Timothy Donnelly is the author of Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit (Grove, 2003) and The Cloud Corporation (Wave, 2010; Picador, 2011), winner of the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His chapbook Hymn to Life was recently published by Factory Hollow Press and with John Ashbery and Geoffrey G. O’Brien he is the co-author of Three Poets published by Minus A Press in 2012. His poems have been widely anthologized and translated and have appeared or are forthcoming Fence, Harper’s, Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of The Paris Review’s Bernard F. Conners Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award as well as fellowships from the New York State Writers Institute and the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He is currently the Chair of the Writing Program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and poetry editor of Boston Review. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.
We won’t get back the hours we mismanaged on all fours
what many years we did the horse, then quivered bull, or drank
chemical lycanthropy: the punishment of a god, his rivalry
by the book, compelling us to chew the grass and otherwise
be beastly in our appearance, but never in one thought
that scratched its point across the vinyls of our meditative
practice in those days, as now, we were always on the scent of
possibility: whether you can love, for example, a human
being in the abstract but still find it difficult to stomach
in the particulars, such as speech, or its behaviors, so often
off in the moral sense, which despite some ardors of the past
and spasmodic form we still keep fucking working on.
That’s what makes a king. Thunderclaps are buttercups
from where we’re listening, the cobalt blue of glaze on over
twenty-thousand bricks an average fleck in Ishtar’s eye.
The same is true for time. You can stretch it or compress it
but you can’t get it back: the god of it wraps the present
constantly in butcher paper, hands it to custodians who walk
into the walk-in but never out. The dented-up door opens only
in recollections. We found a cave in our exile and we sat
in it like a linnet in its nest, resting for a time that stretched
into an impulse to forage for radish tops, wild carrot, distanter
herbages conquered in a sequence ideal for the absorption
of such nutrients as folic acid, niacin, potassium and lycopene.
That’s what makes a king. Careful diet, frequent cardio,
waterbreaks, putting yourself first and feeling good about it
especially at the workplace, where everyone waits for you
to crap out anyway, knowing when to say no, or no thank you—
now that the sunrise and sunset points have migrated south
we’re working on ourself tonight. Wash the sheep’s mouth out
with juniper, cut into its side and slide the jiggly liver loose
and onto a platter to read: all the divots and the swollen spots
not the outline of the city as it is, but as it might be, double-
ringed in walls twenty-five feet thick to protect our coworkers’
particulars as they fall away as they power down as they sleep
in interchangeable but smartly furnished domiciles of clay.
That’s what a king makes. Don’t tell your dreams to anyone
who won’t take your meat. They’ll worm them into curses
genetically perfected to attack you in the throne room softly
at first, then graduating up into the big booming voice that spoke
down to us from a cloud at a point when Rome was just
disorganized mud huts. We built canals. We built the above-
mentioned walls and covered them in bulls, lions, dragons.
Traditionally it’s thought we built the famous hanging gardens
but some recent archaeological trends suggest we didn’t.
Let’s just say we did. Let’s just say a hidden god who wants
endlessly to be praised has no place telling us to be modest.
Look at all the lollipops that jangle from the rooftops as if
the bold fruits of our own synthesis. Let’s spoil our royal supper.
Let’s spoil our supper twice and eat when we the king say eat.