This selection from Mark Nowak is the E segment of an abecedarian work — an enduring poetic form organized around the letters of the alphabet. Chaucer wrote an abecedarian, as did the ancient Hebrew poets of the Book of Psalms. Nowak’s abecedarian documents the political and actual landscapes of the United States in the 2020s. The schoolchild innocence of the alphabet is juxtaposed with the violence and instability of the historical moment. Written while Nowak was driving the back roads of northern New York and western New England during the early days of the pandemic, this selection fixates on the “e” as an uneasy unifier in a poem that evokes a disrupted world. Selected by Anne Boyer
Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman
From … AGAIN
By Mark Nowak
Encyclopedias and empires go extinct. Eternity isn’t an option. Enjoy the evanescent moon before it evaporates into another eerie dawn, eerie day. Shuttered used car lot across the street from Wastequip headquarters sells eggs for $3 a dozen and flies a Blue Lives Matter flag. It’s the ecosystem nowadays. The Anthropocene. Chickens coming home to roast. The rent is overdue. Eventually we won’t be hired any more, won’t be here anymore. It happened at the Energizer battery factory in Burlington, Vermont. Imagine the Energizer Bunny with no more joie de vivre. “We are committed to making our colleagues’ transition(s) as smooth as possible.” So start searching for jobs on Indeed. Please. It’s always been about entropy. At either end of Lake Erie, the abandoned factories: Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit (though a few factories have been gentrified into condos for the elites). Drive through Albany and head east. Drive from Pittsfield to North Adams to the Vermont border. Endless empty parking lots, endless erosion. It isn’t erroneous to think this way. It’s the essence of this country. The evacuations will be everlasting.
Anne Boyer is a poet and an essayist. Her memoir about cancer and care, “The Undying,” won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. Mark Nowak is a poet whose books include “Shut Up Shut Down,” “Coal Mountain Elementary,” “Social Poetics” and the forthcoming “… AGAIN,” all from Coffee House Press. He recently edited “Coronavirus Haiku” (Kenning Editions) for the Worker Writers School, of which he is the founding director, and wrote an introduction to Celes Tisdale’s “When the Smoke Cleared: Attica Prison Poems and Journal” (Duke University Press).