For our regular “Radius” feature, we’ll be inviting some of our favorite poets to share a poem, and to discuss the poets that influenced them, as well as the emerging poets whom they feel deserve a wider audience. Since somebody had to go first, here’s a poem by Radius editor Victor D. Infante. The poem itself was written specifically for the Encyclopedia Show in Providence, Rhode Island, off the prompt “Atomosophobia,” provided by Providence poet Megan Thoma. It also owes a great deal to Tony Brown’s poem Punk, especially in its intentional echo of the Sex Pistols’ song, God Save the Queen.
By Victor D. Infante
This is how we became a withered garden of Apocalypse children:
Awake each morning//anticipation of air-raid sirens//searching
faces in the bathroom mirror for tumors//the bomb rusted pipes//
nighttime//bomb locked in closet//extinction hidden beneath beds//
nighttime//radiation sickness poisoned walls//cracks, visible decay//
radiation//milk in our cereal bowls//Our Father, who art in
Heaven/hallowed be thy//cereal box//plastic toy//irradiated milk//
lead us not into temptation// baseball in missiles’ shadow//gaze averted
from sinister sky//television flickered cartoons//plastic people//quips//
/lead us not into temptation//give us today our daily//Salisbury steak//
mashed potatoes//aluminum//the bomb is feeding us/We take communion
of the bomb//the bomb transubstantiates into blood//in Heaven as it is
on Earth//we wait for the sky to split open//in Heaven as it is//we wait
for meaning in cartoons//as it is//the bomb is in our blood//the bomb
feeds us Salisbury steak//fields blight into meth labs///we look for meaning
and the laugh track//as it is in Heaven//the bomb is inside our walls, so we
make a house of desolation//as it is//radiation claims our teeth and bones//
so we leave the water undrunk//leave food uneaten//and the missiles’ shadows
eclipse the sun//we grow so quiet//grow leather armor//transforms
our fingers into switchblades//as it is on Earth//and our screams evaporate//
as it is on Earth//until someone told us there’s no future/and that was something
we could understand//this is how we survived the Revelation//this is how
the bomb put paid to God.
Writes Infante: Seeing Patricia Smith perform at Living Planet Coffeehouse in Long Beach, California, in the early ’90s was a watershed moment for me. Certainly, I was familiar with the concept of performance poetry, but Smith laid to rest for me any lingering doubts about the genre. I was struck by how her work managed to remain both accessible – whether on the page or in performance – and yet intricately detailed. Smith’s performances are evocative, certainly, but to my mind, it’s always her imagery and absolute control of a poem’s sounds that make her such an absolutely captivating writer.
By Patricia Smith
Not good enough, not teeth enough, for Riverview,
he rolls into town under the shoulders of night with
his sleazed and pimpled caravan. Taught to screech
inwardly at his filth, we nevertheless find ourselves
drawn to his gray devastation of grin, the slithering
way stories map themselves onto the backs of his hands.
Girls, giddy in the throes of repulsion, can’t help
visioning him as a blazing and wordless first, his skin
sandy, grating, the rot of his open mouth sliding all
over us. Notice how his eyes are always snake-lidded
and drained completely of color, how his hard gaze
sees inside us and twists without a splash of mercy.
In line clutching our tickets and preparing to scream,
we stare at his almost angry knowledge of levers
and gears, listen to muttered instructions on the best
ways not to die, dare his copper hands to touch us.
And admit it now, little girl. With spit and the heel
of a hand, you want to clean off a place on his body,
then sit giddy upon that sacred spot, wallowing
in the dirt denied you by your mama, riding that boy
way past Baptist, with your head thrown back.
Writes Infante: I first encountered Mckendy Fils-Aime’s work piecemeal, hearing poems here and there, predominantly at poetry slams around New England. Slam, for all its strengths and weaknesses, isn’t actually a great context for getting a sense of a writer’s range, but even in that limited window, it was clear Fils-Aime was writing compelling, image-driven poems that were both fiery and intensely personal. He’s a remarkable writer, one I’ve been delighted to watch emerge.
By Mckendy Fils-Aime
In Haiti the people
carry their coffins in their bellies,
learn to bury themselves
inward before lore does,
legend winking at them
with tombstone eyes.
Everyone else calls this
starvation, the body eating
itself for sustenance.
Its more of a slow suicide,
hunger gnawing at muscle,
already lacking nutrients.
Even nature tells jokes,
laughing with the wind,
smiling like a branch.
There is a tree where
my grandparents live
that is said to house a loa.
When I was nine,
the local kids tricked
me into fearing the spirit.
And so I spent an
entire summer praying
for mercy, whenever I
got into trouble, until bad
habits became religion.
After I got home,
I relearned atheism,
only saw demons on television
but sometimes when I miss
the island, I dream of being
in front of that tree, gutting it.
I look inside to see
how long its been since
I left, the circular deaths
in its stomach, laughing
sounding almost full.