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This poem is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.

Clouds and Privilege
Two Poems
Nyla Matuk

Watching the guard at the Viennese design museum,
his unknowing gathering, rising. He asks us where we are from, really.
We might have asked the same, but didn’t.
We may seem a system of particles, familiar
from afar. Yet we’re strange when you take a closer look,
like his trompe l’oeil ingress. He paces as a hover of droplets drops
the whole spectrum of light and electric energy down on us.
Our thoughts hold, with headroom. Once lost to us, they let us get lost, too.
Everything in the gallery is finely developed but trepidatious.
The objective of the game is not to speak
each other into existence, in any part.
Not to advance as a universal symbol
or presage bad times ahead. These lucid corridors lead
to a false infinity – certainty. Even a history of fog.
They are historic, tragedies pre-arranged. Forgettable,
the fog of an afternoon long ago at a ballpark, the candy floss of Sunday,
of a bath and a Disney show. Beams of sunshine
direct consciousness toward the will to be perplexed.
Unknowing is the product of
what yields power over us, the capricious clap
of sudden activity. ‘Where are you from?’ is dread,
finally revealed, dislike that they don’t recognize us,
that dislike being unpleasant. He’s the opposite of shimmering,
floating between rooms. He sits uncomfortably
in this unknown storm, a cage offering no relief. He judges and fears
unknowable self and others, and thinks everyone unpredictable,
though this is what might help us all escape. The proper application
of irony is a bridge too far.
And take that Chicago novelist who wants to know where
we are from, because he thinks we are like him:
we are not like either one of them. Not like the security guard who hates us,
in all our mystery. Is our mystery, to the novelist, our wonder?
Our affinity with these jars from Cathay? And is he prepared to like us
if we answer his question and conform to his ideal – that is, himself?
We’ll never know. We do not choose to be pinned like butterflies to boards.
Do they want to know where we’re from in order to confirm
our strangeness, our distant rumble of a bottled atmosphere,
our state in nature, our enigma, a multivalent affect,
a jewelry box crammed with costume brooches of flowers,
poodles, and Easter baskets? In order to give themselves
the discount of a given quantity in a thundering, dangerous location?
They’re doomed to wander from vestibule to atrium


Tonight, they’re fashioning currency with filigree
of rococo swans in green and plum,
   Polynesian plumage, carnelian, and hibiscus.
Night and labour and limitless mimesis. Its license
senses weakness. It will be used to kill.
   What was once public is now private;
outside a hedged garden unseen under hidden lock and key,
   a dozen TVs flicker at the commons while
      winter continues like a mid-century miniseries.
Whatever the ghostly last episode, the production affects the lives of millions,
   but never us, always them in their impressive bravery, their children
sleeping by the squawk of the night radio, the bar crowd downstairs.
   As if everything was easily forgettable, coats are hung up for the night
without consequence, a bourgeoisie of calling in dead.
   An army and bureaucracy for others, not us. The bank tower’s
blank mirrors stare at the tea-rose dusk, romance unending worth. A revered river of light.
   There is no mandate for a god who stands outside the trade in illusion.
Cars continue on that ring road outside town, an unceasing ocean,
   heard but not seen. Never seen.

This poem is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
Further Reading: - Nyla Matuk More Poems by... (2) Interview by... (1)
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