you were you are elegy :: mary jo bang

Fragile like a child is fragile.
Destined not to be forever.
Destined to become other
To mother. Here I am
Sitting on a chair, thinking
About you. Thinking
About how it was
To talk to you.
How sometimes it was wonderful
And sometimes it was awful.
How drugs when drugs were
Undid the good almost entirely
But not entirely
Because good could always be seen
Glimmering like lame glimmers
In the window of a shop
Called Beautiful
Things Never Last Forever.
I loved you. I love you. You were.
And you are. Life is experience.
It’s all so simple. Experience is
The chair we sit on.
The sitting. The thinking
Of you where you are a blank
To be filled
In by missing. I loved you.
I love you like I love
All beautiful things.
True beauty is truly seldom.
You were. You are
In May. May now is looking onto
The June that is coming up.
This is how I measure
The year. Everything Was My Fault
Has been the theme of the song
I’ve been singing,
Even when you’ve told me to quiet.
I haven’t been quiet.
I’ve been crying. I think you
Have forgiven me. You keep
Putting your hand on my shoulder
When I’m crying.
Thank you for that. And
For the ineffable sense
Of continuance. You were. You are
The brightest thing in the shop window
And the most beautiful seldom I ever saw.

worse :: mary jo bang

You are in the zebra crossing,
Moving into the tornado green morning,
The shabby irradiation
Of sunlight seen though the hint
Or rain about to be. Death is
A jerky reversal of forward momentum.
Back into memory. Into a cereal bowl
On a table decades ago, the color of an orange
Aspirin for a fever at age four
That produced a heat-filled forehead hallucination.
Think of a hive made of glass, all the bees,
Theoretically at least. Describable but not all at once.
That’s my mind and you
Are doing all the things you ever did all at once.
There are so many
Of you. Many more than several. Thirty-seven
Years of behavior. Nothing terrible
Has happened as yet except the uneven drone
Inside is an announcement that there will be something
Like a sting only much much worse.

two nudes :: mary jo bang

hear her read it

I was working in a bookstore and as an antidote to the twin torment of exhaustion and boredom, one day I went with a friend on a walking tour. We made it as far as Berlin and there I met the man I would move with to a boarding house, then to furnished rooms in the flat of a civil servant, and from there one morning in January to the Registry to be married. Afterward we moved to a studio apartment and two years later to the school where boys returning from the war would remove their collars and sew them back on with red thread to demonstrate the end of their allegiance to the cruel and fastidious past. Everyone wanted to be launched into a place from which you could look back and ask whether the red was also meant to enact spilled blood. You could say so, but only if you want to insist that history’s minutia is best read as allegory. The fact is, history didn’t exist then. Each day was a twenty-four hour stand-still on a bridge from which we discretely looked into the distance, hoping to catch sight of the future. It’s near where you’re standing now. One day we were lying in the sun dressed in nothing but our skin when a camera came by and devoured us.

the eye like a strange balloon mounts toward infinity :: mary jo bang

We were going toward nothing
all along. Honing the acoustics,
heralding the instant
shifts, horizontal to vertical, particle

to plexus, morning to late,
lunch to later yet, instant to over. Done
to overdone. And all against
a pet-shop cacophony, the roof withstanding

its heavy snow load. So, winter. And still,
ambition to otherwise and a forest of wishes.
Meager the music floating over. The car
in the driveway. In the P-lot, or curbside.

A building overlooking an estuary,
inspired by a lighthouse.
Always asking. Has this this been built?
Or is it all process?

Molecular coherence, a dramatic canopy,
cafeteria din, audacious design. Or humble.
Saying, We ask only to be compared to the ant-
erior cruciate ligament. So simple. So elegant.

Animated detail, data from digital.
But of course there is also longstanding evil.
The spider speaking
to the fly, Come in, come in.

Overcoming timidity. Overlooking
consequence. Finally ending
with the future. Take comfort.
You were going nowhere. You were not alone.

You were one
of a body curled on a beach. Near sleep
on a balcony. The negative night
in a small town or part of an urban abstraction.

Looking up
at the billboard hummingbird,
its enormous beak. There’s a song that goes. . .
And then the curtain drops.

catastrophe theory iii :: mary jo bang

Now we sit and play with a tiny toy
elephant that travels a taut string.
Now we are used and use in turn
each other. Our hats unravel
and that in itself is tragic.
To be lost. To have lost. Verbs

like veritable engines pulling the train
of thought forward. The hat is over-
turned and out comes a rabbit. Out comes a man
with a monocle. Out comes a Kaiser.
Yikes, it’s history, that ceiling
comprised of recessed squares, each leg a lifeline,

each lie a wife’s leg. A pulled velvet cord
rings a bell and everyone comes running
to watch while a year plummets
into the countdown of an open mouth. A loop of razor wire
closes around the circumference of a shaken globe
of snow. Yellowed newsprint with its watery text,

a latticework of shadow thrown
onto the clear screen of the prison wall.
From a mere idea comes the twine
that gives totality its name. What is a theory
but a tentacle reaching for a wafer of reason.
The inevitable gap tragic. Sure, tragic.

you know :: mary jo bang

You know, don’t you, what we’re doing here?
The evening laid out like a beach ball gone airless.

We’re watching the spectators in the bleachers.
The one in the blue shirt says, “I knew,

even as a child, that my mind was adding color
to the moment.”

The one in red says, “In the dream, there was a child
batting a ball back and forth. He was chanting

that awful rhyme about time that eventually ends
with the body making a metronome motion.”

By way of demonstration, he moves mechanically
side to side while making a clicking noise.

His friends look away. They all know
how a metronome goes. You and I continue to watch

because we have nothing better to do.
We wait for the inevitable next: we know the crowd

will rise to its feet when prompted and count—
one-one-hundred, two-one-hundred,

three-one-hundred—as if history were a sound
that could pry apart an ever-widening abyss

with a sea on the bottom. And it will go on like this.
The crowd will quiet when the sea reaches us.

definitely :: mary jo bang

What is desire
But the hard wire argument given
To the mind’s unstoppable mouth.

Inside the braincase, it’s I
Want that fills every blank. And then the hand
Reaches for the pleasure

The plastic snake offers. Someone says, Yes,
It will all be fine in some future soon.
Definitely. I’ve conjured a body

In the chair before me. Be yourself, I tell it.
Here memory makes you
Unchangeable: that shirt, those summer pants.

That beautiful face.
That tragic beautiful mind.
That mind’s ravenous mouth

That told you, This isn’t poison
At all but just what the machine needs. And then,
The mouth closes on its hunger.

The heart stops.