Fathom

fathomPraise, Comments, and Reviews:

In poems of spiritual hunger and erotic receptivity, Philip Brady achieves utterance through formal gestures, “revealing in every form and syllable / a double essence.” The pleasures of Fathom are literary and sensuous, even when the poems address the events of 9/11. Through rhythmic cadences, “a murmur rippling in lines,” Brady brings the world into focus, “purr[s] ‘accord’ / into the ear of the continuum.” These are poems to savor as they lodge themselves within us.

—Michael Waters

J’accuse

Here’s the dilemma: The adolescent boy
rocking on the toilet seat, arms clenched
around his concave chest to numb his pulse
and focus on his immediate need to choose
between medicine cabinet mirror or water glass—
which to smash and how to gouge each wrist—
this boy, although he hums, although a wave,
blood-red, wells up behind sealed eyes,
can never meet the man who wants to save him,
though the man exists, speaks now in riven voice,
haunting his tortured self from long ago.
The dilemma? How to blossom. Entwine
in self-renewing present, let the man
calm the boy’s wrists, whisper ‘accord’
into the ear of the continuum.
Moments at a time perhaps, they join.
Then the glass shatters, blood spurts.
And who has broken the mirror or the cup?
The boy, despairing? The man arriving
thirty years too late? No. I accuse
the forward rush and press of language,
applied like a shard of glass to the boy’s wrist.
I accuse myself for rhyming the tuneless hum.
I accuse you, who thought to remain hidden,
Reader, consisting only of eyes and nerves,
and a fan of fingers probing a bound spine.
You, Listener, I accuse;
though you are restless, caught perhaps
in bonds of collegiality or love
or trapped in auditorium folding chair.
You breathe with me; you yield to evanesce
into the scene, calmed by this voice—
this promise the boy lives—veiling
and sanctifying gore. Now you are named,
perched on the crest of porcelain
between worlds. Speak, my Reader;
you are no longer dark. Lift
a glinting fragment off the tile,
pinch between forefinger and thumb,
slice vertically along the bluish line
up toward the heart: Perpetual
Blossoming in Blood whom I accuse,
that which confers implacable need
to wrap numb arms around torso,
and yet to be released into unknowing.
The dilemma: within is contained All,
but what’s needed to say All—
the loaf-warm palate, teeth,
the eel-like muscle of the tongue,
produces without meaning the word Other.
I accuse and stand accused of harboring
such sense as vouchsafes boy and man
forever separate. I accuse
the stream of time and self-fulfilling plot
of abandoning this boy who rocks uncradled
endlessly on the brink of blossoming,
the hum rising in pitch as he curls forward,
gurgling down the scale as he lurches back
to Original Unbeing, Primal Wound,
All-Encompassing Wholly Ceaseless Pain.

Gilt

Winter nights, dismissed from Fordham Prep,
I’d find him on the bus—Mr.McMann.
As the door hissed open and I stepped
into the vestibule and rendered a token

I’d feel his cloudy gaze. And even if
I snaked around the strap-hangers unseen
and sank between somnambulists
to conjure Mt. St. Ursulan prom queens,

by Utopia a force would push me up to
sit with the old man, my neighbor’s father,
and lean and nod, attending to his gabble
until our bell got pulled. Then down the stairs,

and into the cold dark. Words can’t express
the slowness of his gait. Out of time
it creeps over me now, as I cross
into the suburbs of old age. I make no bones.

What fixed my numb fingers to McMann
encompassed me: Ancestral Bulls
mandating the 6:00 AM alarm,
and the daily interborough busses

and the cramping desks where I cracked
Aquinas, and the waxy sandwiches,
and the jock-infested lockers, and the trek
across the desecrated corpus of the Bronx

back to Queens, where the row house door
snapped shut. Caritas, purred the Jesuits,
or Agape in advanced Greek seminar:
blossoming through others into Christ.

But all I felt was cold. Ruptured
sidewalks uncoupled our limp. We shouldered
into the wind to ford boulevards
and tottered under blind windows toward

a destination no doctrine can name.
I see them now, steering arm in arm
through the years to reach that occult haven—
gilt in traffic light as if blood-smeared.

Across three continents in two envelopes
I am carrying, to remind myself,
proof that human creatures,
manifest in such numbers that God sneezes,
compose the simulacrum of one absence
incandescent beneath knowing so we stare
with horror and desire at ourselves.

This evidence consists of emanations
from past lives: six-hundred-forty-four
bundled articles of V-MAIL
exchanged between a GI and his bride
from nineteen-forty-two to forty-five,
each dispatch stamped with censor’s seal,
and opening with diminutive salutation:
“Dear Stardust,” or “Dear Moonbeam;” sometimes “Dearest.”

I bring these letters to their furthest points
of origin and destination: Bohemia,
the very pencil mark, later erased,
where the The Big Three planned to dissect Europe,
before posing, seated for Roosevelt’s sake,
like a row of schoolboys–Stalin roguish,
Churchill flashing his signature V for Victory,
a voodoo of the index and fuck-you finger
designed to hasten what it signified.

I lay them in three shallow holes I’ve dug
under a shade tree at Vitezné Námisti,
a crossroads in a village of stucco
whose name means Victory Place,
but which, to me, echoes Vietnam,
a victory here—recently erased,
dissolved into the temporal
as Lidice transliterates to My Lai:
with the twist (like the flick of the wrist
morphing Churchill’s “Victory ”
into bohemian “Peace”) that the humans
whose destiny I share are killers.

This Place of Victory in Bohemia I found
not by addresses, masked by Army code,
nor history—writing and erasing names
in a trance of organized forgetting.
I found it tracing glyphs and curlicues
of turquoise and black India ink
first pored over and passed between two forms
who have dissolved into this present act.
I am their proof: the son these letters caused,
in a future just beyond my earliest past.

Here, in letter three-hundred-seventeen,
Moonbeam asks her Stardust to list towns,
villages and hamlets he had passed through.
It was October twenty-third, a Sunday.
Sinatra’s voodoo bathed the railroad flat.
Moonbeam’s gaze drifted out the window
where the wind revealed Stardust in shivering leaves
and she realized she’d finally passed the point
where she could stare at a vacant Brooklyn street
without the features of her lover
taking form. Absence voodood
as leaves, as radio waves, longing so deep
its anonymous face is manifest only now
when the moon, for example, no longer signifies
“spontaneous overflow of emotion,”
and stars don’t stand for “stake in the eternal.”

It’s only when the idiom wobbles
and the meter stretches at the seams as in
“across three continents I am carrying”
that human creatures stir and almost wake
to the absence incandescent underneath,
the way the ocean suddenly disappears
from the limbic node of the farmer as he kills
the Russian tractor’s motor
that gurgled all morning through wheat fields
around Place of Victory, and he’s lost—
overcome with a surge of sourceless longing,
perched dizzy but alert in wheat so high,
the tires barely top the tawny waves.

That’s proof. That’s one reason I sow
fetishes in three separate holes—
to let them try, impossibly, to bleed
into the shade tree’s roots, which I declare
for purposes of my voodoo, earth’s neurons,
forever so achingly absent,
this Place of Victory shimmers, disappears.

The second reason I pock the crux of Europe
with a penknife and two envelopes is the third
continent these letters have furrowed.
It is called Memory. It is a distant
palisade stippled with barbed wire.
And on this continent the absences
whose carbon-fragile longing’s buried here
squat, long past horror or desire—
a pair of torpid gods facing the sea.

And human creatures rage over this proof:
that Memory resisted or erased
bleeds, bathing neurons with longing
to reconceive whatever we bury
in pliable shapes—wind and leaves and words.

This may explain the gleam in Stalin’s smile
as he peers into a future his pencil’s pushed
until everything but absence is erased:
Victory, Bohemia, the entire
continent of Memory distilled
to names scrawled and buried so deep
in separate holes longing dissolves
into the tractor gliding like a moon,
the revolution climbing to the stars,
and not a single body to obscure
how close we absent are. How present
and alive. He leans toward us. He almost sees
the source of everything that won’t be born.

Proof

Across three continents in two envelopes
I am carrying, to remind myself,
proof that human creatures,
manifest in such numbers that God sneezes,
compose the simulacrum of one absence
incandescent beneath knowing so we stare
with horror and desire at ourselves.

This evidence consists of emanations
from past lives: six-hundred-forty-four
bundled articles of V-MAIL
exchanged between a GI and his bride
from nineteen-forty-two to forty-five,
each dispatch stamped with censor’s seal,
and opening with diminutive salutation:
“Dear Stardust,” or “Dear Moonbeam;” sometimes “Dearest.”

I bring these letters to their furthest points
of origin and destination: Bohemia,
the very pencil mark, later erased,
where the The Big Three planned to dissect Europe,
before posing, seated for Roosevelt’s sake,
like a row of schoolboys–Stalin roguish,
Churchill flashing his signature V for Victory,
a voodoo of the index and fuck-you finger
designed to hasten what it signified.

I lay them in three shallow holes I’ve dug
under a shade tree at Vitezné Námisti,
a crossroads in a village of stucco
whose name means Victory Place,
but which, to me, echoes Vietnam,
a victory here—recently erased,
dissolved into the temporal
as Lidice transliterates to My Lai:
with the twist (like the flick of the wrist
morphing Churchill’s “Victory ”
into bohemian “Peace”) that the humans
whose destiny I share are killers.

This Place of Victory in Bohemia I found
not by addresses, masked by Army code,
nor history—writing and erasing names
in a trance of organized forgetting.
I found it tracing glyphs and curlicues
of turquoise and black India ink
first pored over and passed between two forms
who have dissolved into this present act.
I am their proof: the son these letters caused,
in a future just beyond my earliest past.

Here, in letter three-hundred-seventeen,
Moonbeam asks her Stardust to list towns,
villages and hamlets he had passed through.
It was October twenty-third, a Sunday.
Sinatra’s voodoo bathed the railroad flat.
Moonbeam’s gaze drifted out the window
where the wind revealed Stardust in shivering leaves
and she realized she’d finally passed the point
where she could stare at a vacant Brooklyn street
without the features of her lover
taking form. Absence voodood
as leaves, as radio waves, longing so deep
its anonymous face is manifest only now
when the moon, for example, no longer signifies
“spontaneous overflow of emotion,”
and stars don’t stand for “stake in the eternal.”

It’s only when the idiom wobbles
and the meter stretches at the seams as in
“across three continents I am carrying”
that human creatures stir and almost wake
to the absence incandescent underneath,
the way the ocean suddenly disappears
from the limbic node of the farmer as he kills
the Russian tractor’s motor
that gurgled all morning through wheat fields
around Place of Victory, and he’s lost—
overcome with a surge of sourceless longing,
perched dizzy but alert in wheat so high,
the tires barely top the tawny waves.

That’s proof. That’s one reason I sow
fetishes in three separate holes—
to let them try, impossibly, to bleed
into the shade tree’s roots, which I declare
for purposes of my voodoo, earth’s neurons,
forever so achingly absent,
this Place of Victory shimmers, disappears.

The second reason I pock the crux of Europe
with a penknife and two envelopes is the third
continent these letters have furrowed.
It is called Memory. It is a distant
palisade stippled with barbed wire.
And on this continent the absences
whose carbon-fragile longing’s buried here
squat, long past horror or desire—
a pair of torpid gods facing the sea.

And human creatures rage over this proof:
that Memory resisted or erased
bleeds, bathing neurons with longing
to reconceive whatever we bury
in pliable shapes—wind and leaves and words.

This may explain the gleam in Stalin’s smile
as he peers into a future his pencil’s pushed
until everything but absence is erased:
Victory, Bohemia, the entire
continent of Memory distilled
to names scrawled and buried so deep
in separate holes longing dissolves
into the tractor gliding like a moon,
the revolution climbing to the stars,
and not a single body to obscure
how close we absent are. How present
and alive. He leans toward us. He almost sees
the source of everything that won’t be born.

Advertisements