Poem of the Week | April 29, 2012

This week we’re featuring our prize-winning poet, David Kirby, from our brand-spanking-new Spring 2012 Contest issue, TMR 35.1. Kirby is the author of numerous books, including The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems, a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. His biography, Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, was hailed by the Times Literary Supplement of London as a “hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” His latest book of poetry is Talking About Movies With Jesus. He is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. See also www.davidkirby.com.

Author’s Note:

There are two Antichrists, one who looks just like Jesus and then the other who has all the heads and crowns, and it’s this second one that was the obvious choice for me. Now make no mistake: Kirby is a man of peace and wishes no harm to any creature great or small. But as you’ll see, after a vigorous chat with the Antichrist, I kind of admired him. That is, I admired his voice. I wanted to sound like him. I’d like to think that, if I had all those heads and crowns, I’d be a force for good, not ill. The main thing, though, is that I was fascinated by the thing that every poet wants more than anything else, which is a voice that no ear can resist.

If Any Man Have an Ear, Let Him Listen

My mother-in-law says, “You want something?” and I say,
no, I’ll just work on my sand fort, so she heads for
the lunch wagon, and I’m standing on Waimanalo Beach
when I see a beast rise up out of the sea having
seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon


heads the name of blasphemy, and I say, “Holy shit—
the Antichrist!” and the beast says, “Where she go?”
and I say, “My mother-in-law? She went to get a hot dog—
what do you want with her?” and the beast says, “She been
talkin. She been waitin. Here I am,” but he’s saying this


with all seven of his heads at the same time, so he sounds like
the Temptations, only with three extra Temps. “Those extra
voices . . . ,” I start to say, but he says, “I makin war on saints,”
and I say, “My mother-in-law’s no saint. I mean,
I love her and all, but go to, like, ancient Rome . . . ,” and by now most


of his heads are looking at me as though he’s noticed
me for the first time, so I say, “You ever read King Solomon’s
Mines by H. Rider Haggard? Story of the elephant hunter
who goes looking for diamonds with a map
drawn in blood?” but now the beast is twisting his necks around, and half


of his heads are looking for my mother-in-law, and the other
half are sucking up water and spraying it around and slapping
against the torso of his body, and I’m guessing he’s not much
of a reader, so I say, “When you popped out
of the waves, first thing I thought of was that book—actually, not the book


so much as what V. S. Pritchett said about it, which is that
whereas E. M. Forster said the novelist sends a bucket
down into the unconscious, Pritchett said Haggard
installed a suction pump and drained
the whole reservoir of the public’s secret desires,” and just as I’m about


to say “and you make H. Rider Haggard look like
a Sunday school teacher,” he clambers onto the beach,
and he’s got a dragon with him, and there’s a woman on one
of his shoulders arrayed in purple and scarlet
and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls and drinking


the blood of the saints from a golden cup, and by this time
I’m talking too much the way I always do when I get nervous
and try to be interesting and make people laugh or at least
think I’m not a complete dolt, which,
of course, they do, so I say, “There’s a lot of stuff out there that looks


like something else, but you don’t resemble anything!”
and the beast says, “There are seven kings. Five have fallen.
One on his throne, one not yet come,” I say, “That’s Kool
and the Gang with me. No rush, right?”
and he lifts one of his arms as though to backhand me, and I duck,


and he says, “I givin to great and small, rich
and poor, free and bond. I makin a mark on their hand
or on their forehead,  and no man buyin or sellin save he have
the mark or the name of the beast or the number
of his name,” and I say, “See, I don’t get that part at all” and even make


the goes-right-over-my-head sign and then, “Your dragon
have a name? How about the lady?” and the beast says,
“The Dragon givin power unto me. The waters around me
are peoples and multitudes and nations
and tongues. And they hatin the Whore and makin her desolate


and naked and eatin her flesh and burnin her with fire,”
and I say, “Jesus is going to kick your ass, you know,”
and the beast throws all his heads back and lets out
this ungodly roar and stamps
my sand fort to smithereens and grabs the dragon and the woman


and does a forward roll into the waves and disappears
with a lot of splashing and dragon and whore noises,
and when I get to my feet again and wipe the water
and the sand out of my eyes, I see
my mother-in-law heading my way, and she has a hot dog in each hand,


and I say, “I’m really not hungry,” and she says, “I know,
but I thought your friend might want one,” and I say, “What friend?”
and she says, “That guy you were talking to, the older guy.
A little stooped, but kindly. Had a sweet smile.
Nice dog, too. I don’t know about that woman, though. What’d you two


talk about?” and I say, “Oh, you know, the usual stuff.
Religion, mostly,” and take a bite out of my hot dog,
and she says, “Nothing to talk about there. Only one way
to heaven,” and I say, “I’m sure you’re right
about that,” and the water is almost calm now, a little choppy, maybe,


and she says, “You want some chips? I got you
some chips,” and there’s a little splash way out toward the horizon,
and she says, “What the h-e-double-toothpicks is that?”
and I start to say, “The beast that was
and is not and yet is” but instead say, “Big fish, maybe?” and look


at where my fort used to be as she waves her hand in front
of her face and says, “Phew, somebody passed air.
Did you pass air?” and I say, “Naw, I think it’s brimstone”
and then “We should get our stuff together, I’m not sure
it’s real safe,” and she says, “What do you mean? It’s a perfect day,”


so I sit back down and think, She’s right, it’s beautiful
out here, and I’m lucky to have this old lady in my life who loves
me and who gave me her daughter to love, and this is a great hot dog,
and I didn’t even have to pay for it. Still, to have
a mouth that speaks great things in the slaughter and a head wounded


unto death but the deadly wound healed  . . . who wouldn’t
want dominion over all earthly things? And just then
my mother-in-law says, “What in the world are you talking about
now?” and I say, “Oops, did I say that out loud?”
but at the same time I’m thinking, Who wouldn’t want to be that beast.