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by P.J. Gallo
A man in velvet
pants moves a little more
like a panther than we do. She wants him more
than she wants a dead bird under her
tire. Modern is perpetually modern.
A wonderful equestrian thing.
A hot marsh
where hot bourbon drinks may even hel
assuage the heat of summer. You may not
publish an article on a lost diver
found fifty years after without a photograph
of his skeleton hands.
A man in velvet pants seems interesting, learns
everything from sports radio, says,
"The story of America, the highway.
This is my idea." The sensation of a marsh
constricting cold, offgassing under a wonderful
equestrian thing, hooves and bleating.
Strings of popcorn wound
around New England's Christmas trees.
It is Christmas!
A lost diver lives the length of an air supply
braced under every variable of the Atlantic Ocean.
A lobster lives a lobster-length life.
Judge's Comments: This poem is tight as a steel trap, which leaves us to wonder: What, exactly, holds it together? There are some recurring motifs, like the man in velvet pants and the lost diver. There are skewed aphorisms wedged amid the oblique descriptive elements, such as the supremely mysterious final line (good rule of thumb for a poem: leave them wondering). And there are thoughtful enjambments that create little beats of suspense before the lines resolve in surprising ways. But there doesn't seem to be a single story, emotion, or point to extract here: The poem proceeds according to its own strange and compelling logic, and summons intuitions too alloyed for narrative to handle, just as a poem should. Most of all, what holds "American Repercussion" together is the poet's unflinching adherence to the specificity of his vision, where the enigmatic interplay of striking images never succumbs to the obvious or literal. —Brian Howe
The 25-year-old P.J. Gallo works in the admissions office at UNC Law School. Before arriving here two years ago, he studied English at Virginia Tech and received an MFA in poetry from the New School in Manhattan. While he says his influences are "probably everything I've ever read," he does allow that with "American Repercussion," there is a distinct John Ashbery influence. Who is the man in velvet? "I was thinking about humans and animals," Gallo replies. He chose velvet as a way to express the "way humans become like animals by putting clothes on."