This poem first appeared in the Fall, 2014 issue of The Antioch Review.
THE DANGER OF THESE LINES YOU WROTEby LaWanda Walters
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies
is how they make football like Autumn,
roaring down to its tragic goal line
in a knuckle-splitting, skidding glissando,
or like my sister playing Prokofiev at thirteen
in a short skirt up on stage when I heard
the comment, "she plays like she isn't a virgin."
I think you hit some primal key that makes us feel
we're in a dance, a turning in air above the ferns,
like Prokofiev's concerto hitting close to fossil nerve.
When she played with the Chautauqua Symphony,
my sister got blood on the piano keys,
those lines written to sound like three hands
in the cadenza. Arpeggios, hand crossings,
my prodigy sister. We listened,
in the practice cabin, her boyfriend placing the needle
on the record, for the orgasm near the end
of the Rachmaninoff Second. But which place?
Was that it? The music got better and better—
how could we know where it ended?
That is what I'm saying about your poem.
Your dad slaving at the glass factory,
my mother throwing her ruby red glassware,
“moondrops," in the garbage. It reminded her, she said,
of being poor. "Hazel-Atlas Glass" gleams in your poems,
a folk melody begins the wild concerto.
And so a line of music or a line in your poem
is misleading. To be so vulnerable and romantic—
Prokofiev had stage fright when he played that part.
Your word, "Therefore," is a bright container
turned lavender in the sun. Regardless,
just upriver in Steubenville, football players,
caught on video, laugh as they fumble and finger-fuck
the dreams of a passed-out teenaged girl.
(after James Wright's "Autumn Begins in Martin's Ferry, Ohio")
*** LaWanda Walters has had poems published in Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Laurel Review, North American Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, Southern Poetry Review, and Sou’wester. “Her Art” which first appeared in The Antioch Review, was chosen by Natasha Threthewey for Best New Poets 2007. Her poem “Marilyn Monroe” appeared in Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century. She lives in Cincinnati.
THE NOTHING THAT NOBODY KNOWS
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,
The Nothing that Nobody Knows.
Jerome 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.
A man walks into a coffee shop.
But it’s not a joke.
I bought coffee there
Small, with milk.
It’s never a joke
to walk in or out of a shop
unharmed. It’s easy
you aren’t a person
being shot at.
I wasn’t, though
I was there,
and I never knew it.
Did not once
Thinking it now
the moment thins,
and I move back to
other coffee shops
where I never fell, or bled,
I sit for a while
with my regular cup
and feel things collapse
or go on, I can’t tell.
Lia Purpura’s most recent collection of essays is Rough Likeness. Her awards include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, NEA and Fulbright Fellowships, and three Pushcart prizes. On Looking (essays) was finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems and essays appear in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Orion, The Paris Review, Field, and elsewhere; she lives in Baltimore and is a Writer in Residence at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County.