Poetry | March 01, 2002
Poetry Feature: Nicholas Allen Harp
Featuring the poems:
- Frank Lloyd Wright & The Last Famished Mosasaur
- Astronomy 101
- Road Trip
Today in the School for Gifted Youngsters Xavier’s lesson plan calls
for sex education, the hows and whos, wheres and whens dispensed
delicately, his bald brow furrowed serious, his students wide-eyed
chuckling, unabashedly alive and constantly, at risk from you-name-it:
G-men, invasive telepathy, Plutonian radiation, slack-jawed villains,
and now, he can’t believe it, gonorrhea, pregnancy, AIDS, each
contemporary malady less innocent than the one before, a curriculum
chock-full of acronymic woe and code–IUD, HIV, RU-486–too many
physical choices in the modern world, Xavier thinks, too many forces
stitching lifeforce inextricably to doomed youth, their piss and vinegar
mutated into glowy juice, concussion orbs, optic blasts, blizzards
summoned by sheer merge of will, their bodies already breaking out
from under themselves, pushing and yanking their skins like the
colleague they call Fantastic,their young lives catapulted into flight
(literally, he thinks, flight) to some fate he cannot, despite his infamous
prescience, predict, a factored variable he’ll have to follow, patiently,
like a serial; the X of a xenophobic country, lonesome Xmases,
x ratings, the x’s and o’s he’ll send his students when he expels them
to the dangerous world.
Nothing less than an oriole
capering and vanished in the blur
screen of windshield, nothing
less than the shed skin
fuzz of dust atop the toaster.
In Baltimore, a well-meaning
scientist attempts to mass
a human body as it dies,
calculate the weight of the soul
to fifteen significant digits
as it departs wherever
it is we are. An ancient iceberg
bigger than Rhode Island
divorces itself from Antarctica
without even warning anybody,
puddles meekly into the South Seas.
Decimal places spool across
Helsinki, Tokyo, the bedlam of Wall Street,
like lemons on a slot machine,
but nothing is lost. Etherized
clouds of reruns lope lightspeed past
stars no one’s named yet,
a lawyer friend in Chicago laments
the French she’s forgotten and I’m straining myself
for that word that almost means
“desire” but less gluttonous, less
sad. Really nothing
less than the breath of air,
the gone voice that loved
you, nothing less than any
of us marching, shapeless,
into the sky that is sometimes
called empty, sometimes just
called the night sky.
Cut a raw corncob in half with one swift chuffing motion.
For a setting, choose Philomath, Georgia,
and place the sun way down low, a plum
turning in for the night. Note how the colors of twilight
bloom like a bruise. Play Bach, poorly, in the background
with only two fingers on a rickety Wurlitzer.
Appreciate the crows barking along the fence line,
fanning across the gloppy brook in rhythm.
Lose the mustache.
Believe in the necessity of penmanship.
Long, desperately, for the unattainable.
Admire the long, loopy strokes of the founding fathers,
their words etched on the mustard parchments of history.
Remember the soft, worn hills of your grandfather’s ears.
In the future, when you want to eat a doughnut,
you will immediately feel a strong urge to vomit.
Search yourself for the reason you never tried out for football.
Consider hurting someone you care about.
Kneel to smell the patient, horologic earth,
breathe in its chamomile odor.
Discount any disparity between the love you give
and the love you’re given.
Expect the gravid air to loosen its humid sag.
Believe that the night will loosen you, too.
Frank Lloyd Wright & The Last Famished Mosasaur
“As falls Wichita, so falls Wichita Falls.” -Pat Metheny
In the moss-green ocean
of late Cretaceous Kansas lives
the last famished mosasaur,
his sinuous tail undulating
toward dwindled pockets of fish,
orange bus-body keeping close
to the shallows of proto-Wichita,
pea-brained but mindful of the sharper
Ginsu shark, whose fist-sized knifeslick teeth
predate the cans they could cut through.
Mosasaur will die shortly, peckish
and chomped on, and fix like a footprint
into the quick-drying sixty-eight-million-year-old
Western Interior Sea.
Somewhat later, in 1915 A.D., Frank Lloyd Wright
designs his final prairie-style in Wichita
for Governor James and Elsie Allen
and seems haughty and undiscouraged
about concluding the period when he writes,
“Those planes parallel to earth
identify themselves with the ground–
make the building belong to the ground.
I put this idea to work, and now
I’m through with it.” Geologic real time
logs its blanketed minutes
beneath tubby Midwestern
flappers, brown tufts of dust bowl,
Big Twelve gridiron, preponderance of
pet rocks, Frogurt™, and aggregating layers
of responsible landfill condoms.
The human surfaces of the the Mid-American
plate dribble on like syrup on buckwheat waffles.
Nametagged field-trippers fog the museum
display case, point to a reproduction
of a dinosaur skeleton, point to each other’s hands,
thinking perhaps for the first time
about who ends up in the ground,
and how they’d like to unbury and look
through all the earth when they’re older.
Bedtime, and I’m left chuckling
because the opening sentence
of my son’s astronomy book assures that, really,
The universe is comprehensible.
Ruffling the sheets, I consider the brazen
arrogance of simple explanations; such dumb
prose, so eager to make life easier and easier,
until comprehension is all we’re allowed.
O, for the text that instructs from doubt,
risks itself, teaches out on a candid cosmic limb, as in:
Young love, son, becomes a faint memory,
but your loneliness under the stars might never entirely fade away.
Or, perhaps it will. One thing’s for sure, kid.
As long as there’s night, you’ll ponder devotion.
I toss his text aside, extinguish the lamp,
and pause to examine the roomful of black.
The inky peace of this hour requires no answers,
issues no examinations, and so I fall into the ellipses of sleep,
blanketed by air, space, and those monstrous points of 1ight
which burn and make sense
out of time.
for Martha Lackritz
I’ve never gotten my kicks
barreling down some lonesome
lizard-beaten length of Route 66,
never watched the sagebrush
skip, gallantly, below the big
skyline of Devils Tower,
and yet I sometimes feel like I
can see, even from this sleepy
the bitter razor lines of desert
blur on their planar horizon,
see cacti shiver past me, waving
I’ve never squinted at slow-stretching
stalactites, nor gasped at the geyser
ejaculations of Old Faithful, never
set my watch by the beckoning
gravity of high tide at Montauk Pier,
but I’ve learned that any kind of
faith relies on the dependable rhythm–
the circumpolars, the steady march
of monsoon, the compass-swinging
checkpoints of comfort’s syncopation.
I’ll not ride the teacups in Orlando
nor hang my ragged heart out to dry in the Opry,
nor stare down Rushmore’s
Jefferson to a stony, humanist
blink. I’ve no plan to stick my
bumper at Wall Drug or avail myself
of Vegas sinmaking. How the
West was won, I imagine, is
how just about anything has ever been won–
parts of heart, parts of luck, parts of grief
wrestle until hope and pride founder.
The rest is spoils, moral victories,
And can’t we agree that life right here’s nicely suited:
the predawn nonsun deferring to
mystery spots of snow, bagel-store
neon, mammoth cave dumpsters,
the suburban paper routist
loping through the streets like a cowboy.
I look at my clock, mulling through its
assignment, and hear in its steadfast
routine a patient speaking voice:
Watch as the day unfurls itself with
the breezy bite of promise.
Home is a proviso, a word cut
from the plaintive grammar of postcards:
Holding my own out here.
Wishing like hell you were with me.
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