Amit Majmudar interviewed by Nancy Mitchell

Amit Majmudar interviewed by Nancy Mitchell
May 27, 2019 Mitchell Nancy

 

NM: In many of your online interviews, you’ve said something to the effect of when I want to tell a story I write prose, and when I want to make sound (or joyful noise) I write poetry. Last summer I attended a presentation by a musician about how the cerebral cortex will immediately defer to the sound of words rather than take the time to process meaning—very helpful, especially in emergencies during the pre-verbal stage of human development, and which, no doubt enabled our evolution. The presenter used a variety of soundtracks for the same film to demonstrate how sound, more than visual imagery, influences a viewer’s emotional response.

I was intrigued with this information as it seemed to be another situation where Science proves, sometimes centuries later, what poets have always known—in this case, that sound is the fastest loop to the emotional center of the brain. Your poem “Letters to Myself in my Next Incarnation” which doesn’t follow a real narrative,  pulls us pell-mell down the page via sounds, primarily vowel sounds, which are the first rough-hewn blocks, if not the foundation of language. I’m thinking here of how babies coo before they babble. Can you talk about this “wanting” to make sound? How/when does this desire arise in the process of writing a poem?

 

AM:  Glad to hear that scientists are on board with this idea of the superior emotional resonance (notice, another sonic term) of sound.

Sound, as we experience it, is actually a vibration in the air. The “little bones” of the inner ear, or ossicles, even have a “hammer” (malleolus) that beats on the eardrum. This shirring is interpreted as sound by the brain. The shirr is similar to the cicada’s thorax or the much slower flutter of the pulse; it is the rapid oscillation of life communicating to life. Notice as the heartbeat increases in frequency, it signifies an increasing emotional response.

Our experience of sound, then, is actually one of touch. And to be touched by something is to be moved by something emotionally. When I wish to make a sound for you as a poet, what I really want to do is touch you, to have you experience a physical shirr in your little bones, the ossicles of your inner ear. It may seem that the poem is spoken at a distance. In reality, it is inside your skull, physically touching the highly sensitive tympanic membrane. To see that membrane through an otoscope is to see the exquisitely fine shaving of an opal.

That is why the desire to make a sound arises. The poet wishes to close the distance between himself and his listener with his voice; to touch the nerve, literally and figuratively. When does it arise? Prior to the poem’s writing, certainly, but prior also, perhaps coeval with, the poem’s conception. Hence my obsession with forms and sounds and repetitions in poetry. Swafford’s biography of Beethoven was eye-opening, or more accurately, ear-opening—the man’s fixation on seizing and varying and playing with musical forms was something I recognized with an intimate shock. He did this through excruciating auditory torture, incidentally: Many know that Beethoven went deaf, but for years before this, through his formative years, his hearing actively hallucinated clangs, screeches, buzzes, ringing. He composed through that, over that, against that. The rest of us struggle against nothing worse than silence.

 

NM: Your the exquisitely fine shaving of an opal had me searching for images of the tympanic membrane through an otoscope. It’s quite beautiful—the sheerest silky peach scrim over it—it almost looks like an embryo—

and is approximately 0.1 mm thick, 8 to 10 mm in diameter, and has a mass weight of around 14 mg — and without doing some research I wouldn’t be able to know as precisely as possible what that would look/feel like without simile. Is it as light as a feather and as thin as a rose petal?  It makes a case, at least for the likes of me, for #Nosciencewithoutpoetry.

So, simply put, sound in poetry plays the instrument of the ear via vibrations in the air. But, how is it we still have an emotional response to sound when we read poetry silently—to ourselves?  Is the response of the same quality? Did the process of learning to read hardwire us to sound? Do you compose your poems aloud?

 

AM: Silent reading is a “late” cultural phenomenon in the history of reading overall. There is an account of the young Saint Augustine encountering the practice in Saint Ambrose. Confessions, Book 6, Chapter 3, close to 400 A.D.:

 

When [Ambrose] read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.

 

This was odd enough to merit mention back then. Poems, even as late as the age of Longfellow and Tennyson, were almost “spoken word” scores, meant to be performed aloud in drawing-rooms; this was partly because so few people knew how to read, so for most people to access the work, it had to be read aloud by someone in the family. (Literacy rates, even in Western Europe, didn’t exceed 25% or so anywhere in the 19th century; it puts in perspective just what it meant to be a “popular writer” back then.)

But certainly it’s not just the raw phonetic quality that evokes the emotional response in the reader; if so, poetry would literally be music, and the distinction between the two art forms would collapse. Poetry would be able to evoke a response purely through modulation of the primal monosyllable of grief, O, like the isolated vocal score of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. But there is a distinction, and that is what radically decreases the audience for poetry compared to music. Even a massively popular poet today—a Rupi Kaur, say—falls vastly short in name recognition and cultural reach, compared to a musician of just middling popularity.

That other something is meaning, of course. The sounds of words (either heard directly; or heard figuratively, through the eyes, in Ambrosial silence) always have this other element, which the sounding of an instrument is devoid of. The argument could be made that reading prose in silence can evoke the same response, emotional or otherwise, as poetry experienced in any way; and I agree, it can. I am certainly in favor of dissolving the boundaries between prose and poetry, as I am the boundaries among genres—the prose poem Abecedarian, my prior feature in Plume, would suggest my freewheeling attitude toward these ways of sequencing words. But in my stricter, more traditionalist moods, I do think that the (porous) border between prose and verse, if not between prose and poetry itself, lies in pattern, in repetitions and periodicities—those mathematical elements that comprise poetic music. That poetry overlaps with prose but distinguishes itself, in the final estimation, at the level of sound. Recurrence is everything; charm is karmic. Even the reappearance of a vowel sound in quick succession triggers something in the ear and the heart. And that something is an emotional response, though not necessarily a solemn or serious one. Even in the most serious poetry, there is this paradoxical undercurrent of play that we see most fearlessly in the way Shakespeare deploys puns and heavy ornamentation in moments of crisis, whether it’s Hamlet’s psychosis or the murderers in Macbeth. Even when the end is the communication of grief or longing or horror, the means, in poetry, are delight.

 

NM: Delight—absolutely! fooled (me) into wisdom using pleasure from your poem below! And your free wheeling Abecedarian featured in Plume’s Issue #35 of May 2014 https://plumepoetry.com/featured-selection-abecedarian/ certainly remains one of my all times favorite poems precisely because of its witty playfulness, its genius of delight!  Readers, please check this amazing poem out—it will make your day brighter.

You know, I’m struck by how the speaker’s tone of voice in these featured poems— particularly the second section beginning with the line Sift the chaff of faces, voices, friendships—puts me in mind of Rilke’s Duino Elegies—I’m looking at the Leishman/Spender translation—particularly The First Elegy. Maybe it’s the omniscient, disembodied perspective which allows the speakers a retrospective of a past life or of past lives, and with that a certain wisdom? A wisdom they are compelled to impart? —in the case of your poem from a Self to its next incarnated Self. Do/did you hear the same tone as well?

 

AM: I certainly like that Rilke connection, if only because it is so flattering to have evoked that great writer somehow, even if unintentionally. I think that Rilke is such an interior poet that he often is addressing—even when he is crying out to the Angel—that very interiority, the pure and central Self—in Sanskrit, “atman.” This atman is the element that, in the Bhagavad Gita and other Hindu scriptures, reincarnates, doffing the current body and slipping into a new one. So in that sense, I, too, am addressing my atman in these poems, my Self. The poems are self-reflexive by projecting my voice beyond my present self. Yet simultaneously they also address the Rilkean “Angel,” the divinity itself—because another tenet of the Gita is that this Self is also the Other: a mystical “Identity,” or same-hood, of all life. So every living being is also every other living being and is also God. Every love poem is also a poem to God, as the Bhakti poets of India like Meerabai and the Sufi poets like Rumi knew well. In my sequence, every poem to the self is also a poem, simultaneously, to the other, even though that other is myself. Whatever wisdom I have gained from this life, I am desperately trying to preserve it in poetic form, so I can read it and benefit from it in my next life. Some of the poems are me, now, giving advice or exhortation to a future me. The poem you mention is me saying to my future horny teenager: “Wait until you find your soulmate! Be patient! She’s looking for you, too!”

NM: This is very beautiful and moving…and again I hear the same tender parental tone from The First Elegy in Letters to Myself in my Next Incarnation in all sequences, but certainly in the one you quote above. I don’t hear that voice in say, your Abecedarian or Rilke’s Panther.  Could it be that both these poems were written earlier in the poets’ lives? Does this poem mark a point of departure for your poetry?

A.M. Interesting question that prompts me to do something I don’t usually do, which is retrospect on my writing….. When I put on my literary-critic hat and observe my own work so far as a poet, I see that I don’t have one style or tone, nor have I undergone a transformation from one style to another over time. Nor do my poems have a consistent tone, which makes putting together a collection a real pain; other poets often have the same style and tone, the same voice, from poem to poem, and I am always pushing against that expectation. (In the end, I just end up shoving poems into a gigantic previously-published-but-not-collected-in-a-volume file–it’s over a hundred pages at this point). I am an anthology of poets vying for keyboard-time.

With Rilke, there is a very early Rilke, a Rilke of his thing-poem (Ding-gedichte) phase (from which comes I think “The Panther”), and then a late phase of the Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus (which are, apropos of what I said earlier, simultaneously sonnets to his inmost self). All the same poet, but you can often pinpoint just when in his career a given poem was written, based on internal evidence.

With my body of work (such as it is so far), that transformation from one thing to another isn’t there. I can write a piece in any way at any time, depending on what kind of music I want to hear; I like to surprise myself. There is a chance I may write something like Abecedarian or this very sequence again at some point in the future. I showed up exactly as I am now back in 2009 with 0’,0’ [Zero Degrees, Zero Degrees]. Many tones and styles proliferate all at once, but most if not all of them were already present in that first volume; and these styles and forms make appearances in subsequent collections. There are ghazals in my first collection (2009) and ghazals in my forthcoming collection (2020), but there is only an incremental improvement in actual technique, if any. Sometimes I hold the form constant and vary the tone; my work in blank verse, from a technical standpoint, has never really surpassed some poems like “The Miscarriage” (2005) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/46348/the-miscarriage  I published in 2005; the recent “Detachment” (2019) http://32poems.com/poem/amit-majmudar-5/ is the same verse form, but the tone and subject matter are utterly different, detached and philosophical. When it starts to feel easy, the challenge is gone, and I try to add new moves and themes to my repertoire. I seek out new forms and tones constantly to see what literary self emerges as I play with it. I am a relentless experimenter, so every moment is a departure. Rilke: Wie hab ich das gefühlt was Abscied heisst. How I have come to know this thing called departure….

This multiplicity, by the way, is the most Hindu thing about me, so your question perhaps inadvertently dovetails with the Letters to Myself sequence: The Hindu idea of the ultimate divinity, Brahman, is of One manifested in infinite ways in infinite forms, sacred and earthly. So all the pantheon’s Gods and Goddesses, all the world’s human beings, all of nature’s living species are all one Brahman. Time, too, is circular in Hinduism; so it makes sense that my various styles and tones periodically “recur” from book to book. I should point out, though, that I never set out to be this way. I would love to be some other way, some more recognizable and affable and “like”-able poet, if I could–which is another way of saying I’d love to have more readers than I do. But I can’t be other than how I am. I was (re)born this way–archetypally Hindu. Even my personal habits and tendencies, down to my diet and physical austerities and my obsession with the Gita, uncannily resemble those of ancient Hindu ascetics from twenty-five hundred years ago. It is all momentum from my past lives.

 

NM: So, the One is like the Tao, and nature in this way—the essence is the same, but constantly manifesting in different forms and sounds?  If time is circular in Hinduism, there is no linear progression,  just change and renewal. In which case, yes it makes perfect sense your various styles and tones periodically “recur” from book to book.

So, if the speaker in your poems is speaking to the Other who is also the speaker, and speaking to God who is also the speaker and Other, is the speaker also the One comprised of the Trinity of Self, the Other and God?

On another note, I think I write with my ear, but I’m not sure if a poem arises out of a desire to hear music—but maybe it does. Tell me more about I can write a piece in any way at any time, depending on what kind of music I want to hear…Can you give a concrete example of how this desire arises, and leads to a poem?

 

AM: I do not know how this desire to hear a verbal or poetic music arises—I wonder if the aesthetic hunger is infinite and omnivorous, and my creative urge might be an urge to feed that appetite. They say that you should write the book you wish had been out there for you to read, and that seems like good advice. I certainly did that for Godsong, my translation of the Gita, and Sitayana, the recent mythological novel I published in India.

 

That advice about books is something I extend to poems. So, to give you the concrete example of the poem I am working on now: I wished that there was a blank verse monologue from the perspective of the Nephilim, the “Giants” or “Fallen Ones” who are (in Genesis 6) angels who fell through sexual desire, that is, they took human wives and bore children. How cool would that be? But that poem does not exist. It is not the kind of poem that contemporary poets write, nobody’s written that kind of thing since Milton, and even if somebody had written it, how would I go about finding it? And would it fall short of the one I just imagined in my head? So I set out to write the thing down myself because I want to read it, even if my version must fall short of the one I just imagined in my head. In my ideal unrealized version of that poem, “Nephilim,” I’m hearing this fallen (-in-love) angel say things like

 

I learned what I knew of love      by watching wolves

on all fours     she bore up my high noon     later

I crawled beneath her dugs      & suckled there

like I had Romes to found

 

….That’s as concrete as I can get—the lines I wrote immediately before I clicked over to this email. That’s how they came about. A wish to read something, a wish to hear something, and no choice but to roll up my sleeves and write the thing myself.

 

NM: Ok—now I get it… with your I want to make sound and depending on what kind of music I want to hear I was thinking literally of the sounds of words as they make the music of the poem-thank you for clarifying.

From the lines above, it looks like you’re well on the way to realizing your ideal version of the poem Nephilim via the persona of the in-love angel…which brings to mind the debate simmering among writers—particularly poets— about “the right” to write from personae who have had experiences the writer couldn’t possibly have. Or, as Amy Beeder notes in her interview with R T Smith re: his varied personae, “There’s a conviction now, among many, it seems, that writers should “stay in their lane.” ” https://plumepoetry.com/r-t-smith/. I wonder if you can speak to this?

 

AM:  That’s a topic that raises my hackles, and I will try to be concise and avoid the rant that this topic demands. I assert the sovereign prerogative of art. The creative mind, at its most powerful, explodes through its selfhood and enters and exits other perspectives freely, imperiously, downright promiscuously. This psychological and verbal “promiscuity” offends puritans of any kind—whether the literal Puritans who tried to shut down the London theaters in Shakespeare’s day, or the identity-Puritans who try to shut down writers for writing stories or perspectives of a race, religion, gender, or other background not their “own.”

 

This is identity poetics, the counterpart and inevitable outgrowth of identity politics. It strikes me as an anti-humanistic and fundamentally anti-literary trend, but our universities, particularly our humanities departments, are ideologically very strictly policed; there is just as much uniformity of thought there as you would find in a madrassah. There does not seem to be much dissent, or at least no dissent that anyone dares voice publicly; private conversations have led me to believe that many writers and professors in that milieu, particularly those aged forty and above, are engaging in some form of ketman, such as Milosz describes in The Captive Mind (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Captive_Mind).

 

I deplore the trend, but I am self-aware enough to know that I myself have benefited from that trend. My most famous (I use that word loosely—let’s say “widely circulated and anthologized”) poems all dovetail somehow with my identity as a brown religious minority. Those were the poems, ones like “Dothead” and “T.S.A.,” that the culture took up immediately, beginning with The New Yorker and rippling out from there. I have noticed the most successful nonwhite poets generally proliferate poems of racial grievance, but I have chosen not to go that route. There’s just too much other stuff to write about. Other people and other traditions interest me too much, perhaps because I consider them manifestations of my self, and God—for as you inquired in your earlier response, yes, the speaker is all three, the Self, the Other, and God. All selves, all others, all Gods are—proprietary. And I, the poet, am the one whose property they are.

 

So I swerve across lanes, driving drunk on language. One poem I write from the perspective of Krishna, one poem from the perspective of a Biblical angel, one novel in a man’s voice, one novel in a woman’s voice…. It’s thanks to this multiplicity of selves that I escape misrepresenting myself.

 

NM: Readers—buckle up for this wild joy-ride! Although this poet is drunk on language, have no fear; we are in the hands of a master, and he has both of them on the wheel.

 

Letters to Myself in my Next Incarnation

 

 

Hello again from who you were

Before. Hello before to who

I’ll be again. I think we both knew

This was going to be awkward,

And not just grammatically.

I wanted to write you a note

To familiarize you

With the controls,

But the body is a vehicle

The soul relearns

How to drive by crashing

Into other bodies.

This is what they call wisdom,

And by they, I mean fools

Like us, and by wisdom

I mean, like Plato,

Memory. What I love here,

Poems and women mostly,

I know you can’t remember,

But they were worthy of my love

Because they fooled me into wisdom

Using pleasure.

If you are reading this

I am already

Dead. If you are reading

This I am already

Living. Stranger, I

Have no advice for you.

I only wrote this

Because I was lonely

And wanted someone

To talk to,

Even if it was only

Myself. Why do we

Write anything

If not to pass along a valediction

From the echo

Whose echo we are,

If not to say

To the echo

We expect to become

Hello

Hello

Hello

*

 

We’ve been running this baton

Zeroed in on the event horizon

For a thousand meters,

For a thousand births.

It’s a relay race where every runner

Falters, lunges, falls

Face first. I scraped my features bloody once

Again, another

Lap, another

Happy lapse

That heals my face into a stranger’s.

It looks to all the universe

Like this is someone else who’s taken over,

Young again, with neither hamstring cramping,

Lit like a fuse by my failing lunge.

Teammate, you have stood up on my feet,

And this baton has never left my hand.

It isn’t a baton at all

But a scroll as old as the Dead Sea

Salted with so many tears

The bodies of the dead,

Weighed down with obols on their eyes,

Float on the current, serenely as sunbathers,

And gather seashells on the opposite shore

Where a sign says Children Only,

Where a sign says Diving Mandatory.

We are only messengers,

Two of a sequence,

Running from the past

And carrying the past.

The scroll we hand off in this relay race

Is a love letter to the best self we race to become

Encoded as a list of once and future names.

The man who ran from Marathon

Fell dead at the end of his run.

I, too, have brought you word of victory.

The word on his lips as he died was Joy.

*

 

Sift the chaff of faces, voices, friendships

Until you find her. Dancing with that woman

Was the only reason

Tripwire desire didn’t get me this time.

Duplicate, dupe, I know you well enough

And hope this poem finds you early,

So I can tell you: Kid, be patient! Slow down!

She’s looking for you too

Right now, she’s busy

Waving off the moths

Hot for her incandescence! All those boys

Are just the background noise

She listens past to hear

Your past and hers, harmonic in the moment….

So patience, patience, stop yourself

From taking what’s on offer

In the future where you’re lost to me

But never will be lost to her, a future

That like my present, I imagine,

Has everything on offer cheap and fast.

Slow down. You’ll recognize her, trust me,

Even if it isn’t right away.

I recognized her after eighteen years.

In this life, I’ve got pictures of us

On a lawn in Dover, Ohio,

Playing as toddlers, playing toddlers

When really we were braided ancients, sampling

Parallel play, sampling

Crushes on each other, sampling friendship

Until the air began to torque between us,

Full-blown tornado of remembered love

Snapping us free of childhood

To spiral us skyward in a single cord,

Umbilical and nourishing a single future

That she will cradle one day in a hospital gown,

Exhausted after giving birth,

Your arm in turn around her shoulder:

Three bodies, father, mother, newborn

Nestling one inside the other,

My past and all the pasts before mine, too,

Inside your musically patterned present

Nested, life in life in life.

*

 

Motherless infinituplets

Separated

By birth

 

At the end of every flatline

You and I

Arrive in rhyme

 

Words to a Requiem

Our choir of one

Must sing

 

We embryos in amber strung

On a single

Umbilical string

*

 

Twin is pushing on a swing his twin,

Hour is pushing through the sky the hour

When, Future Me, I think of you

Swinging before me on the layground swing.

My hands, my palms so deathly pale

Turn out to stop the white light in the tunnel.

I push you on your way,

I push you on your way,

And I am weaker, weaker.

But I am you before me,

And you are me behind you,

No different in our beings

Than my twins are in their genes.

But you, who come after—you have precedence.

You are the reason I am living.

You, my endpoint, are the fixed point.

The swing-set frame, the woodchips

Scooped raw from a summer’s worth of scuffs,

The jungle gym, the playground, the ground

Swoosh back and up from chains

Your weight holds tense.

The sky lurches into your field of view,

And you can feel it in your stomach.

I hear you laugh but cannot see your face.

The earth slides back in place,

And I push off and push away,

And I push off and push away

Until I’m perpendicular, I’m overhead, I pause;

Then tip beyond the zenith, woodchips

Sprinkling everybody’s sneakers.

Sippycups fall out of strollers

That swoop full circle to make the catch.

In your orbit, on your ferris wheel,

I see your face, my sun and hub—

Not my color, not my gender, but for all that,

Me. You didn’t fool me

In that costume. We are twins

Who happen to be born

A death apart. This is a letter

Written in our private language.

I’m writing it to tell you

The first few pushes

Are all I have the strength to give you.

Kick forward, pull back,

Kick forward, pull back,

And then,

When all you see is sky before you,

Jump off the swing,

Jump off the swing

And O, my soul,

Take wing—

*

 

Swinging through space

Tethered

Navel to navel

 

We are lost astronauts

 

The intercom

Between our helmets

Full of womb roar static

 

No way of knowing

As my eyes dim

And yours grow wide

 

Whether now is the past or not

 

Exchanging O2

Through the cord between us

Like the one breath

 

Passed between conjoined twins

Melded at mouth and nose

Resuscitating one another

 

Kiss of recognition

 

Space Shuttle Endeavor

Smaller and smaller

Reflected on my helmet

 

On yours the swelling sun

That calls us closer

Five       four     three       two      one

 

Ignition

*

 

In Norway near the equinox

is the best time and place to watch

the transmigratory pattern

of souls across the night sky.

They don’t go quite at the speed

of light, more at the speed

of glow, in search of the navels

of wives and girlfriends snoozing

on the collarbones of their lovers.

Every navel is a wormhole

into our alternate universe,

and the unborn soul ingathers

like a recorded gunshot

played in reverse on mute.

Beyond the Kuiper belt,

at the behest of some

circadian imperative,

the souls flustered as one

off a lake of frozen mercury

and swirled back to this world,

buoyed on each other’s wake.

They have the earth imprinted

deeper than a memory.

Monarch butterflies

come winter can

remember oyamels

they’ve never settled on

deep in a Mexico

they’ve never visited.

The dead are one aurora

incorporealis

shuttling between a north

of water clocks, a south

of water steaming away, a north

of sundials, a south

of hydrogen fusion.

In the night sky over Norway,

kicking the luminescence

off my legs like a rescue

diver shedding his jeans,

I am seeking my next parents

among the battle dead,

the glorious, the wrung sponges

of young couples cooling

in each other’s sweat.

I want a father dreaming

of firecracker chrysanthemums

a blue furlong beyond his boyhood.

I want a mother dreaming

of a goddess on a tiger.

Part of this is instinct

and part of it delight:

Stranger, signal me

from way on down the tracks.

Wave me in with orange wands

because I have been flying

an eternity to land in time

at last and grow the hands

I need to feel your face.

I want to give this one more try.

I want to get this right.

*

 

My body is a pawprint in the snow,

My memory, a snowman in the spring,

A little time, and then it’s time to go,

 

So sing, my momentary Snowman, sing

The song that goes like O and o and o,

For shape is brief, and time is everything,

 

And everything is melting into flow,

Where graveyards, gone to gray, must go to green

Again, and all the memories regrow,

 

For shape imprints, implies a life unseen,

A charm against the cold, the pock of paws

Continuing as footprints through the scene,

 

Where children stack a snowman in the thaw

And sing to springtime O and o and o,

The shape of time, the letter of the law,

 

The song I shape from memories of snow.

*

 

When I recollect

In the still of your quickening,

I will condense, remade

In an underwater image

Truer maybe to myself

Than I have been in this life.

 

I have lived out my life

Seeking a self

In no one else’s image.

By the time you read me,

I’ll have felt your quickening,

Fetal, fatal. Collect

 

My words and reconnect

With me where I quicken in

Your wrists. I have remade

My reflection in your image.

You’re how I reimagined myself.

Stranger, outlive my life.

*

 

Foundling on the temple steps

With all your birth tokens

Stolen,

 

Impossible

Walking dossier, your face

A rogue’s gallery,

 

Your passport

A palimpsest

Of noms de plume,

 

My future homonym,

My future human

Meme, my futile name’s

 

Skull-shucked

Plucked-spleen picked-clean

Mummified remains,

 

Loose translation of a gospel

Apocryphal

To begin with,

 

Prehistoric daddy-long-legs

Hatching

From an amber egg,

 

Segue

Between myself

And myself,

 

Why do

I pile up these metaphors

For you

 

When a metaphor

Is all you’ll ever be

Of me?

*

 

I didn’t pick my parents,

But I am picking yours.

With all I do,

I save up for a berth, for passage

First class west to the New World

Where a house is waiting for you.

Two balloons

Are knotted to the mailbox,

Now a little loose

And bouncing in the breeze.

Both parents, all four grandparents—

They’re recording your arrival

On their phones.

Love, safety, self-discipline,

Prosperity, good books, good genes:

I wish you

All the bourgeois, suburban blessings

I’ve wished my kids

Because I’m parenting

A fate, I’m narrowing a list

Of childhoods

Like kindergartens

To send you to.

I didn’t used to be a decent man,

But fatherhood improved me.

When I was younger, kid,

I spiked the karmic punch,

And now what’s in me

Is bound to be in you.

But don’t you worry,

I’ll be good for you from now on.

You, my spirit changeling.

Metamorphic orphan.

Only child.

Nancy Mitchell is a 2012 Pushcart Prize winner and the author of The Near Surround, Grief Hut and the The Out-of- Body Shop. She teaches at Salisbury University in Maryland and serves as Associate Editor of Special Features for Plume.