The Wonderfull Yeare 2018
(a true accounting)
I haue clapt the Cognizance of your name on these scribled papers
it is their liuery: So that now they are yours
whose crest is Pen-and-Inckhorne
If you read you may happilie laugh; tis my desire that you should
because mirth is both Physicall and wholsome against the Plague, with which
sicknes (to tell truth) this book is (though not sorely) yet somewhat infected
[Dead at White Hall at Westminster
But liuing at the White Hall of heaven
this Protean Climactericall yeare]
It was the summer of kinetic sand.
It was the summer of kinetic sand but it wasn’t Summer yet. It was not even properly Spring. It was almost May but Winter kept curving its slim wrist and grasping fingers around anything in the soil, anything that was trying to grow. Freezing the shoots into nervy articulations, spindled leaves raised like the hand of a questioner.
In place of smashed robin’s eggs, the sidewalks were littered with kinetic sand: purple, turquoise, and pink. Laced with oil and studded with carcinogens to make it sparkle, it stayed moist forever, and the children liked to pat it into crevices and surfaces—the concrete, the grooves of their jeans, their teeth.
There was nothing kinetic about this sand. It stayed patted into the shapes it was made on.
It glutted the sidewalks in clumps, it cluttered the gutter. It clung to soles and treads.
I have two living daughters and a third dead daughter.
I thought my third dead daughter would be lucky because she was born third and on such an odd date. 9/29/17. But she was unlucky, the unluckiest of them all. Unlucky to everyone except herself.
She was maybe her own lucky amulet, to carry herself immediately out of this bad world. Held under her own eyelid and dreaming a wash of days, she opened her eyes three times and vanished.
Her odd allocation of thirteen days.
* * *
I look up the ingredients: “98% sand and 2% magic!”
People also search for. People also search for.
Is sand and moon the same thing.
* * * *
My living daughters and I want to cross into the Underworld and find their sister. Can you imagine a baby in the Underworld. No. For that you need an overworld. But we don’t believe in that. So down we go. Or across. I’m an academic so I’ll do some research. I know already that a trip to the underworld requires accessories: mirrors, rivers, a golden branch. Which portal to the Underworld is right for you? People also ask. I run my tongue over my teeth. People also search for. Pomegranate seeds. That’s for staying in the Underworld. Pop them between your teeth. To be with my baby again, I’d gladly set my credit card down. Open a tab. I’d gladly stay forever.
For now I read. For now I run up a debt buying books and accessories. The Duino Elegies. Nail polish. To wear with my ragged clothes. I want my claws the color of muddy orchids. Muddy lillys. Lyres and reeds. April the cruelest month. Showres soote. Richard III below the autopark. His essy spine. His blow to the brain. I know so much of the wrong stuff. Go down.
I bring the youngest living girl to the Center for Hospice for grief counseling. It’s an improbably lovely prairie-style facility in the elbow-crook of the St. Joseph River. However they have contrived to make the interior as ugly as any transit hub. To repel those who would linger. To reach the Office for Life Transitions we pass through the lobby where the Weather Channel performs its constant ministry. They (the weather) keep wiping the continent in a weird muck of temperatures and pressures, storm fronts and depressions.
Was it for this the liquid crystals learned to bend the polarized light?
After the session we go down to the river. It’s high today and tossing in its bed and intoxicated. Is it kinetic or is it fixed. We stare at the other side as if in a mirror, a two-way mirror, which is really one way. We can only do this on a day that is empty enough. A day with a high sky like the crown of a hat, or like a skull, a staved-in crown. They found a skull where they were repairing the bike path next to the memorial gardens. The bike path was ruined in the flood. Work immediately halted, while the elders Potawatami and Miami Indians were called in and consulted. But the skull was determined to be that of an adult European, and probably from the old potter’s field next door, which held the remains of 372 children, though the markers were lost in the flood. So the work on the bike path was continued.
In all that paralyzing light.
* * * * *
I take a break and put on some perfume.
I read an article on Schiaparelli’s gloves.
If I was travelling that wine dark sea/I’d take my bow along with me.
What’s Next Hyacinth Girl.
We want to foster a baby born full of intoxicants. we want to foster a baby in withdrawal. we want to hold it til it stops shaking. we want to put it back in the river.
Night, the insane
asylum of the plants,
shoot me through mine hearts
and let me walk out on my hands
through the eyes of my hands
sex an egg in every orifice
all up on the furniture and all alone in every wardrobe
and huff the lemon pledge and the pipe cleaners
and buff with a clean diaper
like a bored teenager
that golden and spreading stuff
all alone in all the lodging
drain these pools, this spawning ground
for mites, this river of eggs
Town council, grant me an easement for my suppurating eaves; swart mammals roost there: the possum, the bat. But first, a story problem: Mother bat had three babies: the first wants to fly; the second, to cling; the third, to breathe. Literature tells us we must burn certain horses; birth others; the goddess you mean to be shits men out into the dust of Troy to go a-slaying, while the prophetess with her hair undone goes wandering around the streets like a mad mother (me). In threadbare South Bend where everyone is raving it’s so hard to make a scene. Sometimes I’m so incontinent, I fear I’m going to hemorrhage rage, lie down where all the hemorrhages start. & cremate the house & collapse on the street.
Helicoptering around in the DNA.
For the daisy-cutting shape it makes
for your sawmill blades.
I’m feeling drifty
The very air is full of Greeks today
cremated in her donated hospital sleeper
with the laminated school photos of her sister
s tucked inside
the hole in my side
and the saltwater suppository to pack the wound
something to sup on
running on fumes
the crack-up at Delphi
was it for this
my troy my pyre my pile
the hole in my side
my bucket of neat
folded onesies triumphal
the bantamest banners wove but never waved
Let beauty be convulsive
or not at all.
like the phantom of the opera
or the kingdom of god
the golden state killer
is there inside your mind
is such a golden state like the lobby of the
phantom of the op
the chandelier has just fallen
this lobby like a stuffy skull all done in gold plate
and stuffed up inside like a corpse in the crawl space
Spring’s petite mal
Beside the shuttered mall
a little fleury today
Your seizure your social your
mother’s maiden name.
A postcard arrives
From the doctor:
For I was cheered to learn
that there are flowers
even in hell
Such cheerful wallpaper
even in hell
like juice glasses in a
space age dinette but
I don’t like those trees
Crime scene photos. Les Incorruptibles. Heaven’s anti-police.
I do my errands while my kids are at school. I’m demented with grief, I reel around like a nocturnal thing forced out into the day. I’m on the ground, and work my leather-clawed wings to scrabble the concrete in circles. Quick, someone hit me with a shovel. Or just wind me up and set me back on my route. The coffee shop, the doctor’s offices early afternoon are full of women with their napping babies. It’s a hushed flotilla, all receiving blankets hiding the napping infants like the scarf the magician lays atop the top hat to pull the rabbit out, like the walnut shell under which the bead is hidden, or the pack which hides the queen.
I’ve gone off my Zoloft because I want to lose five pounds.
I want to either look pregnant or like I never had a kid
in my life.
I want to look so young it would be foolish to think about having kids
after all, I have my whole life ahead of me! I could get an MFA!
I attend the MFA thesis reading as a faculty member (of course) and cheer on our small brigade. Afterwards I want to text my friend to come to the graveyard with me so she can watch my back while I press my face in the mud in front of my baby’s grave.
The whole town is flooding and black mudding.
I go alone. But I want an audience. But if I cried out, who would hear me among the angelic company?
At length they all to London came.
To merry London, my most kindly nurse.
If you love your life
If you love the length of your life and the length of your neck
By the hairs of your neck you will get yourself to London
And lay down by the shitty river
Try to breathe through your nose
With your face all pressed in the blank
The History Plays
To resume my lament:
Summer has advanced. Like a shitty boy-prince, I duck the rumors of revolt. I myself am rumor. I myself revolt. I’m revolting and remote from the news as I bury my face in Summer’s odorous breast.
Like a dog returns to her thesis.
Mine own, this odorous breast.
Undone, stockings down-gyred. Crouching under the steepest tavern roof we can find, right at the peak, where it creases like a book, and we shelter at its spine. How tight can you fold us, for the urne-buriall. Can you zip us into a track bag & fool the coroner. The coroner works for the crown. That’s tautology, roundabout, a stolen photograph of Whitney Houston’s bathroom, the counter-top riddled with drugs. Drugs spilling like pearls to the floor: Daytona. Fortuna. Death, a counter-luxury to the one assigned to us. To princes like us. Relieve me of mine luck.
Who will rid me of this meddlesome luck.
A lie and a riddle. All raddled up.
To resume: Summer has advanced with celerity on the celebrity chefs and the handbag designers. The true stars, going under.
I google to ogle the luxury goods. I’m rewarded with a cartoon of the Apgar scale. How babies are saved by grading how they’re failing—
appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, respiration—
she failed to respirate—
and was taken up into the air—
as by a goddess’s whim, in epic—
in the midst of battle, into a pink mist—
of propeller rattle—
(do blue babies have blue blood)—
I think it a kind of crown, how I’ve lost you. Something so
exquisite could drown me, and I’d be
the test, go under
with you, gold thorns
to collapse the lung, and drops of pearl
instead of air—
I take the kids to the zoo where the deranged peacock has planted himself among the lollipop alpacas. He spreads his rich, Elizabethan tail absurdly wide to claim all the ladies and repel the males with his Masculinitie. And his tail is spangled with gold eyes, the eyes of those who have looked upon him. He has prised them out and wears them for his prize.
Who is this royal We. What is this Destiny
but English syntax: every sentence racing for its rest. Richard, Henry, Henry, Henry, at night I stream the history plays, a well-paid star in every crown, the English tongue unspooling like fluid from a smashed-up brain. So as not to drown I drink it with its poisons, this language that flies as boys wrench the medieval mirror ‘round and make it show its modern side.
But turn back, turn it back, to its invalid side
So I can pause here among the rushets in the inlet
aside the main road
and rest in that hush
the quiet fontanel
the stitch that unraveled
on the nation’s way to some stronger version of itself—
from the Latin for birth—
a nation, crowning—
To resume: I slump like a curly-haired prince on the trestle, with one drunk ear I gather hint, and with one swole eye I spy the slanting mast of trouble come my way
from mine own past
inheritance, but from whence.
was it for this
the toxin kit
the parasite shit
in the bedroom, in the bloodstream, and made even the unready man
that is, she—that is, I
Catastrophe what crowns me.
What makes me survive.
Mine older daughter’s catastrophic thinking:
that she might need a tooth pulled.
that she might forget how to play the guitar—
Theory that anxiety disorders are an evolutionary boon.
Growing daughter, that you might be an evolutionary winner
That evolution might propose a purpose for you
and maketh of you a porpoise
that can both race and sing
I who feel so obsolete
An obol and an obelisk
a baffle and a baselisk
With one daughter dead and two living
As an expensive doll wears two summer sandals and one always missing.
Which is worse the expensive dandling sandal that is always always missing
Or the single useless one present with its cleverwork of straps
and pointing ever ever
to its missing other
the return of Summer
haunting the house
the return of Summer
with its dead twin
haunting the house
hunting all over the house
some prince am I
only a mother
searching every hiding place
every dusty under every crenellation every kernel in closet or castle
what is sadder the lost sandal
or the sandal all alone
it is a koan
both are alone
which is more precious
I count that one equal to a god
who sits next to you goddess
absent, present, proximate, distant
unfit to unfasten
or is it to fasten
even the latch-a-lette
of your sweet shoe
Morning Wants An Eidolon
(line misheard from big star’s 'stroke it noel')
That’s a word poets love
Because no one else wants it you can get it cheap
Eidolon, little light that leaks
when a ghost leaves
The bruisey weeds in the garden
and eyeless, closed around their seedy code
nearby and remote as on the edge
of the galaxy
the Milky Way, naturally
they bend their necks
under all that milk
like we bent over you
in your basinette
when Death arrived
with his postalette
Morning wants an eidolon
News we couldn’t refuse
We had to accept
So stroke it, stroke it, Noel
make it appear
like static in the séance
ghost or housecat brushing by
the same spark that keeps the cursor lit
and the neonate alive
My therapist says I need to divorce you
from our crummy past together
And set you to bob on the bough of the future
And go walking towards you again
like John Clare
Always in sight, and never at the hospital
But a line of dying baobab trees
with their heels up in the green cheese
of the moon say each to the other
let’s leave earth again
I want an eidolon
so stroke it, stroke it Noel
At night your sister
walks through walls
like it isn’t hard
and it wasn’t hard
to turn and gaze
on your original face
I only screamed
when they turned the ventilator off—
tho you survived
for eight minutes
the time it takes
a sunbeam to arrive
eight minutes idiocy
till we know
the sun has ceased
enduring that beneficence
Morning wants an eidolon
like the song doesn’t say
So stroke it, stroke it Noel
which isn’t your name
I’ll say something so bad you’ll know I mean it:
The day you were born
was the worst day of my life
Don’t hold it against me babe
that I mean it and
then I’m so mean
I wake to canary-colored scaffolds
The contractor up in the eaves
It will cost fifteen thousand daughters
and the rest of the Summer. I think
of Shylock shouting at his window, refusing
to accept the plot’s final cinch, Shylock
sulking at his loom
in pre-Raphaelite attire
studying the shitty city of Shalott backwards in a mirror
where everybody hates him
for his beautiful hair
running down to the river
wherein he may conveniently strangle or drown
Shylock I love you and hate Belmont
Shylock, morning wants an eidolon
and it wants us
to be happy
and it doesn’t mind
I summon all mine vanity
virility and fertility
and crash my plane
into the abandoned nursery
& break my brainstorm down
I mean my brainstem
starved of oxygen
emitting its bleat
like a nameless weed
on the edge of the galaxy
fringing the galaxy’s cunt
in that wrecked room
the popsong plays
on the toy turntable
and a curtain lifts
as the vinyl record spins
it feels the morning sun
on its original face
Joyelle McSweeney is the author of eight books in various genres, including the verse play Dead Youth, or, the Leaks and The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults, a work of decadent ecopoetics. She co-edits Action Books and teaches at Notre Dame. Her ninth book, Toxicon, is forthcoming from Nightboat Books in 2020.
Note: “The Wonderfull Yeare 2018” is is a pastiche of the title, dedication, and frontmatter of Thomas Dekker's pamphlet The Wonderfull yeare. 1603., in which he recounts the death of Elizabeth I and the bubonic plague which swept London in 1603. "Night is the insane asylum of the plants" is a line from Anna Deeny Morales's translation of "Sunday Morning" from Purgatorio by Raúl Zurita.