Ben Wright Poetry Portfolio

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Published on March 1, 2014

Author: BenWright1

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Ben Wright Poetry Portfolio, Winter 2013

A Table at the 2009 Convention of the Georgia Association of Funeral Directors Next to me the merchants of a better post-death experience arrange themselves into poses of attentiveness for workshops on upselling caskets, The Latest in Preservation Technology, Interacting with the Hysterical Guest, or where we sit, Timeless Beauty. There are slides of made up faces, the lopsided grins of stroke victims, threads in their cheeks tugging muscles into Mannerist smiles. I used to want to style the stars, a presenter says too close into the microphone, but it's easier when your clients can't complain. A hush of laughter is lost near the ceiling. This table is draped with thin paper, a hospital gown. The woman next to me is painting her fingernails carmine. I write a note on my legal pad: Add a magenta base to combat the pallor. The presenter tells a story about how she colored a client’s hair but it grew out before the viewing. The guests complained about the roots before the driving, the procession, the digging, the quiet of the night, the sound of footsteps somewhere close. Ben Wright 1

Hoard Sometimes, when the A/C turns on and the dust billows out in a blanket over my things, I think of the tornado I slept through as a child, the destruction of the town and the nettles of soil that pocked my face. By the time the sun summits the mountain of my life, it’s past noon and I am looking for the one thing that will transubstantiate you completely. I gave up remembering altogether, choosing instead to pour myself into cracked glasses and broken picture frames, empty juice boxes, half full cups and decaying furniture so in the event of a fire or accidental burial the most important part of me will be somewhere else. When the mold begins to creep up the stairs and the house begins to sag, I’ll shut my doors as best I can, crawl through the window and shovel dirt inside to hasten the inevitable. Do you remember that time when we were six and I smashed your music box? I have kept the bones of those notes, the skull of that song and buried it inside a book which is inside a box that contains bank statements inherited from my father. Inside this scaffolding, stacked on top of the bodies of all my memories, I live again and again. Ben Wright 2

Mixed Metaphor I'm resigned to the fact that I'll be unwinding your hair forever. Serpents wriggle into the crevices of our bodies, ready to strike. I pull them out like a magician revealing a disappeared rabbit. I found your sock on the floor, pink as a lung. Our song, once a lump of coal in my throat, becomes a golden record in space, far from civilization. I close my eyes and you are there, looking at me, cracking your toes, wet leather slapping a rock. You file your nails, a prisoner’s rasp against bone. You sigh in your sleep. But back to your hair. I realize, now, I should’ve written something about it, how it flows like a waterfall of knives, how, in certain light, it shines like a memento mori, how, when tied up, it’s a caged tiger, begging to sing. Or how I used to wake up with a mouthful, as if I were trying to make it part of me. I should’ve built a loom out of twigs and rocks, or bought one. I should’ve been weaving a tapestry from the strands that follow me like an addiction. I should’ve chronicled the long, unusually boring story of us. It could hang from my eggshell walls, surrounding me with unhurried history. Ben Wright 3

STS-107 We don't need to know the reasons for the crash or the trajectory of the fall, why we woke up that morning and turned on CNN, why the comet of its death caught a piece of sunlight and turned the screen white, why we called our fathers and urged them Wake up, something is happening, why the map of the debris looked like a pillow or what the nematodes onboard thought of the weightlessness, then the shaking, the fire, the fall. Do we need to know the histories of hair that fell in clumps from the sky or the excitement of discovering another piece of the remains in a field? We need to know the warehouse, the masking tape outline of the shuttle voluminous in its loss, the pieces stacked inside. We need to file past it slowly, let our mothers dab our eyes with used Kleenex, let others see our backs on the screen. Let them see us in the way of the empty coffin. Ben Wright 4

Clearcut How do I begin to reap the seeds of resentment, planted months ago in some quiet night, with the sound of my voice heavy in sleep as fertilizer? Who knows what they’ve grown into, fractals of violence, pungent and bioluminescent in the evening. I thought I had found a redwood of spite but it was just a shrub of umbrage, prickly and tenacious, choked by the weeds. There comes a time, my father said, when you have to turn around and take in the forest of your life. Then there’s nothing left to do but begin the harvest. Ben Wright 5

Seep When we drink, we talk about history: how Andrew Jackson hated Indians the same way you hate the mice that eat through your wires. The workers at Triangle Shirtwaist ripped off their skirts, wrapped them around their heads, soaked them in water and clawed at the chains on the door until they were too hot to touch. Then they jumped, or didn't. This is how you feel every morning before getting out of bed. You tell me every time you clip your toenails you can't help but think of the long, sad history of Poland. Shackleton freezes in his tent. A molasses flood creeps down my spine. A farmer lights a cigarette in an empty grain silo and the explosion is repeated with every crack of your knuckles. In the car, your head resting against the window, you tell me what the astronauts of Apollo I thought when they felt the fire seal the locked door. Ben Wright 6

Fallow Don’t forget the sky has other zones, I tell my son, tethered to a tangle of tubes and monitor wires, chest floating slightly above the hospital bed. I ask him the color of the barn, what his favorite flavor of ice cream is, if he wants three scoops or two, if he can wait just a little longer. A drop of condensation, vein on the window, distracts him. A late hoar frost kills the crops. A bloom of ink invades a brain. The threat to life isn’t the cold, but the ice. In seventh grade, we froze frogs in an ice cube tray and forgot about them. Someone is putting tubes in my son’s nose. The secret to staying alive isn’t the freeze, it’s the thaw. Tell that to the mammoths. Tell that to the taiga. My son is eased into a machine. The doctor is pointing to his nose with his right hand and then his left. A machine hums my son to sleep. Somewhere, citrus rots under the ice. The sky looks like grey matter discontent with its potential. Ben Wright 7

Vanishing Confederate “Vanishing twin syndrome, first described by Stoeckel in 1945, is the identification of a multifetal gestation with subsequent disappearance of one or more fetuses.” The last thumbprint of your existence lies at the bottom of a drawer, a fading print of your half-formed skull in occultation of mine before I squeezed you back into nothing. I don’t know if you are living your life on some strange Earth or if you inhabit the world of absences. I don’t know if you know my name or if you can hear us murmuring yours. I’m reading the story of your life while writing mine. I know your half-whispered secrets that stick on the walls of the room we never shared. I’ve heard the story of your first kiss so many times it gets confused with mine. Your favorite and most fearsome memory is being forgotten by Daddy and Momma and me on the beach when we were four, your chest seizing with tension as we continued unaware of your absence. In that moment, you were stuck between calling out, or letting us slip away. You’re marching battle lines long crossed, forever considering that Stars and Bars tattoo, opening volume after volume of history and breathing it in. "There's nothing," you said before driving into your death, sipping a Crown and Coke, "nothing as important as family." You looked at your truck, the marsh beyond, alligators groaning somewhere therein. From a distance, your hazard lights looked like twin stars, forever disappearing, forever reappearing. Ben Wright 8

Here, the land is mostly unassuming You may wish to visit the churches on the corner, read their witty signs. You may be seduced by the family-friendly atmosphere or the haunted houses where people apologize for scaring you, but suggest it's for your own good. You don't want to count the grams of sugar or the money; there's never enough. You may be unaccustomed to the weight that now sleeps in the small of your back. This, the weight of your transgressions, is normal, briefly forgotten in the heavy nights when it blends in with everyone else's. Along the highway, ignore the abject poverty. Feel the glory somewhere within, but don't ask where it comes from. Sometimes, I swear I can see the light from their mouths. Ben Wright 9

Upon Receiving Another Job Rejection I cup it gingerly in my outstretched hands, careful not to let a single unnecessarily formal syllable fall out. Each one of these We-regret-to-inform-you’s and Thank-you-for-applying’s are precious to me. They will come together and make a great memoir, one day. But for now I am content to keep my hoard, using them to paper the walls of my house, to wipe the grease off my chin, to cover myself in the quickening night. I string some up outside, a warning to the others. The oldest are withered and yellowing in the sun, discarded toenails. They flutter in the breeze, like prayer flags, or funeral notices. Ben Wright 10

Grandparents’ Day There’s something to be said for noncommittal memory— recalling the ice truck, workers hacking at the blocks, sucking on sandy chips, spitting out the grit. Then it’s back to the present, and cold pea purée is dripping down her chin. There’s the time lightning struck the field and fifty head of cattle lay down together. The winter it was so cold the trees exploded. The time she sat on the swing and cried and cried, tearing up the soil with her feet. Someone dumped paint in the yard and the grass never grew back. A blank slate shovels food into a mouth, reciting the same poem to the walls. Her brain is a fire underground, asphalt hot to the touch; a pane of glass that a toddler doesn’t see; a sneeze while barreling down the interstate; a chair waiting to be sat on so it will finally break. A pickaxe buries itself into a block of ice and she is there, licking its side. Ben Wright 11

Breakup Poem For years I have tried to write a poem to you, a gift to bequeath; a poem that would rest lopsided on your head and pinch your scalp; a poem that would scratch its thoughts onto your skull and never be read again; a poem that existed as a singularity. The poem ached between my ribs. The poem wanted more than anything to be in the ground. The more I thought about the poem, it became The Poem, a Platonic ideal, tired from all the thinking. The Poem has whispered at me lately, filled my joints with ache. When I think about you, there's a phantom limb folded underneath me. I realize now that The Poem was neither a present nor a parasite but instead the feral twin of what we created, that it breathed heavily looking through your blinds before licking my ears with thoughts. Thinking about you, The Poem punched a wall, while the poet sat in his chair. Ben Wright 12

Spectrum At night, it’s hard to tell if the leaves aren’t really cockroaches, if the soft pop-pop-pops down the road are firecrackers or death breaking the sound barrier, or how much time was between your breaths. At your funeral, I mistook a floral arrangement for an archangel, and pity for grief. After the first mouse was caught, we kept seeing more of them. A sock on the floor darted up the steps. Scratches from the walls kept us up at night. We listened to the baseball game on the radio and watched the rocking chair move on its own. The microwave warmed itself. A cold spot on the ground grew like an amoeba. Before we pulled the blanket away like magicians unveiling the chair underneath, the vents moaned. The cat watched a spot on the wall, tail flicking back and forth. A light entered the wall and disappeared. Brushing your teeth you felt someone tracing your spine. When I was 7, you let go of the steering wheel. I couldn’t tell the difference from when you were in control. Ben Wright 13

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