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Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero


Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero by Brooks Haxton
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The critically acclaimed poet and translator Brooks Haxton embraces life, from our naked beginnings to the first signs of middle age and beyond, in this inviting collection of poems. The book opens with the dramatic birth of twins, and speaks in the intimate voice of a husband, father, and poet. Diverse products of the imagination pass through Haxton’s generous mind—the mysterious number zero, Milton’s “Lycidas,” nuclear technology—even as he captures the humor and pathos of the everyday. In these brief, exquisite lyrics, meditations, and short stories in verse, he immerses his reader in the heat of teenage rivalry and friendship, the tender comedy of sex, and the amazements of the natural world. Here, from a book indelible in its language and feeling, are the last few lines:

My daughters my twin girls say Ba for bird
for book for bottle—Ba: in Egypt,
bird with a human head, the soul.
They wake and wake their mother. Ba!
They point into the dark. Ba, Ba! they say,
and back to nursing weary in her arms.

From the Hardcover edition.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; June 2009
96 pages; ISBN 9780307488565
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero
Author: Brooks Haxton
Author’s Bio

Son of a Maori priestess and a Tasmanian pirate,
Brooks Haxton at two was thrown as a human sacrifice
from the gunwale of a careening brig into a typhoon.
Becalmed for forty days, the ship, with all his kin
on board, burst into sudden flame when struck
by an exploding meteorite. The poet, raised
by porpoises and marsupial wolves, grew to serve
as a young man at Gallipoli, where in a detachment
taking ninety-nine percent casualties he discovered the sestina
with its repeated end-words was especially suited
to his small vocabulary. For his Sestinas Under Fire
Haxton was awarded the Prix de Rome, the Croix de Guerre,
and Nobel Prizes in Literature, Physics, Medicine,
and several of the lesser categories. After brief stints
dancing for Diaghilev in Paris and acting under Stanislavski
in Moscow, he was sought out as a blues musician
by Charley Patton. Sick with fame and riches, he chose
anonymity as author of many of the great blues lyrics.
He was last seen over the Yazoo River east of Itta Bena,
borne in a silken hammock aloft by thousands
of ivory-billed woodpeckers. His poems now surface
through the mail with indecipherable postmarks,
in their folds fresh moultings of young ivory bills,
saffron dust, and legs of golden grasshoppers and bees.

As Far As I Could Tell

After they pulled my wisdom tooth both eyeballs
ached into their moorings. Something with spurs
had lodged behind my eardrum. Dawn came, vague
with codeine and the sound of rain, sheets drenched.
I had to be reminded what this meant.
Francie nudged me, “Brooks, my water broke.”
In the delivery room that afternoon
wrack of childbirth put toothache to shame.
No screams, but Francie sang with it,
a riven octave higher than her speaking voice.
Her blood splashed onto the doctors’ shoes.
Someone we had never met held up our daughter
Miriam by the shanks, terrifyingly pale blue
and cheesy in her varnish, with her arms hung down.
The doctors’ hands pushed into the dough of Francie’s belly
where it had been taut, and shifted down Twin B,
whose head in a loop of cord pinched off the bloodflow
into her brain. Francie, forceps huge,
tearing between her legs, still sang. She pushed,
and beads of sweat stood quivering in her face.
Lillie came out smaller, bluer, wearier.
The doctors handed Miriam to me
to show her mother, while they worked on Lillie
who had made no sound. Francie, not yet stitched,
lay calm, blood trickling into a large pool
on the floor. I held up Miriam, and felt
my toothache throb, the surge inside my chest,
fear building. Codeine made no difference.
Francie shivered. It was raining, nightfall.
I was kissing her, with Miriam
between us in my arms. And Lillie cried.

From the Trade Paperback edition.