On Iconoclasm;
or, A Little History of Statuary Exploding

‘The true statue can be smashed & yet not die.’
—–Wyndham Lewis, 1914

There exists, he meant, a statue inside
the statue. Something ideal even
the least Platonic of objects, even
the desk lamp’s lowered head or next to it
the wine pulsing in its glass imagines
it was made for. That summer what wasn’t
indestructible though? England basked. Books
lay out overnight & in the morning
were dry still & their characters returned
to, & still Heathcliff loved Catherine. Sassoon
hunted foxes. The world, the papers wrote
of those months, was most beautiful before
it imploded. Impossible, after,
to believe, like Lewis, the true statue
could endure forever. Shellfire, first,
then rain gutted Reims Cathedral. Ypres’
collection of virgins burned. How blindly,
we know, the great armies, mud-caked, paraded
to their deaths. Their trenches flooded. The guns’
monotonous pounding pulled up corpses
long abandoned in Passchendaele’s fields, each
acre thick, they said, with poppies. Perhaps,
of course, it is just such destruction one
turns to statuary after. Imagine,
for instance, a future we have finished
expunging each other in. Isn’t it
something, those enormous Buddhas brooding
on just themselves? No one to watch them. No
one to watch the light at Stonehenge measure—–
oh, & what did the living call it?—–time
as it moved across the slabs’ planes. Today,
on television, men with sledgehammers
are crushing into a thousand fragments
the Assyrian tablets alphabets
began on. They are lifting their drills
to the winged, half-human bulls we believed
were divine once. & when they have finished
this work, & when, at last, they have gathered
the scattered westerners left there, & we,
in retribution, & because we are,
like them, a simple people & vengeful,
have levelled their desert hovels, I hope
there is stirring in the rubble some soul-
like shimmering the whole human species
did not deserve. Undroneable spirit. Dear
reader, there are cultures I have heard of
who will carve for their statues a statue
just like it but smaller, an offering,
they say, in thanks for the stone’s surrender
to form. For form read chisels. For chisels,
reader, imagine the crude instruments
for scoring & hacking we practice with.


Car Game Logic

For every statue we erect we eviscerate space: for each road
pinned down some meaningful utterance is snatched like a
fly from a room, marquee tent or empty pool, slimy-wet
around the ridges. The mole pays back for the molehill: you
can’t push matter out or to the side of a dream in a manner
so slipshod. Whatever has come to be required is done or
made regularly, at no small cost. That air freshener is
erected at a lewd angle from the dashboard and cooks its
bleach-cold aroma: it costs the air a bomb. For all the mod
con sound proof there is a whoosh, or hiss, like at any
moment dry ice will creep out over dusty rocks in the
reptile room. I ran short of things to ask my parents in a
manner that suits them while making droplets jump the
landmarks of the school run; to those we owe the
awkwardness. Maybe soon we’ll pass Stonehenge, or the
Angel of the North (if one or both didn’t only pop up willy-
nilly, if the map knew how to mark them), or the
Eurotunnel drill mounted at some point further along, just
beyond those hills, you’re sure (whatever has come to be
required is done or made regularly, at great cost,
like dry
ice in the reptile room). But the fields are bereft of things,
even trees; perhaps these sights were snatched like a fly
from a room while the hush had become an argument; and
it’s not until we quiet again that we clock the car we’re in is
not in fact the thing we thought was moving



Gapers Delay;

or, Mise en abyme with fire & corsage

‘If we shadows have offended,/ Think but this, and all is mended,/
That you have but slumber’d here/ While these visions did appear.’
—–Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Or think the roadside inferno folding
back into itself. Think, instead—–as each
of the fairy kingdom’s capers resolves,
finally, into dancing—–the family
gathered through their windshield, scattered
bits of sheet metal & glass collapsing
behind them into form. It is one thing,
of course, in the charmed midsummer forest
art is. Another, perhaps, imagining
the traffic report this morning—–Montrose
jammed to the bridge, inbound Eisenhower
three lanes of wreckage——rewinding itself
to weather. While I am brushing my teeth,
a landscaping trailer, the radio
says, has jack-knifed on Roosevelt, & south
traffic, rapt, watches as it slows & it
is almost, they think, a kind of painting
they are seeing, bright lawnmowers thrown off
like flowers in their airborne arrangements
of blades. Rakes fluttering. Rubbernecking
it is known as elsewhere. Or spectator
traffic. Gawk block. Gape train. In Ohio,
the Friday of our senior Prom, we watched
the paramedics collect MacKenzie
Flessner from some hacked-up Corolla towed
there for just that purpose. We believed it
all for a moment. They lowered her neck
in the stretcher’s collar. They carried her
around the block in their ambulance. All
art, the point is, aspires likewise to wrench
us from complacency. Or to make us
turn from our tedious regimes of talk
radio & our affairs & dying to look
on at some spectacular violence
made pleasing, Puck understands, exactly
as it fails to involve us. It is Puck,
after all, who explains at play’s end every
sword brandished in the rude mechanicals’
one-act masque is fake, made, he says, by Snug,
joiner, & Flute the bellows mender. Puck
who assures us some high beauty indeed
exists in the fairy court’s forcible
arrangement of Athens’ marriages. Men
in that play take their names, you will observe,
as we used to from their labour. Starveling
the tailor. Tinker. Smith. It was my father’s
business literally, once, to wreck
cars against a concrete wall, & to note
in the cameras’ still lives the precise
angles Cadillacs crumpled at, or how,
to the millisecond, a Chevy’s side-
impact airbags burst, though not one hour
of that work—–wrecker, mangler of steel—–stopped
the eighteen-wheeler one night, late, from taking
our Ford against its grille a quarter mile
down Interstate 70. Everything
slowed. Glass popped. We caromed across
its trailer, & if I inform you, oh
my curious, slack-jawed groundling, how, or
the hundred ways we should have died that night
will you picture, as I do still, its sets
of smoking wheels buckling the A-pillar
inches from my father’s head? Oh will you,
my gape-monger, imagine the traffic
westbound? Those expensive, delicate cars
that must have seen something dazzling, a man
& boy swept up in their calamitous
slow dance of blood & plastic. Gasoline
blooming. We are having an accident
I said to my father, whose name, Kempf, meant
fighter once, or warrior. Remember
this began in the forest. In the gym’s
rafters, little cutout fairies folded
their wings. The bunting & streamers our trees
were made from fluttered & shirred in the night’s
hot breeze. & when it was over, the ice
melted in its punch bowls, the last sad song
gone quiet, we walked to our cars—–MacKenzie
Flessner, who lived, & Tim Stewart & Steph
Montgomery & I, & Jesus & Shakespeare
& a bottle of Boone’s Farm my father
had bought for us just this once—–we went out
into the darkness & started its engine.



What bivalve mollusc has lodged itself within the seafood medley just-served
that needs to be sent back, that makes the room turn, sliding in grey sludge.
What nook of the seabed has been disturbed so haphazardly
I could almost hear the thing confide were it not for the hot steam, and I picture
its drunk lips going squeamish in the company of a battered prawn or squid ring
and so it tugs at the pork in the base of my spine. Were I to squat and have someone
burrow with a pair of tweezers newly sterilized with a flame, would they find a wedge of guilt,
shaped something like a bivalve mollusc, between the bottom piece of vertebrae
and the cubby hole of my pelvis? Could I dry it on the sill in a hot sun till it crumbles,
then flake it into the restaurant fish-tank where clown fish are preoccupied
avoiding the lurid mini castle and the cropped tree root, which embarrass them, I conjecture,
more so than the firecracker crustaceans being guzzled to their right. I want to watch
their mouths pucker like an arse to the water’s skim, and feel responsible as a cool, clean knife
cracking open an oyster shell, and talk to them about the cows out in the fields,
who brew a thing called milk for our consumption, who sag just to make it,
and of the small cows who are calves and are known to drink it as well. Milk being
a cool, clean liquid which holds our bones and stuff together more cheaply than water.


Pro Patria

—–monument to 14th Connecticut, high-water mark, Gettysburg

For that they loaded their rifles. For that,
air thick with metal, they stepped to the wall
& rose, & the glory on them then—–men,
you understand, who signed their names, no, not
for money this war, or for land—–laid down,
their stone says, a most magnificent fire.
Galling fire. Withering fire. A fire fine
& pleasing it was to the Lord. Like grain
threshed, the enemy—–Et cetera. Summer
in Pennsylvania. All month the busses
with their tourists glide back & forth, fish-like,
down Confederate Avenue. They pass
slowly in their Jeeps & Escalades, great
gallant Northern generals flickering
off their windshields, the South’s small plaques
flashing, once, in the light then darkening.
History, of course, is like that. Imagine,
for instance, the long line of Virginians
rippling the near slope. Who saw, or must have,
almost, beyond the Union cannon, lamp
light burning in New York City. Or saw,
stretched before them like a field, that future
they had risen for. Flood plain. Plain of fruit
& majesty. & lavish, I would say. See,
how the park’s yellow-vested lawn crews prune
& arrange their landscape—–manicurists
they are called—–so not one wheat blade ripens
that was not here. How, when the birds returned
& the armies, exhausted, wandered back
to their borders, the bureaucracies—–complex
& vast—–attending them swept the field. They
tallied their dead. It is not staggering.
From the 14th Connecticut—–seven
their stone says. Beside them, the 69th
Pennsylvania—–eight. Three flags. A horse. Here
for the last time, that war, it was, language,
equal to our grandeur & fury. It was
with splendid appearance with colours raised
in glory & just was their cause & just
was their sacred & valour. & for that,
we know, they wrote to their children. For that
they picked their way, wheeling now & stepping
light among their marvellous dead. Not yet,
for them, that keen-edged irony Owen
sharpened in Picardy. Strop of—–& which,
one will note, our poem today mainly
refuses. But I want to tell you now
that across from the Bloody Mile dozens
of the park’s visitors are sipping Cokes
at the town’s newest McDonalds. I want
to tell you that these summers the cities
of America are filled with the bodies
of young black men though for that, I have read,
the country shuddered once & ruptured. No,
dulce the monuments say, which is sweet
in American. & it is. Tonight,
here, the cows in their pastures, fat for us
& who sag with their plenty, will let down
their heads in a beautiful country. & I,
who have not suffered, will sit in a bar
they call the Blue & Gray & will drink beer
with the bikers & college kids, our gins
& sodas, our pitchers of Rolling Rock
sweating in their glasses, & there will be
sweet music on the jukebox & all of us
will swear to you, yes, we will tell ourselves
it is beautiful. It is beautiful.


You just know

that boundaries exist to be tested, and everyone knows
(because he won’t shut up about it) that the boy on the back
row of the coach coming home from Ypres needs to masturbate
and is going to have to wait at least four and a half hours to tame
the snake, and the only way to get in the flat-headed straws of
sherbet is to bite them, which is of course crude, as crude as having
a password for the sweet deal for those coming back from Ypres.
And the road to Calais seems to bend indefinitely, and the coach
chucks itself and the weight of the lives of these kids at great speed
and is held between the oncoming reams of coaches on their way
to Ypres and the rows of sugary trees pristine in their little collars
of cable tie. And someone managed to get stoned, to bring with
them the magnesium smell, and it’s there in the corrosive tangerine
of the tractor coughing smoke, ploughing fields of salted caramel and
which might veer off beyond them, threshing mounds of concrete,
chewing up rats and benign snakes in the grass before plunging into
delicately maintained bunkers and ditches, mangling itself on sewage
pipes further down, emerging with a buck-up, stupidly and heroically
unseen, on the brow of a hill with a wistful crunch to say it’s hard
for a thing to stay immaculate, except the glassy light of Ypres.