March 18, 2016

Travis Mossotti

YESTERDAY

High above the muddiest river you could imagine,
driving towards a home that meant nothing,
or at least next to nothing, without me,
someone was doing a remembrance on the radio

of a Holocaust survivor who, after the war, admitted
to feeling no anger or ill will towards the German soldiers
who’d fled and left him liberated in the death camp:
Guilt will be a lamp by the bedside those men

will be unable to extinguish. Cruise control took over.
I languished between two dying cities,
and the translucent brick wrapping wedged in prairie
on the edge of the highway’s lip reminded me of breast milk

crusted to the corner of my son’s mouth when he woke
each morning. After the news and an interlude, a woman began
to interview a poet. She asked about his dead father,
a miscarriage, asked him how he translated loss, and I could

hear him scratching his head, nails against scalp, head fixed
to a neck between shoulder blades, and suddenly
the highway beneath me drifted off into abstraction:
hum of a passing car, wind stitching its seam to a river,

sky the color of jet fuel. The poverty of an abandoned car
on the shoulder was no different than the poverty that led me
to donate plasma for an entire year, that led my wife to participate
in a study for a gift card to Walmart: plugged headfirst

into a MRI machine while neurologists in the adjacent
room wearing white coats fed words to her—picket fence,
lovely, castle, hubris, crocus, grief—and her brain lit up,
then darkened, lit up, then darkened, over and over,

and they recorded the involuntary responses in the name
of ramen noodles and 30-gallon trash bags. The poet said
he wanted to capture grief in his book, but there were walls
crumbling on the distant horizon he couldn’t ignore.

He said horizon, even though it was clear he meant only
to touch the edge of what could be witnessed
and say something instead of nothing so that someone
somewhere far beyond that edge could cross a filthy river

on the way to the patch of grass called home,
contemplating the words to inject into a machine,
allowing the otherwise inert masses of language to reach
out and touch what was never there to begin with.

from Rattle #50, Winter 2015
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

[download audio]

__________

Travis Mossotti: “When I was in high school, I worked as a telemarketer for exactly one night. I’ve painted houses for fifteen years or so and still pick up side jobs in the summer. I’ve bagged groceries, worked at a fast-food joint, waited tables, bartended, landscaped, managed document databases at a law firm, taught at universities, valeted at country clubs, and so on and so forth. I’ve had dozens of occupations in my life, but poetry has been my only preoccupation.” (website)