The Thought of the World

This is how a country goes bad.

Reason does not govern

The social order, in the Republic.


The old philosophers thought reason

If spoken plainly could alter

The governing order of the world.


Was it a comfort to believe

That someone held the Word

In their mind to establish

The world beyond thinking


The world on the ground

Upheld and upholding

The mind in its cottage

The thought of the world


Apart from the mind

Stable of immortal horses?


And the long disputations of Abelard... 

What was the discourse?


What was the virtue of speech

Had there not been a world

To uphold and a mind to think

Of worlds that were not itself


The mind echoing the outside

Creak of tree-frogs at night—

The window and witness—

To tell the story of what it saw?


Was there never a song

A dogma close to Paradise

Worthy of our tenderness?


Were the tongues always 

Deceived and the spoils 

Bestowed by conquerors

The purchase of blindness?


On the wall is the writing

By hand of the last poet

To leave the last city behind.

Her words are calligraphy.


The drawing made by them

The letters of the writing

What it says is that here

A hand once made a mark.
 

O liberty to write your precious

Freedom like a faulty wire.


Through the window the maple trees

Shining and swaying.


Lights sputter as the hand moves.


Well then, to write dark letters

On dark pages in the dark hall.

It matters that the words hold on

And the meanings cling like iron.

More by Mark McMorris

Prayer to Shadows on My Wall


Soon the rushlights will go out in the flesh
of sympathetic bodies once close to my own hand
and I will go to my hammock, thinking of little
except the numbness that alone makes bearable
the wind's twisting. I want atoms to separate
like hairs or dust onto the heads of my daughters.
I want to violate the edict that traps my hunger
in cages and away from her rough shoulder 
and once to be enough for this and all the loves
that flicker through my bedroom before sleep.
They keep me awake, and tonight they are fierce
as whips or as needles to make the skin crawl.
I want to drift like the poui in a southerly wind
and settle where I need to before the faces erode,
my appetite of iron caulking the egg-shell heart.

Dear Michael (2)

The wound cannot close; language is a formal exit
is what exits from the wound it documents.
The wound is deaf to what it makes; is deaf
to exit and to all, and that is its durable self,
to be a mayhem that torments a city. The sound
comes first and then the word like a wave
lightning and then thunder, a glance then a kiss
follows and destroys the footprint, mark of the source.
It is the source that makes the wound, the wound
that makes a poem. It is defeat that makes
a poem sing of the light and that means to sing
for a while. The soldier leans on his spear.
He sings a song of leaning; he leans on a wound
to sing of other things. Names appear on a page
gentian weeds that talk to gentian words, oral
to local, song talk to sing (Singh), and so
he goes on with the leaning and the talking.
The wound lets him take a breath for a little
because it is a cycle of sorts, a system or a wheel
a circle that becomes a wheel and is not a sound
at all, the idea of a sound and the sound again
of an idea that follows so close; say light
and then is there light or a wound, an idea of being
itself in the thing sound cancels. Is there ever a spear
a soldier that leans in, a song that he sings
waiting for a battle? This soldier is only a doorway.
Say that book is a door. I say the soldier
and the local, the word and the weed, the light
and the kiss make a mayhem and a meeting.
So then that the voice may traverse a field
it transmits the soldier on a causeway to the city
leaning on a spear and talking, just after the wound opens
that never creaks and closes, and has no final page.

Dear Michael (25)

If poetry is not bread

to fortify the righteous

is it because we miss

in it the savor of contest

the whisper of blessing

over a martyr's name

the light of sacral plans

to take the citadel once

and for all, or give it up?

On the original streets

lit by the sun of nineteenth-

century novels the workers

are gathering to march

for their dignity and bread.

The planters did not die

of happiness. Other exhibits

show their meadows

their horses and women

the English sunset in lands never more than a sigh

like a vowel far from home.

We ask too much when of

the little that we have.

In good health fondly yours.
 

Related Poems

Force Visibility

Everywhere we went, I went
in pigtails
no one could see—

ribbon curled
by a scissor’s sharp edge,
the bumping our cars

undertook when hitting
those strips
along the interstate

meant to shake us
awake. Everywhere we went
horses bucking

their riders off,
holstered pistols
or two Frenchies

dancing in black and white
in a torn-apart
living room,

on the big screen
our polite cow faces
lit softly

by New Wave Cinema
I will never
get into. The soft whir

of CONTINUOUS STRIP IMAGERY.
What is fascism?
A student asked me

and can you believe
I couldn’t remember
the definition?

The sonnet,
I said.
I could’ve said this:

our sanctioned twoness.
My COVERT pigtails.
Driving to the cinema

you were yelling
This is not
yelling you corrected

in the car, a tiny
amphitheater. I will
resolve this I thought

and through that
RESOLUTION, I will be
a stronger compatriot.

This is fascism.
Dinner party
by dinner party,

waltz by waltz,
weddings ringed
by admirers, by old

couples who will rise
to touch each other
publicly.

In INTERTHEATER TRAFFIC
you were yelling
and beside us, briefly

a sheriff’s retrofitted bus.
Full or empty
was impossible to see.

In a Time of Peace

Inhabitant of earth for forty something years
I once found myself in a peaceful country. I watch neighbors open

their phones to watch
a cop demanding a man’s driver’s license. When a man reaches for his wallet, the cop
shoots. Into the car window. Shoots.

It is a peaceful country.

We pocket our phones and go.
To the dentist,
to buy shampoo,
pick up the children from school,
get basil.

Ours is a country in which a boy shot by police lies on the pavement
for hours.

We see in his open mouth
the nakedness
of the whole nation.

We watch. Watch
others watch.

The body of a boy lies on the pavement exactly like the body of a boy.

It is a peaceful country.

And it clips our citizens’ bodies
effortlessly, the way the President’s wife trims her toenails.

All of us
still have to do the hard work of dentist appointments,
of remembering to make
a summer salad: basil, tomatoes, it is a joy, tomatoes, add a little salt.

This is a time of peace.

I do not hear gunshots,
but watch birds splash over the backyards of the suburbs. How bright is the sky
as the avenue spins on its axis.
How bright is the sky (forgive me) how bright.

The End of a Nation

---------------Marfa, Texas
30.3095 north

On July 2, 2018, my flight took me to Marfa, Texas—not my usual migratory route. Nevertheless, during my brief stay, I was able to meet swallows and sparrows, and I observed other exceptional migratory wings from Mexico. Some small-winged children were captured and separated from their parents and placed in internment camps along the border of Texas, US and Mexico. Who will translate their wings? Whenever my ears would let me, I looked up at the night skies in order to track Planet Nine. Being the compulsive translator that I am, I traced and traced the planet’s orbitary routes, its rotations of capture, torture, and massacre. The universe is such a dizzying place that my ears were spinning out of control. Planet Nine! Come in, Planet Nine!

The language of capture, torture, and massacre is difficult to decipher. It’s practically a foreign language. What a nightmare! But as a foreigner myself, I am able to detect the slightest flicker of palpitations and pain. Difficult syntax! It may show up as faint dots and lines, but they’re often blood, snow, and even dandruff. How do I know? Foreigners know. Ahn-Kim calmly narrated as she continued to circle and circle Planet Nine with her pen. Her circles were extraordinary.