BOOK

Journey to the Sun

by Brent Cunningham

Central Question: Can we take a prophet seriously if he’s still in eighth-grade math?
Representative inquiry: “what became of my blood & muscles? / what went into my travelling eyes?”; Representative exclamation: “Everyone will live on the Sun! / & sit at Solar Tables! / EVENTUALLY!”; Words coined or mangled in book: COSMIVERSE, INQUIRISTS, EXCRUSIATING; Basic math transcended or mangled in book: “nevertheless 4 extends from 3! / nevertheless 5 is the shadow of 4!”; “seven by 15 by one third / 15 by three by one / 15 by one by one / 15 by three and one third // I almost found a word for it”; Distance of actual sun from actual Earth: just under 149,600,000,000 meters (93,000,000 miles), also known as one astronomical unit (AU)

Easy to like and easy to lose yourself in, Brent Cunningham’s second book turns out to be hard to get your head around. It’s a book-length poem, or a verse sequence, that ostensibly records the apocalyptic revelation of one not-especially-literate thirteen-year-old boy. As he has seen on his visionary journey, the world as we know it will end (or perhaps has already ended), and we will live in a new dispensation governed not by earthly values (family, safety, education, money) but by the previously incomprehensible sun, under whose power the boy pens imitations, or travesties, of William Blake. “You ask for prophecies— / I give you prophecies,” one section begins; “tomorrow the stars will go out / darkness will prowl the parks & museums … until the Rocks themselves / run up to us like spaniels // now what will the statues be FOR? / what will be their MODELS?”

It’s not a bad question, translated out of vision-speak: if we are supposed to model ourselves on adults, who are those adults’ models? Why have adults made such a hash of this life, indenturing us to “documents, itineraries, measurements, / schedules, timings, forms”? Such questions pervade the book, but it would be a mistake to see here a consistent or articulate critique of the bourgeois rat race: along with these heartfelt, clear protests against grown-ups’ rules come almost-unintelligible visions of “the third largest City of the Sun” and the end of the Earth.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

—Stephen Burt


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