By: Trevor Ketner
I used to believe we were born, in the collective sense,
from a green cradle suspended between two rivers,
each a blue wall around Eden.
The sound of water
bears me back ceaselessly.
A river could deposit
a continent somewhere it isn’t.
A river flows itself out to the ends,
eats its own
banks to shores,
where a Greek man glistens
in his chariot and drags a ball
of rags lit on fire in circles
from D.C to the coast of Japan
where a river with a name I can’t pronounce feeds
the ocean bringing pieces of Japan closer
to pieces of California.
Which is a way of saying the land
draws itself to itself —
down and away.
Trevor is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Minnesota. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets 2015, The Adroit Journal, The Offing, The Rumpus, cream city review, The Journal, Bayou Magazine, Thrush Poetry Journal, Sycamore Review and elsewhere. Recently he received the 2014 Gesell Award in Poetry and was a finalist for the 2014 MARY Editors' Prize and the 2013 Wabash Prize for Poetry. He serves as a poetry reader for Slice Magazine, and is the marketing assistant for Graywolf Press.
Q: “Erode” seems to take on the whole of human history in such a compact, yet literally eroded poem in terms of format. Your decision to use three major points of reference - the Biblical beginning, the Greek mythos, and a tumultuous present-day - strike me as purposeful. I wonder how you came to choose these points, and if there is a greater significance to the idea that we whittle down history to fit our preconceived notions of the world?
A: “Erode” is, or at least over time has become, a poem about histories, plural because I think there are multiple kinds of history. There are manifold personal and societal histories—family histories, relationship histories, histories of religion and science and cities, nations, civilizations, geological histories. I’ve lately been interested in the ways these histories can overlap and influence each other, build on or tear down each other so this poem and its allusions came out of that exploration a bit. I was raised in a religious household and studied philosophy and myth in college. There’s even a nod in the second stanza to Fitzgerald’s ending for The Great Gatsby. So much of what has gotten me to where I find myself today (an openly queer, nonreligious poet and writer) is about my intellectual history influencing my personal history. So in essence all of my histories bleed together at a certain point. In that bleeding though, some things often erode, find themselves wasting away or changed by time. There’s revisionism, there’s forgetfulness, there’s repression. It’s important to acknowledge that history qua history is not truth, but a constructed narrative that, as we find ourselves here standing at one end of it looking back at the other end, it becomes distorted in our looking, like the horizon always seen but escaping into the distance.