From the Summer, 2014 Issue of The Antioch Review
GLORY by Joshua McKinney The arbor’s splendid vassalage rends the morning air. I believe in pieces that perhaps the only revolt is death. Here I sit broken-hearted under the blooms. I have coffee and a stack of student poems. I own an iron deck-chair wet with dew. ~ If I did not know better, I would swear bird song rose from the little Victrolas covering the garden arch. Their brilliance hurts my eyes, but I know better. And what am I to call their color? “Heavenly Blue” the seed packet said. In Japanese, Morning Glory is Asagao: asa (morning) kao (face), and in her opening stanza, a church bell ceases yet tolls the disappearance of a girl’s grandsire who fought the tiny sword men on the islands, who smoked bees from wooden boxes while he smoked himself to death. ~ I arose and went to the mountain, but the glade was silent, the glacier gone, the meadow sere. And round about the woods were strewn with the pale blooms of ass-wipe, unburied by those who also sought the wilderness. ~ Now the poem’s speaker—whom one must not assume is the author—is crying missing the man she called “Pops” with his bees and his Bull Durham telling how his bee boxes have fallen “into disrepair,” almost hidden in the “grass like green hair” leaning like abandoned barns in the field near the apple orchard where the crop grows smaller every year. ~ Now is the augury of late migration, of empty hives, of early pupae twitching in the brackish pool behind my neighbor’s foreclosed home. ~ There is a man I would like to know better, a man who trekked in sun-dry deserts with a backpack full of poems, tracing the sinusoidal track of crotalus in the graven silence of sand. He still writes letters in beautiful script on lovely paper, and in a letter I did not write I told him of the night I knelt to fuel my Stihl in the dank soil of a fire line, told him how I watched the terrible and ravenous light crawl down the ridgeline, told how I saw old growth in flame immured, charred trunks horrent upon the horizon’s bare convex. Told how I thought it intimation of the end. ~ Her trouble (as I’ve told her) is telling: She remembers his tenderness when she tastes honey from a plastic bear how no sweetness can compare to what he’d spread on bread for her at lunchtime with calloused hands she loved to hold. And how she misses the bees that like her granddad won’t come back. ~ A mercury-risen day, and now I see the tiny trumpets have withered, their blue apertures twisted shut and from the kitchen window my son asks, If tuna is contaminated with mercury, what happens if you microwave a tuna sandwich . . . Does it explode? ~ My son, have you considered how you will live in a world without tigers? And have you seen any bees lately? O vigorous disappearances lifeafterlifeafterlifeafterlifeafter ~ Out of nowhere now here in the poem the girl has grown, and now the poem in the girl has grown, and now the girl in the poem has grown, in me and now under pretence of teaching I must write something in response. Dissembled and furthering, the shadow of a my hand veers dark and mutant over the page: Will you learn to live without? or Will you know better? or Please, do not close your morning face? or perhaps, (though I know better) Dear Student, named for a flower, how I love this terrible poem about your grandfather’s bees.
Joshua McKinney is the author of three books of poetry: Saunter, co-winner of the University of Georgia Press Open Competition; The Novice Mourner, recipient of the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize from Bear Star Press; and Mad Cursive. His work has appeared in journals such as American Letters & Commentary, American Literary Review, The Antioch Review, Boulevard, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, The Kenyon Review, New American Writing, and many others. Other awards include the Dickinson Prize and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing. With Tim Kahl he co-edits the online poetry journal, Clade Song. He teaches literature and creative writing at California State University, Sacramento.
© The Antioch Review, 2014