Two poems from Scott Coffel’s The Great Blue Question Mark
followed by a note on the author
The Spice Islands of Thought
I still believed it possible to achieve a totality of knowledge,
to stand on a dark country road beneath a plume of galactic clouds
that could absorb a billion Earths placidly without one voice
raised against the immigrants, and calculate how much time
must be sacrificed to reach the spice islands of thought,
known through the cosmos as the marketplace of ideas,
that smudge of intellect behind the cross arm of the utility pole,
modest in passion compared to the pulsating divas overhead
or to the space station now ripping through the Big Dipper
at seventeen thousand miles per hour, a brilliant arc visible for two minutes
then gone like a dream, my future folding inward
like a twin sister in embryo, a docket of encounters booked
years in advance, without whom I am Alamogordo after the blast—
an eternity of minutes and seconds, a desert fused into glass.
Crossing the Mighty Catskills
Is it not unconscionable for a man to lay waste his powers
in the serene unpaid cultivation of rutabagas and cherry tomatoes
when he could be giving credence to the vilest rumors
or trading his lewd and expensive wife for a mail-order bride?
Each evening after work he trots out his agrarian agenda
in a pantomime of class warfare, the rich strung up from lampposts
as he preaches in earnest to his polite but amused guests,
a family of Sudanese refugees wearing electric green T-shirts.
Though lazy and skeptical-on-the-cheap
I would risk an appropriate amount of second-degree burns
to extract him from a burning Chrysler and have little doubt
that if a throng of critics emerged to sabotage my reputation
he would drive them underground with a gallon of mole repellent.
I ought to apologize for my spleen but I am disheartened—
in truth more shaken than disheartened—having finished
yet another biography of the Romantics
that ends, as they all do, in a spree of melancholia
for the subject and his friends, all of them dying of ailments
even overweight Southerners never contract. We say things
could be worse until the day they can’t be,
the Age of Reason exploding like the EEG of an epileptic.
On such days we are not of the flesh: our shallow breathing
scares off the sensual stranger. Despondent as Jacobins
we seek safe passage out of history, inhabiting the imagination
of William Wordsworth on the D train as it lurches
between DeKalb Avenue and Grand Street, taking leave
of our senses as we cross the mighty Catskills without knowing it,
bequeathing to autumnal breezes our lyrics of extinction.
Born in New York City, Scott Coffel was educated at York College, a senior college of The City University of New York, and at SUNY-Oneonta. In 1995, he received an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers Workshop. Since 2001, he has directed the Hanson Center for Technical Communication for The University of Iowa’s College of Engineering. His first collection of poems, Toucans in the Arctic, received the Poetry Society of America’s 2010 Norma Farber First Book Award (chosen by Edward Hirsch). Recent honors include the 2013 Boston Review Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in Salmagundi, Ploughshares, Paris Review, The Antioch Review, The American Scholar, The Wallace Stevens Journal, The Southern Review, and other journals. He has been awarded artist residencies at the MacDowell Colony and the Anderson Center at Tower View.
The Spice Islands of Thought first appeared in The Southern Review (Autumn 2011)
Crossing the Mighty Catskills first appeared in the Boston Review (Nov/Dec 2013).