G.C. Waldrep

from Testament


Faith as time’s marionette, as a more
trustworthy advertisement for sleep.

(Neurology:  geld vs. welt.
The sour cherries in the courtyard,
a crossing & recrossing
by virtue of the senses &, yes, choice.
There is never only one transgression,
one tensile strength.)

Are you acting like a victim, you ask
(I am asking).
What does a victim act like?

Skilled in needletrades we bind
wounds until we see orchard, orchard.
Put your tongue
into the song of it, why don’t you.

You flying thing, you prince of the air.
This is a problem:  money
only pretends to believe.  We stand
outside, in the cold, watching
the puppets abuse one another, listening
to their epithets, their cries.



But then you wake up, & you’re holding
not a gun in your hand, after all:
something else.  Accordion, femur, credit
card.  Some trademarked journalism.

It is very quiet in the forest,
in this clearing just inside the forest.
You were meeting someone here—
isn’t that how the dream went?

The composer had said, When you
try to whistle, you make an ugly noise,
like a hawk that’s just sighted prey.

You brush the insects from your hair.
This can be a little unnerving
because some of them breathe fire.
Your hair wields them like swords.



Language is already skepticism,
Levinas maintains.  Blanchot again:
“Writing, without placing itself
above art, supposes that one not prefer art,
but efface art as writing effaces itself.”

For there are structures of power
that defy capitalism’s monopoly on
all the major modern utilities,
gas, electric, public transit.  For there
are structures of power that reinforce
capitalism’s monopoly on all
the cultural algorithms:  painting, sculpture,
music, dance.  Photography, film.

We live inside the noise photography makes.
Like birds in Central Park
we’ve learned to make the same noise,
both to one another
and when nobody else is around.

We dust the economy for latents.
This is not science.  It is detection, an art.
A little math, a little chemistry
with a story inside.  Something large & real
& beyond all sacrifice.

You were wrong about power, is what
the noise keeps saying.  You were
wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is not cynicism.  It is triage.
The media broadcast the chapter headings,
first in black & white, then in color.



Things one forgets:  the physical sensation
of pain.  First love.  The external
structures in which certain rooms were situated.
Things one never forgets:  the international
telephone call you arrived too late to answer
(never to discover who called, or why).
The image of your sister entering the house
laughing, missing her footing on her first step
and shattering her teeth on the slate hearth.

Because things could have been different,
that’s why.  Pain = inevitability.
Structure is archetype, i.e. we live with it.

A constant murmuration of event,
prognostifying.  Dowse with skeleton key.
From behind this curtain wall of
(Faith.  Light.  Substance.  Mystery).

To write in bad faith:  after the fact.
(Predicate:  to record, vs.
to have recorded.)  The body as copula
when faced with copula:  copula to copula.
The mirror, shattered, renews itself.
“The body wants to be art & fails at it.”
Error is what sets the body free.



In the winnowing chamber,
I find myself using a rib as a flail.
Consciousness emphasizes
a break-even aesthetic, i.e.
We all need to be getting more sleep
as masculinist homily.

Our feet crunched on the walks
as if we were treading grain.
Or as if we were walking on fragments
from an enormous shattered mirror.

We keep pulling shards of glass
from our feet.  If we don’t,
they will work their ways into
other, more intimate places.

You said you liked the crypt
best, because none of the objects there
bore any identifying marks.

The grand jury rejected the artifacts
I presented.  Do you have any
other artifacts, the foreman asked.
No, I do not have any other artifacts
I replied, under oath.  Was I lying?



In the castle, one of the British poets
suggests maybe Yukio Mishima had a point.
The other disagrees, almost violently.

If you surround yourself with the dead
then you worship the dead.  What does it mean,
to believe in the dead in the same way
one believes in cheddar, oak, chlorine, things
that appeal to the senses.

An edge appeals to the senses
because it can be apprehended.  We say
a leading edge, a floreate edge.  We say verge,
we say Ogham, we say
we want to get out more, get more exercise,
spend more time with the kids.

An edge means change, means we
recognize something.  Possibly we’ve been here
before.  Really, though, it’s hard to say.



If writing, then, is “thought’s patience”
then consider the Picts, the way their men
touched their women, the women
their men, cathedrals have
their own histories but genetics concludes
there is no common ancestor.

Writing as occult practice:
the living talking to the dead, or vice versa.
The tedious invulnerability of language
through six or seven dimensions.

We keep taking photos of children.
It’s not just about capitalism,
air pressure, nostalgia.  Tracking shots,
birthday parties, YouTube.

The army is a set of relationships
many of us have been unable to locate
inside the biological family:  trust.
It is almost like love but it is not love.

I want to call out to you, but the intention
is all mixed up with blood & iron,
northwesterly tea of oxygen & lurid
expectation.  The consecutive narrative
keeps picking up, breaking off.
Like holes in a leather belt, you said,
when the trains ran.  Biology, fear’s staggerlee,
its amplitude & registry, swift secretary.



I begin to anticipate, that is, I begin
not to listen anymore, not to rely on the senses
but rather on hunches, superstition,
what we know we think we know we know.

When we know it.  He said,
Don’t worry, you’ll recognize the place
when you get there, when you see it.
(I’d forgotten
you have your own Yukio Mishima story.)

Sometimes we hide from the films
the dead are showing, because
we’re no longer certain whose side
we’re on, who’s up late at night
inside the museum.  It’s safe to say
faith runs the museum, in the sense that
you have to believe in something
to want to go view the evidence
of “something” in the first place.
Its vapor trail, its enameled shell casings
scattered around the crime scene.

I’m no longer interested in the crime,
just the scene, the accoutrements,
the props & dust enmantling everything.
The body makes everything
a painting of gender, & it’s our night-job
to supply the thought balloons.

It’s not just about memory,
eye/bee/flower.  Nor is it a story.

And yet it’s so comforting to think
about it all:  as a film, a painting, a story.



You can step away from the vehicle
& put the gun down.  Narrative remains
part of this story, wears deep grooves.

The pageant is a conjuration,
a magic lantern show of the species.
It’s OK if you want to get up
& walk out.  —You can’t walk out.

Archaeologists remain divided
on how much photography
can tell us about how other people
groomed their animals,
their public health administrations.

When I was in the hospital,
possibly dying not from cancer
but from septic complications
resulting from a successful operation
to remove cancer, I did not think
about West Nile virus.  Not once.

The flaming sword sets fire
to the paper it pierces.
Blackdamp, slatefall.  Tap-tap,
the miners beating out their mortal
semaphores.  We will interview
the survivors:  if not the miners
themselves, then their
loved ones & their neighbors.

Only the rectors were buried in
the chapel walls.  Also, their wives.

G.C. Waldrep’s most recent books are a long poem, Testament (BOA Editions, 2015), and a chapbook, Susquehanna (Omnidawn, 2013).  With Joshua Corey he edited The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta, 2012).  He lives in Lewisburg, Pa., where he teaches at Bucknell University, edits the journal West Branch, and serves as Editor-at-Large for The Kenyon Review.