Published on Academy of American Poets (

Deep Cover Costumes

Surely the body is made
                        of stranger 
                                    things than politics
                                                           can steal:
          the tangled
                                    residue of stars,
                                                the plastic
                                                bag and orange
          peels I kick past
                                    the bridge,
flaming nerves splayed
                        across ancient and forgotten
avenues, the stomach-heavy goodbye
                                    to others that always
          feels a limit
                                                on anyone’s remaining days
I see now
                        I really did
          believe that the stories
                                                           of languages breaking
                                    open the embedded
                                                           money source
                                                                      were the victory
                                                of changing grandeur
over the paltry measured
                                                ties misnamed time—
                                                                      I could never believe
          that people meant the counting,
the stacking, the definitions
                                    the dividing,
                                                           that those could be more
          than misunderstanding
                                                                      even when 
                                                                      burned in iron;
                        The world is simply not 
anything any of us
                                    say of it
our names are strange delusions
          pulling us back
                                    from a brink we are always
                        falling through—
                                                           it has no shape
                                                           no words
                                                           it is 
                                                           not a brink
                                                           we are not
                                                           anyone there is
                                                           no falling


Copyright © 2017 Mark Wallace. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘Deep Cover Costumes’ is part of my multipart long poem ‘The End of America,’ a work centered on the geographical and cultural conditions of southern California, where I’ve lived since 2005. I wrote the poem in spring 2017 when I, and maybe many other U.S. citizens, was questioning how the political life of my country had become what it had and what could be done about it. At the same time, I was wondering about the limits of my own understanding of the world and asking what parts of existence could not be accounted for by cultural and political conditions. The poem explores how cultural realities can become a cover for things we don’t understand and are maybe trying to avoid understanding, how insistence and certainty can become a way of ignoring the fact that much of what we claim as knowledge is really made of stories we’ve invented to protect ourselves from the vastness of the universe.”
Mark Wallace


Mark Wallace

Mark Wallace is the author and editor of more than fifteen books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and essays. His most recent poetry collection is the book-length prose poem, Notes from the Center on Public Policy (Altered Scale Press, 2014). He lives in San Diego.

Date Published: 2017-11-28

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