Hope & Choir

Hope & Choir

By Ted Mathys

– after Robert Kloss

Generations later the speakers
tested your father. Gutted husks
of the democratic instrument, affixed
to poles and spooled

with wires, the speakers
announced: “General!”
“Here I am,” your father replied,
“with my ham and hounds of hell.”

Then the speakers crackled:
“Take your generation, your pious
blue-eyed generation, whom you love
despite the pus-soaked cotton,

and go to the region of canvas
and tarpaulin. Take your crowbar
and white gloves, and on one of the velvet
bulges we will tell you about, let, let

the stream flow from your generation
according to our private code.”
Early the next morning, your father
woke and saddled his baffled bison.

The General took with him two
butchers’ assistants and his generation.
When your father had cut enough beaver fur
and coattails to consecrate the velvet bulge,

packed enough whiskey and lemon juice
to bear the swipe and spatter,
he set out for the place the speakers
had told him about.

In combustible chemicals snaking the prairies,
in stray kindling spilled on the perimeter
in each distant town, your father saw
the fire of negation straining against

the matter of matter and bodies the speakers
had set in motion. The General
said to himself “We don’t have no future,”
knowing negative and negative

would no longer cancel each other into hope
and choir, but reinforce the black and bilious
fever of duty to the speakers. On day three
when cigar fog and jellied pig

were far behind him, and lye soap and poker
were far behind him, and his bison
was flagging in the dust of the valleys,
your father looked up and saw in the distance

the region of canvas and tarpaulin.
He said to the butchers’ assistants:
“Stay here with the bison while I
and my generation go over there.

We will pay what has been unpaid
and then we will return to you.”
The General took the beaver fur
and coattails for the velvet bulge

and strapped them to his generation,
and he himself carried the crowbar.
As they went on together, the pious
generation spoke up and said “Father?”

“Yes, my generation?” The General
replied. “The crowbar and beaver fur
are here,” the generation said, “but where
is the whelp for the letting?”

“The speakers,” your father answered,
“will announce to us where to gather up
what is needed to pay what has been unpaid
according to the private code.”

And they went on. When the slate sky
woke to athletic wind and they reached
the velvet bulge the speakers told him about,
The General sputtered negation

and threw coattails and beaver fur
onto the heaps, and lashed
his generation there. Your father
scratched his whiskers

and heard in them the feverish
fluid scratching of a fountain pen
writing the final democratic instrument,
and your father raised his crowbar

to pay what had been unpaid, to let
the stream from his generation.
But the spools of wires sparked
with the current of payment

high on the poles, and the speakers
crackled and blared: “General! General!”
“Here I am,” your father replied.
“Do not let the fire of negation stream

from your generation,” the speakers spoke.
“Stay your crowbar.
By your fever of duty to add your generation
to the velvet bulge we know

the unpaid will be paid according
to the private code.” Your father
looked up into the helix of burlap
and wax paper in wind

and he saw there a rabbit strung from
the poles. He went over
and cut it down and added it to the velvet
bulge and let from it course

a stream from his crowbar. Then the speakers
woke to constant and everywhere,
so your father, The General, called that place
The Speakers Will Hope and Choir.

Ted Mathys is the author of two books of poetry, The Spoils and Forge, both from Coffee House Press. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, his poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, BOMB, Conjunctions, Fence, Jubilat, Verse, and elsewhere. Originally from Ohio, he now lives in Iowa City.

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