How comforting to be attached
To a little pump humming up the bill.
Standing with a long gun.
Bloused in camo, staked, tethered,
Blown into the visible—
Awake but not alone.
How comforting to be
Eight-feet tall, fully extended.
Perfect gainly seams
Burbling against a quadrangle of sky.
But finally, in the unseasonably
Warm weather unseeable.
One continuous billowy fabric
Rippling without knowledge.
How comfortable not to think of anything
And think it twice, not to see
Anything and see it twice, not to go East
Of anything—the tracks, Eden, drone-shadow,
The Eastern Garbage Patch—and go there
Lo, seasonless mind.
The vista of the landfill down the hill
That stands upon itself
Mounded, terraced, dozing like a burning hill
In perfect native effigy.
Lo, the fertilizer
In the garage, vacuum-sealed
Under a plastic shroud
Waiting to make the dead spots
Click here to read Scott Challener on the origin of the poem.
Photo “Snow Play” by Valerie Everett; licensed under CC BY 2.0
Homecoming. Nostos. On September 11, 2001, I was in Lima, Perú, studying abroad. In December of that year, I returned home by way of Philadelphia, where I stayed with my girlfriend for the holiday. The night I arrived, we drove around the burbs, talking and looking at the Christmas displays in the front yards, which included those giant inflatable lawn ornaments you may have seen “burbling against a quadrangle of sky.”
These bodies rising out of the lawns at the end of the ‘American century’ shocked me then and still do. And they compounded, and weirdly embodied, the shock I felt as I returned from South to North, from the sprawl and density of Lima to the plotted suburb. Rippling into the night, “humming up the bill” while everyone slept, these spectacular figures both attracted and repelled me. They seemed to me to thrive on a violence from within and a violence from without. They interrupted the planned-ness of our ride through the empty streets, but what did they protect? As a straight white suburban middle-class college American mannish boy, I felt their scale and ubiquity—especially after the disorientations of 9/11 and Lima—intensely. They appeared as auratic forms, emblematic sites of my reverse “culture shock,” but more than that, they stood in contradiction. What had I come home to? Who had I come home as?
In a sense, I’ve been writing this poem since that night. I will probably continue writing it, continue inquiring into its politics, questioning the charisma of the ornament, circling back to my desires and confusions, my ambivalence and delight in the words and objects that keep me; asking after the roles the comfortable, the necessary, the gratuitous, the familiar, play in my formation, body and soul. By which I mean to have said all along that writing for me is recursive and processual, an ongoing activity and negotiation. I think less and less of “revision” or “craft,” than of dependencies and infiltrations, of how forms and forces make me (permit me to, invite me to, command me to) think and feel.