Colloquy for Dean Rader and Emily Dickinson; Events of 1939; Nomad Country; Lament for the Makers

Colloquy with Dean Rader and Emily Dickinson
—for Jack Houston Self, 1937-2019

The future 
(not being what it used to be)
gathers into itself such poems
as you might have written, might have
loved if you had written them
like that slant of light, the distance
on the look of death you have learned
to love as well.

So throw the windows open,
Breathe the good air and love it
in your lungs as long as there is,
breathe the O2 at night loving the deep
warm sleep it gives you. Remember to love
the Ides of a morning sky just as you love
the arc of a new moon’s nascent edge.

Throw the windows open—

let the street voices back. Start to
listen again to the chuff, chaff and bang
and god damn you to hell from friends
you forgot last year, and even now
they’d rather see you dead than admit—
what, what do they have to admit?

Don’t blame them; the plague that divides us 
will never disappear. Never again will we sleep 
unstalked or with some Nazi’s gun unpointed 
at our shoulder. As the planet declines into Anthropocene 
we may find again we all are one—no dispensation or heart’s 
purity saving one over other. But in the meantime

love the gratitude 
you feel for the world
for the rich and splendid sound of its solemn
music, not forgetting the rag, bone and banana
of its showtime banjos, accordion squeeze. These
you can store in what your brother 
calls your possible sack.
                                              And always remember Jack:
Jack, whose love for the world stretched out into highways 
and hedges and compelled them

such little children and hulking beasts as he found, 
such grapefruit smugglers and cranks, such barflies, thieves, and 
 kudzu farmers 
compelled them 
to come in.
Events of 1939

Like so many others you’ve watched 
that place in The Wizard of Oz 
where the black and white world 
(albeit sepia toned) blushes 
into technicolor too many
times—when did you first see it?
It can’t have been in nineteen thirty-
nine; you were too young then to be taken
to the picture show—must have been
later. At this distance you recall many 
things from that time with vivid hues,
but of this thing you remember only
the effect, the intensity of it, how
it made you feel. For a magical few
moments you were Dorothy in her blue
and white gingham dress stepping
out of the dark. You didn’t think
of the technicolor world as normal
at all; you had been seduced in picture-
show mode to believe that all around
was merely—not black and white exactly,
but grayscale, a word, an idea you wouldn’t
learn until much later. And 
at first, of course, you didn’t see 
the witch’s red-shod feet, wicked 
though transformed by rhyming into 
a foil for Dorothy, who is not. 

So that the little girl in red 
in Schindler’s List is another Dorothy
though only her coat is red. As she walks,
never herself stepping out of the dark, 
with seeming calm through terror of grayscale 
Nazifying Kraków; at first 
her color fades in and out, sometimes 
disappears altogether as she 
seems oblivious to shots fired, 
suitcases heaved off balconies. 
One of many shots blasts grayscale 
into something else as bodies 
fall, one falls just behind her as she makes 
her way with others through strangely crowded 
streets. So that the color of her 
coat is prophecy, she is prophecy—
a children’s choir sings in the Yiddish 
background a song of a Rabbi teaching 
other children their Hebrew letters. 
Later, hiding under a bed 
on an upper floor behind a door 
she steps thru, her coat unblushes.

The color of her coat is prophecy
of innocence and its terrifying 
loss and all that was lost with it that 
day in Kraków. Later, as her red-coated
body appears on a cart with other 
dead, that too is prophecy, terror 
made all the more intense   

—by colorized suggestion.
Nomad Country

We come and we go
That’s a thing that I keep in the back of my head
—Paul Simon

. . . fragment of song that 
came to mind just now as I putzed 
around the kitchen, ‘Who am I to . . .’
needed some help to finish . . .

These days I sleep pretty well
days and nights someone might say 
of separate peace. True, I could have 
died eighteen months ago, thought I was 
dying perhaps in the chaos of falling down 
strokes and gasping for breath: but I never wished 
to die—set that down as a given amongst 

Still I feel I am one now with dispossessed
my imaginary sees encamped in the Arizona 
desert (along with Cochise, perhaps, and his 
Chiricahua over that rise there, with John Brown
And Nat Turner, plotting some bloody revenge), but
my peace is separate—I have O2 at night.

“Who am I to blow against the wind?”

Is it moral earnestness makes us one?
I’ve hardly been driven mad by work 
at Amazon or torn apart by gun-crazed 
terrorist minutemen; not even stalked 
by the common hungers of houselessness— 
homelessness I’ve escaped. I’m not in jail, 
don’t fear police except abstractly, don’t 
work in a meat-packing plant
or live in a nursing home—

my peace is separate though, because it’s privileged.
Like movement nomads I am deadly white; “that
colorless all-color of atheism, from which we shrink.”
Conditions I’ve escaped save death, proceed one way 
or other from my country’s rotten past, more rotten 
present—next thought is what if we’ve all escaped? 
What if we could still believe that freedom came 
from those lofty words of guilty Jefferson. Would my 
felt kinship with these exiles then be wide enough? 

Wide perhaps, as the exile of Ishmael, who knows
the end of his adventure as he introduces himself,
“Call me Ishmael” —already buoyed by Queequeg’s coffin, 
thinking of Job? And the bond that stretches between us, 

what if it were a comradeship
of all who have escaped alone?

No need to tell, 
but I’ll tell it anyway: 
Who are we to blow against the wind?
Lament for the Makers

What, O reverend Chaucere, rose of 
rethoris all, if Dunbar’s rose of rethoris 
followed venereal logic? Should we then
imagine a quire of Chaucers meeting
under your box at Westminster Abbey
Friday nights for some glee and perlou?

Indeed, what if word got ’round
that the Westminster Friday fish fry
served the best heavenly brew and you
(here meaning one)
could try wits with the likes of Frankie
Beaumont, Ben Johnson, the Virgin Queen herself 
who sometimes snagged her headless cousin 
to slum along and bring the Black Prince 
still conning some lines Will Sheakespear 
put in his mouth? 

Would there then be a virtuousity of ’em, 
such as might assemble in pandemic mode, 
a Zoom, a Golden Targe of poets, a declamation
a kerfuffle, clowder, clump, enjoyment, enjambment, 
stanza upon stanza, an anthology, a seethe 
crowding up to table like Koi at feeding time, 
keen to be first. Could we get them to social 
distance and choir together before the feast
for a TikTok extravaganza,

whence they would toss off veneries such as 
a Conan Doyle of trebles, a Moriarty of altos, 
a Coronet of tenors, a Baskerville 
of Bases, the whole bearing such double 
thickened and deep harmoniousness as might 
shake even the slumberous Tennyson 
out of his grave nearby to join?

And since the bard, himself, couldn’t
be invited, he being off in Stratford,
how about after the pandemic
each New Year’s eve they have an open mic, 
throw the place open to whatever ghosts 
stray in from memorials nearby 
or ’round about or farther afield―
then the corpse of Bobbie Burns might stand 
in his coffin and offer a parting glass 
but not be able for want of wit
and all his auld acquaintance
to recall a proper toast . . .  

where was I, Oh yeah,  

what then, O Dunbar’s rose―
how do you like your blue-eyed 
boys and girls? 


Julian O. Long’s poems and essays have appeared in The Sewanee Review, Pembroke Magazine, New Texas, New Mexico Magazine, and Horizon, among others. His chapbook, High Wire Man, is number twenty-two in the Trilobite Poetry Chapbook series published by the UNT Libraries. A collection of his poems, Reading Evening Prayer in an Empty Church, appeared from Backroom Window Press in 2018. Long has taught school at the University of North Texas, North Carolina State University, and Saint Louis University. He is now retired and lives with his wife, Kathleen Farrell, in Saint Louis, Missouri.