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Tuesday, May 18, 2010


[This is one of a continuing group of entries that focuses on Nathaniel Mackey's Song of the Andoumboulou poetic series. To read all the entries in the group, click on Mackey in the labels section below.]

"Song of the Andoumboulou 28" tells the story of a bus accident from three different angles, each one getting progressively briefer, more compact, and more elliptical.

The first section is a page and a half long. It begins by saying "I dreamt we rode / in dreaming," but there seems nothing dreamlike about the description of the bus accident on a slippery road that is a "split-second short / of Ever After." They rest on snow.

Mackey keeps circling back to this image of snow, both as a protectress, pillow, and as "awayfulness, numb." Eventually, they are rescued when "a chain / came / down, yanked us out of it." The violence of the imagery, "yank," is typical.

The second section is more metaphorical. "We were ... / fish reeled / in prematurely tossed back, / script / hastily written hurriedly /erased ."

In the third section he turns to "tricks played with letters": the anagram of "bus" is "sub," and they seem to be under the snow. The Andoumboulou, according to Dogon folklore, lived inside the earth, a failed first draft of humanity.

Mackey often compares us humans to them, since we, too, have not fully defined ourselves, are drafts in the making. He ends by pointing out how the numb fingers cannot turn the pages, which, nonetheless, are stuck together from being wet.

This poem seems to begin by denying dream and denying reading. Could it be about the intrusion of violence and fear and pain into our sedate worlds of ritual and calm expectation? If so, what does it gain from coming at the accident from three different perspectives?

Perhaps ending with people stuck in the snow, not knowing if they are up or down, literally in the middle, Mackey's vision of us humans, as rough drafts, perhaps confused, always incomplete.

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