Thursday Night Poetry
On the off chance that he ever googles his own name and this site comes up, I present the editor of the Georgia Review, a man I had the privilege of meeting in Austin at the AWP only a few hours after I quoted his poem "Walt Whitman In Hell" at length in my presentation, Mr. T. R. Hummer. (And if you are reading this, Mr. Hummer, take your time with those poems I sent you. I'm in no rush.)
Tonight's selection is the title poem from his 2001 book Useless Virtues:
At midnight in the backyard hot tub,
pleasantly drunk, three old friends argue
One more time the meaning of The Book of Job.
Floating in brothel-scented foam
Under California constellations, it is easy
to picture the Man of Suffering, the whirlwind,
Dead cattle, the warehouses of the snow--
especially the warehouses, which have vast
Quartzite double doors, where helicopters
of ethereal whiteness enter and vanish, hauling
Neither suffering nor glory, but only another
disgusting winter day for Moscow or Trenton,
Stoic taxis rusting through generations
of storm-sown salt. It is about the moral
Evolution of the idea of God. It is about
the survival of its own obdurate narrative,
Which could rescue even us nonbelievers
from easy sentiment. It is about nothing
Except the incommensurability of everything,
the shitty drama of pain that stretches
From Behemoth down to the structure of the atom.
Nobody agrees. Even God refuses to be God
But breaks down in a windy turbulence.
More wine. And the three of them lean back,
Waching lights sign the absolute sky, where,
as though all human consciousness were forming
One vast, slow thought, the dream of the Cambodian boy
on a red-eye flight to Dallas interweaves
Baseball, temple bells, roadkill, cemeteries, bread,
sexual ambiguity, and a poster of Pol Pot nailed
To the wall of a compound, monsoon-faded, laced
by bullet holes. The image comes through
This clear, this real: a yellow-and-black spider
makes its decisive way across the vacant left eye
Of the dictator, which has been precisely punctured
by a round from a surplus M-16. Meanwhile,
the 737 that cradles this sleeping boy reclined
in its blue-striped seat threads darkness between
Los Angeles and Albuquerque, vapor trail
a strand of invisble web joining the strafed
Face of the moon and an H-bomb test site.
Everyone on the plane is sleeping, even the pilot,
Like God, oblivious at the switch, and all the people
oblivious to his oblivion--otherwise
They would wake up screaming sensibly.
But everything riding the sky tonight is silent.
Leviathan tortures Orion bloodlessly, and the great
Eagle Nebula, screwing stars out of twisted nothing,
Is twenty-three trillion miles of decorum. Still
the cattle are dead, the children are dead,
The body is pierced with cankers, and, on every horizon,
snow masses its chronic obedience.