Home | Fleets & Fuels Newsletter | The Poetry of Mark Gibbons
"Do you always wait for the longest day of the year and then
miss it? I always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it."
After Gatsby died? Oh, I don't know;
that was in September wasn't it?
Oh, August, yes. Well, Tom made us all go
to Cap d'Antibes, and bought a yawl
with sails dyed the color of dried blood -
I swear! We went to . . . well, where did we go Jordan?
We went everywhere! And it was swell.
One just adorable afternoon the mistral blew
so hard we almost lost the foredeck crew;
and then, what do you call it? the jib
blew out with such a tear. But stories are a bore;
you know, the point is that we lived some more
and met new faces. One couple - he was Irish I think
and she was from Alabama - but not at all that sort.
Oh they wanted to meet us so;
He loved to drink;
Tom hated him, he hated Tom;
she, God what was her name - something strange
foreign - she loathed me and I her!
Between us I bet we covered the whole range
of mismatched possibility. I do concur
we were so polite and nice to each
other. Jordan! What was her name?
I know you think they're all the same -
but no, you know, the one who postured so.
Zelda! I have it, so there I don't need you
Jordan so go back to sleep.
And he was Scott. Scott the sot said Tom
to his face one night. What a dear
Scott was to me. Most people think
there's not much to me, but Scott knew better.
Elizabeth Bishop Selects the Right Word, and Then...
The bulk of the poem came easily;
a few winter's months in writing.
Its quality superior:
where meant to be flat,
the words spread out like dried mud
coldly dull burnt umber.
Where coy, they scintillated
like crystal drops on
a chandelier dipped clean in ammonia,
But one word eluded all discrimination.
There, in the poem's middle
was a blind spot where the focus should be.
For nine years Elizabeth searched
for the proper term. Through
Fullbrights, Guggenheims, National
Book Awards; struggling under the labor
of appointments to teach at a ladies'
school long before ladies became women.
A semester instructing Negroes
before they turned black
she looked for the perfect word
staring into glasses of clear gin,
burnt out fireplaces, sunsets,
empty cabinets, cityscapes
and tangles of the Brazilian jungle,
she sought with hope for a word
good enough to satisfy her legendary
taste. Then as the ninth year was
moving toward a tenth, she heard
the refrigerator door close behind her
and the right word came to her
to make the poem finished. At the same time
the telephone rang. As her elation
spread into a personal glow she
answered, said "hello," and then
forgot the word for which she had
for so long searched. A terror
wrenched her stomach, "In a moment,
she thought, "I will remember."
Like the mirror image of a lapsus linguae
the word will pop up.
But it never did.
And so years later she filled
in the blank space with some
lesser, shabby choice, and
regretted it all her life.
While William stands in the rain all afternoon
under his drippping umbrella, you wait
and copy manuscripts until the methodical moon
slips through the disappearing clouds too late
to wrestle witb the sun for your attention.
You mark it there in your notebook and sate
the need for a detail, anything to crack the tension
as thick as tbose piles of manuscript
in which dear William has seen fit to mention
any moment recollected and then slipped
into verse like invitations into envelopes.
You wonder if there's anything he's skipped!
When did his revolutionary hopes
for living end?
Each afternoon he walks or stands and mopes
in silence while you devotedly attend
his step and restless signs.
He says tomorrow he hopes you'll send
Coleridge those four thousand lines
(You haven't finished them! You'll be up all night!)
He must think Coleridge continually pines
for the enlightenment sustaining light
of his methodical iambic verse.
Dear Dorothy, the muscles of your neck are tight;
the smile you squeeze from the terse
ruins of the day is out of tune
with your clear knowledge that it might be worse.
Dear caged angel!
Your eyes were hidden from the beginning -
behind the lemur-like lenses of your shades -
under the tuft of kinks as hybrid
as a black chrysanthemum.
Do they let you wear your shades in jail?
Surely there is no mirror to help you
fluff your afro. Is loss of style the greatest privation?
How much of you is left?
I must confess there's not much left out here.
Mostly folks compare you to other women -
Joan of Arc, Ethel Rosenberg (both fried)
Two Marys - Magdalen and The Mother of God (both fucked).
But I'm sure you read your clippings.
What you can't read are the sleep-inducing
litanies of "Free Angela" sprayed on high school walls,
bank facades, state houses, men's rooms, sidewalks
and anywhere a surface seems tempting.
Sometimes they simply cross out the "Bobby"
and fill in your name.
In Nebraska that June evening in 1963
cars performed an automotive rite
around fluorescent Dairy Queens.
I watched the cruisers listen to
"Be My Baby": rear speakers all on bass,
front speakers -- treble.
Four in front, four in back,
upright in the sound of galaxies colliding,
their eyes like killers boiling
in electric juice.
Smoke curled from their passive,
Ronettes, you sing love songs
poured from spectral flood tides of sound,
and halfway through your act
you all turn round
off your backless dresses
and more than a suggestion of the crack.
Though I'm almost grown
and doin' all right in school,
racing across the USA on a scholarship,
I'll be your baby
because my parents
took my rock records away
in Junior High.
They had to.
The earphones turned up all the way
gave me epileptic fits;
they found me foaming and flailing
on the floor of the playroom
in a pool of sweat:
I'd been fed-back to God
and re-released as a portable stereo.
They had my heart, like you, at their best interest.
It murmured like a Fender ax mid-riff
while I prayed to Saint Veronica
and they called up the priest at Sacred Heart.
They were right and taught me to be careful:
Now, years later, I listen and know
I could kill for the Ronettes in the morning,
singing me aubades on the radio through my ears.
The Last Poets
The easily lucrative ice trade in Alexandria
dried up like a salt lake when the monks
sacked the city, burned the library
and humiliated the leisurely, cerebral
culture that had nurtured a series
of fascinating heresies. The Monks
had not been important so long as each
lived alone. But they had gathered
into formidable communities. Their occasional
raids on civilization increased;
the city fell. With the library gone
scant reason remained for the Greek
scholars, patrons and poets to remain.
Western historical bigotry has blamed
the Arabs with immolating the library.
But, no, it was ascetic Coptic Christians
adverse to culture and incapable
of thought who took it upon their
righteous selves to obliterate the
irreplaceable repository of the past
and build a monastery on its ruins.
The pleasures of ice were condemned
by these former anchorites whose
greatest joy had for centuries been nothing
more than a life of undernourished lassitude
spent in stone caves in parched valleys.
In Byzantium ice had for ages been
imagined a necessity. And so the
sprawling family's ice trade set its
center there in that splendid crossroads
where culture bent to no one rule.
The last of the ice titans, Aedesius,
our ancestor, reigned from a palace
that shared an artificial lake with the Emperor.
In times so untroubled and as the head
of a business so self-regulating, Aedesius
came to exhaust his ample genius traveling
to the ice mines amplifying his collection
of old bones and frozen carcasses of
animals hitherto imagined only in
interminable epics recited by savages
who slaved in ice fields. In this way
he appeared a hard-working, humble
trader and kept from offending the Emperor
with his real magnificence. When Aedesius
would return to the capital, his wagons
and ships laden with the remains of
fabulous beasts, the official explanation
was that these were the bodies of Animals
that had died on Noah's Ark. It offended neither
theology nor reason that such beasts
were to be discovered in the frozen
glaciers of Ararat.
So long as Aedesius stuck to collecting
animals, mysterious as they were, he offended
no official versions of the past. He was,
in fact, honored by his neighbor, the
Emperor, with jewel medals fashioned
in the shape of some of the more outlandish
species he hauled back: huge hairy elephants
with tusks curled like corkscrews, river horses
the size of pleasure boats with heads
reminiscent of Rhinosceri, and some
partial skeletons with femurs the
size of full-grown warriors. These last,
called dragon bones by the excited
savages who had sold them in the wilderness
for glass beads and bits of cloth.
But in his deceptive wanderings
Aedesius took to listening in the
evenings to the droning epics of
these savages translated on the spot
by trusted foremen whose families
had worked the most remote ice mines
for generations. In these wild tales
of transformation and heroism, vengeance,
carnage and struggle, the animals whose
remains Aedesius had seen played parts
understood as merely fabulous. And it
enervated his curiosity to hear of
Gods long since disrespected who
reminded him with their virgin births
and resurrections, miracles and triumvirate
forms of the Christian deities worshipped
back in the civilized empire. One tale
of a battle among the trees for the honor
of forming the wall upon which a
particularly perfect god was sacrificed
interested Aedesius particularly.
The tale enraged the priests in
his retinue. They believed the peasant
epics mocked Christ by belittling
his divinity by linking his sacrifice
to barbarian superstition. When Aedesius
returned that year to Byzantium the
priests murdered some of the tale-tellers.
Those priests who followed Aedesius to
the capital sowed rumors of his worshipping
devils and consorting with evil spirits
who rewarded him with the carcasses
of blatant beasts who were the devil's lapdogs.
Since priests were known to spread dissent,
and the Emperor was Aedesius's patron
nothing much official came of these
rumblings among persons in power.
But the vulgar took it to heart;
Aedesius acquired the reputation
of a sorcerer; his servants brooded.
The news announced that we have found
the last poets
surviving in a box canyon
wedged between a jungle and a glacier
in some outlandish place
formerly thought inhabited
(if inhabited at all)
only by the elusive, legendary yeti.
Their poems address changes in the weather -
log drifting epics charting vicissitudes
of storm cycles, short epigrams freezing
snowflakes even sharper, paeans of gratitude
and remorse at sunrise and sunset.
Landlocked, they have forgotten tides,
but make much of the connection between
full moon and earthquakes, meteors and
rainfall, comets and craziness.
All of this recited in a weather language
bursting with asphirated vocalics
that tumble like thunder and hail
storms between more extreme seasons.
Poem With Nothing
This is a poem with nothing:
only words, one after another,
are on the page -- no metaphors,
alliteration, metonomy, synecdoche,
rhyme, metric pattern, stanzaic form,
anaphora, pun, symbol, leit motif,
or even hypax logonanon is here.
There are many commas, though, and still
more vowels and consonants.
But can these count?
(So now we have a rhetorical question.)
. . . and now a parenthesis followed by an ellipsis.
Plus an implicit contradiction, because,
after all, there are some things here:
a writer and a reader to begin with,
and then an attitude toward poetry
and the world that poetry refuses to describe
in this poem. And also there is the world
that poetry describes. Could it be that
the world described is one of the words
and not of things? One of attributes
and not of feelings? One of irritating questions
and implicit, maddening answers
which are all self-contradictory?
Even if it could be (which it well might),
what possible significance could it have
in taking advantage of tricks,
contradictions, paradoxes and dilemmas
which are bound to end in sour silence?
The lies this poem states
may be the lies prompting all speech -
all intentions to describe the world with words.
And the conditions it names for itself
are as impossible as the world set off
by any poem.
Ed. note: Yet still, this poem needs something.
You taught us all
how sad the fifties were
by being ordinary --
like the polite
greaser down the block --
but on TV.
You made it big
and bought a mansion
for your folks in Memphis.
You never forgot all you owed
I remember reading movie magazines
at the candy store --
about how you were speeding
down the highway in your new
Cadillac Eldorado Convertible
whose rear end was on fire;
but you didn't know.
Someone sped by
and showed you the danger:
You said when you found out
you shure were scared.
That's what the fifties were like.
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