Day After Day of the Dead

By Nathaniel Mackey b. 1947 Nathaniel Mackey

—“mu” forty-eighth part

“While we’re alive,” we kept
    repeating. Tongues, throats,
roofs of our mouths bone dry,
      skeletons we’d someday
   Panicky masks we wore for
       effect more than effect,
     more real than we’d admit...
 No longer wanting to know
   what soul was, happy to
      shadow, know touch...
 Happy to have sun at our
   backs, way led by shadow,
 happy to have bodies, block
Afternoon sun lighting leaf,
       glint of glass, no matter what,
           about to be out of body it
   Soon to be shadowless we thought,
     said we thought, not to be offguard,
 caught out. Gray morning we            
          to be done with, requiem so
      sweet we forgot what it lamented,
    turning to sugar, we
  Day after day of the dead we were
    desperate. Dark what the night
 before we saw lit, bones we’d
       eventually be... At day’s end a
  tally but there it was, barely
   rock the clock tower let go of,
     iridescent headstone, moment’s
    rebuff... Soul, we saw, said we
invisible imprint. No one wanted to
   what soul was... Day after day of
       the dead we were deaf, numb to
     what the night before we said moved
   fey light’s coded locale... I fell away,
 we momentarily gone, deaf but to
      brass’s obsequy, low brass’s
   croon begun. I fell away, not fast,
        momentary mention an accord
  with the wind, day after day of the dead
    the same as day before day of
the dead... “No surprise,” I fell away
      muttering, knew no one would
    not even


   We wore capes under which we
were in sweaters out at the elbow.
 Arms on the table, we chewed our
      Mouthing the blues, moaned an
 abstract truth, kept eating. The
  dead's morning-after buffet
someone said it was. Feast of 
unfed said someone else... What
  were we doing there the exegete
 kept asking, adamant, uninvited,

     Elbows in the air like wings, we
         kept eating, rolled our eyes,
      shoveling it in... Day after day
of the dead we were them. We
  ate inexhaustibly, ate what wasn't
        dead no longer dying of thirst,
      hung over, turned our noses up


  It was me, we were it, insensate,
   sugared sweat what what we drank
tasted like. Even so, the tips of
   tongues tasted nothing, we sipped
without wincing... We ate cakes,
ate fingernail soup, a new kind of
    gazpacho, no one willing to say
  what soul was... Knucklebone
soufflé we ate, we ate gristle, eyes
     took from flies flying backward
   a kind of caviar, none of us wanting
                                                                   to say
 what soul

Nathaniel Mackey, “Day After Day of the Dead” from Nod House. Copyright © 2011 by Nathaniel Mackey. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Nod House (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2011)

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Poet Nathaniel Mackey b. 1947


Subjects Living, Death, The Body

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Nathaniel  Mackey


Born in Miami and raised in Southern California, poet, novelist, editor, and critic Nathaniel Mackey earned his BA from Princeton University and his PhD from Stanford University.
Mackey cites poets William Carlos Williams and Amiri Baraka, in addition to jazz musicians John Coltrane and Don Cherry, as early influences in his exploration of how language can be infused and informed by music. In a 2006 interview with Bill Forman . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Death, The Body


Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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