about the author

Will Arbery is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has been featured in Better: Culture and Lit, Every Day a Century, Thickjam, Chronogram, All the Thunder, Snow Monkey (forthcoming), The Awl, D Magazine, The New Professional, Red Branch, and Hypervocal. He’s also a playwright, performer, and filmmaker, whose work has been seen at Dixon Place, The Flea Theater, The Kennedy Center, Invisible Dog, GoodCop/GreatCop, Hearth Gods, and Kenyon College.

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Write a Historical Poem

Will Arbery

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It’s Easter so Susannah suggests Christ,
Resurrections. Finding my wounds in his.
I google his flesh, try to fashion it
Into a villanelle or sestina,
Old forms, made to conceal pain, wrap it up
In repetition and rhyme. The blues, though,
Is all I got—still I can’t show my class those,
Not today. Here’s hoping they lose themselves
Somehow in this blank verse, stay fixed on Christ.
Ah, this is a Christ poem. Here we go.

I open my arms for more suggestions,
And Matt offers the Salem Witch Trials.
“You’re sad. You’ve been rejected, crucified.
Write about that; relate it back; use blood;
Get back at her by killing all those girls;
Even if you understand them, you can’t
Change history—they died and must again.
Understand until they die, still they die,
And the power is yours to understand!
Kill!” But he never said a word of this.

So Susannah shouts: “The discovery
Of DNA!” And I imagine that
Body which I really only saw once,
And even then in darkness, and the eyes,
Which were the first I’d ever really seen,
And how they got there, and if Watson/Crick
Knew anything about her mystery,
If their spiral diagram accounted
For miracles, if when Jesus healed men,
Molecules were bending to compensate.

In rapid succession, Matt’s new ideas:
The Boston Tea Party. Lewis & Clark.
San Francisco Earthquake (1906).
Watergate. No, the Teapot Dome Scandal.
Martin Luther—the 95 theses.
The sacking of Rome by the Visigoths.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
There’s already one about that, I say.
There’s already ten about most of these.
Plus, it’s Easter. I can’t abandon Christ.

And what about DNA? What about
Zooming into the wound, finding graphs, form
Checked and made formula. A lanced side now
No longer spilled flesh of God-now-man,
But an incision into a culture—
Simply a matter of newly exposed
Bacteria, or fluids, or insides,
Insides catching sun, finding it bright, or
An unfortunate grouping of “too’s”—too
Bright, too large, too hot, too sky, too meaning

less a matter of sun, really, than Christ,
than a sad, unforgettable Easter.
Have I mentioned I’m single now, or that
at mass today the ancient priest fell down
and could not get up—everyone gasping,
an impromptu rosary mumbled towards
his body, till the medics came, and bore
his body on a crucifix stretcher,
out of sight—left us all there whispering
prayers we’d forgotten we knew how to say?

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