090.1: Rusty Morrison & John Gallaher:: [First to Last] pt. 1 090

This series by John Gallaher and Rusty Morrison is a true call and response. Morrison's calls become Gallaher's responses become Morrison's calls again. This series is not a simple dialogue; rather, the calls and responses function as voices in a harmony variously euphonious and cacophonous. So it is only appropriate that the series begins with "Inside the talking room": inside this echoing environment, one voice–"Staying as a Form of Departure"–becomes the response "If You Hadn't Stayed the Departure, I Wouldn't Have Formed." Each call and response marks an incremental change, a mutation, which carries the conversational melody in surprising directions.

Though each voice is distinctly presented in each poem, as the poems accumulate differentiation, the origin of each idea and word is more difficult to trace back to its source. Who said "yodel"? Or was it "model"? These poems ask us to examine how poetry becomes part of our own conversation with the world, as we see the poets wondering how a response creates meaning when "I read 'the mountain goats' just as the song / 'No Children' came on, / by The Mountain Goats." Does this justifiably change the poem's importance or function? Does this justifiably change what the reader can glean from the poem? At least in this series, the answer to these questions is Yes. It does at least in this instance because the reader's interrogative call becomes the source for another conversation, another poem, a call that generates the subsequent response from Gallaher's and Morrison's echoing chamber. In the end, we find ourselves completely invited into the act of poetic creation: "The afternoon drags on / as any minute we'll start singing / becomes our song." Andrew Wessels


Inside the talking room.
Salted peanuts as subterfuge.
Gaudy shades of standing lamps
to vitiate light, imply for us
a past.
Narratives easily made
more distressed (the latest style:
ragged, not rage)
by pulling out a few upholstery tacks.
Jovial derision
easier than humility.
An entire human life could fit between
snapping the wall switch on
then off.
But I have a crick in my neck
trying to catch the wall plaster’s crack
Room inside the talk for two?
Bring thimbles and vest buttons and
jam jars of trapped atmosphere.

Staying as a Form of Departure

It’s best to leave, so you won’t know
how the house breaks apart
right down the middle
when the machines lift it from the
north face. The garage
was never that strong. (That
was an expected break.) But the pile,
who could imagine the way
it looks like every other pile?

All our old things cry out
in bad foreign accents
beneath the straying fragments. One
could almost imagine them
coming together, forming some new
town or sequence. Some new teetering horse
wheeling in. Because
the past is always a silly excuse
leaving a trail of monkeys across the lawn.

You never really know
until you get them away from people
how much you’re going to care
for rock collections
and plastic forks. Oh my beautiful
. I’ll spend my whole life
in tentative footsteps, then, listening
to the weather working,
believing the drapes and sequins.

The apparitions of sentiment.
Magical fish bones.

If You Hadn’t Stayed the Departure, I Wouldn’t Have Formed.

Even if “departure as a form” is only possible
in the imaginal
where our precious “houses” turn into “horses”
to be lost in the pile under “plastic forks”
before the poem ends.
You’re right, every “break” does feel “expected,”
after the fact. In any backwards glance,
everything in the stack is gray as fatalism.
Have we the courage still
to hunt for the next “magical fish bone”?
I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me yours.
I did glimpse a teetering horse, when you
wheeled him in
with your gentle qualifier of ‘some’.
Thanks for “leaving a trail of monkeys across the lawn”
in case I might follow.
I suspect that what “you [& I] never really know”
has slipped again, for a nightly prowl,
out the back door, which will always slam when it closes,
even though the poem’s own ending
remains open,
and sweetly muddied with the beautiful footsteps
that will never make listening for them
less tentative.