7.02 / February 2012

Two Poems

epitaph #17

listen to this poem

here lies a man who once stood beneath an orange maple on a day in mid October when the National Weather Advisory had proclaimed that there would be winds and low humidity and therefore the perfect conditions for fire, and right there above the deceased’s head, on undulating limbs, appeared the most extravagant flames, which, as the deceased would like to admit, was probably a familiar metaphor for autumn leaves, but what else could one think in the presence of such incandescent scraps of orange flapping wildly on black branches, while smoky shadows pooled beneath and a dog (not just any dog but one belonging to the deceased’s child, which was the child’s first and only dog, a dog whom everybody-except those prone to phobias or the generally heartless-loved and who would be dead in probably ten or so years if she was lucky but was today very much alive) pulled eagerly against her leash as the deceased walked up a limb-and-leaf-strewn street towards the place where Bus 127, piloted by balding and mirthful Gene, would soon perform the miracle it performed every day at more or less 3:50 post meridian, which was to deliver back to the neighborhood its children, who had gone away for the day to learn about treble clefs and subtraction and the Lakota Indians, who themselves believed that plants and trees like the one mentioned earlier had been sent by the benevolent spirit Waken Tanka to rise from the ground, the idea of which, along with everything else the children had learned, would be more or less forgotten once they streamed down the stairs of the bus and along the windswept lane with their heads shrieking and their arms flinging off coats and backpacks without seeing (despite their obvious glory) the trees, and certainly not saying (as the deceased had said on this day to himself): I will be alive like these leaves only a short time longer, I will someday be carried away, I will turn to dirt and not know it, I will be gone and unable to return and whatever I have made will also expire and then I will be a flaming ghost in the heads of those who knew me and a mysterious face to those who view whatever photographs I leave behind and which some future person might view and wonder: did people really look like that back in the day, did they believe it was okay to dress like that, to make their faces look like that and who was this man and what did he do and what was his name and look how happy he was, look how utterly unaware he seemed to be of his own inevitable demise


epitaph #33

listen to this poem

here lies a man who loved outer space and who, at age eleven, had listened with rapt attention when an evangelist named Cliff (a man who appeared to suffer from rosacea and whose head, though not exactly fat, could definitely have been said to appear swollen) presented a two-week lecture series about how to correctly interpret the Book of Revelation, what with its epic sideshow of mutant beasts and harlots straddling seven headed leopards, all of which Cliff the Evangelist took time to decode, even shedding light on the mysterious 666, which, he postulated, was the exact number you’d get if you added up the Roman numerals in the name VICARIUS FELII DEI, which, in Latin, translated into “Representative of the Son of God,” but which Cliff proposed was the name of the first Pope, and that this was significant because the Catholic church had changed the day of Christian worship from the Jewish Saturday to the pagan Sunday, thereby consecrating a period of the week that was never meant to be consecrated, and that one day in the future, after God had given Satan the go-ahead, allowing him to afflict the world with a series of ghastly plagues that involved flesh-eating boils and the sea turning to blood and the sun scorching people with fire, the Antichrist would arise and perform miracles and promise the plague-weary folks into believing that the world could be cured if only everyone attended church on Sunday, after which laws would be passed that would force every Earthly citizen to engage in Sunday worship, meaning that those who worshipped on another day would be put to death, but what these seventh-day Sabbath keepers would know, because they’d read their Bibles, was that by worshipping on this falsely consecrated day these misinformed people would be receiving, in their hands and upon their foreheads, the Mark of the Beast, while those who kept the true Sabbath would-in return for suffering persecution for obeying the Law-receive the Seal of God, and would subsequently be caught up with the Redeemed on the day when Christ returned, in a cloud of glory, a sort of angel-ringed organic spaceship that would fly through the universe and, passing directly through the Orion nebula, which, Cliff the Evangelist added, was a gateway to heaven, and though the parts of this seminar that depicted the possible persecutions of the Redeemed had filled the deceased with trepidation, he couldn’t help but think Awesome whenever he imagined traveling on a cloud through space, an idea that would erode as he grew older and began to ask questions, like how could a cloud-which couldn’t exactly hold up in a vacuum-travel through space, and did Jesus have some sort of magical cloud lacquer-some kind of forcefield or something-that would allow the cloud to survive all that dark matter, and if so, would Jesus return before the sun expanded into a massive red giant and swallowed the Earth, or was it all a myth, and was the universe merely a place of light and dark and hot and cold, a question that would continue to haunt the deceased long after he’d finished school and landed a job and formed a family, a question he’d confront anew the day that a dear friend, who was well aware of the deceased’s predilection for all things space-related, had emailed him a link to download a file named “Symphonies of the Planets,” an album that’d been created by manipulating the recordings transmitted by Voyager 1 and 2 as they were slung by gravitational forces through our solar system, logging massive amounts of data, including the interaction of solar wind on the planets’ magnetospheres and trapped radio waves and charged particle emissions, all of which scientists would later convert into sound waves, the result of which was a wash of eerie music, not unlike something a couple of ragged-sweater-and-Converse-All-Star-wearing kids might concoct using tape loops and guitar pedals on the floor of a big city art gallery, the main difference being that these sounds had been made by planets, which were, even as the deceased listened, still out there, still presumably making these same or similar sounds, and it was as though the deceased had dialed into a secret radio station or was listening with a stethoscope to the heart of the universe, which meant that for days and then weeks as the deceased did the dishes and folded laundry and laced up his boots and donned a facemask and coat and gloves and went out into the bleak and snowy and frozen winterscape of his post-blizzard neighborhood, he did so with the symphonies playing through ear buds he wore and continued to wear even after they made his ears hurt, because listening to the symphonies had the almost immediate effect of transforming the mundane into the extraordinary, forcing the deceased to acknowledge everything he saw as the product of energy and atomic particles, thus allowing him-on occasion-to feel as if he were an astronaut exploring another planet; and all the gurgling and the wobbling whistles and the static and the rumblings and the droning undercurrents and the bellowing and the wind-like screeches and the faint lonely ringings and the moaning of what sounded to the deceased like lost human voices singing indifferently and perhaps unconsciously-it all made him prayerful and reflective, and even when the deceased wasn’t listening to the symphonies, even after the battery on his MP3 player had been drained, he found himself hearing them in bits and pieces when he least expected it, meaning that he would become aware of dopplering autos or the centrifugal whirring of a neighbor’s heat pump or the gurgling and hiss of boiling potatoes and think without irony or sentiment that what he was hearing was indeed the timeless and improbable music of the spheres


Matthew Vollmer is the author of a story collection, FUTURE MISSIONARIES OF AMERICA, and is co-editor, with David Shields, of FAKES: AN ANTHOLOGY OF PSUEDO-INTERVIEWS, FAUX-LECTURES, QUASI-LETTERS, “FOUND” TEXTS AND OTHER FRAUDULENT ARTIFACTS, forthcoming from Norton. He teaches in the creative writing program at Virginia Tech.
7.02 / February 2012

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