American Rebel Yellow

some see the virtue of drowning
faithfully like Jonah
thighs pressed together
in the fin and rib of things
cramped where tongues bloom
muscles tense like November trees
curving downward into moist blades
with just enough left for their desires
to be strapped to the back
still singing loudly
and overhanging like cattle

they do not obey language
like an SOS from
poorly healed stitches
buried in the viscera
only a bonfire of redwood
in the oilfields
can make them look down
can make them feel
the engine entering them
with eyes like elevators
inlaid bent and perverse

all along their bottle capped horizon
wearing their shirts untucked
singing falala songs
to buzz their hard won
southbound lives
they hurry along
hoping to curate
some kind of armature
or refrigeration system
made of steam
and the better kinds
of software

4 responses to “American Rebel Yellow

  1. When I first read a poem I hear only the language, only sounds and the feelings they attract. Later I read and being to hear what’s being said (well, sometimes). In this poem I hear work done on one of the great cultural tasks of contemporary artists: to wear away our hardened separation of Nature and Society, to open ways of seeing the natural world as part of us and we of it, of seeing Nature as something besides our current uses/abuses of it. Going with this hardened division is like Jonah faithfully drowning. The November trees are an image of nature as our captive. I love their bottle-capped horizon, their shirts untucked. At the end where they hope to become better kinds of softwood, I instead hear ‘software’.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Craig Brandis (aka Burl Whitman)

    Fascinating. This one belongs to the set of poems that demand to be written by all poets and don’t pretend to be nice about it. I’ve learned to let them come even if I’d rather be writing other things. The idea of faithful self sacrifice to a false God to avoid the true cost of discipleship seems to have taken hold in society now. And I like very much that you hear “software” at the end!


  3. I feel ashamed asking for an explanation so I won’t. I’ll just say if there’s more to the backstory, a moment, a vision, that inspired this poem I would love to hear it. False Gods? I can see it. Is there more?

    The opening lines sent me sliding into the whale’s gullet, eyes wide shut, praying for deliverance. And then I found myself waking up in the forest. A journey. Maybe not through a wormhole, but a whalehole capable of transferring my rib-wrapped body between universes of experience. And emerging looking for a Xmas tree to bring home.

    But that’s just my trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig Brandis (aka Burl Whitman)

      Alan, I like your journey and prayerful dialog reading, with deliverance, like Jonah at the end. The false god idea is from a preliminary reading of mine and I’m not sure it is really at the center. The image of Jonah was the seed for this poem. Wondering if he drowned before being swallowed or not and was somehow revived. It feels like we are entering into a new biblical time where stories will have as much clout as in the old days. In poking around the old stories for sympathetic characters that might have something to say about these times, Jonah seems to be one for me. It does seem like we are heading into a time of choosing.


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