If I put some straw into the suitcase,
I'll always have a bed. Scraps of olive wood,
slow to light, dense, will burn all night.
Some hard pumpernickel for good gums.
A sad bundle of underwear. A leaf
dropped by a poor scrub oak to remind me.
It will be a long Monday when I go.
The alarm throbs inside me, the early news
is crowded with bodies returning.
I'm off to the front lines in the war to preserve
the privilege of myth-making,
the consternations of art, the nerve to think
the future and remember the past. Others
left their homes to sail and trek, to consort
with consorts and outsiders and so
learn the reaches of mankind's instinct
for survival. They breathed the fumes and ate
the stew. They lived among the heroic
who did not want another life, and if
they erred in creating bigger-than-life characters,
they broke bread with the unspeakable,
and that is worth something.
Marvin Bell has been called "an insider who thinks like an outsider," and his writing has been called "ambitious without pretension." He was for many years the Flannery O'Connor Professor of Letters at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and served two terms as the state of Iowa's first Poet Laureate. He has collaborated with composers, musicians, dancers and other writers, and is the originator of a form known as the "Dead Man" poem. His 23 books of poetry and essays include three books released in 2011: Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems, from Copper Canyon Press; Whiteout, a collaboration with the photographer Nathan Lyons, from Lodima Press; and a children's picture book from Candlewick Press (illustrations by Chris Raschka) based on the poem, "A Primer about the Flag." A CD is forthcoming of a song cycle, "The Animals," commissioned by the composer, David Gompper, which premiered in 2009. Mr. Bell lives mainly in Iowa City, Iowa, and Port Townsend, Washington. One can see a brief interview with him about writing in the "On the Fly" series at: YouTube.