Song of the Andoumboulou: 85

By Nathaniel Mackey b. 1947 Nathaniel Mackey
    Came now to another crossroads.
Stick people stood awaiting us, to
  the left, straight ahead, to the right.
         What was that song you sang,
   asked, spoke without sound sound’s
     immanence, not without song but
only one song, the one song summon­-
  ing song’s eclipse... The one song
      song’s inconsequence, crooned it
    could not’ve been otherwise, song
          song’s own lament... The one
       song sang song’s irrelevance, we
    exhausted, we looked straight ahead,
 right. The stick people’s question fa­-
   tigued us, glyphed riddle whose
decipherment they said we’d someday
      exegetes against our will... Lack,
    reluctance, pallor, eidolon. Crossroads
cryptogram, they themselves were sing-
  ­ing, nothing not what could be seen they
   soul not sign if not eyelight, song more
     what could be seen than they could
say, wan unwillingness they said... Slick
  people, tricky, soul a sick thing they said...
Signs all said Stick City. Stick City straight
       ahead, to the left, to the right, signs pointed
     which way... Stick sublimity sent us reeling,
   a we that wasn’t we against one that was. Mass,
intangible we it was we were, beads thrown off
  in a row... We’d have given anything to get to
         City and there we were. Whatever way we
       took would take us there. Stick City loomed
  ahead and to the left and to the right, any which
    way but in back of us, Stick City meant no
turning back... Signs all said Stick City. We
      them all out loud, “Stick City.” “Styxicity,”
   quipped... It wasn’t water we crossed, it wasn’t
      hell we were in. Stick City housed our hearts’
desires we were told, Stick City stood without
  end or assistance, line long since what stuck...
        was all point, point all extensity, stick’s own
    deictic drop... No longer point less point than
      point’s target, Stick City made them one and the
  same... So it was on to where the signs said next,
           the one place we were yet to arrive at, Diddie Wa
       Diddie’s twin. A winding road it now was we were
         on, so curved we could see our backs. No work,
     no worry up ahead we heard, music’s utopic
         Hogs lay stuck with knives and forks, chickens
       likewise we heard. A wall of beats for backup, Stick
     way off somewhere... As quick as that we were there,
Stick City. It wasn’t the way we heard it was. Everyone
  limped, walked with a cane, no way how we heard it
      As quick as that there we were. Stick City lay before
  us, lied about. Legbaland it might’ve been... Diddie Wa
    Diddie’s non-identical twin if twin it was, no way the
      we heard it


   Stick-figure escorts ushered us in,
pointed out what was what. Stick
      people's gait was flawless, they
    said, unstick people limped on
  A strand of horsehair lay in the
    road, hair from a horse's tail. Come
rain it became a snake, would-be stick
      Stick City said no... It was getting
  be late again, the arcade's light less
intense... Come night we lay under
     a horse, shouted voiceless trying
  to wake each other up and woke up,
  hair stiffened with earwax, as if at last
    we were Stick City's own... Not
so we saw soon enough. No home, no
  haven was it, noise what of it we could
    West L.A. it might've been, Saint-Pierre
  it might've been wélélé no matter where
     we were... Stick symphony. Ictic sashay...
Head bob atop watery neck, nod homage,
   names came loose. What of it we kept we
       kept in name only, “Stick City” ours
          to hold on to. Chance it might've meant,
     I Ching, no place but we were long since
      Where sign had been sound X marked it,
 stick bisected stick. Signal some said, noise's
   alternate, half where we were nowhere near
we were, were where's discontent... It was getting
    to be light again, noise the new day's largesse.
  Sound was what sign turned out from, sound
      itself exed out... What the song was we sang
    longer what we were asked, stick inquisitors
gathered, mum to the bone. Frown, furrowed
      brow, grimace the glyphs met us, faces
  lined up in a row. Line was what pressed us,
       point egged us on, what the song was we
    no song we sang, what the song was we sang
   moot... The strand-of-horsehair-become-a-snake
became a rope around our necks, rope what the 
  song we sang was. We'd have given anything
    say Stick City was where we were... Breath it
  we gave, rope round our necks... We were neck-
less, bobbing heads, barbershop xtet, calabashes
    hit with sticks. Whatever we were, whatever
       noise there was we made ours. “This is our
  dispatch,” we said... Euphemistic necktie,
    phemistic float. Horsehair tickling the tops
of our throats. Wet, euphemistic scruff... As it was
  getting to be noon we got our necks and bodies
     back. A cartoon watch dog bit us, a pinscher
  painted lips. We were stick people now, initiates.
  legs only a blur, we were running, pant legs and hem-
lines ripped... Cross. Chiliasm. Crisis. Stick bisected
       stick. More hopeless the less we needed it, less
    real the more shot with stick vaccine, less real the
  stick we were... Stick inquisitors fell away as we went
      in. Stick City disappeared as we ran deeper. Too
    late to turn back, we were twigs, kindling, dispatch
  up in smoke... We were jíbaros, hicks, cuatro ping
  back of us, howled, “Aylelolay lolelay.” We stood
absorbed in what felt like advent. We stood on a plane
      cut thru an adverse cone. Low, rummaging burr, the
    sound we sought sought us, we the make-believe dead
dead than we knew... Syllabic run was more alive than we
     were, bass clack bugling disaster, brute sun outside the
   house door


    Crossroads though it was it seemed an
impasse, stick as in stuck we thought. Stick
  as in stone's accomplice, Quag's bone-
          yard remit... Insofar as there was an
       I it fell in, a brass bell's everted lips
   convergent, shush we were hollowed by.
 Insofar as there was an I it was as each of us
      insisted, as far as there was an I, stick
   beating stick, there was an X... Crux...
      Crutch... Legs' Osirian soulstrut lost,
   Legbaland it was and we limped on, limped
       in, Stick City's outskirts endless it
     seemed, no matter we leaned on sticks...
  there an I it stood like a stick, mum-stuff
      crossing itself. Insofar as there was
    an I it was an X taking shape, there but
to be gone if not no sooner there than gone,
   house holding
its own


    We knew we wore skeleton suits. We knew
we walked holding placards. “Dead from
        Day One” they read, part requiem, part
     rebuke... What lay around us had the
        of steam. Low-motion lurk. Time-lapse cascade.
           Stick City city limits notwithstanding, glass
  intangibles allowed what was lost otherwise,
           in the house outside the house... It slipped
       away and we slipped away and it slipped away,
         City a mirage nod concocted, not to be be-
    lieved but we did though it receded, nod Nub's

Nathaniel Mackey, “Song of the Andoumboulou: 85” from Nod House. Copyright © 2011 by Nathaniel Mackey. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

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

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Nathaniel Mackey b. 1947


Subjects Living, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Religion, Other Religions

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 . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Religion, Other Religions


Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.