40th Anniversary Feature: [If this is the Elegy for the Fallen St. Christopher . . .]

Sep 9, 2013Archive, Feature

BWR Genre Editor, Poetry, Spring 2003


If this is the elegy for the fallen St. Christopher; if this is the face
For which a thousand ships will be launched; if this is that launch

And the face of that launch bears a similarity to Mary Magdalene
And not the Mary fried into the side of a grilled cheese sandwich

That never grows mold; if this is Any Jenny, Beatrice, or Beatrice,
Or Beatrice; if this is what is left at the bottom of a leaden box in

Santa Domingo (by way of Valladolid & Seville, Santa Domingo,
Havana, & another plausible stop in Seville) & a small, silver tablet

Engraved with “The last part of the remains of the First Admiral,
Don Cristóbal Colón, the Discover” is unearthed in an otherwise

Unmarked tomb; if this is a spiraling outward (tunneling inward),
Toward the source of that prayer; if prayer is more than the order

Of words (as Eliot says) & our course holds true . . . if we specify
Our demands & embrace this animal of the body, the way Jonah

Embraced the whale—for three days (three nights), as water rose
Around him, swilling about his ankles, knees, & nose—believing

He would die; if our only two stories are a man goes on a journey
Or a stranger comes to town, & death is imminent in each; if this

Is our reservation & the casino never closes; if tonight’s cocktails
Are on the house & we can drink enough to hold it down & down

Implies direction (to, or in a state of activity); if Isabella descends;
If Oviedo & Fernando Colón; if the Historie is correct, & Atlantis

Is more than an eyesore of bad city planning—if the Santa Maria
Holds true; if God wills it, & the wind is right; if this is the outlet,

The exit—a door; if we can bomb them all back to the Stone Age,
Start over again & still keep their wallets . . . if this is the lead shot

Of an unnatural death; if Hispaniola; if Navidad; if you can say it
Five times fast (while rubbing your stomach & patting your head)

And still stand up; if the Spanish monarchs refuse to stand down;
If I could submit for example the Toscanelli letter (June 25, 1474)

As exhibit A & outline the voyages of Marco Polo; if this is a tale
That begins with an unknown pilot, some sailor caught in a storm,

Shipwrecked in the supposed New World; & if (a big if) he is able
To return from there; if there are geographical coordinate points

And, in his dying breath, he passes them on; if these are the arms
Where he expired—if this is the last clear narrative of the modern

World, & wherever it is you are is half-a-world away; if the Taíno
Refuse a fight; if this is the first of the final two poems to be read

Before introducing tonight’s poet; if we can balance the boy child
Upon our backs—if the burden is not too much; if this is a wheel

That never advances & the past recedes with each unmarked day;
If this is not amelioration, but posits our direction; if the ultimate

Restitution of all is the ever blessed one; then, yes; I guess so; sure.


John Pursley III teaches at Clemson University. He is the author of the poetry collection, If You Have Ghosts and works as the poetry editor of Burnside Review. He is also an editor at Rowboat: Poetry in Translation and the South Carolina Review. His poems and reviews have appeared in Poetry, AGNI, and Mississippi Review.



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