Qing Dynasty Vase
A giant cactus knocked over a building.
It smashed down rust-covered water towers
in the city’s industrial district
and obliterated the Globe Dye Works.
And then the huge scrap heaps on the outskirts
seemed to be providing a kind of food
for the quilled green body of the monster.
The cactus ambled along awkwardly
past the giant tile-green cylinders
of the processing plant, the loading docks,
and then turned its inexorable gaze
upon the prim, Easter-hat-like houses
on the east side of Periwinkle Bridge
and Oglethorpe Street.
That’s when the townspeople came together
and decided to unleash a weapon
hitherto untried in their long annals:
the Qing Dynasty vase called “Fire Cloud.”
Taken from its vitrine in the grim museum
and set atop the obelisk in city’s center,
its slightly bulging, pear-like form,
delicious, nearly edible in appearance,
its surface painted not with scenes
of future agrarian paradise
nor forbidden imperial cities,
but a fired-on glaze of bright red
clouding to light blue-green aqua,
at its base a narrow lip of apple-green.
Who first recognized how porcelain
could redden this way, cumulous,
full of wishing-thinking at sunrise,
the skipping dawn of the spirit?
Who first discovered its power
of saving the world?
Two ancient forces clash. Near sunset
a great chrysanthemum opens on the horizon.
The Corinthian is characterized
by his having watched the sun set
in Corinth, the fountains of Corinth,
who has read the waterlogged book
of catenary dewdrops on a chain.
He is a Corinthian, a pragmatist
who knows this is not Salvador.
Many hands can make light work,
or many hands can strew red tape
into the sun, just as many shadows
falling on the evening hills will fuse
into a single entity called Night.
And in the night he is the watermark
of Corinth, barely visible but there,
barely there but present as the sun.
He is the sum of parts, and the sum
of parts barely his own, magnifico
of Coca-Cola signs erected in
the bright-backed rain, firearms
and wishful thinking, brilliant trash,
liquid sky for the indigo bunting.
And he has nerves of steel, piano
wire nerves, nerves of gold, he is wired
with gold leaf, nerved with blades
of ice-brook temper, and the earth
beneath his feet is nerved with microfiber
wrapped in zinc, and rays
of light pass through him.
Make not a gauntlet of the hedging glove,
Citizen, patrician of the Fog Book:
when you stare hard enough into the sky
the steeple’s narrow shoulders shadow forth
your glacial song of mediocrity.
To whom a thumb is given, much will be
required. To whom two thumbs are given,
a hand will be taken back.
Great A came: alien, colossal, seemingly from nowhere. Have we done enough and seen enough? It feels like we have never been anywhere. It’s the same briar place by the hayrick and the burl you ran your hand across on her female skin in the autumn sun. For I have been a reader nearly all my life, ever since before I could speak even, I have been reading, been read to...have run across the Little B’s in their teeming countlessness, been subject to the purling forth of Big C, of Little D scattering from great purging fans, of myriad and shining E bending down the boughs, in harvest home, in seeding, in bringing forth, in the ripening purple grapes of wine trailing down from Wednesday’s briar, through the wandering ivy tendrils and the foxgloves.
Now the virgin returns, and now returns the reign of Saturn. O little boy, your small bed will break into blossom. Beyond the fields and on the waters we can see the sunrise-colored sails on the lacquered boats of Q.
G.N: These are a few years old, written while I was writing The Rose of January when we were often meeting for coffee here or at Indian Road Cafe. They didn't make it into the book while others did. But don't think of them as rejects--well, unless you reject them. A.C.: I think their form was, for better and for worse, what "doomed them," their "lack" of uniformity with rest of the manuscript. Please find Geoffrey Nutter's recent interview on Phantom Limb. His private study poetry workshops ----> HERE.