Kyle Booten, the youngest writer in the group, is an undergraduate student of creative writing whose poems dwell in imaginative spaces on the far side of history. I’m dazzled by his ability to balance arresting beauty and lyrical grace with a mischievous wit that moves quietly and steadily throughout his poems.—Tracy K. Smith
Country Parson’s Epitaph
It is the bog hour, the minute
which dwindles into a speck of ash.
As I do every morning I fall into my chair,
like a pebble thrown into a well. I think
you are not too thin, though I am lying.
My body is old. Today I noticed
it is covered with red insects.
My body is where the cold goes to sleep.
When the night is lost, it sits on my shoulders
and stares at its map, scratching a head
with twice as much hair as mine.
It is the 18th Century. January.
Above my desk,
the window frame breaks. Let me in my final moment
read this as a symbol: the frame is my earthly living,
my fixed stay unfixed. Spells only work
while we mutter them, and the same goes for prayers.
I am a single man, or less. I am a book
held up before a mirror: illegible
but not mysterious. I make prophecy:
I will stay in this town forever.
I foresee the rich lord’s jowls,
quaking with a blood purple ague,
and the freckled child
squirming through the hay-loft.
It is the 18th Century.
In hindsight, we will call it the Age of
More Politics, a plague milder than the last,
printing presses widely distributed so illumination
became rare. George III pisses
his gilded tailcoat. It was never meant to be
quite so shambolic!
Once, a parishioner
came to me with worries as earnest
as a hand on glowing iron.
Someone was sick—she was,
or her child, or her mother (everyone was
for a spell). She wept, and my hand rested
upon her neck.
I stared into the floor, and past it,
into the heavy ground, and even deeper
till I saw another land: shores of white dust,
the glow of a green candle, the dim circles
of owls’ wings.
Invitations to Betsy Ross’s Debutante Party
On November 7th, the moon will hit
another moon—an invisible one.
It has been there all along, winking
a hollow eye, less than a smudge.
The two moons will collide like bullets.
Beneath, there will be a party. My party.
Betsy Ross’s Debutante Party. Strong punch
and sewing, though you do not have to sew.
Moon shards will float downward,
tearing our clothes as in a history painting,
bleeding us a little, to look heroic.
It will be cold, but my cheek will warm
the red paint on the barn. It will be silent
but my fingers will scrape the sheep’s neck
till the wool hisses and sparks.
It will be one evening of many—
a pewter trinket, a small thing,
I will hold it till it melts.
Let us not recall the hoary ghost
of your opal buttons.
To think of this is to linger
in an empty bowl.
I’m grown now. I sit
in a hard wooden chair.
When I wake, the dawn
is respectful, submissive.
The rooster hears my ankles
pop, is astounded, hushed.
On November 7th, there will be a party.
My party. Betsy Ross’s Debutante Party.
You’ll be busy, I assume, tickling
yourself with that pantograph.
How proud you were as I traced
my first word letters in chalk,
building a broken white fence
that nobody would ever think to mend.
So proud you gave me a lump of
green taffy, and I carried it in my fist
down to the Crooked Billet,
and threw it in the Delaware,
That night, I found it again
beneath my pillow,
some soft green egg
my quaking thoughts had laid.
As I grew, the world gave me other words—
clutter—bits of moldy cotton, two-legged stools—
and every time I wrote a word
it was always that first one, your name.
It was the dark center, the invisible gown
I always wore, the burning star
I sewed at the tip of each finger.
Kyle Booten, a native of Nashville, is a senior at Princeton University where he studies English Literature and Creative Writing. He is the recipient of the E.E. Cummings Prize from the Academy of American Poets and Princeton’s Theodore Weiss Poetry Award, and he is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. His work has appeared in The Nassau Literary Review.