Poetry Friday: “Quantum Theory” by Victoria Kelly

Room, Christ iconsA friend said to me once, if time were flat, if everything were always happening forever concurrently (this is very hard to imagine), then all the versions of us throughout the years would be something like flip-book animation: everything drawn out already on every page, only seeming to dance or shuffle due to a trick of perspective. This is about as far as my understanding of quantum theory goes. Victoria Kelly proposes a similar thought experiment in her poem “Quantum Theory,” collapsing the past and present of her family history into a handful of “moments that go on forever— / somewhere else, on another plane.” Whether or not this is literally true, it strikes me as a common experience; it’s the way I feel that memory works. It’s the way we seem to grapple with trauma (always forever concurrently with the present), as if the darkest things that have happened to us exist even on our sunniest days. What’s surprising in this poem is that Kelly points the concept away from trauma and toward awe. I am slow to remember when I have been awed, when I have had faith in anything. I am easily convinced by every version of me that is lacking—who has been wronged and has wronged others—that the state of things is like “the sun…going down.” Yet if it were true that all the people I have been are still with me somehow, right now, then the version of me who believes, he is real—he is always, forever, concurrently, really here.

Tyler McCabe


Quantum Theory by Victoria Kelly

Fifty years ago, in Catholic school,
a nun gave my mother a ribbon
said to have been touched by a saint.
This was when her brother was still alive,
and masses were still read in Latin,
and people still wandered across the street
to other people’s houses in the evening.

Now the school is coming down, and, six blocks away,
my grandmother forgets to brush her teeth.
The years are upon her, but they say
there are moments that go on forever—
somewhere else, on another plane.
If it is true
I wonder if somewhere out there
my mother is still being given that ribbon,
and my uncle is waiting for her in the hallway
with his coat slung over his shoulder.
The sun is going down.
They are about to walk home,
and neither of them knows yet
about the cancer, or the English masses,
or the war that is looming.
She is going to show him the ribbon
and they will believe it is real.

 

Victoria Kelly received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and her M.Phil. in creative writing from Trinity College, Dublin, where she was a United States Mitchell Scholar. Her poetry has appeared in Southwest Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Prairie Schooner, and is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2013. She teaches creative writing at Old Dominion University.

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The Arab of the Future

The Arab of the FutureI snuck into a chair while a friend was describing how growing up under a repressive regime infects and perverts children. He wasn’t talking about his own life; he was commenting on the selection for our graphic novel reading group—a program of our wonderful Evanston Public Library.

I was late, and I hate showing up late, so I sat down and listened to try to catch up. I didn’t want to be that guy who makes everyone repeat the stuff he would have heard had he been there on time.

But, of course, they were just moving on from the main question I had hoped to discuss, and I wasn’t comfortable trying to guide us back myself. I didn’t know how, as a white Western male, to ask if a book by a half-Arab author could be racist against Arabs.

The book was The Arab of the Future, originally published in French and recently available in English. In it, Riad Sattouf tells the story of his life from ages two to eight, during which time his father, a Syrian who met Riad’s French mother while studying at the Sorbonne, moved the family first to Libya, then to Syria. [Read more…]

Grief and the Weight of Glory

ClotheslineThe wind whips through the quilts and sheets on our clothesline, cracking now and then like a benign thunderclap, tugging at the clothespins I inherited from my grandmother’s childhood farm. My daughter and I watch them as we swing together on the playset her father built a few seasons ago, before she was born.

This spring morning my father calls to tell me that his mother, my grandmother, who passed down those clothespins, has fallen asleep.

“Do you mean she died?” I say, knowing the answer but wanting him to say it clearly.

“Yes.”

We don’t say much after that. It’s not as if this was unexpected. She is ninety-three and has been dying slowly since her kidneys failed months ago. But there is a finality to it, my last grandparent, the last connection to another generation, as if slowly, my family, my history, my memories are being whittled down from top to bottom.

This is how it should be, I know. But it hits me in a way I’m not expecting. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Smokers, Sunday Morning, 1975” by Bobby C. Rogers

Bobby Rogers Poetry FridayThis poem seems at first to be a straight-forward narrative: a childhood recollection of the men who smoked outside of church on Sundays. But the poetic shaping of the narrative adds another dimension. Those very, very long lines, the end of each spilling over grammatically into the next, even between stanzas: this gives the sense of the entire narrative as a single long breath—like the deep inhale and exhale of a drag on a cigarette. And finally, in the closing stanza, a colon. Here, to the child of ten, was what manhood looked like, and the child admires it. Despite the health hazards of smoking that he knew of even then, despite the preacher’s sermons on “the body is a temple,” the child has a certain respect for this image of manhood: its daring, its stoic acceptance of consequences, its self-confidence in not really caring “how long before the sermon started.”

—Peggy Rosenthal


Smokers, Sunday Morning, 1975 by Bobby C. Rogers

Three or four of them congregated outside the sanctuary of the First Baptist
  Church in McKenzie, Tennessee, savoring
the last cigarette before service, voices low and knowing, a slight rasp-edge to their laughter. Cigarettes would kill you—
I was ten years old and could read what it said right on the pack—but ignoring warnings was just another habit
these men couldn’t kick. Once or twice a year the Reverend O.M. Dangeau singled them out, preaching against tobacco

with a spewing disdain he usually reserved for the package liquor ordinance coming up for a vote. “The body is a temple”
was the sermon text, and he hollered his exordium and exposition until his veins bulged. But the smokers were firmly in the grip
of this world and none of them seemed to mind it, a soft pack of Camels soon to be retrieved from the inside pocket
of their Sunday suit, an unfiltered cigarette shaken loose, the clack of their steel lighters becoming a kind of music. They were polite

even when preached at, but they had commitments this side of heaven they aimed to keep. These were not the deacons, never the ones
praying earnestly into the pulpit microphone—they sat the pew next to their wives on Sunday and all through the week drove Towmotor forklifts
or pulled electrical cable, not once clocking in red. A lit cigarette looked like a paper trifle in their work-hardened hands. They exhaled jets
of milky smoke and greeted everyone who greeted them and some who didn’t. Mr. Fowler died of lung cancer, but I’m still not sure

it proved all the preacher said it did. To me, manhood looked just like this: stand up straight and take what you had coming, there
in the shade of the sycamore tree, no need to glance at a wristwatch to figure how long before the sermon started.

 

Bobby C. Rogers is professor of English and writer-in-residence at Union University. His book Paper Anniversary (Pittsburgh) won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts’ Arlin G. Meyer Prize. His work appears in the Everyman’s Library Poems of the American South.

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The Living Among the Dead

mushroomThanksgiving Day after I turned four: high fever at dinner, a drive through a blizzard, then a spinal tap. Meningitis. The nurse promised me angels, and they floated from the bright examination light to the floor, and this is all I remember: paper angels filling the emergency room, snow falling outside, my mother crying.

For two weeks while my brain boiled, I was in the hospital bed and outside in the falling snow, both at once. My parents made me testify about the angels (but not about the snow) to our church, and later, I teased my father about this, about people who wanted a miracle so badly that they confused miracle with inflamed brain. He shrugged and said maybe they’re not so different.

I have been putting things side-by-side, trying to make sense of images that occur and reoccur and tie themselves to other things, snow and angel, miracle and spinal cord smolder. The signs of crisis averted, barely. Bear with me. I’ve been walking in circles, encountering the same signposts, over and over since my grandma died this summer. I’m looking for what I’ve lost, the signs for loss that only seem to point back toward themselves, building a constellation of images around the shape of something I can barely see. [Read more…]


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