Carl Boon lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at 9 Eylül University. His poems have appeared in many magazines, including Posit, The Maine Review, and Diagram. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Boon recently edited a volume on the sublime in American cultural studies.
THE CHILD AND I
From its place on the sofa
the child, not yet three,
discovers patterns in the way
we talk and move. You call it
a filament of understanding,
incredible, and soon we’ll be,
you say, enveloped in its thoughts.
But you are the father,
the one with secrets who needs
a universe your own—a place
of maps and streetcars
with foreign names. For this
I hate you, as I am here with it,
aware of fractures, planning.
I must listen while you listen
to Pound name the wildflowers
south of Lanzhou, Eliot tap through
Russell Square, the snarls
of the ancients in his throat.
I am here to note the bleeding
the hours you go away,
to wipe the floor of toys
and matchstick gardens.
I am here for the moments
its world goes awry and yours,
vanished inside O’Hara’s impossible
and the light way Dickinson
comes to joy. Please remember
the casserole on the counter
and the way you licked my knee
that morning—when this
you often fail to speak of
became a portion of your world.
BARGAINING WITH SAND
at my mother in a book,
remembering what my father said
about beaches and galaxies—
no one believed him.
There was so much, just look,
we said: dunes and this depth
below our feet, forever down,
and under the water, too.
It didn’t matter—places on maps,
all those edges: Libya,
Cyprus, the northern stretch
of every continent.
One could swim forever,
walk forever, listen to gulls
over Greenland, Capes Horn
and Fear and Hatteras. My mother
read because of worlds
she could not know. I was three
and saw in those shapes
sand instead of words. I saw
my father heading back
to the cabin, a towel, his shoulder,
his ribs. They told me I was made
from a rib, so I counted mine,
my brother’s, until counting
turned to work instead of magic,
and I would have to start again.
CLARA AND THE ANTS
Clara used to count the ants—
all summer she counted, mesmerized:
the exact without flash, work
without reward. She graduated, then,
to what she called more beautiful:
butterflies, kiwi flowers
on the windblown, sea-torn tree,
each the color of her hair,
and panicked when she realized
her grandfather was an ax, a man
to make things disappear.
On the Marmara Sea the birds
outnumbered her, but still she tried—
little fingers, algorithms of branch
and cliff, the stars exceeding,
Grandfather said, the grains of sand
on Five Houses Beach. But at breakfast
she was unperturbed: an egg for Mommy
and an egg for Daddy, seventeen
olives on the plate, six cups of tea,
and sugar enough for a lifetime.
But a lifetime—that is birth a one
and death a one and love between
and Grandmother’s spinach pastry
and apple cookies in Istanbul.
When did we stop counting?
When did it feel right
to give up the seven women I’ve loved
and lost—count the letters in their names—
or the seven funerals I’ve watched
in stilted amazement? Clara:
you’ve ceased your counting way too early.
Now that all the houses have burned,
we spend our afternoons with charts.
You must be in Quadrant C and you must be
C-3, I hear the woman say.
I had a thousand dollars hidden
in my Milton, my father’s wedding ring
buried inside a bowl of sugar. I couldn’t
calculate how far the flames had gone,
I couldn’t imagine going home. War
had transformed us to figures on a page—
any delight was geometry now,
the algorithms of whatever sins
had brought us here: volumes of flour
for loaves of bread, how many tins
of chicken broth comprise a base
twelve squared: unhappy pyramids.
Adorno was right: what use of poetry
in times of suffering? Bakhtin burned
his last, best book to roll tobacco in.
Dr. King watched Birmingham scowl.
Nazım Hikmet rolled his eyes
when pretty girls passed in flower-
print dresses. Metaphor hurts
if the only thing left is metaphor.
My mother turned away from the ash,
and in the simmering dark she counted
twenty-two cups untouched, three eggs,
four tablespoons of salt, and wept.
To console, I kissed her face, her hand.
All a flailing, pieces, bell-chimes, raisins.
Her stepping away meant I had to
measure what she stepped away from.
Let it be a lion, a persuasion,
and let the one whose hair is candy-flame
call back against the rising grass. Let her
be herself again
in the library, in the hall,
holding a book of angels,
and angels disguised, disgusted
with the flesh of men.
This was the month we came alive
and silently moved down silent streets.
No one spoke; we did not of love
nor what love meant
but paused among poppies,
the land enough even had we failed
to be inside it, stepping, passing
water. I thought of Lent,
my mother freeing herself of snow,
faded scarves and faded paint,
a kitchen with a calendar,
the Virgin, virgin peaches.
And so she did not come to me
again, and spoke to them Italian words
and allowed the blind to fall,
patterning her speeches
with platitudes—the lamb, rice
cooling with a bit of salt. March the holy
month on earth: left sounds:
her dangling earrings, dilemmas.