Danniel Schoonebeek’s “Poem for Four Years” is a beautifully constructed and powerfully affecting lyric narrative—something you don’t see too many of these days. Bringing together the lyric’s highly subjective and resonant language and the linear progression of narrative, Schoonebeek’s poem tracks a sensitive young boy’s evolution from captive of his own ambivalent mother-worship to accidental successor to her throne. That ascendancy and the scrambled family dynamic that makes it possible are presented in the poem as part dysfunctional fairy tale, part Lynchian bad dream, and part TV tragicomedy—a potentially tricky or too-flashy amalgam that Schoonebeek handles with an expert’s surefootedness and clarity of purpose. As if that weren’t enough to recommend it, the poem also offers an embedded and complex meditation on the imagination’s capacity to make up for reality’s privations as well as on the psyche’s related drive to “build from its rubble”—the latter seeming, at times, like no better than a compulsion to recreate the very conditions the psyche has struggled to escape from. Frequently disturbing, almost always darkly comical, and ultimately heartbreaking, “Poem for Four Years” is a bold, ambitious, unforgettable new poem from one of our most exciting young poets.

—Timothy Donnelly, BR Poetry Editor


Waiting for her to finish washing her face off and mother

who was king to me in those days

in her fur

and her robe dragging behind her

found me waiting for her to find me and saying to myself

the curse word

I learned that

summer in daycare I couldn’t define it for her

she said my full name and in this house the word we say when we want to say

that word is blank

do you understand

Like the kings in my books already I could see the worms laying claim to her face

Her expression

blank so I named it

my curse year and think of her now and wonder which was her first and want to

blank myself

in the quavering dew of summer

as mother

would have had me            say it

• • •

Of the lessons I learned my wunderkind year there was

god defeats king my mother is god

that’s the king’s dirt in my mouth

that’s god’s soap in my mouth

that’s not how we talk in this house

My friends are monsters they come in a box they die when mom knocks

That isn’t mom

mom doesn’t knock

A rest is when a song observes silence a blank if you will

There is the long rest four knocks

There is the quaver

often it feels over before the beat starts

As a child climbing out of the washtub the lice

in my scalp the suds

in my mouth I thought            this is not time enough

I chose a measure of fifty-two rests

I learned that

if I turned my head and shook out the dirt and looked at the song

it even resembled a bed

so I named it my rest year instead

• • •

When god woke me up it was sweeps again

the season

finale the fifth season

She said I loved this man the moment I met him it was the first season he emerged

        from the wreckage his family in ribbons

I said my god comedy

is when you demolish a building

to build from its rubble

a building            and tragedy

is when you demolish a building

because apart from rubble

it wants to be nothing            and you

can go blank yourself

she said

She said the man I love emerged with no father the first season silenced him a rest do

        you hear me a blank I love him despite him

once a year disappearing

I love him despite

and now the finale the man she loves dies he succumbs to the light he was major to me

        she cries the major key to my minor

And the weather inside her no name for it

it’s like the eschaton

minus the trumpets

but with more cicadas more tinnitus

The song when it seeps at the end is the wrong song not enough rests she says

She says I want to return

to the first season when everyone’s poorly

lit and the man I loved I don’t know

if I love yet

I say mother think of the long rest            spring summer fall winter

four knocks

Mother why does the fifth season

disappoint us so

is it because my king            spring summer fall winter we don’t have a name for the


Blank yourself

she said

and I named the fifth season nothing

and I named it my sweeps year again

• • •

It’s true

the sun has since ended

The king she’s canceled

the sky

And now when I leave the grounds my people they call me a figurehead

a mouthpiece

a straw boss

The oxblood robe

they say

he refuses to drag it behind him he refuses

our king her inheritor

The wind inside its canceled quiver rests            The nothing season is here

I say my people

an insult is when I must rise to the name you call me

must demolish it must

build a new name from its rubble

or else rubble

is the name I was born with

My people if it’s true my name is Straw Prince and I’m guilty of my beard

my god I will shave

my throat in the quavering

my god it will glint like a hatchet blade

My shoes

I will line them up like two rests

My collar as white as my skin I will wear it around my neck

my stockade

With these four knocks if it’s true I must leave the kingdom in search of a mother

to mother the child I don’t

owe my people

I will walk until I come to a slum lord

She will starve

the lice in her fur

and slum lord I will tell her

I want to blank

your face

With these trumpets burning holes in the sky our king canceled

and my family

beside me in ribbons

in this nothing season slum lord when I wander your streets and they quaver and


slum lord I feel louder

I feel louder each morning spitting your rests from my mouth I feel louder

than the worms

laying claim to your face

I enlist and entrust

my bones to a traitorous cause now and slum lord

I feel louder than your dead who inherit the crown I feel louder

than their dead’s dead’s dead’s

dead’s dead

In this nothing season

with your blank

in my mouth

with the lice

in my scalp I will hunt for a mother to mother my child and name it

my loudest

year yet