Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco
remains the highest mountain
in the Alps for now, but for how long?
It’s not a dishwasher because
it’s a mountain, just being a mountain,
but perhaps from the right angle of light
in winter it can be a new style of hat
the earth has put on for a formal outing.
Say the universe was collapsing, which
it might very well be, what kind of formal
coming-of-age celebration might bring
with it the need for a ballroom? Waltz
or foxtrot? Roses or lilacs? Bowtie
or cravat? Our planet donning its
ordinary mountain, the heavens
in a sparkling Paris plunge: how long
can they keep from making eye contact?
Are you still there? I’m asking you
point blank in the middle of a poem
if you can help me identify where
the failure has occurred and whether
you’d like to spend the weekend trying
to fix it or are you more inclined
to run to the store and replace the thing
altogether? Look at us. Aren’t we quite
the pair. Lately I’ve noticed a decline
in the centipede population around
our house and Regina said that’s just
in the basement and I said I’ve always
imagined the basement population
of insects as kind of a spillover
representation of the outdoor
population but I also have no idea
what I’m doing. I mean, I have no basis
in reality for the statement other
than tacit observation and half-formed
theorizing of the domestic variety.
Have you ever gone walnut bowling?
Of course you haven’t. But around here
we’ve nicknamed a nearby street
Walnut Lane in spite of the fact that
it’s already been named after the French
general Lafayette, not that he ever
walked there, which is weird, right?
Naming things after people who’ve
never had any formal business dealings
with the things named after them?
But there’s a big walnut tree and each
season it drops its bounty and we
scoop them up and roll them suckers
across Brentwood Boulevard—some
don’t make it across, some do.
My kids are learning a thing or two
about Greek myth the old-fashioned way.
I become Hephaestus slagging away
on some iron and Cora slips in like
she’s got some business with me but she’s
just old crafty Prometheus, you know.
Then James swoops in playing Zeus
with a bag full of leg irons and a bird
on his shoulder looking like some kind
of god that pirates might pray to.
The story is the one you know. The kids
are simply playing their roles and me?
Well, I’m here stealing a bit of that lesson
to show you what it’s like to make
believe when you’ve morphed into
a fully grown adult with the early
nibblings of arthritis in your hands.
Where did that mountain go? The one
from earlier in the poem? Can a person
loiter somewhere they’ve been invited?
Do people still plant gardens according
to the lunar cycle or has that method
been scrapped altogether? Will the rains
continue where you live when the water
wars come to fruition or do you envision
a more nomadic existence? It’s anyone’s
guess how the next few decades
are going to play out. Most models
aren’t particularly rosy, but a person can’t
put their underwear on in a model. Imagine
the person’s just showered and dried off.
They’re standing sideways in the mirror
looking at themselves naked and heavier
in the dimmed wattage of morning.
They sigh. They suck in. They relax.
Your Racist Uncles
More than one dead or dying uncle undoubtedly
springs to mind and perhaps a whole
lineage spitting archetypal arcs of Pabst
Blue Ribbon onto red coals at barbecues
for the pure enjoyment of fizzing steam. Uncles
who evolved from trilobites into middle-school
peeping Toms sneaking out Tuesday
nights to spy with borrowed binoculars
on Karen or Debbie or Martha, girls who
never looked back through the glass
to the dark outside that was your racist uncles.
A lonely, thickening syrup began coursing
through their aging heart’s ventricles with fear
cruising fast as hummingbirds into flashes
of predictable outbursts at country
club dinners. Your uncles flitted like butterflies
in spring with their racism. Pillow slips
turned yellow under them as they slept.
Ceilings turned Marlboro brown in the scourge
of curtain drawn afternoons spent
peeking out, and hate became a cure-all Advil
your uncles popped from the medicine
chest into the blades of their mouths
to crunch and swallow on cloudy
days threatening rainbows. Your uncles
drove keen spikes of light into the yard
when night curled a tail around its nose
and slumbered. Your uncles tipped their caps
to themselves in mirrors before stepping out
the door into the busy world they
never recognized beyond the threat
of othering. Others from another other whom
they looked away from in order to smile.
Travis Mossotti's previous collections are About the Dead, Field Study, and Narcissus Americana. His fourth collection, Racecar Jesus, won the Christopher Smart-Joan Alice Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in 2023/24 with the Black Spring Press Group in the UK. Mossotti's fifth collection, Apocryphal Genesis, won the Alma Book Award and is forthcoming with Saturnalia Books in 2024. He currently serves as a Biodiversity Fellow for the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University. He lives and works in St. Louis.