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.
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|Publication:||The American Poetry Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2002|
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