“O Pen the State/open the say/ate the stated,” a Side A Poem by Tony Mancus

O Pen the State/open the say/ate the stated

We are always one link from disaster 
blinking the clouds top 
the mountains like thought 
bubbles from the earth 
with a silhouette of a person 
crossing above the road 
some wearing a reality 
backdrop/terminus and 
beginning/eventually 
the body forgets how to swallow 

the mirror in every eye 
shaving 
reality drops 
behind its work zone sign 
blinking cream true 
what roots we bury 
do runners believe 
as they edge along the fields 
geese roped to the sky 
a pitch toward 
its beginning and terminus 

the body crosses above 
a freeway hovering not 
walking really clouds drop 
back from themselves 
capping the disappearance 
from which version 
of the mountainous earth 
no longer thinking in pale 
and paler puffs above ground 
below how we run together 

through this distant setting 
toward any ending 
be it work in the dirt 
in all our lungs languages 
a rising felt when we quieted 
the water tanks 
with our guns full and them 
air filled things in our chest 
cavities it has become 
morning a cave 
loud against all this 

judgement of places 
and shapes the trains 
bowl past us 
little wheels in their minds 
heaving through time 
stop another setting 
for a storm a castle for 
the curves we swear our bodies 
won’t inhabit when empty 
the dead trees shadow 
and reappear 
against the mountain 
lumber sign 
a sigh in smoke 
and the shape of planks 

of many buildings 
us heaving back against 
the wood in piles like it’s 
simply a backdrop 
not something once
living we play our parts 
again the shadow of a form 
crossing above us 
and the dirt of 
our bodies below

A blooming of night jasmine in your sinus cavity 
this is what’s wrong with America a series of 
cracks in the pavement and the pavement itself 
ghosts don’t recognize letters or names or the smells 
associated with the sounds our bodies make 
a bruise in the night doesn’t look like anything 
aside from crying when the rent is due we put 
our checks in our mouths and ask forgiveness 
the later hours are not going to remember what 
penance was paid to flowers or how another 
season arrived wearing its shawl of rain or lack 
calling each form by its diminutive each hole 
by the shape needed to conduct its completion 
a symphony of unnamable things in our periphery 
you can almost see your way through a tunnel 
before the structure gives up

The pain that you thought was owed or you owned 
or is coming should be worn draped over the edges 
is there in others in you is there already this world 
wait and it will be gone

When we wear our grief gowns and hair in mats 
and the dirt in our shoes files it’s grievances for 
our feet being atop it 

when we swear our allegiances to the weather 
inside the walls we draw and color in with fingers 
so trembly they look like shadows

What whirled in the background was not an engine 
was the end of something (a smoke) was the idea 
of ‘being’ brought into the past and then nearly 
forgotten how the mountain took itself out a while 
with the water coursing through it—what the course 
itself made and became—another word entire—who 
says valley and looks to see the parts that are there 
and not what isn’t 

When we share the same experience with what 
resemble others I am not imprinted with the hands 
they halve the broken lines I swear if my wife disappears 
I’ll die too and the way this happens is with time or if 
I die too she’ll disappear from me but the mind 
stings itself with possible turns that shouldn’t ever 
be taken and how we try to sleep through the unknown 
things we’re courting counting the sheep of our days 
until they’ve reached the final letter in the final number 

It’s not despair to know what might be coming but the world 
outside mirrors the misspelled calm within. C writes about 
pulling two pieces of what’s shattered together and who 
knows what might stick to your skin. Shan talks of the virus 
as glitter in the lungs from something she read and when 
you breathe we all breathe it’s endless until it isn’t 

Aside in predictive middle grounding
We can go anywhere and you 
get the money from us now 
we will get there to be a good 
night to be there in a few 
days so I’ll be back home in 
a little while I can see you 
later on this afternoon I’ll be 
home soon as y’all get there 
thanks again I’ll talk y’all
tomorrow I’ll see you soon 
I’ll be sure y’all can probably 
come back in the next couple 
minutes or so I’ll call y’all when 
y’all are careful love love and 
love love you and love love 
and miss y’all too 

Thoughtcrimes is the size of a bottle 
of wine coming 
settled quickly can’t view anything 
down for the cough cough 
and cough kill us 
some more time 
beginning fruit 
gold and haptic you 
pit the fuse against the fever 
and whatever comes back blown 
is glass or the sand itself

The tight green feeling of possession. What color we set our heads 
round and the noise of noises we make. I press arch and hear 
the rock bellow. I press contour and feel the road shake. 
It’s not that it’s easy to be a fiction, just better than 
the boredom of a life lived already right 
by the time you’ve reached it. 
Some internal mixings. 
You take what you remember 
and wear it around until it breaks. Until 
the bends in what could have happened did and 
you’re another you now. That path quaked to its existential 
collapse. If we say one word so many namy times. What can you 
color all your feelings with. A cut bores its edges past the seam you thought 
was your own edge and so you spill into another room and time does not recede then.  

The peril we say is less if together 
but do not know what it would mean 
apart. So knowing is a kind of faith, 
this. And whatever reality is green 
and tight feeling is agreed upon 
as those things and so we can share 
portions of this world.

How when in a participatory mood the flecks of light become 
our loosest skin, set upon each of us like plunder. 
I’m under the impression someone says 
and we watch the forest floor 
recede from all 
memorials. 
All memory is 
electrical substantiation. No 
one could tell you and difference apart. 
Your final defenses. The streets were aligned with 
the other streets so. And we settle our bodies in them, winking 
toward the supple meat they’ll become in someone 
else’s dreams for us. As we can’t let 
the thought escape before 
it screens. What 
is an essence. 
Flood plain. What is 
a dogma in the slip of a century’s 
discs. From some distant perspective our 
times will not even appear, so who gets busy being 
born and dying. Root factory in the simple floor plan. Misting forms 
among these thrummed house plants. If a seed were to shed 
its compliance. If a mystery were to build a train 
out of circular emotions we would be 
riding our own backs 
to the station. 

Dig into the uncertainty of what love is or 
does or how to make a pattern moan. 
Excitement in the poured milk over eyes
of ranters, rangers. Strange the thigh
plant. How a chicken once and always
is a church to some. In this the mysteries
of reason. I’ve given up on how. 

Mini-interview with Tony Mancus

HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?

TM: I don’t know if I have a good answer for this. Given the way my head works, there are lots of moments that are continually doing their work on me. Seeing the contrast between resorts and tin shacks along Baja California as a teenager, my son saying a pink kinetic sand snowman is probably a ghost, wondering at the construction of Midwinter Day, Jane Miller proclaiming “the I is dead” in a workshop, encountering Etheridge Knight’s work in college, growing up in a small former mining town and living away from that place in cities the rest of my life, hand binding runs of chapbooks, watching the lightning strike scatter/root structure of waterways from a plane window, doom scrolling twitter in bed next to my wife.

HFR: What are you reading?

TM: From the start of the pandemic until about 5 months ago, I had a hard time sitting with anything at all. But I was able to get back to somewhat regular reading recently. I have a tendency to read haphazardly and shuffling between several things. Right now it’s some year-end review stuff, and I just got Shelly Taylor’s new book B-SIDE GIRLS KNOCKIN’ SUGAR IN THE GOURD, and Jen Tynes’s chapbook Mushrooms Yearly Planner, Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest (just finished yesterday), Elisa Gabbert’s The Unreality of Memory, Hanif Abdurraqib’s Go Ahead in the Rain, a book about our assumptions around good learning experiences called Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter, Black Imagination curated by Natasha Marin, and a couple manuscripts from friends. Been trying to sit with narratives more lately.  

HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “O Pen the State/open the say/ate the stated”?

TM: It started as a series of lines that popped into my head when I was driving to work on Route 93. It’s a really nice stretch of road along the front range. There were folks running and construction, someone on an overpass just outside of Boulder looked to be setting pace along the mountains. And then over the next several weeks I’d write into the document after making that drive. I only drove in twice a week and the rest of the time worked from home. It was right before and during the start of the pandemic. I’d take pictures of this one tree whenever I could manage to slow down enough. I think a lot of what’s in it is hung up in the split between perceptions—of value and want, of what’s abstracted from feeling and what’s felt as real and a lot of generalized but very tangible worry.

HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?

TM: I’ve got a couple poetry manuscripts that I’m hacking at—some have been worked and reworked over longer stretches of time than I’d like to admit. Can’t seem to let them go to the dustpile. Getting back to chapbook making with Dan Brady for Barrelhouse. And I’ve returned to the draft materials for a nonfiction book about my uncle that I’m aiming to have a full draft of this coming year. It’s something that I’m terrified of getting wrong but need to get finished so I don’t have a semi-legitimate reason to hate myself. (Not really, but kind of.) Had an idea for an interactive bracket of quotes that would serve as a personality test of sorts, but don’t know if that’ll ever be a thing. Also trying to be a human in the world and a relatively reliable parent and partner and friend.

HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?

TM: The news cycle will likely have folded this under by the time this is up, but a lot of land and homes burned a few days ago just to the east of the stretch of road that started this poem. They’re citing climate change (the Chinook winds were gusting up to 115mph and it had been the second driest 6 month stretch on record) and the expansion of population and housing in the Denver/Boulder metro area into what was formerly open space (Superior had a population of something like 250 in the early 90s and 13,000 people were evacuated from that township during the fires). My wife, Shannon, writes about climate change and narratives and we’re running up against all of the feared things that some folks have been shouting about for decades. She consistently points to the information deficit model as something that we should be working to remedy. It’s based in the assumption that shifting people’s beliefs about topics they are not expert in can be accomplished by directly communicating presenting information and facts. This approach proves inept in the face of people’s beliefs about what they know and what they think they know. What’s more effective is when people craft narratives and experiences that really hit close to home for the folks that need convincing. And I get that the market will wring whatever it can out of the sources that are feeding global warming and we’re on a path that isn’t leading toward real course correction or even effective mitigation, but from the basement where I work and in the home I rarely leave with a 2.5 year old child whose laughter and kindness reinforce some belief in the innate goodness of humans, I can’t help but hope that the pendulum swings back soon (for so many things) and that we reassess everything and come up with a different system. Because the one we’re in is well broken. 

Tony Mancus is the author of a handful of chapbooks, including Apologies (Reality Beach), Bye Sea (Tree Light Books), and City Country (Seattle Review). His first full length collection will be published by The Magnificent Field. He works as an instructional designer, serves as chapbook editor for Barrelhouse, and lives with his wife, son, and cats in Colorado.

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