or a capital gain! 
A glass of sherry, a canzonieri 
I could write and mail to the Virgin Mary, 
Beseeching her grace for a personal loan
Or a ticket to skip to Sierra Leone."
Oh! Is this the cock that crowed in the morn
      His forlorn torchsong
For the Akond of Swat and La Mort de Marat,
      A long Monophthong,
For a lost and forgotten Dada?

        Yes, hear that awful dole
     ful hymn of that polar zone
Like a geek who schleps through bituminous steppes
        (Oh that groan of an overthrown clone!)
Where the scoriac rivers that run up Mount Yaanek
Once led the Dark Bard (nevermore in a panic) 
        To Ululand's ultimate goal
    To croon to a moon alone.
And all the woods and valleys ran
With an omen that no men knew part of a plan—
         "Breathe the air of this lune de clair! 
          Search the City of Underpants! 
          (Unexposed to the grownups of Vanity Fair 
          ’Tis the playland of off-rhymed chance!"

"That intense inane! Oh sing it again,"
     Wailed the boys from their desolate shore,
"Sing the guys and dolls and the great noir molls 
And Niagara Falls, and the tuvan calls 
     As they summon the angel Lenore." 
And list to the gargles and skaldic warbles, 
The heart wrung ringing of near and far bells 
From a poet once thought to have lost his marbles 
Through the mental strain of the rain in spain, 
Or from being too fain of the whooping crane. 
So the boys turned their eyes on that lost horizon's 
Extinct pigeons and thunderous bison 
To quest after Grpljx and Sparse Infectors, 
And the Bfrifs in flight from the virus protectors! 
Yet the songs of that grand and forsaken shore 
Are swooning and crooning as ever before, 
          "Once so fair, where's the there?
          Where the Bots would be free to suppose?
          Perhaps they've sunk in a mal de mer
          Dreaming of yesteryear's snows."

Thus an awful darkness and silence arose
      Across that besimulate land,
Like a cheese soufflé or that bubbly prose—
"Like when", "Like say"—like, bland 
As an Alien Nation's alienation 
Transfixed to a cellphonic regeneration 
In a neverget navigate node to node, 
Hypnotically fleeing from bugs in a code, 
From an evil gone viral through silicon trolls. 
Poor droids, poor pod people, poor virtual souls, 
	  Poor Caped Crusading heroes 
	  Laocoön's sons in a world like Nero's.

Thence came the Nothing that Nobody saw,
In a rage of Reason and rule of war,
And the ratatatat of the technocrat
Stuns the thundering hoofbeats of Foss the Cat,
And the voice of the Scroobious Pipps
In light Pussybitten fyttes,
And the lays of the klupzian rubaiyat.
So crazed to the max with deep thoughts of payola
(Having drunk too much twenty-six ounce CocaCola)
None decided they know of a crazed ayatollah
Who's decided it's time to invade Pensacola
     Or maybe Peoria
     Would be much gorier, 
Or that slattern Nogales or uptight Emporia. 
All this is made clear, as they say you can see 
In that first book of Samuel (chap. 15, verse 3).

So thoroughly armed with the crispy cream chrism 
Of a piece with obeisant Deceptionalism, 
     Like the kibbutzim turning outside in, 
     Or a self-administered mickey finn 
Or a Brook Farm transformed to a gated enclosure 
In fear from indecent and public exposure, 
What is it that's turned the jocose comatose? 
It's the Nothing that Nobody knows. 
What is it has laid out these byzantine plots 
In quest for their deer-in-the-deadlight ersatz? 
It's the love that has lefted them higher and drier 
Like the justintime calls of the insider buyer. 
And only loved Margo's loved lord called the Shadow 
Knows the nothing that Nobody Knows, 
Running in rivers of ruinous prose, 
That prose 
That grows 
The Nothing that Nobody Knows.


El_Greco_-_St_Jerome_as_a_Scholar_(detail)_-_WGA10626Jerome McGann teaches at University of Virginia. His most recent book is The Poet Edgar Allan Poe. Alien Angel (Harvard UP, 2014). “The Nothing that Nobody Knows” is one of a set of prosodic parodies of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll that are tentatively headed Poems for Persons of Uncertain Age, of which The Invention Tree, with illustrations by Susan Bee (Chax Press, 2012), is another.



© The Antioch Review, 2014