Marvin Bell

Marvin Bell
Veterans of the Seventies
His army jacket bore the white rectangle
of one who has torn off his name. He sat mute
at the round table where the trip-wire veterans
ate breakfast. They were foxhole buddies
who went stateside without leaving the war.
They had the look of men who held their breath
and now their tongues. What is to say
beyond that said by the fathers who bent lower
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The Book of the Dead Man (#15)
1. About the Dead Man and Rigor Mortis

The dead man thinks his resolve has stiffened when the
ground dries.
Feeling the upward flow of moisture, the dead man thinks his
resolve has stiffened.
The dead man’s will, will be done.
The dead man’s backbone stretches from rung to rung, from here to
tomorrow, from a fabricated twinge to virtual agony.
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The Book of the Dead Man (#3)
1. About the Beginnings of the Dead Man

When the dead man throws up, he thinks he sees his inner life.
Seeing his vomit, he thinks he sees his inner life.
Now he can pick himself apart, weigh the ingredients, research

his makeup.
He wants to study things outside himself if he can find them.
Moving, the dead man makes the sound of bone on bone.
He bends a knee that doesn’t wish to bend, he raises an arm that
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The fake Parthenon in Nashville, Stonehenge reduced by a quarter
near Maryhill on the Columbia, the little Statue of Liberty
taken from the lawn of the high school and not recovered
for months,
Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in the tile maker’s shape of a ship
to sail home in, the house in the shape of a ship near Milwaukee
where once before the river below rose up to swallow the bank,
World’s Fairs where one can enter the cell of a human body
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An Introduction to My Anthology
Such a book must contain—
it always does!—a disclaimer.
I make no such. For here
I have collected all the best—
the lily from the field among them,
forget-me-nots and mint weed,
a rose for whoever expected it,
and a buttercup for the children
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The Israeli Navy
The Israeli Navy,
sailing to the end of the world,
stocked with grain
and books black with God’s verse,
turned back,
rather than sail on the Sabbath.
Six days, was the consensus,
was enough for anyone.
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A Man May Change
As simply as a self-effacing bar of soap
escaping by indiscernible degrees in the wash water
is how a man may change
and still hour by hour continue in his job.
There in the mirror he appears to be on fire
but here at the office he is dust.
So long as there remains a little moisture in the stains,
he stands easily on the pavement
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A Motor
The heavy, wet, guttural
small-plane engine
fights for air, and goes down in humid darkness
about where the airport should be.
I take a lot for granted,
not pleased to be living under the phlegm-
soaked, gaseous, foggy and irradiated
heavens whose angels wear collars in propjets
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It could be a clip, it could be a comb;
it could be your mother, coming home.
It could be a rooster; perhaps it’s a comb;
it could be your father, coming home.
It could be a paper; it could be a pin.
It could be your childhood, sinking in.

The toys give off the nervousness of age.
It’s useless pretending they aren’t finished:
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Song of Social Despair
Ethics without faith, excuse me,
is the butter and not the bread.
You can’t nourish them all, the dead
pile up at the hospital doors.
And even they are not so numerous
as the mothers come in maternity.

The Provider knows his faults—
love of architecture and repair—
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Sounds of the Resurrected Dead Man’s Footsteps #17
1. At the Walking Dunes, Eastern Long Island
That a bent piece of straw made a circle in the sand.
That it represents the true direction of the wind.
Beach grass, tousled phragmite.
Bone-white dishes, scoops and bowls, glaring without seeing.
An accordion of creases on the downhill, sand drapery.
The cranberry bushes biting down to survive.
And the wind’s needlework athwart the eyeless Atlantic.
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Things We Dreamt We Died For
Flags of all sorts.
The literary life.
Each time we dreamt we’d done
the gentlemanly thing,
covering our causes
in closets full of bones
to remove ourselves forever
from dearest possibilities,
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The Uniform
Of the sleeves, I remember their weight, like wet wool,
on my arms, and the empty ends which hung past my hands.
Of the body of the shirt, I remember the large buttons
and larger buttonholes, which made a rack of wheels
down my chest and could not be quickly unbuttoned.
Of the collar, I remember its thickness without starch,
by which it lay against my clavicle without moving.
Of my trousers, the same—heavy, bulky, slow to give
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We Had Seen a Pig

One man held the huge pig down
and the other stuck an ice pick
into the jugular, which is when
we started to pay attention.
The blood rose ten feet with force
while the sow swam on its back
as if to cut its own neck.
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You Would Know
That you, Father, are “in my mind,”
some will argue, who cherish the present
but flee the past. They haven’t my need
to ask, What was I? Asking instead,
What am I?, they see themselves bejeweled
and wingèd. Because they would fly and have value,
their answers are pretty but false:

the fixings of facile alchemists,
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Your Shakespeare
If I am sentenced not to talk to you,
and you are sentenced not to talk to me,
then we wear the clothes of the desert
serving that sentence, we are the leaves
trampled underfoot, not even fit to be
ground in for food, then we are the snow.

If you are not what I take you to be,
and I am not what you take me to be,
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