Fitter selves

Brother Cole,

If I were to pray, I would start low
in the belly, among the slick viscera —
don’t call them tripe, those amulets,
that conjurer’s bag, the wine-dark

apotrope where I live, & a road
more convoluted than the tube of a tuba,
that’s where I’d start, there where medicine
(always the best laughter) bubbles up

like smoke through a hookah
into the vicinity of my underachieving heart
& the lungs’ bladderwrack, that’s
how I’d begin, letting the first note

climb of its own volition, gathering
strength in the chest before the voice box
warps it into sound & it joins the others,
which were also somehow there already

in the darkness just beyond the fire,
eyes aglint, our unfamiliar better natures,
so unlike the beast that once leapt for my throat
before its too-small owner — our neighbor–

could drag it away, & I walked into the house
holding my bloodied hand before me
like a waiter with a choice dish
(the zig-zag track of the stitches still marks

my ring-finger) but that was the savagery
of an untamed thing confined;
its muffled roars & strangled yelps
as it flung itself all night against the pen

were nothing like the call or response
of an untrammeled spirit, half-laugh, half-sob —
the way I would hope to sound
if ever I were to join the pack & pray.

Download the MP3
(N.B.: The audio is more important to this post than the text!)

12 Comments


  1. For someone who hasn’t joined the pack, you know something about prayer!

    I enjoyed the call to prayer at the end of the mp3.

    Reply

  2. WOW WOW WOW.

    (Or should that be bow wow wow *grin*.)

    Holy cow, I was reading this all wrong, thought it was going to be some gospel ending….well it was in a way. This is a superb, superb poem, an absolute favourite of yours and the mp3 is wild. ps first two stanzas are utterly wondrous.

    Reply

  3. You read like a snake-oil salesman, and I am buying.

    Reply

  4. My dogs started howling at the end of this poem, *smiles*

    What a reading, and what a poem, the words on the page, and from your throat. Great work.

    Reply

  5. So good I came back for another read. Really, really like this.

    Reply

  6. Hey, thanks, y’all. I’m especially gratified to hear that those of you who do pray liked it… and that Christine’s dogs joined in! I’m sure Teju Cole’s response will be interesting.

    Reply

  7. Seriously seriously good, stupendous! Makes me want to illustrate it or video it or something.
    The audio is terrific too, although I think the howlings at the end could have ended sooner.

    I *love* “medicine (always the best laughter” Brilliantissimo!

    Reply

  8. I loved this one. The overtones of sooth-sayer/religious men reading the entrails. The entrails themselves. The visceral howling from the gut rising up through the body. The fact that wolves are our ‘better halves’. I’ll try to keep in mind, that the dog who howls mournfully each morning across the street when his master leaves for work is just ‘praying’ for him to come back. Do you think we are just howling at the moon or that there actually is someone up there who hears us? Just in case, we do tend to do keep howling anyway don’t we? Probably not as musically as the wolves but earnestly, nevertheless.

    Reply

  9. Thanks, Natalie! I’m surprised you felt the wolves went on too long, though. Me, I couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve been listening to the track over and over, skipping to the middle so I don’t have to listen to myself each time. :)

    Joan – Glad you liked the guts. That imagery came in part from a shared interest Teju and I have in Rabelais and other pre-modern depictions of corporeality.

    I don’t think dogs, wolves and coyotes howl at the moon so much as in response to it, just as you or I might write a haiku. And yes, I believe there is a moon, and that howling does us — if not necessarily the moon — a world of good.

    Reply

  10. this is fabulous! thank-you

    Reply

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