Hinterland: A Golden Shovel
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.
— Frank O’Hara, “Mayakovsky”
After months of isolation, I wonder who it is I see now
when, at the window, I
stare through the naked man as if he were a hologram—
transparent, ethereal—a man who quietly
stares back as if waiting,
alone yet dependent, for
me to allow him to breathe
so he may avoid the catastrophe
of dying without ever discovering proof
of his own autonomy.
We share the same personality,
only reversed. He wears his smile like a memento
of when he passed as real. We seem
to both be wearing the same smile, beautiful
for one of us but not the other. Which of us was born-again?
Which of us is from some foreign land
that the other finds vastly more interesting
than the place the other believes is his homeland?
Which of us is premodern and which of us is postmodern?
Outside it is winter. I blow on the window to clothe
him in the warmth of my breath. The country
around him shines like a bright oasis.
I keep the walls that surround me grey
and bare, purposely bland
as prison walls to avoid overstimulation. Even brown
is too colorful for my mind to withstand.
When I look at him, the light he stands in
sears my synapses bare as lightning-struck trees.
The longer I look at him, the harder it snows
until whiteout turns his world into a hinterland.
Eventually, dark skies
fill the gaps, give him mass, make him shatterproof.
I hear his muffled laughter
when I wrap the glass with my knuckles. I always
knew the day would come when I would be the diminishing
echo of my own reflection returning lifeless.
If I were him, I would find it funny
to watch me fade, knowing that I cannot
stop or even adjust
how quickly he becomes a darker
version of me, the man who he believes has not
lived life to its fullest, but rather has lived a bland life just
as muted as every shade of grey.
Before it is too late, I snap the drapes shut and wait
on the end of my bed in dismay.
For a moment I think I hear him. Maybe
he can help me breathe
more evenly. Maybe he isn’t the coldest
part of me after all. Maybe today is the day
he finally discovers the proof
he needs, and together we will soothe
his cuts from the shattered window that will take a year
or more to heal and scar over. No matter what
happens before I sleep, even if he does
nothing and leaves me to seethe
in my own thoughts as I think
of him standing outside my window, aloof
and unforgiving, I know that
he is me and I
am him. I will not demean
him. I will do what
I need to do
to keep him with me. I
will let him stand
without me and alone for a time, if
that is what he needs—if that is what I
to survive. Perhaps
one day, though, a day not too far away, I
will give in and open the curtains and find that I am
by his side, that together we have discovered what it means to be myself
Last night I dreamed of a baby preserved
in a cracked jar. The wax ring had peeled away
and at my touch, the tiny girl’s skin,
papery and brown, shuddered to dust.
The morning we rehearsed our vows in a church
miners abandoned when the coal ran out,
we were told when to stand together,
when to part.
I slipped an imaginary ring of braided gold
on your finger, a sign of my love and faith.
Sunlight through an open window
sealed you in amber.
On cue, we pulled the belfry rope,
but the bell, broken in its cradle,
had forgotten how to sing.
A silence hovers over the earth …
— Robert Bly
The silence that hangs like a penumbra
over our chaotic world is the kind of silence
we normally hope for, dream of. But what hovers
above us these days rolls over
like a corpse into a mass grave. We Breathe
through masked mouths, a dearth
of smiles greeting us wherever we go. We seethe
with each new death toll, the dead growing like grass
in a disregarded field. What lifts
our hopes for a moment ever so slightly—
the promise of a vaccine, a dip in
unemployment figures, a moment outside to bathe
maskless in sunlight and briefly cheat
the system and our own fears alike—
wilts and fades like flowers that wreathe
the base of someone’s forgotten and ancient
grave where a marble angel sits wing-
less, unable to fly back to Heaven. There is proof,
though, that our life before is merely in a coma.
I see it glowing red as a cinder on the wing of a blackbird
whose body glints in the budding sunrise like mica.
I see it in the calm eyes of the plough horse
that greets me on the other side of the fence as it gazes
at me for the treat I normally bring every morning. Steadily,
I reach for her, the apple slices balanced tenderly in my flat
palm, and let her warm breath ignite a hidden ember within me.
Kip Knott’s debut collection of poetry, Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on, was published in 2020 by Kelsay Books. A new full-length collection of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is forthcoming in 2021, also from Kelsay Books. His writing and photography have appeared in numerous journals and magazines throughout the U.S. and abroad, including The American Journal of Poetry, Barren, Barrow Street, Gettysburg Review, La Piccioletta Barca, Long Poem, ONE ART, Poet Lore, The Sun, and Virginia Quarterly Review. In addition, he is a regular monthly contributor to Versification. Currently, he teaches literature and composition at Columbus State in Columbus, Ohio. In his spare time, he is an art dealer who travels throughout the Midwest and Appalachia in search of vintage and antique paintings to buy and sell. He lives in Delaware, Ohio, with his wife and son, four cats, a dog, and a Chilean rose hair tarantula. More of his work may be accessed at kipknott.com.