Two New Poems by Mary Jo Bang

by Mark Bibbins, Editor

An Autopsy of an Era

That’s how it was then, a knife
through cartilage, a body broken. Animal
and animal as mineral ash. A window smashed.
The collective howl as a general alarm
followed by quiet.

Boot-black night,
halogen hum. Tape snaking through
a stealth machine. Later, shattered glass
and a checkpoint charm — the clasp
of a tourist-trap bracelet. An arm. A trinket.

Snap goes the clamshell. The film
in the braincase preserving the sense
of the drench, the angle of the leash,
the connecting collar. A tracking long-shot.
The descent of small-town darkness.

The Numbers

I’m making a strudel of bluebirds.
A pied piper is playing a strange song
to the sound of a shredder that’s going non-stop,
each ordinal number is isolated, each receipt
gets eaten. Each is made safe.
The dish is hot from the oven.
The mesmerizing sound lulls like a candle
on a table makes a mirror of the eye.
A knife draws a line down the center.
This is mine. This is yours.
There is no way out.
Every language gets speckled with references
to what it is to be after: shredded,
sleeping — eyes closed, home-schooled
to ignore what you don’t want to see.
Now, down the disposal the feathers,
the unfed, the crust crumbs,
the monogrammed small plates stamped I
for Idiocy. Mine and yours.
After the fall of the wall I felt anything
was possible. History would no longer exist.

The mic goes out.
The sound softens.
The books burn down to embers, then ash.
The fever hospital closes for lack
of a solution to the seven deadly sins: betrayal
for one, intolerance for two,
greed for three, cruelty for four, large cars
for five, war for six. Suicide for seven
when it kills more than one.

Mary Jo Bang is the author of six books of poems including Elegy, which won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Bride of E (2009). She teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. Her translation of Dante’s Inferno, with illustrations by Henrik Drescher, will be published by Graywolf Press in 2012.

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