D. Nurkse

The Podium
February 23, 2017 Nurkse D.

The Podium


He is bilious, potty-mouthed, at once puffy and rachitic. He sways, eyes red and rheumy as September strawberries. Yet he is the Leader. We fear and adore him. When we were children, moping on the stoop, we shoved him a step above us. What keeps him alive? Layer on layer of spar varnish, reticulated eyelashes, a codpiece, shoulder pads, elevator shoes.

His plan: invade the Nameless Country, enslave the women, castrate the men. His plan: bomb the desert until it apologizes. His plan-–actually when he begins a sentence he has no idea how it ends.

His face is everywhere. Lofted on sticks, on T-shirts, on cell screens, in the mirror. We never knew we hated ourselves this much,

They say: do not judge your life before the last minute. This is the last minute. He waves vaguely. He seems to be groping for the mike. He pats his pocket. His fly is open. Above him clouds are passing at a tremendous height, at unimaginable speeds.

Always we thought the final moment would contain a second, a split-second, a nanosecond, and in the briefest, the humblest, we’d find the words to forgive ourselves.

For we are really very affectionate. We love Little Leaguers, Schnauzers, church bells, roped licorice. Yet when he starts to roar, when that red vein throbs, we thrill to his hatred, like sails in a homing wind, and this is the joy we were born for, the plenitude that you, reader, always denied us, seeing us as characters in a text. We are not playing. We are ready to die. If not for him, for the floodlit podium, the whipping flags, the empty blue space where the clouds vanish.

D. Nurkse is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently A COUNTRY OF STRANGERS (Knopf, April 2022), a “new and selected.” He’s received the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Whiting foundations. He has taught poetry at Rikers Island and served a term on the board of Amnesty International-USA. He currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and collaborates on performance art with Zephyr, a visionary dog.