Cleveland State University Poetry Center

To See The Earthpoems by Philip Metres

"Set in landscapes ranging from Russia to Kentucky, from Ephesus to the Murder Capital of the World (that's Gary, Indiana!), from Cleveland to Hiroshima, Philip Metres's superb poems explore the confusion and complexities that ordinary people face in talking to one another - in the slippery language of everyday speech, or across the secured borders of grammar and history. Words are not abstractions to Metres - they're as physical as fifty women making PEACE with their bodies, as mysterious as a bat soaring to unheard music, as illuminating as an ash tree 'burning into its name.' These poems echo in the mind long after the book is closed." -- Maura Stanton

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from Yuri Gagarin’s Spaceship

No detailed pictures of Soviet space ships were ever released: thus, this artist’s

conception on the Jell-O box is pure conjecture: it looks like a telescope,

half-collapsed, eye-windowed, just a soup can nesting inside a soup can, Warhol meets Martryoshka Doll . . .

. . . on the axis of a single finger, the pen still needs the dumb thumb to guide it

through white space, so starved of oxygen it begins to spot black. Yuri, I’ve yet to see

. . . your spaceship, your mythic, your extra -ordinary frame outside the frame of things

from which everything suddenly appears as it is, beyond death, how you see us now, after your plane gave birth to shrapnel and flame . . . .

 


 

To See the Earth navigates the increasingly turbulent waters of a globalized world—from Moscow to Chicago, from Philadelphia to Ramallah. In poems haunted by Anna Akhmatova, Robert Lowell, and Lev Rubinstein, Metres renders in vivid language what Fredric Jameson called “cognitive mapping”—a kind of “situational representation on the part of the individual subject to the vaster and properly unrepresentable totality.” To See the Earth travels to Russia, memorializes immigrant Arab American family life in a Brooklyn brownstone, witnesses to the violence visited upon people both at home and abroad, and carves out of such losses images of hope—the birthing not of a terrible beauty, but of the “dreaming disarmed body.”

 


 

Yuri Gagarin's Spaceship

No detailed pictures of Soviet space
ships were ever released: thus, this artist's

conception on the Jell-O box is pure
conjecture: it looks like a telescope,

half-collapsed, eye-windowed, just a soup can
nesting inside a soup can, Warhol

meets Matryoshka Doll. It's alright, Mama,
I'm only flying in my umwelt, outside

of which there is no breathing. The world
is its own best representation:

Sputnik, Vostok, Soyuz, the troubled
space station Mir-in metallic skin, I can't make out

the miners digging coal for spaceship steel
I only imagine to see the earth

from. What's this blue--violet--absolute
block? Traveler, wherever you flee, there

you are. Columbus of Cosmos, you discovered
drops of water float inside "like butterflies,"

while your Vostok hurtled eighteen thousand miles
per hour. No pup tent you slept one year in,

snuggling the airstrip's Whitmanic line,
like Lowell on Allen Tate's Tennessee lawn--

beyond the gravity well, you orbited
the globe like an eyeball shucked from its socket,

shedding your father's cabinets and bricks,
your mother's milk. Traveler, Eastward, Union.

It's a small capsule you are swallowed in.
The globe's a ball we spin while standing

still. On the axis of a single finger,
the pen still needs the dumb thumb to guide it

through white space, so starved of oxygen
it begins to spot black. Yuri, I've yet to see

your spaceship, your mythic, your extra
-ordinary frame outside the frame of things

from which everything suddenly appears
as it is, beyond death, how you see us

now, after your plane gave birth to shrapnel
and flame...I cradle a key-chain globe, eye-

sized. Like Baba Yaga's hut, it sprouts hidden
chicken legs when it hears the secret rhyme,

it holds at least thirty rooms, throat gardens,
neck of the words, fountains of wine.

 


 


“Set in landscapes ranging from Russia to Kentucky, from Ephesus to the Murder Capital of the World (that’s Gary, Indiana!), from Cleveland to Hiroshima, Philip Metres’s superb poems explore the confusion and complexities that ordinary people face in talking to one another—in the slippery language of everyday speech, or across the secured borders of grammar and history. Words are not abstractions to Metres—they’re as physical as fifty women making PEACE with their bodies, as mysterious as a bat soaring to unheard music, as illuminating as an ash tree ‘burning into its name.’ These poems echo in the mind long after the book is closed.”
—Maura Stanton

“Do our voyages, Auden once asked, ‘still promise the Juster Life?’ Too many of us would answer this question in the negative—not so Philip Metres. His poems seek above all to traverse borders, not merely those between nations and cultures but also—and most importantly—between the personal and the political. With a sure command of craft, which he displays in abundance, Metres plays for high stakes. To See the Earth is a debut of unusual distinction.”
—David Wojahn

About the Author:
Philip Metres is the author of Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941, as well as the translator, from the Russian, of Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein and A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky. His work has also appeared in Best American Poetry, New England Review, and Tin House. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.