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09-02-2014

 

Anthony Carelli

Birthday
 

             Here the serpent-son,
                     Apollo’s offspring, came to land, put on
                     His heavenly form again, and to the people
                     Brought health and end of mourning. The old god
                     Came to our shrines from foreign lands, but Caesar
                     Is god in his own city.
                            ~Ovid Metamorphoses, book XV


Ooh, the vision comes and goes, and again it appears 
the poet was right. There is something out there mounting up 
beneath the surface…This morning the lake is invisible.

We’ve come to the harbor on my twenty-sixth birthday 
with hopes to see the big ship set to arrive from Japan.  
It will not be carrying back triumphant men—just better cars.

The longshoremen stand out the length of the dock in blazing jumpers, 
waiting for the dawn arrival already delayed an hour 
by this fog in my father’s hometown.
 
A hundred-or-so stand near us in the infinity hallway;
a few close enough to reveal noses and hands, Italian-looking,
like my grandfather’s, and father’s, and mine (though less and less so).

Kenosha is hideous behind us, cloaked by this cloud that hangs
on the pigeons flushed out: the last exhalation of the auto assembly.
We wait at the base of the docks, and talk about the White Sox, 

not the Roman Empire. My father and I stare right at it, but talk baseball.
Do you know what I mean? Further out in the distance,
the trundling distance that you, my father, can’t see—

even if you’d stop talking baseball a minute and look
—another hundred men settle in, stretching necks and backs,
to laze in varied stations of disappearance, and are gone.

There, in the Senate of the even greater distance, 
Caesar is made a god to account for his brilliant succession
—his boys, who, in turn, give the kingdom slowly away. 
  
And then I see it—don’t I?—vague in the flocks of what 
promised to be a mighty ship, a mound spooks up 
gaining huge ballast, riding high in the fog. It breaks

through the surface of the lake with a hush, and then, yes, 
I see the eye, a swollen mirror, staring right back, seeing me. 
Clearly the freighter is nowhere near. Knowing nearly nothing

about ships, we know no one would risk this run in the fog.
Why don’t we speak of it? Dad, everywhere in Ovid a god 
pursues us. Do you see it, but know of something truer?

Do you see, at least, that Kenosha is hideous?
When you stare at the lake do you see it’s my birthday;
that it’s me in the harbor? Do you see me coming in?

Were there times in your life when you knew 
the kingdom was over? Were there times when you saw 
what your father could not?

 

Glass Work Song

Well, he was no theologian, 
but when we were children 
my best friend’s father would speak of the lord, 
though only when given a question, 
so we asked him often.
                                       Otherwise 
his cantos were carried by a foreman’s voice
so unlike our own—volume high 
to overcall the furnace howl, tone low 
to part and cross the shriek 
of those conveyors he left at five, 
and the shattered eardrum he didn’t. 
                
But ask of Golgotha,
ask of the Good Samaritan,
and the great voice slowed, faltered, 
bent, and broke finally, grunting to carry 
the words of the lord. Grace, Angel, 
Nazareth, Rome—disparate notes 
of a fractured tune
                           gathered 
in dinnertime steam. Rising
over beans, beets, venison chuck, 
a melody hummable by none of us
was nonetheless hummed by all. 

And so it was for my friend
in his twenty-second year.
He set out quiet from the Windy City
six months early, out of cash, 
out from the school of his choice 
to the job he’d sworn he’d never do. 
This song: his father’s job. This song: 
the glass plant. 
                         And so it was 
that Wednesday, hump day, 
his third day of work.
He began to sing nonetheless. 
Over coffee mugs and cigarettes 
on picnic tables, among men mid-
break in a brick wall room, 
he raised his voice. 
                                It sounded like this: 
Couldn’t we go faster if we lifted alone? 
Isn’t this tri-pane impossible to shatter?
—not good beginnings. 

Whoever you are, you aren’t surprised 
how quickly, sharply, the men, in response,
said nothing at all. 
                              How glancingly 
they spoke about the sheets and sheets
they’d stacked six days a week 
for years—always two men to a pane. 
This song is not about materials. 
This song is how to pick and swing
an eight-foot length without decapitating 
Bruce or Joe. Among them this song
is not knowing glass. Lifting it? Yes. 
Carrying? Balancing? 
Yes. 
        But those ponderous rectangle 
hushes of air, those reflective spans 
they won’t lift alone? Daily they sing 
one another this omittance. Each will have
the next 
              enjoy this Grace, Angel, 
Nazareth...They are in attendance 
to the music—
                         scales heard, day in,
day out, in common; a lifetime 
of tickets to La Scala, but knowing 
there’s no need to leave Kenosha. 
To stack these panes for many years 
and say very little of glass: 

this is fellowship among them
becoming fellowship 
among us, a chorus that aspires 
to a certain quiet; a quiet becoming 
the closest we can get.

 

The Prophets

A river. And if not the river nearby, then a dream 
  of a river. Nothing happens that doesn’t happen 
    along a river, however humble the water may be. 

Take Rowan Creek, the trickle struggling to lug 
  its mirroring across Poynette, wherein, suspended,
    so gentle and shallow, I learned to walk, bobbing 

at my father’s knees. Later, whenever we tried 
  to meander on our inner tubes, we’d get lodged
    on the bottom. Seth, remember, no matter how we’d 

kick and shove off, we’d just get lodged again?
  At most an afternoon would carry us a hundred feet
    toward the willows. We’d piss ourselves on purpose

just to feel the spirits of our warmth haloing out. 
  And once, two bald men on the footbridge, bowing 
    in the sky, stared down at us without a word.

                      

       -from Carnations, Selected by Guest Editor Mark J. Brewin 

 

BIO: Anthony Carelli was raised in Poynette, Wisconsin and studied at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and New York University. In 2011 he was awarded a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. His poems have appeared in various magazines, including the New Yorker. His first book of poems, Carnations (Princeton, 2011), was named a finalist for the 2011 Levis Reading Prize. Anthony lives in Brooklyn, New York and teaches expository writing at New York University.