Four Poems by Mary Jo Bang

BOMB 136 Summer 2016
BOMB 136 Cover

The Game of Roles

In any narrative, facts are present or not. One might assume the more facts, the better the constructed history, since facts are meant to reflect what can’t be computed by storytelling alone, which is said to be subjective and therefore inaccurate. In many cases, the story is filled with complex details, which only one person knows. You sit at a table and turn a page on which marks make letters that suggest a timeline. It’s clear that you believe nothing will ever outrank your cold and unforgiving erudition, however, everything you think is based, even at the most basic neuronal level, on the way you connect a long line of dots. Refined interpretation requires that you know that someone once said the offspring of reality and illusion is only a staggering confusion. Keep in mind that your mind is a twice-shattered light bulb and on the other side of detachment is the fact that someone is busy living while you are translating the fact that she’s dead. Also remember that behind your glass mask is only your mind.

A Ballet Based on the Number Three

We are three: me, he, and she. I am a pocket, he is a needle, and she is the pinprick that resets the elements. A minor annoyance can come to mean more than a minor irritant if it gives rise to a shift in proportion or to a reduction of value. The record of motion is like a slow dance that ends with someone sitting it out. I’m outside now, having left eye, brain, grid and graph behind in order to become an auto-self-selection machine that allows a whole person to disappear. I feel the law growing weaker (that’s father) and the she (that’s mother) no longer the rabbit hole into which one falls and falls and falls.

The Expression of Emotions

Darwin dreams of orchids while I dream of Darwin saying mutability isn’t always elegant, not like the cult objects we once loved. The now-past post-utopian scene is so frayed that the residual sounds like a disintegration tape. What is missing is what we were when we were the gorgeous beginning. Silence can be the gray painted edge of a ship where the water’s nothing takes the shape of the mind forestalling deciding what to do next. Going downstairs and out again onto the patio, the movie of your mind returns you to the dodo, a bird now only believed in. We believed and that brought us to the drowning of the ticking clock and to air filling a well-defined building and years.

The Missing Negatives

In science, design, and architecture, there are no easy answers for what is missing. There is that ship’s-parts paradox based on the principle of asking what is anatomy, what is a nerve impulse and how does a doll act as a bioengineered replica of a body. How does an empty interior echo. No, Plutarch, no, under no circumstances is a ship rebuilt from the same wood the same ship. Apply the same principle (now is only ever itself but for a moment) to anything physical and multiply times two. The two times grow wider apart. Proof of that is the fact that the pout-faced neighbor still doesn’t speak. He stands for some essential silence that is more than merely decorative. He takes multiple forms, first an elephant, benign but crushing, then a bird as the essence of what it is to be betrayed. The tedium of a pink drink, of closed lips, closed mind, without so much as a dimple of kindness to brighten the day.

Mary Jo Bang is the author of seven books of poems, including The Last Two SecondsThe Bride of E, and Elegy, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her translation of Dante’s Inferno, with illustrations by Henrik Drescher, was published by Graywolf Press in 2012. She teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Originally published in

BOMB 136, Summer 2016

Featuring interviews with Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Wadada Leo Smith, Dmitry Krymov, Patricia Treib, Lee Clay Johnson, Jesse Ball, Catherine Lacey, Jason Simon, and Vince Staples.

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