I saw the body of the jack fruit fall. I saw the body of the hero
fall, his armor clanging on his body. Then the juice and sutras
of the little spell of emptiness or the greater discourse of seed
and ovary. I saw the place ransacked to find a substitute
for the succulents—the lychee, the peach, the flower
infolded in the fig—that give up their season, their nation,
[mango, American pumpkin] the famous fated beauty/terror
rift before the swoon of the future. I saw that luscious rot.
I saw first thieves then police toss that place. I loved
that part. This is the farewell, the flailing without the salt.
This is the brood in place of a bowl of fruit, the fret
in place of a hero’s rage in his tent before he remembers
to sleep, eat, regret. I saw how the light scratches into all
the surfaces, how the air agitates. Then the virtuoso work
of the one-celled begins to mortify and multiply the world,
as if it were doing nothing, so much done by doing nothing.
I live in a sorrow culture, a pleasure culture, a culture frothy
with grievance, yeasty with nostalgia. I live in a pre-war,
post-war culture where what is written is pulped and vectored
like a virus. Ashen light, clouds of sulfuric acid, signatures
of lightning: this could be the planet Venus where love is
adored and scorned, life is sentimental, life is 400 dollars
or more. It froths. It foams like a god in the ocean.
On this planet I saw flights of sparrows and hooded crows.
There’s gratuitous beauty, unwarranted, immoderate beauty
as an agent to oblivion. This blue, this curvature, this Rome—
a further way to forgo. Because no one else will, reader,
remember the things spirited away. Remember those hustling,
those surrendered, those breathing then not. The spectacle
makes us forget. I forgot the shape and color of the cup
and the tear-gas canister. I forgot about the occupation
and the middle passage when I saw the sea’s glint
and green muscly swells. Beholding is a kind of blindness.
History smells as the body becomes a bubbling godhead.
What separates the curds and whey? What allows me
to enter, through the small door, this faltering conversation?

Copyright © 2017 Bruce Smith. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2017