When I returned to earth after forty thousand years
there were no more graves, no more cathedrals.
No public parks, no public. I looked everywhere
and couldn’t find a single statue of a hero put up
by a committee. There was simply none of that sadness
that can only be satisfied by a dose of dry-eyed Mahler,
sex in a sand trap or hunters in the snow. There were,
understand, no elevators. There were no jailbirds
to be prayed for, no thieves broken backward
across the tops of their crosses, no city walls or citadels
hung by a thread over the pit of the sky.
There had been a Russian documentary film
about a man gone in search of the birthplace of the wind,
but I couldn’t find it. There wasn’t the hospital garden
where, one cold Sunday morning, a man came to cut roses
in the face of all prohibitions, posted and implied,
for his wife, a girl he’d married ages ago, out of revenge
against the woman he loved, whose throat he feasted on
while her husband was in Honolulu with his lover,
who was working on her PhD in there’s-nobody-left-to-know-what,
probably something to do with marine mammals,
not a single specimen of which could I track down
to confirm or deny the rose-garden scene in its strange
un-hearable tongue. You must understand:
when I returned to earth after forty thousand years
there was not one single traffic circle or comic strip,
no Lucy diagnosing Charlie Brown or throwing
Schroeder’s piano in a tree. No one to take mental notes
on how a black-haired bitch handles competition.
No competition. No Darwin taking it all back
on his deathbed. No rest cures, glory holes, horsefly bites.
Not so much as a scrap of Brussels lace I might describe
in this report, in pointless triumph. Not so much
as a girl dressed like a garden statue, raising a birdcage
with no bird in it, like a lantern in the light of day.
In my mind and yours that cage tapers up into a copper nipple
with a ring through it. My friends, hear me when I tell you
there wasn’t so much as a dog to sniff me out.
—from Rattle #38, Winter 2012
2012 Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist
Kenny Williams: “All my poems are about the same thing: human duration, in time, between the Fall and the Last Day. ‘The Return’ seems to be some sort of exception, taking place after the Last Day, though very much shot through with its clarifying light. What’s more, the more I think about it, ‘The Return’ really describes two returns: the return to earth after forty thousand years and the return to report what wasn’t found there. Which of these two returns the title refers to depends, I guess, on the angle from which you read the poem. I’ve always been obsessed with the emptied earth needing a witness to its emptiness, and as I was writing the poem I had to grapple with the complication of that witness’s own need for an audience that would 1) share his frame of Western culture reference and 2) be real. I hold degrees from the University of Virginia and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I own and operate The Fan Sitter, a pet care business, in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia.” (website)