From the Summer 2013 issue of The Antioch Review.
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, That prose That grows 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.
© The Antioch Review, 2014