Editor’s note: This week’s Poetry Corner features the work of Marvin Bell. As the author of 23 books of poetry and essays, he has been called an insider who thinks like an outsider, and his writing has been called “ambitious without pretension.” His latest books are “Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems” (Copper Canyon); “Whiteout,” a collaboration with the photographer Nathan Lyons, (Lodima); and a children’s book with illustrations by Chris Raschka, “A Primer about the Flag” (Candlewick). His poems, his teaching, and his columns in The American Poetry Review, “Homage to the Runner,” have influenced generations of poets.
More About the Dead Man and the Cutthroat
The dead man would be of the primary cutthroat trout class, one
of freshwater and not inclined to migrate.
Let the salmon climb ladders, let the salmon die in the gasp of the
Let schools of salmon exhale to blow down the trees as they perish.
We little ones, like the cutthroat trout, we the meek, we shall
We will sputter with the hook in our mouth but say nothing more
Fishermen of the deep do not want our language, they live for
The open sea is a cemetery, the open sea is a past century, the
open sea is too big for us.
The river is where we live, the lake, the canal, wherever we can be
at our throats with kisses or with knives.
It is not so far to one another that we cannot get there.
It is not so far to one another that we may not get there.
About the Dead Man and the Arch
In the curvature of space, in the ox yoke of industry, half-
encircled by the arm of the rainbow or earthly in the curled
palm of an open hand, the dead man lives ahead and behind.
The dead man’s back arches as he bends to see or leans back
The dead man has ridden within the hollow arch.
He has scratched at the stone arch, feeling for the Etruscans.
He thinks the arch may follow the path of their lost language.
The dead man sees in the arch an incomplete zero, a footless oval,
a hoof-guard, French arches triumphant, arches written in
Utah by erosion.
Arthritic fi ngers are arches, and the fl ood-curled covers of art
books, and the torso of a kneeling prisoner.
In such manner is dead man’s geometry displaced from purity of
thought, even as the age echoes with the latest “Eureka!”
Oh, purity of intention, beauties of foresight, and the fork in
For it was the divergent that sent one uphill or down.
It was the creation of options that sent the brain reeling, the
economy spiraling, and invented mixed feelings.
Then came the arch of architecture, which limned entry and exit,
the yes and no, the business of going in or staying out.
Every arch is academic, for the arch that props a bridge or roofs a
tunnel is a theoretical proof.
About the Dead Man and Food
The dead man likes chocolate, dark chocolate.
The dead man remembers custard as it was, spumoni as it was,
shave ice as it was.
The dead man talks food with an active tongue, licks his fi ngers,
takes seconds, but has moved on to salads.
It’s the cheese, it’s the crunch of the crunchy, it’s the vinegar in the
oil that makes a salad more than grass.
The dead man has a grassy disposition but no cow stomach for
flappy leaves and diced croutons.
The dead man remembers oysterettes as they were.
He recalls good water and metal-free fi sh.
Headlights from the dock drew in blue claw crabs by the bucketful.
A fl ashlight showed them where the net lay.
If they looked bigger in the water than in the pail, they grew back
on the stove.
It was like that, before salads.
The dead man, at the age he is, has redefi ned mealtime.
It being the quantum fact that the dead man does not believe in
time, but in mealtime.
photo credit: Jason Bell