Three Poems By Geoffrey Nutter

by Mark Bibbins, Editor

Remember the Telephone Book

Remember the telephone book?
It once enjoyed pride of place
in many a kitchen, in many
a breakfast nook, huge, warped
and yellow, its spine out of joint,
thicker than the Pentateuch and Septuagint,
thicker than the Ramayana, vaguely
scrofulous and antiquated even after having been
just unwrapped from its cellophane sleeve.
You would reach for it, retrieve it
as one would pull something fully formed
from wet loam, heave it up on your knees
and it would flop open on your knees,
obscenely. In its white pages you could always find
the number for one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
or the street address for Clara Aufklarung;
there were blue pages for the offices
of governance in their domed enclosures;
and its yellow pages told us how to contact
the sellers of tiles, bricks, porcelain insulators,
and household crockery. And now? Well then. It seems
the telephone book has gone the way
of the top hat, the nosegay, the automat, the rules
for auction bridge, the Hobson Jobson
dictionary, and the plays of Richard
Brinsley Sheridan. Some printing concern,
likely in New Jersey, is printing them still,
at night in a hidden maze of districts,
in a factory powered by steam engine;
and a shadow courier service is bringing
them around to you; but who will have
the heavy, self-serious
telephone book? You can see them stacked
like yellow cinder blocks in lobbies,
clumped in a master-block by shrink wrap
beneath the dark mail slots, the useless
blue cucumbers of the night, green mummies
sleeping in the ice house of eternity. A few days
later, someone just as discreetly
takes them away to an as-yet undisclosed location.

Famous Androids

The Flute-player by M. Vaucanson
is one. The Chess-player by Kempelen
is also celebrated, that clock-work
visitant that stunned the Sun King’s court.
There was the miniature reaper
who swung his scythe in the field
beneath a walnut shell, and then
the Lightning Concubine, ablaze
with jewels and beauty, a mechanical
cat purring in her lap. It is
the Age of Enlightenment. In the aspen grove
where the wild strawberries grow
like a bundle of nerves in the gentle rain,
blushing in the penitential waters of the sun shower,
the ball-joint doll in petticoats is sitting
on a lichen-covered boulder. And on
the leafy ground where white-capped mushrooms
like small bells are growing all around
a brass alarm clock is ticking. New friends
come for angel visits, fireworks explode
above the reservoir and brilliant ferns
hang their bunting over crumbled fountains,
the girls are dressed like peasant girls
for lunar new year, the Day of Good Intentions
and the chiming of the Clock Symphony
violet on brick house fronts and green shutters,
a mechanical rose opens on a gold-trimmed flag
spread across a marble-topped sarcophagus.
What time is it in the forest?

Samuel Pepys

I was reading Samuel Pepys’s Diary
on the train, and as I read I noticed
something: that I was sleeping
when he was sleeping, and waking
when he woke. And then too I found
that I was garbed in richest
suit of pearl, like Samuel Pepys,
and furthermore I found that when
Samuel Pepys lay beside his wife
abed til late into the morning
I too lay beside my espoused.
With tailors at work on the quarter-deck
cutting yellow cloth into the fashion
of a crown, he is dining on a lobster,
on dozens of little oysters, and on
partridges and sparrows, and marrow
bones in a dish, a dish of prawns
and cheese, a loin of veal, two dozen
larks, anchovies and a neat’s tongue…
and so am I. He sends for a cup of tea,
he hears a sermon, gets news of traitors
being quartered; you have rued
sly with wonder and dejection these daily
entries. While he is being garbed in his suit
of lavender and pearl, like some beautiful
creature of the sea, the berry-sized samples
of a man’s small life are ripening:
presents, rich fur, carpets, cloths of tissue,
and sea-horse teeth, perforce what makes up day.
Divide it from its essence like a tissue
of sparks above the black plums of fire.
You must echo your sad, real experiences
somehow, shards of a large glass globe
in the brown and fallen leaves. Samuel Pepys,
I know that, someday soon, you will read
the story of my life, as I read yours,
immersed in details. Monuments will rise then
from amaranth and stand again, be reinhabited
by phantoms, the fragrant spired leaves
that are touched and touched again
later by the same hand.

Geoffrey Nutter: “I’m originally from California. I live in NY (well, currently Iowa, but only temporarily and not for much longer) and teach poetry classes at NYU. My most recent book is Christopher Sunset, published by Wave Books in 2010.”

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