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
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
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
to cradle. Caught
in the act of concentration,
you see it, chiseled there,
his bronze body curled into
mark, not pulling,
rather, about to pull,
the thorn finally out.
Nothing original here.
Marble, quartz—the old
masters have, for ages now,
sculpted this scene—you’ve seen
it—and here you
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
with your notepad
and pen. And what
have you learned from
standing here so long
examining pain? No
matter how ancient.
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
—first published in The Rumpus
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