Mark DeCarteret’s poems wear their elegant disillusionment lightly, as if they knew that only by losing our projections do we see clearly: “The same ad for dawn again. How I’ve mastered/ its theme song but not the game show that follows.” These lovingly made poems, charged with wit and uncanny insights into our quotidian, linger on all that’s unstill: the sea, deer, the self. “Anything not solid is at a loss” until the poet endows it with language. Giving the lie to the book’s title are the signs of vocation everywhere evident in these savvy and unsparing pages.
— Askold Melnyczuk, founder of AGNI
Excerpts from For Lack of a Calling
The Farewell Season
I’ve been paired up with the earth much too often,
my body, year after year, chummier with its peat-stink –
here, where the ferns are nefariously threaded tight
and the newts safe guard its most comical songs –
but back, mattering less, festering, spring after
spring, as if I’m the smuggler’s redolent stash,
being smacked against the butt end of history.
Rocks play dumb. And trees have stopped keeping score,
having been twisted into crosses out next to the parking lot
where the car-tops are worried with crow-crap.
South, there’s a thousand more like me. And north,
they can’t tell us from the voices the wind’s thrown.
Only the river’s been insistent, turning out more of itself,
ceaseless and vacant-eyed, only detouring for love,
to catch up on more of the sea and its past lives.
I cock my head, gumming some remedy, growing
simpler by the minute but only when I’m half-in-it.
My mug shots droop down like moss. I’ve the skin-tint of porridge.
And have spent the last hour giving lap dances to tree-stumps.
O, you who’ve fared better, breathe deep for me –
those few who raft air, who are wafted, whisked-off,
be sure to roach-clip my remains and sample some of my plaint
when I’ve bottomed out, un-noteworthy and furred,
finally nailing my poet-role and rough-drafting towards lore.
In Defense of Thomas Bernhard’s Soul
1453 could’ve been the day before yesterday
and let’s say oblivion the day before that.
With that in mind, the wind sure feels pleasant.
I hold off swallowing the olive because
it strikes me as the right thing to do,
almost Christ-like in some light.
What risk is there filing one’s life under sleep?
Or to sleep like the pulse-less, kissed-off?
For the sleeper is at home in heaven as in hell.
Lead me to those most pliable of memories
or if you wish just the moon –the shined-up
side one can only see when standing here.
The best of lines come like a door-stopper.
When lashed to no one god’s mast the seas
are not so much open as unfazed, bluest-blue.
I was lent ten times this in happiness.
I fattened-up, grew ever-mightier, on happiness.
Nothing looks dafter on the page than happiness.
Ever since I put out the new mat I’ve been
kept up all night by its ceaseless pleading.
May it be washed of my sins and the sins of my friends.
Please, tell me I haven’t lost you. Are we not
so much made, wrestling free from damnation,
as forever dreamt-up, taking one for the team?
A creak in the board swears it would not let me fall.
All well and good but will I have the words for it?
No, the best lines come like the prettiest of swords.
Rye Harbor, August 27, 2005
Trapped in a tidal pool, late August,
at that starless letting-up of twilight,
a tuna tested the yet unseen moon
as if sensing its pull and its whitish start,
turning towards future perfect, its fin
this titanium accessory, tensing up
as it lapped again, silently powered,
having already refused the sun and its past-
takes –its latest run of sufferings and rust,
and making even less of the water’s indifference –
its tone flattening, note by note, over time,
or the setting, those likeminded stones
with their cold stare and depth,
that unsettling algae atop most of them,
the fish opting to step it up, circling “yes” in ink
as imperceptible as these spectators’ thinking
so there was nothing left for our cameras to see
but our own flashes, half-imagined tempests.
Afterwards – bedlam
heaven’s inked –
of peculiar quiet,
yielding – zeros.
Born in Lowell Massachusetts in 1960, Mark DeCarteret graduated from Emerson College with a B.F.A. in Creative Writing in 1990, where he was selected by Bill Knott as their representative at the Greater Boston Inter-collegiate Poetry Festival, and from the University of New Hampshire with an M.A. in English-Writing in 1993, where he was selected by Mekeel McBride and Charles Simic for the Thomas Williams Memorial Poetry Prize. He’s published five books of poetry and has appeared in nearly 400 literary reviews including AGNI, Boston Review, Caliban, Chicago Review, Conduit, Confrontation, Cream City Review, Diagram, Poetry East, Salamander, as well as anthologies such as American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon Press), Thus Spake the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader 1988-1998 (Black Sparrow Press), and Under the Legislature of Stars: 62 New Hampshire Poets (Oyster River Press), which he also co-edited. Mark served as Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s seventh Poet Laureate from 2009-2011 and currently works at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter.
Copyright © 2018 Mark Decarteret
Cover photograph courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.
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