Westerlyby Will Schutt
A young soldier dons Napoleon’s hat. An out-of-work man wanders Berlin, dreaming he is Peter the Great. The famous exile Dante finally returns to his native city to “hang his crown of laurels up.” Familial and historical apparitions haunt this dazzling collection of poems by Will Schutt, the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger
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A young soldier dons Napoleon’s hat. An out-of-work man wanders Berlin, dreaming he is Peter the Great. The famous exile Dante finally returns to his native city to “hang his crown of laurels up.” Familial and historical apparitions haunt this dazzling collection of poems by Will Schutt, the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets award.
Coupled with Schutt’s own voice are the voices of some of Italy’s most prominent nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets including Giacomo Leopardi, Alda Merini, Eugenio Montale, and Edoardo Sanguineti. Subtle, discerning, restrained, the poems in Westerly probe a vast emotional geography, with its contingent pleasures and pains, “where the door’s always dark, the sky still blue.”
…some narrow sickness buried you.
Whatever boyhood I had
fate hijacked too. Old friend, is this that
world we stayed awake all night for?
Truth dropped in. Far off,
your cool hand points the way.
Read an Excerpt
By WILL SCHUTT
Yale UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2013 Yale University
All rights reserved.
We Didn't Start the Fire
Two doors down lived a descendant of de Sade.
He rode a vintage Trek in a gingham shirt.
A blue Hamsa strung around his neck
waved when he waved. The name meant
nearly nil to us, cluelessly humming the catalog
of history in "We Didn't Start the Fire"—
Harry Truman, Ho Chi Minh, Rockefeller, Roy Cohn.
Hunting arrowheads, we made o with a haul
of tangled wires, nickeled tubs. Some inheritance.
Children of thalidomide, hypodermics on the shore.
Between the cemetery and schoolhouse
rows of thuja formed a buer. Most headstones
looked as if an animal had rubbed his back
up and down against them. Most hurricanes
amounted to little more than steady drizzle.
Townies spray-painted the bridge: "Sayonara,
Bob" or "Safe travels, Sucker." At sunset
summer people walked their drinks down
to the beach—the happy human chain—
each tethered to one spot, each for now alive.
Golden State Sublet
The unfurnished third-floor walk-up
slept four to a room. We dropped our bags
on the deep padding of the brand new
cut and loop carpet and called it a night.
Another summer we'd be sleeping elsewhere.
Each morning kids from Heroica
Nogales or Zacatecoluca or whatever the hell
the oven was they'd shimmied up out of
went door-to-door hawking loaves of bread
their mothers had baked for a buck
while their fathers hit the curb till sundown,
then wandered back, work or no work,
stopping most of the night on the stairwell.
The rims of their big, far-o, lacquered eyes
shuttered up as we stepped over them.
Unlike their fathers, the kids sank a hook in you
with their eyes so that it was harder to say
"No, gracias, nada," wheel around them
and head o for a dollop of egg fooyung
at the Dollar Chinese or corn grilled
husk-on and served right out in the glare
of the pavement with a lump of paprika
mayonnaise and a wedge of lime. Night after night
a waitress netted our dinner from a fish tank
crowded with bright gorgonian polyp.
Surfing had been the whole point
of that summer, some maundering fancy of going
out with the tide. We took turns with a book
about Jack London's trip to Hawaii
before he dropped dead at Beauty Ranch.
Beauty Ranch, the name seemed so American,
the rough and smooth ends of it
elbowing each other out, how ranch stuck
a muzzle on beauty. We called the silent
afternoon sprawl of the ocean "Pluto Zilch,"
sitting westward way out beyond the breakers—
the one way we knew nothing
would drag us under, and we could sit very still
with the big sun fleecing our chests
and maybe catch a glimpse of Guadalupe
fur seals before somebody paddled by.
"Sit there all you like, at some point
you pussies are going to get pummeled."
That August two pretty peroxide blond
call girls moved in. One was hiding
from her husband. The other was company.
"Gringo Pimps," they called us.
"Here for a laugh?" We just stood back,
wanting to fuck them but afraid of the clap.
We used to lie very still at night
hoping to hear their voices through the wall.
One night we heard the girls beat each other up.
It seemed harmless enough at first.
Mock screaming. A few halfhearted slaps.
Then a sudden, blunt thunk
you couldn't shake out of your ears.
Then the awful, dumb, protracted silence.
We lay very still in our room, one
ear in the air, another against the carpet.
Fragment from a Coptic Tunic
They draped it over the dead.
That's how it survived
(frayed, mealy, spotted)
as a language 10% of the population
speaks inside a temple
survives on the outskirts of a slum.
Spanish, Hindu, Arabic,
Greek, each museumgoer's headset
murmurs in the room.
Last week, twenty-six
Christians were shot in Cairo.
Neighbors marched the corpses
through the streets, their shirts
pursed in the heat or parted
by a strange wind. I wonder
what the salvo of utter faith feels like
compared with the slightly dull
sensation I get, skimming half
the story ("shock—surprise—
anger"), squaring the paper
against") and planting it in my pocket
like a curved blade in a sheath.
Transparent Window on a Complex View
Brilliant lemon morning. Tania outside
dumping mulch. Two doorstop snowshoe
hares by the door: winter morphs with ferruginous
scu on their ears. Set on dishcloths,
they're a mix of iron sconce and birch bark.
Honey bunch in the garden. On the sill
a Ziploc bag of permanently wet radicchio
we bought at the farmer's market
from kids in Carhartts who return each year
to tend the horse-powered farm. Apostolic
boredom in their silent straight mouths,
they listen to the chef from the Mexican restaurant
called El El Frijoles sautéing Quorn in soy sauce
and talking up the nutritional value of imitation meat.
Yuma Yellow, the light outside. An unlikely
favorite. Not mine. Fairfield Porter's.
He failed to jump some railroad tracks in a car
that color. To him, what was solid was miraculous:
planes of light, day-old eggs on a white dish,
objects taken frankly by the hour on their own.
No one is especially pretty or monstrous
posed on his lupine and dandelion couch:
Running socks. A red hat. A rocking horse.
That which was real, and changing, and light.
It's a tunnel of sorts. They're all tunnels, I guess,
even Further Lane and Muchmore Drive,
which would have us believe beyond the sagging
split-rail fence lies the answer to an urban
dream. Not everyone who dreams dreams the beach.
For a while dead-ends are in vogue. For a while
open, uncharted cities. Years go by and all we've done is stare
at the ocean from one end of a mile-long lane
with our human eyeballs subject to the brain's commotion.
This was my boyhood, if you cared: the long
sweet coastal glide to paradise. Babinski raking his father's
field with a sprained wrist, endless ears of corn
left on the cornstalk firing out of their husks almost
edible. Memory Lane also mystifies: the sun
dwindling in a stream, me rewinding some hopeful words:
"Remembering is nice": and all the early anger
leaks out of my heart: then and now, home and boyhood:
there was a time that was enough to make
my head spin: reading another old stiff scanning the surf
for his floating face: same thought, same forms
of thought following their accidental beeline, like the few
undying oystermen taking a detour to the tavern
off Sagg Road, where the door's always dark, the sky still blue.
The whole coast within eyeshot.
I can count the ribs of the ocean—
Caribbean blue, Atlantic green,
Caribbean blue—and patches of hillside
wild hogs have stripped. "Look
away," says the hill, covering her face,
soaping her cheeks with a cloud.
But I'm human and can't help myself
any more than hogs can. I go on
looking at the bright bathers as they step
out of the ocean to towel off
with their bright, Testarossa red towels
like God's laughter. It all starts
with shame and want, I think, and ends
in shamelessness and want not.
I can stand here so still a cicada might
mistake me for a stump and stab
my bare leg to its bare heart's content.
From a Middle Distance
At this moment I'm sitting in the sun
leafing through a book
on Velázquez with a pithy line
about his having painted mankind
because he couldn't see angels.
Exuberant, out of style, its Edwardian
era prose makes me blush,
eighteen again and gut-struck by ideas
I've just discovered in art
house films. I called movies films
back then. My labored hyperbole
put most people to sleep.
Now lunch is meager: steamed
asparagus, a glass of lemon water.
I'm learning to suck wind—
an old phrase of my father's
who'd drop words like copacetic with a wink
standing under a windmill
in tennis whites scuffed with clay
where he'd fallen during a match.
It's funny to see the bare trees
stunned out of their comas
by this unseasonable January
mopping the yard in lambent apricot
strokes, or watch snowmelt
disappearing in creeks
that politely disappear in the river.
Everything appears equally important
if all of it's to be gotten over:
ideas, styles, and incidents
of greater impact, which are personal
and therefore alone in me
translating into a yellowish morbidity.
"Speak well of me,"
says my father, and I offer
only knotted phrases that do not speak,
digging further into the book's
detail of Las Meninas: the narrow
face of a rousing mastiff
whose dark narrow eyes betray
knowing, which is to say restraint.
Forgetting Waukesha, Remembering St. Helena
Forget the evenings of Slivovitz and sloe berry.
Forget drawing the immemorial
o-white latch. Forget willows on the banks
and the willow slips from whence.
All that you try with your mouth can be summoned:
boats the family sank by chopping
holes in the hull when they couldn't afford
Hoover's levy and children resorted
to rides on the dumbwaiter to spirit those prolonged
Wisconsin winters. At Napoleon's funeral,
a young foot soldier tried fitting on
the emperor's hat, hoping to spring to life
for the lachrymose officers and ladies
gathered in cool St. Helena. Having homage
and well-meaning mime in mind.
They were, after all, shutting Napoleon
inside four cons as if he'd breathe like a potato.
It had that solemn air of the ridiculous,
you know, the soldier not getting his hat on square.
Postcard of Peter Lorre Embracing Lotte Lenya, 1929
Momentarily he's my young father
refusing to break the news he's been laid off
and lay the groundwork for divorce. It's difficult to explain.
The mind rehearses, playing dress-up with a life.
He cannot hook the woman, his pinkies trained
perpendicularly. A vintage dress shirt slips from the line.
Pulling away in the middle of a dance, dancers become
movement on a floor—off-white, chamois. In his silence,
who is she, closing her eyes, four strands of her boy's hair
combed purposefully aside, allowing the white
of her raincoat to mask him? Mother, wife, coat.
She arches her back to receive his despondent head.
She pus up her small breasts. Soft music's at work again,
a stereo plays "Love is Tender," romancing the age.
For six months my father dressed for work and wandered
no one will ever know where, Hotel Kempinski, say,
where he sat mutely in the plush barber's chair
dreaming he was as tall and modern as Peter the Great.
Flywheel with Variable Inertia
Home of Deanna Durbin
Home of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
Home of Cary Grant ...
Like dreamy memento mori
little photos of each actor float
above each home in the picture postcards
tinged fraying sunset, tinged
bird of paradise, set in frames
and hung among "Hollywood's Treasures"
in the Los Angeles County
Library Annenberg collection
next to Chinese menus and crate labels
advertising citrus fruit—
California's "Second Gold Rush."
We live so strangely, in love with visions,
scared of the invisible. Once,
driving down a hill in Los Feliz,
I saw water rocket up twenty-five feet
out of the concrete at the busy
intersection below. Firemen ditched
their fire trucks on the corner;
they could only watch and coach
each of us through that airborne
bother of water, hoping we'd use caution
till the water wound itself down
or some brainiac from the DPW
devised a scheme to plug the hole—they couldn't,
after all, close trac—and from
the top of the hill every car tipped
toward the water's pearly drywall
then paled and vanished
beneath a tumble of water, the train of us
cabled like rollercoaster cars
yahooing our lungs hoarse with the doors
locked and the windows rolled.
Then you were deep in it.
You had to squint to see the brake lights
of the guy ahead of you, whispering
the same prayer you whispered
to make it over to the other side.
What a pleasure on the tongue
saying "Rancho Cucamonga."
The city that had its way with us,
that wound us on its laugh track, where is it
going? Oceans of lime-colored
puage are adrift, yet an actress cups her mouth
when she spots me blowing smoke
trying to create something
in a Hollywood courtyard
out of the stillness of that courtyard
the leaves of banyans cover.
Wigged and wingèd movie stars.
Arroyo willow jutting up from tar pits.
La Brea's redundancy of dire
wolf bones scooped from the mud
and posed in a mise-en-scène—
hunters frozen in that suck of heat.
I must look a little like death
fixing his spell over the turquoise trim,
smiling his odd smile at the feast
of ailments, dancing his danse macabre ...
Just once I'd like to end up
on the other side of gravity, on varying
inversions of water—circuitous, coasting,
making its way up the winding stairs.
Here we are in Ocean City, Here we're in Beloit
American Window Dressing
Half a dozen pestemals hanging on hooks,
a cuckoo clock twigged from scrap metal,
a single copy of Everyman's Haiku—
the letters pit the cover's look-at-me
moon sheen—and the poems I love
inside: spartan, semitransparent, nature's fools,
like faraway countries in full disclosure.
"Put everything into it." My father's
words on Sunday visits. Man of few words.
Those were the days work took him
as far as Chungking and he sported
a straight green army coat he called
his Mao Suit. His hair was still parted
straight to one side and he could
still lift me up so that I stood eyelevel
with row after row of ducks, like smokers'
lungs, in the restaurant windows
off Confucius Plaza—thick tar up top
swizzed into brown and rose gold.
A metal sling dug under their wings
ended in a hole the heads were put through.
Knowledge of them was terrible.
Everything looked terrible: more heads
of bok choy noosed in rubber bands
and pale-eyed fish laid out on ice. Terrible
things put delicately, like polite fictions
families invent. The words stand behind
great portals and are seen, yet untouchable.
Excerpted from Westerly by WILL SCHUTT. Copyright © 2013 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Will Schutt’s poems and translations have appeared in Agni, A Public Space, FIELD, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from the Stadler Center for Poetry and the James Merrill House, he currently lives in New York City.
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