Bewilderness | Vexing Lapidary


poems by Marc McKee



We honor the dead by living, remember
the living by dying. A sound presents itself
then we name it TABLE CRYING when
we are helping a friend move and the table
doesn’t seem to want to move where she does.
What a small part of the deluge! yet even
simply speaking into or at it produces a break
like the crest of a wave announcing
just how far away from the will of the earth
the will of the water can move.
We make assertions, we make things up
and then our hand is touched and then what touches
moves away but what one once said was
out of the past we make the present,
unless we are interested in secreting the world
away, bit by bit, into the museums of dust and chance.
One place red-lit with a spiked disco ball, one restaurant
like a big enough flower for all the bees.
One stretch of highway still terrorized by marauders,

marauded by terrorizers, into our flight path


many things noticed and un-. Voices like rain
funneled through a busted megaphone,

hands like claws, tail-lights out—what can be
mistaken for safe? We honor the dead

by living how? What of their sad and failing reach
whistles through the Society for Creative

Anachronism?—seen once a week over months
the SFCA grows into armor, weaponry. Shields

and attacks. Sound an echo cousin to the Jaguar
spun against a parked van which sounds

like a box of books tumbling in a moving truck
as if a box of books wasn’t scary enough.

It’s as if there were still another war
but the most up-to-date globe can’t tell us

where. We outpace cartography, we are
what we make or what is made of us,

bristling like spit in a valve. Imaginary cornet,
imaginary player, imaginary agents

of insurance. See how those on the billboard
appear to be without foreheads or noses—


It’s eerie, but this is what insurance agents
are supposed to look like. While you think
of what to say, another airplane makes

another little tear in the sky. What’s there
to do in a place once you’ve already left
but find yourself still there? Why do I like

the songs that break apart to lively violins
harmonizing death, the shadow of liquor,
the indefatigable river carrying us off

not losing us yet we are loosed. Here’s a drama
perhaps minor tragedy, here’s a fly copulating
with another fly, here’s a hearing we can’t, a meal

made of mush, ingredients: mush and MSG,
here a streak made in the dust on the floor
in the shape of a sliver of the moon

and a door opening, what next comes
is not obvious though history likes to say
what was inevitable, to look good on television

and not be reduced to a woman crushing
her hat black in one hand. The man watching.


This is the world we were making all along.
Moving under slick, barely protective skins.
Talking into waves. The bell waist of the wine glass
skewering the eye under the lamp, one bulb
working, the last bulb in the ashtray
and in filling over and over the ashtray
continues to be a gift. Instructions are
never decoded. Either not enough or
too much is said of the drive home from
the funeral. Down in the willow garden
This place here grows without our thumbs
and grows wild with. And now to anthrax
says the newscaster. In the equation real + ism=
realism, ism is the quality that reduces copious
scope the way speech creates distance
like the way the universe expanding creates
a lot more space to traverse but talking anyway
is a gesture of faith, as when some inspired
soul whispers into the gallery and takes a Chagall.
When the ransom note comes,


I am sentimental as a stone

but a stone in one of those movies

where the stone finds its way.

Death is my snow leopard

but as in the myth of the snow leopard

that turns against its master.

Master is invented.  Snow leopards

exist, finely loping just the way one she

ago brings a cake cut in the shape of a cross

into the bar.  And the whole time,

someone has taken a piece of art,

and kept it, saying Until there is peace,

this will not be in the world.  Alissa said

the joke in Holland was that polaroids

would appear each day

with the painting propped up with a paper

displaying the date.  One by one

every piece of art begins to disappear,

brick by brick, stone by stone,


only the reception desks are left. Then, films
go missing, the world grows devoid of color
and sound. Crucifixes, candelabras, scimitars,
piano benches lonely and lonelier, flags.

Maps. Scientific tests, minor chords, firing
mechanisms. That button, this. By twos,
file cabinets empty, plastic roses wilt,
graffiti vanishes. The trunk of a tree

growing out of a sidewalk recedes.
Billboards cease proclaiming, monochromatic
airplanes unsure of their tribe refuse
to take off. Flashing lights, desk lamps,

labels on bottles. Ashtrays, volume knobs
are turned down then plucked. Keys.
Venetian blinds, circulars. First
the brand names, then the matter contained.

Contraptions try to become still, fearful. Font,
fount, funding. Something yearning
in the static. The mouths hold onto breath,
trying to taste it. It is nearly too much,


to evoke the magnitude of vanishing. A series
of blinks and sign language evaporates.
Velociraptors, chocolate cupcakes, ice-cream
makers, trolleys, captives and captors, hybrids,
greenhouses, school bells, pigtails, pint glasses,

notebooks, satchels, taxis, telephone poles, praxis,
hidden cemeteries, executive gifts, banjo samples,
harlequins, skyscrapers, bridges, swimming pools,
gluestick, paper bags, stereo systems, telephones,
tools, aisles, extension cords, skeletons, paint,

glass ceilings, bills, nooses, restaurants made
from cabooses, wills signed in triplicate,
imbricated roofs, car commercials, stars
representing detergents, directions, insurrections,
deflections, delegations, flagellations,

gas stations, signs, twine, electric harnesses,
hull wax, cutting boards, silver bowls,
bottle caps, dimensions, spectrum of chainsaw,
elastic, yo-yos, bling, tabling, theory of string,
and this but a skimming slide-show of the missing,


the cartons of milk crowd out the word milk

with the lost and then lose all, the liquid

sucked up by the earth! to say nothing of

construction, madding, batting, strafing,

chafing, das ding, ineptitude, platitude,

collaptitude, inexact change, mange, epitaphs,

pictographs, nature preserves, plums,

ectoplasm, serial numbers, disinfectants,

the amount of string and the tensile strength

you’d need just to hold the already-passing world


together for only an instant, it’s impossible

and yet each day at each second in our illusion

of time someone takes a step or takes a step back

or glances or sinks further into themselves.

We have taken everything back, the world

all along we were making which came to this.

The frontier void and formless.  The shadows

where we wait are cool and patient.

The transformatives are held on our tongue tips

like corrals for the panoramic maybe—


We will vanish soon.

But not before we open our mouths.

Our breath is held just another second,

another, waiting for the right instant

to release all that we hold within us.

Enterprising replenishing.

Until we can let all fashioned by our dreams

appear.  Each is filled to nearly bursting,

each alike and vastly different in wish.

This world we can yet make.

Even the dust will glow.

Even a good-bye kiss will be lodged

in the record.  Something about metal

gentled, there remain shrieks of pain

but mercy will have hands.

Each will be themselves, will feel slightly

above rudimentary physics, love unsequestered.

Now.  It will really be something.

We are tense, nearly blossoming with restraint.

We are nearly ready.



Vexing Lapidary

It is never the same sun that falls
on the spot that is never the same
spot and from this premise
mythologized alibis spring,
palpitating like lichen foaming
at the splits time opens
in the sculpture that is never
the same stone although
there is one cataclysm in its past
giving its future a flaky
and intemperate rudder. The world
is like what? Who doesn’t have
a cataclysm they look back on,
a moment of almost perfect disaster
even the earth. When we make
a thing to last, we only craft an idea
and ideas make us do the most
impermanent-making things.
Given the speed of all this revolving
we are moving very quickly
so by now that rapturous disaster
with its accompanying disasters
and serendipities have fallen through
such night-sheared brightnesses,
endured such rotations as we tried to learn
breathing, one day a trident
twisting inside us, rotation, a stone
worn smooth, rotation, below us only
sky deepening in hue towards invisible
as we do what we can
to live from one end of this life
to the other, the wave that is never
the same wave putting itself together
even while taking itself apart
and just look at those disasters there
in the distance now
and how almost lovely.



Marc McKee