Quartet for the End of Time

Alison C. Rollins

After T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”

1If you play me then youPlay yourself.  That wasAll the dead neededTo say. To get the betterOf time, we got betterWith time. I left my bodyAnd took on the lookOf a man. I made himAn honest woman.A diagram of thisSentence builds aStructure made fromWind. Inside of thatHouse is a box. InsideThe box is the headOf a goat. Inside theGoat: a knife’s quietSong. The blade ofDesire is the silver inMy teeth. My mouthHas a certain ring to it.2I will take you now to after-Life’s kitchen, where the saltyGirls cure meat with their tears.Only through time is timeConquered. Come correct.Come prepared to sit at the tableOf contents. We bow our heads,Count our blessings likeLittle pigs, while the king-Fisher waits for a shaft ofSun. Sprint, said the bird,For the foothills of  truth.Stop, stop, stop, said the bird,There is mischief  afoot. ThenWe sat and ate with our hands,An entire field of wild thyme.When asked to choose a hillTo die on, we wanted to killThe bird. To reconcile our painWe made the stars into a bear.Myth made all the difference.3If your wrist holds a five-Nailed star, clock the T.Who can open the door to nightAnd not see themselves in black?Not I. For thousands of years,I have sat on a milk crate.Stationed at the crossroads, I sing:Bone. Bone. Bone. Bone. Bone.I don a yellow jacket and fox-Gloves to push out the sun.The morning is such a production.A ghost—aghast at the soundOf singe, a crowned knot of fire.There is no sense to be hadIn the country of our making.This language a gardenOf strain. No limitSoldiers, we marchedTo the drum of emptyCups and if a spoon fellA woman was cursed.4When I was soldDown the river,God set down his bookIn the shape of a tent.That day I was born again,My limbs—American letters.The stairway to heaven isYellow-boned legs, antiquedIn their quadroon rust.At the gate to eternity,A lawn jockey grins, wideAs the science of mercy.In his hands a badmintonRacket. He swats and weSee how they run, howCrickets gallop in theDark like horseflies.Heaven is a thousandChandeliers, every crystalA single body, each headA grizzly sparkle.

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Alison C. Rollins was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri.  Her debut poetry collection is Library of Small Catastrophes (Copper Canyon Press, 2019). A Cave Canem and Callaloo Fellow, Rollins is the second prize winner of the 2016 James H. Nash Poetry Contest and her poems have appeared in Poetry, River Styx, Vinyl, and elsewhere. In 2016, she was a recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation.

November 2020

Chicago, Illinois

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Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Harriet Monroe’s “Open Door” policy, set forth in Volume I of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry’s mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach.

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