National Poetry Month Day 22: “Terra Incognita” by David Roderick


Welcome to The Rumpus’s National Poetry Month project. We’ll be running a new poem from a different poet each day for the month of April.

Terra Incognita

Counting scars of gum on the stairs down
from the Dome I briefly felt joy

even though I’d just read, in the World or Times,
that some of my fellow citizens

led men to warehouses or sites lost
in chalk republics, where they asked questions

in English and then, when they couldn’t grasp
the answers, zapped brain, skin, and bones

to kingdom come. While I drank like a lush
it had happened. While I washed down

a pastry with a divine swipe of cheese inside.
My hunger deepened in rundown

churches and cabs. Spooning soup and eyeing
the news I thought being an American

isn’t like being from one of the old nations—
it’s not a gift exactly, but it’s also

not something to take lightly or give away.
I pictured dawn drawing over it,

the sun hammering its domes. The campaigns
were ramping up, yet here I was shaking

salt on my fries, watching boys loop string
around a heron’s neck. Mostly I got what I wanted,

forgot what I was, until a driver in dark glasses
turned to me and said, “Your people,

whoever they are, aren’t ready for a woman president,
let alone a black.” I flogged myself

for days until stomping up Vesuvius
where I sucked deep the fog that still smelled like ash.

Then I walked down again, thinking about all
those faces in the city below—what a rotten fate

for a single blast’s gas to settle on
that populace, to crumple like paper all its lungs.

-David Roderick

If you like what the Rumpus is doing for National Poetry Month, you’ll probably like this multimedia anthology of original poems we’ve run at The Rumpus over the last three years. Available only for iPad. Check it out!

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →