I'm reading Nathaniel Mackey's newest collection, Splay Anthem (New Directions, 2006), now, and like all of his books--of poetry, fiction, criticism--it requires you to proceed slowly, word by word, line by line, in order that you don't miss the swift and subtle transitions, allusions and elisions, rhetorical shifts and shimmies that accrete to create each complete poem. Although I've met Mackey several times and heard him read twice, it wasn't until Eric Baus gave me a CD of him reading, which I'd listen to from time to time during the day this past summer, that his voice lodged in my consciousness, so now as I make my way through these newest songs of the Andoumboulou, I hear his gentle, lilting intonations under each line. I would argue that most of Mackey's poems, which are written in serial fashion, are non-excerptable, but this collection, like the others, includes poems in various sections, some of which can be broken off to be savored, so here's one section from "Song of the Andoumboulo 42":
Premature rebirth, fake book of the
dead. Burned or embalmed cosmic
body by default...Screen outside a
screen inside a screen, dreamt im-
munity. Said goodbye having
begun... Sang with a catch in our throats
cough caught in our throats...
have been done with singing,
And here is one that seems to fit almost perfectly within the narrative of his haunting, philosophically profound novels Bedouin Hornbook (which none other than Thomas Sayers Ellis first introduced me to, back in 1989), Djbot Baghostus's Run, and Atet A.D.; it's from the poem "Song of the Andoumboulou 44":
It was a night nowhere near where
we were. Eyes popped, no one saw
me... I bit my reed, it was a black
bone... All I wanted was to
walk with an ushering wind at
each elbow, a bead of blood
poised on the bell of the horn's
lip... the world was only a dream I
dreamt at a stoplight in San Francisco,
Valencia just up the block
Copyright © Nathaniel Mackey, New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2006.
I haven't witnessed a car accident in a while (thank God), but I saw one tonight. A man in a pretty beat up Toyota was buzzing down my Chicago street; I say buzzing, because it that was the sound; it was clear his gears were audibly stuck or something. As he careered down the street, he was chatting on his cellphone. All of sudden, near the end of the block, he slammed right into the side of a white Jeep Cherokee that was the last legally parked car on that side of the street. My own little car sat almost right across from it. The man in the Toyota stopped after the crash, not getting out, not getting off that damned cellphone, then tried to back up, but his gears were stuck. As he tried to get away, a throng of children, teenagers and adults, many of them in full Halloween costume, rushed out of the building at the corner, right in front of where the Jeep was parked, and within a few seconds kids strolling the nearby streets joined them. Now the man realized he couldn't get away, so he stepped out of his car and started muttering something. I couldn't tell if he was drunk, but I did try to photograph his license plate. Because it was so dark, my cellphone picture was both dim and blurry. So I called out the license plate to the crowd around him, and one young woman repeated it aloud, which led several people to repeat aloud it to a woman who was on the phone with the police. As this was occurring, a young guy in a hoodie, standing pretty far away, starting chanting "Kick his ass! Kick his ass!" Please don't let a full-scale brawl erupt, I thought. But despite the frisson of the accident and its perpetrator standing there, no one appeared in the mood for a melee. The crazy driver got in his car, slowly backed it up (nearly hitting another car!), the drove it around to the cross-street, where he parked it. As he did this, smoke started to billow from his hood, and the gears ground furiously. A boy yelled out, "His steering wheel is on fire." Someone else announced the license plate number again. At this point, I figured they weren't going to let him get away, so I called out to the owner of the Jeep, "He was on a cellphone." That brought a nod of recognition and then a head shake. I went inside--who needed the Halloween Parade in Boystown with such hijinks going on? It was too bizarre, and the moon was only 3/4ths full!