“Die Kranken,” published in Noble / Gas Qtrly‘s 202.3, is a triumph of hard enjambment and worthy vocabulary. These elements combine to remind a reader that 14 lines of lyric are more then enough to chronicle history—and histories of loss, love, sickness, intrigue.
The speaker’s parental address is fraught with allusive levels. The erstwhile Prussia speaks from its dissolution in 1947; a parent instructs on nations; King Frederick and/or Frederick the Great preside; King Frederick presides over the ghost of Frederick the Great’s Hans; Frederick the Great’s legacy is lost to post-Nazi revisionism. History’s untidy edges are alive in the hard enjambment I mentioned: ‘Son, nations scope / shut,’ ‘Leave / me, dirging bootblack.’ Longofono’s speaker is likewise alive to functional verbs doing double-duty as visual nouns: ‘From Prussia cancers / crow,’ ‘Go thrum, have done, // brook none but this’ (emphasis mine). These formal and dialectic choices strip Longofono’s language of any semblance of simple utility: words, as he writes them here, are ineffable again, ineluctable, weird as the first bones.
Does the child in “Die Kranken” (“The Sick”) reply? She might. She might begin steering the ship with ‘Out’ in line seven, so that the Yeatsian image she recalls (‘An aged man is but a paltry thing, / A tattered coat upon a stick’) in the final stanza—
King Frederick was just
a cape about a Yule-tree.
His country is no more.
is a final rebuff to Father, Mother. It’s also easy to believe the speaker never changes his identity register, and that the exclamation ‘Out / and further out!’ just resets his trajectory, alternately self-chiding and revelatory. To me, the poem’s largely monosyllabic dynamo wants to reject even this ‘speakerly’ question, saying Will you persist in your attempts to scry my marrow?
I must say yes. It is in poetry that we are allowed to be sick of life’s linearity, and there we are dared to reclaim words from their tidy veneer of domesticity. Longofono’s poem is harried. It flashes a knife I’d like to meet now, and again now.