Issue 9: John Latta


Out with the dog. Dusk.

Rake of headlights against hedges,

end of day noises, a

hammer’s final big ritardando, its

clang of being flung into

toolbox. ‘Traceries sufficient to other’s

need’ is how Olson put

it, a kind of domestic

engineering, a rock, finger-rubbed.

Beyond the tidy neighborhood: a

sergeant, thirty-one, brought up

out of Iraq in a

bag. The home address, ‘American

Samoa,’ stacked jerry cans, WWII-

era airstrip. Empire makes its

own refuse, and eats it.


A piecemeal story. ‘Fugue-tongue

in crotch-din. Thigh-light.’

Some days all language is

just a muster of palliatives

against the violence of truth,

the way a man in

the laundromat topples a mountainous

load into the dryer and

spells it out for everybody:


A perfect story. Big aperçu

in run-off. The water-

cuts ducks make in pond-

scum etch out a faint

diminuendo and swerve, hieroglyphic. A

scrupulous vocabulary of leaving out.


‘The musickracket / of all ownership’

is how Olson puts it,

the scuff and connivance of

things, big endless rehearsals of

object-counting to no account.

Put cup in the cupboard.

Knife in drawer. The exterior

smear captured through the draperies,

out in the mestizo tempo

and slurry of the uncodified

night. Out where the conjecturalist’s

need to say something apt

bottoms out in random off-

gradient stitchery, and the unsedimented

refuse of daily rhythm grinds

its own plenary stochastic truck.


‘And so back to Halicarnassus—

bust’d-up port of brine-

sprung breezes.’ So Herodotus, one

thinks. To compile the savage

notes, to lop off digress

and lurch-step, stories sprung

of ‘daintie-mouthde dronkardes,’ never

the ablest informants. To taut

up the fact-patterns, and

erect a kind of warren-

slotted deep municipality, something to

gull and delude the masses,

that man-rabbitry, epically superfoetant

with stories—some furred, some 

naked and roseate and barely

formed, some inconceivable, or ‘modern.’

John Latta’s first collection, Rubbing Torsos, appeared in 1979 (Ithaca House). His most recent is Breeze, winner of the 2003 Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry, and available from University of Notre Dame Press. Recent poems found in Lana Turner, Chicago Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Zoland Poetry, OR, Jacket, Notre Dame Review, and Critical Quarterly. He writes regularly at Isola di Rifiuti.