Matthew Olzmann: P. Scott Cunningham Is About to Read a Poem About “Faces of Death”

but first, he explains to the audience
what Faces of Death was: a “documentary”
with actual footage of actual people
making real and horrible exits from their lives
(executions, accidents, ripped asunder by alligators)
and if you were a child in the 80s (which I was)
you believed it was real (which I did)
even though it was mostly fake (which I
did not know or even suspect until this
very blown-fuse-of-a-lightbulb-over-my-head moment).
So, thank you, Scott.

By now, Scott is midway through his poem,
and I’m sure it’s a stunner, but I can’t concentrate,
suddenly preoccupied, wondering what other
Ponzi schemes I might have poured my childhood
faith into. How did I not recognize
the thing that terrified me, the thing that would
materialize after dark in a friend’s basement
with a whispered Don’t tell your parents,
was just a callow ruse?

What I believed was bleakness was nothing
but Hollywood packaging.  What I believed
to be worthy of dread was only TV static
and late-stage capitalism.  What I believed
was a warning was actually a warning
about something entirely different, a warning
about belief itself, about accepting the narrative
as it’s been presented. What I believed
was a poetry reading by my friend Scott
was me unpacking the baggage
I should have unpacked long ago, baggage
I didn’t even know I was carrying. For that,
I owe Scott a thank you—for the epiphany, at least—
but also, an apology, because I spaced out
when I should have been present,
in the middle of his poem, which he read
quite marvelously, last week,
at what I believe was the Stockbridge Library.







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