Blackacre

Blackacre

by Monica Youn

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555977504
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 09/06/2016
Pages: 88
Sales rank: 1,216,226
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Monica Youn is the author of two previous poetry collections, Barter and Ignatz, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. A former lawyer, she teaches at Princeton University and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Read an Excerpt

Blackacre


By Monica Youn

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2016 Monica Youn
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-946-1



CHAPTER 1

I

In one hand Nemesis held a designer's square,
or a pair of reins, or an apple branch.

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony
(Roberto Calasso, trans. Tim Parks)


    INTERROGATION OF THE HANGED MAN

    What is your face?
      A house, of sorts.

    What is your foot?
      A chipped stone blade.

    What did you dream?
      A rain-washed road.

    What did it mean?
      It meant nothing.

    What have you learned?
      The sky forgives.

    What does it forgive?
      Each jet its wake.

    What do you want?
      A smile, of sorts.

    No, what do you want?
      I want nothing.

    What's in your hand?
      A leafless twig.

    No. Show me. What's that in your hand?


    PORTRAIT OF A HANGED WOMAN

    The Greeks
    had it wrong:
    catastrophe

    is not a downturn,
    not a fall
    from grace.

    No, it is
    the sudden
    terrible

    elevation of
    a single point —
    one dot

    on the topography
    of a life. That
    is the crux

    of the punishment:
    the singling out,
    then that brutal

    uplifting.
    It is as if
    a steel clamp

    had seized upon
    one square inch
    of a flattened

    canvas map then
    jerked sharply
    upward:

    the painted landscape
    cracking along
    unaccustomed

    creases, cities
    thrown into shadow,
    torqued bridges

    twisting free.
    A life is not
    this supple,

    it is not meant
    to fold, to be
    drawn through

    a narrow ring.
    The Greeks
    were wrong.

    Necessity
    is not a weaver,
    there is no spindle

    in her hand;
    it is a woman
    wearing a steel

    collar, wearing
    a stiffly pleated
    dress, which lifts

    to reveal nothing
    but fabric where
    her body used to be.


    PORTRAIT OF A HANGED MAN

    St. Julian (Piero della Francesca, c. 1470)

    the eyes / as if / pinned in / place tacked / up at / the corners / then pulled / taut then
    pulled down / then endlessly / pouring down / the unstoppable / torrent from
    the unseen / source as / if inexhaustible / downpouring remorseless / but made / of remorse


    LAMENTATION OF THE HANGED MAN

    The minor winds
    hemmed all around

    with little brass hooks
    of birdsong.

    They fasten
    on me bonelessly,

    failed wings.
    They tug at me,

    each with its own
    pained sense

    of imperative.
    I am always turning

    in the same
    idiot arcs,

    always facing
    the horizon's white-

    lipped sneer.
    How I would love

    to flatten myself
    against the ground,

    to stop the small
    crying blacknesses

    of my body with the all-
    sufficing blackness

    of the earth. Even now
    a rake of small-toothed

    howls is dragging
    toward us, combing out

    the hills. If only
    I were lying still,

    pressed to the ground,
    I might be taken

    for part of the earth,
    tilled into the soil

    like any other
    enrichment, like labor.


    TESTAMENT OF THE HANGED MAN

    ITEM: I devise and leave my body
    The Testament (François Villon, 1462)

    ITEM: a man
    now pendant (still sen-
    tient), as tempted, as
    amen-

    able as Odysseus, strapped to the mast,
    seeking knowledge sans
    experience: a test
    (or a tease)

    of the tame,
    the sane
    meat;
    a statement

    of intent, of well-meant
    amends; an acquiescent an-
    athema in its seam-
    less unseen net.

    * * *

    ITEM: I bequeath this mean estate
    to whoever hungers to taste this marbled meat,
    who — having eaten, sated for once — may rest.
    This oubliette I once named Little-Ease
    now teems with eager tenants: an ants-nest.


    EXHIBITION OF THE HANGED MAN

    To spectate
    is a verb

    that does not
    mean to watch.

    It is
    intransitive.

    Although
    the Latin root

    spectare
    means to watch;

    nonetheless,
    it is wrong

    to say
    you spectate me;

    but not wrong
    to say

    you watch me.
    If you spectate

    you become
    multiple;

    you are
    an audience

    defined by
    your attention

    to the spectacle.
    If I am

    the spectacle,
    I become

    temporal; bounded
    in time. I am

    an event now,
    a kind of show.

    I entertain
    visitors.

    There are
    new entrances

    to my body,
    their edges

    outlined in
    blacks and grays

    and reds like
    the entrances

    to the face
    of a young girl.


    MARCH OF THE HANGED MEN

    1.

    hyperarticulated giant black ants endlessly boiling out of a heaped-up hole in the sand

    2.

    such a flow of any other thing would mean abundance but these ants replay a tape-loop vision

    3.

    out of hell the reflexive the implacable the unreasoning rage whose only end is in destruction

    4.

    the way the dead-eyed Christ in Piero's Resurrection will march right over the sleeping soldiers

    5.

    without pausing or lowering his gaze for he has no regard now for human weakness

    6.

    since that part of him boiled entirely away leaving only those jointed automatic limbs

    7.

    that will march forward until those bare immortal feet have pounded a path through the earth

    8.

    back down to hell because there is no stopping point for what is infinite what cannot be appeased


    PORTRAIT OF A HANGED MAN

    unremembered
    all those years sealed

    in the desiccating
    chamber what

    once fed us now
    shrunk to a stark

    architecture
    sweet segments

    long consumed
    down to the exposed

    core the stripped
    stalk the taut neck

    stretching up
    to that lipless

    rictus that almost
    unwilling first gasp

    fixed in recollection
    as if cast in liquid

    glass that poured
    into you that first time

    you let your mouth
    fall open that first

    second you felt
    yourself go slack


PORTRAIT OF A HANGED WOMAN

Now she could see that the air filling their rooms was supersaturated, thick with unspent silences. It was starting to precipitate out, the silences spinning themselves into filaments just below the surface of the visible. They drifted whitely upward like seed floss releasing from summer trees. They clustered together at the darkened ceilings of that house. They made no sound, of course — it would have been contrary to their nature — but sometimes she could feel a small pleased patterning of the air, like a cool current deep underwater. Over time they flourished, doubling and redoubling into braids and garlands, lustrous, self-satisfied. They were long enough now to brush with her fingertips, then to drape around her shoulders — necklaces, scarves. They had the seamlessness of the fur of a healthy animal; she learned to trust in their cohesion, their tensile strength. She knew herself, still, to be a creature bounded by gravity, but now she could travel from room to room never touching the floor. She sensed his approaching footsteps not as sound nor even as vibration but only as a stirring among the coils at her throat.


    HANGMAN'S TREE

    Yggdrasil

    To see a living thing —
    a badly damaged
    thing — and to fail

    to understand
    how life still catches
    hold of it and clings

    without falling through,
    like water falling
    through a bowl

    more fissure than bowl.
    Just as a bowl
    must be waterproof,

    a body must be
    lifeproof, we assume,
    as if a life were bound

    by laws of gravity,
    always seeking
    a downward escape.

    But then there is
    this olive tree —
    if tree is still

    the word to describe
    this improbable
    arrangement

    of bark and twig
    and leaf — this tree
    ripped in three pieces

    down to the ground.
    No longer a column,
    instead a triple

    helix of spiraling
    bark verticals
    sketching the outline

    where the tree
    used to be. No heartwood,
    very little wood

    left at all, the exposed
    surfaces green
    with moss, dandelions

    filling the foot-wide
    gap at its base. And still
    the tree thrives,

    taking its place
    in the formal allée
    that edges this gravel road,

    sending out leafy shoots
    and unripe olives
    in the prescribed shapes

    and quantities.
    Lizard haven, beetle
    home. I was wrong

    when I told you
    life starts at the center
    and radiates outward.

    There is another
    mode of life, one
    that draws sustenance

    from the peripheries:
    each slim leaf
    slots itself

    into the green air;
    each capillary root
    sutures itself

    into the soil.
    Together these
    small adhesions

    can bear the much-
    diminished weight
    of the whole.

    I won't lie.
    It will hurt.
    It will force you

    to depend on those
    contingent things
    you have always

    professed to despise.
    But it will suffice.
    It will keep you alive.


    THE HANGED MEN REPRISE

    1.

    a blunted / hook beneath / the breastbone / as if / someone yanked
    / out a / strip of / you a / great inrush / of cold / night and / taillights and / the avenue

    2.

    the nerves / frenzy feeding / on nothing

    3.

    I knew / god to / be absolute / zero all / movement slowing / coming to / a stop

CHAPTER 2

II


Trust not an acre early sown,
Nor praise a son too soon:
Weather rules the acre, wit the son,
Both are exposed to peril.

The Elder Edda (trans. Paul B. Taylor & W. H. Auden)


DESIDERATUM

But what is it that you want? For example, you are in a high-school parking lot. It's summertime, empty, the asphalt sticky in the heat, or maybe the soles of your shoes are sticking, or both. The humid air is visible — sluggish cellophane ripples, epoxy threatening to go solid. A lone white truck guns its engine. Knotted to its tow hitch, a length of yellow plastic rope, thirty feet maybe, a messy pile. The carbon-monoxide reek. The truck starts up, the yellow rope begins to play out, uncoiling, looping, unlooping itself. Maybe this is a game, a kind of dare — the rope now hissing in widening arcs across the tarmac as the truck zigzags, accelerating, coming around. And you find yourself lurching after it, staggering, then sprinting forward even as your mind is still trying to grasp what that rough plastic rope would do to your hands, what the sudden jerk would do to your shoulder joints, whether, once having grabbed hold, you would ever be able to let go ...


    AGAINST IMAGISM

    Late July. The wet
    and dry zones of a firefly's
    chitinous body

    fuse in a blue spark:
    a squash-racket-shaped bug
    zapper brand-named SHAZAM!


    SUNRISE: FOLEY SQUARE

    one siren stains the morning in concentric rings

    another starts up ... stops ... starts again ... stops —
      little chips of sound like a climber's
        hammer testing for handholds on an upward
          sloping face

    daylight floods the soundscape with a clear liquid,
      thickening, flowing over and around [ ]

    a lack that could be displaced but not entirely
      dispersed, an air bubble trapped in rubber tubing

    something cone-shaped, nearly discernible, starting to
      resemble a cry


    SELF-PORTRAIT IN A WIRE JACKET

    To section off
    is to intensify,

    to deaden.
    Some surfaces

    cannot be salvaged.
    Leave them

    to lose function,
    to exist only

    as armature,
    holding in place

    those radiant
    squares

    of sensation —
    the body a dichotomy

    of flesh and
    blood. Wait here

    in the trellised
    garden you

    are becoming.
    Soon you'll know

    that the strictures
    have themselves

    become superfluous,
    but at that point

    you'll also know
    that ungridded

    you could
    no longer survive.


    QUINTA DEL SORDO

    Saturn Devouring His Son (Francisco Goya, 1819–1823)

    how can I
    ask you to

    absolve me
    my fingers

    still greasy
    with envy

    gaudy oils
    still smearing

    the dim walls
    the quiet

    chamber of
    my mouth


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Blackacre by Monica Youn. Copyright © 2016 Monica Youn. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf 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.

Table of Contents

Contents

Palinode,
I,
Interrogation of the Hanged Man,
Portrait of a Hanged Woman,
Portrait of a Hanged Man,
Lamentation of the Hanged Man,
Testament of the Hanged Man,
Exhibition of the Hanged Man,
March of the Hanged Men,
Portrait of a Hanged Man,
Portrait of a Hanged Woman,
Hangman's Tree,
The Hanged Men Reprise,
II,
Desideratum,
Against Imagism,
Sunrise: Foley Square,
Self-Portrait in a Wire Jacket,
Quinta del Sordo,
Landscape with Deodand,
Epiphyte,
III,
Greenacre,
Brownacre,
Goldacre,
Whiteacre,
Redacre,
Goldacre,
Redacre,
Blueacre,
Greenacre,
Brownacre,
Blueacre,
Whiteacre,
IV,
Blackacre,
Blackacre,
Notes,
Acknowledgments,

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