A lot of things sucked in the 1800s, but literature wasn’t one of them. There was this book by a young woman, Mary Shelley. There was “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”—not technically from the 1800s, true, but 1798 seems close enough. And of course the Americans: Walt Whitman (hallelujah), and Hawthorne (not funny like Flannery O’Connor, but, like O’Connor, the guy knew his way around an allegory), and Poe (still so weirdly timely. I mean, remember last March when Captain Red Hat was talking about the coronavirus while in the company of rich friends hanging out at Mar-a-Lago? If that didn’t remind people of “The Masque of the Red Death,” then I don’t know).
Stephen Crane; you said it.
And this anonymous suicide note in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations—see if it doesn’t distill the Victorian era at least as well as Oscar Wilde: “All this buttoning and unbuttoning.” I read that when I was 17, and I’ve never forgotten.
Poetry wants that exactness and impact, too. And April—National Poetry Month—isn’t too far behind us in the rearview mirror, so here’s a poem. It’s not as chiseled, I know, as “Ozymandias.” Not as whipcrack as Emily Dickinson. But maybe it’s not without its own weird merits anyway:
Why We Have Turkeys
For the record, turkeys don’t gobble. It’s more like a squeaky hinge on a gate
in a wind that won’t stop blowing—
greee-awk, yeee-awk, greee-awk, yeee-awk, all around the neighborhood—
my neighbor keeps two in his yard, and no one knows why.
It could be the sound of belching after swallowing a bugle.
Or the sounds this planet didn’t want
got thrown away, and turkeys are the microphone they landed on.
Maybe each day can be a microphone too,
and the house out of place is your own house.
Your thoughts seem more like habit? Have a turkey.
You haven’t felt wind in your feathers all week? Here’s a bird.
Rob Carney’s new book Facts and Figures is available from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle. Previous books include The Book of Sharks and 88 Maps. His first collection of creative nonfiction, Accidental Gardens, is forthcoming from Stormbird Press.