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.