Bradley J. Fest is 2019–20 Winifred D. Wandersee Scholar in Residence and assistant professor of English at Hartwick College. He is the author of two volumes of poetry, The Rocking Chair (Blue Sketch, 2015) and The Shape of Things (Salò, 2017), and recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Always Crashing, Grain, PLINTH, Spork, Sugar House Review, Verse, and elsewhere. He has also written a number of essays on contemporary literature and culture, which have been published in boundary 2, CounterText, Critique, Scale in Literature and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), The Silence of Fallout (Cambridge Scholars, 2013), and elsewhere. More information is available at bradleyjfest.com.
Meditations at Oneonta
The oneness of the universe, and the oneness of each element in the universe, repeat themselves to the crack of doom in the creative advance from creature to creature, each creature including in itself the whole of history and exemplifying the self-identity of things and their mutual diversities.
—Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality
All propositions address the world,
even those without verity or novelty.
The feeling, however, that ambivalence pervades everything—joy,
relentless worry, mourning, high crimes—that the taxidermized indigo
bunting shown in the New York State Museum
without banausic neuroform rank
bespeaks other discrete totalities/
similar atomic accretions, or that
records played backward adventure humming
directives from cosmological residue—
thoughts are inheritors of past coalescence.
I still speak to myself when walking home about
the linguistic ingressions made by the light and
the snow-padded sieves of silence parading within my
chilled cheeks and atop my jacket’s flimsy threads.
At times, I remember to discern how allied
landscapes can suffer similar allisions with
the vibratory character of
history’s thawed snow—“a series of squeaks”—as if
something had heard the verse I murmured into
the vital air of my first spring afternoon without desert
thirst and marveled how the membranes of fugitive minutes
have everything to do with creation’s disdain
for nostalgia, its intensity-work:
refined, locative, translative. It was and was not the
same. My too-big hands sometimes obscure the deep, vibrant, spatial
abscissions in arpeggiated and
agnate things. Still, they too are things and, occasionally, words.
Now, the immediacy of screens, rows of books,
and music, music, suffuse back and forth our gab,
back and forth, right now, right now, right now, and again.
Later, when winter’s frigid insulation concentrates
the coruscant frenzy descending from hills local
and distant into a nondescript cachexy that drowns
in disorder the towns’ presses, bells, and engines,
it is an occasion once more for (too) much serious
conversation. If the ataxic disturbance weren’t
such a resonant, enthralling song, we’d heed less
its dumb lessons, its botched guile and ersatz ethic.
But though “black asininity,” the discord is cynosure
for our days and dreams, a risq and corrigendum
around which our junk thoughts flounder and agitate,
sometimes toward the absolute, sometimes as if
repeatedly humming the elevator music from Main Street’s
abandoned department stores and failing taco shops,
pallid melodies that still mist the village edge while
citizens in their homes await some meteorological
sign, some low-key harbinger of the mute eras to come.
The frequency of the new illnesses doesn’t matter. We
barely register the dwindling light. The poltergeists
crawling our street fix off the distempered map.
And the gradual riot engrosses even the flaxen altostratus
depilating the fibrous callouses we’d grown to protect
the quasi-floating parts of our digital souls; it denudes
half the visible spectrum; it spreads broached-steel filaments
across the valley, a fine, iron cilice for the populace. Then,
an absence. And it all vanishes, everything as it was. Or,
at least, that is the only eventuality we could predict,
the only thing imaginable or detectable—removal.
A luminous pyramid spiraling into the sky to mount
undreamt flourishing upon the heights to beckon
our labors onward—no. Not that. We know that now.
So the orchestra tunes and leaves. While I fail.
Elsewhere, new nosocomial manuscripts accrue
in a publisher’s index that ignore completely all
the thoughts I’ve ever had. A relief. Nonetheless,
the editor vilipends my provincial experiences,
blaming what I see and feel for the banality of others’
opinions regarding rural upstate enclaves. And the politics.
The plan had been for strings and brass, one swelling,
the other subdued. The plan had been for something
dignified and understated, a composition fit for the modest
mountains that represent nothing much to the people below.
But the fog participates with every part of the valley.
It accents the minutes I wantonly squander upon anxiety,
anxiety that missiles my eyelids open each stupid night,
anxiety that marches its oompah toward amusing inception,
something accidental and total that I wrap around my feet
like gauze so I can tread with each pained step upon a soft,
healing anxiety. If my default setting happens to be anxiety,
a baseline of nervous shaking, it is anxiety that permits
my breathing and my work and my love. Anxious is what I am, what
I will be, what I can hope for amidst the
otherwise benign and gentle life I’ve discovered. Anxiety,
anxiety. And when, as here, I communicate some part of it,
I find the show has already concluded, I missed it, and
no one cares to fill me in; they understandably don’t even
notice my ignorant plight. And really, not so much like fear
(though that). Mostly uncomfortable disregard. Like:
“Who are you? Whose anxiety is yours?” At other times,
it looks like poetry. And so when it doesn’t, I dress it in
another’s wardrobe, a reference stolen off the back of a truck,
and adhere to the count; then I can begin again, anxiously.
Humid Figures and a Handful of Dust
Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,
atque metus omnis et inexorabile fatum
subiecit pedibus strepitumque Acherontis avari.
fortunatus et ille, deos qui novit agrestis,
Panaque Silvanumque senem Nymphasque soroes.
—Virgil, Georgics, Book II
My tensile mortal sinew evinces
molecular substances entwined
helplessly with my other meats. They are
analog, a slimy horse madness wrapped
through bone and brain and muscle and tendon—
sinewaves all: enough for this herd’s cladding,
its insulation for the quinquennial
descent to the steppes of the calm lands, child.
Fertile, arterial, gestate, striving
megafauna pick their way across plains
of tesseracted time and stars, gently,
divided and subdued subjects submit
their rounds and plates for scrupulous, careful
dissection—it is all part of the foul
overcorrection of planetary
affect: the pain, tearing, and contusive
loss of habitable space. I’m loath to
environ my tissues around the mob;
I mourn physicality but into
pools of flesh I dive, networks of teeth and hair and
ankles and stomachs and livers
stitched by strands of mana and loam like Being
but with a B-side, like Cronenberg or
Jeunet, like you and you and I, like we.
Today is just matter grasping itself.
All the soundwaves we sunk into the past
have somehow etymologically
arrived, converging on our immediate
bodies shaking loose their attachments and
warranties into a heap of mucus
and nails and phlegm blasted against the gore
fields we call our basic understanding.
Other herbivorous masses of dust
stretch their hearts and lungs and bowels and fat
across elevated steel looms to each
distant horizon. So far away, we’re
yet ravenous for our entrails and pus
and a Rabelaisian focus on
dermis, covering, accoutrements, flair;
Earth clothes my humid skin in history.
Waiting below the harvest of new fear
are sharp roots clutching in their lithium
tendrils developing soma, scarlet
and pulsing ligaments threaded through dirt
and rock and mud and cartilage slowly
rising toward the soil’s integument
boundary while hiding dendrites
and axons and neurons and myelin
mutating intelligent cuticles
and trachea and cornea and shins.
A sylvan incarnation hesitates
below this febrile plane, awaiting these
sapient abominations in the
bloodmist gloaming, other horrors for its
already exhausted fertility
festivals and decadent play against
vegetable and tree and grass and vine.
I have quit my terrestrialism,
become encased in dread, alone, tense, weak,
facing a deluge of musculature
that belies the maturation of a
metabolic rift in the ophthalmic
and cutaneous dimensions upon
which intestines and diaphragms and sweat
and cornea depend. I have suppressed
word of the reorganization nigh,
the rebranding of all corporeal
existents attending the Tetsuo-
pulsing noon to come. Nonhormonal, the
vascular mucous tide will swell past the
evolutionary watermark in
months. Without estrus, without lacrimal
expression or possible dwelling in the Red,
our poor diffident old creatures expire.
You and I will remain without context
in the reconfigured glimmer-haptics
of a decayed cavern in the mountains.
Below, titanic thews push their slow bulk
against the night sky and we are silent.
Tomorrow we will decline to revive
photosynthetic plasma and cell walls
and retreat into visceral stasis.