Steven Cramer

A Story About Vietnam and Alexi Santana
January 24, 2022 Cramer Steven



In a tiled bathroom stall, one chapter per tile,
at Antioch College, 1968, I wrote a novel,
my penmanship so small it looked like code.
Maybe it’s still there, and I’m anonymously
Johnson’s war turned Nixon’s,
a boy my age stared while two Chinese tanks
rolled out from the jungle, side by side, their tracks
decades later he’ll compare to horses’ hoofprints
in his poems, where monkeys shrieking
through the muggy Quang Tri twilight,
and mines that pulp the body’s lower parts
move and give pleasure. On the jacket,
a mouth howls through years of dust on dust.
In fact, whoever wrote that novel
in a stench both his and not—even now
I could recite some tiles in front of you—
I never met.
Why do people lie to one another?
asks a lady mummy known as Jumtesonekh.
Her body holds its shape, its genius complete.
The poet she speaks through, though, is dead,
his suicidal myth intact, unlike Alexi Santana’s,
among Newsweek’s all-time top-ten frauds,
and no self-taught orphan raised in Utah
under the stars, by a horse named Good Enough,
nor a student of Plato in the Moon Caves of Nevada.
Google Jumtesonekh, and you’ll be asked
if you meant gemstone, then sold amethyst beads—
the algorithmic glitch like a child calling violence
violets.  Alexi Santana, not his real name. . .
Nothing I could write about Vietnam is true
as the tin of rations pitched at a village girl,
or the slash it leaves along her temple, or
the other village girls who steal the tin.
                                    With a debt to Thomas James and Bruce Weigl

Steven Cramers seventh collection of poetry, Departures from Rilkewill be published by Arrowsmith Press in October 2023. His previous book, Listen, was published in 2020 by MadHat Press and named a “must read” poetry collection by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. His other books are The Eye that Desires to Look Upward (Galileo Press, 1987), The World Book (Copper Beech Press, 1992), Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand (Lumen Editions/Brookline Books, 1997), Goodbye to the Orchard (Sarabande Books, 2004)—winner of the Sheila Motton Award from the New England Poetry Club and an Honor Book in Poetry from the Massachusetts Center for the Book—and Clangings (Sarabande Books, 2012).  His poems and criticism have appeared in numerous journals, including AGNI, The Atlantic Monthly, Field, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, The New England Review, The Paris Review, and Poetry.  Recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and two fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, he founded and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University.