Song of the Andoumboulou: 138

By Nathaniel Mackey b. 1947 Nathaniel Mackey

  Anuncio drifted in a well of sound, unlay’s
     ward, late orphan, a wry erotics had its
way. He called himself Antonio now, Ahdja
                                                                                having
    joined our group...    Dunelike hip and thigh
he stipulated, the desert he insisted we see. We
   understood there was occult stuff going on
                                                                                  un-
      derneath, telling ourselves get used to it,
   close to the bone so close it lay inside, the
     closer walk we all went on about...    We
were in Port of  Spain thinking about India,
                                                                               bored
    outside the Red House, shimmering side
street, pan exactitude bruited elsewhere, pan’s
   light water, floating light. The light hung as
                                                                                   though
it were buffed, embroidered, sound’s amanuensis,
     griff...    There they were at the well again, the
   we he’d been told would be there, whatsaid
                                                                                   en-
       semble the air disinterred, hit by affliction
   in each their own way, beset by some other
    where there might’ve been, beset by some other
when there might’ve been, beset by some nether
                                                                                         light...    
   If not bodily light’s late day there was nothing,
     the not-all-there there’d always been come into
its own. Wind affliction was all, all there was,
                                                                                   rent,
    a mere liplike wrinkle at least. “Back when we
were alive,” it said...    Literal sigil. Sage regret.
   A way of  looking. Something we saw. “Sealed
                                                                                       lips
    wheeled in the air,” we translated it. The point
                                                                                          was
  to look past it we
saw


                         •


    He wanted Ahdja’s poise, Antonio’s aplomb,
      namesake demur, name notwithstanding. So it
was he blinked and his eyes bled, wry erotics’
  haunched interstice bloodstruck, never again
                                                                                     be-
fit, Mr. In-Between... A kaiso chorale, we sang
    “Namaste,” a voice inside the voice inside the
  box, tongue in cheek, box buried somewhere
                                                                                    east...
      It wasn’t singing we were there for, chant
  though we did sotto voce, an agonized aplomb of
    some sort... An Ibibio go-head we each turned
into, not meaning to... Go-heads one and all we
                                                                                       were,
    snide choir... To sing wasn’t why we were there...
What it was was names tore loose, took wing, what
  world had been ours theirs now, sound itself,
                                                                                      A-
nuncio’s well’s regress... So that what we sought
    was more tone, mock sonance, science an a-
  malgam of huh, wuh, huh, knowing’s new toll,
                                                                                       wuh
huh... We were where the songs had been beckon-
    ing from. This was as it always was. This was
  always it no matter what it was. All the things it
                                                                                         was
      lay nameless. Roots drew loose with no tonic,
  it whether or not it was... An aroused incumbency
    surrounded us, unlay’s fallaway terrain’s intan-
gibility, Antonio’s adjunct address. We were down
                                                                                             to
    the it of it it seemed... Was it the shimmer of last
      things we wondered, queasiness come and gone
  come again. There the very it so what it was our knees
                                                                                                     gave,
    so close we could taste it, nonce elixir, lapse, ellipse...
All of which Ahdja made light of, unsure what of it
  fit or if any of it fit. “You can’t come on with all
                                                                                        that
    new-name talk, that no-name stuff. All that evac-
uation stuff,” she said, “gets old, got old,” as Antonio
  carried on, kept on, Anuncio to some of us, even
                                                                                           so...
    All as if the quality of standing there shifted, a new
                                                                                                 cast
  of soul come
down


                         •


  Some common body to adduce it would some-
    day come to. We stood on the dock, white
clouds, blue sky all around, spiked Antillean
                                                                                  salt
    in the air. Big ships loomed as we talked...
Each of us with our well of sound, a sense of
  quest and of brute inconsequence, Anuncio’s
                                                                                     mys-
tic pretense. “Promises, promises,” we said suck-
    ing our teeth, said sucking wind thru the gaps
  between our teeth, a taunt song serenading Mr.
                                                                                         In-
      Between... We stood looking out, disconsolate,
  nothing if not words for recompense, what if not
    words none of us knew. Words more whistle
than words we admonished, Anuncio going on
                                                                                      a-
      bout Antonio and Ahdja, the he and she of
  lore they’d have been had they been able, each
    the other’s butterfly twin... Each the other’s
                                                                                    but-
  terfly friend if not all that, paperweight, open,
    flown. Second-, third-, nth-hand innuendo all
there was, word more whistle, mere whistle we
                                                                                      let
      loose, echo degree zero, choric sough... Black
  wheeze, occult burr, we susurrated. “Este mundo
    tan extraño,” she intoned, we as well. Ahdja
                                                                                    was
      meat and bones on the spirit of place he con-
  vinced us existed, an impromptu polity exhumed...
    The feeling we were futureless went away. Wuh
                                                                                           huh
  went as
well


                         •


  An inwardly repeated tableau. We sat on the
    dock, reluctant witnesses it seemed, more
story to the story than we could see. What
                                                                             we
    thought real got a gossamer look, soon to
      tear thru it seemed. Lytic remit what we’d
been told was real, brute reconnoiter, non-
  sonant lament it seemed... There we stood,
                                                                                 toll-
      ing bone in the air, no tone. Huff called it
  skeletone. There we sat though we stood,
    stood though we sat, stark Trinidadian light
                                                                                     a
  new life, shoal of an earlier life... I wanted
      Anuncio’s ythmic pivot, Ahdja’s mystic sa-
    shay, Antonio’s pirate swag rolled into one
                                                                                  but
      no one was asking me. No one was noticing
  anything, I thought, the difference Ahdja made
    no matter, an order of self-containment ob-
tained. So I thought or would’ve said I thought
                                                                                      had
    anyone asked. No one did, said or saw... An
      illusion of place or an allusion to it, Mu was
  all there was, unmoored abstract integument,
                                                                                      im-
    manent commemorative lament. Something
known as la-la crowded my throat, clung to
  the roof of my mouth. La-la meant I loved it,
                                                                                    torn
      but tucked away, the versionary company of
  love I’d fallen in with, first unfallen fallen, unre-
    formed... No time soon will I be done with it
I thought. La-la mentored my disarray. No way
                                                                                      can
      I be done with it I thought, Ahdja and Antonio
  Anuncio’s boon constituency, each the other’s
    go-head eminence, each the other’s glancing
                                                                                      re-
lay... Late that day we sat in a small boat on the
    other side of the island. Scarlet ibises got their
  color eating shrimp Ahdja pointed out. Anuncio,
                                                                                           not
      knowing what to say, said, “So my heart...” Mu
  was not knowing. Mu meant shutting up. Mu was
    me and Ahdja, Mr. and Ms. In-Between. Mu
meant no filler. “Promises, promises” resounded
                                                                                          all
  day... Something we saw in Ahdja’s face wanted
    out it seemed. She was the one we had by not
having lore had it, love’s adamant outskirts, love’s
                                                                                           dog-
    matic heart. I made untimeliness a foregone future,
something-seen-in-a-face a new order to restore. I
  saw gold where there maybe wasn’t, beer cans lined
                                                                                                 on
    the rail we leaned against, aught if not imagined im-
        pact, we the presumption of one... A long sus-
      tention of hum it came down to, Om the Vedic nu
                                                                                                 we
    reminisced, Om the seed-syllabic gist and embel-
      lishment, Om the intuitist Mu. “Greek to me,”
each of us admitted, thrum we were ambushed by,
  glum subterranean drone strung under it, mosquito
                                                                                                 buzz
    athwart it
  all





             ________________

    I dreamt I died and I went into an isolation
booth, a quiz box I dug my breath up in. “Please
  call me Antonio,” I whispered, head against
                                                                                  the
      hardness of the bone beneath her breast, an
  anacrustic psalm, a new “Dearly Beloved.”
    What to say but there was nothing to, wag as
                                                                                      much
  we might... Something of which we had a name
      if nothing else. Something for which we had
    the name if nothing else. Something for which
                                                                                         we
      had a name if nothing else. Something of which
                                                                                              we
    had the name if nothing
  else





             ________________

  Accompaniment called out to me in dreams
    I woke wincing from. In its grip, in the
giving of it something new came out, a new
                                                                               and
      old something the thought of which made
  me weep, the very thought of it I thought I
    knew... But who really knew I wondered,
                                                                               wind-
  ing back down, again feeling futureless, further-
    on’s would-be walk no new accompaniment,
                                                                                      argu-
  ment’s rhyme and
regret

Source: Poetry (June 2014).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

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

June 2014
 Nathaniel  Mackey

Biography

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 Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Poetic Terms Series/Sequence

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