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Add This - Hazmat

Written by J.D. McClatchyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by J.D. McClatchy

  • Format: Trade Paperback, 96 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • On Sale: April 6, 2004
  • Price: $15.00
  • ISBN: 978-0-375-70991-3 (0-375-70991-6)


But now that I am used to pain,
Its knuckles in my mouth the same
Today as yesterday, the cause
As clear-obscure as who’s to blame,

A fascination with the flaws
Sets in-the plundered heart, the pause
Between those earnest, oversold
Liberties that took like laws.

What should have been I never told,
Afraid of outbursts you’d withhold.
Why are desires something to share?
I’m shivering, though it isn’t cold.

Beneath your window, I stand and stare.
The planets turn. The trees are bare.
I’ll toss a pebble at the pane,
But softly, knowing you are not there.


at the ruins of a provincial Roman town

So this is the city of love.
I lean on a rail above
Its ruined streets and square
Still wondering how to care
For a studiously unbuilt site
Now walled and roofed with light.
A glider's wing overhead
Eclipses the Nike treads
On a path once freshly swept
Where trader and merchant kept
A guarded company.
As far as the eye can see
The pampered gods had blessed
The temples, the gates, the harvest,
The baths and sacred spring,
Sistrum, beacon, bowstring.
Each man remembered his visit
To the capital's exquisite
Libraries or whores.
The women gossiped more
About the one-legged crow
Found in a portico
Of the forum, an omen
That sluggish priests again
Insisted required prayer.
A son's corpse elsewhere
Was wrapped in a linen shroud.
A distant thundercloud
Mimicked a slumping pine
That tendrils of grape entwined.
Someone kicked a dog.
The orator's catalogue
Prompted worried nods
Over issues soon forgot.
A cock turned on a spit.
A slave felt homesick.
The underclass of scribes
Was saved from envy by pride.
The always invisible legion
Fought what it would become.

. . .

We call it ordinary
Life—banal, wary,
Able to withdraw
From chaos or the law,
Intent on the body's tides
And the mysteries disguised
At the bedside or the hearth,
Where all things come apart.
There must have been a point--
While stone to stone was joined,
All expectation and sweat,
The cautious haste of the outset--
When the city being built,
In its chalky thrust and tilt,
Resembled just for a day
What's now a labeled display,
These relics of the past,
A history recast
As remarkable rubble,
Broken column, muddled
Inscription back when
Only half up, half done.
Now only the ruins are left,
A wall some bricks suggest,
A doorway into nothing,
Last year's scaffolding.
By design the eye is drawn
To something undergone.
A single carving remains
The plunder never claimed,
And no memories of guilt
Can wear upon or thrill
This scarred relief of a man
And woman whom love will strand,
Their faces worn away,
Their heartache underplayed,
Just turning as if to find
Something to put behind
Them, an emptiness
Of uncarved rock, an excess
Of sharp corrosive doubt.

. . .

Now everything's left out
To rain and wind and star,
Nature's repertoire
Of indifference or gloom.
This French blue afternoon,
For instance, how easily
The light falls on debris,
How calmly the valley awaits
Whatever tonight frustrates,
How quickly the small creatures
Scurry from the sunlight's slur,
How closely it all comes to seem
Like details on the table between
Us at dinner yesterday,
Our slab of sandstone laid
With emblems for a meal.
Knife and fork. A deal.
Thistle-prick. Hollow bone.
The olive's flesh and stone.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from Hazmat by J. D. McClatchy Copyright © 2002 by J. D. McClatchy. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.