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.