Bad Year Anthem

By Matthew Nienow b. 1983 Matthew Nienow

Who can face the sea and not inherit its loneliness?
                 — Olin Ivory


Gray sky, gray sea — gray mind, the man thinks. He thinks:
To grow old with it and kicks a stone into the water.

He mucks at the seam and it crumbles below him.

A sea gull beaks a crab, flights vertically and drops
it to the rocks. The man cracks with laughter,

tossing a stone to a stone.


Working alone means the voice must grow louder,
for who can stand to think quietly all through the day’s calculations?

I cannot. I let the voice grow loud. I let the voice
hum outside my body in distinguishable phrasings, and count

the increments as I set the fence according to the blade. All day

I stand before a blade and push things into its path.

I stand aside as what is removed is whisked alongside me.
The smallest particles of   what is removed thicken the air,

making a dream inside which one cannot live. All day
the voice is learning how to be outside of   the body.


A man is not a beach, nor is he stone, though he collects their entirety
in a single thought. He works alone and his thoughts begin to
smack of stone. His teeth clatter with their collection.


A man can hold a secret between his teeth,
and it will never leave his mouth, for who would listen
to his wavering tune of so sad and how hard and hear
anything original? He is that he is — the errand and the fool

running to himself over and over only to find that even he
is tired of telling about it. To grow old with it

was the task, and the question always: would he last?

A man can believe in the body and have no one,

as though he were ghost
or stone, nothing to speak at or be heard from.


All work, no pay makes a body bray.
Though he may bray —

Though he may bray and bray,

forgive him the bit. If he tells you his secret,
he will have no secret.
This is how one sings a sentence into stone.

Source: Poetry (November 2013).


This poem originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2013
 Matthew  Nienow


Matthew Nienow was born in Los Angeles and spent most of his youth in Seattle. He earned an MFA from the University of Washington and a degree in Traditional Small Craft from the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.  His work has appeared in Beloit Poetry JournalNew England Review, Poetry, the Best New Poets anthology (2007 and 2012), and in three chapbooks.

Nienow has received awards and fellowships from the National . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, The Body, The Mind, Activities, Jobs & Working, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Sorrow & Grieving

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Series/Sequence

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