by Mark Bibbins, Editor
Today in the poetry section; two new poems by Timothy Donnelly.
His Future as Attila the Hun
But when I try to envision what it might be like to live
detached from the circuitry that suffers me to crave
what I know I’ll never need, or what I need but have
in abundance already, I feel the cloud of food-court
breakfast loosen its embrace, I feel the shopping center
drop as its escalator tenders me up to the story
intended for conference space. I feel my doubt diminish, my debt
diminish; I feel a snow that falls on public statuary
doesn’t do so sadly because it does so without profit.
I feel less toxic. I feel the thought my only prospect
lies under a train for the coverage stop. Don’t think I never
thought that way because I have and do, all through
blank October a dollar in my pocket back and forth
to university. Let the record not not show. I have
deserted me for what I lack and am not worth. All of this
unfolds through episodes that pale as fast as others
gain from my inertia: I have watched, I’ll keep watching
out from under blankets as the days trip over the
days before out cold on the gold linoleum behind them
where we make the others rich with sick persistence.
But when I try to envision what it might be like to change,
I see three doors in front of me, and by implication
opportunity, rooms full of it as the mind itself is full
thinking of a time before time was, or of the infinite
couch from which none part, and while the first two doors
have their appeal, it’s the third I like best, the one
behind which opens a meadow, vast, and in it, grazing
on buttercups, an errant heifer with a wounded foot,
its bloody hoofprints followed by a curious shepherd back
to something sharp in the grass, the point of a long
sword which, unearthed, the shepherd now polishes with
his rodent-skin tunic, letting the Eurasian sun play
upon it for effect, a gift for me, a task, an instrument to lay
waste to the empire now placed before me at my feet.
Antepenultimate Conflict with Self
The times the thought of being pulled apart from
you comes as a relief have come now to outnumber
those it startles me like light from a hurricane
lamp left burning unattended dangerously near
the curtains of the theater we both attend and are.
The fire of it spasms up the tall glass chimney
like little air pockets we’ve watched trudge down
loops in hospital tubing-disarmed, but quietly.
When I have made in our manhood some large noise
to spook off harm, harm has only found us faster.
Saying one should distract it as the other escapes
to an agreed-on spot where we can reconnoiter
after, like under the alder where the jackdaw builds
its nest of surplus playbills. They shred them up
like that as a matter of procedure. They intend no
particular disrespect to you or your production.
None taken. Glad to hear it. Because I thought I saw
a darkness drift across your face that I associate
with umbrage. Not even close. If I were you I wouldn’t
flatter myself. And yet, turning things around, this
darkness you speak of, it must have drifted across
your own face at least as much as mine. Admittedly, yes.
So why not leave me out of it? I’ve been trying to do
just that. Looks to me like you haven’t been going
about it right. That makes two of us, then. Not quite.
Leaving the burning theater behind one begins to
ease into a new perspective. The stairway leads to
a doorway, the doorway to an alleyway, the alleyway
to another door, more stairs, another amber room
where one can forget again, its window overlooking
a car lot emptied of its cars. The stark lines recall
what was and will be there, but isn’t now or anymore.
The scent of juniper or cat piss. A knock at the door.
A look around the room before opening to confirm this
isn’t the one we’ve been, only half in fear, dreaming.
After calculation, I’ve let you in. Seated at the table
in cold beneath the window, we try to remember each
example of the condition we’re after, namely that of
a multitude at work in unison. You say alder branches
blown in the wind. I say the warp and weft of waves
on an open bay. You say activity near beehives. I say
heavy snowfall. You say a flock of birds tilting mid-flight
and I say some performances we turn to long enough
to forget what we can never have, not without shedding
either or both of us. As if one had to clear out room
for a discovery that doesn’t come so much as splinter
into the shag. We are down on our hands and knees
trawling gold acrylic pile. We are old here already.
To have rehearsed this almost infinitely hasn’t helped
move things along. On the contrary. The whole idea
of perfection, evidently our aim, seems to have done
less to guide us away from missteps than to make them
even sharper, more palpable, and in several respects
downright impossible to avoid. (All the pressing in of
what we’ll never have reminds us of how thoroughly
bereft we are, even of a hope of one day not wanting.)
You ought to put an end to this. (What pierces my hand
pierces yours, stops us into focus strong enough only
to drive off gauzy voices urging more harm for the quiet
that comes after.) You ought to have put an end to it
first. Shown a little courtesy. (Light dim as light can be
and still be thought light flosses the cleft between poorly
drawn curtains.) You shouldn’t have followed me here.
You made it impossible not to. Took you long enough
to say it though. Some things go without. Without? Without
saying altogether. They sit unsaid in a lost auditorium,
muttering into night. I think they should be heard. I think
I can hear them now. As from behind a wall, or within it.
We have that gift. Yes, and each other. Also sticktoitiveness.
But it’s gifts like these that always get one into trouble.
Timothy Donnelly’s first book of poems, Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebensziet, was published by Grove Press in 2003, and his second, The Cloud Corporation, will be published by Wave Books this fall. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly,
Fence, Gulf Coast, Harper’s, The Iowa Review, jubilat, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. He is a poetry editor for Boston Review and teaches in the Writing Program of Columbia University’s School of the Arts.