Captivity

Ange Mlinko

If it’s Yuletide in the New World,
then what bellies up to the manger
are rattler, gator, buzzard. Just as a
wooden snake in a basket of toys
at this barbershop I bring the boys
seems to hiss “. . . es su casa,”
I take the part of the friendly stranger
only where hair is imperiled.Festive lights are strung up, arranged
around amusing headlines on the wall:
ROSENBERGS DIE (scissors flashing);
BIN LADEN KILLED (clippers gnashing).
And that’s not all (no, that’s not all . . .):
MAN IN TX JAIL CELL FOUND HANGED.                              *Horsemen of upcountry limestone,
Quahadis rode through sumac
that tore at the clothes and the flesh,
hunters to the bone.
Never touched a hair on the head
of their own or adopted child, fed
on half-digested sweet milk fresh
from a bison calf’s slit stomach.They didn’t make laws, weren’t a nation.
They had, all told, a common tongue.
They snuffed out Rachel Plummer’s infant
(nursing was lost time); in that instant
she turned savage on her captors, won
unwittingly their admiration.                             *Corpses frightened Mary Rowlandson.
Yet “I must and could ly down,” she’d write,
“by my dead Babe, side by side all the night,”
in the wigwam, weekuwom, wiquoam
which the child departed “like a lamb.”
Though one bullet stitched both, yes,
she “left that Child in the Wilderness . . .
and myself in this Wilderness-condition.”Sold for gunpowder under the cones
and needles of New England tinder;
ate an unborn fawn: so “tender,
that one might eat the bones
as well as the flesh.” Gentleness (I know)
is learned. And unlearned also.                            *Now the lines of his skull appear,
the hair fallen on the floor
(grown for the better part
—a thousand pardons—of a year
and as leonine as a roar;
a first attempt at body art,
a shine like a bubinga drum shell,
or the Earth Ride cymbalnow offered up as casually
as that head from Monkey Slough
mounted over the W.C.).
And as if it wasn’t enough,
the aeolian origins of loess,
the ground a leonine mess.                          *It’s Yuletide in the New World,
and the metallurgical fur of tinsel
warms the atmosphere;
the crèche with its inlaid pearl
canceling the blood on the lintel,
against long odds, will appear
as long as mothers house
golden apples in pine boughs.And as if it wasn’t enough,
the basket of toys yields a tortoise
that crawls away on its cutlery
much like the roughest of rough
drafts of our own migrant house,
Sheetrock bunker plus scullery.                          *And as if it wasn’t enough,
hair fallen from the clipper’s tines
might have been as rough
as the heaps left behind
of a herd, shorn. Or a horde,
advertising his assent
to the life of the horse and sword,
and to go wherever they went.Buzz Cut 10, Bald Fade 16.
Fluffs the nape, dabs with the shaver,
underplays it as a “trim.”
It’s as if—the works of time undone—
the mirror, held up to him,
shows his moonface smaller, graver.

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Ange Mlinko is the author of four previous books of poetry, including Shoulder Season, which was a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award, and Starred Wire, a National Poetry Series pick and a finalist for the James Laughlin Award. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Randall Jarell Award for Criticism, and served as the poetry editor for The Nation. She is currently an associate professor of English at the University of Florida. She lives in Gainesville.

In Distant Mandate, Ange Mlinko moves constantly to and fro: from the tormented Southwestern landscape with its alternately arid and flooded scrublands to the landscape of Texas, remembered Mediterranean scenes, and the imagined settings of European art. Guided by her spiritual forebears—Orpheus, Mallarmé, Pound, Yeats, and others—Mlinko deftly places herself within the tradition of the poet in protest against the obduracy of the real, yet enraptured in the torment of Eros.

Mlinko takes her title from an essay by Laszló Krasznahorkai on the unknowable origins of the Alhambra, the monument “for the sight of which there is only a distant mandate . . . [One] can see, in any event, the moment of creation of the world, of course all the while understanding nothing of it.” This distant mandate, also the “bitter ideal” of Mallarmé, is the foundation on which all works of art are composed—always shaking and ever shifting. Myth is central to these poems: some are based on the story of Cupid and Psyche; others serve as odes to Aphrodite or explorations of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Mlinko has given us a shimmering and vibrant collection, one that shows us not only how literature imagines itself through life but also how life reimagines itself through literature.

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