by Monika Cooper
And then the falling rain,
A herd that passed through in one day, two nights:
Nudged by a shadow, shepherd of their train,
Who screened the two great lights,
They grazed in peace on creeping feet
And left the grass they trod more sweet.
Meekly they nosed and mooed
The little herdlings of the heavy sky,
Who strode above the tender mulching brood.
Skirts of divinity
Across our faces and our rooftoops swept,
The hems of heaven passing, while we slept.
by Sarah Breisch
Walking out this morning among falling leaves and limb-cutter fumes,
another morning of brisk air and car exhaust was remembered to me:
Rome it was then. Home it is now, and I am not at home.
How I wandered down that limpid green river and past turning cobbly streets,
on the surface aimlessly but in the back of my mind looking
for something more than “looking for a good place to read.”
Short black-coated idiot.
Always skirting those warm enveloping colonnade arms,
but always also part of me turning back over my shoulder towards them.
How like a dog snuffing for his bed,
turning and turning in some disheveled corner,
turning back over his shoulder
to gaze at that warm spot beneath his master’s feet.
“The Wound Dresser” has blood and rain in it, saws and scraps of dresses, bedpans and wishes. Profanity and magic. Grit and lyric rainbows.
In the background of the poem is the rage of war: blood-saturated wood, blood penetrating into the fibers of things, mingled with the earth, water, sky, and air; the startling wonder of a needle sewing belly; the memory of “those ragged crossing lines at Vicksburg marching toward the maize.”
In the foreground, the poem concentrates and focuses the action of beauty in the person of the wound dresser. He carries a lamp—light being the archetype of beauty—like the female nurses of legend, greeted as angelic. But he wears a beard “gold as the pissed-on snow.” The lamp lights his hand, and it is through the character of his hands that we begin to know the wound dresser: his “silken paws,” “softest fingers.” The bandages he stretches out in those hands are not just medical supplies—they are remnants and relics of a lost and distant elegance of life. The elegance of the Dixieland ballroom is now transmuted to the delicacy and artistry of the bandager with his “dress sense.” It is transmuted, not really lost at all.
The beauty of the fine fabrics is not lost on either the wound dresser or the wounded in their dire need. It is not wasted on the mostly dead. It honors them, it is fitting—as fitting in these very different circumstances as it was to the ladies who once wore the now-sectioned gowns. It is a tribute from the world they came from, the world they died trying to save.
There is a mystery to the art and craft of the wound dresser: where he finds the dresses and the surfaces to cut them on. How is he bringing cleanness into a world with blood “deep inside its every piece of wood?” (The bloody wood a relic in its own right, a first-class relic even, to the second-class relics that are the clean strips of cloth.) He moves with a strange sureness in a world, a situation, that other surgeons find desperate, lacking the things that their art requires be ready at hand: “plate to lay a saw on,” a needle.
The wound dresser comes with more than plate and needle. He comes with “pictures of the stars and rivers,” with songs. He comes to shiver with the soldiers. Shivers of pain and fever? Shivers of beauty? Tears. This is a time and place where the strong are weak—and their weakness is worthy of special honor in its own right. It is a time of opportunity to be touched by the tenderness of things, the tenderness and the truth. The wound dresser touches the soldiers, touches them and moves on. The “lamp in his palm,” though “near doused by the sky so bloody with the night,” flickers on.
The rest of the poem unfolds in anaphora, from the simple phrase “he turns.” Each “turn” of the wound dresser seems to be a separate gesture with its own meaning, a progressive turning toward the light of day. The emphasis is on the sense of sight as the sound of the cock’s cry prompts the first turning of the healer’s face to the clouds, to witness the exchange of the waters of the dawn shower for the blood the battlefield put into the rain. The next “turn” is a turn back to the patient who has died, but this look back away from the sky yields a new perspective on the sunrise, as it glows reflected in the “soul’s dead eyes.” When the wound dresser turns again, we see his face fully for the first time. There is something terrible in the sight; the focus is on his mouth, whose unheard murmurs are compared to “fixed battalions,” “those ragged crossing lines.” The murmurs are fearsome, haggard, unrelenting, like names on a death list or doggedly repeated prayers—grimly advancing, gloriously poor. As the battalions at Vicksburg evoked by his lips marched toward the maize, the wound dresser’s final turn is “sunrise out to cornfields.” Emptying the bedpans, he mingles the human waste and excrement that represent hours of miserable night, with words “so soft, so soft, of what he heard them wish.” He knows these evil-smelling offerings as sacred, sacred because they are bound up with the human, returning, as the body will, to earth. The mixing of the contents of the bedpans with the wishes of the wounded and the dying ties the lowest functions of the body with the most intimate aspirations of the soul—an image of the human mystery in its totality.
by Joseph Prever
The snow ceased at noon and froze at midnight.
The next day dawned in stillness, sheathed in ice.
The landscape, all reduced to lucid contours,
Seemed something new, a homely kind of wonder.
He stood on the porch, unwilling yet to breach
The shining skin, unready to disperse
A certain foolish thought that rose before him:
That his or any other weight would prove
Too slight to pierce the cold eternal glazing,
That he or the world had changed beyond repairing:
That the moment he struck the ice, his deft and prayerful
Touch would set the hills all deeply chiming.
Read more Grackle classics!
Original bio from the Midsummer 2007 edition:
Joseph Prever is an ex-ex-romantic logophile. He enjoys Metro stations, pointing out zeugmas, and misidentifying wildflowers. He currently resides in Arlington, VA.
By Amos J. Hunt
During the summer, following his annual release from the trial of attempting to interest scores of oblivious undergraduates in the finer pleasures of Edwardian literature, Peter’s lifestyle was entirely guided by a series of misanthropic considerations. He conducted his researches online as much as possible, and if he had to visit the library he would do so only at precisely 10:30 AM, when he knew that the affable librarian would be too absorbed in conversation with his stupidly beautiful wife to greet him in that infuriating way of his. Peter would read all afternoon and stay in evenings watching wildlife documentaries and drinking wine. His mail he would collect furtively under cover of darkness, and his daily constitutional through the park he would take only in the very early morning, when its paths were yet unpopulated.
Aside from the occasional sleeping vagrant, the only person Peter ever encountered at that hour was an old man whose habit it was to sit all morning on a bench on the west side of the park, a man whose quiet presence was not irksome. His mouth churned constantly on his chewing tobacco, while his eyes looked always straight ahead, motionless, as though waiting, with the patience of a fishing crocodile, for something particular to happen, precisely there, in front of him.
Today, however, Peter’s routine was disrupted. Some nameless anxiety had kept him awake for hours last night, and he had slept in. Thinking of the horde of toddlers, picnickers, and layabouts who had surely taken the park already, he considered omitting the walk altogether; yet he knew he would not have the momentum to begin work on the syllabus for his new seminar on “The Infernal Saki” unless he got away from the apartment for awhile.
In the course of the first ten minutes of his walk, he was several times unpleasantly disturbed by the passing of joggers, who frightened the birds out of the trees around him. They were ruining his walk, and he suffered himself to be cheerily greeted by them only by imagining to himself how energetically they would tumble if he knocked them over, denying himself the more substantial consolation of actually doing so.
One particularly slow pair of women, progressing only slightly faster than he (though their attire and demeanor attested they were rather straining themselves) was too thoroughly engaged in conversation to offer any such greeting. As they passed him, the woman on the left, dressed in a lime green sweat-suit with matching head and armbands, was saying, “You won’t believe it. I swear to God, you won’t in a million years.”
“Try me,” said the other, whose costume differed only in its color, hot pink.
“Okay, but I’m telling you you won’t believe it.”
Peter slowed his pace a little in an endeavor to get them out of earshot.
“You know the old man who’s always sitting on the bench on the west side of the park?” began the woman in green.
“Wait, which way is west?” The woman in green thought a moment, then pointed. “No,” answered her companion, “I haven’t noticed that.”
Peter, however, had noticed, and he had often wondered and speculated about the old man’s history and habits, and imagined him to have walked a considerable path in his time. It wasn’t Peter’s way to indulge his curiosity by interrogating strangers, so he had always left him alone, but here was a chance to hear something of him that promised to be outrageous enough not to disappoint Peter’s fantasy. He sped his pace again and began to listen eagerly.
“Well, he’s always sitting there,” the green woman explained.
“Okay,” said the pink woman, absorbing the information.
“Well, last week, you remember, I came here alone . . .”
“I couldn’t help that,” interrupted the other, “I told you I had a lot to do last week. I didn’t have time. I thought I was going to have a breakdown.”
“I know, I know, don’t sweat it. Really, I mean it, it’s okay. I mean, I didn’t have anyone to talk to and it’s so boring to be out in the park by yourself, you know? But really it’s okay.”
“Okay,” said the other. “So what happened?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, if you’ll let me.”
Peter began to fear that the conflict would forestall the story too long for him to safely overhear it, but the hot pink woman soon proved accommodating enough to let her companion speak freely.
“So last week I went just the way we usually go. I wasn’t thinking about where I was going at all, so I ran close by the old man’s bench, right along it, without thinking about the guy. And do you know what happened?”
“No, tell me!”
“He tripped me! I fell right over into the dirt! At first I thought it might have been an accident, but then when I looked at him he was grinning horribly. If he weren’t so old I’d have socked him right there.”
Peter was outraged. The old man he knew was a much more magnanimous character, and he could not stand to hear him so belittled.
“You call that an unbelievable story?” He shouted ahead to them. It proved, not at all to his surprise, to be the first they had noticed of him. They did not alter their pace, but quieted the furious swinging of their arms to indicate that they were now walking. The woman in green was clearly affronted, and was about to venture a rejoinder in her defense, when Peter found himself shouting on, “I’ll tell you a story about that man to make your heads spin!”
She relented doubtfully, and maintained a posture of defiance, but let him speak.
“I do not doubt the impossibility of its having not escaped your attention,” said Peter with a graciously conciliatory air, “that across the path from our old man there stands a considerable horse chestnut.”
The woman in green nodded uncertainly. Her companion shrugged.
“Three weeks ago, I was observing the gentleman, as I had often done, when I noticed that his eyes were not at their usual rest. Instead, they were shifting slightly back and forth, and his brow was folded in an unmistakable expression of concern. Struck by this aberration, I turned my gaze to see what he was watching and saw, to my disgust, a squirrel chasing a wounded swallow back and forth under the chestnut tree. The bird seemed to have a broken wing and it lacked the energy to fly more than a few feet at once; the squirrel was always fast enough to catch it on the other side and renew its attack.”
“The poor thing!” declared the woman in pink. The woman in green showed no sign of sympathy, but Peter could see she was struggling to remain composed.
“So thought I,” Peter admitted, “And so thought our old man. I watched as his pity grew until I thought that he would surely cry. Then, suddenly, his compassion turned to anger, and just as suddenly, his anger turned to action. He sprung up from the bench with a terrible swiftness and lunged at the squirrel! The sadistic little rodent valued its life more than its sport, and darted out of reach up the tree. But that didn’t stop the man. He clattered up the trunk in seconds and swung up onto a low branch. He was lost to my sight for a short while. Then I heard a dreadful little shriek, and then silence.
“When he dropped back down to the ground, he almost crumbled with pain. I ran over to offer him my assistance, but he found his composure again soon enough and waved me away. He had splashes of blood on his shirt, and if my perception was not altogether deceived, a runnel of blood stained his face from the corner of his mouth to his chin
“He scooped up the wounded bird and walked away with it; he would not tolerate my accompanying him. So I remained behind, staring in wonder alternately at him and at that tree. Since then, I have not had the courage to go near him.”
The women were astonished at this story. They could not work out between them whether the old man’s tenderness for the swallow was enough to outweigh his vile prank and his positively beastly treatment of the squirrel (though it surely deserved what it got). They were quite definitely resolved, however, to run a new route thenceforth. Peter wished them a good day as they turned onto a side path.
He made his own way to the west side of the park, where he found the old man at his usual spot. In the confidence of having just done the man a favor, he decided to attempt a conversation with him.
He approached the bench, stood before the old man and inquired, “Would it be all right if I sat here? I’m rather fond of that chestnut.”
The old man looked at him, and opened his mouth in wonder. Slowly, between his parted lips, he let a long strand of sickly brown saliva slide. When it had reached the bottom of his chin, he bent over and dropped it onto Peter’s left shoe. Then he looked up again and laughed softly and hoarsely through the grimace of a crocodile.
by Ben LaVergne
Objection One: It seems that it is not fitting for peanut butter to be present in heaven. For in heaven God will be all-in-all. Therefore, there will be no room for peanut butter.
Objection Two: The beatific vision consists in the immediate vision of the Infinite Divine Essence in its Triune fullness of personal life. Therefore, it would be unfitting for peanut butter to be present in heaven.
Objection Three: Further, the Angelic Doctor says that “man has the entire fullness of his perfection in God,” and not in peanut butter (ST 2.4.8). If man finds the fullness of his perfection in God, peanut butter will add no further perfection to man, and will therefore be unnecessary.
Objection Four: Further, in heaven we shall not want anything. Yet undesired peanut butter in heaven would be a waste, and nothing can be wasted in heaven. Therefore peanut butter cannot be in heaven.
On the Contrary, It is said, God saw that it was good. In the omniscient foreknowledge of God, this judgment must have included peanut butter.
I Answer That, the Angelic Doctor has said, “Not only is perfect happiness naturally desired, but also any likeness or participation thereof” (2.3.6). Man desires first of all the Beatific Vision, for which no material creation is a substitute. Yet, in the wisdom of God, man also desires the manifold beauty and splendor of creation, which is preeminently present in peanut butter. Thus it is fitting that peanut butter be in heaven.
Reply to Objection One: God is immaterial, you doofus, and if there were no room for peanut butter in heaven, there would be no room for us. But if even now the Divine omnipresence is not impaired by peanut butter, then neither will it be so in heaven. God will be all-in-all in such a way that His fullness permeates all things, and this includes peanut butter. Therefore, peanut butter will not only be present in heaven but supernaturally yummy as well.
Reply to Objection Two: The primary object of the immediate vision of God is the Infinite Divine Essence in its Triune fullness of personal life, but the secondary object consists in the extra-Divine things, which are seen in God as the origin of all things. Thus peanut butter will not only be in heaven but also seen in God as the origin of all things.
Reply to Objection Three: The question at hand is not whether it is necessary but whether it is fitting. It is true that peanut butter is not necessary for our perfection in heaven. However, it does not follow from this that it will not be present in heaven, since even man is unnecessary to God’s happiness, and yet he will be present in heaven.
Reply to Objection Four: Want can be understood in two ways, as desire and as privation. Now it is not true that we shall not desire in heaven, for we shall continue to desire God even as we see Him. But it is true that there shall be no privation in heaven, and this includes the privation of peanut butter. In fact the only place where privation will be is in hell. Thus the damned will have no peanut butter.
by Monika Cooper
When have you ever heard a silent crowd?
Without a word, they watched their schoolhouse burn
But one man must have turned his wide-brimmed hat
Over and over slowly in his hands.
They go home silent. I remember when
I wanted to be Amish, like in books,
Or Mennonite, like one I saw, my age,
Pushing a stroller, in a pioneer dress.
The future drove a car I didn’t trust.
I knew instinctively that it meant harm.
It meant me harm. With all the force of fear,
I fought to make time stop. But since I’ve learned
I can’t do that, I modify my prayer.
Time, not too fast. The pace of horse
And buggy was just right, the pace of feet.
When needed, flames, deliberate, complete.
Original bio from the Fall 2008 edition:
Monika Cooper may or may not spend too much of her time discovering the visible connections of all public and private affairs.
by Daniel Janeiro
There came an eerie numbness to his feet,
As gravity tried its strength against the beat
Of blood within his aged, impetuous breast.
Against the setting sun, his upturned beard
And hair, fanned out absurdly like a crest,
Were shorn by shimmer, and the soldiers jeered.
The pillar found its deep predestined slot,
Plunged down a meter, jolted now erect,
The wrist-and-ankle-strangling cords stretched taut;
The silent crowd heard the joints disconnect,
And turned aside their reverend conscious eyes,
As not to see the wracked face turning red,
And therefore missed him smiling with surprise
To see the fallen world put on its head.
by Atar Hadari
Soft, late at night,
by the late star light,
you can see the wound dresser
going round the camp,
tallowy lamp in his hand
and its flame leaf yellow,
opening tent stays
with his silken paws—
the camp men say he has the softest fingers
of any nurse you’d know—
as he makes his slow
rounds, beard gold as the pissed-on snow.
He has linen bands stretched out in his hands,
cut from fringes of Dixieland
dresses of long ago
ladies’ sashays round the ballroom floor—
he has the finest dress sense
of any bandager you ever saw.
Where he found dresses—out on the field since Vicksburg—
or where he finds clean tables
to cut gowns on, who in hell knows—
you seen a bench since Vicksburg
that didn’t have the blood in each joint
deep inside its every piece of wood?
I haven’t seen a surgeon
could find a plate to lay a saw on
or a needle to sew belly since before Bull Run.
He comes, he shows the soldiers
pictures of the stars and rivers
he tells them his songs and shivers
with them—till they cry.
He leaves sometimes at first light,
goes on to the next bedside,
the lamp in his palm near doused
by the sky so bloody with the night.
He turns sometimes at first cock
or looks as first clouds break rank
and let the dawn shower pay back
ground for all the blood put in the rain.
He turns and he sees sunrise
unfold from some soul’s dead eyes
that open as the wetlands
flower underneath his empty hands,
with nothing left but flowers
in the soldier’s open blank stares
as the daybreak leaves them beauty but no breath.
He turns and you see murmurs
cross his mouth like fixed battalions,
those ragged crossing lines at Vicksburg
marching toward the maize.
He turns and he walks sunrise
out to cornfields with the bedpans,
and he empties all those hours
of the night into the flowers
beside the camp with words so soft,
so soft, of what he heard them wish.
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