Poetry: Joshua Corey


Gut of static hush the single voice venturesome and small
signal to noise the toe-tap adjustment
a Turner reality a Whistler’s frost of decadence
filming whipped grays and blacks indicative of sea
fog rushing the viewer’s 3D-glasses slack
planked lines for a ship a dislodged mast
for the ear to cling to sirens mob the horizon
somersaulting breathless in radioactive waves
exultant the listener at the proper remove
rent by slow chords adjusted for inflation
triangular perspective which my vector identifies
with the black swan’s soar atavistic capture
snapshot kingdom that friends me virtually
corrugated void so you feel every bump or
as they used to say ribbed
for her pleasure for your trapdoor undershorts
surprised by sin by fishy pomposity by spill
like a rainstorm overwhelming clogged gutters smearing
the window the power goes out alone in the shiphouse
after forty days the canned goods and dry cereal are gone
you try hooks from the windows baited with mucilage
roast what you catch in a fire built from carpet strips
gaunt hairy crazed passing the time by solitaire
the bodies in your basement have all floated away
so when the dove finally returns with the sun beached on Ararat
a whole neighborhood of suspicious shutters surrounds you
you know no one staggering to the post office
but there’s plenty of mail
as for friends and family they can’t even communicate
what it is to fall in love with your own private wormhole
to be lost in an abstract sea that might be world-historical
floundering or else mere drift of generational ressentiment
but it comes again plinking the solitary piano
spotlit on a stage introducing gradual compatriots
the human voice an instrument blunt or thrusting or edged
a knuckle of bells following the syllables of Hopelandic
out the auditorium tunnel to the huge double doors
that swing out over that sea
rising and falling with the crests of synthetic emotion
in touch with dry salvage tidal wave of time’s future
endless lyric moment posing as epic bearing down
death to sandcastles and mandalas and ephemera posing as life
children rocketing away through the curtain of water
that comes down at last like the fist of my imagination
and when the thunder’s passed and the a/c kicks back on
the commuter train blurs by and it’s time again for dinner
the vision of the ear again safely caged
three of its four feet shackled as they say in irons
and sorrow wrinkling the brow and savage jaws
of this lion my aging body hunched concealing its kill
I give you this little thing this devouring mouth of ribs
feasting on my own heart
nipples blind as pennies stunned by perpetual sun
beard of the shriveled groin unacommodated by old age
climb the lookout’s ladder to the peak of shipmates’ roll
ritual dunking and drunking crossing the fabled Line
each man alive to living knowledge
of resistless forces and the matter we commend our souls to
as if the mind were a body hurtled through the windshield
into a desert intersection with bullet-riddled stop signs
I don’t care I need it to be this emphatic
aria of the alone Werner’s opera in the jungle
Caruso floating magnificent on a barge of severed heads
the ruins are spectral interlaced with open sky
the serpent like a satellite telephone slithers into her palm
sin calling sin to beam us up and out of here
pinging the party’s moral location in geosynchronous orbit
subsiding like the forest itself into fields of farting cattle
like boots crushing gravel in the expanding situation
engulfing our increasingly limited faith in opposing troubles
a tired optimism keeps us limping trustfully along
while new eyes glimmer in the fronds all around
it’s a necessarily incoherent space I call a landscape
consenting bridging one last time the amplified storm
from lifted voice to lowering
and a sense of potable water amongst the tumbled rocks
if a scorpion is necessary a bleached coral reef’s waterfall
I fall gladly on sharp grass a paradise alone
the red face is rising pushing out from leafy territory
a brown face a pale face a face with no humanity
but a stunted sort of pity makes it possible to look
without seeing fresh capabilities in the crumbling of infrastructure
to carry us far down like a victim drowning his rescuer
fundamental to utterance are lips teeth and tongue
food for the ear with ears to hear
that’s survival’s reach and even it’s not enough
I am free in the face of each fully manifested disaster
and that feeling’s an addiction I mainline it nightly
we’re all hooked on phonics spinning appetite for destruction
for as long as we insist on a beyond to the face
that regards us now cruelly or with a show of compassion
it’s only a sea gone white as blindness
and the sea is not a desert
and the desert is no jungle
and what I must see when I behold the stars
is static of the city city
dictating to and for me
what gives our freedom to its law.


I’ve always loved the synthetic grandeur of prog rock, the faux-operatic reach of Seventies concept albums like The Who’s Quadrophenia and Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick. It’s completely dorky and completely unavoidable to say that I wrote this poem while listening, over and over, to the Sigur Ros song with which it shares a title. It’s Icelandic for “shipwreck,” and the song was a lesson in how even the smallest scrap of narrative can guide and push one’s response to something abstract, like a song with no lyrics. Crashing, relentless, recycling through my headphones, the song was something to surf through a newly disclosed and apocalyptic terrain, making it possible for me to write poems since then that are wilder and messier and more over the top than what I’ve written in the past.


Joshua Corey is the author of Severance Songs (Tupelo Press, 2011) and two other books of poetry. This poem concludes a manuscript in progress titled The Barons. A chapbook-sized chunk of poems from the manuscript is slated to appear in an upcoming issue of SRPR (Spoon River Poetry Review) in which he will be the Featured Illinois Poet. He lives in Evanston, Illinois with his wife Emily Grayson (an actor) and his three-year-old daughter Sadie Gray (a comedian). Just now he’s playing for the other team by writing a novel with the working title Beautiful Souls. He sometimes keeps a blog at http://joshcorey.blogspot.com.