Unlay’s Late Promenade

By Nathaniel Mackey b. 1947 Nathaniel Mackey

— “mu” one hundred sixteenth part —

    Again that closer walk, legless though
they’d be. Low Insofarian sun I cut my
   teeth on, theirs to be better to bite with,
      theirs the closer we walked. They were
   insisting time seeds grievance, crooned it the
     closer I got, Zeno and Zenette moment’s
es, Nunca Anuncia’s net...    Thus it was they
     were there again, thus they walked legless,
   noses thumbed at the sun. Unlay’s avatar
      to’ve become caricature, sacred clown of
   late’s late awakening, laughed having thought
     it so...    So it was I saw what I saw was too
much. So it was I sewed my mouth shut,
     who’d have heard me gone again, what-
       say’s entourage. “So it was” were the
   words they’d gone away muttering, unlay’s
chalance...    Everything was leaving itself, eve-
     ryone himself, herself, all of them, all of
   it, moving. It was as though they were each
    other. Outmost urge met indrawn joust, pe-
yote-pod baritone tap. They were saying they’d
   gotten back from this or that place. Where
     the honey we’d heard about I wanted to know...    
      In the realm of whatsay it all bore consequence.
They did a slack-legged shuffle, legless though
   they were, quick-switch imbroglio the cost of it,
ble in the house of who knew. It was my own most
     inward step, my heart itself, closer than close
   could be. I had a go at it but fell, my legs were in
     way, no way could legless grace come again...    I
thought about walking. I had to think about walk-
   ing, Nunca’s pelvic sway. Though what I saw
     couldn’t say, it made me say things, realm in
whose wood I hung in love with her hard look,
  in whose wake
I lay


    I was whistling when my lips fell off. Lip-
less was to legless in some way I couldn’t
  say, the closer walk words got in the way
      What it was lay on the tip of my tongue,
  say to unlay already in some way, unsay’s
    day begun. We were of more than one mind
  had it. Sophia said the same... I wanted rele-
    vance, trust, I whistled even so, wind in
  gaps in my


  A new lady named Ahdja joined our group,
    slight of limb, loose tomboy body, smile so
broad we blushed. The Egyptian spring was
      in smoke in back of us, we trudged on, far
  from all that, even far from Lone Coast, a
    former life stalked us it seemed... We took
steps, unsure what lay under us, unlay’s realm
    the sweet precinct we sought, unsure what
  would get us there... To say we was too much
      head told me. Not so my second head said. To
  say we was all I wanted my third head said, sec-
    ond head said to’ve lost itself, third head always
      odds with itself, want wanting more of itself...
  It was Ahdja’s dream we were in, the we I went
    on about, unlay’s adumbration. When would
  day begin we wondered, the we I so insisted on,
    the we we’d eventually be, when would lay’s
day be done. It was my dream of Ahdja we were
      said my third head, we the one risk I took, one
  wish, flat rhapsodic stitch... I walked haunted
    by the we she made us, Nunca’s promenade be-
hind us now. We’d seen Egypt in flames and we
    walking. Huff said, “I told you so,” and we kept
walking, unlay’s late promenade all there was
  left... I dreamt a dream of moving on, I dreamt
dream of standing pat, first head and second head
    and third head’s agreement, a dream I let my true


  Unlay was no simple stand, this or that mystic
    hustle, this or that bodily rebuke. In the end
it will have been all there was we grew to expect,
      soul’s captivity some book had called Egypt, a
  book we no longer read... In the realm of whatsay
    we tramped along, there no matter spun by the
of it, there no matter where we were. Moment’s
    notice moment’s gnosis, the moment brought bad
  and good. Ahdja’s ka was Layla, Itamar’s Majnun,
     crew caught up in the old way, the old way’s day
  redone... “Madness be our name,” we chimed in
    unison, incensed, Majnun’s dream of a just world
just dreaming, Majnun’s each and all we were. So
  was and so we sang, snuffed Egyptian spring an-
    acrustic, uncuffed auspice there’d be. Thus it was,
so it went, unlay unlike what it was we expected,
    tified feet where voices met water, far from cause
and consequence we stumped... We were relishing being
  together for a time, something seen in a face peering
      from inside we saw was what soul was. “This is how
  it is,” I was telling myself, some spectral aspect it had
    somehow. “This is how it is,” I said, “this is how it
is,” voice eaten at by the bay we stood in front of, cold
    vent of water, cold commiseration, ythmic arrival,
      salt... If not what wet our hems anointment was
nothing, nothing if not what tugged our feet. “Froth be
  what we’ll be,” we chimed, indignant, high falsetto
sistence, deep gubgubi thrum. There was a sense there
    was a core to be gotten to, cloth drawn aside or
  gone under, frills fallen away at the water’s edge...
    not it, albeit illusory it might have been, instigation


    The advance I wanted lay at Ahdja’s feet,
scruffy thought’s nubbly dispatch. That all
  bow down and be at rest, unlay’s un- soon
      Chill water, careening bus, what Egypt was...
    under glass wraps,

Source: Poetry (June 2014).


This poem originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2014
 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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