Mary Jo Bang is the author of five collections of poems: Apology for Want, Louise in Love, The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans, The Eye Like a Strange Balloon and Elegy, forthcoming from Graywolf in October of 2007. A chapbook, Her Head in a Rabbit Hole, was published by Delirium Press in Canada. Individual poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Paris Review, Fence, Verse, Crowd, and elsewhere. She's been the recipient of a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. She is on the permanent faculty at Washington University in St. Louis where she is an Associate Professor and Director of the Creative Writing Program. This fall she is a Visiting Associate Professor in the Writing Division at Columbia University.

Four Poems by Mary Jo Bang


U As In Useful

Like an Umbrella dream: Freud’s twenty incidences
Of the word “umbrella,” each a different shade
Of yes — and no. You of the dreamworld,

The day dream, you
Of the rain laden day.
The store is closed but I’m sold

An umbrella anyway. It’s very expensive. Very dear.
Very difficult, but it bends in the wind,
Unlike the hero’s priapic sword.

Unlike the woody tree trunk evidence
Of here it once stood.
U as in useful: the metaphor, the simile, the concrete

That holds the mirror abstraction. Unlike the unambiguous
Smile on the face of the liar in bed. (See W.)
The U-turn pan, the camera recording the vista

And shoring up memory’s fading figs.
Useful as an undercover vote for the cloak of secrecy’s shadow,
The rolling tank’s eye in the desert storm redux.

Excuse me, Sir, but is this Salem, home of the famous
Witch hunt? Home of the punishing switch.
The prison of rigid thinking.

The expediency of today and tomorrow be drowned.
The expediency of a single belief in the tilting crown
At the top of the obsolete Conoco gas pump.

The crown of thorns
Around the head of a legend.
The imposition of the architect

Of hell and high water on those who sit
At the bottom of the ladder.
Oh, them? Why bother? Their larder was already bare.

This from the mother from under
Her umbrella. This from the fist that writes
Its own rules. Until is the name of the hope that rises

Like smoke from Dante’s nine-layer hell.
Useless is the guise of truth in a grim reaper costume.
Boom, the bomb goes

And a city bends over. Very dear,
Very difficult, the way history drags behind the wind.



And As In Alice

Alice cannot be in the poem, she says, because
She’s only a metaphor for childhood
And a poem is a metaphor already
So we’d only have a metaphor

Inside a metaphor. Don’t you see?
They all nod. They see. Except for the girl
With her head in the rabbit hole. From this vantage,
Her bum looks like the flattened backside

Of a black and white panda. She actually has one
In the crook of her arm.
Of course it’s stuffed and not living.
Who would dare hold a real bear so near the outer ear?

She’s wondering what possible harm might come to her
If she fell all the way down the dark she’s looking through.
Would strange creatures sing songs
Where odd syllables came to a sibilant end at the end.

Perhaps the sounds would be a form
Of light hissing. Like when a walrus blows air
Through two fractured front teeth. Perhaps it would take
The form of a snake. But if a snake, it would need a tree.

Could she grow one from seed? Could one make a cat?
Make it sit on a branch and fade away again
The moment you told it that the rude noise it was hearing was rational
Thought with an axe beating on the forest door.



Y Is for Year’s Mind

All the O’s, those of silence and those of absence,
Refused to mention who
Made all those missteps, leading to the edge of the edge

And over. Listen: Two have been left behind
On the stage and are still
Speaking. One is saying, You know

I love you. The other is listening. It’s a rerun
Of the HBO show, Six Feet Under.
There is a window in the room.

There are flowers in bloom.
The Eames chair in the entryway is empty.
There’s a pair of scissors. A “she” is trimming her bangs,

Leaving expatriate wisps of hair in the sink for tomorrow’s
Ever and ever. She changes into pajamas, leaving
Today’s things on the floor. Looking in from the door:

The pajamas consist of tiny cotton boxer shorts,
Yellow and white striped, plus a pullover sleeveless summer top
In several shades of red, making her a mismatched plaid.

Streetlight leaks in around the pulled window shades.
Light leaks between the two days that make up before
And after. And she, she

Goes to sleep in the belfry of reiteration and rattle-tattle.



Time To Be Tamed

The rain made the street darker
In the late afternoon. I made a snake
Wrap itself around a stack of green paper.
The money disappeared.
The stupid sun came out and added shadow,
Inside of which, the figment of a life.
And inside that, the feeling in a fragment.
[“Wherefore, villain, hast thou failed?”
(Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser)]
All the time, an extravagant wonder

Was ending the way it began: in wonder.
To our right, the ant farm
Was exiting a cracked glass
In “the slow mode.” An art form
Made from the hinge of day,
And the wheel of night.
A fist punched the air, a fish bone stuck,
The throat closed.
The hard ball came through the windshield
And landed in a lap. Egg of leisure.

Leaves of grass. Tara tomorrow
Where a feminine face of defiance was made
Pretty by makeup and utter hyperbole.
The action occurring before the eyes
Was shot to the back of the brain.
(Ergo, a movie
Just for you. It’s a tin man walking a dog.
The yellow brick throws up the image
Of butter, which marries the word bucolia.)
Goodnight, twinkle star.

Goodnight, word. Goodnight,
Government. The sharks are circling so we say,
It’s all too much and yet
We choose to continue to be troubled.
We continue the fluid trend
Toward slipping and stopping
While continuing the greed
For the seen and the said.
Goodnight, all. Kiss and kiss, kiss.
The near-silver night goes on.

The artichoke velvet slippers tiptoe in order
Not to wake the sleeper who is waiting
For Time to be decided. Time to be frightened.
Time to be finally docile.
Which is also called “waiting in vain.”