100th Volume Retrospective: On a Terrace of Nails by Mark Statman

Today we return to prose with this work by Mark Statman. Since being published in the Columbia Review, he has published four of his own poetry collections and translated poetry from Spanish.

On a Terrace of Nails

by Mark Statman

I. Open Traffic

These are gray bricks outside the window, moving in and pouring themselves into place, changing to squares that force the desk to stay. Painted diamonds hide on rosewood, on what looks to be a nice cover, but knowing what floats inside, it is locked. It is always locked, keeping out arms and eyes which look bad in the light with the brown.

Move through the doorway to steam. The noise and fall are not freeflow and the air is bent by this, hard to breathe, twisting around like snake skin. It is like it has been mounted and set to dance alone. Red stars surround the player and, eyes right, concern themselves with a forward march, moving far away.

II. Silent Drums and Houses

Bosca is on the corner and speaking.

“This is the strangeness part, that the street is filled with men and women, that they are walking in circles and that they are naked, naked as if they were calling out our names.”

“You’re standing and looking for me, you are wondering if I am naked and walking around, my head sliding down the road like the others. You are wondering about me.”

“To swallow yourself is not bad when the weather is warm, but this day is cold and not worth my time.”

He looks at the ground and stops.

“I’m leaving,” said Bosca, backing away from the water, “it isn’t easy to see through an ocean, even when you’re sure of what’s there. We are inland; there must be a way of saying something more.”

III. Horse Training

Vines are hanging down to the knees and your fingers burn as they close in on bottles selling fire. Splintered glass avoids the statue’s mouth but the mouth is open; it is catching the pieces and showing those teeth that are dull and spotted. Three are missing and have been replaced. Oxen rest below the open forms.

Darius is waking up laughing, sweating a hundred times, listening carefully to the streets. The broken marble loosely fills the rooms and men have already collected pieces to sell. He should go back to sleep but he watches the hammers, only stopping to wave a hand over the bed. Beginning now, he thinks, tongues will hide from the sides of jaws.

His wife comes out from the shower, dripping, and she holds Darius. Seared to the wall are plants, trapped by the roots and stems to mounds of solid rock. The beads in the doorway rattle. There are no brides, he says, the level must be here.

IV. The Third of March


In the northwest where the bears and the little plant spring from the ground saying “is the moment of white living that is soon known spoken of here?”

The other party is more strategic, that not being the real question. If you, if this had come and shaken you and said that it is not to be understood, it would come down to this, the blind and the left cheek, the cheek that was broken away.

This is a euphemism for ending (the flaw is not what the blueprints said, if only dead plans could talk).


V. Reviewing Mountain Arrows

Sketched in crosses of disorder and pulling back from this scrape, a throat offers up space that is drying from the outside in. Cords of dust hang from under you, taking the bowl from your hands. The eyes in the tree are staring now, and they move.

Standing here is talked about, but quietly. This is the border and the silences are confused by black islands that cover the floor. The square light of smoke that points away from the corner is tired. It stays, waiting in the air with the wooden shades closed and the view gone. There is a jungle and no lights, but red lines are floating on the wall.

from Vol. 58 (1979)