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Wyatt Prunty
Selected Poems

Wyatt Prunty
Photo by Miriam Berkley

Courtesy the Sewanee Writers' Conference

A Child's Christmas in Georgia, 1953
Oh General, Oh Spy, Oh Bureaucrat!
A Baseball Team of Unknown Navy Pilots, Pacific Theater, 1944
Zamboni's Law
Thaumatrope
The Monument
Baseball
To Be Sung on the Fourth of July



A Child's Christmas in Georgia, 1953

Marching through Georgia to bed, he stopped, listened,
And heard, "While shepherds washed their socks by night,"
Later, he sang the same skewed line off key,
And his parents howled; until getting it wrong,
He decided, beat getting it right.

But Christmas Eve they read about killing
The first-born, fleeing the land, and returning
By another country, till he couldn't sleep
And had to check so slipped from bed to stare
The darkened height by which the wise men steered.

Downstairs there was his mother's stacks of albums
And, mantle-high, her unblinking gallery
Of gold-framed graybeards gazing, and matriarchs
In black, scowling the generations back
Into place; and then there were the others,

His infant older brother who never
Came home, two cousins lost in war, an uncle
Who captained his ship over the flat world's edge,
And one fleece-lined pilot lost years now inside
The stilled weather of a relative's box camera.

And then there were the lines he'd heard in church,
"Pray that your flight may not be in winter,"
So that was how the pilot disappeared?
And "Woe to the pregnant and nursing," so
That explained his brother, or their mother?

There was one thing he knew by heart by now:
Rubella cooked, cleaned, and scolded her way
Through the house tuning the news and talking back,
Though she didn't vote, and said her baby
Died because he wouldn't come out in Georgia.

Still standing there and staring up, he pressed
His face till the cold glass fogged and hurt his nose,
Though there was only the street light yellowing'
The side yard and his father's dormant garden
And the Talmadges' coiled drive and empty house.

So what were they singing about, the records
And radio? And why all these presents
When over drinks his parents grieved those missing?
What was given if you had to go away
And wound up framed like a silent question?

In the morning Rubella would light the stove;
The paper boy would whistle up Milledge,
Tossing the new day high over one hedge
Into another by the porch for parents
Who ignored their food and read to themselves.

So, still at the window he studied the sky,
Figuring Pontius Pilate flew for Delta
And that the two parts to the Bible were
The Old and New Estimates, which like Christmas
You read out of the names of those missing.

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Oh General, Oh Spy, Oh Bureaucrat!

You son of a bitch. What are you trying to do? Destroy Eisenhower? --- "Beedle" Smith

Trained in tactics, war games, cold war, cold feet,
Baroque what-ifs against a failing East,
And History a venality of names
By which Max Weber, Calvin, or King James
Would profit faith into bureaucracy,
Busyness, business, hope's tucked property --
He made long lists, committeed the abyss
Of time unbuttoning a hidden proof
Discovered like an army in which gain
Is truculence, promotion, sometimes truth,
But elsewhere only soldiers on those trains
That ended derailed, deserted, and sometimes missed.

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A Baseball Team of Unknown Navy Pilots, Pacific Theater, 1944

Assigned a week's good bunt, run, throw,
Makeshift uniforms, long practices,
Then games, playoffs, and a round of photos
Stark as this one slipping from its frame,
Where hats, gloves, bats in hand these stood
Lined up and focused, smiling and unnamed --

Till the shutter clicked and each went back,
Retracing zagged geometries
Of the navigator's elbowed tack
And smudged replotted overrule
Pulled from a fix when miles off track
They crabbed the wind and calculated fuel;

And then the wide sleek secret fleet below
Blacked out until the climbing tracers
Sent their bright concussive flak
And going on was all. Time wound,
And some planes banking, others not;
And the one, tail-riddled, easing down,

Crew tossing weight for altitude
Till smoke and someone spelling out a fix.
Then static graveling the words.
And still these faces, whose names we never got,
As all we know is they returned to bases,
Went up when told, came home or not.

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Zamboni's Law

Shave, water, scrub, and sweep the rink
Of all the etched meanderings
By which the skaters enter their
Broad cursives on the ice;
Play the music slow or play it fast,
Then turn the lights until you see
That only by Zamboni things agree.

Knife round and round the ice those O's
Whose widened emptiness controls
The way a skater's clockwise run
Gives out before the law.
Let tickets flood across the gates,
As now the skaters race to learn
All is erased when it's Zamboni's turn.

As now the slow-curved couples pass,
Nodding and talking, wobbling on,
And the overtaking singles
Pumping and weaving ahead,
Till coming round again they lean
Angled for that opening whose good
Is that Zamboni's law stands understood --

When the foghorn warning sounds its bass
Expelling each beyond the ice
So all stall mute outside the wall,
Watching how the blue, bulked, boxy grind
Restores a hardended glaze
As cold and clear as any thought we keep
To save Zamboni's law from how Zamboni sweeps.

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Thaumatrope

And sometimes there's this parlor trick;
One side spider, other side the web,
Then thread pulled so the small card spins
And two sides turn to one.

          How Obvious
And unrehearsed this seems, as darkened glass
Both mirrors and obscures, as pilots think
Blue water must mean bluer sky,
Till climbing up that unknown down
They enter their full-fathomed fall;

As though the world remained the world because
One seeing found the many ways agree --
The first six colors hidden in pastel,
Primary letters rounding into script,
As we have read the double agent's name
That buried in obits or in an ad
Was neither signature nor side.

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The Monument

Standing apart yet oddly sequential
In our timed and untimed arrivals, some
Casually late, some impatiently prompt,
But indeed all lining up respectfully,
Just as the signs have said we ought to do,
We watch the elevator dial start up then stop
Then start again, sweeping along its scale
As off ahead near where the line begins
A mother reads aloud from a guidebook
To her children, who yawn and do not listen...

As the pulleys to the elevator drone,
Spinning down through the shaft that takes us up,
Till the ornate arrow slows and settles
Over the double doors' subtractive whoosh
And lets the crowd that's gone before step off
And shoulder by without a single hint
Why we should take their place, shouldering up,
As now it's our time on the steep ascent,
Where we will push then pause then crowd us through,
Not seeing the symbol but the view.

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Baseball

About the time I got my first baseman's mitt
I heard that Dizzy Dean was sacked
Because he made a dirty comment
Over the air. Camera zoomed and locked
On a young couple kissing, something slipped
With Dizzy, who then made the call:
"He kisses her on every strike,
And she kisses him on the balls."

In a century banked with guilt and doubt
Sometimes the telling moments come
As inadvertently as Dizzy's joke,
Like Hitler's code before Coventry was bombed,
Or Valéry's remark about Descartes,
"I sometimes think, therefore I sometimes am."

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To Be Sung on the Fourth of July

We come to this country
By every roundabout,
With hunger like a startled face
And passports folding doubt,

With leaving home as commonplace
As children waking clear,
And hopeful as a fishline cast
Deep from the harbor's pier

To the idea of a country,
The garden and the name,
And a government by language,
Called the New Jerusalem,

Where the trees have figured upward
As much as shadowed down;
And when we stood beneath them
We hugely looked around,

Because our gift is figures
That turn along our thought,
The apple, rock, and water.
The ram suddenly caught --

A country of inheritors
Who only learn of late,
Who set their eyes as blankly
As their livestock stand and wait,

There where the markets bicker
Till the bell has rung them home,
There where Chicago bargains
The wheat crop for a loan,

Wait like the black lake barges
That punctuate a course
Or linger in ellipsis
Between the yawning shores...

And then that huge interior
That always seems the same,
Abandoned wells, neglected fields,
And immigrants who came

Mapping the land they traveled for,
Stayed, worked a while, then died,
Or moved to cities where
They also worked and died

As, settlers who burned and built
And surveyed every line,
We timbered, plowed, and harvested
To songs in three-four time.

Our figures are like fireworks,
And water turned to fire;
In Cleveland or Chicago
The people never tire

Of the ballads of an innocence
That would not be dissolved,
But burned the witch and stuck like tar...
To the first citizen ever saved.

And though at times in chorus,
The music almost right,
We sing away the darkness
That makes a window bright,

In fact we're born too lucky
To see a street's neglect,
For the years have pushed us next to
An unalike Elect --

Who say the lost are with us
The way our backs go bad
Or eyes require new glasses
To peer into what's sad,

Which occupies the TV set
And functions by contrast,
Because well-being needs a grief
To make the feeling last.

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