Share this article

print logo

Poem of the Week: Song of the Andoumboulou: 55 by Nathaniel Mackey

By Nathaniel Mackey

– orphic fragment –


Carnival morning they

were Greeks in Brazil,

Africans in Greek

disguise. Said of herself


was born in a house in

heaven. He said he was

born in the house next

door... They were in hell.

In Brazil they were


To abide by hearing was

what love was... To

love was to hear without

looking. Sound was the


mummy cloth... All to say,

said the exegete, love in

hell was a voice, to be spoken

to from behind, not be able

to turn and look... It

wasn’t Greece where they


nor was it Benin... Carnival

morning in made-up hell, bodies

bathed in loquat light, would-be

song’s all the more would-be

title, “Sound and Cerement,”


wound in bandages



Up all night, slept well

past noon. Awoke restless

having dreamt she awoke on

Lone Coast, wondering

afterwards what it came


glimpsed interstice,


crack... Saw her

dead mother and brother

pull up in a car, her brother

at the wheel not having driven

while alive, newly taught


death it appeared. A fancy car,


than any her mother had had while

alive, she too better off it

appeared ... A wishful read, “it

appeared” notwithstanding, the

exegete impossibly benign. Dreamt

a dream

of dream’s end, anxious, unannounced,

Eronel’s nevermore namesake, Monk’s

anagrammatic Lenore... That the

dead return in luxury cars made


weep, pathetic its tin elegance,


sweet read misread,


sweet Contributor’s Note: NATHANIEL MACKEY will deliver the University at Buffalo English Department’s Inaugural Robert Creeley Lecture titled “Breath and Precarity” at 3:15 p.m. Friday in the auditorium of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave. He is the Reynolds Price professor of creative writing at Duke University, the author of 15 books of poetry, fiction and literary criticism, and the recipient of numerous literary prizes and awards including a Whiting Award in 1993, the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Prize in 2014, and Yale University’s Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 2015. This poem appears in his 2006 National Book Award-winning collection “Splay Anthem” (New Directions Publishing Co.).