Joseph Campana

Storm Song, Monarch, Sultry Night and Galveston, 1900
August 23, 2023 Campana Joseph

Storm Song


Last night heat
crept back over
the city. We were
like birds pinned
to wires strung
between stoplights,
and we could not
leave. No wind
to speak of. In
my notebook,
I wrote “the palms
hardly waved.”
And that dream
came to me again.
You tell me it is
no dream. Do you
remember how,
as we slept, storm
clouds gathered
over our heads?
I remember reaching
down to pluck you
from the waters.
In the dream,
I could still do that.



Galveston, 1900


Brother, I said, is the water
over your head? The sea
had not yet taken everything,
so I said, No, the sea is just
at my head. The shore was
all broken and the night
all darkness, so I said,
Brother, what is that
you’re carrying? Nothing
was colder, nothing was,
so I said, Wind, brother,
I am trying to carry the wind.
His arms were so empty
it seemed the rain would
drag us both to sea to
drown with the houses.
Nothing else to hold, we
held each other: Brother,
one said, You be the wind,
I’ll be the sea. And the other,
brother, I’ll be the wind and
you’ll be the sea. We’ll be
the shore amidst storm.



(for Susan Wood)


I didn’t know how to
thank you, so I wrote
a poem in which was
recollected the journey
of the eastern monarch,
by some known as
the Texas monarch.
So typical, the drive
to pin to place what
will not stay. I’m sure
I saw them when I
was a boy, very far
from here, so far those
butterflies must have
been always about
to die. Seven states
claim the monarch as
their favored creature
even as the monarch
prefers climates more
unimaginably perfect
than most of us know.
But that was just
something I read, or
maybe someone told
me that, like gratitude,
the monarch is as if in
constant flight, and would
never allow the scolding
winters of the lands
of my birth to interrupt
its endless transit. Listen
to me, golden wing,
golden king of a world
I am too slow to grasp.
You are gorgeous and
brief. I am only brief.
At night I am consumed
by rage without source.
At night, I hear water
sawing through pipes.
I hear the sounds of sleep
from my beloved, whose
breath is the buffet of one
million diaphanous wings.
The monarchs have slipped
away again, so I sat down
to wrestle with some words
about how quiet and like
flight it is to feel grateful
for the velvet glove of night
that caresses the hand
that sent me to sleep just
as I was thinking, again,
about how I still don’t
know how to thank you.



Sultry Night
(after Grant Wood)


Open your windows
and doors, luscious
night, for I have always
hated the body I was
given, the hands that
won’t stop grasping.
What I want and what
I am will only be
the same thing when
you have cut me out
of stars and poured
a little light over
my sad, animal body.
Terrifying, sultry night,
I am as indifferent to you
as water is to the surfaces
it clings to. The air is so
thick with longing I can
hardly stand my skin. I’m
telling you, I wanted to be
open and clear the way
the tree wants its leaves
to wave, to keep waving
in unbearable darkness,
whether anyone sees or not.



Joseph Campana is a poet, arts critic, and scholar of Renaissance literature. He is the author of three collections of poetry, The Book of Faces (Graywolf, 2005), Natural Selections (Iowa, 2012), which received the Iowa Poetry Prize, and most recently the The Book of Life (Tupelo, 2019). His poetry appears in Slate, Kenyon Review, Poetry, Conjunctions, Guernica, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Colorado Review, while individual poems have won prizes from Prairie Schooner and the Southwest Review. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Houston Arts Alliance, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He has reviewed the arts, books, media and culture widely and is the author of dozens of scholarly essays on Renaissance literature and culture as well as The Pain of Reformation (Fordham, 2012) and the forthcoming Shakespeare’s Once and Future Child (Chicago, 2024). He teaches at Rice University where he is William Shakespeare Professor of English.