Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My New Book of Poems

My fifth book of poems, Fata Morgana, is now out and about in the world. It can be purchased here, and here, or directly from the publisher, the University of Pittsburgh Press.

A fata morgana is a mirage or optical illusion, most commonly seen off the coast of Sicily. I thought it an appropriate title for this book, as questions of perception and misperception are recurring themes in my work.

This book mingles personal experience, history, mythology, politics, and natural science to explore the relationships of perception and conception, the self making its way through a physical and social world not of its own making, but changing that world by its presence. History—individual, political, natural, and mythological—becomes a landscape, whose contours, pleasures, and dangers these poems map out.

I seek in this book to meld the methods and aims of experimental poetry, its interrogations of language and perception, with the musical, imagistic, and emotional resources of the traditional lyric in order to arrive at a more capacious and elastic poetic mode of lyrical investigation: poems that, in Archibald MacLeish’s famous words, can both “mean” and “be.” Holding enchantment and disenchantment in balance, exploring locales from Chicago’s exposed industrial exoskeleton to an upstate New York resonant with classical names to northwest Florida’s lush, chemically poisoned terrain to ancient Troy’s layers of ruin, I work toward what Paul Celan called “polysemy without mask.”

I include four sample poems below. I hope that you will all take the opportunity to read my newest book.

How People Disappear

If this world were mine, the stereo
starts, but can’t begin
to finish the phrase. I might survive
it, someone could add, but that
someone’s not here. She’s crowned
with laurel leaves, the place
where laurel leaves would be
if there were leaves, she’s not
medieval Florence, not
Blanche of Castile. Late March
keeps marching in old weather,
another slick of snow to trip
and fall into, another bank
of inconvenient fact. The sky
is made of paper and white reigns,
shredded paper pools into her afterlife,
insurance claims and hospital reports,
bills stamped “Deceased,” sign here
and here, a blank space where she
would have been. My sister
said We’ll have to find another

And this is how
loss looks, my life in black plastic
garbage bags, a blue polyester suit
a size too small. Mud music
as they packed her in
damp ground, it’s always raining
somewhere, in New Jersey,
while everyone was thinking about
fried chicken and potato salad,
caramel cake and lemonade.
Isn’t that a pretty dress
they put her in? She looks so
. (Tammi Terrell
collapsed in Marvin Gaye’s arms
onstage. For two hundred points,
what was the song?) Trampled
beneath the procession, her music.

Pieces of sleep like pieces of shale
crumble through my four a.m.
(a flutter of gray that could be
rain), unable to read this thing
that calls itself the present.
She’s lost among the spaces
inside letters, moth light, moth wind,
a crumpled poem in place of love.


A state becomes statement, Petrarch
trips on a pile of laurel bones, severely damaged
except for two lines. The body absorbs
all kinds of things, a useless brilliant nothing
guarding the borders of witness
where the metaphors start, and the snow.
Petrarch doesn’t dream of snow, except
in silver bowls with syrup
mixed into it, pomegranate or persimmon
chasing summer somewhere next to lost,
and then the brilliant birds
fly from his mouth, perhaps
just one, a bird of paradise with no
legs, no feet, a lifetime’s inability to land.

Petrarch whispers leaves into my ear,
thinks Boys smell nice, boys smell
like spring preserved in a December jar, open
the lid and it escapes me just now, haunts
the room all day: stains air, stains
nostrils, cedar-pressed seasons sweetbitter
somewhat like eros, like crushed laurel
leaves stain fingers. He loves me nowhere
but in words (another of the several things
which I refrain from mentioning), boys’ names
on trees or boys named after trees:
fixing beauty in the wind, fixing hunger
in the eye, the x of it. (I miss the men
midnighting Lakeview streets.)

Wind only visible in what it touches
leads astray, disturbing to discard;
trees shed their way toward nakedness
leaf by leaf until the bough has been broken.
A spatter of small nameable wings
takes to the wind, takes care not to wake
Petrarch, who’s dreaming rain’s
refrain, fall down, fall down,
but he’s already one with grass.
And then a hero comes along
with birds flying out of his mouth:
one of the old verbs might be true,
park paths of wind-polished pebbles
lead one astray, into the snow.

Homeric Interim

Distance is money just out of reach,
a kindness like rain-laden clouds
that never drops its coins. Epochs
of fossilized trees crawl rusting hillside
strata: they smell like somewhere else
I’ve never been, an Anatolia
just outside the mind. Geometries
of travel and desire (from here to want
and back again), the myths of pleasure
reinvent another ancient world: oiled boys
racing naked around the circular walls
of Troy to find out who will wear
the plaited wreath, parade painted circuits
of unburnt parapets waving
to the crowds. See, even night
adores him, dresses him in its moon
and apparition. The sheen of intention
is on him, translates his motions
into marble, alabaster. (Cassandra
wakes and says There isn’t going to be
a Trojan War
. Centuries of fossil speech
fill up the space that comes after
currently, years spent talking
to paper.) Man and moment
become one, his reliquary skin
makes white occur (by now
the sweat has faded from his garish
details). The things his hands become
act out interruption, history
is his story, held at bay. He wears time
on his body (wears it out), chases gods
from mountaintops until the myth-smoke
clears. His old world’s blurred
and hard to read, misunderstanding
becomes a place: galley
run aground on shallow skin
the color of no event.

You, Therefore

For Robert Philen

You are like me, you will die too, but not today:
you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:
if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been
set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost
radio, may never be an oil painting or
Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are
a concordance of person, number, voice,
and place, strawberries spread through your name
as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me
of some spring, the waters as cool and clear
(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),
which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:
and you are a lily, an aster, white trillium
or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star
in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving
from its earthwards journeys, here where there is
no snow (I dreamed the snow was you,
when there was snow), you are my right,
have come to be my night (your body takes on
the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep
becomes you): and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees
and seas have flown away, I call it
loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,
and free of any eden we can name


csperez said...

lovely sample -- will def check out the book

take care

Andrew Shields said...

"and free of any eden we can name" is an utterly beautiful line.

Peter said...

Congrats on the new book!