Attack of the Zombi Poets
Jack Butler

One morning they were everywhere:  the lawn,
the cafeterias, the swimming pools.
They chatted at the parties, went on and on.
They taught the little children poetry-in-the-schools.

"What's the strangest thing you can think of?" they said.
"Let's listen to the silence, loosen the knots
that hold the night together, pretend we're dead."
They reviewed each other's books by carload lots:

"It is not indefensible to declare
so-and-so is conceivably among
though this last book's a falling-off) the four
or five dozen of our most promising young . . ."

They spoke of subtleties and of nuance,
twelve shades of gray to sketch a loss of nerve,
as if their rigor were the only dance,
and hardballs at a hundred didn't curve.

All masters of the verbal knowing nod,
the merest ghosts in their own work, and proud
they'd done away with bad old ego (God
help those who said what they meant or laughed out loud),

they still were their own only subject—could
not praise without considering that praise
was suspect in our century.  What good
devising (sure, they could) some elegant phrase,

when Angel de Zopilotes, a close friend,
lay prisoned down in South America,
a victim of the junta, and the end
(not unexpected, because of a bitter flaw

in Love itself) of another relationship
began to announce itself in studious frissons?
Their fathers died off at a remarkable clip:
Oh remorse—but my true father is Villon.

Their favorite pronoun was we, their second you:
as in, "We understand that poetry
has as its subject, poetry:  The new
poetry must never . . .", but not as in "We

all went out to Big Bend last week and Pappy
cooked beef stew Provencale and the wind blew
a tent down and ate my hat and I was happy";
as in, "You ask the phone for a date.  You/

laugh when it/ says Yes.  You/ whisper, Sorry,
wrong/ number.  You/ laugh, laugh, thinking/ how, soon
your/ mysterious caller will/ die", but not as in, "Carry
the garbage out right now, you dead-ass goon."

Their favorite verbal clearly was the gerund,
mostly for use in titles:  Burning the Ladder,
Letting the Birds Grow Feathers, Saving Air, and
Tearing the Shirt, to name a few that matter.

Their cadence was the musical phrase, the breath,
a natural measure, and breathlessly they each
broke free of iambic five, succeeding forthwith
in somehow manufacturing a speech

so spitless, airless, and dispirited
that stones would sigh and computers weep to hear.
They got back to nature, but when they did
nature was never there:  Oh it was clear

the wind blew emptily under an empty sky,
propelling them jerkily into drink and sex . . .
One morning they were everywhere, but why?
What mycological cycle had hit apex?

They ate Cleveland and then they ate L. A.
They had it all, at last, and it all made
good subject matter:  "The aftertaste of clay . . . ."
And when one put a pistol to his head

to ratify his impact on the scene,
or walked out to the middle of a bridge and fell
though the bridge stood), the others would stir and keen
the disappointment of the particle,

the distances and horror of the word.
--No doubt about it, the situation stank,
in fact was hopeless:  No poetry occurred
thenceforward thereafter, and the screen went blank.

So much for the matinee.  Now day and smoke,
traffic, the vacant lot's wild sassafras
cracking the sidewalk up with a green joke,
the sun-stunned onions in the silly grass.

--Originally published in The Atlantic Monthly

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