[Not long ago the Pope decreed]
Let the balloons go outside.
Let the balloons go outside.
Not long ago the Pope decreedthat unbaptized babies wouldno longer be banished to Limboand that their little souls languishingthere would be releasedImagine them getting the papal memoand rising in unison unsureof where to goexcept up twirling like colossal flocksof river martinsin dark enormous coils their outlinesbecoming eventually lighterthen translucent then clearWe might guess incorrectlythat the accompanying soundwould be the usual celestialharps and choirsinstead of the intolerable shriekthat trapped breath makeswhen it escapes from a balloonwhose opening is being pulled tautor tens of thousands of theseSebastião Salgado talks about travelingthrough parts of Brazilwhere babies died so frequentlythat churches rented out coffins for their funeralsand reused them dozens of timesA local vendor might sell bananasand ice cream alongside shoes in whichbabies could be buried Salgado also says that whenbabies end up in Limboit has something to do with whether or not their eyes are open or closedwhen they are buriedor is it when they die I’m not sure The transcriptionof the interview is unclearWhen someone in a movie dieswith their eyes openthe lids are made to lookso easy to closeA priest for instance or a doctorpasses a reverent handover the corpse’s faceperhaps not even touching itand the task is completeThe morning you diedour friend and your brother and I werein your bed with your bodythat overnight had decidedit was no longer youbut some awful machinedesigned to lurch and wheezeuntil it sucked in onemore breath and did not let it outYour eyes were open and whenafter a few minutesno one came to close themI tried to do it myselfbut the lids kept popping back openlike busted window shadesThe word limbo derives from the Latinword limbus a border an edgeIt also is a dance that also is a contestin which the winning danceris the one who doesn’t fall/ / /
Copyright © 2019 by Mark Bibbins
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Mark Bibbins’s book-length poem sequence brings the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ’90s into new light—an account that approximates, with stunning lyricism, “what music sounds like / just before the record skips.” Addressed to a dead beloved, 13th Balloon troubles the cloud-like space of grief by piecing together the fragmented experiences of youth and loss, anguish and desire. Part elegy, part memoir in verse, this is a groundbreaking collection whose trajectory runs counter to the impulse toward nostalgia, unearthing what was thought to have burned in the fire.
“These poems are made powerful by the bitter energy of a voice not silenced but made to sound ridiculous in a political culture in which disagreement with the government is unpatriotic.”
“The book's a little crazy, packed with air quotes and brackets, jokes and condemnations, forms that explode across the page. Crazily enough, it's also packed with truth.”