Poem of the Week | July 02, 2018

This week, we are proud to present a new poem by Mark Wagenaar. An Assistant Professor in English at Valparaiso University, Wagenaar’s Saltman Prize-winning collection Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining will be published in Summer 2018 from Red Hen Press. He can be found at markwagenaar.net and on Twitter @markgwagenaar.


A model village with a model
Of the model village in its model village—
Here we are, looking down
At our homunculi, who themselves
Look down at their children
Piecing together puzzles of ourselves
Staring back from family vacations,
Or halfway through folding up
Origami models of those we’ve lost
Along the way. The steady diminishing
Of us, the way we grow smaller
With the years, & still, not an inch into
The interior of our hearts,
Where bear grass has gone to seed,
& a lone gosling in the sky breaks
Into its first red feather on its breast.
Even a telescope within a telescope,
A parade of mirrors, might find no hint
Of heaven in those heavens, even
The air moving through the doubled
Sorrow of a violin within a larger violin
Might not sigh like the wind through
Those grasses. And when your daughter
Jumps out of the stroller to push
Another stroller with a doll belted in—
What can you tell her about her life.
Love, & need. How to prep for the future,
the 401 k, etc. Or, just once, forget
The portfolio, & remember
You’ve never had more than
When you gave all of yourself away
Until at last the life you’d always dreamed
Was right in front of you, almost too small
To be held in a child’s hand. Even the ground
Of your making, you’ll never be able
To tell her, the ground of her child’s
Making, is a place you’ll be unmade
Time & again, a fever that’s all horizons,
Like that spot in Antarctica
Where every direction is north.

Author’s Note:

This poem is from a new collection I’m working on, called Small Time Paradiso. This is the first poem I’ve written that arose from a Twitter post–someone posted a picture of a model village with a model village within. I’m fascinated by both synecdoche and metonymy, and by larger forces that hide and/or dwell within containers that seem too small, and by seemingly absurd structures as well, such as an island on an island, or those in Calvino’s Invisible Cities–I’m sure Calvino’s influence is apparent here, and perhaps Kinnell as well. More broadly, the poem asks some of the big questions we ask ourselves–what can we offer our children? What can we tell them? The rest, to borrow Auden’s phrase, is composed of eros and of dust.