Catastrophe Theory III
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.
From The Eye Like a Strange Balloon, Poems by Mary Jo Bang. Copyright © 2004 by Mary Jo Bang. Published by Grove / Atlantic. Appears with permission of the author and Grove / Atlantic.
Mary Jo Bang
Mary Jo Bang was born on October 22, 1946, in Waynesville, Missouri, and grew up in Ferguson, which is now a suburb of St. Louis. She received a BA and an MA in sociology from Northwestern University, a BA in photography from the Polytechnic of Central London, and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University.
Bang is the author of several books of poems, including A Doll for Throwing (Graywolf Press, 2017), a translation of Dante’s Inferno with illustrations by Henrik Drescher (Graywolf Press, 2012), and Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007), which won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and was a 2008 New York Times Notable Book. Her books Louise in Love (Grove Press, 2001) and Elegy both received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for a manuscript-in-progress. Her first book, Apology for Want (Middlebury College, 1997), was chosen by Edward Hirsch for the 1996 Bakeless Prize. Her translation of Purgatorio is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2021.
About her collection Elegy, which traces the aftermath of her son’s death, Wayne Koestenbaum writes: “Mary Jo Bang’s remarkable elegies recall the late work of Ingeborg Bachmann—a febrile, recursive lyricism. Like Nietzsche or Plath, Bang flouts naysayers; luridly alive, she drives deep into aporia, her new, sad country. Her stanzas, sometimes spilling, sometimes severe, perform an uncanny death-song, recklessly extended—nearly to the breaking point.”
Bang’s work has been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a “Discovery”/The Nation award, a Pushcart Prize, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, and a Hodder Award from Princeton University.
Bang was the poetry coeditor of the Boston Review from 1995 to 2005 and the director of the creative writing program at Washington University from 2003 to 2006. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
A Doll for Throwing (Graywolf Press, 2017)
The Last Two Seconds (Graywolf Press, 2015)
Inferno by Dante Allegheri; translation (Graywolf Press, 2012)
The Bride of E: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2009)
Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007)
The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (Grove Press, 2004)
The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of the Swans (University of Georgia Press, 2001)
Louise in Love (Grove Press, 2001)
Apology for Want (Middlebury College, 1997)
Date Published: 2004-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/catastrophe-theory-iii