After Plato by James McCorkle

BOMB 73 Fall 2000
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At night I drop a stone on my sternum, again and again, waiting for it to crack.

To be beautiful, he wrote, it must be suffused with desire.

Our history is the opposite, the river predicted, shadows gathered like fruit.

To be in untruth—location is autumnal, rain intermittent.

Afterwards, the questions are left scattered on the floor: hawthorn, walnut, flowering pear.

After this long, what could be expected but general failure, denied reading, closed roads.

The breaking of light, as in dawn breaks, is the physics of curves and density, the obstruction by particles thrown into the sky: the more splendid the more the light has shattered, the denser the air.

A flood overcomes, in looking, ourselves, once, passes through our eyes, we shudder, he writes.

Everywhere there is the dividing: into greater and lesser, into forms, each ascending into another.

Everywhere, then, a leave taking, elegies for this world.

Afterwards, the light, then, sends only its shadow.

In the brush ahead, a cardinal,
Out of winter, the meadow to the left saturated green.

It moves in the understory, calling,
Then a short flight, more a hop, than flying,

That flash of red, a moving target,
Arresting as we stood,

The sound vanishes, the red spot still snagged in the brush,
A flame, but in its vanishing,

More the afterglow of coal, the remains, or not that
But light glancing from feathers.

But the air, what is it—sudden and translucent, the first moment
Before memory sets in, tracking the bird,

Or heavier, tumescent, the brush thickens, the cardinal’s red is lost to its
Russet and dun, sumac and willow thickets.

The bird could rise out of the brush into clear air,
Then turn, and disappear against the sun

As though an illustration of body following soul,
Where the world falls away as pattern,

As though to write world is only a mimicking of what
Could be said before

Disappearing, and to say world is to break everything, leaving
Barren willow-thicket and air, sumac and meadow

Feed by snow-melt from a ditch back-hoed before
The last March storm closed the roads for three days.

Afterwards, the weather changed, the snow collapsing,
The meadow pooling into green ponds where our footprints crossed

On a diagonal from road to tree line,
The shortest route, not the line of song we followed

Through sumac and maple saplings, Plato said
The birds were a race of men who imagined the clearest

Demonstration of the things above was to be obtained by sight,
And so, I think, we watch ourselves,

The bird in the bush, the bird in the meadow,
Plato condemning both, another history beginning when he turned his back

And walked out, the birds singing, everywhere geometries
Forming from the trees, trajectories of flight

Ordered into systems of priorities dictated from concrete silos buried
In the plains, always running numbers toward ignition.

This is abstraction’s polished bone, its equation: once here, never
To return, the calculus unfailing.

Writing this, two cardinals break across the window’s meadow,
Framed for a moment, before curving out of sight

Beyond my confinement, like flames racing ahead of the burning
Woods, the fields scorched.



Here is a proposition: the landscape seen
Will be the last that has
Made its own law from its own form—deer move through
The trees, a lit space of verticals bleached
In winter light, a scrim before the forest.
I could walk out among the old pines,
Their trunks running with resin,
Crows in the top branches,
The ground almost soft with needles—around me
The forest is brown, dark green,
This is the word, pine, but there is nothing to answer,
To it, the word crow, but none answer.
Stone, but none answer—I remember
Being lost as a child, in the Sierras
One bright summer afternoon,
Believing the way from the house to the lake
Could follow a straight line,
How I thought I would remember the way back
By the shapes of stones, the brief meadows,
But turning, each stone and boulder,
Each meadow was the same,
The ground became a mesh of paths,
The air chirred, then finding a dry stream bed,
Followed it up, and back
To the gravel road, the house a mile off.
Nothing answered, I am in my own clearing,
The ground its own element, the trees, the stones,
Their own—
          overhead, geese tracking the eastern flyway north,
I’ve watched for owls here, but never have seen any,
Skunks foraging in a gully, deer cutting across a meadow,
Someone seeded the roadside with a wildflower mix—
                    heliotropes and Icelandic poppies
Will bloom through late summer:
This place already cleared at least once, healing over,
Leaving me
In the boundary’s leg between depth
And dwellings.

James McCorkle is a poet and essayist who has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundaton and the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize from Sarah Lawrence College.

Joseph Bartscherer by James Welling
Bartscherer 01 Body

In memory of Joseph Bartscherer (1954–2020), BOMB is reposting this interview from 2008.

Sean McFarland by Ashley Stull

Finding landscapes in the least obvious places.

Björn Larsson by Rachel Reese
Works of Translation

Photographer Björn Larsson discusses the perception shifts he experienced when documenting the miraculously slow and unrelenting growth of nature.

Originally published in

BOMB 73, Fall 2000

Featuring interviews with Vik Muniz, Shirin Neshat, Madison Smartt Bell, Javier Marias, Misia, Michael Frayn, Karyn Kusama, and Michael Roth.

Read the issue
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