John Mulrooney

Canto I (After Bunting)

I have never said the right thing
and I don’t know what to say to you.
My speech beads on the leaf of the world.
When I say I, I mean
I ran to the sea and the sea it was boiling.
When I say I, I mean
and the speech of grace is always perjury.
Every bough repeats the slowworm’s song.
The music stretches out
like a lump of butter across bread
tangible at first
as only things in the imagination can be
then flat, flat as memory –
then gone.
The organ solo comes in and it is a landscape;
it says your father’s death;
it says there is no more work at the factory;
it says the sepia will not forgive.
On the day I was born,
Baudelaire brought out the first edition
Of Les Fleurs de Mal,
Zhongdu was captured by the Mongols,
William Walker conquered Nicaragua,
Benedict Arnold’s court-martial commenced,
and Archduke Ferdinand was born.
When I say I, I mean
a Pol Pot bobble-head bouncing on Steve Jobs’ desk.
When I say I, I mean
the sound of revving and tires on gravel
so unified as if each stone was a piston
or just a factor of the ear
that brings the world together;
the breeze is luxurious
gently caressing the curtains
in the room where the weather report is on.
It was either you or I who came out
the side street of sleep and emerged
on the plaza the cartographer missed –
forgot about when his mind wandered.
When I say “I” I mean
that a word of thanks divides me from
the name I used to have.
On the day of my birth
Baudelaire was driven to madness
by the chants of a small crowd gathered on the plaza
to celebrate the birth of the young Archduke
nudged away from market like a lighter cloud
from a heavier cloud on a windy day.
But today there is only the breeze.
And what will I say to you
as America calls across Christchurch Meadow,
calls with its mermaids and matadors,
its smug goons and pieces-of-eight
scattered on the avenue of afternoon
and on the young girls
vanishing and appearing
in each other’s hair.
little mutinies in their eyes
little mutinies in their fingers?
What will I say to you
who are lost in the sea of stretched faces
where it becomes easier to die than to remember?
The tapping of the mason
ticks out a name that is
truer than the letters pressured
into being on the stone.
By going one annihilates
the journey unless the journey
counters back and you arrive
on the plaza all alone, all at sea
saying how have I become a ship without a sail,
crying out in long Cumberland Quaker syllables –
caution unequal step,
terrain unaccounted for by
Inman’s Nautical Tables.
Thumb chisel of text message,
taps out a true name too.
If you stop by Wendell’s,
pick me up a bucket of Suicide wings
The Mongols wrote Les Fleurs dul Mal in Sarajevo,
but I barely remember a thing about the Great War
except how the Knights of the Golden Circle
forgot their initiation speeches
and were all court-martialed in the trenches.
When I say I, I mean
I who am called “He who picnics in the field of the blackbirds.”
When I say I, I mean
and the speech of grace is always perjury.
Every bough repeats the slowworm’s song.
The Thames wants to have a photo-op
with the wild places of the earth;
it drinks the rain –
drops like children getting lost in a train station,
drops hurtling down in that mocking misnomer
freefall as if gravity was a spectator
and not the referee.
My speech is a drop of water
at the moment the ocean receives it.
You are a memory
god is trying to retrieve
and if you had a reason
you would help him
by remembering who you are.

JOHN MULROONEY is a poet, filmmaker and musician living in Cambridge, MA. His work includes the Anchorite Press chapbook If You See Something, Say Something, and has appeared in Fulcrum, Pressed Wafer, Foldem'zine, The Occupy Wall Street Anthology, Poetry Northeast and Spoke. He teaches poetry and film at Bridgewater State University.