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Seven poems.

Seven poems.

Gabriel Gudding


Infantry

To Ken Burns

My Dearest Beloved Mommy, I have only one diaper left, provisions
are running low, yet I will continue ahead with these onerous
puddles and snows, until I make General McClelland's camp.

He is a big meany but I must rely on him in your absense to feed
and nurture me. Mommy, I need cuddles and fear I will get none
of your milk in McClelland's camp. Have you sent it on ahead?

Yesterday I thought I heard your burping and met a brutal man
who pinches me. I crawled away from him last night into some
pine barrens. For several hours today as I crept along the
trail I was tormented by a bumblebee who poked and fizzled in my
hair.

Mommy, please send your milk to General McClelland's camp.
Send it care of

Gen'l McClelland
Beater-Upper, Mississippi

I will be there in a few days. I am tired and maybe send someone
to carry me, any nanny or uncle. Yesterday a male dog tried to
mount me. In the clouds this forenoon, I thought I saw a
dolphin smiling. She was spouting a milk from the old teat on
her back--and making for some sunlight in the shore stones.

Richard Wilbur

When I question the world of myth and absolution
and consider, following one bent path of thought,
whether a pumpkin is a Catholic or a Lutheran
or down what tossed hall of tree and weed
the bunny went before it stopped,
 then I start and know
 how great old Richard Wilbur was.

What ceremony of light played with Sabrina
 in his mind! Is he dead yet? Is it night?
 Ho-hum: Wilbur
 was a quilter brave--bollufresco
of the verbal wind, quartz-smith
 of assonantal jade.

 Richard Wilbur, you are my mind!
The conscientious captains of my closet
where I store my heart-coat
 and my cap of hate
will not bring out, for me to wear,
the raincoat of my pout, the hunting hat
of my despair.
 It is because

I have been reading you of late.

Sometimes I fiddle with my groin, engage
with a sensibleness, mark menus, and generally steer
a path for goodness. And, too, at times,
 when my wife is sadly queer
or when a friend says something odd
I consider, Richard Wilbur, your stately verse
 and, generally, thank God. For God is great.

I know this because

I have been reading you of late.

The Pallbearer Races

It is morning in late summer.
I am moving in the yard at the Church of Our Redeemer,
which hangs at the hems of two flax farms, a mile
on the highway from the edge of Flom.

Near the picket gate, in the weeds grown up
into the chipped paint, our family's disinterred
rest there with the flies, beside my comely aunts
gussied in pitch.

Their cheeks are gemmed with tears
lit pink in the coming sun, itself lately exhumed
and fresh as Christ: today the pallbearer heats
at Our Redeemer church. And I, by God,
am taking bets.

Every ten years we've dug them up
and the men of the family have grunted them
to the edge of Thompsen's shorn field and back,
in a race whose purpose is, for a day at least,
to give our grief a shallow grave.

And though a year gone
and mostly bone,
little Tom will race today, carried by James and Jake
and Bill and Dave and John--
and one other whom I don't know.

He'll do fine. They slide him now
from the Fleetwood's bed,
shoulder him with a huff, and walk--
his aggregate clicking in the box.

The last hearse arrives
popping over the gravel.
The churchyard pauses
while we put Raymond near the gate.
The wind bellies thick
in the shadows near my aunts,
as one of Ray's sisters begins to keen
and another to ululate.

And beyond the headstones,
as if remembering the days when she could run
an old mother toes the starting line
at the back of the churchyard lawn.

I shall root for Tom.

For Quintus Laberius Durus, Who, Because of a Javelin in His
Lungs, Died Near Kent, in Early August, 54 BC

If every man had a window in his breast..., or, that which Tully
so much wished, [that] it were written in every man's
forehead what he thought about the Republic...what a deal of
laughter it would have afforded!
--Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy

In eo die Quintus Laberius Durus, tribunus militum, interficitur.
--Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico

Bored and nosing again in Caesar's Gallic Wars
and feeling arrogant as usual about knowing Latin,
I crossed one sentence in his dinky book
that was frankly sick: It read, "On that day, Quintus Laberius
 Durus,
tribune of soldiers, was killed," witnessing empty
as a newspaper stand: truncated, enduring,
more than bland. His single chronicler wrote
in martial prose--generous as a watercolorist--an epitaph
thin as shorebirds. Nothing else.
 Pissed off at Caesar
and sorry for Durus, I continued to nose, smelling out
for Quintus Laberius, tribune of soldiers.

They had weighed anchor off the kidney-beaned beach at Walmer,
and, at low-tide, almost bored, after breakfast and their morning
 turd,
they donned armor with one resigning sigh just the instant the
 sun rose
out of the great blue-gray tulip of the North Sea. And when the
 choppy clouds
were hanging with that taffeta that they hang with at dawn,
they leapt into the black-ebbed slackwater, which, the scholars
 tell us,
was Caesar's bad idea, since the milites were forced to run knees
 high
in chest-deep channel water
for two hundred very unfunny yards, arrows
skipping in their faces, helmets
lit by the roosting dawn, running as soldiers
have always run: "like baked cheese on legs, or something."

Caesar ordered the low-draft galleys--his mean chihuahuas
of'I mean business'--to hurl
his heaviest javelins, with their great winch-strung skeins of
 hair,
at the Celts of Cassivelaunus (who fight naked, Caesar
is fastidious to mention),
until the Celts backed off,
flipping Caesar the bird, with much asperity,
in their vast barbaric sign language. Their retreat
flickered with arrows like finches
flushed from burning elms. Darts and blood were everywhere.

(It was a very pointy morning.)

But this is not the day that Quintus Laberius Durus died.

Cassivelaunus' rabid flocks
followed Caesar a fortnight
picking at his army,
which elbowed inland forty miles,
whether chased or marching, he does not say--
he tels us only
eighty thousand paces, and the scholars concur.

(And if you imagine the men who had to count this out,
you will know
that of the seven soldiers ordered to tally, two
grew corns and five had feet
blistered so cruelly
they looked ripe
with cranberries. They had all miscounted.)
And as some were squabbling
about the paces and whether they should tell the 'Great Julius
 Caesar,'
whose temper matched his mercy, that they were somewhere between,
 oh,
twenty and forty miles, give or take,
from the beany stones of Walmer's berms
and their only longboats home--

as some were squabbling this way,
Caesar ordered fortifications, a rampart and trench,
pickets and posts and fences for livestock, and men
 to guard this operation,
among whom, of all the men of Legion Ten,
he assigned the tribune

Quintus Laberius Durus.
 Durus,
which means Hard.
And as Caesar was deciding where he was,
(which is a commander's privilege--
to simply decide
where you are),
and as his palisade was being erected,
the Celts of Cassivelaunus
threw themselves like stones
crashing from the wood
and attacked the praeses of Legion Ten,
praeses, which means
"those who sit in front." In front, that is,
of the walls.

It was on that day
that Quintus Laberius Durus, a tribune of soldiers--who sat
 before the walls--
died
before the eyes of Caesar, and his men.

Even Caesar remarked
that the popping sound of his chest
when the javelin struck
and punched daylight through him
was uncommon.

But for the soldier Quintus Laberius Durus who died near Kent,
I have no pity. That he met his pop-eyed end
beating helter from a great blue man
whose limed hair raged taut in the wind, drumlike as an umbrella
that is quickly opened in a car,
does not concern me.

That he once walked the ridge of battle at its peak,
cocky as a chimney-cleaner, and as antique,
really doesn't bother me, nor should it bother us: he was a
 solider
and it's their job to die like this.

What bugs me
is that his last breath
 went through the air chuckling
 for his friends, without his wife, in a field he did not know,
 near some river they call the Thames,

 and lingered against the sky, winding with the herons,
warranting only
a nine word sentence.

Foundry

The great brass bell was dragging itself across a landscape
mottled with parks and cricks and creased with old asphalt roads,
its swollen clacker pathetically donking against fire hydrants
and curbs.

What had sent it packing? Was it going home? Fleeing a fired
 past?

Who had freed it from its weather-wracked, hulking cross-stays?

Once, the bell was caught in bracken like a large smooth bug in
tar, a wheezing dog came fumbling, oddly didn't pee, just lay down
beneath it and died. That smell of dog lingered in the bell's
clacker swivel, repulsing cats for some time.

The winters were the worst; its big tired mouth dragging across
the dirty snow like an early morning kiss.

Then, struck by a dump truck, it tottered on its lip for a
moment. Until, like a humpbacked penny, it began that addled
circuitous fall common to all coins, and lay still. The bell
was paralyzed.

It wasn't until dark and bluest winter that the shadow of a
steeple was able to reach the bell, giving one reassuring
stroke each day--until evil spring beat back the steeple's soft,
compassionate arm.

Pedagogy

 for Marina

I guess I was going on in a rather good,
 somewhat brilliant rattle
about the folding of the present indicative active
 into the gerund or the gerundive
 (or was it the general verbal adjectival?),
when I looked up from my spot of table--
 which was quietly bearing the weight
 of an ever growing doodle
 scored deeply as if in granite
 or maybe in marble
 by my ever more distant right hand--

& saw that all gathered there & listening
 were like unto England's marsh birds
 in a strong marsh wind--
 that is to say, they had the look of the dithered,
 or the bothered,
 but not the bedazzled;

and this was off-putting, if not place-putting,
 & my right foot began pat-patting,
 my ever more distant right foot,
 pat-patting under the table
 "like a sage escaped
 from the inanity of life's battle."

 So: above the table, a saltmarsh of birds, & beyond them
 the bird-stitched beach, breakers'
 muffled tympani
 (& the long-lunged
 bush-curled
 smell of myrtle),

 &, under,
 the little sage tapping on; while, over
 --& on--the table
 a three pound doodle--
 and before everyone a doodle,
 & above every doodle
 a pencil--
 & two eyes fixed, bunny-dazed,
 on the lead of each pencil,
 as under the pencil trailed a trail of lead
 drawn wearily from the pencil wood
 by the pencilled paper, much as the sky would
 in drawing the thin jet vapor
 from a cold speck of jet
 in the worn sky air--

& each of these doodles must have weighed
 as much as a boiled egg or maybe an onion,
 though one looked like the moustache of Stalin,
 & another like Stalin's hair,
 & one maybe like a velvet cushion,
 an ancient cushion sold, say,
 by Sotheby's in London:

 And I realized, after a long, or rather a distended, second,
 that I was living
 in the paradise of Horace Mann
 (of olden Massachusetts)
 or, more precisely,
 Johannes Comenius,
 as outlined in
 Pansophiae Prodromus,
 that in fact grammar and pencils, or pencils alone
 would never be fun again,
 that I ought to maybe thus
 light out for the margins
 or maybe the Everglades
 or maybe my alma mater, Evergreen,
 and be as a coin going plinkety,
 that I should do this early now-now,
 before the blicky hair-bird
 bursts hard from my doodle--as a coin going pinkety--
and devours my middle section, inclusive of my ding-dong.
 do this now-now,
 and they WILL say O-O
 who IS that that goeth from Edom,
 with dyed garments from Bozrah? traveling
 in the greatness of his strength-O?

Requiem Cadenza

for the civil libertarians who died September 11, 2001
I shall thank John Ashcroft for being a great American,
I shall thank John Ashcroft for being a great American so well
 that there is no doubt left
 about how good great Americans are for America.

 I shall never blame America.
 Nor shall I blame America.
 Nor shall I ever think of blaming America
 or any part of America
 at any point in its history, ever.

I shall not blame the radios nor the cartoons of America, nor of
Buenos Aires,
nor even of Bolivia: nor finally
 or Venezuela. Franz Liszt
shall not be blamed, nor will

Mary Baker Eddy, Eddie Haskell, Buddy Holly, Hollis Ellis, Ellen Knapp,
Ella Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Ridley Scott, Francis Scott
Key, Great Scot, Scott-Amundsen, Duns Scotus, John Donne, Don Johnson,
Dr. Johnson, Stacy Thompson,
 or Donner and Blitzen.

Nor will I single out the baroness Blixen,
 Tom Mix, Tom Lux, Tom Thumb, Tiny Tim, Thom Gunn, ,
 Gale Gunderson,
Louise Gluck, or
Elizabeth Hardwick.

Nor Maria Sedgwick or Sister Sledge. Nor the Sedulous Sisters of
 Mother Maria.

I shall not blame the Pope, the papists, the Pogues, the Pogue
 Mahones, nor the Popes sans McGowen.

I will not blame the island of Pogo Pogo, the town of Walla
 Walla, Sing Sing prison, nor the Hamma Hamma river.

Who then to blame if not Man Ray, Ray Kroc or Betty Crocker--the
 kamikaze's "Tora! Tora! Tora!" or the matador-a's "Toro! Toro!"

If not Okinawa, Oklahoma, or the OK Corral. If not Lake Baikal or
 the Nara Canal. Or the shallow little ladle of Lake Lida near
 Sara-je-vo.

If not the op-eds of Oppenheimer
or the histories of Buttenheim,

Nor Boutros Boutros in Bio-bio,
or Oromosto's in Oraroo (or the kangaroos either),
then who?

If not the cats in Kiti in the Kittatinny Mountains, or
Rin Tin Tin of Titicaca,
 Loma Linda,
 Osh Kosh,
 Ulladulla,
 Van Veing,
 Kyzyl-Kyyva,
 Tana Tuva,
 Ust Usa (that's in Russia).

If not the Thai's dog Fido in Phi Phi Kho--8 tracks, HiFi's, or indeed
High 5's.
Or the Paw Paw tree either.

Or Pol Pot. Or Pol Pot's pa pa. Or the Yarra Yarra Lakes: Kristi
 Yamaguchi
or Yamaguchi, Japan.

If not
Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, John-John Kennedy, Xion Xian China, Xia-Xi
Mozambique, or Woy
Woy Australia (which is Way
Way down under):
If not
Bill Knott,
why not?
 If not
My Three Sons, Three Days of the Condor, Two Years Before the Mast,
Moby Dick or Mobil Gas.
If not Sonny and Cher, or Sony and Che Guevara.

If not those who play
 bingo in Durango,
 ping pong in Hong Kong,
 baseball in Vauxhall,
 football in Nashville, soccer
 in Sauk Center, lacrosse
 in Las Cruces, tennis
 in Tunis, croquet in Caracas

or jai alai in Lorelei,

then why?


GABRIEL GUDDING is an assistant professor of English at Illinois State University. His book, A Defense of Poetry, will be published this November by the University of Pittsburgh Press. The book's title poem is included in the Scribner anthology Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, edited by David Lehman and forthcoming this April.

These poems all appear in A Defense of Poetry, [C] 2002 by Gabriel Gudding. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
COPYRIGHT 2002 World Poetry, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Gudding, Gabriel
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Sep 1, 2002
Words:2609
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