Brent Cunningham – Three Poems

Brent Cunningham

Three Poems

Eleventh Oration (City of the Sun)

Ladies and gentlemen, the youths of this country are bored.  You’d think just being alive
and youths would excite them, but not at all.  This morning the sky was clear, I was at
campus, and everyone was despondent.
Are there any youths in this room?  Then consider, if you will, the tide of Being behind
you, those negative masses standing in your cement areas, your grassy areas, and your
areas neither grassy nor cement.Are you terrified, youths?  Do you think you’re more than killable?  Isn’t it irrefutable
that every personal world, with its health, is destroyed four times over, all savings
depleted, before there is meanwhile anything else to learn or see?

But how lovely the wind off the sea today.  How tempting to lecture you on signs and


Evening at the Hotel de Sade

The fear of death pervades us, I declared, plunging my knife into the table grain.

Don’t make me laugh, Robert replied.  Make you?  Shall we say lead me in that direction.
You jest.  Strangely not.  Then you underestimate me.

My dear Robert, said Robert (for we were both named Robert), you must admit that within
this narrow blink of existence it is common to mark our singularity with such drama as you
just exhibited; in short, for all that, we’re animals.

The very idea turns my stomach, I replied.  Does it?  It does indeed.  Please go on, for your
position fascinates me.

I did not hesitate to go on, but spoke at such extraordinary length I lost my faith of
concluding.  My friend, I concluded, you may wonder how life is for me.

Less and less, said Robert.  In general?  Au contraire.  But I’m an exceedingly curious case.
My dear Robert!

Does it not interest you, I remarked, that I go from city to city, chased by dogs, denying the
most apparent truths imaginable?

I have specific information, said Robert, that you have never been chased by dogs…

Swelling with confidence and vigour, I rose to respond, only to discover that twenty Roberts
now swam in front of my eyes.  My legs gave out; the roast overturned.  Dimly I heard Lucy
rushing down the stairs, impossibly free of her ropes…


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The Troubling Volume

I will go to the Cook Islands
to live forever.  I will put up
a bookshelf with a volume
for every letter except N.
Seabirds will be observed
exhausted on the branches.
The land will belong to everyone.
There will be wine and nuts,
towels, and a curious soap
made of rind.  On holidays
my neighbors will come over.
With an endearing flourish
I will present my volumes.
They will ask where the N is hiding.
I will turn rarely quiet
and troubled.  They will say
this man is in his own world.
The sun will round the earth
of trodden paths and volcanoes.
I will spend every afternoon
in the Cook Island public library.
The president herself will send me
a gift.  I will have a fascination
with the mango pit resting
on its consuming so much space
in the fruit.  I will no longer believe
something has eluded my grasp.
Anytime I wish to buy rubber
mouthpieces and a few hooks
I will buy them promptly.
If something pleases my neighbors,
it will please me.  If I want
to build a water tank
build it I will.  It will be the middle
of the night.  Why are the hens
so restless I will wonder inwardly.
I will put on shoes for a patrol.
There will be nuts, wine, towels,
books, and soap.  The storm will push
stars and flocks mindlessly.  It will come
back to me some idea from the volume N.
Everything will lay on the ground
that can lay on the ground.
What cannot lay on the ground
will take its chances.
The hens will survive, nervous
but ok.  My neighbors will kiss
each finger saying it has cut us
but not in the mattering place.
I will announce a short trip
back to America.  They will say
this time you’ll bring the volume N.
I will become again quiet
and troubled.  They will say
he has gone off
but where we cannot say.

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