In the Prelude, Wordsworth narrates a story of walking to the edge of a river and seeing a pile of garments. The next day, he learns that they belonged to a man who drowned. Wordsworth describes seeing the dead man’s Ghastly face, a spectre shape / Of terror, but goes on to contend that, having had familiarity with the fantastical worlds of poetry and romance, he wasn’t frightened; rather, his understanding of poetry Hallowed the sad spectacle / With decoration of ideal grace; / A dignity, a smoothness. At the time, he was eight years old.
On one level, poetry mediated trauma for Wordsworth. But on another level, the “smoothness” he describes is, as far as I’m concerned, wholly absent from the narrative he relays in the Prelude. Like any Arcadian space, it's not one that is truly sanctified or idealized; rather, it is contaminated by anxiety and violence, both tangible and imagined: a meadow made from a drowned man’s face.
For the remainder of his life, Wordsworth revised the Prelude. He mediated the adolescent rawness; he made the edges eloquent, the poem more like a formal container for a feeling. Originally, he’d intended for it to be the first part of an epic trilogy, one whose length surpassed Paradise Lost.
But he failed. That motherfucker died.
And form is a feeling.
And form is a garment.
And in my mind, I return to the clothes. I return to the discarded excess, to the pile that signifies death before we know its name; I return to seeing my brother emptied and seizing on the living room floor, a shell I saw continuously dead and reborn, a skin like an Aeolian harp making music in the wind by the willing of God or an unbreathable word. I return to the garments. I return to the river. I roll up my pants and step in the water and feel the rocks along the bottom. I return to the Death whose face I felt in the basement and stroked his eyes and hallowed sockets and nostrils and indentation above the lip and the unwashed space behind the ears. He said, You can’t see me, and you won’t. When I turned on the bulb I saw a mass of garments and a plastic mask.
I return to my family. I return to the river. I roll cigarettes with my childhood friends and we sit in the woods on rotting logs and dream of a pond with a pale hand sticking out.
O, golden wound.
I feel more removed from my brother each time I come home.
I drink wine. I change the oil. I put snow tires on the car. I lie all day in my childhood bed with its unwashed sheets and decades of flesh and a feeling whose skin I’m unable to name.
I open the meadow.
The wind comes in.
Marty Cain is the author of Kids of the Black Hole (Trembling Pillow Press, 2017), a book-length poem, as well as www.enterthe.red, a digital supplement. His creative and critical writing appears in Fence, Boston Review, Jacket2, Tarpaulin Sky, Action Yes, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the University of Mississippi, and is currently pursuing a PhD at Cornell University, where he studies rural poetics. With his partner Kina Viola, he runs Garden-Door Press, a handmade micropress.
the Tuesday poem is curated by rob mclennan