This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features an excerpt from a poem by Jackqueline Frost. 

from Young Americans

            The après-midi of our brotherhood is effortless. How did you put it before? This
            becoming’s like confetti cutting. Weren’t we celebratory and vicious? At times vicious
            and blithe? Weren’t we reckless and massive? I was sure we were brothers when we
            rang with certain grief and were sisters when it seemed the source of it was from our
            insides. We were sisters when any fortune for us precipitated scorn. We were brothers
            when we earned and sisters obscenely seeking after.  

We spoke quietly in the grove that we had little time and so must give testimony, and you said do not forgive, truly, you cannot forgive in the name of those betrayed here, and even our names fastened together by vulgarity and fable, even you cannot forgive in my name— even when they called out Jackqueline, twice or four times.

                                                                                This meritocracy keeps me in the attention of
                                                                                great trusts, since as hierophants, they believe in
                                                                                a kingdom without limit. 
                                                                                                         So each day I go with the others
                                                                                            to the dark boundary of the good. 

†          †          †

the central image is the white Corolla / with the matte black left side panel / Wallace’s / at night we’d drive through quiet streets / each with a pack of artillery shells / mortars / and light them from the car seat / tossing them up into the street behind us / and watch them falling / then bouncing / sometimes twice / just at eyelevel they’d detonate / forcing peals of color and heat / so final / and one time Lee Parrot / hit the rim of the window twice before his exploded / burning the upholstery / his back side / I remember him saying / can someone just give me a fucking cigarette / we could spend whole nights / driving through the open open / no seams / to cut against / just for the feeling of taking these explosives to the stupid stillness of everything / and how this game we played with the nights we lived through / was a sign / the relevancy of which continues to descend on me / because in those days / our boys / the boys that were a part of me / of my life / were the ones who went to the slaughter / to slaughter and be slaughter / the smallest most forgettable generation of us / or who came back from the war like Paul Hidalgo / and drove his red Chevy truck one too many times into the cane / and was chased by state troopers / and dogs / barefoot / through it / his name tattooed across his back / and because nothing else took place / besides being made for the war / or being broken by it later / or being made for someone who’s made for the war or who comes back mangled by it later / it’s as if / the lengths we went to / to make anything else HAPPEN / conditioned us to fear little more than death / and death too / seemed worth that / or at least was common enough / 

†          †          †

There was an incubation. After the storm, I strayed—grace favored over decay—but those dreams of drowning blue lipped in the flooded street, on Dauphine, or Saint-Philippe. I was always with a grip of dykes in the sub tropic wetting of night. That was Ursuline, where the nuns lived. I was a tatter in a boat. Please, not now, I’m building a prayer to live in, against this white portability. To be something more than a gamine in exile identified with platonic concepts, predicated on mistaken blessedness. Something indecent about this story of Young Americans set to burning in a field of sleeping cows. We cradled shotguns near the dredging, as light fails to be tense, and unconfessing. We engage with the reality it produces in order to name—


Évangéline, a parish of, given as what we mean to say in the proletarian night, although often only a sigh. As for what we split, gamble and suffer by crease of lip. No made-up country to be loosed unto, and in the way she wanders, things are hotly folded, hero hearted. Even in white surrenders they do not covet me, or take and return me. All tracks back as scrap for the war, but would sell for locomotion some tender things to the crippled machinist. So from wing to reddening, where Muriel wanders toward a louder love, as I toward and offer mercy sung like something sleeping stung and swell as with and am as if asundering— 


And by caught in the longer legs of someone’s catholic daughter I mean I loved her, or rather latin water, to and in tall grasses, in the dark field lit by cattle belly, and so went soundly soundless as all my losses were mostly terrestrial. Might wait for words to say what of your brother’s body is left—


But the cane goes, with or without the fragile world of changing loves. What we live among. The bagasse: blue ribbon, purple. The ornamentals, a vague series. What there is only image for. What though lying you swore you need not prove. To anyone. 


Who came forward / over the electric fences / our pockets full of claws collected / withered by plagues of heat / moving on despite the weight / gone into the forest Hysterically Dark /and how everything over the course of that Season seemed to be reducible to the disinclination surrounding angels / how the angels all erupted tumbling into the garden, a great avalanche of angels, and how soberly I explained that it was not me who was had brought them around / I don’t keep dead motherfucking angels around; I had never been decent or simple or good ever / and since my girlhood passed for Boyhood / only in the haze of methane fire / and under many leeches / in ignorance / already reconciled to the problems of a body / but not any body / I had only one task and it all seemed plausible even then to tell the truth about my Life / and not being decent or simple or good / and caring rather under the oranges under the tangerine blood on the hedges / briar blood / I hadn’t brought through any / the other girls brought them / / and they knew / that being a girl was itself a Sentiment / and it meant either dragging around dead angels forever or telling /the truth about your Life 


                               It meant meeting the others up high in their anger /
                                      when they couldn’t meet us up high in our anger / 
                                      this lambent suspension / this state of unbelieving 



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