Wednesday Feb 28

NeelyMark Mark Neely is the author of Beasts of the Hill (winner of the FIELD Poetry Prize) and Dirty Bomb (forthcoming 2015), both from Oberlin College Press. He has received a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and an Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. His poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, Boulevard, Indiana Review, and Barrow Street. He teaches at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

The Backwards Leap

There is joy
but it’s encrypted, scrambled,
played so the untrained ear

only hears the voice-

changing software. There are seconds,
quarter-seconds of ecstasy (drowned out
by gossip and rebellion

and the eternal

needs of children) before
the feverish after-burn begins.
His motto now:

good news is tragedy in a fuzzy outfit. Dancing

drunk at the Irish bar
Bruce didn’t think about morning
or who’s driving. Joy, stupidity,

the backwards leap

of a fly evading the swat, the spontaneous
swirl of a thousand birds
getting the hell out of town.

His motto: avoid the radiant

dawns, the drugged-out jitterbug,
the head-spinning ascent. Dim the lights.
Turn the music down.

Leaving the Bar

Tilted like a doomed ferry
he wavers in the dark
windows, terrified

passengers peering
from his eyes. After the voice
inside him drowns,

Bruce thinks he will be
reborn, reform,

up the hole
torn in his hull. The thump
of a bass surprises

him as two young women
tumble through a door,
flashing their hair

in the streetlights.
Never again.
The ocean rushes in

his ears. This is not
about you Bruce. It isn’t
your voice to kill.

Inner Critic

Bruce starts awake—who’s there?
A visitation from the dead?

Annie rousing the kids upstairs.
He sends them scurrying through the heavy

school doors just as the pledge begins
then confronts the outside world—

a wind-swept plain with dead leaves and oil slicks
mucking up the snow. People in cars

like displays in a dim museum. Do you want
to meet this hero of a man?

Sunlight cracks open the sky and he hums a little
tune. After another

twelve hours getting yanked around
the sun, he drinks a beer straight from the bottle—

Comes in a glass, his father used to say.
Bruce thinks of himself

as a sort of Buddhist, a devote of the day
to day of middle class, white America.

Not the worst sentence
on earth if you can avoid reality

TV and politics. But he has never learned
to quiet the voice, the one

who tells him to hurry. Tells him
who to talk to at the party.

Tells him he can do better.
It isn’t exactly inner. From outer

space almost. From some satellite.
Jesus Bruce, it always says. Pull yourself together.


Bruce’s face gleams in the blank
television and all through the darkness

the voice sings his failures, his irrepressible
vanity. This is what you made of white

privilege? Bon mots turned up as Post-its
on the inside of his skull. Outside

the neighbor’s lilac bursts
from the soil like a detonation

and the schizophrenic’s
weeds grow in intricate patterns

around a collection of idols. The voice
can only laugh. Bruce really believes

the beautiful couple across the street
planted those tulips just for him.