The Sublime Cacophony of Ernest Hilbert

Last One Out
By Ernest Hilbert
(Measure Press, 2019. $25)

Ernest Hilbert has an enviable ability to speak about contemporary America as if his words were washed in the blood of Achaean soldiers. Hilbert, speaking to the violence underlying human nature, sees war everywhere. Watching the Super Bowl in his calm living room, the football players—“Towering champions, created to win, // Will strut to their positions and pose, / Burnished, armored in emblems” (80-81)—become iron age warriors. Outside his house, birds swerve “in squadrons” (69). “The border of the republic,” says the speaker of “Mars Ultor,” “Is breached without notice: / More tug of war / Than elegant chess” (45). This refers to Romans preparing for battle—but also to Donald Trump. In fact, “Mars Ultor” was read aloud at the Trump Tower by (highly literate) protestors.