Ted Mathys

of Iowa City, IA

Winner of the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award in 2013

Vikings Did Not Have Horns On Their Helmets


The forbidden fruit was not an apple.
Poinsettias are not toxic to cats.
Marco Polo did not import pasta
from China. Diamonds are not
coal compressed. There is no access
except through aftershock, afterglow,

negation, afterlife. Abner
Doubleday did not invent baseball,
nor Marconi the radio, nor Edison
the light bulb, nor Gore the Internet.
The Pope is not sinless. Irregardless
is not not a word. I am an antonym

when you touch me like that.
What I mean is George Washington
did not have wooden teeth, so I live
uneasily in the law of excluded middles
where every rule has an exception.
Today the exception to the rule

that every rule has an exception
violated itself into a bright
metastasis of unfastening
while I rested my head against
aftermath. You did not run to me
yelling "Bulls are not enraged by red!

Bananas do not grow on trees!
Toad warts are not contagious!
Sharks are not immune to cancer!"
Of course I know that blood
in the veins is not blue, that old
windows are no thicker at the bottom

than the top because glass does not flow
over time. Over time it's clear
this line of poetry is false.
If "this line of poetry is false" is true, then
this line of poetry is false, which means
this line of poetry is true, so

I cannot reconcile myself to finitude.
I do not enjoy being totally alone.
I do not have a firm grasp on the poetry
or the drinking. This is not going to be
my year. This will not blow over.
That is not what I said. What I said was

bats are not blind, and fear of death
by oscillating fan in Japan is not common.
What I mean is that eating before swimming
does not help with cramps. Evolution
does not violate entropy. The first time
we spoke on the roof you said, "shortly after

what came long before we met was a mutual
feeling of aftereffect." I still think of this,
how tomorrow is not the annual
Zombie March, how yesterday was not
the hundredth anniversary of the discovery
of the South Pole, how today is

not a contested topic, and in this
twos are not twos they are threes.
Meteorites are not hot when they hit
tree canopies. Men do not think of sex
every seven seconds. Fingernails do not
continue to grow after death, nor do I

know how to say no. I don't know
whether the phrase "not applicable
to itself" is applicable to itself,
but you did not deserve the panic
you have faced. You cannot gain
evidence of the color of a raven

by looking at a pomegranate,
but you can witness a red afterimage
in which people do not die quietly
in their beds, surrounded by family.
It's within this afterglow we keep
trying to picture a voided shape

hovering before us at eye level
into which you did not stick your arm
and then did not remove it. Into which
I will not stick my arm and then not
remove it. Into which we do not permit
our arms and from which we do not

remove them. Our arms were not, are not,
will not be in it, nor did, are, or will we
remove, removing, remove them.
Humans do not have five senses.
Lightning can strike the same place twice.
Lightning can strike the same place twice.

line

Alice Notely on Ted Mathys

A said thing is only a said thing—though it may be true—but you can just as easily say the opposite. What if the opposite sounds just as convincing?  (What if you were to negate the most famous lines in poetry?) "Vikings Did Not Have Horns On Their Helmets" negates and reverses exhilaratedly, ending up somewhere near happiness, which may be a verbal state—maybe words make us happy. (Maybe words don't.)

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