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Bradley J. Fest

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


I

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.


II

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.


III

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,

tenderly; paleontologically

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.




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