Weal

weal

Praise, Comments, and Reviews:

“The poems in Philip Brady’s Weal engage us with dazzling language and intellectual range and a lovely music. The poems’ subjects range from a childhood of “scotch and casseroles,” to post-colonial culture, to the rootless “luxury and helplessness” of travel. These poems get around: from Brooklyn to Belfast; from Italy to Africa; from Youngstown, Ohio to an empty wing of the top floor of a hospital in Marin, where the poet’s mother is dying. One long central poem, “Lagos,” is simply brilliant in its multi-faceted, multi-layered concerns. Brady’s voice is zany, rough and heartbreaking and Weal is full of wild surprises.”

— Maggie Anderson

 

“Philip Brady’s Weal gives a powerful account of one man’s journey through this world. With its stories and atmospheric renderings of the neighborhood where the author grew up, it provides some of the background and surround one expects from a novel. The realism of that material is put into perspective by reference to legends like “Silkie” as well as the travel poems late in the book. Thus geography functions as a focal point around which many of these poems cluster. In essence, though, this is an insider’s report on a life. One looks up from these pages a little wiser, a little more alert, a little readier to carry on.”

— Richard Tillinghast

 

“Philip Brady’s Weal offers a sojourner’s panoramas and outstanding depth of field. The poems present themselves as majestic, audible, dangerous rivers with live banks. Close-up, mid-range and infinity are all sharp focus. Weal, a word of contradictory geographies, ranging from common good to whiplash scar, rings here around a hundred years of world migrations. This is an unpredictable, demanding, strong, book, each poem an exploration.”

— Milton Kessler

Hindu

I don’t know how they hand out incarnations,
but somebody got shafted with this one:
to be a handsome man without much brains,
bad heart, no money or position
in America in the depths of the cold war —
might as well be celery garnish or
a goldfish a kid’s plopped in a vase
on the kitchen radiator. I guess
some feckless soul in Nirvana’s holding tank
thumbing Brahmin mug shots must have finked
out the wrong guy, or maybe flunked
a Rorschach test, or just tumbled, drunk,
off some cosmic platform when the character
and fate of Edward Donlon roared
into him like a train and snuffed his bliss,
and set him on a life of accidents.
Or maybe that poor soul had a plan–
for, looking back on it, you can
follow his life’s pattern as easily
as a glassed-in grid map of the BMT
after the graffiti’s been scrubbed off.
And even if Donlon’s life force got stuffed
into the hard luck carcass of a New York dick
with slattern wife, two whelps, and a thick
skull, he always dressed with style, strutted
his beat as if he knew where he was headed–
whether to the altar or the bar,
or down to the basement to wallop Eddie Jr.
In fact, right up to the Saturday he holstered
his service revolver, climbed the stairs
and locked the bedroom door
I doubt a single soul living on the block
thought anything was wrong–no shock
considering the cornice I grew up in–
Flushing, Queens–a post-war way station
of fenced-in postage stamp back yards,
row houses, unpithed hearts and T.V. dinners,
where the infirm of the hordes escaping Brooklyn
were culled on their stampede to the Island.
This was the true ground zero or ground nil
of scotch and casseroles–a lukewarm hell.
Our whole block hadn’t enough prana
to incarnate an underfed amoeba.
There was Charlie Cast who b.b.’d passing cars;
Michael Stiefel, the owl-faced science nerd;
Leo Sarkissian of the pus-wet face,
Lu Anne Piazza, goosed by Jamie Wallace,
tough guy, who explained it all to us
on the front stoop after Donlon died–
(it being both sex and suicide).
He sucked his middle finger, cocked his thumb
and fired, moaning, a-bing-a-bang-and-a-boom.
It was just one dusk in an eternity
of fireflies and casual cruelty.
Even the Police Force looked the other way
pretending accident, so wife Joan
could get the full-dress funeral and pension.
But because Donlon lived next door and died
a wall from my bedroom, and because I wed
his daughter, Maureen, at age ten,
in a giggling ceremony in the basement
where my kid brother played best man
in his communion suit, and because
I got dubbed Ed Jr.’s godfather and because
my father’s spirochettic sperm embalmed
me safely unmade till after Vietnam
and because my lover’s brother hadn’t yet
hanged himself, and her tumor brooded
in secret, and because no one had ever been
or ever would be lost, Edward Donlon’s
suicide shattered some trajectory–
like the arc of the Pensy Pinky
rubber ball you imagine already homered
out of sight as you step up to the sewer
with a broomstick. Foul it off, it’s gone.
We called it a Hindu–a do-over–when the sun
blinked, the physical world wobbled free
an instant, and no one saw or could agree
on what they’d seen. The moment
Donlon opened fire into his open
mouth, when his incarnation exploded
into ether, or fumes, or light, or spumes of blood–
I think I was the only one to see.
I didn’t see it then, exactly,
And I was far from the only ghoul
to replay that scene in prurient detail–
The coifed, spiffy corpse sprawled on the floor,
the wife and children petrified downstairs,
and later Joan, at the wake, soused,
muttering, “I didn’t think he had the guts.”
And Eddie Jr. damaged as his father
saying to me, “I guess now you’re my father.”
No, what I saw developed slow
as a blond negative, slow
as a spectral x-ray of the splashy death,
the hum-drum life, and walleted beneath
Donlon’s sharkskin suit, two secrets,
maybe the only valuables he kept,
and kept him separate from the sordid facts
he could not Hindu. The first was comic:
a rumor snaking through his drunken wake–
he wasn’t a real cop: despite the gun
and badge and funeral and pension,
his fragile heart had failed the physical
and so he’d played cop as a transit mole–
a subway sleuth deployed underground to prowl
the detritus. And Donlon was not born
with a bad heart. That was the second
secret, second sight that cleaved him
from himself: a drunken night in the infinite
regression of lives before my birth that led
to his being next door, and that night led
to a car accident that killed his first
born daughter, Colleen, and nicked his heart
so that it wobbled, blinked. And this
is what I saw–Donlon wandering
the flotsamed, numbed unconscious of Flushing,
Queens, dressed to kill, searching
for the snuffed out essence my godson
was conceived in the upper world to clothe again.

Myth

In the year of our lord when my lady classics prof
quieted class and flipped the light switch off,
and on the screen appeared celestial buttocks—
nymphs mounted by satyrs with huge cocks,
the scene all laced with whips and chalices,
she was maybe thirty—another species
from the tail I stalked: foxy virgins bent
on the MRS. It was sacred, she said, it meant
humans revealed as animal and spirit.
“Like a Phi Gam!” whooped a half-wit satirist.
So when she crashed the Kappa Sig keg blast
we bluffed it out. I was the classic deuch,
so it was me got shoved forward to introduce
our Dionysion curriculum.
The sorry pup I was was almost numb
from slurping grain alcohol punch from barrels.
I was twenty, bent on being intellectual,
which meant disdaining parents, smoking a briar,
and really meant transforming into the satyr
Apollo flayed for challenging his music—
the god unstrung his heart, twisted his prick,
and disemboweled him with his sacred claws.
This was a week before my father paused
from typing my thesis to have a heart attack,
a year before a brother broke his neck,
another shot, and the rest scattered
to suburban bliss. This was before
spirits scotched pud and gnawed the liver—
the divine organ Greeks thought made us human;
before Marsyas, satyr, Apollo’s victim,
switched pelts with me and left me taxidermed
to bark on hind legs behind podium.
Maybe in the year of our lord of love
and my classics prof, I could have
morphed like Ariadne into tree;
if I’d translated Ovid right I’d be
a swan or mountain range or deathless spider,
instead of a trophy-mantle satyr.
Who knows? These days when I recall
my professor who said she was not beautiful
but was, who asked me to go home with her,
and I, not understanding, asked “What for?”
who spread a Greek myth picture book
before her naked body and said, “pick”—
I see my selves unrealized—
the river in that voice, the forest eyes.
The night she spirited me from the frat party
to be deflowered into mystery,
her arms engulfed, her thighs enraptured me,
she liquifacted me up into her womb,
but that ambrosia soon congealed to shame
when pals whistled, “You’re one horny mother.”
Then I graduated to my blood-typed father.
It was a failure to consubstantiate,
but something was conceived, and not weaned yet.
Now when I unhook paws from podium
and prowl bars, my plastered parts enflamed
to ravish nymphs, I feel her loneliness.
This was her mortal gift—to lace
fear and desire to flesh out myth.
I can’t translate across that breadth.
Still, who knows? I might yet rage
and prance, hell-bent, through middle age.

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