Sunday Jul 14

FasanoJoseph Joseph Fasano is the author of four books of poetry: The Crossing (forthcoming, 2018); Vincent (Cider Press Review, 2015) , a book-length poem that Rain Taxi Review hailed as a “major literary achievement”; Inheritance (2014), a James Laughlin Award nominee; and Fugue for Other Hands (2013), which won the Cider Press Review Book Award and was nominated for the Poets’ Prize. A winner of the RATTLE Poetry Prize, he has been featured by Verse Daily, the PEN Poetry Series, and the Academy of American Poets’ poem-a-day program. His writing has appeared in The Yale Review, The Southern Review, The Times Literary Supplement, The Missouri Review, Tin House, Boston Review, FIELD, Measure, and the anthology Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Any Occasion (Abrams, 2015), among other publications. He teaches at Manhattanville College and Columbia University, where he is the Faculty Advisor of Quarto, the undergraduate creative writing journal. A member of the Editorial Board of Alice James Books, he is the curator of The American Poem Series.

The Horse Breakers of Northern Nevada Prison
What astonishes is the surrender.
These are the skittish days of summer,
and the inmate they call Chicken because he isn’t
stands ready with the sandbags over
his shoulders. He is eighteen. His face
is spider webs and all they have let go of
in their breaking. Break, these horse-
folk tell him. We break them. He knows
what that is. He knows long nights
in stir and the sound of another boy’s face
breaking under your fist because
nothing can stop you once you’ve started.
He knows rum and blood and his own son’s ghost
he carries each night across a river
to lay in the clover on the other shore.

Now, the warden howls, and something
from the unholy heaven of the mindless
falters forward from a raised gate
and sways there, its lightless eyes like
the streets a boy might look down
each night for his own father’s body

where the plainclothes might have laid him
to be found out, his silver nicked
and the blood gun planted. All day
his cellmates have teased him, this boy
who raised his hand to say, I’ll do it, me,
to the city girl who’s come in ribboned sleeves
to let the wild break down the wild,
her teachers patting her on the back
for all she’s done to tame her savage
country. In Wyoming, she’s told them,
mustangs run wild. In Wyoming
there is nothing to be done for them;
they are culled by the dozens
if unbroken; they are the great plagues
of Biblical ages. Chicken can hear
the locusts rolling in his mother’s voice
as she reads to him the stories
of Exodus, the blood staining the sacred rivers
crimson. He can hear, in her low voice,
Numbers, Leviticus, Judges.
Now the beast steps forward
with its nostrils flared, its odors
of heavy women and whiskey. Now
the convicts watch them from the shadows,
the warden folds his forearms with a smile,
blue smoke sifting from his whiskers.
Chicken lifts the sandbags to the horse’s
lips, its wild eyes like spilt milk and rivers.
Wild mares are running through them
to nowhere. Nothing can hold them
where they’re going. Chicken kisses
the great blaze of the ancient face
and we only speak the languages of conquerors.

Flaubert in Egypt

For fifteen years a flock of rare parakeets
has grown in San Francisco, destroying
the local flora. Mitre-crowned and cherry-
red and hybrid, they have escaped or been
released.” –news item
“The only real human sin is impatience.”
The truth is he was middle-aged and already dying
to change into something else.
The truth is he hoped
to write a novel built entirely
on style. It will be the fire
that consumes everything it illuminates,
he said. And I will burn with it
for as long as I can. As in faith, as in
rage, as in a thousand iridescent wings
drifting for their kingdom
again, in their blazing. Tell me
a story, Flaubert is whispering. Tell me

how to trade the world
for its music. Think
of fire, of style, think of the brilliant flocks consuming
what they illuminate, scattering from the telephone wires
as boys throw stones. Style is what happens
when there is everything left to heal
and nothing is singing.
As in cherry-reds, as in flocks
and flocks of hybrids, as in Whitman
kneeling over the wounded as the surgeons
work, whispering his verses
as he holds them. All night he’s pressed his beard
to their foreheads, their moth-breath
against his wrists as surgeons work. All night
he’s written to Camden, Newark, Paumanock,
thumbing the blood from the stained page
of his whiskers. Style, he is thinking,
tell me how to trade the world

for its style. Think of a child
discovering an empty cage,
a soldier staring into the face of a singer
who has come to him. Think anything
can be useless if it is beautiful
enough; anything can be beautiful
if it is useless. Yes, Flaubert
is whispering: Say once
and once and once. Say once,
in the hinterlands, a broken king
labored twenty-seven years
to assemble a pair of perfect, furious wings

from gold and silver and the reticent silk
of his lost queen’s wedding
dress, abandoning the agonies
of his kingdom. In the morning paupers found it
pawing at the frozen ground
under an elder tree,
the light bleeding through the blank pages
of its wings. Say
then, Flaubert is saying, say

then, say the body
is a story. He has left his manuscripts in his desk
and is standing under the shoaling locusts

of an Egyptian sky, waiting for the world
to start singing.
Style, the wings whisper
above him. Think of style. Think of a child
carrying out an empty cage
into the sunlight, asking himself
what the body can sing
and still come back.
When Houdini stood
in chains above the Hudson, the crowd gasped
to see the river frozen
below him. He was young,
still; he still desired
another world in this one. And when
he slipped into the river
in the river, when he gave himself entirely
to history, he had drifted, as the living
do, from faith, from
grace, from the open
light, and he would drift with it for as long as he could.
As in beauty, as in useless
iridescence, as in the blessing
you might cradle in a soldier’s face
when you cradle him like vespers
in the morning air. Yes, Flaubert
is saying, if the soul is only
the girl interrupted from her music

in Vermeer’s dream of her, the way
he gave her the light, its silence, the indifference
of a child, then let her

be still, awhile, before she vanishes
into the story we will make of her.
Let her linger there a moment
in the space where nothing
has happened, where the birds
are gouache, the light
is crimson, where her father has not yet come
to gather her back in his long billowing
sleeves and the city is not yet taken

by plague, a black mark
and a name above every lintel. Sing this,
Flaubert is saying, staring out
into a century of fire. Sing this
with style. And Lenin
does. He does. It is 1901. He is sitting
under the shadow of the Sayan
Mountains, brushing the snow
from his shoulders. I cannot write, he is writing
to his mother. I cannot write a single line
about the snow.   It is winter, he is dressed as a Flemish
peasant, and history
is over.   Why, he’s written
to his mother, why did Flaubert
lie down in a Beirut hovel
with his own death with its fistfuls
of figs and its apricot eyes and the stains on its boyish collar
and not hear we become
the tongues of our hunger? Mother, there are only
two answers, he is saying: history
or silence, suicide

or style. Style was his answer. Style
is what happens
when there is everything left to heal
and you cannot be both
a history and a song. The truth is
he failed, Flaubert, the bare pages flaring
in madness. The truth is
he locked his whale-bone pens in his desk
and touched the colorless urn

that held his father and walked off
to stand under the locusts soughing
through the Egyptian sky, slipping
his fingers into the hand
of a Syrian boy whose name
sounded like rivers and open tombs and cities
burning, and when the plague of grace
had passed him by he wrote no more.
Yes, he simply whispered. Yes.
Think of myth moving through us
like the incredible wings of a common gelding
drifting through the narrow streets
of some city. Think of it winnowing
like flocks and flocks of iridescent
wings, useless and consuming
what they illuminate. Think of the soul turning away
from her music, cupping your face
in her hands until you see, in her onyx

eyes, nothing, cities
burning, trouble. Think of her
holding you with songs that could once

hold you: how tired she is of becoming
each thing: a pauper, an emperor, an escapist
shaking alone in his opening chains
who will come back again and again
until he doesn’t, who will sink down
in the river in the river
and will turn his back
on the madding crowd in his spectacle
that will cost them nothing, in this bitter
light, but their change.
Think of Flaubert
lying alone on the frozen Seine, holding himself

in the solitary apprenticeship
to his life. Grief
with its seamless robe has come
and touched him again, and he is lost, just lost, and the world
is no story at all. Think of Lenin
staring into the open faces
of the miners, their eyes clarified
by the emptiness of their labor.
They have worked on the earth, and it is not enough.
They have tried to be a story, and it is never theirs.
They have asked him, of the dead, what the dying
can say.   As in grace, as in

patience, as in a city’s wings
seen from the distances
like blazing, a soldier’s buttons crumbling
like a radiant cage, fool’s gold
and hewn oak and silver.
As in flocks, as in riches, as in
singing—as in a horse rolling the golden wings from its withers
as the villagers step away from it
bewildered, the rust in the dull scythes
on their shoulders. They are tired
of astonishment. They are tired
of trading their world
for its music. Like
faith, like rage, like the innumerable
and unruly waves of radiant
strays, ruinous and consuming what they illuminate.
Cherry-red, mitre-crowned, hybrid.
Like Whitman, in his rags
of tatters, broken. Like the nesting hands
of a nation’s oldest poet                     
as he kneels down over the bodies
of the soldiers, their moth-breath
against his thinning wrists
as surgeons work. Let him, Flaubert

is saying, let him. Even as he holds them,
and he sings it. Even as they sleep on,
and he cradles them. Even

as he wanders out from their howling
among the vast illiterate clashing of the cosmos
to look up into night, sleep, death, and the stars
and say their names.

for A
after Elizabeth Spires
I live deep in the valley that made us
and I know its ghosts. Last night, riddled
with spirits, I climbed up
to a roadhouse in the foothills
where the locals know a life is just a story.
Tito, the bartender, his hands salted
with remorse, speaking as always
of his home in Juarez…
Style, he says. You have to tell it

with style. And he does, almost, his belly
shaking with the weight of whiskey and ghosts.
They say each night he dreams of his father
kneeling among his days like a herd
of Indian ponies, passing him by,
loaded with good bread and ouzo.
He broke them, his father did,
with old rugs over their withers,
when the world was young.

Did he survive, we ask,
when he points to the place on his belly
where the bullet passed, like praise, quick
through the quick of his father’s life.
He nods and lets the radio bleat
Abandoned Love. Love,                                

sometimes I think I am afraid
of the immensities of the night,
the dark that cannot hear
how we fall through one another
like water, and the flesh that can.
I left that bar, and one day, yes,
I will leave this place, too,
old albums in the shallows,
the sun that lights out over the foothills

like a preacher from an unsaved city.
Once, Tito told me; a life
can begin with once. And perhaps

it can. Once, driving West to the Pacific,
I slept out in the old Chevy
to hear the canyons. Coyotes
howled in the saguaros, closing in
on the hares hidden in the weeds, the river
where I’d let my gold ring settle.
I had wanted, all that mad year, to say
one clear thing to the dead,
one clear thing to the living.
I never did. Style, yes, style
is what you have when you have nothing
left, and I remember how empty
it was, the voice I heard
in that place, nothing
but wind and America singing;
how I slipped the car into gear
and drove all night to the ocean
and lay down on the waves that rinsed me
of the journey. I was young,
once; I wanted
a world other than this one.

Now I look up into the starlight
and see fires that will not come
again, love, the body’s story
that cannot be revisited.
Your absence clambers out of me
from the crossing

like horses through the thorn
along some shore.