13th Balloon

13th Balloon

by Mark Bibbins
13th Balloon

13th Balloon

by Mark Bibbins


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O, The Oprah Magazine, “42 Best LGBTQ Books of 2020”
NPR’s Favorite Books of 2020

In his fourth collection, 13th Balloon, Mark Bibbins turns his candid eye to the American AIDS crisis. With quiet consideration and dark wit, Bibbins addresses the majority of his poems to Mark Crast, his friend and lover who died from AIDS at the early age of 25. Every broken line and startling linguistic turn grapples with the genre of elegy: what does it mean to experience personal loss, Bibbins seems to ask, amidst a greater societal tragedy? The answer is blurred— amongst unforeseen disease, intolerance, and the intimate consequences of mismanaged power. Perhaps the most unanswerable question arrives when Bibbins writes, “For me elegy/ is like a Ouija planchette/ something I can barely touch/ as I try to make it/ say what I want it to say.” And while we are still searching for the words that might begin an answer, Bibbins helps us understand that there is endless value in continuing—through both joy and grief—to wonder.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556595776
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Publication date: 02/11/2020
Pages: 80
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Mark Bibbins was born in 1968 in Albany, New York. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the New School, and is the author of four books of poems, including They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full, The Dance of No Hard Feelings, and Sky Lounge, which received a Lambda Literary Award. He teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and The New School, where he co-founded LIT magazine. In addition to teaching, Bibbins is the editor of the poetry section of The Awl, a web magazine. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

A few months after you died
I came home on a black and freezing night
to find a small cardboard box
on the steps outside my building
I opened the lid and inside
was a single newborn animal
hairless pink and clean
a rat a guinea pig I couldn’t tell

Was it moving I don’t remember now
why can’t I remember that now
It can’t have been moving
it couldn’t have
been alive
I considered my cat asleep
in my apartment would he
kill this creature if it lived
Did I have any milk
and how would I get any milk
anyway inside this tiny thing
that surely could not be alive

What kind of person
might have come and left
a baby possibly dead
animal there in a box
on my stoop what kind
If this was a test I failed it

I carried the box three blocks
to the river and threw it in

I have never so much
as in the moment the box went under
the surface of the water
stabbing itself like a million obsidian knives
wished that I were dead

If death is a test I fail
If death is a test I pass

What might anyone have made
of you and me as babies
born into the mess and ferment
of the late 1960s
Working-class babies born to parents
who themselves were babies
during World War II
Were they worried already
about Vietnam or about some other
monstrous hand that would grab us
from our cribs by our feet
and throw us
into the war that would be
the war after that
They could not have known
that our war because everyone
lands in one
would be a disease or that one
of the hands that failed to close
quickly or tightly enough around
this disease to stop it from killing you
would also belong to the state

At the beginning of every war
every baby is replaced
with an x-ray of a baby
In every eclipse the sun
is replaced with an x-ray of the sun

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