April 13, 2015

Alexandra Teague: “Ofelia Has Not Seen Even One of the Seven Wonders of the World, and People Keep Making New Lists”

Alexandra Teague (2015)

To celebrate the release of our new spring Editors’ Prize issue, 38.1, we’re delighted to feature a poem by our prize-winning poet Alexandra Teague. Teague is the author of Mortal Geography, winner of Persea Books’ 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and 2010 California Book Award, and the newly published The Wise and Foolish Builders. The recipient of a Stegner Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Teague is Assistant Professor of Poetry at University of Idaho and an editor for Broadsided Press.
 
Author’s note:

Very uncharacteristically, “Ofelia Has Not Seen Even One of the Seven Wonders of the World and People Keep Making New Lists” began with a title, which stayed on my mind for about six months before I wrote the poem. Originally inspired by a sign for Ofelia’s Knife City in Arizona, Ofelia is a character who has appeared in several of my recent poems: my imagined tough survivor version of her tragic namesake. Earlier poems have been more about her biography (of sorts)—her “playing like a girl” or never being a cheerleader, or sharpening her knives—but this poem takes on a preoccupation that I didn’t know she (or I) had. After the first line, I could clearly hear the tone, and the poem unfolded (with a bit of research, a trip to a county fair, and a failed attempt to go see the aurora borealis) from there.

 

Ofelia Has Not Seen Even One of the Seven Wonders of the World,

and People Keep Making New Lists

 

Now the largest poll on record gives her this:
Christ the Redeemer: the tower, the martyr, the untouchable
jetliner wings of his grace. Standing underneath,
could a girl even see his face (struck twice by lightning),

 

or would she still be left imagining how he blesses
the sky: its sins of diffusion and cumulus? Her eyes
pulled up and up, like a flag raising off-key

 

bugle dawns at summer camp. Grass stickering her ankles.
It mattered—for some reason—just to stand there. To feel

 

responsible for morning, which would happen
anyway, which is maybe all wonder is: The Taj Mahal’s white
minarets holding up grief as perfect symmetry—

 

as every single person born will die—a chain
so much longer than the Great Wall. All that rammed earth and hope

 

and erosion. And the story, for centuries, you could see
it from the moon. As if most people. As if a strand
of human hair a mile away. It makes her wonder
if we just want something huge enough to outlast our not

 

knowing if it really outlasts us. Those pyramids—
Chichen Itza, Giza in a country of car bombs: so much
sand colored like stone like sun it must be like
standing behind your own eyelids on a bright day:

 

phosphenes of ancient wonder, not real light: something firing
in your mind. All the gods buried in catsuits
of lapis and gold, and the tourists lining up like bottles

 

at a carnival: throw the ring of I have been the size
of greatness around the neck. The game isn’t rigged,

 

just impossible. A single perfect toss will win a big plush squid,
a tiger dangling like a striped stalactite. Mammoth Cave.
The London sewers. Hoover Dam. A snow cone

 

melting like the polar ice (still the top
of 7 Wonders to Visit Before They’re Gone) on your hands. Christ
can’t even save his own. One finger broken off

 

in a second storm. She wants to say: They don’t make gods
like they used to, but that’s probably not true either.

 

You don’t get to travel back in time to wonder, but
she’d like to. Once, in ancient Rome, the aurora borealis
flared so bright, firemen rushed out and tried to extinguish the sky.

 

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