Beautiful Shirt

Beautiful Shirt

by Donald Revell

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<P>The world that Donald Revell ponders in these poems replete with contrarieties. The same verbal playfulness and prophetic lyricism that made Revell a 1992 Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry and a winner of National Poetry Series, Pushcart, and PEN Center USA West awards are in full force in Beautiful Shirt. Here he traverses the rocky terrain of innocence, memory, disillusion, and salvation in a voice at once haunted and elliptical: "This is the world as I have known it./ It has a soft outline and is easily victimized."</P><P>Juxtaposed within a trio of long, introspective poems are shorter lyrics that push the limits of poetic syntaxes and dictions. In all, Beautiful Shirt searches for the true nature of the self through language unfettered by narrative constraints and conventional conceptual identities.</P>

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819572141
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 01/01/2012
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 67
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

<P>DONALD REVELL was a National Poetry Series Winner in 1982 for his first book of poems, From Abandoned Cities (1983). In 1985 he won a Pushcart Prize. His collection New Dark Ages (Wesleyan 1990) won the PEN Center USA West Award for Poetry. His other honors include a Shestack Prize from American Poetry Review and fellowships from Ingram Merrill Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has also published the Gaza of Winters (1988) and Erasures (Wesleyan 1992).His work has been selected for three editions of Best American Poetry. Until recently he was editor of the Denver Quarterly. He is currently Professor of English at the University of Utah.</P>

Read an Excerpt



In the Beloved's eye or less reliable windowframe, see the exaggerated welcome,
a willingness to become much smaller if only in a boy's hands, to be pushed forward by little hands into the ceremony and cruel fanfare of a boy's attention.

This is the world as I have known it.
It has a soft outline and is easily victimized. It allows too much. It shrinks under even neutral scrutiny and, having been seen once, becomes a toy.
I live alone, am thus a child. I can tell you.

We enter the tiny village with surprise,
having passed through a window or stared too long into loving eyes to credit such unbuilding and pressure, like coming to the real ocean we barely remember to see it broken by red, abrupt divers

surfacing. The silent commercial district,
the toy trees in pencil ranks, greener as they reach the residential grid and its fewer lights, where am I to stand without betraying it all, without destroying the illusion that makes it lovely?


Only begin the stories, deny the dense forward of political cities where Heaven is a private life among big people. Begin innocently.
I made the table large as I could for the rebuilding of many fates.
I put it near the window to retell the invention of small worlds according to a music of no tone.

On the enormous table:
sheet music of summoning adagios.
On the enormous table:
the perfervid love of innocence.
On the enormous table:
the light tools of an occult exchange,
father and lover, boyhood and beloved,
when it is easy to play God.
Hell is a public life among small people.
There is a right kind of innocence,
a communication of the bodiless at the foil edge of homemade lakes,
in the pencil shadow of tiny trees,
in the violet lustre of amnesia,
private in the midst of giants,
pointing to Heaven as toys point to a condom.

Only begin the stories, shared with many.
In the harmless espionage of today,
emptiness is zeal. Only look away to the unpunctuated trainyards between Heaven and Hell, where childhood survives,
where leaves cup water, where time is pendant.
When I look at anything for a long time,
it shrinks down to a toy. An eclipse,
my own shadow, darkens the tabletop.
In that timeless evening: illuminations,
residences, railway lines reaching out to cities they have no intention of reaching.
Spring arrives in trees it will not abandon,
not ever, and when the light returns it chevrons the streets with pencil lines.
Emptiness is zeal, and unbelief ventriloquizes liberal nature.
And before that? I heard the opening measures of a new adagio.
They made me feel that my life was horrible with self-knowledge, sheer size, loneliness.
I kept that music a secret,
hearing it only in the abandoned middle places between home and work,
unending disclosure and revision.
When I listened, time pinned itself down like green felt at the corners of a table which is a placid field worthy of the dream of perfect community, America without travel,
love without interrogation in the harmless, tiny wattage of the lamps.
Everyone lives forever if he keeps his secrets.
The unbuilding and pressure of repetition relent as time lies down with the lion and the railway timetables yellow in the toy station from which none departs as none arrives. They have all disappeared into the middle places. They have all sheltered in the tents of their own shadows,
listening to music that promises privacy without end and many faces,
nothing to know, no size, much company.


Time to forget all lions but the mild lion of the Peaceable Kingdom in the sudden change and consent of a sequestered valley where a son is born and liberal questions as to love's brevity, passion's eclipse, dissolve into quiet rehearsal of the easy hymns of a minor paradise,
no longer afraid of Heaven's secrecy,
Hell's secrecy and disenfranchisement.
There comes a day when you cannot revise your life. It is a beautiful day.
There comes a day when the urge to remain mysterious dies into the communication of tenderness, a guarded township of mortalities. It is a good day.
Forget the lions. Abstractions that are still true, though weightless,
have cleared a table in front of a window,
and the construction begins.
You could do it tonight if you wanted.
If you could become small and bless the eclipse that is your certain death,
the adagio re-echoing forever inside a covered bridge in New England over the consonants of a minor river,
Housatonic or Connecticut,
out of the autumn that will not arrive,
flowing neither upwards or down but settled into a skein of foil that could not drown a soul,
you could do it tonight.
Forget the killing lion as you forget the sharp jewelry of your public life.
Remember the first prayer you were taught: to be forgotten, to be fit for a toy's life,
not wishing to communicate anything,
not wishing past the violet amnesia of holidays and a boy's dependency.
Forgetfulness is where life found my life,
beyond which everything is inhuman,
behind which everything is commerce.


Adagios. Democracy.
The sons that I might have instead of money.
Their hands are the entire sky over the toy town, dark as only innocence,
that perfect destroyer, is dark. The hands place a metal figurine from the 1940s,
a figure-skater with jet black hair,
the flesh of her legs chipped and silvery,
onto the tin foil at the tree-lined edge of town. All the lamps come on.

Why have I chosen privacy over fullness?
Why have I chosen the strait, unmutual loving of a small man whose heart is secrecy and whose citizenship only that of the reformed transient in the waste places he fills from himself alone?
These are the faces beside a sleeping lion:
innocence, the destroyer of wildness;
wildness, the victim of an idea that says virtue is denial, betrayal of the too-full fullness of the world;
the pretty skater featured like flawless ice.

By things deemed weak subverting worldly strong,
destroying the whole network of identities I made by being in love sometimes and by moving from one place to another,
from widowhood to widowhood, deprivation to deprivation, the whole lovely business of America that traffics in revisions of the self and the ocean and the great land mass crushed between them.
America makes everything possible and then deprives you of the ambition because of its sheer size and willingness to accommodate so many versions of yourself that not one of them ever needs be true.
And then I stole a small boy from the sea.

By things deemed weak subverting worldly strong,
seeing the ocean for the first time and seeing it become an obscene joke of divers surfacing.
The boy and I have made a tiny village on the tabletop of the Hudson River School and of my father's clumsy model railroad from the 1940s. We have drawn the curtains.
We are listening to very loud music,
adagio after adagio by Johannes Brahms who wrote, unwittingly,
the only music true for America,
music that refuses melody,
postpones the finale in each note until the whole thing collapses under the burden of its possibilities.

By things deemed weak subverting worldly strong,
I have found a metallic proof that paradise is a small place,
never jagged, flawless in its fields and ice, not ever jagged, never perforated or wrinkled by desire where springtime and the days of perfect skating lie down together with the mild lion,
and where round gestures of innocence need no modification for the bad business of history that limits freedom to the point of mania and makes love impossible.
The pretty skater will not be disturbed.

The consonants of all the water in the world will never resound near this place except as slow, slow music falling backwards into the first years of the Republic when winter and spring were the same season and the killing lion saw the ocean unbroken.

To H


The heavy fleur of the cross-hairs came alive in an airshaft, where it could see well.
That in Aleppo, once, a nation thrived unexhumed, en masse merely,
the embracive shelter.

The airshaft swallows fire.
The airshaft is the faith, comely in the exhalation of so many who there unstrangled a cloud, the survivor exhumed by all who died.

The most beast is beast. Memory takes no refreshment but only a stubble through the massed stars whose constellations starved on peace.


A wine glass out all night overflowed with moths.
The wings balletomaned,
and they were a camp-system.

A more obsessed hand or more accurate would grasp at the nearer thing, the glass a tulip, the system a bulb of poisons. The swarm retires. Domestic pets are loosed again into the backyards, and the mowers resume their insect labors down to the powerlines.

Exposed to air the ointment proved useless.

Highest branches unhealed and bled.
When only fracture is silence only silence is useful, and wings

cure the dead, careful to lay them into tall glasses.
The out-of-doors is glassy poisoning, mother of the last desire to take flight out of pure, of pure hatred of the air. My mother's head is not your head. Glass aviates over the railways, over the electric ropes and Europe killing not America

The camps parch to overlfowing.


I and these panels,
not larger than life but only partially contained, as a landing site or the spindly oxalis is only partially contained in a woman's left-hand body,
I and these panels mount the stair, reaching the city. We are one size.

The caffeine taken from your eyes painted the airplane thus,
in that sky,
daub over daub.
If you must hope, then hope.
If you must die, die.
But don't hope. Do not die.
A lot of corroded images are just hanging there.

In the blackouts (every night this week there have been storms and power-outages, and we have had to travel to other neighborhoods to read or to eat or listen to music)
the dead may leave their message flashing.

We are one size.
A lot of corroded images depict the too many orbits of one day,
a killing tree a cloud at the center a green zero.

I will say this when she leaves but to her left hand only:
do not die.
At the landing sites everywhere on the plateau we mourn the generals of our city.
They were oceans in opposite directions.
As I and these panels mounted the stairs this morning,
wrought-iron uncurved a spindly oxalis where it became smoke and rose still higher.
The afterlife gnawed at its small cage and all the rooftops.


There is no through passage for the rain between dog and dove.

In defense of Breslau a pencil-dot an ant crawled out in sex onto my tongue. Thus,
I was early to the construction site.

The schema bites down, as if the spirit were a passing devastation,
as if distance were not a white thing you could hold literally in hands. I move secessions: lust from hope, hope from acquisition. I walk on cold flies, no passage to warm their wings or vomiting.

In Europe, six typewriters clatter without stop or direction. Did I believe it was a can of soup to be warmed so? Idiomatic being smiles and repaints to the relief of Breslau. I've tried.

The future unacquired turns out impossible. Hilt and animal,
it constructs and distances the actual leafglow. In the Reichstag, didn't he smile into the camera of

Some are better than others, repainting, vomiting. The future condones all that. I am thanking a giant who, wasted yellow by illness, unconscious in his mother's bed, cannot answer.



Part of the cliffs or entire, the undertow stops laterite.
Springs fail if you return. They have a nucleus.

Passing out of the canyon,
one is aware, harshly,
sand is sharp words.
If you return,
naked utility prepares mountainsides open to paroles,
unclean to none.
Sharp were the lakes.
So the cliffs said. So I believe one never to break.


Lambent, the double meaning out of the river's shank is not the river needed.
It was empty.
The shank unflowers,
and I remember none.

Faith makes men into scavengers.
In the weak circles of increasing years,
they come to rest in a field of mud.
At the center a farmhouse, at the center a small bed soiled sideways and unmade, at the center a cup without a handle.
Animals remember all.
Their pathos drives us into the trees.
The park is varnished for April.
They have all gone, the citizens,
and we are free to harvest the whole franchise backwards, the whole way.
Money speaks for the first time,
actual words, a stammer.
The phonograph pulls back the bedsheets.
The museum

Trust is a dog. I am going to the movies. You are shoplifting.
Filled with air,
open to the air,
green bottles squadron and betray the western skyline.
Nobody comes home in May.


Corner to notgarden, where the water jets out of pageant, into the alarm,
I found a death. I found on my right arm a sunny upland.

Nearest is whitest.
A boat aground in the tall weeds swarms with cats, and no need to chase them. Their kittens sleep in a cage with starlings,
no need to translate.

Ungardened in the jet of water,
sunny uplands arrive onto arms.
After the pageant begins there are no words.
The boats swarm.
They rise with.


She lies beneath a leaf and her yellow transactions cannot end.
The medium city,
jealous of the four hymnals, savages the cold sale. The tour ends, the tour outrages.

What are you, the disappointment?
Savages and new citizens kneel on blankets there.
They bid. They palm the bids.

These simulations die in camera.
My finger inside the next where the sound rises and the river valleys bleed wisteria conceals none.
Who cannot unshare his passion cannot steal.
Who cannot rise to the disappointment cannot change West for East.

This morning, I found the yellow coin of a bee curled dead on the white carpet. When I ate it, I could taste all the wisteria of late April, and a sound rose, the simulation of jealousy concealing nothing.

Four hymnals open merely to know and in the next moment

shut to resist.
I unshare beneath a leaf in the yellow transactions in her.


The last snow is baited.
Where the future shatters it unbends.
The dry bed of entirety,
where the sun bends,

I was not afraid to tell you:
unobscene at the first and then the third horizon,
a copse-mountain opened so near to me I weighed nothing,
and you laid the flower in my mouth.

These are not animals.
These are the partial genocides deeply uncompensated.
Under the grass there is nothing but water and two wings.


Ignore them. They are only beautiful and heartless — not because of the unmoving seascape behind them, the august rays crowning pacific, glassy water in leviathan's heavenly backdrop, but because they mean to tell us that our freedom is a machine.
It is not. It cannot be redesigned nor can it carry us to a new place.
We are here, where history placed us,
history that always waited modestly for our consent, sure of receiving it.
Those beautiful young people standing beside the automobile in the surf agreed to nothing. If there is such a thing as a new place, it belongs to them,
and the water will be heaven there and life pacific in the rosy stare of the ideal.
Ignore them. Let us love our lives. No one ever truly fled from a suburb.
He was expelled or shamed or too easily angered. And when he left, his heart broke.
He fell easy prey to the beautiful and to the falsehoods of seascape and landscape with no one moving upon them as levithan';s obsessed challenger. Our houses are buoys set upon restless waters by strangers dead when we were born. But we live inside them now, and freedom is no machine to motor us in empty circles and to raise a round wake behind us. Freedom is a dwelling.
Sometimes, in the small arcades of a watercolor bought at the yard sales, brass-lighted in a corner by a chair, you have helped yourself to a dream that drowned whalers, kin of yours, return from sea.
A holiday mood and others, like yourself,
living nearby, hurry in from the night's damp and talk the small talk with no thought for sleeping.
Then at morning, suddenly through the west window,
birds flare golden with flying into sunrise.
It feels like driving sometimes, but the music is not tinny and the light is slow,
bell-towered from east to west with the morning.
Darien. Norwalk. Quaker Hill. Mystic.
Do not ignore these. Inconstant, mawkish but deep in the old physical sense of depth,
the voluntary hours with neighbors and ghosts teach the beauty of commuting from dark to light, from labor to home life:
a vigilance crowned with impatience and visited rarely but adequately by golden changes.


Appreciation is mania.
Neighbors can be too many neighbors,
and cold, upturned shoals of seaboard towns too many churches, too many conversions.

I know the stained glass above a doorway is the discomfited piety of change and light destroying what it makes only to remake it more beautifully.
Such things make one thing clear: as betrayer speaks to innocent, liar speaks to liar.

A vigil crowned with gentians survives as disappointed love.
Visitations of impatience take away our hands and home life.

Treason we learn from the childless small talk of nights whose sheltering adjustments gall us.
When I first betrayed someone an angel fell backwards through the air's sheen.
When I next betrayed someone the air lost its heart, which is love's density.

I was at seaside in an old town,
and sea and housefronts brightened but did not open.
I was upon the point of prayer when the light froze, converted from churchlight to porchlight.

We betray our homes because they are valuable.
No reason not to make the fine distinctions still:
we live only half-expecting the sudden flares,
or affection, or seasons out of the sea weather,
as expectations and good friends shelter by us from the darkness of streets we've blackened together.

Five o'clock in the morning is not four o'clock in the morning.
I have betrayed each and might betray all in the spotless, glassy piety of change.


Excerpted from "Beautiful Shirt"
by .
Copyright © 1994 Donald Revell.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Another Day,
The Secessions on Loan,
Why and Why Now,
Les Noces,
The Lame One,
Death to Santa Foy,
The Pillars,
The Children,
In Company,
The Traveller's Garment,
Arranged to Meet in Aix,
An Instrument Also,

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