Monday’s Poems: ‘Vanished Harvest’ and ‘Bludgeon-Man,’ by Larissa Szporluk

 

Vanished Harvest

They call it a lazy breeze.
Under its slow grope,
trees drop their favorite work.

And pigeons, their pigeon
droppings, and the bleach
that I drop on the porch

because my son might lick one
and die. Because autumn
is sweet on war

and winter is bitter peace,
because the river chased Achilles
for butchering too much—

breeze like a laid-back doctor,
the soul is dense
when you come so late.

 

 

Bludgeon-Man

Would that he caressed us
On the road made of feathers
of our loved ones.

Would that we could lose
all semblance of pheasant,
become Mecca in his palms

and overwhelm his senses.
Would that this were dreamy
instead of dull,

this inevitable severing
of daylight into insects
who pad the coming night

with excrement and wings—
would that it were not our life
to augur sleeveless errands.

 

© by Larissa Szporluk.  Printed by permission of the author.

 

Larissa Szporluk is the author of five poetry collections, including Traffic with Macbeth, due out later this month from Tupelo Press. The recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Ohio Arts Council, she is a professor of literature and creative writing at Bowling Green State University.

Arts & Academe‘s poetry editor, Lisa Russ Spaar, notes:  The poems of Larissa Szporluk possess a mind of Autumn—and not the autumn of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but of the strangely beautiful, brutal season of fall, the Fall, of drop, of harrow, haunt, and grim reaping.  They are whetted with the scythe’s edge ordure of lopped, shorn, razed things.  Bespeaking a ruthless, anarchic, fiercely intuitive somatic ethos, the menace in Szporluk’s work is all the more arresting and disturbing for its conjuring of an eerie, almost cinematic, domestic heartland noir.

“Vanished Harvest” and “Bludgeon-Man” are previously unpublished lyrics from Szporluk’s imminent fifth book of poems, Traffic with Macbeth.  Visually—each is a columnar quintet of tercets—the pair of poems mirror one another, like twin hay-ricks, silos, or scarecrows.  They trope one another thematically as well.  Brought together here, the poems present, in distinct Szporlukian ways, the economies of “lost and won,” of “come what may,” that stalk Shakespeare’s Scottish play.  In both poems, any mythic notion of “home” or safety, as autumn and evening and death come on, is fearlessly denied.

A reviewer once wrote that Szporluk’s work is “more personal than poems that proclaim themselves so,” and also more public than its rich, solipsistic language might suggest.  “Vanished Harvest,” for instance, at first seems relayed in a kind of generic voice-over (think Mariel Hemingway narrating the opening scene of a David Lynch film) that borrows the shape of definition (“they call it”) and the architecture of cause and effect (“because”) but which, in the case of both pronominal shape-shifting and vexed dialectic, slips the noose of reason at every turn in a syntax of mimetic dropped and vanishing clauses:

 

They call it a lazy breeze.
Under its slow grope,
trees drop their favorite work.

And pigeons, their pigeon
droppings, and the bleach
that I drop on the porch

because my son might lick one
and die.

 

If the reader misses the threat in that slow grope of the seemingly innocuous “lazy breeze,” that dropping of leaves and avian excrement, we confront it in the image that the narrator, finally entering the poem in the first-person, puts before us of her child on his hands and knees lapping at toxic stone and dying.  She lets the possibility of this hang a moment before seemingly extending her argument for vanishing, veering into more political and even cosmic territory:  “Because autumn / is sweet on war // and winter is bitter peace, / because the river chased Achilles / for butchering too much …”  Again, Szporluk lets that allusion to the waters of the river god Scamander choked with bodies in the carnage wreaked by Achilles after the death of Patroclus linger before eerily returning us to the breeze that is “like a laid-back doctor,” a doctor blind to our terminal condition, the doctor ignoring or oblivious to boundaries, the autumn wind suddenly transformed into the bodiless rush of the soul, all the more “dense” for being abandoned with such langorous, deceptive ease. This is not the leisure of a grape crushed against a palate fine—of the body lingering over its last oozings, hour by hour. This is negative Keats, dark Keats, Keats trafficking in the realm of Macbeth and the dark imagination of Shakespeare, the playwright he so loved. This is Szporluk.

“Bludgeon-Man” also walks the via negativa, and its collective narrators are the victims of the bludgeon-wielding harvester/executioner.  The speakers never question that they must travel “the road made of feathers / of our loved ones” who have gone before them to the chopping block.   Their plea is rather a wish to be “caressed” by their killer, even to be cherished by him (“Would that we could lose / all semblance of pheasant, become Mecca in his palms // and overwhelm his sense”) as they go.  The lament, too, is that the destined way is in no way redeemed for the speakers by thrill or even fear:

 

Would that this were dreamy
instead of dull,

this inevitable severing
of daylight into insects
who pad the coming night

with excrement and wings –
would that it were not our life
to augur sleeveless errands.

 

Although the chorus of narrators may not feel it, the reader must thrill to the ironic, gorgeous lyricism and pathos of the last two stanzas.  Though their tone is more raucously punk, the Scottish trash band Nyah Fearties, underground in the 80s and 90s and known for making a wild, thrashing music by mixing traditional elements with a raving percussive use of dustbins and other machinery, comes to mind when I read these two Macbeth-ghosted poems (interestingly, the band has a song called “Bludgeon Man,” which appeared on an early album).  Heaving into light the heavy, fated resignation, the “dense” soul of the harvested, the about to be vanished, is Szporluk’s “errand,” and it is a perspective not often risked, and risked with such darkly erotic and undeniable poetic power.

 

(Illustration derived from a Flickr Creative Commons photo by Maggie Stephens)

 

 

 

 

 

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