Joshua Corey

Joshua Corey is the author most recently of The Barons (Omnidawn Publishing, 2014), his fourth poetry collection, and Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014), his first novel. He teaches English at Lake Forest College and lives in Evanston, Illinois.

from Hannah and the Master


The MASTER fixes his wing. From his mountaintop he sows. Past the POET with his hands in pockets eyes fixed on his shoes. Past HANNAH in the lowlands watching for the wave. The wave when it comes that sweeps away everything: cows factories unhappy families owls the necessity of caring about owls. The desert-jungle is rising in the night of human forgetting. Hannah sits up late in Freiburg, in Berlin, in Paris, in New York. She writes letters to the Master that she does not post. The eagle stands on the postmark single-headed bearing the symbol of the sun in its claws. The sun we have invited too close to the earth. It presses out the sky. No gods any more. The POET invites the rivers that flow from every direction to the sea. The beach, the moon. The desert-jungle is near, it surrounds everyone’s breathing. Not so careful of the type, thinks the PLAGIARIST, who is the POET’s secret face. The face of terrified complicity. The ash from HANNAH’s cigarette. She writes from the night of tears in a language not her own. Listening across oceans for the wave that she and the POET shall name. Its origins. While the MASTER soars, terrible and blind, in the wake of the larger predator named Being.


HANNAH is young but she understands the MASTER
will never leave his wife. His eyes
follow when, naked, she rises from the bed
and squats over the pail
they must use for a chamber pot
in his cabin in the woods.
He listens to the trickle of her urine
in the dark, sees her teeth flash,
smiling. Now
when she stands she is a pale small acre
and the black triangle of hair at his eye level
darker than the dark that surrounds them.
Sweet halo of adulterous night.
He opens his arms to her, white and fleshy, says something
in German. Of course it’s their native language:
as babies their mothers each cradled their sweet tallow heads
singing Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf. Shadows
what the sun would mark.
She gives herself to him, that night and forever after.
Across murderous oceans
an endless self-erosion that penetrated from beyond.
She gives herself to him and decades after, an old man,
he has only to close his dark large lustrous eyes
to see nothing.

The innocuous, the destroyer.


The MASTER lectures on concealment and truth.
The POET coughs badly in the night of his work detail
and the PLAGIARIST sits smiling
at the edge of his daughter’s bed, watching her sleep.
The MASTER writes being on the board in yellow chalk
with a small b. HANNAH smokes
in a café somewhere, gesticulating, arguing
with her first husband. The animals hold their breath.
They are waiting to drop out of trees
and into holes. They are waiting for the desert-jungle.
For Lake Michigan to drain away, revealing
mourning accomplished. I eat a sandwich.
The MASTER eats a sandwich.
The POET likes sandwiches.
The PLAGIARIST is starving.
Feed a cold, starve a fever.
Starve the fever of the wave.
HANNAH as a very young girl, skipping her way to school.
The MASTER was an altar boy.
The POET is still the POET.
The PLAGIARIST mounts the barricades and urges the mob
to murder his stepfather, the COMMANDANT.
The COMMANDANT and his whores
dance across a tabletop in the moonlight,
scattering the figurines of the civilian population.
Tanned and resting his big flaccid cock on the table’s edge.
In a cloud of invisible smoke
from the bones of dinosaurs
the COMMANDANT is serviced by women in the masks of animals,
with heads like donkeys, elephants, armadillos, and owls.
Ontic thought hops from head to head
like matches taking flame,
shabby heart of Shabbat lights
a winter in every week.
It takes many weeks to do the work of the wave
and the COMMANDANT’s eyes cross when he comes.

A rapture life.
400 parts per million.
The world eats the earth, the earth eats the world.


The past tucked neatly inside the present, like the strip of paper in a fortune cookie. The past we repeat, neither as tragedy nor as farce but as plagiarism. I claim those times as my own. As Marcel painstakingly reconstructs his own fatal naivete, his only possibility for grasping time. In something as cheap as a cookie the whole past can be folded and come rising up again in the body like a wave. Like the paper wrapper on a straw coiled down and expanded by water, snake of the world on the formica table, expanding. Towering brimful to the top of my skull. To the tip of a pyramid of skulls. Who foresaw the wave. Who named the promised land. Who came to the brink of that land and rallied the troops, who killed their way in, while he watched from the mountaintop, wavering in extreme old age, remembering. You must not see My face. Who died, landless. Broken under the wave or atop it, either way a function of its structure, a soliton. One half of totalitarianism is terror. The other half is the police. They arrest the mind in its flight and send it reeling. Many blue arms, arbitrary. Many games of blindman’s buff, many many room 101s. HANNAH sent reeling into the arms of the MASTER and out again, a tango that spins her out, far out, out of her very language. Wordless and worldless. Hokusai’s wave hovers over her left shoulder. Far into the night, over the heavy metal desks of mid-century, she writes. While the MASTER hunkers in his hut, smooths his mustache, licks his thumb, turns the page.

sneering the POET’s pasarán, his peace
to the cottages!


If she sat for a while in the overperfumed parlor of the nineteenth century, watchful with the MASTER’s corpse, the MASTER as corpse. Two candles set at his head, throwing shadows. Creepy. If later we discover her upstairs in her room, in her diasporic house, writing between four walls.

A camera has to show you things. DAISY can only show herself:

Weep for courtesy but
do not believe I
witness, I am masked
and dried like ink

by sand, planned
economies, a nostalgia
for them, plans.
Sometimes I crouch

low, take shelter
in doorframes
book passage
on a plane falling

from the sky: Mister,
you shook me, I spun
the records, my parents understood
loneliness and tried

for a while not to live
apart, then: death
came, a good citizen
needs a man

to call you to tell
him I don’t need you
any more. Finches
and other tiny birds

they follow one another
like sparrows in a cloud:
Mister, I am alive
in time that you’ve forgotten

that you put away:
MASTER, I am in a dress,
I write to your evening
but will not stay.


HANNAH in the garden in the cool of the evening, alone:

Don’t get too mythopoetic about it. There must be place names and contingencies. There has to be a margin for the reader. Her fantasy. There has to be a sense of assembly—mobilization. Gradually you come to participate in the story, your story. That’s why I must be a woman. There are babies purpling the landscape, making it tender. There are special effects to help us see the methane, the haze, premonitory of the wave. There are capital letters used sparingly, there is caressing of nouns. I communicate to myself the terror. I imagine life.

“There is such a thing as a basic gratitude for everything that is as it is; for what has been given and was not, could not be, made; for things that are physei and not nomō.”

Could I predict the wave from the postwar eddy of culture? Redolent re: doubt. From the last closed century?

“I said that there was no possibility of resistance, but there existed the possibility of doing nothing.”

Possible in this garden in the desert of carbon, in the jungle of capital.


I wish to say a word for middle age, for the heyday in the blood tamed and cooling, for carbon blowing midway to disaster on Mauna Loa, for the heart of heartlessness. I wish to say that midway through our life’s journey we have misplaced literacy and the way. For a while they carried us, those characters, the survivors. We discovered with them the island. We discovered the conspiracy against boredom and acedia riding a secret submarine. GO: Crusoe // We say was / “Rescued.” We learned how to live together, conspiring. The first two or two-and-a-half seasons were great before the whole thing devolved into half-assed mystical bullshit. So unnecessary. There is nothing more mystical than a plane crash. There is nothing more mystical than unmarked cans of food. There is nothing more mysterious than smooth flesh and a wrinkled brow, afraid of posing questions.

A child is born and the blindfold slips off. Repeat the steps of the dance.

The POET goes blindfold to the precipice and the PLAGIARIST guides his tremulous feet down and down and down.

every breath you take, carbon

every word you say, carbon


In ’68? Not bloody likely.

In the thousand-year Reich? It will end with tears.

In the twilight of the Holocene and the wave’s false dawn?

The emigrant accused her: אין בה אפילו שמץ של אהבת ישראל
No shred of love for her people, the replicants we are.

She owns the free fall: “I merely belong to them.” Asking:

Whose we?
Whose all?
Whose German?
Whose Jews?


The MASTER’s is a pale spreading body that he tries not to notice in the mirror: only his face when his mustache needs trimming. But in his bath it’s hard to ignore that expanse of livid, bulging flesh. The curve of the belly with its many individual black and white hairs. The curl of his penis adhering to one thigh or the other. The joints where the small aches fester: knees, ankles, the massive stub of his big right toe. Under sedentary fat long muscles roll, especially in the arms that still like to swing an axe. The bald crest of the head habitually concealed by an Alemannic cap—the MASTER’s kippah, the skull’s foreskin. Though his wife grinds her teeth in her sleep when she dreams them, the feral innocent faces, the hooked noses, the Zionists more German than the Germans, more Greek than the MASTER or she. What is German in this body from which the stink of mortality will not be washed away? Though hours pass in water passing from hot to tepid to cold, floating grease. The MASTER stands resolute dripping from chin and fingertips and penis and scrotum. He wraps a towel around his middle and sticks his pipe in his mouth. It’s time for a little postwar snack, a dish of sausages and a few herring. The MASTER’s wife is smashing plates downstairs so he’ll linger here for a bit longer buffing his buttocks dry, admiring without intention his long heavy flanks in the mirror, his sunken chest, avoiding his own eyes. From somewhere below a short sharp shock of a howl, a whipped dog’s cry. As smoke from the chimney of his mouth fills the smallest room of his house, lightens it like a balloon, and carries him away.


In elegance: un ritorno.
Bach Brandenburg Concerto no. 3
2nd movement, allegro


I brought what is most yours closer. Right of return. For your averted gaze awakens intimacy from afar.

Time is oddly mysterious. Can we feel it: gratitude for what has become of us.

I said Du. Love plants everything. Breaks enframing of the world.

I have her fidelity to thank, my wife.

I spoke of “beauty.” Who may reach into the depths of terror, but lovers?

I need her love. I need your love. Its Phrygian cadence.

(Silent friendship.)

A fair copy of our conversation on the forest paths. In the shadow of the castle. That beauty may unite extreme opposites, intimately.

(A sort of musical semicolon.)

The gift of return and the taking stock of twenty-five years keep intruding on my thoughts, in which, far across the sea, you are near and present, thinking yourself here toward those dearest to you and toward all the things that belong with you.

I say it again: Du. Beauty is a form of terror as the poet said. The tortuous intimacy of towers. The depths of ordinary life from which the angels, sharklike, strike.

Her love, which bore everything in silence through the years. Love needs love.

Hannah, when the century tears at you furiously, think of the straight firs towering up before us, into the light air of midday in the winter mountains. Everywhere the colors. The other turns his back.

Your gaze, shy fraulein, shy fraulein…!



From city heights the sleeper descends, down the elevator, down the subway stairs, down into bedrock and through, down into the muffled blackness of the earth that imperceptibly at first and then suddenly lightens, whitens into cloud’s furze, sun’s halo, the scored layers of blue sky below which the dimpled hills and valleys of the forest tumble and roll.

HANNAH digs down to him through the scored layers of sky in her dream. Down and down, membrane after membrane, to the cabin roof. She would cut a hole in that roof, a skylight to admit the sky’s qualities, to open the lid of thought in the roof of the cabin on the side of the mountain in the heart of the forest. Light finds the visitor’s registry and blows through the history of names. The MASTER sits at a plain deal table, writing. If he looked up he would see HANNAH floating there like a jellyfish not six inches above his head, motiveless, adopting as her own the subtle movements of the air stirred by the sterile heat of a single bulb. He does not look up. His moving hand and pentip leave a trail to dazzle her retinas, trace a wake. The fox wears no fur. The jellyfish, all skirts, in her inscrutable floating life, rotating, umbilical. Rooted to this cabin, spiracle, a mote in the vast cyanotic eye of the forest. Calling: look up. Vocational. Calling: full stop squatting on top of his head. The MASTER goes on writing. HANNAH’s eyes follow the track of her outstretched arms, down to the earth working in the track of turning treads, filled in behind by corpses, up again to the measuring unsheltered given of being, the home of gods and satellites, our new politics, the steel horizon, the sky.