Two Poems

Poetry / Dustin Pearson

:: Fossil Fuel ::

Moments after Hell’s ocean allows you to reach its surface, 
the world turns over. You dart through the boiling waters  
like a rocket and straight into one of its geysers. 
It gropes you. It coats you in waste as inside a bowel,  
but once fully committed, it’s you who becomes 
the movement. The journey is dark so your mind illuminates.  
All those bodies floating at the top of the water and not one  
of them moving. You tilt your head downward, but there’s 
nothing to see, no chest, feet, and so you remind yourself  
they’re still parts of your body, and the sky is red or pink  
or maybe pink and red with no stars, and then everything flips,  
as though the sky could fill, as if this part of Hell  
were a cylinder filled with liquid filled with rocks and sand  
and living ornaments some giant child could turn over  
for amusement, and you fall or you float or you fall and float  
headfirst into another world you can’t escape. You surface  
in a place that looks like the world you left or one adjacent  
where you can manage, where you did manage. Out the geyser  
you rise like a man pulled from quicksand. You clear the mud  
from your eyes. The sun blinds but then you see. This world  
is one of vast greens in sharp shapes attached to brown trunks  
and vines. You wipe the mud from your limbs and when  
you’ve cleared them, you wish you hadn’t because the flies  
that attach to them bite, and where they bite the blood runs  
and from where it runs mites burrow, and within the burrows 
you’re compelled to scratch and where you scratch the burrows  
widen and from the widening the blood pours and in the pour 
the dead mites. You feel faint, but you realize you’ve walked a ways  
from where you started. The loss is overwhelming, but ahead  
of you, there are tracks. You want to fall but think not again,  
and you think: no matter the man the tracks belong to,  
you must find him. 



:: An Overgrowth Besides the Body ::

Hell’s jungle is an overgrowth of green. 
The leaves that jut from the ferns, fall  
down from the trees, do so with such sharpness  
you cut yourself with any brush by them. 
Every movement you make is one  
made through a grater. You leave 
so much of yourself behind  
under the wetness and burning. 
The sun’s rays and humidity  
make your droppings sizzle  
on some surfaces. The smell  
they release in this sector is appetizing, 
or would be, if you weren’t also wilting  
under the steamy beams. You walk  
each path with a drooping,  
the question mark of your body  
forever-curling into a gnarl  
of lost meaning. The wounds you host 
fester. The fungus builds an island  
of moss on your neck, center-back, 
and shoulders, amasses a mail  
on your chest and lower body, 
and under the moss  
is pus you can drain if you squeeze  
or scratch too deep. 
Beyond the pus is the blood  
you’ve known so well already,  
but even so, sometimes,  
it rains. The conditions resting 
on the grounds rise. The clouds 
work up into big gray billows  
and the whole of the jungle 
darkens. The shadows  
are everywhere, falling  
a kind of astral straw  
under the foliage  
before dissolving  
completely, and then  
the flash shows. Lightning 
then thunder as we’ve 
always perceived it,  
then more of both. The rain 
falls violently on the greens 
but softens a bit making  
its way through the density. 
The jungle cools. 
The water washes you 
before it floods the venue 
and rises into the trees. 
You hitch a ride floating 
on top of it. The leaves on the branches 
don’t cut when they’re wet. 
They soften and bend,  
and so you sit on them.  
You wait out the flooding  
on the tree branches, climbing 
higher as the water rises.  
You stop when it peaks. 
Way high up in the canopy, 
you see everything  
besides another body.




From the writer


:: Account ::

Rimbaud’s A Sea­son in Hell is asso­ci­at­ed with his breakup with Ver­laine. For­mal­ly, it’s a prose poem most of the time. It’s also impossible—a moody, often abstract, and cere­bral man­i­fes­ta­tion. Hell is a state of mind. Fig­u­ra­tive. These poems are tak­en from my forth­com­ing col­lec­tion, A Sea­son in Hell with Rim­baud (BOA Edi­tions, 2022), but there’s no roman­tic con­text. Rim­baud is a dense­ly loaded sym­bol. In this selec­tion, we meet the speak­er work­ing his way through Hell. There’s an amass­ment of obser­va­tions sim­i­lar to what you’d expect in a trav­el­ogue. The speak­er dis­cov­ers evi­dence that he’s not alone, and this ener­gizes him. A lit­tle while after I first start­ed writ­ing well, I found I couldn’t escape being com­pared to Baude­laire and Rim­baud. I’d nev­er read either of them. Final­ly read­ing them allowed me to see the com­par­isons. Learn­ing about the aspi­ra­tions of French sym­bol­ism and its muta­tions over time cul­mi­nat­ing in Imag­ism and a dif­fer­ent group of writ­ers helped me to real­ize my approach to writ­ing always exists between the two, and that mode of writ­ing and think­ing is one I believe I inher­it­ed from my Black South­ern coastal upbringing—all its mag­ic and his­to­ry, reli­gion and blend­ing of cul­tures and lore, and all the mys­tery and actu­al­i­ty wrapped up in those. In one way, A Sea­son in Hell with Rim­baud is say­ing: look at how close we’ve been this entire time and yet only one of us is read­i­ly rec­og­nized and cred­it­ed with these lit­er­ary tra­di­tions and aes­thet­ics, but all of that as an after­thought to the sto­ry that unfolds over the col­lec­tion, a sto­ry that’s teased in these two poems. 



Dustin Pear­son is the author of A Sea­son in Hell with Rim­baud (BOA Edi­tions, 2022), Mil­len­ni­al Roost (C&R Press, 2018), and A Fam­i­ly Is a House (C&R Press, 2019). He is a McK­night Doc­tor­al Fel­low in Cre­ative Writ­ing at Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty. The recip­i­ent of fel­low­ships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence, the Vir­ginia G. Piper Cen­ter for Cre­ative Writ­ing, and The Ander­son Cen­ter at Tow­er View, Pear­son has served as the edi­tor of Hayden’s Fer­ry Review and a direc­tor of the Clem­son Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val. He won the Acad­e­my of Amer­i­can Poets Katharine C. Turn­er Prize and John Mack­ay Grad­u­ate Award and holds an MFA from Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty. The recip­i­ent of a 2021 Push­cart Prize, his work also appears or is forth­com­ing in The Nation, Poet­ry North­west, Black­bird, Vinyl Poet­ry, Ben­ning­ton Review, Tri­Quar­ter­ly, [PANK], The Lit­er­ary Review, Poet­ry Dai­ly, Hayden’s Fer­ry Review, and else­where.