Brian Culhane

Brian Culhane

Brian Culhane’s poems have appeared in such journals as The New Criterion, The Hudson Review, The New Republic, Chelsea, Boulevard, Slate, and The Massachusetts Review.

He holds degrees from the City University of New York, Columbia University, and the University of Washington. His first book, The King’s Question (Graywolf Press, 2007) received the Emily Dickinson Award from The Poetry Foundation. He has held writing fellowships from The Artist Trust and the MacDowell Colony.

Brian Culhane:

On Not Being Able To Name the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

I can recall the musty encyclopedia turned
To that article, darkening on the brittle page,
And I can summon, if the room is quiet,
The black and white rendering of the Pharos,
Whose reconstructed light magically burned
Once more, if only in a boy’s eyes—a stage
Of adolescence when supernal facts lit
The candle of learning, and through the house

I swayed to the drumbeat of storied names,
As Latin, Sumerian, Saxon, and Greek
Pierced the manifest dullness of my life:
Hercules’ Labors and the Seven Wonders,
Hierarchies of angels and bracketed reigns
Of pagan kings: I studied, book to cheek,
Index finger tracing mythologies’ strife
Past pyramid, tower, dolmen; thunder’s

Flash the shaking of Zeus’s aegis or Titan
Battling old Chronos; persimmon’s seeds
The hardened tears of Demeter’s grief.
Job’s plagues could actually be counted,
And counted they would miraculously lighten
My numberless burdens—all trivial deeds
From the outer world of sun, rock, leaf,
Which, in comparison, hardly amounted

To anything worth tallying, though somehow
That gallery of commonplace hours
Has lately come to mind—snowball fights
In Central Park and a friend’s sudden fist;
Dawn’s walk, head down, to school—as now
The Hanging Garden’s incandescent showers
Fade to a picture of those wide-eyed nights
When wonders I used to know could fill a list.

First published in: The Chimaera, July 2011

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Poetry in this post: © Brian Culhane
Published with the permission of Brian Culhane