Elegy for the Slain Ship

Poetry / Kyle McCord

:: Elegy for the Slain Ship ::

          after The Sea of Ice, 1823

In a better world things might have been different
          a fairer wind a trimmer sail but no such luck

the wind did its work and the captain too
          you’re cut to the heart and stilted: 

all that’s left of you gored worse still: help is unlikely
          rescue is foreign to this place 

every hour tender Christ who we love is bloodied 
          by stigmata stygian worms inch his wrist 

(what color one mother whispers) 
          deeper into the Kunsthalle before the Moderns

Marc’s elephant begs time’s stubborn arrow to move 
          while one tired child cries into his father’s flannel

not for you he is a clock like thirst or lymphoma 
          the father sings to him in a low voice 

the boy will spend his life trying not to forget 
          but name a thing time defers

one way or another so confined you become
          a figure for the lost but always accessible

like Mao’s body my father would add 
          if he weren’t feathered with tubes to grant him breath 

I am learning to live with the patina of panic 
          that graces you at all hours 

you as hashtag on the tour maps 
          daily a hundred hands and none to mend 


From the writer

:: Account ::

I’ve been writing about and through art for over a decade now, so it’s about time I offered some account. I began writing in museums in the brutal winter of 2009. I had lost my job and moved back home to live with my parents. My girlfriend at the time traveled to Italy and fell for an archeologist working with her on a dig site.

What I loved about the museum was its strict form of solitude. The way the aesthetic demanded a kind of obedience to the rules. If anyone violated the quiet of the gallery, a docent would quickly intercede. The only relationship that seemed appropriate was that between viewer and art. I felt a kind of equality here. I spent long hours with Tanner, Hopper, and Bacon.

I met my wife in August of 2014, and we began a long conversation about the objectification of women and the violence done them by the visual world. She is a visual artist and creates feminine landscapes that attempt to reframe the image of the woman in the context of the natural world. Especially in 2018, this conversation seems to carry more Kairos than ever. I wrote these poems through the eyes of a father dying of cancer, but they are very much a part of that conversation that began with a very wise woman and the negative capability she experiences in her own medium.


Kyle McCord is the author of five books of poetry, including National Poetry Series finalist Recklessness and Light (Trio House, 2016). He has work featured in AGNI, Boston Review, Crazyhorse, The Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. His book Sympathy from the Devil was selected as one of the top five books of the year by the Poetry Foundation Blog. He has received grants from the Academy of American Poets, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Baltic Writing Residency. He teaches at Drake University in Des Moines.