[Not long ago the Pope decreed]

Mark Bibbins

Let the balloons go outside.
Let the balloons go outside.
—Trish Keenan

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/ / /

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Mark Bibbins is the author of three books with Copper Canyon: 13th Balloon; They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full, named one of the best poetry collections of 2014 by Publishers Weekly; and The Dance of No Hard Feelings. He teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and The New School, where he co-founded LIT magazine, and in NYU’s Writers in Florence program. His work has appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and four volumes of The Best American Poetry. Bibbins received a Lambda Literary Award for his first book, Sky Lounge (Graywolf, 2003), and was a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow. He lives in New York City.

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.”
Publishers Weekly

“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.”
NPR

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