Either Or

By Nick Lantz Nick Lantz

       “He is either alive and well or alive and not too well or not alive.”                                                                                         
                                                                              —Donald Rumsfeld

You haven’t heard
from your father
in six months
and you can’t
bring yourself
to call. In Bengal,
farmers wore
masks on the backs
of their heads
to ward off tigers,
who, one supposes,
wouldn’t attack
a man who was
watching. If I don’t
call, you thought,
nothing is wrong.
Each possibility is
a cavern eaten
out of limestone
by water. Naming
everything is a way
of naming nothing.
His family dropped
away like cicada
husks swept off
tree trunks by rain.
One brother, heart
attack. His father’s
two feet taken
by diabetes, then
his father by stroke.
In a tornado, leave
your windows ajar.
A doorway for
an earthquake.
In a lightning storm,
do not pick up
the phone. Learn
to see out the back
of your head. His
youngest brother,
weeks dead before
discovery: the couch
where he died,
face down, shadow
of rotted flesh
stained into fabric,
ghost of a face.
Imagination kills
the living just
as easily as it brings
back the dead.
In Turkey, they hang
the nazar—teardrop
of blue glass—
on lintels, above
beds, from the rearview
mirror. To ward
off evil, they say.

Nick Lantz, “Either Or” from We Don’t Know We Don’t Know. Copyright © 2010 by Nick Lantz. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org

Source: We Don't Know We Don't Know (Graywolf Press, 2010)

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Poet Nick Lantz

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Death, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Nick Lantz was raised in California and earned his BA in Religious Studies from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005.
He is the author of We Don’t Know We Don’t Know (2010), which won the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Bakeless Prize. Taking its title from a Donald Rumsfeld sound-bite, Lantz described his book to the Washington Post as “partly…salvaging poetry . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Death, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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