Iowa Review

After the Fact: Scripts & Postscripts, #37–42

From the Vineyard to the Sea

Now he knew that he would be counted among the vinedressers to whom the landowner sent his servants and his son to collect the fruit; if he was not the first one to pick up a stone, and his aim was as wayward as his heart, still he threw it with all his might, with predictable results—a crime translated into parable. Nor was it a complete surprise to learn that he would have followed the crowd to the governor's palace, demanding the release of another prisoner, raising his voice at the approach of the praetorian guards. He would have named names if he had been called to the inquiry (he sometimes wished he had), for he had built his house on a bluff where everything was permitted; its cornerstone was his conviction that he had done nothing wrong, harmed no one very seriously except himself; necessity was the flag he raised on his front lawn. To give up his accountant's peculiar methodology, his brother's escape route, his wife's dark secret—these disclosures were of a piece with his decision to melt down his silverware and hide the bricks in a well: a matter of self-preservation. At dusk he walked along the trail that curved around the bluff, his eyes fixed on the horizon, where a boat with black sails was coming about. He was muttering to himself, making a list of everyone for whom he had done a favor. And all for what?


The apparent objectivity of objects is merely a useful facade, their visibility a deception like that of a citizen planning an escape even as he carries a flag to the obligatory show of support and wears the lapel pin of blanket patriotism. The hidden silverware retains a picture of the one who scratched at the dirt with a fork to bury it before fleeing. The discarded bricks took a handprint with them to the bottom of the well. If one were to reanimate the seemingly lifeless and inert objects around us, one would see how exile, insurgency, paramilitaries, preemption, and intervention trouble the mirror and the goblet, how turmoil takes the seabed, and the massed bodies point toward both those accountable and the marked who survived. Were we able to christen the knuckle of a tree or the imprint of a shoe, the vinegar of a dead crow, a slice of bread. . . . I offer these examples only to reveal the enormity of the task. If the chimes were a weather vane, if the arrow were a wing, if the calendar were ancient graffiti. . . . The guilt of the survivor undoes the efficacy of a fallout shelter. To picture a life without friends is to be bereft in advance. The Apocalypse, don't miss it. Count on it. Take it to the bank. All objects are objets d'art.


Iowa Review

The following excerpts were published in The Iowa Review, Volume 45, Issue 1, in Spring 2015.

The Iowa Review online


Editor's Note

The following are entries #37–42 from Merrill and Bell's project After the Fact: Scripts & Postscripts , which began as a sequence of sixty paragraphs written back-and-forth over a period of fifteen months during 2011 and 2012. "Having written sixty," notes Bell, "we decided to go on to a second section. Hence the subtitle Scripts & Postscripts. We began the project thinking of our work as prose poetry. It was an editor who first recognized that these paragraphs are a form of poetic nonfiction."
     While Bell sent his paragraphs from Iowa City, Iowa; Port Townsend, Washington; and Sag Harbor, New York, Merrill, who undertakes cultural diplomacy for the State Department, sent his from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chile, Mozambique, Russia, the Congo, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.
     "Given the nature of Chris's experiences and my predilections," writes Bell, "as the sequence pushed ahead it took up matters philosophical, sociopolitical, and aesthetic. The title After the Fact, as well as the original working title, Everything at Once, now seem apt characterizations of the international, postmodernist character of a digital age."

The latest of Marvin Bell's books are Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems (Copper Canyon); Whiteout, a collaboration with photographer Nathan Lyons (Lodima); and a children's book based on the poem "A Primer about the Flag" (Candlewick). He lives in Iowa City, Iowa, and Port Townsend, Washington.

Christopher Merrill's recent books include Boat (poetry), Necessities (prose poetry), and The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War. He directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

After the Fact: Scripts and Postscripts is available at

White Pine Press

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