Friday, December 2, 2011

"Vile Jelly," by C.K. Williams

"Vile Jelly"
(C.K. Williams)

I see they’re tidying the Texas textbooks again.
Chopping them down to make little minds stay
the right size for the preachers not to be vexed
as they troll for converts, or congregants, or whatever.

Troll. As in “Fishing for Men.” As in “…for Christ.”
Here’s a fisher: a pre-biblical king on a slab. Captives.
The king with a not sharp spear is blinding the first,
thrusting then twisting it into the writhing man’s eye.

Subtle carvers they were: you can see the thrust and twist.
Also how the hook, the fish hook, driven through the lip
of the victim to keep him from inconveniently struggling
and attached to a rope, tugs the lip out from the mouth.

Because the whole state of Texas buys the same book,
the import of their distortions and falsehoods is wide.
The publishers have to take them into account,
so other states’ schoolbooks are dumbed-down as well.

Who said: With my eyes closed, I see more? Not me.
Who said: I study not to learn but hoping
what I’ve learned might not be true? Not me again.
I stay still. I peek warily out the door of my stove.

That’s a story about seeing, not having to see.
A fairy tale with your usual prince, this time in a stove.
It doesn’t say why he’s there, even after he’s saved,
by your usual virgin. The scholars don’t explain either.

My theory is he locked himself in, welded the lid,
because of all he could no longer bear to behold.
Texas textbooks, for instance. Chunks of knowledge
extracted like eyes. Discarded. Thrown on a floor.

Evolution, needless to say. Sociology. Jefferson. Deism.
All these complications won’t be there anymore.
They’ll be scraped from the mold. No longer be seen.
As much is no longer seen in the real world as well.

Remember Basil the Blinder? The emperor
who had fifteen thousand enemy warriors blinded?
One of a hundred was allowed to keep one eye
to lead the rest back to their own vanquished king.

Who swooned at the sight. Then died. Actually died.
Vile jelly, it’s called in King Lear. Vile jelly. Out. Out.
“Chips of blank,” Dickinson wrote in a war poem.
“Chips of blank in boyish eyes.” Is that still in the books?

Is the king on the slab with his spear and rope?
But that was before Christ rose. Into his own stove.
“The noise of mankind,” another god groused,
“is too loud, they keep me awake. Rid me of them.”

The underling angels began boiling the acid,
but thanks be, someone had learned to write;
an inscription, visible to the irritable god,
appeared—miracle!—on a roof. Please, it read, don’t.

And the deity, sighing after for once a good nap,
decided to let us do it unto ourselves.
Which we’ve been rushing to do. As quick as we can.
By making the complications holy and blank.

By chopping eyes from susceptible minds.
To keep them from crying true tears. Thou vilest jelly.
Herds of children go bleeding into the dark.
Oh, vile. Thou chips of blank. Thou boyish eyes.

"Vile Jelly" by C.K. Williams appears in the current Winter issue of Threepenny Review. In a 2007 interview with Collin Kelly, Williams described his influences: The stuff I wrote at 19 was utterly incompetent, by 21 it was mildly incompetent, by 22 merely awful. My first models—inspiration is something else, isn’t it?—back then were Baudelaire and Yeats and Rilke. They still are, to a great extent. They more or less defined poetry for me, its splendors and its obligations, and though I’ve had many models since then, my notion of poetry still resides mostly in what I gleaned from them. His recent books are Wait, a 2010 poetry collection, and On Whitman, a study of the poet of whom he said “I felt he was overwhelming me. He was just annihilating every other notion of poetry I had."

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