GREENWICH

Greenwich is the initial meridian where the world is split, ends and begins again.
For us, it is our English poetry section, where we want to rescue the most interesting voices of the English language, in order to make them available to the world.

For this issue, we present the incredible poet Nathan McClain. Nathan McClain is the author of Scale (Four Way Books, 2017), a recipient of fellowships from Sewanee’s Writers’ Conference, The Frost Place, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson. His poems and prose have recently appeared in Poetry Northwest, Green Mountains Review, Zocalo Public Square, Poem-a-Day, The Common, and The Critical Flame. He teaches at Hampshire College.



What You Call It

Not my usual route to the market—past
the railroad tracks, then past

Grace Episcopal Church,
its courtyard empty—no men

clasping hands as though agreeing,
finally, to the difficult terms

of some treaty—so I would not
have known it was a peach tree

unless the person who planted it
or someone on the street

told me.  Which is not to say
its fruit didn’t look

peach-like—it did…
rather I didn’t read it as such, didn’t

know what I was
seeing, really—from where I stood

the fruit perfect and young
and heavy, at least heavy enough

to bow the branches, though hardly
ready yet to eat.  Ripe,

one might say, which, true,
is more precise—precision

a thing of value.  Not that
the fruit cares what you call it.

Or stands for anything
other than what time can make

of some small human intervention.
Is no piece of literature. 

The peach was simply a peach,
and there for the taking,

which is often said of an object that has gone
unwatched for too long, susceptible

to trespass, which happens
first in the mind, and happened first

because of fruit,
or so says The Good Book

if you believe in such things.  Knowledge,
which a poet once called “historical,” too

a trespassing of sorts, the proof of which
perhaps best shown in how one

might punish a slave who had been
taught to read the word beauty or toil

or rest, secretly, and by firelight.
There are things nearly impossible

to forget, having so trespassed,
having badly needed to see up close

this tree fixed in place, its fruit
dangling—there

within reach, though not
the same as being offered.

Tenderness, I have learned,
is only one test

of whether some fruit
has fully ripened.  You

press the flesh right here.  But for me,
that would mean crossing

half the yard the way a paper boat
might be pushed, by wind, across a pond.

—first published in Zocalo Public Square


Now That I Live In This Part of the Country,

the fireflies are far
more abundant—a word

I thought I’d never use
again, and someone says,

how beautiful, which I
could forgive, and someone

says, look, they
flash the way hazard

lights sometimes flash
and I might have said, no,

don’t they seem to pulse
with the glow of old

grievances?  But then,
no one really asked me.


Boy Pulling a Thorn from His Foot


Small enough
to cradle. Caught
in the act of concentration,

you see it, chiseled there,
his bronze body curled into
a question

mark, not pulling,
rather, about to pull,
the thorn finally out.

Nothing original here.
Nothing new.
Marble, quartz—the old

masters have, for ages now,
sculpted this scene—you’ve seen
it—and here you

are, looking.
Again the little boy.
Again his insistent

grief. So what
some exhibits in the museum
have already gone

dark? So what
others have moved on
to new rooms? Left

you comfortless,
with your notepad
and pen. And what

have you learned from
standing here so long
examining pain? No

matter how ancient.
What good
has it done you?

The thorn, thrumming
still. He almost
has it now. So close.

Step back, the guard
warns, his one job
to enforce the distance

necessary, which might be called
perspective, though
not yet.

—first published in The Rumpus



The sentence
begins with its subject, which is the sentence. Track the sentence to find out what happens or how it will act. It is the subject, after all. To track, meaning keep an eye on, which is synecdoche, part representing the whole of a thing. One may track a package if he pleases. One may track a person, though you’d probably want the whole of him, not only an eye, or perhaps only an eye. Look how the sentence is so capable of embracing contraction. A him may function as a subject, but that depends upon the sentence, i.e., A man is subject to his sentence. You understand. Such syntax renders it like a package showing evidence of having been tampered with— —first appeared in Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day

They said I was an alternate

but before that what do you like to do
with your free time and one of us said long walks
with her dog around the park and another
said kick it with the homies on the block
and I might have said cook or write or something
dumb like that though the judge didn’t judge
and another juror would only answer
in private and one said he liked to read
a good book (though what one considers good
is arguable) and sure the question
seemed odd but it took our minds off
the past awhile which we all had
to answer for (or to) one said take a warm
bath one whispered are we ever going home

—first published in Woven Tale Press


 
They said I was an alternate
said the case was in the bag, open and shut, they said he was black, there was a gun, or gun plus black equals him A no-brainer, they said No question he was black They said, do the math, dummy, doesn’t it add up If you think, they said Think of our children Our children They said, oh, never mind —first appeared in The Baffler




They said I was an alternate
ending for the end already predestined No one would argue with the fact of his blackness Not even me my pen sharpened the way some pitchforks are sharpened in the parable I don’t remember the lesson of if there was a lesson if it wasn't just another story without consequence Nothing to walk away with Inherit or pass down