Capacity, the extraordinary new collection from the award-winning poet James McMichael, deliberates an earth that supplies what people need to live. Land, water, sky, food, shelter, thought, talk, sex―each is addressed at the pace of someone dense with wonder's resistance to take for granted even the smallest or most obvious parts of existence.
Capacity is a 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Poetry.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
James McMichael is the author of five books of poetry, including The World at Large: New and Selected Poems, 1971–1996. Among his awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers' Award, and the Shelley Memorial Prize.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE BRITISH COUNTRYSIDE IN PICTURES
The frontispiece fixes as
a man whose
livelihood is the grass. As he had
before the take and
he plies away in the sun.
Storefront awnings slope into the square.
Among the occupied,
only the vendors are without hats.
sweet and full of pickle are the hooked gibbets of
beef above the pens.
The plate after
"Tractors on Parade" is untitled.
Where the village high street’s
walls converge at the far end,
a motor-car has entered and parked.
Pictured empty in another,
the new Great West Road has working
fields to either side. In the one format,
affordable and bound print by print,
grass advances as a factor
never to be run out of by a
people at home.
The farmer is to be seen as having at last put
Nature was on its
own side always. Necessary
against nature sometimes to forbear from making
more mouths to feed.
With the poorest twelfth begetting
half the nation,
the interests of soil and
race were served
by the politics of the straight furrow.
In the countryside
alone it was that one was spared meeting
the less right sort of girl.
It had become at last what only
even if they were in one’s midst.
nature had put in place
need and epidemic,
nature had played out
Of those invisible millions who were gone,
nothing was missing.
Nothing was missing
for them. There without need,
they were the revenant in England’s garden,
they were the ones whose absence is their sign.
Of the unperceived who keep
safehold where they hide,
vision is a forgetting.
The British were those whom nature let bring home
as graveclothes to the ones it starved
arboreal and floral plantings.
England was green.
ill-matched to many their likely
allotments of soil.
Across the range of them from
kitchen-gardens to pleasance,
these were not brandished. They were kept up.
While there were throwback native
cottagers who grew potatoes,
a weekly show on
gardening was aired.
All crystal sets picked up the BBC.
Because those grounds least frequented
were grounds where need was least,
avail was a garden if
no one was there.
The walled reserve was model.
Its expert and only
viewers were staff.
What showed above the fine clean tilth was
From its abounding
beds each day,
staff saw to it
by the garden’s having made an
excess of nature,
nature was trumped.
Need had been made less natural.
Replaced was the old
productive ideal that the useful
good was desired.
The desired good was
useful in the new ideal.
Things become useless in the hoarding of them.
Needed for a nation’s
surfeit of goods were buyers
primed by their wanting. Desire’s
was the person in love.
An appetite need not slacken if what one
craves is the scarce,
and there is but the one beloved
feeds so on itself
as being able
never to have one’s fill of someone prized.
They had become friends.
It would not have
occurred to him that she did not
love him. Of
course she did.
Friends love one another.
It began to explain his finding now that
along with love she also
gives him desire. Under something the
sway of which is undue,
in love with her,
he learns that he has had cleared
He practices his absence
as the stilled reflecting surface of its pool.
With features of her person in his
to what is not its
own anymore in wanting
the self is sent
back by the other.
Far enough beyond
reason already is any
one such transport. Improbable
that with the same conclusive keenness
she should want him.
He looks for cues that
he too had given
They are not there.
There is the coming
war to think of as well.
With conscription on its way,
better to be no more than
genial with her for now.
That is why it is her
suitcases he reaches for when he
meets her at the St Pancras train.
Right from the start he is off ahead of her
efficiently down the platform.
Against him from behind,
her fingers have it in them
that she will have to break away
too soon again for her return north.
Out of her greeting hand on his
back he walks.
For no longer than withdrawal
her touch had been there.
Wondering at its light
he does not mistake its bidding. What
he can from this time on want
for her. There can be no
help for them now since what
she wants is him.
bearable by desire is one’s not being able to
withstand the desired.
The hurried meetings follow.
Their wanting one another comes to take on
greed as its base.
From the next moment between them
least likely to be surpassed
away from one another into their days away
It will be weeks.
To be with her
through them instead. If they could be already
beyond the war and
they might have lives.
Whole patches of days would have to be
Rote would help them through.
Given ordinary times to
lift her from,
have her lift him,
he would have come to
preside with her over their chances. Around them
everywhere was the petition that
dailiness might hold its gracious own.
Toward it came
sandbags on the corner pavements.
Post office pillar-boxes were rigged with
The mask itself smelled of rubber. What one saw
first through its eyeshield was one’s own
Leaflets from the Lord Privy
Seal’s Office were
"Evacuation: Why and How"
and "If the Invader Comes."
So the enemy might
lose themselves in their confusion, the stations’
signposts came down. There were now
barrage balloons overhead
The Anderson shelter was
It needed a garden to be sunk in.
Two million more acres were to come under the plough.
Collected for their great trek
out of the city,
the children walked
"crocodile" to the trains,
a loudspeaker telling them,
"Don’t play with the doors and
windows, if you don’t mind, thank you."
Villages and towns were to accept a number
equal to their populations.
Each child had a pinned label.
Excerpted from Capacity by James McMichael.
Copyright 2006 by James McMichael.
Published in edition, 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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