The Book of the Dead Man (#3)

By Marvin Bell b. 1937 Marvin Bell
1. About the Beginnings of the Dead Man

When the dead man throws up, he thinks he sees his inner life.   
Seeing his vomit, he thinks he sees his inner life.
Now he can pick himself apart, weigh the ingredients, research   

             his makeup.
He wants to study things outside himself if he can find them.   
Moving, the dead man makes the sound of bone on bone.
He bends a knee that doesn’t wish to bend, he raises an arm that
             argues with a shoulder, he turns his head by throwing it
             wildly to the side.
He envies the lobster the protective sleeves of its limbs.
He believes the jellyfish has it easy, floating, letting everything pass   
             through it.
He would like to be a starfish, admired for its shape long after.   
Everything the dead man said, he now takes back.
Not as a lively young man demonstrates sincerity or regret.
A young dead man and an old dead man are two different things.   
A young dead man is oil, an old dead man is water.
A young dead man is bread and butter, an old dead man is bread and
             water—it’s a difference in construction, also architecture.   
The dead man was there in the beginning: to the dead man, the sky
             is a crucible.
In the dead man’s lifetime, the planet has changed from lava to ash   
             to cement.
But the dead man flops his feathers, he brings his wings up over
             his head and has them touch, he bends over with his beak   
             to the floor, he folds and unfolds at the line where his   
             armor creases.
The dead man is open to change and has deep pockets.
The dead man is the only one who will live forever.


2. More About the Beginnings of the Dead Man

One day the dead man looked up into the crucible and saw the sun.   
The dead man in those days held the sky like a small globe, like a   
             patchwork ball, like an ultramarine bowl.
The dead man softened it, kneaded it, turned it and gave it volume.   
He thrust a hand deep into it and shaped it from the inside out.   
He blew into it and pulled it and stretched it until it became full-
             sized, a work of art created by a dead man.
The excellence of it, the quality, its character, its fundamental   
             nature, its raison d‘être, its “it” were all indebted to the   
             dead man.

The dead man is the flywheel of the spinning planet.
The dead man thinks he can keep things the same by not moving.   
By not moving, the dead man maintains the status quo at the center
             of change.
The dead man, by not moving, is an explorer: he follows his nose.   
When it’s not personal, not profound, he can make a new   
             world anytime.
The dead man is the future, was always the future, can never be   
             the past.
Like God, the dead man existed before the beginning, a time marked   
             by galactic static.
Now nothing remains of the first static that isn’t music, fashioned   
             into melody by the accidents of interval.
Now nothing more remains of silence that isn’t sound.
The dead man has both feet in the past and his head in the clouds.

Marvin Bell, “The Book of the Dead Man (#3)” from Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000. Copyright © 2000 by Marvin Bell. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, www.coppercanyonpress.org

Source: Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000 (Copper Canyon Press, 2000)

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Poet Marvin Bell b. 1937

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Death

 Marvin  Bell

Biography

American poet and critic Marvin Bell "is a poet of the family. He writes of his father, his wives, his sons, and himself in a dynamic interaction of love and loss, accomplishment, and fear of alienation. These are subjects that demand maturity and constant evaluation. A complete reading of Bell's canon shows his ability to understand the durability of the human heart. Equally impressive is his accompanying technical . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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