V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




The radio voices tangle like bedclothes—
officials testify against the heat
index continued fighting markets retreat
the price of gasoline all doors close
surprise confession no ceasefire no comment. Because
the clock can’t decide how to wake me, shrill chimes beat
among the words, and weak stations compete
by talking, singing, bleating mixture’s eros.

This listening is like choosing, retrofitting
noise into counsel that the world might hiss
to a heedful woman, if the world were so
inclined. The rising drone of traffic is
an oracle. Today is now transmitting.
Tomorrow’s signal lurks within the snow.  

Tomorrow’s signal lurks within the snow
or what is left of the snow with climate change
melting the poles in a kind of cosmic revenge
for crimes that are dragging me into their undertow.
I can no longer listen to the radio:
its bulletins are old, its voices strange
and static hurts my ears as I drive out of range.
Even deep in the forest I hear its echo.

Yesterday’s signals still blink through time,
tapping out Morse or blazing on a lonely island
while notes in green bottles circle the swelling seas.
Those desperate voices are with us still: they hum
in the background like old songs sung by a legend.
The night sky is bright with the grieving Pleiades.

The night sky is bright with the grieving Pleiades,
rising in the season your voice was stilled at last,
though sound itself never dies, your every newscast
spiraling out through space to distant galaxies.
When I was little, I thought you knelt in TVs.
I walked around them looking for a door and latch.
Heads jerked in swordfish-netted restaurants when you asked
for a menu.  Women sent you cold remedies.
News of the ancient gods precedes your voice through space,
bulletins about rapists and transformations,
sisters scattered to stars, riding on waves of sound;
briefly, your news of protests, assassinations;
then, in the wake of your inimitable bass,
towers struck and destroyed, a much-loved city drowned . . .

Towers struck and destroyed, a much-loved city drowned,
now the one-room schoolhouse bloodied and boarded up.
Where Lancaster country roads swerve, slim and rough
along the edges, curves where worn hooves pound
black asphalt out of sight, I glide around
slow small black buggies blinkered against my mischief:
twin cam stick shift metaphor I stuff
into overdrive, exiled Liz Phair in the background.

I stopped at the Amish store and bought a skein
of saturated blue. (Ten years.) Was she five?
or, no, some years younger, that impish one
twirled in her mother’s skirt, a portwine stain
like a heart. She would say, Pray, if she’s survived.
Godless, I wish the dark words unsung, undone.

Godless, I wish the dark words unsung, undone
could be replaced, to hear a sound that’s sweet—
my name as you said it on our first date,
our son’s nonsense song when he thinks we’re gone.
But bodies are counted on the radio. We can’t outrun
the news, or claim warm October nights can treat
our fears. Our deadly month? Our numbers cheat
the “enemy” of theirs. All god’s daughters, sons.
The other day I drove around small tragedy,
a deer on Wellesley Road, antlers stretched high,
back clamped against back wheels of a small 4-door.
The thump it must have made and its breath lost
as quickly as it came to him, unmoored,
one creature’s death becomes another’s host.

One creature’s death becomes another’s host.
I trim and baste the turkey, chop the salad,
turn on the radio, join in the ballad
of one Thanksgiving Day when Arlo tossed
litter over a cliff, then ate a roast,
was tried, fined, thrown in jail—all which were valid
means to fail the draft and join the squalid
souls on the bench. I pray that breezy ghost
does not return to haunt us. Near the head
of a check-out line last night, two teenage boys
among the muzak held a light debate
on joining up, as if such jumps on fate
might give them something like consumer choice.
That song is coming round again, they said.

That song is coming round again, they said.
Now wreaths and metal ribbons deck the lights
in our small towns, where students party, nights
after exams: crow, Yo, bro, I’m wasted.
Damn straight, that Jack’s the best I ever tasted.
Football’s in vogue, and eggnog lattes, tights
with skimpy dresses. Not in vogue: our rights.
And “over there,” six hundred thousand dead.
Pray for us, who push back from the feast
belly-full, disconsolate, still ravening.
Pray that we not strip the world's bones clean—at last
gone mad, like Goya's Saturn, devouring
our sons. That song: the births, the deaths, the woes.
Radio voices tangling like bedclothes.


© by Judith Barrington, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Julie Kane, Julia Lisella, D’Arcy Randall, Kathrine Varnes, Lesley Wheeler (not the order of composition)


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