The Victorious Ones (excerpt)

Chris Nealon

Then came fire

It wasn’t yet a new world, or the end of the old one

But water, money, feeling overspilled their banks

                There was finally something real to be afraid of

                There was finally no reason to fear

Even animals approached us as they hadn’t in ten thousand years

Buildings were either shelter or they weren’t

Music got quiet

And poetry—

Poetry began to ask the question it had hidden in the forest

Poetry returned to lists, enumeration, inventory

It chose sides

This was not the same as prophecy

Look around you now        and ask yourself

Which of these—

                The innovators, profit-makers, the ones behind high walls,

                                The ones who are planning for the great catastrophes—

                Or the ones with no ability to plan,

                Who live from hour to hour, year to year,

                                In whom terror waits to be uncurdled,

                Who live in the great wide world—

Which of these will be the victorious ones?

Nobody knows.
 

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Chris Nealon is Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of two books of literary criticism, Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion before Stonewall (Duke, 2001) and The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in The American Century (Harvard, 2011), as well as three earlier books of poetry: The Joyous Age (Black Square Editions, 2004), Plummet (Edge Books, 2009), and Heteronomy (Edge, 2014). He lives in Washington, DC.

"Political poetry might bring to mind the activist tone of Denise Levertov or the cadenced rhetoric of Gil Scott-Heron. Nealon's version is a more playful and self-aware reverie, finding political unease in the passing thought."
Johns Hopkins Magazine

"Reading Nealon, one feels as though Homer has been reincarnated in sound bites, or as though Coleridge has succeeded in reviving the song of the damsel with her dulcimer, and we realize it is both as delightful and as laughable as we could have imagined. Nealon is both god and jester, beckoning us close even as he warns us to beware."
The Volta

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