PAX ROMANA by Christopher Blackman
by Christopher Blackman
For a time I felt harmonious and whole,
if you know what I mean. Ringing bells alone
could make a Christmas and when I climbed
the red rungs of the fire tower to survey the tree line,
there wasn’t any smoke visible on the horizon.
Every good despot remembers things this way—
that stretch of time that precedes the pageant’s end.
Before is always better, but I am not indiscriminately
nostalgic. I always know when a moment will be mourned
while it’s happening. And along came a discordance,
something that broke me thoroughly, irreparably,
you might say, the way objects forged from a single piece
can never be fixed, only patched. And patched I am.
Isn’t it strange straddling these two centuries the way we do?
When I was young I was in love with “Wanderer
Above the Sea of Fog.” Now I have claustrophobic dreams
of trying to push through the crowd to the doors
of the train, and wandering through the Gap,
looking for chinos in that length but this color,
and do they have it in the back, which I’ll never know
because I leave to catch the last train back to waking
before dream clerk returns from the stockroom.
Nowadays, I think I’d like to see that painting’s face,
to name those mountains. I’ve grown to like specifics.
In Coshocton, Ohio there’s a roadside attraction
called Unusual Junction—an old depot famous
for housing the original sign from the Price is Right,
autographed by Bob Barker. I can picture it now:
the mass of light bulbs, a blinking incandescent dollar sign
in the Unusual Junction just as an archipelago of clouds
begins its procession around the moon, and below,
the closest thing to moorland in America lies still.
The foothills of Appalachia take shape in the distance,
giving way to steep mountains that drape the continent’s breast
like a sash carved from 500 millions years of glacial drift
and tectonic collision. I knew then that I would remember
the splendor of the moment, as I do tonight, sitting
on a balcony in Newport News, Virginia, bitten repeatedly
by mosquitoes—the buzzing, swarming little shits—
as they come from the marsh below this apartment.
I swat at them casually, as if they weren’t responsible
for killing more humans than any other thing in history—
as if right this moment they weren’t spreading malaria,
West Nile, Zika. Our ancestors were passed over
by mosquitos like a final plague, which lead me here to Virginia,
sitting on this porch, staring across the dark farm where all day horses
grazed in the pasture. An orange Sunkist machine sits next to barn,
so startling and gorgeous, and I had to travel here to find it,
beneath the din of every insect in the marsh calling out for a mate.
I am here because of my discordance. I am here because mosquitos
let my ancestors live, allowing me to travel to this remote peninsula,
and there are worse places to be exiled. I look to you, strange machine
in the dark, and paraphrase Virgil when I say that one day I’ll come
to remember even this moment fondly, when it is completely behind me.
Christopher Blackman is a poet and educator from Columbus, Ohio. He received his MFA in poetry from Columbia University and his poems have been published in the Atlas Review, Typo Magazine, EuropeNow, and Muse/A Journal. He has been an instructor at the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, and currently lives in New York.
Image credit: Wikipedia