The poems of Jana Prikryl may recall the ecological imagination of Jorie Graham or the flavorful antiquities that Anne Carson makes new. Yet Prikryl’s work impresses most for sounding, ultimately, like no one else in contemporary poetry. They have a casual ardor in their expansive embrace of the Anthropocene: from André Breton to Carthage, from future galaxies to the Civil War. These lyrics exist from a place where time has already played itself out simultaneous to the awareness that for the reader it is most likely just this moment that the lyric frames and microscopically dissects. Analytic, heady, wry and mysterious, the poems of Jana Prikryl keep their eye ready for “a sort of human finale,” complete with cameo by Buster Keaton. What more to ask from any poet?
—Adam Fitzgerald, Poetry Editor
The earth has feelings
some killed others in its mud and it has lots of mud
The earth builds a scrapyard, a sequence of them to tell
of this, a seam on its embalmed glabella future galaxies caress
The earth knows André Breton,
compiles ingenuous personalities in its fevered correspondence
Out of its winding sheet rolodex the earth erodes another name,
Beware, the earth prepares to say one final time, construction
It hoped to say nothing further and then was disappointed, its hope
misplaced it knew deep down
you say, the earth had hoped you would
Express as little as possible with your furniture, find the little that is
as near to nothing as can be
The monuments unpictured drift up like watermarks through the odor
of the lens
You make things happen all the time, says the earth, take my advice
look the other way
Parked magenta Lumina,
aluminum awning, wool shoulders
of a coat shrugged on to run across the street
for milk await
the formalwear of snow,
remote from adjectives.
The sky won’t stoop to it so much
anymore, the banks of cloud
unhitch and crumble down.
On our way to the party we stopped at a bar,
three girls in the din of a Friday night
to warm up and find ourselves late.
It’s not just the coming-into-being of the air
but the silence and smell, coldly
suggestive, of ozone meeting earth.
Such a gigantic abstraction withheld
makes a person feel
more creaturely than is proper.
You very nearly
come out and tell me
what it is you came here for.
In that peopled brown-lit place I find
I don’t want to talk to anyone much
and wait like a child while the two others talk.
This Tunis sir was Carthage,
comes the voice of a man,
who circles to his meaning despite how many
push him off it, a patient man,
I assure you Carthage.
One day it returns, half an hour
the motes drift close
with the care of airplanes flying low over the city.
Experience shows that timing one’s arrival
at a party is easier to do
in the company of others.
Is not sir my doublet as fresh as the first day I wore it?
A doublet, a doublet. In my edition the notes
concur with the scoundrels,
Tunis and Carthage were close
but not the same city.
Also you learn the reasons for your amusement,
if that’s what it is, when they mock the mention
of Dido, have not been explained.
How came that widow in?
What if he had said “widower Aeneas” too?
It’s funny to use your imagination
because it’s true.
And tears of a lackey,
the touch of a known hand,
an ordinary consolation
undoes me. I pause for them to move
from higher to lower regions of the sky
before proceeding down the sidewalk.
You who found none of your codirectors sufficiently serious, the scene
in need of reshooting,
the Civil War, plantation mood, the trouble was to lay the keel
down near enough to fact
to send those uncommon orders of feeling from your eyes to none but ours
when a gun went off at dinner,
I mean a popped cork, and you unmurdered, alive in the sense that
stern-black pages to light you into motion for our no less than
Your glance like an open hand, your glutes, your hurricane tending by its own
momentum to the next exposure
of an inner mechanism, whose parody sinks its point into the mark to such
a depth it spreads
to illumine the entire body and every other body and the number of you
in all the parts
seem a sort of human finale, if not the very last absolutely necessary
movie, then the first and last
We’ll sit you in a chair and grant you days of banqueting in safety
to think of new material