Ben Wright Poetry Portfolio

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A Table at the 2009 Convention of the Georgia Association of Funeral DirectorsNext to me the merchants of a better post-death experience arrange themselves into poses of attentivenessfor workshops on upselling caskets, The Latest in Preservation Technology,Interacting with the Hysterical Guest,or where we sit, Timeless Beauty.There are slides of made up faces, the lopsided grins of stroke victims,threads in their cheeks tugging musclesinto Mannerist smiles.I used to want to style the stars,a presenter says too close into the microphone,but it's easier when your clients can't complain.A hush of laughter is lost near the ceiling.This table is draped with thin paper,a hospital gown. The woman next to meis painting her fingernails carmine.I write a note on my legal pad:Add a magenta baseto combat the pallor. The presentertells a story about how she colored a clients hairbut it grew out before the viewing.The guests complained about the rootsbefore the driving, the procession,the digging, the quiet of the night,the sound of footsteps somewhere close.HoardSometimes, when the A/C turns onand the dust billows out in a blanket over my things,I think of the tornado I slept through as a child,the destruction of the townand the nettles of soil that pocked my face.By the time the sun summits the mountain of my life,its past noon and I am lookingfor the one thing that will transubstantiate you completely.I gave up remembering altogether,choosing instead to pour myselfinto cracked glasses and broken picture frames,empty juice boxes, half full cups anddecaying furniture so in the event of a fireor accidental burial the most important part of mewill be somewhere else.When the mold begins to creep up the stairsand the house begins to sag,Ill shut my doors as best I can,crawl through the windowand shovel dirt inside to hasten the inevitable.Do you remember that timewhen we were six and I smashed your music box?I have kept the bones of those notes,the skull of that song and buried it inside a bookwhich is inside a box that containsbank statements inherited from my father.Inside this scaffolding,stacked on top of the bodiesof all my memories, I live again and again.Mixed MetaphorI'm resigned to the fact that I'll be unwinding your hair forever.Serpents wriggle into the crevices of our bodies,ready to strike. I pull them outlike a magician revealing a disappeared rabbit.I found your sock on the floor, pink as a lung.Our song, once a lump of coal in my throat,becomes a golden record in space,far from civilization.I close my eyes and you are there, looking at me, cracking your toes,wet leather slapping a rock. You file your nails,a prisoners rasp against bone. You sighin your sleep. But back to your hair.I realize, now, I shouldve written something about it,how it flows like a waterfall of knives,how, in certain light, it shines like a memento mori,how, when tied up, its a caged tiger,begging to sing. Or how I used to wake up with a mouthful,as if I were trying to make it part of me.I shouldve built a loom out of twigs and rocks, or bought one.I shouldve been weaving a tapestry from the strandsthat follow me like an addiction.I shouldve chronicled the long, unusually boring story of us.It could hang from my eggshell walls,surrounding me with unhurried history.STS-107We don't need to knowthe reasons for the crash orthe trajectory of the fall,why we woke up that morning and turned on CNN,why the comet of its death caught a piece of sunlightand turned the screen white, why we calledour fathers and urged them Wake up,something is happening,why the map of the debris looked like a pillow or what the nematodes onboard thoughtof the weightlessness, then the shaking,the fire, the fall. Do we need to knowthe histories of hair that fellin clumps from the skyor the excitement of discoveringanother piece of the remains in a field?We need to know the warehouse, the masking tape outlineof the shuttle voluminous in its loss,the pieces stacked inside. We needto file past it slowly, let our mothersdab our eyes with used Kleenex, let otherssee our backs on the screen.Let them see us in the way of the empty coffin.ClearcutHow do I begin to reap the seeds of resentment,planted months ago in some quiet night,with the sound of my voiceheavy in sleep as fertilizer?Who knows what theyve grown into,fractals of violence,pungent and bioluminescent in the evening.I thought I had found a redwood of spitebut it was just a shrub of umbrage,prickly and tenacious,choked by the weeds.There comes a time,my father said,when you have to turn aroundand take in the forest of your life.Then theres nothing left to dobut begin the harvest.SeepWhen we drink, we talk about history: howAndrew Jackson hated Indians the same wayyou hate the mice that eat through your wires.The workers at Triangle Shirtwaistripped off their skirts, wrapped them around their heads,soaked them in water and clawed at the chains on the dooruntil they were too hot to touch. Then they jumped, or didn't.This is how you feel every morning before gettingout of bed.You tell me every time you clip your toenailsyou can't help but think of the long, sad history of Poland.Shackleton freezes in his tent. A molasses floodcreeps down my spine. A farmer lights a cigarettein an empty grain silo and the explosion is repeatedwith every crack of your knuckles.In the car, your head resting againstthe window, you tell me what the astronautsof Apollo I thought when they felt the fireseal the locked door.FallowDont forget the sky has other zones,I tell my son, tethered to a tangle of tubes and monitor wires, chest floatingslightly above the hospital bed.I ask him the color of the barn,what his favorite flavor of ice cream is,if he wants three scoops or two,if he can wait just a little longer.A drop of condensation,vein on the window, distracts him.A late hoar frost kills the crops.A bloom of ink invades a brain.The threat to life isnt the cold, but the ice. In seventh grade, we froze frogsin an ice cube tray and forgot about them.Someone is putting tubes in my sons nose. The secret to staying alive isnt the freeze,its the thaw. Tell that to the mammoths. Tell thatto the taiga.My son is eased into a machine.The doctor is pointing to his nose with his right handand then his left.A machine hums my son to sleep.Somewhere, citrus rots under the ice.The sky looks like grey matterdiscontent with its potential.Vanishing ConfederateVanishing twin syndrome, first described by Stoeckel in 1945, is the identification of a multifetal gestation with subsequent disappearance of one or more fetuses.The last thumbprint of your existencelies at the bottom of a drawer, a fading print of your half-formed skullin occultation of minebefore I squeezed you back into nothing.I dont know if you are living your life on some strange Earthor if you inhabit the world of absences. I dont know if you know my name or if you can hear us murmuring yours.Im reading the story of your life while writing mine.I know your half-whispered secrets that stick on the walls of the roomwe never shared. Ive heard the story of your first kissso many times it gets confused with mine.Your favorite and most fearsome memory is being forgottenby Daddy and Momma and me on the beach when we were four,your chest seizing with tension as we continued unaware of your absence.In that moment, you were stuck between calling out,or letting us slip away.Youre marching battle lines long crossed,forever considering that Stars and Bars tattoo,opening volume after volume of history and breathing it in."There's nothing," you said before driving into your death,sipping a Crown and Coke,"nothing as important as family."You looked at your truck, the marsh beyond,alligators groaning somewhere therein.From a distance, your hazard lights looked like twin stars,forever disappearing, forever reappearing.Here, the land is mostly unassuming You may wish to visit the churches on the corner, read their witty signs. You may be seduced by the family-friendly atmosphere or the haunted houses where people apologize for scaring you, but suggest it's for your own good. You don't want to count the grams of sugar or the money; there's never enough. You may be unaccustomed to the weight that now sleeps in the small of your back. This, the weight of your transgressions, is normal, briefly forgotten in the heavy nights when it blends in with everyone else's. Along the highway, ignore the abject poverty. Feel the glory somewhere within, but don't ask where it comes from. Sometimes, I swear I can see the light from their mouths.Upon Receiving Another Job RejectionI cup it gingerly in my outstretched hands,careful not to let a single unnecessarily formal syllable fall out.Each one of these We-regret-to-inform-yous andThank-you-for-applyings are precious to me.They will come together and make a great memoir, one day.But for now I am content to keep my hoard,using them to paper the walls of my house,to wipe the grease off my chin,to cover myself in the quickening night.I string some up outside,a warning to the others.The oldest are withered and yellowing in the sun,discarded toenails.They flutter in the breeze,like prayer flags,or funeral notices.Grandparents Day Theres something to be said for noncommittal memoryrecalling the ice truck, workers hacking at the blocks, sucking on sandy chips, spitting out the grit. Then its back to the present, and cold pea pure is dripping down her chin. Theres the time lightning struck the field and fifty head of cattle lay down together. The winter it was so cold the trees exploded. The time she sat on the swing and cried and cried, tearing up the soil with her feet. Someone dumped paint in the yard and the grass never grew back. A blank slate shovels food into a mouth, reciting the same poem to the walls. Her brain is a fire underground, asphalt hot to the touch; a pane of glass that a toddler doesnt see; a sneeze while barreling down the interstate; a chair waiting to be sat on so it will finally break. A pickaxe buries itself into a block of ice and she is there, licking its side.Breakup PoemFor years I have tried to write a poem to you,a gift to bequeath; a poem that would restlopsided on your head and pinch your scalp; a poemthat would scratch its thoughts onto your skull and neverbe read again; a poem that existed as a singularity.The poem ached between my ribs.The poem wanted more than anything to be in the ground.The more I thought aboutthe poem, it became The Poem,a Platonic ideal, tired from all the thinking.The Poem has whispered at me lately,filled my joints with ache.When I think about you, there's a phantom limb folded underneath me.I realize now that The Poemwas neither a present nor a parasite but insteadthe feral twin of what we created, that itbreathed heavily looking through your blindsbefore licking my ears with thoughts.Thinking about you, The Poem punched a wall,while the poet sat in his chair.SpectrumAt night, its hard to tellif the leaves arent really cockroaches,if the soft pop-pop-pops down the road are firecrackersor death breaking the sound barrier,or how much time was between your breaths.At your funeral, I mistook a floral arrangementfor an archangel, and pity for grief.After the first mouse was caught, we kept seeing more of them.A sock on the floor darted up the steps.Scratches from the walls kept us up at night.We listened to the baseball game on the radioand watched the rocking chair move on its own.The microwave warmed itself.A cold spot on the ground grew like an amoeba.Before we pulled the blanket away like magiciansunveiling the chair underneath,the vents moaned.The cat watched a spot on the wall,tail flicking back and forth. A light entered the wall and disappeared. Brushing your teeth you felt someonetracing your spine.When I was 7, you let go of the steering wheel.I couldnt tell the difference from when you were in control.PAGE 13Ben Wright