Shroud Of The Gnome

Shroud Of The Gnome

by James Tate


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Speakers in James Tate's poems are and are not like those we know: a man's meditation on gardening renders him witless; another man traps theories and then lets them loose in a city park; a nun confides that "it was her / cowboy pride that got her through"; a gnome's friend inhabits a world where "a great eschatological ferment is at work. "Shroud of the Gnome" is a bravura performance in Tate's signature style: playful, wicked, deliriously sober, charming, and dazzling. Here, once again, one of America's most masterful poets celebrates the inexplicable in his own strange tongue.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780880015622
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/22/1999
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.37(w) x 8.37(h) x 0.21(d)

About the Author

James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1943. He is the author of seventeen books of poetry, including Worshipful Company of Fletchers, which won the National Book Award in 1994; Selected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award in 1991; and The Lost Pilot, which was selected by Dudley Fitts for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. He has also published a novel and a collection of short stories, as well as edited The 1997 Best American Poetry Anthology. His honors include a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, the Tanning Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Read an Excerpt



Many are from the Maldives,
southwest of India, and must begin
collecting shells almost immediately.
The larger ones may prefer coconuts.
Survivors move from island to island
hopping over one another and never
looking back. After the typhoons
have had their pick, and the birds of prey
have finished with theirs, the remaining few
must build boats, and in this, of course,
they can have no experience, they build
their boats of palm leaves and vines.
Once the work is completed, they lie down,
thoroughly exhausted and confused,
and a huge wave washes them out to sea.
And that is the last they see of one another.
In their dreams Mama and Papa
are standing on the shore
for what seems like an eternity,
and it is almost always the wrong shore.


They ask me if I've ever thought
about the end of the world,
and I say, "Come in, come in,
let me give you some lunch, for God's sake."
After a few bites it's the afterlife
they want to talk about. "Ouch," I say,
"did you see that grape leaf skeletonizer?"
Then they're talking about redemption
and the chosen few sitting right by His side.
"Doing what?" I ask. "Just sitting?"
I am surrounded by burned up zombies.
"Let's have some lemon chiffon pie
I bought yesterday at the 3 Dog Bakery."
But they want to talk about my soul.
I'm getting drowsy and see butterflies
everywhere. "Would you gentlemen
like to take a nap, I know I would."
They stand and back away from me,
out the door, walking toward my neighbors,
a black cloud over their heads
and they see nothing without end.


Speaking of sunsets,
last night's was shocking.
I mean, sunsets aren't supposed to frighten you,
Well, this one was terrifying.
People were screaming in the streets.
Sure, it was beautiful, but far too beautiful.
It wasn't natural.
One climax followed another and then another
until your knees went weak
and you couldn't breathe.
The colors were definitely not of this world,
peaches dripping opium,
pandemonium of tangerines,
inferno of irises,
Plutonian emeralds,
all swirling and churning, swabbing,
like it was playing with us,
like we were nothing,
as if our whole lives were a preparation for this,
this for which nothing could have prepared us
and for which we could not have been less
The mockery of it all stung us bitterly.
And when it was finally over
we whimpered and cried and howled.
And then the streetlights came on as always
and we looked into one another's eyes--
ancient caves with still pools
and those little transparent fish
who have never seen even one ray of light.
And the calm that returned to us
was not even our own.


After the narrator's abrupt departure
several significant threads were left dangling
so, to break the tension, I chimed in:
What if a finger-sized peasant
makes off with a magic steed, eh?
(This seemed to please them.)
And Ivan eats a bird's giblets
which gives him the ability to spit up gold.
(Could feel my power growing.)
But this makes him very thirsty
and he drinks a great deal of beer.
Soon he is pixilated and experiences
an overwhelming desire to kiss his sister.
Ivan sets off on his quest.
Here, incidentally, also belongs the dialogue
between the stepmother and the chisel.
The sister, the homely Dorita,
dotes only on agrarian prosperity.


Spherically wondrous sunbeam
dwelling in the mansion
of the pine of chastity,
today we bought an ice pack
for Mildred's injured foot.
Luminous shadow
in the plumflower chamber,
Edna quit her job yesterday,
got drunk, stayed drunk,
behaved like a defective monster
collapsing in the mansion
of self-pity. Meanwhile,
the great sea of compassion
rolled in, rolled out, rolled in.
And the blue mountain
of itself remains,
and the blind shampooers
never tire of their work.

Table of Contents

Where Babies Come From1
Days of Pie and Coffee2
Knock on the Door5
Never Again the Same6
Restless Leg Syndrome8
The Blind Heron11
Acting on a Tip13
Shroud of the Gnome15
My Felisberto17
Same as You18
At the Days End Motel20
The Definition of Gardening21
Shut Up and Eat Your Toad24
Everything for the Horse29
Dream On30
And That's the Good News33
Beautiful New Mirrors Have Arrived34
Different Kinds of Embroidery35
School of Paddling37
Of Two or Three Minds38
The Faults of the Mariner's Compass41
In His Hut Sat Baba Jaga, Hag-Faced and with a Leg of Clay42
A Road Open at Both Ends43
"Sodomy in Shakespeare's Sonnets"44
A Dangerous Adventure45
Faulty Diction47
Chronology of Events48
Who Will See Me Thru?49
Revenge of the Jagged Ambush Bug51
Admirable Bird53
You Be the One54
The Sleeping Disorder Tour58
The Figure in the Carpet59
Edge City61
I Left My Couch in Tatamagouche63
Brave Face66
Think of Your Absent Friend68
The New Ergonomics70
Per Diem72

Customer Reviews

Shroud of the Gnome 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
seanj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James Tate is weird and hilarious.
abirdman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After a couple of somewhat weak books (one of which won the National Book Award), this volume marks the return of James Tate in his full power to create funny, beautiful, and heartbreaking lyric poems that are an absolute pleasure to read.