Friday, October 8, 2010

Ted Leo's "The Mighty Sparrow" and my "Along the Shrapnel Edge of Maps"

I've been listening to Ted Leo's new CD, "The Brutalist Bricks," obsessively for a week, and can't believe how he has done it again.  He takes all of punk and post-punk--the Clash, Fugazi, Billy Bragg, etc.--and puts it in the blender of politics and love and serves it up with a side dose of speed. 

I'm struck by the first song, "The Mighty Sparrow"--perhaps a nod to the well-known Calypso singer--which is the first person account of someone in a cafe explosion, who comes back to himself in the moments after the bomb, noticing some bird, some little image of the soul in flight, the soul in song.  How can we hold onto the beautiful in a world where people are willing to blow everything to heaven? 

I was shocked by the persistence of a few motifs that appeared in a poem I wrote a few years ago, from "Along the Shrapnel Edge of Maps," which appeared in Field.  The description of concussion, the image of a beloved face, the lack of sound--all are not that surprising, but the weird clocks that appear at the end--man's mastery of time, versus the bird song?    

when the cafe doors exploded

i reacted too, reacted to you
reacted to you

cast into the sunny morning
i was coming too, but now i'm
coming to, but now i'm coming to,

papers in the wind a-waltzing,
i was dancing too, my mind danced to you,
lifted up on wings of strangers, saw a face and knew,
then i saw you red white and bruised
silent for a moment, then singing
i thought i could hear, singing turned
to sirens as ringing returned to my ears
and the sirens called me back to there
miserable rock, while you're following
the sparrow, i can only follow the clock
Here's my poem, which takes a polyvocal look at a cafe bombing (from the bomber's point of view, from a cafe owner, from a cafe worker, from an angry unnamed bystander, and from someone far away but connected nonetheless--who experiences the metaphorical explosion of realization.  I only wish my poem could rock your brain as hard as Ted Leo rocks my body and soul...
from "Along the Shrapnel Edge of Maps" by Philip Metres (first published in Field)

To lift my arms as if in praise / when they strap it on beneath
my shirt, to feel the ice-cold shell / against my chest, its promised

hatching into blood-heat. To imagine myself already
dead, yet buoy in the wash / of capillaries pulsing like web,

every strand tensile, agleam. To tread the streets now paved
over my father’s house, & to be held / up at the checkpoint

between my village & what’s left / of our groves of lemon
& olive—razor-wired & identity card. To believe that

this will stanch his wound, this mad algebra dividing
all numbers back to one, the columns on each side

of the equal sign equal again, if I can walk into a stranger’s café
&, in a sudden illumination, / join shard to skin, flesh

to flesh, we will wake / from a nightmare, unhooked
from the wall like a clock / that needs to be wound again.


First, the sudden deaf as in a dream, people & their mouths
open & moving not sounding out. Plaster & glass dress.

Frame of the face frozen in. & you running. In place.
This was your store, your plate / glass, your café, turned in

-side out. What is tumble & shard. You see your mouth
before you hear it, all of the wax of the explosion now unplugged

& bleeding. Smoke the mouth of the door. Everything now
shaken, the salt of plaster & blood-shivers of sliver no time

to make any of this anything but the rubble of the human.
& where is she, the one I loved, who served everyone—

That is not her leg. Bloodslick & shatter. Is there nothing,
no clock alarming us out of this dream? I’m standing

in someone else’s brain. Flesh of. My place, not my flesh.
My love, I have no mouth to kiss your chosen face.


My job was to disappear. To follow orders in another
hard tongue, & hold my own. My job: to clear

the tables of the leavings, to harvest the crumbs,
to shoot the plates with so much scalding water

I could see my unshaven face in them. To plumb
the overflowing toilet, that constant fountain

of other people’s shit, I had to breathe through
my mouth, & curse. I couldn’t help myself

to what others could not eat—it was not my own,
it lingered against their mouths, who cursed the wealth

of my slowness, or did not hear their call, or heard
their hidden distaste. So when he sat down,

his eyes darting, I knew this was my chance
to choose my fate, to end my disappearance—


It’s because I wanted it to happen. Longed & waited.
Let there be flash & flood, I said, let there be black

& acrid / choking lungs. I said, yes, send
rivulets of blood, plaster in the scalp, democratic,

& dark hovering over the surfaces of everything.
Let there be klieg lights & sudden cameramen & lens

& cordons policing the scene, the secular expanse
of a café now sacred by blood. & let us sing

this memorial to the lost, this blessed loneliness—
let there be blood to remind our people who we are

& what we have suffered at the gloves of our oppressor,
those long & desolate years, our lips probing a font

from a rock. To remember that this is nothing if not war,
& in this tide of blood we all get what we want.


In the other room I heard you asking your mother:
“am I a Palestinian?” When she answered: “yes,”

a heavy silence fell on the whole house. It was
as if something hanging over our heads had fallen, its noise

exploding, then—silence. Afterwards, I heard you crying.
I could not move. There was something bigger

being born in the other room. As if a blessed scalpel
was cutting your chest & putting there the heart

that belongs to you. I was unable to move, to see
what was happening. A distant homeland born again: hills,

plains, olive groves, the dead, torn flags, all cutting their way
into a future of flesh & blood. Man is born suddenly—a word,

in a moment, begins a new throb. One scene can hurl
him down from the ceiling of childhood onto the rugged road.

Thanks to Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics for continuing to publish challenging and thoughtful poetry, including this one.

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