Feb 132017
 

allan-cooper-cropped-imageAllan Cooper by Frédéric Gayer

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Just to whet your appetite. These are brand new poems by Allan Cooper. One of them — “I Have My Silence” — will be published in his imminent collection Everything We’ve Loved Comes Back to Find Us to be published by Gaspereau Press in April.

 

EVENING PRIMROSE

How often they’ve come back to me
in the tall house of summer
like the scent of the evening primrose
rising from the earth

men and women who worked the fields
and woods and kitchens,
who dreamed and loved and despaired
the same as we do, who held new infants

in their arms and rocked them
by oil light burning down
to a small flame, the rhythms
of their conversations

gone out further now
than any star we will ever see.
My grandfather opens
the woodshed door, a pail

in his hand, walking to the fields
where he will dig the new potatoes
before the heavy rains. My grandmother–
who at eighty taught me how

to clean the spring head
where the water flowed from bedrock–
is singing to me through my fever, her voice
mingling with the sound of the brook.

I swear my small body rose above the house
and looked down on the black roof,
the winglike shadows cast across the lawn
as if someone would come and carry me

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away, and maybe they almost did.
When my fever broke, I could feel the damp
cloth on my forehead, replaced again
and again throughout the night.

I could hear my grandparents
talking low in the kitchen. It’s good
when they come back to find us, hold us,
guide us. They loved us unconditionally.

Someone places a hand on my forehead,
then their footsteps fading down the hall
as I drift in the sound of the running spring,
the deep sleep of boyhood.

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GLENN GOULD PLAYING

My moods are more or less inversely related to the clarity of the sky
—Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould, in large rimmed glasses, is stooped low over the
piano
like a rider on a horse. His face is what music looks like
when it takes on a human form. His fingers are ten reins guiding
the notes,
eighty-eight of them, low notes as if rising from Hades,
high notes like the feminine tone of spring.

His hands change positions, the right playing the low notes
quickly,
like fox sparrows suddenly arriving in spring, the sounds
that a human heart makes when it’s totally in love with the
world.

Glenn Gould is playing, and he seems a little unsteady in the
saddle,
his chair a bit rickety, as if it might fall at any moment;
but it doesn’t, and he hovers so close to the keys he can taste
them,
coaxing the flavour and fragrance from each note. Now he’s
singing to the keys,
like a monk saying prayers, and the notes move faster,
almost too fast for us to follow;
it’s as if the piano could resonate at a certain frequency
and suddenly implode, the strings collapsing on the sound board,
the sound board falling through the wooden frame…

Things grow softer. These are notes we’ve heard before, but never
so gently,
feathery, like a father singing to a child, the last words we’ll say
to someone,
an entire barren field suddenly filled with volunteer poplars.

The notes begin to chase each other. They are waves breaking
over waves
on the shore of Lake Superior, thousands of neutrinos moving
through our bodies
at once. It’s a Bach fugue, and the sound is like losing yourself in
something
for the first time, the sound of cells dividing, and you’re nameless
again
as you were the moment you were born.

Glenn Gould is playing, and for the black horse of the piano
there is only one rider, and for that rider
there is only the light drawn from the gloom
and darkness clinging to the edges of the light.

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THE SNAIL AND THE ROSE

Is there a symbiotic relationship between these pale yellow-
green snails and the old Irish roses? This one has climbed over
three feet up a stem which is guarded by thorns that would
pierce my finger if I grasped it. The snail is about the size of a
quarter, although there’s no money in this snail’s life. He lives for
free, as most things do on this planet. I’ve seen them before,
clinging to a leaf, or making their way up through a wild jungle
of leaves.
More and more it is the quiet things around me that give me
pleasure. If this snail makes any music, or has a voice, I can’t hear
it. He lives in the heaven of his day, carrying his house on his
When he dies the house will be left behind a little while, like
the spinsters’ house with grey clapboard, the dolls in the cedar
chest still waiting for the whisper of a child.

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THE APPLE TREE

—in memory of Galway Kinnell

One afternoon in the 1940s, in summer,
a car from the Boston States or the Carolinas
or the tip of the Florida Keys
drove by this gravel bank,
and someone opened a car window
and threw out an apple core, that landed
precisely here, and one dark brown
seed, the oval of a water shrew’s eye, took root
and began to grow, at first a thin, small question,
then a wiry, almost defiant voice…

Its thick, squat trunk is as shaggy as a Shetland pony,
wild as those Zen Buddhist monks
who sit quietly, cross-legged,
smiling inwardly.

In late May or early June
the blossoms begin to open from taut buds,
at first a rosy pink, then
a rich whiteness blending in,
like cream poured into a china bowl.

And when the rain falls, the leaves
make a tapping sound,
like someone knocking lightly
at a door, someone who has
come a long way to be here, now,
in this world; someone rich
with the odour of spring, pungent
as wet earth, the first blades
of new grass, the smell of bark,
like an old keeper of small horses.

And an old woman, rich in perfume
that carries with it
rosewater to an altar
where the earth is worshipped,
and the transformation that will happen
when a winged one comes near
and enters a blossom…

A grandmother, who loved Evening in Paris,
gathered apples from the wild trees each fall
and carried them in buckets or bowls
to her steaming autumn kitchen;
she made apple sauce, apple
pies, apple strudel, apple crisp,
and baked apples in brown sugar,
where nothing is wasted.

So many wild trees at the side of the road,
in ditches, in sudden meadows and clearings,
growing from stone walls, cellar holes,
through ribs and femurs
gathered back by the earth.

And for every ancient tree that
falls, another takes its place,
and another, in the long lineage
of trees, one ring at a time, one
blossoming and fading at a time.

Apples ripen, and the deer come,
and some stand on their hind
legs like men reaching up
into the highest branches for
the sweetest and most coveted apples,
which have been kissed by the sky.

Old apple trees that, if they were love poems
would be both male and female, male and male,
or two young girls holding hands beneath the branches
as the rain comes down
on a day that will never end for them.

A day when the blossoms were ready
to fall, and high up
in the branches
three dozen cedar waxwings in a row,
and as one petal fell
it was taken in the beak of the nearest bird
and passed to the next,
and the next, male to male,
male to female, until it reached
the last waxwing at the end
of the branch, and she ate it…

Not one thing is wasted,
not one petal or word, like these words
that I pass to you now: compassion,
care, tenderness, hope, joy,
forgiveness; and love, that final word
at the end of our branch, the end of our rope,
that stubborn word we carry with us,
tough as a seed, the best for last.

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I HAVE MY SILENCE

I’ve lived a good time.
Not as long as a saguaro cactus
or a sequoia, but a good time.
One second can last a thousand years.
And no amount of study or joy can prepare us
for the ecstasy that Rumi and Mirabai felt.
I’ve seen and felt things
and remained silent.
I’ve watched the fox sparrows migrating in fall
and kept quiet, although inside
I’ve felt a wing rising,
moving out across the waters.

The last thing I like to do
at the end of the day
is walk out and greet the dusk.
I say nothing.
But I might just show
this multi-coloured coat
like Joseph’s, woven from everything
I’ve ever loved. Can you see it?
I’ve lived a good time.
I have work to do. I have my silence
as the sky does
every morning when the sun breaks over the hills.

—Allan Cooper
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Allan Cooper has published fourteen books of poetry, most recently The Deer Yard, with Harry Thurston. He received the Peter Gzowski Award in 1993, and has twice won the Alfred G. Bailey Award for poetry. He has also been short-listed three times for the CBC Literary Awards. Allan intermittently publishes the poetry magazine Germination, and runs the poetry publishing house Owl’s Head Press from his home in Alma, New Brunswick, a small fishing village on the Bay of Fundy.

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Feb 102017
 

sonnet-l'abbe

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These three poems are a selection from Sonnet L’Abbé’s current book project — Sonnet’s Shakespeare — an “erasure-by-crowding” in which she overwrites or “colonizes” all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

I make prosey poems you’d have to erase to find Shakespeare again. Think of the blank page as a territory I want to live on, and Shakespeare’s sonnet as culture I find already there, where I want to be. I don’t stress: I just patiently occupy the space, letter by letter, in between and all around the letters of that first nation until you can’t see it anymore. But it’s still all there, each letter of Shakespeare’s poem, in order, inside mine. The whole thing’s an analogy for colonialization.

— Sonnet L’Abbé, in an interview published in Partisan, August 18, 2015.

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XXXIX

O holy night, what should my words do at this wishful time? Humans want their Charismatic Day. I sing when night thoughts star the dark familiar holiday theatre. A better poet’s art softens me when that cynical enmity threatens to make me disown praise. A poet whose mind frees its owned self brings a kindness I wish for, that isn’t about making sincerity shows for occasion. When Emily praised, the space between her verbs opened onto formless, ethereal consciousness and let us drift above its depths. Would that William’s verse animated our dinner conversations, or that his love’s eloquence seeped into family get-togethers! If only Gertrude’s jingles were intoned in the malls! People might buy back their lost selves, by paying visionary attention. Tonight may I give that sweet duende to those sad-hearted, whose gifts reach out hopefully toward undeserving takers. Christmas loneliness mourns the absence of fellowship that wants story and meaning, of kin that would strengthen our practice of love. We gather together to imitate a normal family that hardly exists, but our likenesses find pleasure in comforting avoidance, in taking sweet leave together from commitments. There are those happy families, resembling each other, whose intimacies we either inhabit or have to struggle to achieve. The rest of us love awkwardly, shoving purchases at family members, adding and subtracting from the account of our generosity. These poems delight a sensibility so sweet and acutely seldom cultivated, that despite their craft and expensive inspiration, they do not charm most of the fellow humans I treasure. Couldn’t the sonnet be how to make an occasion felt? What if instead of buying, we praised in mad flyting the epic mystery of our togetherness? Brother, for whom I stupidly forgot to purchase a thing, let this evidence of your gift prove your mattering to me.

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LXXII

Hole was the mother, fucking. Women smashed. Pennyroyal tea drunks holding out for rupture. Loud substance, a fuck-you for teens to recite—what mess, a pre-Ritalin smellivision, a neediness murderess. Alt-bitch beauty contusions. Housewife on ludes. Love, after Grammy nods, after Kurt’s death—dogeared Love is on the floor, getting media requests. Little Frances is in Vogue. Prove your authentic pop-metal contempt, affect a high-energy nothingness, swore the nineties. Apathy approves the tuneless melody of fucked-up. Washington punk grrrls dated peevish boymen whose fuckboy mentality trivialized grrrls’ true hardcore sound. Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile do more for me now than mainstream frontwomanned crews like Veruca Salt did – I was innocent, awkward, hanging around more popular party girls who threw up on boyfriends’ records, who teased Rollins boys with ambition. Niggaz barely registered in the truth-wound of plaid thrill-will; Fishbone’s singles played in campus late rotations but let’s face it: Olympia’s revolutionary sluts were acutely pale. Overanalyzing grunge may seem false, but its nevermind ethos informs the anti-sympathy humours of today’s hipster disinclinations. Its alternative to the spoiled, makework eighties rocked Billboard but felt meaningful and true—or maybe my nostalgia just remembers Bikini Kill subculture with more foreshadow than it deserves. My body, having dissociated the anger Dickless expletived, had faith no more but could thrash shame in mosh pits. No one ever mentioned riot grrrls’ lyrics to us, lines full of rape gripes and mock slut-shame. College douchebags played 7 Year Bitch’s anti-patriarchy CDs while coercing frosh virgins; bros being bros before there was a name for such dudes. How shocking that we could be yelling that loud, yet be so Lovelied, mouthing screams like sweet nothings we weren’t worth.

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LXXVIII

The son of the father vanquishes the villain; the values spoken in undertones heretofore, now mighty: multiculturalism, liberalism, a blonde wife. Don’t misunderstand; I’m much relieved, less fearful of this heir than his predecessor. A critical stance in my verse was evidence of my contrary, alien penchant to that government; my words could be used against me. Order under the Trudeau theocracy will, surely, return poesy to its sponsored position? Poetry was once the nation’s keen mythbuilder, the stuff that taught the dumb Ontario high school kids to sing Acorn. Today what earnest verse can stay the ignorance algorithmically grafted into our flag-flying psyche? What kid grieves Canada’s debt to Sacred Feathers? In Toronto the liberal aura now reddens the right wing. I wake and give thanks to unknown grace that Canada’s troubled majesty’s government might yet be most proud of its Charter. The lines which I compose can register less war-whoop, less policed influence. “It’s two thousand fifteen” is the comeback from the golden child, born of the father, who includes mothers and wows dorks. I’ve been the brown mug for do-good leftists before; my trust wants mending, with more than style and nods to the arts. With defaced faith I try to answer to the poet’s grace and sing the braced heart’s belief in the boys’ clubs’ better natures. I’m Cohen’s ohm, saying Joshu was a rapist. I’m Duncan Campbell Scott’s masculinity, articulating Canada’s id. I’m those boys’ meritocratic ideal, my self-governance as highbrow as Literature’s. How now, Justin? How savage are my rude designs on your inheritance?

—Sonnet L’Abbé

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Sonnet L’Abbé is the author of A Strange Relief and Killarnoe, and was the 2014 guest editor of Best Canadian Poetry. Her first chapbook, Anima Canadensis, came out from Junction Books on November 19, 2016 at the “Meet the Press” Indie Literary Market in Toronto. L’Abbé lives on Vancouver Island and is a professor of creative writing at Vancouver Island University.

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Feb 092017
 

Billy Mills

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It’s a pleasure and honour to present these lines of verse from the Irish poet Billy Mills. This is the second section from Four, a work-in-progress, a seasonal poem with elements of the four seasons, the four cardinal directions, the four dimensions and the Pythagorean tetractys — a mysterious triangular figure made up of four rows of dots increasing from one at the top to four at the bottom (all sorts of marvelous hermetic and mathematical wisdom attached thereto).

CaptureImage via Digital Ambler

As Four follows the old Irish year, this is the spring section. Four is a collaboration with the composer David Bremner, who will set the complete cycle for soprano and instruments. To give you an idea of how such a collaboration works, here is video excerpt from an earlier Mills-Bremner piece, Logical Fallacies. The performers are Andreea Banciu (viola) and Elizabeth Hilliard (soprano).

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§

one small bird
whose note’s heard
sharply pointed
………….yellowbill

whose notes fly
on Loch Laig
blackbird’s branch
…………..yellowfilled

.…..

  ……..  *

the buds signal
& sugars rise
plane of each leaf
opens slowly

unfolding its curved
surface to air
& dawn
ever earlier

& vivid with
life erupting
listen: it is
sun on the grass

crisp & flat
‘with all her hues’
that moment between
shower & shower

when nothing happens
but life itself
stirring the green
this sudden spring

sap flows
answer ascending
ask what it is
light eases through

the surface of things
as they awaken
as they arise
imperceptible heat

not heat but not
its absence
a softening
slowly thawing

earth.. water.. air
of which it is
the time not yet
the third is this

new surface stirring
tentative & alive
a mould supports
air’s burden

which is one
& many streams
converge the oak
draws in

that which it needs
is what it will
an aura defined
by light embodied

this morning low
glow cloud around
the far plane
glimmers everything

breathes again
blackbird sings
high in the trees
each to its

other catch then
now wind from
the east chills
incipient life

itself becomes
& is contra-
distinction skim
the skin of things

stretched fine
& breathing light
suffused flat just
as day breaks again

face it feel
the grain of air
refract the early
beam of life

ascending spring
it is now
softly smooth
it spreads itself

pushing through
earth’s meniscus
breaking green
the vivid air

—Billy Mills

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Billy Mills was born in Dublin in 1954. He has lived and worked in Spain and the UK, and is now living in Limerick. He’s the founder and co-editor (with Catherine Walsh) of hardPressed poetry and the Journal. His books include Lares/Manes: Collected Poems (Shearsman, 2009), Imaginary Gardens (hardPressed poetry, 2012), Loop Walks (with David Bremner) (hardPressed poetry, 2013), and from Pensato (Smithereens Press e-book, 2013).

Since 2007, Billy Mills been a regular contributor to the books section of The Guardian website, including the popular Poster Poems series http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/billymills. He blogs at https://ellipticalmovements.wordpress.com/.

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Feb 062017
 

Photo Credit: Arnell Tailfeathers

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Paper dreams of my mother

Paper dreams of my mother
Dream of my mother on paper
My mother dreams on paper
On torn scraps from colonial
and Government funded
assimilated magazines
long discarded
and unsubscribed
I dream of my mother’s
unfinished dreams on paper
I try to see what she was dreaming of
when she was alive
on paper
on faded paper
it is getting harder to see
with these fading eyes
it is getting harder to see
this fading paper

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Bannock

His colonized addictions
Lured him out on the street
The cold that took his toes
Long after he huffed himself asleep

The blood soaked prairie grass,
Roots long frozen in defeat;
There’s a new fight
The Indians battle now

Goldilocks takes off her wig
And crawls under the blanket
Where small pox lives

When the bears returned
From their vaca house
They called the pigs

And no one
Ate the bannock
She’d been baking

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Assimilate

Assimilate, survive
Assimilate, thrive
Assimilate, leave
Assimilate, succeed
Assimilate, spread lies
Assimilate, compromise
Assimilate, plagiarize
Assimilate, steal
Assimilate, bow down
Assimilate, kneel
Assimilate, sell your ancestors land
Assimilate, call it earnings, money in hand
Assimilate, hurry
Assimilate, judge
Assimilate, jury
Assimilate, blood
Assimilate, re-con-cili-ate
Assimilate, future
Assimilate, fate
Assimilate, rape
Assimilate, hate, your Indigenous body, hair, eyes, skin
Assimilate, turn your back on family, on friend
Assimilate, shame
Assimilate, take the white man’s good Christian name
Assimilate, residential school legacy put to good use
Assimilate, un-recognized scoop survivor, foster child abuse
Assimilate, declare Indigenous languages dead
Assimilate, let that white Canadian praise go to your colonized assimilated head
Assimilate, exploit Indigenous pain
Assimilate, believe you’re humble when vain
Assimilate, turn a grave a stage
Assimilate, stomp out, invalidate Indigenous rage
Assimilate, be blind to them digesting the Indigenous in you
Assimilate, and make all your assimilated dreams come true

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A Way

IS IT the nomad
in me,
who always…
eventually,
wants to pack up
and move,
and walk
away?
OR COULD IT BE…
that ONCE WILD!
that ONCE REZ!
NDN!
foster child???
Who USED to be…
somebody’s daughter,
Who USED to be…
somebody’s cuzin?
Who USED to be…
Somebody’s sister & friend?
Who USED to be….
Somebody.
Else.

We ALL knew
how to fight
(that was the one thing we ALL did rather well)
But we did not know
“HOW!”
to
fly
away.
We did not fly
away
We did not fly
away
We did not fly.
We often leave now
without saying goodbye.
We pack up and move,
without going anywhere,
& think…
we are moving away.
You see…they did not teach us
how to stay,
Only to pick up,
(whatever you can)
and go away.
Always
away,
Always
away.
But…where…is…THAT…away??
That some…where?
That some…day?
Will we ever get there??
When & Where
‘away’
turns into
A WAY
A WAY
to fly
A WAY
to take flight
and RISE
and SING!!
and DANCE!!!
and PRAY!!!!
OUR WAY!!!!
A WAY
TO REBUILD
and (maybe this time)
Stay.
Is there A WAY…
to stay…
WHO WE ONCE WERE…
before
they came??

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“No Genocide”

Dedicated to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights

No genocide in the streets.
No genocide between pewed rows.
No genocide hitch hiking on the sides of dirt roads.

No genocide to remember.
No genocide to forget.
No genocide native homeless cast aside,
to push aside or over step.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide ghosts moaning when everyone sleeps.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide thirst or endless numbing drink.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide in dreams.
No genocide in flesh.
No genocide flies with the owls to their nest.

No genocide broken body.
No genocide life to live.
No acts of genocide to acknowledge or forgive.

No genocide erased.
No genocide replaced.
No genocide child’s good “welfare” displaced.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide in hoarding.
No genocidal wink.
No genocide blood to scrub out of the kitchen sink.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide in spic & span.
No genocide in an elders aged hand.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide in unmarked or forgotten graves.
No genocide on mothers day.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide in the ground.
No genocide in the air.
No genocide over there or
over there or over there.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide on your spirit.
No genocide in your soul.
No genocidal privileged settler
rapist afterglow.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide to keep us separate.
No genocide to keep us bound.
No genocide in missing, murdered or found.

No genocide in your groceries.
No genocide in your stores.
No genocidal bolts to lock all your incarcerated doors.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide question marks to be marked.
No genocide paper trail names to be named.
No genocidal land for the raping.
No genocide redskin fan will be defamed.

No genocide darlings.
No genocide CBC.
No genocide at all really,
because what the fuck does that have to do with me?

I am with you in genocide.

No catchable smallpox in genocide.
No ravenous hunger in genocide.
No put me back in the bucket genocide.
No running out of places to hide genocide.

I am with you in genocide.
I am with you in genocide.
I am with you in genocide.
I am with you in genocide.

No genocide in white supremacy.
No genocide in a settler state.
No genocide in dealing with
All your bullshit & your hate.

No genocide headdress to give away.
No genocidal stage.
No genocide to encore for.
No genocide to take its bow & walk away.

No genocide in domestic violence.
No genocide in poverty.
No genocide in you.
No genocide in me.

No genocide in silence.
No genocide in language lost.
No genocide in neo-colonized &
White male violence
No genocide at tax payer cost.

No genocide in your government.
No genocide on your flag.
No genocide in your museum.
No genocide to make you feel bad.

No genocide for all those afraid to say genocide.

I am with you in genocide.

No genocide.

They lied.

No genocide.

—Sarah Scout

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Sarah Scout is a Nitsitapi Blackfoot writer and Indigenous artivist. From 2000 – 2002 she attended Lethbridge Community College where she studied print journalism and communication arts. Her work has been published in print mediums such as The Endeavour, The Lethbridge Herald, Say and Beatroute Magazine and Lastrealindians.com. From November 2006 – February 2009 she was the managing editor of New Tribe Magazine. Founding the Aboriginal Writer’s Circle Calgary in 2007, Sarah created this group for Aboriginal writers, authors and storytellers to come together in celebration and exploration of the written word and oral storytelling tradition until its retirement in 2014. In her spare time, she also creates and distributes her own independent zines which document personal anecdote, stories, life writing experience and poetry in a mixed collage of black and white photography and experimental graphic design. Winner of the Royal Bank of Canada Aboriginal Student [two-year] Scholarship in 2009, Sarah studied at the University of Calgary in pursuit of her BA in English. She currently is writing her first ‘life writing’ novel (of working title) Incomplete Indian: The Indigenous Life Writings of Sarah Scout.

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Feb 032017
 

ingrid-valencia-photo-by-pascual-borzelliPhoto by Pascual Borzelli

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Flesh, destruction, the city at night, ash and fog—at times Ingrid Valencia’s poems hint towards some kind of apocalyptic landscape through which she wanders with a keen eye. However, throughout her prize-winning recent collection, Oscúrame, the destitution is always tempered by the presence of the sensual, the bodily, the physical. In the black city that calls her name she is not really alone. Her dark night of the soul belongs to us all, there is solace to be found. The poems collected here are translated by Jack Little. — Dylan Brennan

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OF THE FALL

It is not the tremor but the wound
that sinks his eyes
under night’s water
and gives an incandescent voice
to the suburbs of the tongue.

They are the gears of time
those which polish our way
for a life full
of rivers that criss-cross.

It is the dumbness of the show
a manner of speaking,
to give to another, the days.

It is not the flesh but the destruction,
the slight sound of machines
which form circles in the plaza of the body.

We are merely eyelids
which open to the night,
to the endless noise
of urgency.

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DE LA CAÍDA

No es el temblor sino la herida
la que hunde sus ojos
bajo el agua de la noche
y entrega una voz incandescente
a los suburbios de la lengua.

Son los engranes del tiempo
los que pulen nuestro paso
por una vida repleta
de ríos que se cruzan.

Es la mudez del espectáculo
una forma de hablar,
de entregar a otro los días.

No es la carne sino la destrucción,
el leve sonido de las máquinas
que forma círculos en la plaza del cuerpo.

No somos sino párpados
que se abren a la noche,
al ruido interminable
de la urgencia.

§

IZTACCÍHUATL

This is the volcano
upon a wooded canvas.
This is the same sky
which assembles the dance.
This is the fog
which encloses the forest.
These are the eyes of my parents.
The bodies of children
offered to water
like scorching stones.
This is the ascent to the mountain,
the lightness of these steps
aching
between the highest trunks.
This is the sun appearing
between the hills.
This is the slowness
of humid earth
which spreads.
This is the night
that stains
an aged body.
I charge the lanes of the skin,
the fragility of its bridges,
the act of forgetting, the defeat.
This is life, one afternoon
which folds and traverses
fear, supplication
to return, one day more,
to the alleyways of astonishment

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IZTACCÍHUATL

Este es el volcán
sobre un lienzo arbolado.
Este es el mismo cielo
que recoge la danza.
Esta es la niebla
que cierra el bosque.
Estos son los ojos de mis padres.
Los cuerpos de los niños
ofrecidos al agua
como piedras ardientes.
Este es el ascenso a la montaña,
la levedad de los pasos
que duelen
entre troncos altísimos.
Este es el sol asomado
entre los cerros.
Esta es la lentitud
de la tierra húmeda
que se esparce.
Esta es la noche
que mancha
un cuerpo envejecido.
Cargo las veredas de la piel,
la fragilidad de sus puentes,
el olvido y la derrota.
Esta es la vida, una tarde
que se pliega y recorre
el temor, la súplica
de volver, un día más,
a los callejones del asombro

§

THE DAYS

I

I look at the dust, the days,
the cage of the streets, the coins, the faces.
I recognise the rain
in this open city,
on this gray bridge,
on a jaunt
of those who lose
their body between ashes.
I am where the wind agitates
and I hear the distance,
the steps of the people,
childhood at the center of a town square
to the centre of a box,
a letter which names me.

II

I am attached to the silence
of trees
when they sway the night.
I walk between eyes
that close,
that return
that inhabit the spectral zones
of a cradle,
images sprout
the eyes light up in horror.
Eyes that forget.
Eyes that deny
the projection of shadows,
of slender trunks
to the bottom of a stage,
of a corridor,
of the prolonged years,
spent.

III

Eyes that stop
in the crevice, in the neck
of afternoons.
Eyes that bury
lights, the marks
the gaps, the flesh.
I look at them in the dust,
in the days,
in the cage of the streets
and I hear the sounds,
the beginning of the journey,
the future of the city
inside mildewed fountains.
They are the eyes, they are the skins
the show, the triumph
of approaching the light,
The look that touches
even what is not,
that which disappears.

.

LOS DÍAS

I

Miro el polvo, los días,
la jaula de las calles, las monedas, los rostros.
Reconozco la lluvia
en esta ciudad abierta,
en este puente gris,
en este andar
de los que pierden
el cuerpo entre cenizas.
Estoy donde se agita el viento
y escucho la distancia,
los pasos de la gente,
la infancia al centro de una plaza
al centro de una caja,
de una carta con mi nombre.

II

Estoy adherida al silencio
de los árboles
cuando mecen la noche.
Camino entre ojos
que se cierran,
que regresan,
que habitan las zonas
espectrales de una cuna,
Las imágenes brotan
Los ojos se iluminan de horror.
Ojos que olvidan.
Ojos que niegan
la proyección de sombras,
de troncos esbeltos
al fondo de un escenario,
de un pasillo,
de los años gastados
que se prolongan.

III

Ojos que se detienen
en la grieta, en el cuello
de las tardes.
Ojos que entierran
las luces, las marcas
los vacíos, la carne.
Yo los miro en el polvo,
en los días,
en la jaula de las calles
y escucho los sonidos,
el comienzo del recorrido,
el futuro de la ciudad
dentro de fuentes enmohecidas.
Son los ojos, son las pieles
el espectáculo, el triunfo
de aproximar la luz,
la mirada que toca
incluso lo que no está,
lo que desaparece.

§

EVERYBODY’S NIGHT

They are our words
that we abandon,
ours, the stars
that bring us closer
to the mire, to the cross, to the circle,
to the chains of humans
who cry and sing.They are yesterday’s trails
those of tomorrow,
the leaves on the trees,
the wind, the mouths, the wheel,
the chair, the staircase,
the swing and the eyes.
They are our languages
which we forget, burials.
Thus we are full of objects,
of seams, of borrowed hands
towards the final day,
everybody’s night.

.

LA NOCHE DE TODOS

Son nuestras las palabras
que abandonamos,
nuestros los astros
que nos acercan
al lodo, a la cruz, al círculo,
a la cadena de humanos
que gritan y cantan.
Son los senderos de ayer,
los de mañana,
las hojas de los árboles,
el viento, las bocas, la rueda,
la silla, la escalera,
el columpio y los ojos.
Son nuestros los lenguajes
que olvidamos, los entierros.
Así vamos llenos de objetos,
de costuras, de manos prestadas
hacia el último día,
la noche de todos.

§

I AM

I am the stone hurled
several hours ago
at the street curb,

in the black city
that calls my name.

.

SOY

Soy la roca lanzada
hace ya varias horas
a la orilla de la calle,

de la ciudad negra
que me nombra.

§

OPENING

I bite at daytime’s notebooks,
I tear out the letters on the clock,

I lose myself in each hand,
in the water that covers me,
in the people who remember,

in the words that open
night’s ashen petals.

.

APERTURA

Muerdo los cuadernos del día,
arranco las letras del reloj,

me pierdo en la mano,
en el agua que me cubre,
en la gente que recuerda,

en las palabras que abren
los pétalos cenizos de la noche.

— Ingrid Valencia, Translated from the Spanish by Jack Little.

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Ingrid Valencia was born in Mexico City in 1983. She is a poet, editor and arts and cultural manager. She founded and ran the arts journal La Manzana, arte & psique from 2005 to 2010. For the past six years she has acted as coordinating editor for Cuicuilco, revista de ciencias antropológicas for the ENAH (National School of Anthropology and History). She has written six books of poetry including La inacabable sombra [Literalia Editores, 2008], De Nebra [La Ceibita / Conaculta, 2013], One Ticket [French trans. by Odelin Salmeron, La Grenouillère / Literalia Editores, 2015], Taxidermia [Ediciones El Humo / Conaculta, 2015], and Un círculo en otro sol [English trans. by Don Cellini, Ofi Press, 2016]. Her most recent book, Oscúrame [Diputación de Salamanca, España, 2016] won the Premio de Poesía “Pilar Fernández Labrador” prize at Salamanca in 2016.

§

jack-little-picture

Jack Little is a British-Mexican poet, editor and translator based in Mexico City and Palma de Mallorca. In 2015, Jack participated in the International Book Fair in Mexico City, reading his work in the Zócalo of Mexico’s capital. He is the founding editor of The Ofi Press, an online cultural journal with an international focus now in its 51st edition. Jack will publish a series of e-books of young Mexican poets in translation throughout 2016 and 2017, the first three of which are available to download for free from The Ofi Press website, one of which was written by Ingrid Valencia. His first pamphlet ‘Elsewhere’ was published by Eyewear in the summer of 2015 and his most recent work has been published in Periódico de Poesía, Otoliths, Wasafiri, Lighthouse, M56, The Human Journal and Numéro Cinq. Jack was the poet in residence at The Heinrich Böll Cottage on Achill Island in the west of Ireland in July 2016. www.ofipress.com

.

 

Jan 132017
 

Marjan StrojanMarjan Strojan

x

Not in Noah’s Flood

They say, we write to remember and we read
to forget. Ignorant of either, I wished I could
write to grow up, especially the letter Y.
I’ve been practicing Y since I first saw it printed

on the covers of American picture books
arriving in U.N.R.A. parcels, safely tucked away
up in the attic. Y never failed to impress me,
looking both like girls’ legs pressed together

and the forked sprigs we broke off from the alder
trees to place our fishing rods onto when we were
going after the dace; and in my dizzier moments,
like the throats, slit open by broken bottlenecks,

of long coated dark men in cheery hats, who,
a few pages on, turned into corpses, floating in
booze or drowning in some other disastrous liquid,
but not, for all I could see, in Noah’s flood.

x
On Returning a Book to a Public Library

I’ll make this short. Days always surprise me.
So when I’m returning a book to a library
it doesn’t mean I’ve finished it or had no
intention of reading on. It only means that
despite its renewal the library’s lease has
expired and that the times and places and
extravagant fortunes of men, with the traditions
of various schools and institutions of knowledge,
secret societies and writings of all ages,
collected and arranged into chapters

or classified according to their alphabetical
order, have found themselves locked behind
the doors of inscrutable hallways, keys flung
away as carelessly as if they were dandelion
seeds. No doubt they will go on along
the corridors of some cerebral Hades weaving
their lives quite independent of those that
time and again I capture in my glimpses
scattered or overheard in chunks of
fragmented conversation, however inadequate.

So, in the cobwebs of Saint Petersburg’s
Railway Station (in snow) Madame Karenina
still waits to throw herself under a train.
And I’ll probably never find out what Vronsky
could have done at the time, if anything.
Tatiana never finished her letter, though I presume
she had turned down the poet, who ages ago,
in his small neat hand, had been scribbling
in his notebook the names of his lovers.
And Doctor Rieux, even he – what did he,

after the danger had passed, say to a writer
whose fast traveling ladies clattered around
Bois de Boulogne in their carriages – if, indeed,
he survived the ordeal? Is this important?
I don’t know; take the book I was bringing
back this afternoon. I can’t for the sake of me
remember who wrote it; even his middle name,
a common and well-known one, evades me
completely. A tiny collection of verse, like
scenes of renaissance architecture and its triangles

and elegant stairways in precise, condensed
light, the color of salt. It was a book of
poems which now, when forgotten, seem even
better, compact in the language of vague,
unruly translation, opening new and unexpected
prospects on each of its metaphors – sharp and
twofold – like ‘pillars’ and ‘horse.’ There was an air
of something conquering, victorious in far away
places about them, like a clang of a sword drawn
from a scabbard: Vincente Cortázar Paladio.

x
Remembering Hopkins

In our local Clinic stands a Tree of Health,
the branches of its richly grown crown
decorated by various inscriptions like Happiness,
Love, Good Personal Relations,
Friendship etc. Up the tree trunk
lines of multi-coloured twinkling fairy lights
lead on to them, which – in a circuit
as on big Christmas trees – then run down again
to the Tree’s mighty roots, bearing labels like
Recreation, Sleep, Nutrition and Relaxation,
Giving up Bad Habits, Healthy Sexuality, Hygiene.
Lord, send the roots rain.

x
Zinnias in Bloom

Zinnias in bloom; a train
moving on, departing: maids’
work on the balcony.
An electric pole – a hedgehog
trying to climb it: a palm tree
by night. The branch of an elder
bush dressing itself up in black:
the scent of its inflorescence
quietly glowing. Among the wild
rose petals a spider hiding from
the rain. Had it not gone into
hiding it would have stayed hidden.
Night gathers; the starlings flock
onto a sign-board: in the sky
a child from the long gone past
is happily singing. Rain descends from
the heavens; fire licks the star
by the edges. One me coming down
to lie on the earth.

x
Where are you?

I am sitting in the doorway
under the light; the grass is darkening,
the stream below the house
sounds clearer. I’ve been waiting
for I don’t know what, for you
to call me, for weeks. And now –
not in the house, here outside,
from over the hill, from the stream,
from the wind through the branches,
your voice sounds, soft and clear –
Where are you, what are you doing?
Moths are settling on my head.
They are drawn to what’s in there
and want to get to you.

—Marjan Strojan translated by Alasdair MacKinnon

x

Marjan Strojan (1949) was raised on a small farm in Slovenia. He studied philosophy and comparative literature, and he has worked at one time or another as a baggage carrier and load-sheet-man at an airport, a film critic in Ljubljana, and a journalist in London. He lives in Slovenia.

Strojan has published seven books of poetry and many translations, including Beowulf (1992); James Joyce, a selection of his poetry (2000); Lavinia Greenlaw, a selection of her poetry (2000); Robert Frost, a selection of his poetry (2001); John Milton, Paradise Lost (Izgubljeni raj, 2003, 2011); Sydney Lea, a selection of his poetry (Na votlem ledu, 2006), and Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (Canterburyjske povesti , 2012). In 1997 he published his Anthology of English Poetry (Antologija angleške poezije). His latest books are William Shakespeare, Songs from Plays (Pesmi iz iger, CZ, 2016) and Marjan Strojan, Dells and Hollows, Autumn Hill Books, 2016.

x
x

Jan 112017
 

stuart-barnes-480pxPhoto credit: Leigh Backhouse

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stuart-barnes-book-cover-380px

.

Ross Creek Triolets

Red

High tide: the drunk drops a line where salt
water, fresh converge: subtropical trompe
l’oeil: honeyeaters squeak on asphalt,
stab redly at chalk grapes: the Coral Sea, salt
like speech, scallops trawlers, fault on fault:
sudden whoosh, O God! from mangrove swamp:
the meth head rehydrates the brat: sugar, water, salt:
the black hour pitches: four thousand bats tromp.

.

Green

Are the bats suspended like concertists’
quavers, or have their wings been splayed by God, bored
with reassembling angels’: this loneliest of taxidermists
has no faith in showered concertists:
frames sway greenly in powerlines: photojournalists
(everyone’s one) flaunt their sleaze on Instagram: floored
by echolocation flawed, canvaslike concertists
waver: forty wings in which black holes are bored.

.

Blue

A fortissimo carves the heavens’ bones:
drunk, meth head, brat star the litter of the gutter:
wool-tipped mallets tar a vibraphone’s
ribs: the full moon’s floating bones
disentangle bluely: old grindstone’s
whine: God tortures linoleum cutter:
four menangles of bats’ bones
stutter Pianissimo from the black gutter.

Violencento

On the day of the explosion
Everything is liable to explode. Many times

Just take the imagists. Their heads explode.
The manufacturer of explosives, and so on,

Buildings sculpted by explosion
Like a stab of paradise: explode: and then at last

Stars explode.

I breathe in, breathe in and don’t explode.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.

.

Note: a cento from Philip Larkin’s ‘The Explosion’, Fady Joudah’s ‘Sleeping Trees’, Paula Tatarunis’ ‘SCHOOLS’, Louis Simpson’s ‘On the Lawn at the Villa’, Alicia Ostriker’s ‘The Window, at the Moment of Flame’, John Koethe’s ‘Domes’, Naomi Shihab Nye’s ‘Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change’, Pura Lopez-Colome’s ‘Echo’, Sylvia Plath’s ‘Tulips’

.

Qing Song

Seven Chinese needles. I needn’t watch,
I do not watch. On this organ cushion, others cry.
Might I transfigure elements.

I sense enviousness, Goliathless statue
unafraid of my nakedness
now. Diagrams bow from the walls.

A footpath, a man with glasses and my mother,
two thawing snow skin mooncakes. I slow
at the junction, their autumn jackets ripple like paddies. ‘Hand

me a handful of earth, a red rose.’ Moth-breath
issues from my lips. I listen
serenely to ambulances, cattle trucks, ear

a mosquito’s blood bag. I cannot see her handsewn floral
skirts, her terry towelling nightgown,
the spotless venetian blinds, the bedroom’s square

of cubbyhole. I try
the Red Boat’s soloist’s notes;
my diaphragm balloons.

.

Note: a terminal from Sylvia Plath’s ‘Morning Song’; ‘With the sestina as a model, John Tranter has created the terminal — a new form similar to, but far more flexible than, the sestina in its emphasis on end-words. Taking only the line endings from previously published poems, the terminal can be any length.’ —Brian Henry

.

Pains

I’ve looked into the Spanish eyes of El Dorado.
I looked — a dream — and saw the Soul of Spain.
xIn this dream-Spain,

Under Spanish clouds, a summer bliss. Oh:
In Spain, the bougainvillea entered
Spain wears whole groves of them

In another flat a Spanish lament tilts its stealthy ardour
Spain — an itch along the skin,
xxNow I’m his Spanish boy, who died in his city

.

Note: a cento from David Rowbotham’s ‘Snow Decembers’, Peter Porter’s ‘Antonio Soler’s Fingertips’, Victor J. Daley’s ‘In a Wine Cellar’, Luke Davies’ ‘(Shudder)’, MTC Cronin’s ‘Garden Flowers (Las Flores del Jardin)’, Kate Llewellyn’s ‘Oranges’, Gig Ryan’s ‘The Cross/The Bay’, Jan Owen’s ‘Travelling Light’, Adam Aitken’s ‘The Connoisseurs’

.

Central Queensland rondelets

Anemones
meltdown in Coral Sea’s fishtanks;
anemones
seized from sunbelt’s frangipanis:
fishy clowns’ magnificent pranks.
White, edible petals close ranks,
‘Anemones.’

Black fruit bats drop
mangoes on steel corrugations.
‘Black fruit bats.’ ‘Drop
it’: useless appeal. The backdrop
billows, tangles constellations.
A squeal of abbreviations —
black fruit bats drop.

Curlews’ night-shrieks
grieve the grey dead centre of town.
Curlews’ night: shrieks
of coal trains chill Mount Archer’s peaks;
two foals mill by a broken-down
harvester; the third upside-down
‘Curlews’. Night shrieks …

.

Fifteen

and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands …
—Acts, 27:17

Father F wanted to talk to me.
O fuck, he saw me nicking candles.
In the musty vestry
he drew the green velvet curtain.

‘Schmuck, I’ve seen you nicking candles.’
One hand in wrinkled black pants; the other
drew the green velvet curtain.
To the sofa he moved, closer, closer,

quicksand in wrinkled black pants. A groper
expelled a steaming cup. He padded
to the sofa. He moved closer, closer.
I smelled brown spirits on his breath.

I held the steaming cup. He patted
my knee. ‘I have to tell your father.’
I smelled foul spirits on his breath.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, weeny meanie,

my knee—‘I have to tell your Father.
If that hand crawls any farther north’—
weeny meanie, my knee—no! weeny meanie
‘I’ll break its fucking fishy bones.’ I paused.

‘If that hand crawls any farther north’—
Father F sweltered like devils—
‘I’ll break its fucking fishy bones.’ I posed.
‘You make a hell of a cup of tea.’

Father F couldn’t swelter weevils.
Father F wanted to talk to me.
He made a hell of a cup of tea
in the musty vestry.

.

—Stuart Barnes

.

Stuart Barnes was born in Hobart, Tasmania, and educated at Monash University. He was runner-up for the 2014 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript. He won the 2015 Thomas Shapcott Prize, resulting in the publication of his debut collection, Glasshouses (University of Queensland Press, 2016). Since 2013 he has lived in Central Queensland and been Poetry Editor for Tincture Journal. He tweets @StuartABarnes.

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Jan 102017
 

mary-di-michele

x
x

Black Dog

I had yet to use the selfie stick I got for Christmas
so I took this photo when I could not find the words
for even my empty coffee cup Chez Fred. The tattooed

barista, all piercings, and black torn stockings, fills it up;
always americano lungo, s’il vous plait. What makes
a Parisian lawyer open a bakery in Montréal?

The run off in gutters is icing over again and
that’s what they call le printemps in this city, n’est-ce pas?
After 25 years of planning, the Egyptian themed

theatre up the street has yet to reopen. Anubis
presides over its grave, not its rebirth. Anubis is
a god with the head of a black dog. Beware of the god.

I sort through stacks of newspapers left behind, the read and
the unread. I like that it’s quiet; and the aromas
of espresso and madeleine, the loudest things. I open

the door to a medley of crows calling, no, it’s seagulls,
and a dog, tied outside BBP orthopedics, barking.
Nobody likes to be left alone. It’s Saint Patrick’s day, or

it was not too long ago, shamrock stickers still plaster
the windows of Liquid Lounge. There’s a family picture
taken in Belgium, my brother swaddled in a carriage;

when my mother started to lose her memory she kept
this photo in her pocket; it’s folded into quarters
and badly creased. Some might say it was ruined. Red mail truck, red

mailbox, it’s a cheerful colour on a dull day in No
Damned Good. How did I get here? I grow old, I grow old, I
will wear the bottoms of my blue jeans rolled. Clouds are pinking

in a cerulean sky; I wax poetic. I am not
home yet where another era’s technologies: the Sony
cassette player, the Olivetti typewriter and my

65 year old brain ne marchent pas bien. What of the bowl
on the desk, filled with pine cones? No trees will grow from them.
I’ve set up a little shrine around the folded family

photo I flattened out and then framed. After death there is
an aura, a palpable halo around the faces
in photos of the departed; their silence says this once was.

x
x

Like Kafka’s Ape
xxxx(after Giorgio Caproni)

…your life as apes, gentlemen, in so far as something of that kind lies behind you, cannot be farther removed from you than mine is from me.

No, it’s not mine
this country I was shipped to,
not born in. Now
even among the crowds
I’m at a loss and lonesome,
I’m an outlier, an anomaly like
a stained-glass angel in the church
of There’s No God. Like
a human on exhibit in the zoo.

In my heart there’s another country
I long for. It’s somewhere al di là
in the idea of a memory, a hometown,
a city, gloomy by day, but by night
all aglimmer with lights, trembling like
yahrzeit candles lit for the living.
When the moon rises, resplendent
over the cemetery, the young go
there to boogie among the tombs. O city,

O country, where none, not death, not
the devil can ever take me back.

x
x

De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclette

I can no longer get past that scene
where Maria pawns her matrimonial linen,
a poor woman’s dowry, and so precious
to her, while in the background there are
piles of such bedsheets at the shop.
They have no money and her husband
Antonio needs a bicycle to get a job
putting up posters around the city.
It pays good money every week, they can
even buy an egg for their first born
daughter– no, that’s not in the movie,
that was my family in post war Italy. I remember

the first egg. My mother punctured the top
with a needle and I drank it down raw.

x
x

Robert Lowell Reads at Scarborough College, circa 1970

An audience of one came to hear the renown
poet read, if you do not count the coterie of three
accompanying him, so they left the lecture room
for an open lounge in the hall. The building
– a titanic monolith – was itself of interest
and worth the move to view walls rising in slabs
of concrete. Even the windows were bulwarks
of glass through which light leaked, snow filtered light
falling from the firmament and about to flatten

the world. They sat, the three, along with one student
come to see a real poet, a living one, with a sense
that she was about to partake of a sacrament,
a mystery. To prepare herself she had read him,
standing in the library stacks. The poet
was about to manifest. The word, so fragile, so

friable, made flesh. He stood – nor did he seem aggrieved
to speak to so few – his book holding him up.
A bit of preamble on the Cuban missile
crisis and what it means, what it meant, to live
in the shadow of nuclear annihilation,
a sky about to fall on us all, and end
life as we know it. He was right to be depressed,
it was far more than brain chemistry at work.
His poetry was not political, but he had been
a fire-breathing Catholic C.O. – or so he confessed

in Memories of West Street and Lepke. Head angled
in Modilgiani melancholy or as if a violin
were propped between shoulder and chin,
Lowell read as if he were listening
to someone else, some invisible other reading.

More than forty years later now does she still
imagine him, eyes fixed on the printed lines of his page,
and literally seeing the blue threads as thin as pen-writing
on his father’s bedspread? Did he scry there his last
moments: New York City, in a taxi, on the way back
to Elizabeth, the critic spouse? There were three wives,
one always lovelier than the last, three times
the whoop, the wail, the woe that is in marriage. Until

he looked back and saw what he could not see then,
what cannot be seen head on with looking.

x
x

A Poem About Absolutely Nothing

“I have done absolutely nothing
for six weeks,” in a letter to Woolf,
Eliot admonishes himself, “I have been
boiled in a hell broth.” He was referring
to his mother’s visit. All day I too
have done nothing.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWho begins a letter
that way? or, for that matter a poem?
The aspen admonishes, the spruce censures
me. I have been advised, sagely, as a woman
to wear pink, it will disarm my enemies.

—Mary di Michele

x
Mary di Michele is a poet, novelist, and member of the collaborative writing group, Yoko’s Dogs. Her books include the selected poems Stranger in You (Oxford University Press 1995) and the novel Tenor of Love (Viking Canada, Simon & Schuster USA 2005). A tenth collection of poetry, Bicycle Thieves, is forthcoming from ECW Press in April 2017. Her awards include first prize for poetry in the CBC literary competition, the Air Canada Writing Award, and the Malahat Review Long Poem Prize. She lives in Montreal where she teaches at Concordia University.

x
x

Jan 092017
 

alison-prine

x

Story Hour at the Monkey House Bar

The rule is that the story
must belong to the teller
last five minutes
and be spoken without notes.

So it’s a surprise when
in the stranger’s tale
your mother appears
disguised as a ringing phone
and your chest
a field of grain.

The teller emerges gradually,
as if whittled from a block of wood.
Then applause
burnishes and clarifies.

Did you see the moment
when the speaker’s face
became boundless
and complete in the same breath?

Each story lives as a cairn in the forest,
an arrangement that says
I was here, but am no longer.

x
x
Lost Season

winter didn’t come
the lake remained open and moving
the robins never left

we waited for the muffling
for snow to fall through the hours
absorb all the hum and clang

crows failed to gather
high in the bare trees
and something happened

to our sleep to our ground
all that couldn’t go dormant
strained in the growing light

the pull from freeze to thaw
went slack and the sap
held back in the maple

we needed one another less
no bitter wind to recoil from
nothing to crack or loosen

so we said what would
have been left to silence
and felt our old lives forget us

x
x
Carry

Fear settles in the body at variable densities

depending on levels of iodine
or derision in your parents’ conversation.

We get exhausted differently.
While you travel from Kenya to Vietnam

I will head to the dark end
of the hallway.

We were told the stitches would dissolve.
A small white pill was prescribed

to quiet the windows in their frames.
Can you see how time is tearing through me like a storm?

We were told the memories
would slowly fracture and become absorbed.

The you in this poem is you
and the narrator a woman whose hands are cracking.

x
x
Your Last Winter in Savannah

We cut a path through the sabal palms
though soon you will leave them.

Here your past isn’t thick –
and finer still, tomorrows:

delicate Spring plumage of the night heron
thin shadows of live oaks with sprays of Spanish moss

air touching everything lightly.
The ancestors here do not belong to us, are strangers.

Time now when you don’t want any more surprise
no more beginnings.

You said, watch the wood storks as they circle,
their grace disappears so utterly when landing.

Hard to decipher the dank smell of the paper mills
from the old salt of the marshland.

Soon we’ll forget both and in our absence
the nests of these egrets will fall, stick by stick.

x
x
My Sister’s City

Tall buildings put us in the shade
for most of the day, blunt edges
pushing hard against the soft curve of sky.

We move among the snarl and the slow
renovation, protected by and sealed off by
scaffoldings. So much conversion.
The disconcerting brush of many glances
as up through the muscles of my legs
I feel the rumble and groan of an undercity
and all its trespassers.

If I find a bench and sit with my sister
in a comforting beam of sunlight
then who can I believe has really
been a member of the same audience?

This is not like home
with all its debts and ashes.
Here I could be reinvented
while cement cutters grind at our lives
like precious stones.

—Alison Prine

x

Alison Prine’s debut collection of poems, Steel, was chosen by Jeffrey Harrison for the Cider Press Review Book Award and was released in January 2016. Her poems have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Green Mountains Review, and Prairie Schooner among others. She lives in Burlington, Vermont where she works as a psychotherapist.

x
x

Jan 062017
 

kathy-fagan

x
x
WINDY, WITH CLOUDS BREAKING

My note from the night before reads
Drink water. Lots of water. Only water.

For when clouds break
xxxxxxxxxxxx it matters they be empty.

The performance coach says It matters
you know how your look reads.

On another note
are the syllables mots-a-rell-a
so dad will eat the cheese he no longer has the word for.

And another, Mr. Goldstrike, for the zone-appropriate plant
I can’t remember the look of right now.

So much is about forgetting.

Wind scrubbing the young stands of sycamore at the river
until they reach like tuning forks. Clouds breaking
xxxxxxxxxxxxx as if we could see inside.

x
x
COGNITION

I’m here, riverbank—
wearing John Berryman’s glasses
like everyone else.

I was thinking that evergreen
looked like a Leonardo, i.e., the umbrella
pines of Rome.

I was thinking of their soft
candles in spring that aim toward
the sun like birds each

morning, careening beyond the visual
mayhem of geranium
red. In that color

riot, it’s a relief to see female
finches & cardinals bland as cartoon
balloons overhead,

pitted stonefruits, aging
uteruses, pantoums all: repeat, repeat,
done. You want something

you don’t have? What is it
you have now? The sky swims into the river,
the skylights, & windows;

traffic writes its Hebraic script
each night.
The MOCA test requires that one recall only

five words: Velvet. Face. Church. Daisy. Red.
Dad got none of them.
With or without my glasses,

not one is not a picture I will never see.

x
x
FORESHORTENING

The man I’d hired cut the mower’s engine, shouting
uphill to me he had to go pick up his son. Lost his license.

DUI. He’s a Afghan vet with that post-partum stress depression.
Seen things you and I can’t even phantom. I thought I could,

so waved him off as understanding people do and turned away.
Skype and middle age had made me wary of being

looked at from below. Zelda Fitzgerald drew everything
from that perspective, as if seated always in the orchestra,

or a child at the foot of a drawer at the morgue.
When the neurologist illuminated my father’s brain

scan at the V.A., I had to re-adjust my own perspective
to understand that we were viewing from below.

Through jawbone, nostrils, eye sockets, a series
of curtains parted to reveal, finally, his frontal lobes,

twin prosceniums so dark, nothing could be seen.

x
x
EMPIRE
xxxxwith a penultimate couplet adapted from Sabrina Orah Mark

I went out looking
at Europe & all its stones
its diagonal churches & bronze
horses my shoes clattering like their
shoes my eyes as wild

If the heart is a cup
if coins are diamonds
well then we are
full & we are rich

Here
baked sometimes inside the cake
is a favor not a file
Here
sometimes cake is all we eat

How pretty the pedestrians inside
their full-face haloes of dog fur

Arrow is my hometown—
isn’t that what Stein meant?

How can I choose between
Heaven & Sorry
when I own both
of them so much already?

—Kathy Fagan

x
Kathy Fagan’s forthcoming book is Sycamore (Milkweed Editions, March 2017). Her first collection, The Raft, won the National Poetry Series; her second, MOVING & ST RAGE, the Vassar Miller Poetry Prize. Recent work appears in The New Republic and Narrative. Director of the Creative Writing Program at Ohio State, Fagan serves as Series Editor of the OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Poetry Prize. Her website is http://www.kathyfagan.net

x
x

Dec 142016
 

Riiki Ducornet

..
An orchestral version of Mussorgsky’s  The Great Door (or Gate) of Kiev from his Pictures at an Exhibition, just for reference, since it threads through the poem as a musical motif.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Into the Lollipop Light

Father of painted wood
as when in a brimming hour
Mussorgsky sparks the air
with harems, a souk
its beggars, a brief
swarm of bees.

The Dead.
Speaking in a dead tongue.
The Great Door of Kiev.
Father. Fork in hand
conducting.
His jade traced
with mercury.
His crown forged
of tin.

The one father who dying
asks she stay beside him.
Instead she runs into
the naked air.
Running from the father
who had abandoned her
in a place of his choosing.

(Even now such things happen.)

Exiled she
had been left to drift
between Ether and
Earth.

::::::::::::

Her father sleeps
in the spare room.
A room
unchartered and
enigmatic.
Its shadows pooling there
where two walls collide.

When he awakens
his loneliness is incalculable, a
savage loneliness
unquenchable, somehow
familiar.

Her father who
in his decrepitude
wanders the interstellar mall
bewildered by
the proliferation of irreverent
forms suspended in an
unfamiliar air.

Its parakeets
spawned in jars
all the colors of candy.
Shuddering.

In the lobby
a broken machine leaking
something sweet.

Her father on the lookout
for a thing he can recognize.
The nest of a bird.
The spine of a book.

Yet the shop girls know him
boldly call out:
Hey, there, Professor!

Tired as hounds.
Perched on the small bones
of their feet.
Their faces, the faces
of mendicants.

What’s this? she wonders.
Hesiod, he tells her.
Read it, he reassures her
if only to pass the time.
Pass the time, he says it again
his eyes spilling over.
We must . . .
pass it . . . well.

Stitched with roses
she smells of vanilla.
Out on a limb
leaning into the radiant future
craning her neck.

Say! she says. And: Oh! Professor!
Ashamed, he turns away.
She would console him
touches his sleeve
for her father is grieving.

On another day
the same girl, apocalyptic
finds him, whispers with urgency:
Sir! The ceiling!
The ceiling is about to fall!

Hesiod. He tells her. It’s lovely.
Grinning like a boy.

This is when Death enters.
Dancing sideways
his hands in his pockets.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

In the mornings
she fries him bacon.
Make it crisp, he says
because she won’t.
(speaking of the wife
already at the mall shopping early.)

Outside the window
the day breaks open
yolk leaking across
the sidewalk, the lawn
the streets.

After breakfast
together they walk to the mall.

Above the highway
the light changes as
in the distance an
incomprehensible meadow
rises in a cloud of dust.

At the edge of town
a train shrieks
a beast from another world
entirely.

Look: Right there on the pavement
something irretrievable.

Something is the matter.
If only we could put our finger on it.

::::::::::::

He says: I’ll take you to lunch.
There’s a pub. Tables made of wood. You can touch it.
The darkness pooling beneath his eyes
even then.

The mall
Thoth at the entrance, scowling.
Yet they are fearless.
Walk right in.

Into the Lollipop Light.

In the lungs:
strange molecules.

The colors of patriotism are:
cinnabar, arsenic, sulfur, thallium.

::::::::::::

Over lunch they argue about
Carl Jung.
His dubious mysticism.
(Their moments of intimacy
have always been arcane.)

As meanwhile
in the proximate world, the girls
lost in time, weightless
ruled by uncertainty
drift among fields of
incomprehensible things.

Fish swimming in cellophane
hanging like snacks from racks.

Such small events, and yet . . .

The mall. That will one day
erupt. Shredding:
inventory, staff, Saturday shoppers.
All this.
A rosy mist.
A gritty dust.

A space as big as lies and yet
it cannot contain such a
surfeit of bewilderment.

::::::::::::

One day near the tracks
down the way
a girl reads a book—Oh! It is weird!
Yet somehow compelling

She finds a pearl
lodged in her ear—
although it is her day off
and she miles from the event.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

She is running.
She is running in streets empty of sirens
deep in stillness
past the living
trees, beneath the
bruised moon its
diligent scribe suspended
in contemplation. The hour drifts
beneath a sudden gathering of clouds.

Her lover waiting
in an unfamiliar room.
He sees her approach.
Steps into the late afternoon.

They meet at the curb
in a confluence of rivers.
He folds her to him
as in the radiance she thinks:
children of light we stray.

They come together
in the sudden rain
beneath a sky unhinged.
Their losses sweeping down
veiling, unveiling their faces.

She says: I come to you
as my father leans into his departure.
We have a hour. An hour, only.

They are seeking
to resolve a mystery.
They are seeking
the garden at the
confluence of everything.

The colors of longing are:
white dolphin, golden toad, black rhinoceros,
pink headed duck.

All the colors of paradise.

She thinks his kiss tastes of
limes, of salt.
She thinks his face is
a star.
Together they stand in
the mammal rain.

She has known him two days.
The seconds as sacred as time and space.

They swim together in the room’s ocean
the hour licking it’s forepaws
its eyes of green gold.

The hour no bigger than
a lace wing.

A planet secure as a stone.

Everything safe within
a cage of stone.

Everything breathing
crystals of graphite.

A planet of savage power.
A girl and her lover
suspended in
a sanctuary.
A golden age reduced
to an hour.

All this.
As on another continent
a photographer catalogues
vanished species of birds.
These she finds
in museum drawers
stashed in boxes—
shoe boxes, cigar boxes—
white cotton blooming there
where their eyes
have gone missing.

A small immensity. And yet.

Some kind of impropriety.

Somewhere else a courtyard
dissolves in smoke
a rubber ball
rolls into the street
a child’s head
rolls into the shadows.

A planet smashed with a hammer like a skull.

A planet/circus ruled by clowns.

A malignant planet
the knowledge of its crimes
coagulating. Corrupting everything.

Her ankles wired together.
Her lips blue with cold.
Kept in a kennel.
Asleep in a box.
Awake in a cellar.
Concealed in the shadows.

A planet free of affliction
its surface sparking
with the luster of a thousand moons.

A planet ruled by immediacy a
tender urgency, a fearless loving.

A planet brimming with significance.
Its busses infested with sorrow. Where
beneath the bridges the penitent homeless dare not
acknowledge one another.

::::::::::::

One day a flock of birds falls to the pavement.
The next day a flock of birds falls into a meadow.
Their beaks stained blue.
Their small feet bound with wire.

Somewhere a prisoner hogtied with wire.
Left that way.
Made to breathe water.

On another day a flock of geese
come to rest on a pool of mercury.

The colors of longing are:
the hands, the feet growing progressively darker.
A red ball rolling into the street.
A white tooth found at the beach.
A shoe brought in by the blue tide.
A cinema at the end of a corridor
where an aquaintance
had received a bullet to the neck.

A planet awash in charity.
A planet up to its eyes in serenity.
Planets like beacons in the abyss.

A planet where a lover
prepares quail for his beloved
browns pine nuts for the rice
pomegranate seeds
sparking the plate.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

When her father awakens
the world is greatly diminished.
It streams silently past.
His mind once given to rapture
the many of species of birds
their names such as . . .
such as . . . p . . .
parro . . . t . . .
parrotkeet.

And there was
a daughter.
The guilt that corroded everything.

He awakens in an enigmatic room.
One enigma after another.

This is when the tigers assemble and leap.
This is when he calls out pummeled with stones.

This is when she rises
kisses her lover’s open hands.
Collects her things, begins to run
runs oblivious of the
cracks in the sidewalk.
The cracks in the sky.

That morning she had read to her father.
Cortazar: From The Observatory.
After he had whispered
into her ear:
I will now leave the world like an eel.
His smile all at once tender and ironic.

::::::::::::

Once in the evenings
when she was small
her father would tell her
wonderful things.
How Plato believed
in a True Earth a
a True Sky—
and this
illumed by
a True Light.

Unlike our world
wedged between mud and rock
ruled by unknowing.
Light as thought
the inhabitants of True Earth
lived on islands in the air
like Laputans.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

The last time they enter the mall together
her father says:
welcome to the Subterrestrial Realm.
He warns her of its seductive amulets
yet examines the watches
with such fascination
they are immobilized for an eternity
as if bewitched.

She can tell he is thinking of Plato
thinking of a True Earth.
(She is well acquainted with
his stubborn wistfulness.)
The ceiling, he says, will surely collapse.
But, perhaps, not today.

::::::::::::
::::::::::::

When she was a child
he told her everything is made
of molecules. But for the molecules.
They are made of something
smaller.

These in another universe
could be planets.
Their names:
Zâzêl
Hasmââl
Barsâbêl
Samiel

Sometimes she thinks
she is that child
awake in the morning’s first hour.
The floor of her room
scattered with planets.
Some have rings.
Their moons, the moments
of crystal of amber
firefox moments
firefly moments
in ceaseless agitation.

With her crayons
she draws the gods
their yellow chairs
marking the poles.
Their bright faces
unmoved by the passage
of the lunar years.

The gods. Sitting astride ostriches
the size of camels.

Every hour a planet orbits the room.

The many planets
burning the eyes.
Those with atmospheres
inhabited with things with wings.
Sentient. Philosophical.
In all the best colors.

Some planets are like Earth.
Only more so.

Their oceans so salty
you can walk
from one continent
to the next.

:::::::::::

It is curious
that such a father
with whom she has traveled so far
will abandon her.
That he, in his folly
will cut off her feet
just as the ogres are said to do.

Father. From the bottom of the well
from the corner of the room
from deep within the sea

I called your name.

:::::::::::
:::::::::::

She finds her father
as she left him
in the spare room
recumbent
like a young lion
or a child.

Folded together
his fists protect his heart.
She says: I am here.

He stirs.
Touches her wet sleeve
a wet lock of hair.
Does not ask: Where were you.
Says only: Thank you.

Just beyond the open window
the rain has freshened everything.
A handful of birds spire
scatter like seeds.

This is when his wife enters the room.
Pills sparking the palm of her hand.

:::::::::::

That night she dreams
she had not left him
had stayed beside him.
Had made him a vestment of jade
finally articulated.
Had left his face unmasked
knowing beneath their lids
the whites of his eyes were blue.
That under the protection
of the sacred color
her father would not suffer.

Yet, in other, more recent dreams
he persists, asks: Where were you?
She tells him:
When you betrayed me
I tumbled through space
like a shard of ice.
Only now have I found
my footing, can walk without reeling.
Only now have I
retrieved my name.

In her dream, the afternoon
is long over.
They are alone together.
She rises, says this final thing:

If I were still your daughter
I would sew for you a shirt
painted with bees, the eyes
of Horus.

I would cover you thus
to keep you safe.
And I would provide a map
so that you would find your way
from star to star
far from the nefarious places.

And I would assure
that a certain melody be played
one that you loved:
The Great Door of Kiev
when at the very last
your ashes were placed in the ground.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

—Rikki Ducornet

.
The author of nine novels, three collections of short fiction, two books of essays and five books of poetry, Rikki Ducornet has received both a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award For Fiction. She has received the Bard College Arts and Letters award and, in 2008, an Academy Award in Literature. Her work is widely published abroad. Recent exhibitions of her paintings include the solo show Desirous at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2007, and the group shows: O Reverso Do Olhar in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2008, and El Umbral Secreto at the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende in Santiago, Chile, in 2009. She has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Coover, Forest Gander, Kate Bernheimer, Joanna Howard and Anne Waldman among others. Her collected papers including prints and drawings are in the permanent collection of the Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago Chile, the McMaster University Museum, Ontario, Canada, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

.
.

Dec 132016
 

cassidy-mcfadzean

x

Invocation of the Unicorn

As hunters enter the woods,
we enter the room of tapestries.
Medici’s horn in the corner

casts a gleam that seizes our vision,
a narwhal tusk masquerading
as the unicorn’s tapering wand.

The tapestries spin enchantment.
They snatch us towards the start
of the hunt,
to a hundred species

of plants and beasts. We identify
daffodil and periwinkle, perceive
witch’s broom, lady’s mantle.

Meld, madder, and woad’s
pigments of red, blue, yellow,
an artist’s bed of dyes. The tapestry

depicts origins of its own making.
The lymerer collects scant droppings
as a scout signals from behind

a walnut tree to the extant hunting
party. The unicorn is found. We see
sage leaf and orange tree, antidotes

hinting that the unicorn purifies
the fountain’s poisoned stream
from which a pair of pheasants sip.

But the unicorn can’t be disturbed
when conducting his magic.
The tree blossoms and bears fruit

in a single instance, a paradox
of fertility. Twelve hunters surround it
in conversation, their dogs in wait.

Goldfinches, a stag, and rabbits
lay before the flowing pillar spout
and the cypher AE. We puzzle over

what the enigma means. Pot marigold
under the hyena’s chin signals
disaster. Man watches animals

gather around the fountain. Ten
hunters approach the beast. The
unicorn leaps out of the stream.

An oak tree stands at center scene.
AE glowers from four corners
as elsewhere aristocratic initials

utter invocations. A castle looms
in the background. A partridge
cheeps of thievery, the hunters’

spears brandished and thrust
at the unicorn’s torso, enclosing
The beast is surrounded

by men, dogs, and greenery,
forcing the unicorn at bay.
It defends itself well. Horn

dipped, it gores a hound as it
kicks a hunter. Has the fruit
of ripe orchards turned sour?

The heron, known for lofty
flight and unperturbed by such
melee, is here made serener.

A single drop of blood trickles
from a slit in the unicorn’s coat
as spears strike from all sides.

We’ve heard only the purest
virgin can subdue a unicorn.
Otherwise, it remains invincible.

“Hail queen of the heavens.”
If the unicorn appears as Christ,
the hunter as Gabriel, the maiden

motions to Virgin Mary. We see
the mystic capture of the unicorn
in two fragments.
The handmaiden

distracts from the only cameo
the virgin makes on the scene:
a glimpse of sleeve, her slender

fingers linger on the creature’s
mane, the three enclosed within
the garden as menagerie. The scout

blows a horn from below an apple
bough, behind the gate. The spell
is broken, the unicorn captured.

The unicorn bestows one last glance
to the absent maiden that fans
his coat, missing from the frame.

Stabbed by lances, echoing
Christ’s passion, the unicorn
is killed and brought to the castle.

The scout catches blood drops
in his drinking gourd. A party
of men and women parade

the unicorn to the fortress,
its corpse slung over a horse’s
saddle, one hunter fingering

its spiralled horn. The unicorn
is depicted both in the moment
of the sword blade’s deathblow

and in the procession carrying
his corpse. His trophy bears
a crown of thorns. In an instance

we see the unicorn in captivity,
the beast fenced in, wounds
replaced with pomegranate

seeds, blood with juice,
captive but seemingly content.
A woven chain around

his neck, secures the unicorn
to a wooden pen, seated therein
amidst white irises and Madonna

lilies, carnations and clove,
orchids and bistorts, dragonflies
dashing over the wallflowers

and white thistle, the cipher’s
tasseled cord hanging from a tree,
bearing its riddle mysteriously.

—Cassidy McFadzean

x
Cassidy McFadzean is the author of Hacker Packer (McClelland & Stewart 2015), winner of two Saskatchewan Book Awards and a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her work has been a finalist for the CBC Poetry Prize and the Walrus Poetry Prize. Cassidy graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2015 and is at work on a second collection.

x
x

Dec 112016
 

nepveu-pic

.

The prose poems brought together in this selection are infused with the landscape along the shore of the Saint Lawrence River in the south-west part of Montreal, adjoining the neighborhoods of Verdun, Lasalle, and Lachine. The section “Lachine Stations” makes a more explicit reference to the area of Montreal in the south-west, upstream from the rapids bearing the name “Sault Saint-Louis” at the time of New France. Until the opening of the canal in 1825, enabling one to bypass the rapids, Lachine was the departure point for the “voyageur” canoes, hired by the great companies engaged in the fur trade in the north-west. Those pages of “Lachine Stations” devoted to the fictional character, Jean Mongeau, sketch the portrait of one of those singular men who became voyageurs. They were inspired by Carolyn Podruchny’s book, Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade (University of Nebraska Press and University of Toronto Press, 2006), translated into French by Anne-Hélène Kerbiriou, as Les voyageurs et leur monde. Voyageurs et traiteurs de fourrure en Amérique du Nord (Presses de l’Universitè Laval, 2009) – as well as the book illustrated by Gilles Bédard, Les voyageurs d’Amérique (Éditions GID, 2012). I extend my thanks to both authors, to whom I am greatly in debt.

—Pierre Nepveu

.

Notebooks of Jean Mongeau,
…….summer-autumn 1803

I walked by the edge of the wood,
torn between the grain’s fervour
and the chill exhalation of ferns.

I had either to stay or to leave.

In me, life sickened
each day a bit more

and my soul was heavy with loss
God-divested and imploring
life’s grace be restored to me.

I loved you, Marie, but it was
a music unmastered, a lame plod,
my hands grasping at the void,

while voices on high called to me, fraught,
nameless, faceless voices,
and I gave heed to them in the forest, wanting
to cede them my moorings, my lodgings,
while our dog, who yapped far off
in the hay at high tide
somehow knew
he was no longer my vassal
and that he’d lost me..

*

Sometimes I see again the road leading to Lachine,
I hear the cart squeal
that carried us out of the city
weighed down with horses and tipsy sailors,
and all along the port we saw
large-skirted women whose beauty
tore at us suddenly like a farewell,
I remember having hailed one of them
with my hand, and having blushed
at the smile she tossed me,
then it was a rough forest trail
along the Sault Saint-Louis
where you felt the presence, both hidden and near,
of the humid river that would bear us,
its water luminous as a deliverance..

*

The eve of our departure we’d danced and drunk long into the night. Something held us to the land, drunk as we were and near to madness, like those sailors who in the end repudiate the sea, too wide, that renders alien, to the soul’s peril, the nearness of bodies and things. Then we left in the direction of Nipissing, the Big Water, and we were greeted by Algonquin women, all comely, save an old toothless one who smiled like the others but seemed the very embodiment of death.

***

(Inventory for loading):
– twenty rifles.
– thirty boxes of gunpowder.
– thirty boxes of lead shot and balls.
– twenty wool blankets.
– two big rolls, blue cloth, red cloth.
– knives, scissors, hatchets, awls, sewing needles, lighters.
– flour, sugar, salt, dried meat.
– two boxes of jewels: necklaces, earrings, bracelets.
– a bag of red powder to color the skin.
– mirrors, magnifying glasses, decorative porcelain, glass pearls, brass and steel wire.
– Thirty shirts, thirty ceintures fléchées.
– tobacco, brandy..

*

I kneeled a moment
in the last church
then I feared the wind
and I shivered..

*

On leaving: a baptism of peace
and light to bless two lakes.

I thought myself a new man
armoured with hope and prayers
and a providence of rocks and cascades
and fierce rains to freeze the soul,

but I found prairies first,
a great sweetness of grasses
and the night with its shrillness of crickets,
the distant pounding of a drum
rising from a village beyond the fields

I miss Maskinongé already,
but I sense a fire within me
never before felt, a strength that defies
its trials as the days pass and I reach
that breaking point where my body
must sing if it’s not to sleep,

I think of you, Marie, alone under the quilt
naked and warm in the lunar room
entering a long languorous summer
a deep fever of silence and idleness,

while far up I voyage within myself,
seeking valor in exhaustion
and knowing no more the reasons for my flight.

*

For days La Grande River
was our only home
along with the obsessive lapping of the paddles
counting the seconds and in the process
undoing all hope of reaching shore and sleeping there,
until the sudden squawk of a bluejay
entered my ear and in a trice
I stopped feeling my arms
and my hardened backside and my bent legs
and it was like a clearing inside
as if the landscape
had at last found in me
a place to lodge its light.

*

After La Grande River and the hard law of rocks
that seemed to assert on earth
God’s dominion over human failings,
we encountered the ghastly La Vase Portage,
all the world’s hardness abruptly undone
all matter molten and the ground stripped away
under our boots and it seemed to me suddenly
that evil was rampant in this place
seeking to cow our courage,
as if we’d broken faith with our own desire
for a combat on equal terms,
and against all expectations tainted the assurance
of a rugged land and pure water
that would christen us one more time.

*

(Letter from Marie Saint-Arnaud to Jean Mongeau, October 1803)

The house is empty of you but I often pass
your shadow in the dark, I feel
your breath rush upon me,
your handsome charmer’s mouth
bite my breast,
but I’d love as much
for your voice to wrap me round and shelter me
from the hardness of the world
for you said things with wisdom
and swore love with that gentle tremble
that makes men’s voices falter
when desire undoes them,
I’d like tomorrow to be filled
with your body and your hands,
and your peaceable step when at the window
I saw you going by the fields
towards the dark edge of the wood
when all the day’s power
seemed yours
as if your heavy gait
enjoined it to yield,
tell me on what river do you paddle,
on what lake and if the time is long
crossing over hills with a heavy burden
and if the black water sometimes brings you fear
and if it bears off comrades
who have not kept their footing.

*

Early morning, scarred fire, noble bones, woodland song, men’s and women’s voices among the trees. I am the dust of ages, whirlwind of the deeps, escapee from the first caves. I tremble at being what I am, do you hear me, woman of the woods, of wool woven under the lampshade and the trellis of blood that shivers in the window? Do you know the calendar of wounds and joys that appear, at times, when night and day conspire to undo order and reason, when limbs are harnessed to other limbs to shift the weight of dread? Who are you? I founder in another river that becomes another lake that becomes a new river. Sometimes the running water no longer suffices for the needs of man and sometimes supplies must be shouldered, without horses or donkeys, to sidestep death. This business destroys us, yes, but to live is something else again, and the nightly feasts, and the dried bison and the bear fat that smears our fingers. We are beset with hunger before the rock that quakes. We are mad not to bow low before this god.

*

Despite the splendor of these paddler’s arms,
it’s the soul’s indigence
and human weakness
that have brought me here
to this harsh land and load-bearing water,
the treacherousness of roots
and the astonishment of animals,
me chilled to the bone,
unnerved by rains and frothings,
loving kin to whispering grasses
and thrown full force onto stoical rocks
against which at times I lean my ear
towards the far-off realm when time
laboured sedately and in darkness.

*

Spare me this rise to climb, these slimy stones beneath my soles, this fatigue of bodies that know only steepness and stumbling. There is anguish too great for just one man, and regrets that smother the soul, when prayer’s succor is all for naught. Give me back the ardour of forests and the burning pine needle carpet, give me back cold springs and the gentle drift in the carefree bends of rivers sheltered by the sky and the brows of rocks. I see far off the great prairie open wide, riddled with mosquitoes, and the banks of the Red River where, they say, the peoples of this land grow grain. And on the lakes at night the Northern Lights cast a spell and set even the stars to dancing. You arrive wearied at the trading posts, you gorge yourself with oily corn and draughts of rum, and unknown languages rip at your heart. You never come home, and you hear in the distance a great rush of dust and sand rise up which, out of the south, foists thirst on man and beast and makes drought a primal verity, underpinning all gifts and the glories of love. Restore to me, Lord, the blessing of this desert, spare me the hard road back.

*

Rock me, rock me, take
my broken body, my routed heart
for I lost my footing,
slid on a solid stone
while seeking support,

saw the water darker
than the deeps of our souls
and the time of man
shrunk to nothing,
rock me for what remains of beauty
when the foundering sun
shuts the book of wonders,
the sweet legend of a peopled world,
while the rapids far off, their froth abated,
roar on through the night
like beasts that stalk their prey.

Rock me, woman who douses the lamp,
go to sleep now alone so as to feel no pain,
I journey on under a heavy weight
and eternity is for me a deep chill,
my solitude counts for less than your own,
it vexes even the dusk
where I seek forgiveness in vain.

— Pierre Nepveu, Translated from the French by Donald Winkler

.

Pierre Nepveu is a poet, essayist, novelist and professor emeritus at the University of Montreal. Since 1971 he has published several collections of poetry, primarily with the Éditions du Noroît, including Romans-fleuves, Lignes aèriennes, Les verbes majeurs, and most recently, La dureté des matières et de l’eau, which appeared in 2015. In addition to his essay collections dealing with Quebec literature and the literatures of the Americas, including L’écologie du reel and Intérieurs du Nouveau Monde, his is the co-author with Laurent Mailhot of the anthology La poésie québécoise des origins à nos jours, which has appeared in several editions. He published the biography, Gaston Miron. La vie d’un homme, in 2011. Several times a winner or finalist for the Governor General’s award, he is also a member of the Royal Society and the Order of Canada.

§

wiinkler-pic

Donald Winkler is a Montreal based documentary filmmaker, and a translator of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. He is a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for French to English translation, most recently, in 2013, for his rendering of Pierre Nepveu’s collection of poetry, The Major Verbs (Les verbes majeurs). His translation of Nepveu’s most recent collection, The Hardness of Matter and Water (La dureté des matières et de l’eau), will be published by Signal Editions in 2018.

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Dec 072016
 

bennets2

.

Les Murray Ate My Nintendo

and my Sega. He was eating a
bowl of petrol. He was wiping
his ears and teeth. He was
kinda piggin out

the needle was just 4
my DMs Moon. ZeuSs is why

Britannia ABSOLVES fro
bro serious Monkey bars

drink Over and nacho sweats

we could glitch forever
in thatched oblivion, Questions
growling on
segaaaaaaaaaaaa

.

ragGed in the sea. .(spress).

.

LaFayette or Macy’s

(lonely views)

You had me at needles
don’t they sweat, swiping
their castles across the ponds

.

(girls who are hot)

Tomorrow you

(h0t air)

.

Piroshki, Piroshki

only you, knows me de

.

The Milky Ways

You cast your aspersions elsewhere in this strip club, mister! This is a classy joint. So if you don’t have two quid now bugger off. The street opened up for him. The trees and the bees. So, fox fox crawled up, into the conversation, convalescent cross scents, laid out, a million, billion, no one, stops. Carry him home, the voices sing. Carry him home. This is the way you control the Vittro. The wayward retail plays and the night queen spreading the stars.

.

Up since 4, 4 days ago

salted chocolate
orange  tea, i ha sailed
the trembling, blow-meat seas. And I have blue trousers sports ones on
last night’s pizza scattered for my mouse

burning spoons

.
through the afternoons. The old
Jackass Seer, stolid with icebergs,
Laid down the seas with mermaid

….so yelly

….eye-contact talk-dirty-vid. Don’t stress. I know what a bird sounds
like.

.

Concrete jungle where dreams
……………..done ??

hope to meet you

in /new York!
our knives and forks.
ever fluid and
back0 bent in da Baby Cor

i don’t need no
fucking broccoli. The sound
of the sauce. So Nets Slow

signal kinda almost lost
in peckham flat. Levers
Go down my throat. I
lecture the lemurs. And
Cast the Dreaming Body.

The rich curtain
a local barfly Cry Cry
get a sub nxt door,
why not?

heckle

vomiting a uni

pass, friend. pass.

.

—Russell Bennetts and Rauan Klassnik

.
bennets1photos by Colin Raff

Russell Bennetts is the editor of Berfrois and Queen Mob’s Teahouse. His books include Relentless (2014) and Poets for Corbyn (2015).

Rauan Klassnik is the author of Holy Land (2008), The Moon’s Jaw (2013) and Sky Rat (2014). They are the co-founders of Queen Mob’s Teahouse.

.
.

Dec 052016
 

elsa-crossElsa Cross

.

This month’s edition of Numero Cinco finds our newest addition to the NC masthead, Dylan Brennan, speaking with translator Anamaría Crowe Serrano about her work with Mexican poet Elsa Cross. They discuss Serrano’s involvement in bringing Cross’s work to an English audience, as well as the difficult decisions translators must make when doing so. 

After the interview, we have a selection of poems by Cross, both translated from the Spanish by Serrano and in their original language.

— Benjamin Woodard

.

Dylan Brennan (DB): How did you get involved in this project?

Anamaría Crowe Serrano (ACS): I’ve been involved with Shearsman Books for several years, first with a collection of my own, and then with translations of some of Elsa’s poems that were included in a Selected Poems in 2009. The editor, Tony Frazer, publishes several titles in translation every year – as well as collections in English and the Shearsman poetry journal – and at some point he asked if I’d be interested in expanding on the original translations I had done. I didn’t have to think about it twice.

selectedpoems

DB: How much did you know about Elsa Cross beforehand and how much did you have to learn as you went about translating?

ACS: I had met Elsa in London at the launch of her Selected Poems, so I knew a little about her. She teaches philosophy of religion and comparative mythology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and has published extensively, but I am always curious about the person behind the biographical note. It’s a bonus when I can make some connection with the poet I’m translating because I like to enter the poet’s world. In some ways translating is a little bit like method acting – for me, anyway – in that I like to absorb the poet and his/her mood if I can, in order to translate the work as faithfully as possible. It means that I adopt a slightly different persona each time I translate a different poet, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m not particularly experimental with the text of the translation itself.

What struck me about Elsa during our conversation in London was that her poetry reflected her personality: gentle, contemplative, self-assured. It seemed that the mysteries and uncertainties inherent in the world around us, which philosophy constantly probes, rather than cause angst, in some paradoxical way provide a source of strength for this poet. I got a sense that she accepts that not everything can be known, and there’s comfort in that place of acceptance. The idea of immersing myself for several months in Elsa’s poetic world and worming my way through her raw material was very appealing. As I’ve said, I had already translated some of the first section of Beyond the Sea, so I was familiar with Elsa’s style as well as the setting for the poems. Her collections are often written against the backdrop of a particular locale which works as an anchor for her thoughts. In Beyond the Sea, we find ourselves in Greece. The sound of waves, cicadas in the afternoon heat, plants stirring in the breeze, wings flapping, ancient ruins, are a constant accompaniment, like a leitmotif, to the philosophical thoughts and questions posed in the poems.

DB: Did you get in contact with Elsa Cross to discuss the poems? If so, how was that? Did she have any role in the translation process?

ACS: Yes, I did. I think all translators have questions about the text, so it’s an advantage to be able to ask the poet directly. In this case Elsa was very generous with her answers, clarifying specific words or images or nuances, such as what kind of “filo” she meant in the first line of poem 5 of “Dithyrambs”. I wasn’t sure if it might be a blade, a trickle of some sort, a thread… It’s wonderful to be able to consult the author because it means that the end result is as close to the intended meaning of the original as it can be; there’s very little guess work on the translator’s part, although individual lexical choices and phrasing are ultimately subjective. In my experience, poets are always happy to collaborate with the translator if they can because a translation can seem quite alien to the poet. Poets get attached to their specific lexical choices and even to the spaces between them. Every word of the original is so charged for the poet that it can be a terrible disappointment to realise that the translator has misinterpreted something that is very meaningful to you as a poet. Having some control over the translation process goes a long way towards assuaging those concerns.

Elsa’s English is excellent, which meant she could make very useful suggestions. The draft translation that was emailed from Dublin to Mexico City and back many times is peppered with comments ranging from uses of the definite article or prepositions or possessive adjectives, to whether the translation should include footnotes for words such as “tezontle”, to what the subject of a particular verb is (given that it’s not always specified in Spanish, which can sometimes allow for ambiguity, whereas it must be specified in English, destroying the ambiguity).

Over the years I’ve come to think of a translation as the child of both the author and the translator. A translation contains the linguistic DNA of each through a process that explores language at a microscopic level. When the translator can work with the author, the symbiosis is more complete: the child resembles both its parents more closely than it might had there been no collaboration between them. In Beyond the Sea, Elsa’s input was so valuable that I suggested the cover should read “translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano with the author”, but she was too modest to want to claim any credit for the translation.

beyondthesea

DB: Is translating poetry something you find easy or do you find it agonizing at times? What about the Greek elements of the book? Something you had to research or was it all known to you already?

ACS: Sometimes you come across a poem that you can translate quickly; the words just come to you and the result is satisfying. But those occasions are rare. Usually it requires many hours of thought – more than might seem apparent from the length of a poem. The end result that appears in print is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath that tip lies the bit the reader never sees – the process – which for a collection could be up to a year’s work. But I absolutely love translating. (The only thing I agonize about is the inadequate pay, completely out of line with the hours and skill involved in the process.) Lines or words that are problematic might take several days – or longer – but the process is hugely enjoyable, like trying to solve a difficult brain teaser. The funny thing is that often what seems relatively easy to translate, where the language itself is simple, might turn out to be the hardest thing because you want to avoid using a particular word (if it had been used before), or you want to keep the rhythm of the line nicely balanced and the literal translation won’t work. In the second line of poem I of “Las cigarras” (Cicadas), for example, the line reads: “las cigarras empiezan sus odas lentas” (literally: the cicadas begin their slow odes). There’s nothing complicated about the language here, and “the cicadas begin their slow odes” is acceptable in English except for the fact that I didn’t like the strong vocalic assonance of “slow odes”. If you say it aloud it sounds like you’re trying to say something with an egg in your mouth. I’m conscious of the phonic effect of words, so semantic exactitude doesn’t always satisfy my ear. The problem then is that there are so many synonyms of “slow”. It took me ages to finally settle for “unhurried odes”, which also reflects the lilting, languid rhythm of the original.

There are many references to Greek mythology in the collection, some of which I was familiar with, and some not. A quick online search can clarify that a kouros is a free-standing statue of a young boy, often a representation of Apollo, and while any reading of these poems is richer if you are familiar with the Greek references, from the point of view of translation, once I could find the English equivalent, lack of detailed knowledge about artefacts or gods was not a significant problem.

DB: Any crossover with your own work, similar themes or styles?

ACS: Not really. The work I translate is quite different in theme and style from my own work. That has happened by chance, but I’m not sure I’d like to translate someone’s poetry if it reminded me a lot of my own. It’s nice to take a break from the usual preoccupations and discover other ways of writing, images that would never have occurred to you because they’re very foreign or because they come from a discipline that you don’t often engage with. The process of discovery adds to the pleasure of translating.

DB: I’d love to know of any difficult translation decisions, if there were any for you, what were they, how did you go about resolving them?

ACS: The use of idioms often poses problems for the translator, of course, resulting in the classic case of something being lost in translation. There was one instance of that in this collection with the word “cántaros”, which are clay pitchers or jugs for water or wine. It appears as the title of one section in “The Wine of Things” and is also repeated in several poems in a general way. But it’s also used in the expression “A cántaros”, which means “cats and dogs”, as in “it’s raining cats and dogs”. Clearly, when it’s used in Spanish to mean “cats and dogs”, none of the generic English translations works. It’s a shame because it means that the repetition of the word throughout the entire section is slightly lost. Not only that, “cats and dogs” has a totally different connotation in English compared to the Spanish “cántaros”. Cántaros are receptacles, for a start. The fired earth they’re made from has some echoes of antiquity and domestic labour. In comparison, “cats and dogs” sounds completely trivial at best, and if we take the origin of the phrase to be related to Jonathan Swift’s “A Description of a City Shower”, where cats and dogs drown in the downpour and flow along the flooded streets, then it’s completely disgusting. Either way, it won’t work as a translation. Another option might be “pouring” or “pouring rain”, but you lose the image of the container. In the end, I opted for “Bucketing”, even though the tone is a bit colloquial.

That presented yet another problem. The cántaros of the title should ideally be the same word that is used in the poems. I had opted for “pitchers” as a generic translation, with “bucketing” when referring to rain, but I didn’t like either of these as a section title. I suppose I might have settled for pitchers and been forever dissatisfied with its ambiguity had I not mentioned the problem to Elsa. Her solution – to use the Greek word “kantharos” – seemed perfect. Not only does it encompass all versions of kantharos (jugs, pitchers, buckets), and is in keeping with the Greek setting of the entire collection, it slightly elevates the tone of the more common “cántaros”, making up to some extent for the fact that the idiom is lost in English.

The other translation difficulty that arose was in the Aeolides, Oceanides, and Nictides sections. Here, the poems are of haiku-like brevity, often beginning with a verb conjugated in the third person plural (“they”). The subject is the daughters of the wind, sea or night, depending on the section in question. The fact that Spanish does not require the subject pronoun to be stated – because it is incorporated in the verb conjugation – allows for a profusion of lexical diversity in each poem. Here’s an example from “Eolides, 7”:

Despeinan
…………..al joven eucalipto
hacen caer sus resinas
……………………………..sobre los barandales

Zumban amorosas
como abejorros
………………….en el hueco de las cañas

Llenan la mirada de hormigas amarillas
……………………de la avispa

English, being a language that requires the use of the subject pronoun, would transform each of the verbs (Despeinan, hacen, Zumban, Llenan) into “They uncomb”, “they make”, “They buzz”, “They fill”. Repeating the subject pronoun in each line of such a short poem creates unpoetic monotony compared to the breezy freshness of the Spanish. Avoiding the subject pronoun so often – there are many of these poems in the collection! – was probably the single greatest challenge that required various different solutions. Sometimes I use the subject pronoun once at the beginning but don’t repeat it for the second verb, in the hope that it will be understood to be implied, or I use gerunds for subsequent verbs. That’s what I did in the above example (They uncomb, making, Buzzing, Swarming):

They uncomb
…………………….the young eucalyptus
making its resin drip
…………………….on the handrails

Buzzing, amorous
like bumblebees
…………………….in the hollow stalks of canes

Swarming our gaze with yellow ants

On other occasions I changed the word order and/or the grammatical function from active to passive so as not to begin a line with the subject.

Someten a su ritmo                         (They subject…)
………..las flores encrespadas
………..el lomo de los cerros

Todo lo vuelven piedra lisa                      (They turn everything…)

becomes

Rimpled flowers
and hilltops
………..are subjected to their rhythm

Turned by them to smooth stone

DB: What do you think of the poems? How would you describe the book to someone down the pub? Why should people read this book?

ACS: If you don’t know Elsa Cross’s poetry, this book is as good a place to start as any. It’s a bilingual edition, which is always useful for the reader. Cross is considered one of Mexico’s leading contemporary poets and has been praised by Octavio Paz for her interplay of complex thought and clarity of expression. In my opinion, this is the key element in her work. There’s a strong sense of the poet sitting still, absorbing her surroundings through the senses first of all – sound, sight and touch in particular – as if she were meditating, then very deliberately using these senses as a conduit to something deeper. Small details of nature, or of a Greek statue, have the potential to reveal something worth knowing, but the slightest sound or movement, even too much sunlight, can shatter any meaning that might be contained in the moment (“meaning becomes / an incongruous stroke, / a particle that marries with dust.” Stones, 4). The elusiveness of meaning marries with vivid imagery ever so delicately, even when the poet paradoxically finds the image devoid of meaning. Take, for example, the opening of poem 3 of “Cicadas”:

The night swings
on the call of owls hooting.
Flapping,
words heard in a dream
……………………………take flight
at the sound of the first cicada
now fitfully cutting
……………………the silence of dawn.

Words wanted
……………………beyond what they are—
yet when we try to grasp them
their flight is slowly undone
………………………………like ritual gestures.
They empty of image,
are no more than voice—
……………………gloomy alliterations
……………………in a lower key,
resonance,
……………………the sea’s craving for its creatures.

I love her exploration of the ambiguity of what is real and what isn’t; her allusions to Dionysian indulgence, for which the poet clearly has a preference (“The only instrument is passion”, Cicadas, 4), counter-balanced by Apollonian ideals that are harder for humans to achieve (“You light up everything, / but who sees your shadow?” Offerings, “Paean”); the mysterious absence on occasion of a figure that seems to be central to the poet (“a presence not present”), whose footsteps she follows only to find that they disappear “mid-step”.

The book itself is divided into two sections: Beyond the Sea, and The Wine of Things. In keeping with the Greek theme, the first section is a series of Odes, while The Wine of Things contains dithyrambs that read, among other things, as a contemporary homage to the gods. The multiple layers of striking images, connotation, mythology, and the contemplative quality of these poems makes them endlessly fresh and appealing against the soothing backdrop of the Aegean.

DB: Tell us about yourself and your own work, what you’re working on now and what’s next.

ACS: At the moment I’m going through literary labour, waiting for a few books to be published. A collection of poetry is due out any day with Shearsman and will probably be available by the time this article is in print. It’s called onwords and upwords, and is a collection in which I continue to tease out the technicalities and function of language, and play around with form. I want to find different modes of expression all the time, which is quite hard – for me, anyway.

There’s another collection pending publication that was written with actress and poet Nina Karacosta where we challenge each other on a phonic level, with words in Irish (for Nina) and Greek (for me) to which we have to apply some kind of meaning in poetic form. That was a fun project, partly because we worked very closely together, spending a few weeks of the year deep in discussion, bouncing ideas off each other, developing a pattern of work that suited that particular project.

I’ve had these two collections in the pipeline for a while, along with Elsa’s book, and have found that I can’t think about the next project until I have these out of the way, so I haven’t done much writing recently. But I do have an idea up my sleeve which I might try to work on if I get some time. It should be a move away from poetry, though hopefully it will have poetic elements and, at the very least, I’d like it to be uncategorizable as a genre. I might approach it differently to my usual way of working. I work freelance, so my day is not dictated too much by a routine. I can usually write whenever I feel the need. One thing, though, I hate long hand! I hate the visual mess of text scribbled out, arrows pointing to afterthoughts, not being able to make out my own handwriting the next day… The pc ensures I always have a clean text in front of me. I edit and re-edit every line as I go along so that by the time I’ve written the last line, the poem is pretty much as I want it. I rarely make changes afterwards.

With poetry, I never have an overall vision for a book when I start. I write in response to some unconscious need to address individual issues, although in the process of writing, the form can take precedence over the substance. That’s what I discovered was the unifying element in onwords and upwords – hence the title. However, for the next project, I have a better sense of where it might lead. The reason for that is that, unlike with poetry collections, I have a theme in mind for this next experiment. I’ll put a few ideas together during the summer, a general skeleton. If it has decent limbs and a backbone I might try and flesh it out.

Another project I have to tick off the to-do list is a novel I wrote many years ago. It’s called The Big e, and has been fully edited and ready for publication for a while, very frivolous and fun, and unlikely to have a sequel or to appeal to publishers, so I’ll self-publish it at some point. With that, I was pretty structured in how I wrote, trying to get something on paper every day, usually in the morning. The fact that the writing went on for about three years didn’t really appeal to me, even though it’s fun to live in the parallel universe of your characters for extended periods and see things through their eyes. Overall, I prefer brevity, even when translating. I’ve translated a few novels and have found that the process becomes a bit tedious half way through because you still have another 150 pages left and will have to spend another few months with the same characters.

For translations I have a deadline that I stick to very rigorously. With poetry it’s always a generous deadline because poets and publishers of poetry understand the need for time to allow a text to settle (not so in the case of novels where there are commercial demands that don’t apply to poetry). I work methodically, setting aside the time I will need for a first draft, followed by a few weeks where I put the translation aside and forget about it so as to come to it from a fresh perspective for a full edit. During the first draft I put together whatever queries I have for the poet, incorporating the answers when they come back so that after the full edit I can send the manuscript to the poet for an overview. There are always more queries and comments at that stage. I go through several complete edits before the manuscript is ready for the publisher, and when it comes back for proofing I make additional final changes. Even after publication I wish I could make more changes. The process is never finished for me. I’m rarely fully satisfied with the result but have come to accept that a translation can only be the result of the translator’s reading of the original text at one particular moment in time. Tomorrow, the translator’s world view and state of mind and experience of language will have shifted ever so slightly.

§

cross_ntx_leer

Selections from Beyond the Sea, by Elsa Cross, translated from the Spanish by Anamaría Crowe Serrano.

From Beyond the Sea

WAVES

1

Your face appears.
Sinks into milk,
like the well-begotten Lamb
………………………………………….in the Mysteries.

The fire approaches without touching us.
Blue more intense
than the elation building towards the islands.

Trembling,
as if behind smoke,
…………………………………your face appears.

The conch mixes the sea
with wonder itself
…………………………………in our ear,

waves surging
………….where the mind’s islands navigate,
flashes—
……………………Beyond the sea.

Movements of thigh and hip
tentatively outline
……………………………….a dance.

…………..The sea stretches
…………………………………in unbreaking waves.
Movement—
the last vowel
……………………….reverberates in the ear.
…………..The sea stretches
…………..beyond time
…………..…………..immovable.
A tremble,
…………..…………..an echo of movement—
hushes
and speaks to us
…………..…………..in its other tongue,
like that fire burning within,plays and spreads
until it quietens in a vertical ray.
Omnipresent,
…………..…………..the language of touch without hands.

.

4

A manly sound, that language of the islands.
Strong syllables,
…………..…………..honed vowels
like colours separating the sea from the crags.

Island emerging from nowhere,
place where no one is born
…………..…………..…………..or dies.
Only the course of its ground is followed,
piling its broken signs
…………..…………..…………..…………..on the grass—
stelae
unfold their argument on the waves,
…………..hold it,
…………..…………..bend it, withdraw it
…………..…………..—seduce the eye—
…………..…………..…………..…………..…………..repeat it.

The music of that tongue rises to the retentive ear,
and the ear stays open
…………..…………..…………..in its intoxication—
maybe it translates the tumble
…………..…………..of the wave rushing to die on the sands,
or the delight
…………..…………..of she who is born from the spray.

Is there anything that does not come from the sea?

Names that don’t attract death
…………..…………..…………..but maybe sweeten its arrival:
…………..…………..She of the Delectable Voice
…………..…………..She of Nascent Desire
…………..…………..She Bathed in Light—
…………..…………..…………..…………..She the Inevitable.

.

5

Silent women,
chiselled plaster on the wall
…………..…………..…………..—asymmetries.

From the crest of a moon
olive trees balance
…………..…………..…………..precariously
as evening declines.
Summer carts make their way up
…………..…………..…………..…………..to hillside houses,
and with the setting sun
a bright snake
…………..…………..—a bicycle lamp—
meanders through the vineyards.

Venus and the waning moon
…………..…………..…………..…………..in conjunction
light up the waters.
The island
copies the shape of that half-moon
bending its back
…………..…………..…………..between two ridges—

 remains of its body float
…………..…………..…………..like charred bones.

Thus the sea of dreams joins or devours
fragments of the divided substance.

On the wing of an insect the fabrics of vision:
the city twinkles
…………..…………..through veils of plumbago,
over beaches almost blurred from view.
In enclosed courtyards
the light seems to rise from a hidden well;
desires gleam—
…………..…………..such is the accumulated transparency.
And the memory of a disaster.

Fragments of consciousness
emerge
…………..………….. and submerge
…………..like those islands.

.

CICADAS

5

Jellyfish lesions on skin,
as if each cicada
…………..…………..were stabbing with a hairclip
or armies of ants were leaving burning trails
…………..…………..…………..…………..…………..in their wake.

Pale skies as summer unfolds.
And all that light,
…………..…………..the whiteness of a marriage bed,
those terraces where the night slips in
on a silver thread,
…………..…………..inaudible strumming,

are all still there,
when we’ve been around
the crest of the new moon
…………..…………..…………..at one end of our heart.
And the sea—
at twilight it takes on
the colour of our golden wines.

The wineskins are empty.
The hour bites our temples,
disrupts
…………..the journeys;
what we gave and didn’t give each other
sparkles
…………..under the sun as it moves away.

No sea as blue,
no light
…………..as white,
even though that splendour
may already have held
…………..…………..…………..the caress of darkness.

 .

From The Wine of Things

NICTIDES

9

They are repeated insomnia
a little sting
…………..………….. the flapping
of memories not sheltered
…………..…………..…………..by presence

 .                 

10

They are a white shadow
innocence in the yellow phrases
…………..…………..…………..……….of a dying man
the catastrophe of the voice

.

11
They are vague emotions
…………..…………..…………..in the stillness of the day
hollow bells

mist crouching
…………..…………..in your chest
like a doubt

.

12

They are transversal signs
…………..…………..…………..withered tributes
fragments lifted from the debris

They are hidden diamonds

.

THE WINE-RED SEA
(On the Dionysus Kylix)

…………..…………..…………..…………..for Ursus

O waves so red,
confluent streams
…………..…………..where grapes and dolphins almost meet,
and the vertical mast,
now trunk and branches,
…………..…………..…………..spreads its arms east and west.
And the dolphins freely swim
…………..…………..…………..…………..—old sailors
guarding the vessel.
And the sail bulging white
…………..…………..…………..under lavish grapes,
and the graceful ram at the prow,
what beach are they pointing at?
where will they dock
…………..…………..…………..if the blissful god
neither charts the course nor guides
but merely sips
the pleasant breezes
…………..…………..and the scent of the wine-red sea?

§

De Ultramar

Las Olas

1

Aparece tu rostro.
Se hunde en leche,
como el Cordero bienhallado
…………..…………..…………..en los Misterios.

El fuego se acerca sin tocarnos.
El azul es más intenso
que la ebriedad creciendo hacia las islas.

Tembloroso,
como detrás de humo,
…………..…………..…………..aparece tu rostro.

El caracol mezcla el mar
al propio estupor
…………..…………..en el oído,
oleaje donde navegan
…………..islas de la conciencia,
destellos—
……………Ultramar.

Movimientos del muslo y la cadera
esbozan al tiento
…………..…………..una danza.

…………..El mar se extiende
…………..…………..en olas que no se rompen. 

Movimiento—
la última vocal
…………..…………..reverbera en el oído.

…………..El mar se extiende
…………..más allá del tiempo,
…………..…………..…………..
inamovible. 

Temblor,
…………..…………..eco del movimiento—
calla
y nos habla
…………..en su lengua otra,
parecida a ese incendio de adentro,
juega y se difunde
hasta aquietarse en un rayo vertical.
Omnipresente,
…………….lenguaje del tacto sin manos.

…………..

4

Sonido varonil, ese lenguaje de las islas.
Sílabas contundentes,
…………..…………..vocales definidas
como colores que separan el mar de los peñascos.

Isla salida de la nada,
lugar donde no se nace
…………..…………..…………..ni se muere.
Sólo se sigue el decurso de su suelo,
que apila sobre la hierba
…………..…………..…………..sus signos rotos—
estelas
despliegan en la onda su argumento,
…………..…………..lo sostienen,
…………..…………..…………..lo curvan, lo sustraen
…………..…………..–seducen al ojo—
…………..…………..…………..…………..lo repiten.

La música de esa lengua sube al oído retentivo,
y el oído queda abierto
…………..…………..…….en su embriaguez–
quizá traduce el tumbo,
…………..de la que corre a morir en las arenas,
o el gozo
……………de la que nace de la espuma.

¿Qué cosa no viene del mar?

Nombres que no atraen a la muerte
…………..…………..…………..pero tal vez endulzan su llegada:
…………..La de Voz Deleitosa
…………..La que Despierta el Deseo
…………..La Bañada en Luz—
…………..…………..…………..…………..La Inevitable.

…………..

5

Mujeres taciturnas,
cinceladuras de yeso en la pared
…………..…………..…………..…………..–asimetrías.

Desde una cresta de luna
los olivos se equilibran
…………..…………..…………..precarios
en el declive de la tarde.
Suben las carretas del verano
…………..…………..………………hacia los caseríos altos,
y al ponerse el sol
una serpiente luminosa
…………..…………..…………..–fanal de bicicleta—
ondula en los viñedos.

Venus y la luna menguante
…………..…………..…………..…………..en conjunción
iluminan las aguas.
La isla
copia la forma de esa media luna
quebrando su espinazo
…………..…………..…………..entre dos puntas—
restos de su cuerpo flotan
…………..…………..como huesos calcinados.

Así el mar del sueño junta o devora
fragmentos de la sustancia dividida.

En un ala de insecto los tejidos de la visión:
la ciudad parpadea
…………..…………..en veladuras de plúmbago,
sobre playas que apenas se distinguen.
En los patios cerrados
la luz parece ascender de un pozo oculto;
brillan los deseos–
…………..…………..…………..tanta la transparencia acumulada.
Y una memoria de desastre.

Fragmentos de conciencia
emergen
…………..y se sumergen,
………..como esas islas.

…………..

LAS CIGARRAS

5

Huellas de medusas en la piel,
como si cada cigarra
…………..…………..punzara con una horquilla
o legiones de hormigas dejaran rastros quemantes
…………..…………..…………..…………..…………..de su paso.

Cielos pálidos al transcurrir el verano.
Y toda esa luz,
…………..…………..esa blancura de tálamo,
esas terrazas por donde entra la noche
en un filo plateado,
…………..……………..rasgueo inaudible,
siguen allí,
cuando hemos recorrido
la cresta de la nueva luna
…………..…………..……….en un extremo del corazón.
Y el mar—
toma al crepúsculo
el color de nuestros vinos dorados.

Los odres están vacíos.
El vino muerde ahora la sien,
trastorna
…………..las travesías;
lo que nos dimos y no nos dimos
brilla
…………bajo un sol que se aleja.

Ningún mar tan azul,
ninguna luz
…………..tan blanca,
aunque ese esplendor
ya llevara consigo
…………..…………..la caricia de lo oscuro.

 …………..

De El vino de las cosas

NICTIDES

9.

Son insomnio repetido
un pequeño aguijón
…………..…………..………….. revoloteo
de recuerdos no amparados
…………..…………..…………..…………..en la presencia

…………..

10.

Son sombra blanca
la inocencia en las frases amarillas
…………..…………..…………..…………..del moribundo
la catástrofe de la voz

…………..

11.

Son emociones difusas
…………..……….en lo inmóvil del día
campanas huecas
niebla que se agazapa
…………..…………..en el pecho
como una duda.

………….. 

12.

Son signos transversos
…………..…………..…………..homenajes marchitos
trozos levantados de los escombros

Son diamantes ocultos

…………..

EL MAR COLOR DE VINO
(Sobre el kílix de Exekías) 

Para Ursus

Oh mar tan rojo,
corrientes encontradas
…………..…………..casi juntan racimos y delfines,
y el mástil vertical,
vuelto cepa y sarmientos,
…………..………..abre brazos a oriente y a poniente.

Y van a su albedrío los delfines
…………..…………..…………..………..viejos marinos
custodiando la nave.

Y la vela tan blanca que se abomba
…………..…………..…………..bajo las uvas pródigas
y el espolón gracioso de la proa
¿hacia qué playa apuntan?
¿en dónde atracarán si el dios
…………..…………..…………..……….dichoso
no marca ruta o guía
y solo bebe
los vientos placenteros
…………..…………y el aroma del mar color de vino?

— Elsa Cross, translated from the Spanish by Anamaría Crowe Serrano

.

.

Elsa Cross was born in Mexico City in 1946. The majority of her work has been published in the volume Espirales. Poemas escogidos 1965-1999 (UNAM, 2000), but a new complete edition of her poetry appeared in 2013 from the Fondo de Cultura Económica in Mexico City. Her book El diván de Antar (1990) was awarded the Premio Nacional de Poesía Aguascalientes (1989), and Moira (1993) won the Premio Internacional de Poesía Jaime Sabines (1992), both in Mexico. Jaguar (2002), is inspired by different symbols and places of ancient Mexico. Her more recent books form a trilogy: Los sueños — Elegías, Ultramar — Odas, and El vino de las cosas, Ditirambos.

Her poems have been translated into twelve languages and published in magazines and more than sixty anthologies in different countries. She has also published essays. She has a M.A. and PhD in Philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where she holds a professorship and teaches Philosophy of Religion and Comparative Mythology.

In 2008, Elsa Cross was awarded the most prestigious poetry prize in Mexico, the Xavier Villarrutia Prize, an award that she shared with Pura López-Colomé.

§

Anamaria Crowe Serrano

Anamaría Crowe Serrano is a poet, translator and teacher born in Ireland to an Irish father and a Spanish mother. She grew up bilingual, straddling cultures. Languages have always fascinated her to the extent that she has never stopped learning or improving her knowledge of them. She enjoys cross-cultural and cross-genre exchanges with artists and poets, the most recent of which is her participation in Robert Sheppard’s EUOIA project and her involvement in the Steven Fowler’s ‘Enemies’ project.

She has published extensively and her work has been widely anthologised in Ireland and abroad. Her publications include Mirabile Dictu (blurb, 2011), one columbus leap (corrupt press, 2011), and Paso Doble, written as a poetic dialogue with the Italian poet Annamaria Ferracosca (Empiria, 2006).

Anamaría has translated some fourteen books, including Elsa Cross’s Beyond the Sea for Shearsman Books.

.

Dec 032016
 

hilda-raz1-500px

x

A Symposium on Love

“Damn the word,” said Justine once. “I would like to spell it backwards as you say the Elizabethans did God. Call it evol and make it a part of ‘evolution’ or ‘revolt.’” — Justine, Lawrence Durrell

Age is an evolution – or devolution – of lust.
To be lost in revolt, as one must be growing up,
invites erotics into the palace of the family.
Air spiked with ecstasy. xWe all know it.
So voluble in bed might signify lust
or politics, depending on whether
you live in a hovel, where the velocity
of wildlife, certainly a mouse, about its vital business
shadows the movements of governments,

or a hotel, hovering over the chasm
between mountains, where we stopped.
Olives. Lupine. The sound of violins
through the balcony window, resinous,
heard through steam: treatments for the liver.
Into the porches of our ears pours music
reverberating through marble spaces. “That old man
wants to live,” whispers a medic,
mopping up. His vulpine mask is a blur
through silk curtains as he bends over
to lave bodies slippery with oil. He cares for us.

Here, in the mountains, where we feel free,
olives are served in gin straight from the freezer.
The menu reports that olev is an alternative,
a citrus fruit found in the garden below.
A solo viola with piano plays at a wedding on the patio.

Is olev a word in another language,
an oval fruit used in a harvest ritual,
a kind of citron, a renewal, a stand-in for love?

Maybe instead you wrote, “Nearby some wedding party is tuning up.
It’s hard to hear their voices. We’ve enough lunacy on this balcony
overlooking the ceremony to interpret youth and age. Drink up!”
She whispers, “I’ve loved you for half my life.”

To reprise: voluble in bed can signify
the exhaustion of lust and the birth of politics
depending on where you live, a hovel,
or next summer’s hotel on a coast, where olives are eaten
crushed with oil and tomatoes on pasta. Viols can be heard
from a balcony overlooking the river.
In a hotel notebook become a diary you can signify a place
where you stayed one summer, the air an oven
you entered to make love or sleep.
Your bed linens were streaked with damp.
Remember oval windows above his elbow,
trimmed with red and yellow light? I don’t.

A mirror in the corner showed us at the moment
we became another person, tiny and contorted
for a few beats, who might change into
a dolt with a scar, or a dwarf,
a violinist of genius but peculiar, hard to reach
until the world called out to him and he went.
He appears tonight on the program.

Let us return to the moment, please.
Your new partner is to be found at the next table,
voluble, thank God, after months of silence.
What’s he onto now? Oh, the volume of trade
on the stock exchange. I’m interested. Are you?

Here, in the mountains, after sunburnt children with their dogs
are put to bed, conversation veers toward the intimate.
Of course the subject is money. A plunging market.
What’s to be done? Be patient. The people will speak.
Vox Popular in November. The new black may be white.
Be patient. “I grew up in a Victorian melodrama,” overheard,
might seem to change the stakes. For me, at least.

In a corner of the room, under satin swags
that frame the mountains, three women lean
toward the axis of their table and whisper.
You can barely hear their hisses over the swipe
of VISA through the bar machine.
If you . . . you’ll disappear . . . Escape?
But how? Where do they think they’ll go?

Meanwhile the elderly are falling in love.
You can. Erotic is the reverse of deathly.
Dour Mr. Thanatos rents out accordions
at base camp if you’ve a mind to dance.

And while we’re speculating here,
if you have a comrade with a mind so rigid
you can hear the crack on the page as you read
his work, what can you do at 8,000 feet?

Maybe you can write some evolved and looser squiggles
to depict the guy on the plane en route, in the next seat,
depressed because no one will talk to him
so his head droops onto his chest
seemingly ready to be released into a basket.
Wasn’t that the French Revolution?
That guy only wanted to convert us, not seduce.

Nearby some wedding party is tuning up.
It’s hard to hear over his voice what they’re saying.
Certainly we’ve enough lunacy on this balcony
overlooking the pool. Drink up!
A bridesmaid hands over a hanky. The best man is a she.
Their fathers link arms. Their mothers smile.
By now we’re sobbing into tissues and taking pictures.

x

Surely next comes midlife revolt. What do you think?
Oh look. A moose lopes over the top of the mountain.
The bell for dinner sounds. I’ve a mind to bolt
this place. Echoes reverberate on the balconies.

You know, I’ve loved him for half my life.
At the end, it seems the rest of the relatives died.

X
Autobiography

I’ve stolen a chair for you, sawed off the arms.
For breakfast stirred up plovers’ eggs. xOnce
I flew to the moon in order to press your hands to her face.

I strung a magic key around my neck for my roller skates.
On my feet they clanked, threw sparks on the sidewalk.
My mom wore an apron when she wasn’t wearing gloves.
I wore silk to the dance, midnight blue with a keyhole neckline, a soft bow.

I married for the childbed and didn’t die.
I walked out the door on my own two feet.

Alaska wove color through the sky.
The dog sled team at a full run shat frozen turds that missed me.

Up again at night I learned hot milk beats tea every time.
The walls, all color, wore well and framed up paintings I accumulate.

My house has four bedrooms.
Much of my life is over.
Pleasing others is my greatest sin.
When my ribs knit I swore never again to surrender. I lied.

My knee healed with a scar.
Four husbands vanished on horseback but the crops didn’t fail.
Winter is a season like any other.
Now spring is all. Spring, moving into summer.
Sleep in wind, in voices.

What’s under pressure breaks out in cactus flowers.
Ants abound in the arroyo and coyotes.
Some of what I couldn’t stand to lose I lost.
In every room a pencil.

X
Meditation

I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t
Who’s talking?  Shut up, compassion.

Put on socks and shoes meditation

Walking meditation
…………Once around the desert
…………no dog, nobody

Counting heart stones meditation
…………in the basket, on the ground

Walking the dog meditation
…………out loud, out loud: listen dog.  Metta

May i/she be safe may she/i be happy may she be/feel well may she live/die lightly

Gratitude meditation:  each day a white stone
…………picked up by the front door by the back garden
…………put down on the ground white stones to a make a mouth:

…………If my mouth were as wide as the seven seas
…………it would not be enough to praise Thee

Be quiet.  Make lunch. Notice the thumb, the work of the thumb. Notice the edge of the
…………knife blade

Wash the dishes meditation.  Metta

may our friend be safe may she be happy may she be well may she live/die lightly

I can’t sit still                 death death death death.  I can’t i can’t i can’t i
…………Who?
…………May she walk in the shadow of death and fear no evil thy arroyo rock and thy
cottonwood staff      comfort

Breathe breathe / breathe breathe

Rausch means soul means breath   is breath   is soul
…………breathe breathe / breathe
…………until the body/ stone
…………fractures
…………to release

X
One Toe, Crooked

Let me tell you how it is with me:
a bad back, spine like a snakeskin
shed in the shadow of a pinelet,
weakened innards, a liver fit for soup,
and a brain the size of a lentil.   The worst
is the one toe, crooked like a staff
carried too long by shepherds.

One day, a fine mid-autumn
with sun’s eye full open against air’s chill,
I took to the woods to find my dinner.
What with one thing and another
I swayed and shimmered my way along
the path, gravel sticking to my knees from a fall,
my felt shoes catching stones.
But still, I got to the gate where geese cross
coming home from the pond.

What would do me that night?
I was one only, with an oven fit
for a child with money, my prize.
Each night I lit it with a fagot
of wormwood and some willow leaves
with an iron basket suspended over the fire.
Good for roasting corn and potatoes.
Tonight I was hungry against the chill coming.
No ice yet, that was full winter
but now a clutch of eggs to boil in the kettle?

Truly then I saw a girl
lovely as a stalk of silver grain
come around a corner that an oak made
with my barn wall. She carried a bundle
squirming like a peck of tadpoles
and clutched to her chest a stack of books
bound with a strap. She saw me
as a wraith and ran. Was I a wraith?
My toe hurt like hell itself gaped open.
But Ectoplasm I wasn’t. Plain flesh.
Still, she was afraid. Then I could see her babe’s
mouth open, its cries louder with each bounce,
the flannel it was bound with coming loose.

As I watched, standing bent over my toe,
she dropped the books. The belt around them opened.
Pages fanned out on the ground
like parchment put to flame.

What did all this mean in the daylight?
The girl, her babe, the lost books cascading
and over everything pain ascending,
covering our light, all that hope,
the future somehow gone dark as a cavern.
I bent over the mess, began to gather it up.

X
Truncated Sonnet

The woman once upon a time
put on pajamas under a cloak of feathers.
Instead of in bed she swam on the Grande, a swan.

Breakfast in the sun room
raspberries from the gardens (paths, stones, silver props)
clotted cream sour on the table, an etched spoon.
After a while she dropped her knitting along with the gun.

Childhood during war, so many novels and hunger.
The dead stayed invisible, quiet as usual.
She read the London Times and swallowed.

Somebody yelled, “What do you think I mean?”  Hit the table.
She puts aside her food, leans forward to say:

X
Yom Kippur Crumbs
………………………after Sandra Gilbert

Forbidden mash, sweet in our aging body
I stole chunks from the communal table, at dawn

You are the profane yeast of my sins
disintegrating, flowing away under our resolve

The breathed air made you stale, thirsty for water
as we are, here in the desert of our actions

Be the emblem of our resolve:
make bitter the sweet yearning, for cruelty

Dissolve the sour milk in our middens
to empty our stomachs of sin.

Stale loaf, you’re bread from my kitchen
I purge from the shelf, carry to the river
to cast upon waters

You’re promise for an emptied day
of sorrow. No more will I gulp you

as toast to begin a day of distractions
Your molds will float down the waters

to redeem my thoughtless actions
make room for loving kindness

I will hope to absorb as well as give out.

—Hilda Raz

x
Hilda Raz lives in Placitas, New Mexico, where she is poetry editor of bosque magazine and series editor of the Mary Burritt Christiansen endowed poetry series at the University of New Mexico Press. She is Glenna Luschei Professor of English and Gender Studies, emerita, at the University of Nebraska, where she was editor of Prairie Schooner and founding editor of the Prairie Schooner Book Prizes.  Her work has been widely published in twelve books, many anthologies and journals.

x
x

Nov 132016
 

background-el-saltoLeslie Ullman

 

Renderings of some Oblique Strategies (subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas) by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.-

In 1975, the authors created the original pack of over 100 oblique strategies cards, a project born from their approaches to their work respectively as musician and artist. Each strategy is designed to help composers get “unstuck” by encouraging lateral thinking. 

§

Ask people to work against their better judgment

Go ahead—fling yourself against it
As in: take away the net; thrum
with vertigo; surprise yourself in dark
glasses and brimmed hat pulled low,
so mysterious, you might ask yourself
for an autograph. As in: slip
from the conference room and not tell
yourself where you’re going—

out of the neighborhood and all
the dependable gridlocks. Into a fifth world
that simmers beneath the topography
of your thoughts. Beyond the language
that has served you like a slipper
and the careful walls that kept out
rains fragrant with dirt and damp leaves….
You may not see yourself again

but watch for someone
faintly familiar, still
in transit, fumbling
a new tongue into hand signals
and hybrid phrases, fingers
alight, alive, and something
about to be said perhaps
for the first time.

 

Consider different fading systems

Maybe they’ve moved
elsewhere, now seen by
other eyes—or what might pass
for eyes—as patterns of
sound-wave, molecular traces,
jet streams and planetary
wanderings still vivid where we
can’t follow. We’ll never know.
They leave in their wake threads of gravity and broken

chains, half-outlines
sketching themselves beyond
the mind’s canvas.
the mind must break out of itself
to paint something new
over itself—the vanished parts,
embellished. So, when a few notes
rise from the universe of half-sleep
and then start to fade, consider
the invitation.

 

A line has two sides

if you let your eyes soften and even
cross a little as you stare at that line.

Soon you find yourself seeing from a soft
third eye, one you didn’t know

was there, and the line’s two sides blur
to three. It’s like teasing apart

then reuniting voices of rain all night while drifting
in and out of sleep: bouts of wind

and soft drops that rustle the leaves
and then torrent-noise that fills the open window

as a gutter overflows, drowning out what started
so gently. But the three sounds

remain, rushing and subsiding
and inviting you to listen for the ones

you can’t hear, or didn’t hear at first. And you can
do this all night, through the one ear

not buried in the pillow
then both at once.

 

Are there sections? Consider transitions

Consider an absence—space
between dots, no-man’s land dividing
claimed turf, mundane event left
off the page, break in dialogue, intake

of breath, pause before decision—
as volte. A presence. Where something quiet
happens or holds up or is preparation

for the next demand. Not a completion.
Not the blank I drew when I first
learned to jump horses, so relieved
to have cleared the fence and stayed
aboard, I forgot for a moment

there was another one ahead.
I forgot to breathe. I stepped away
from myself and then

had to regroup, all monkey-mind
and indecision as we approached the next
place to leave the ground. The horse
flicked an ear, wondering if I was

still there. Hence the difference
between apprentice and master—
seeing the demand between demands.
Showing up inside it.

 

Destroy-nothing-the most important thing

This journey is not sanctioned

or trackable. Where it
leads cannot be

found on the map
wrought from spyglass
and ink, artifacts embalmed

in history, plumed pen
and the scent of parchment

anchored beneath a circle of quiet light.

Step into a
something, a nothing

or the slow burn that renders bone
to sand, to ash, loved body
returned to the elements

from which it arose. This

is a form of kneeling. Now
wait. Two legs may not be

enough to raise you
this time. You’ll need
wings. Eventually

you’ll have to grow them.

 

Do the washing up

and, since you’re in a tepid
state, sponge cat hair from the sofa,
water that desperate plant—the one
dropping leaves all over the tile—
gather the leaves and dump the trash—
there’s something to be said for

empirical progress. Run a substance like
baking soda only more complicated
through the coffeepot, returning it
to what’s said to be its pristine
brewing condition, which may not
be obvious right now, but will be
tomorrow morning when your brain
is tricked into the taste of coffee resurrected…

is it time for a cocktail? Do you really
want a cocktail? By now you like
the idea of cocktail, and this slight shift
of inner weather is encouraging —you
started to say “slightful.” Slothful. Sightful.
Still off your stride but warming, you
strip off the rubber gloves.

 

Cut a vital connection

Your childhood, by
all accounts, was much
better than average. You want
to age gratefully, you want
to honor those who ruled there, all
rectitude and good intentions,
and you want not to abandon
memory’s seat at the table

around which a viable family
gathered each night, circle
of feet facing each other
underneath as the faces did
over the four food groups,
everyone’s right to be there
unquestioned. In this sense
you were loved.

The albatross that returns
now and then, trailing something
broken from where you’ve tied
and tied it down, is how you,
what little you then knew of you,
remained in question: That’s all
in your imagination, said their
tunnel vision. You’re wrong, said

their notion of what it meant to have
their version of the world and you
be theirs. In this sense, you remained
half-known, a cipher bearing a weight
of fears they harbored where they
had no words and, until you yourself had
the words, you were cloaked in wrong   
and later learned to thrive below a surface

none of them could penetrate.
They did their best. You would
do anything for them now
but where to put the voices
that sometimes dig up that unproven
you, drag it into the light
and place what you’re slow to
recognize, even after all this time,

as a gloved hand across your throat?

—Leslie Ullman

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ullman-book-cover-image

Leslie Ullman is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Progress on the Subject of Immensity, published by University of New Mexico Press in 2013. Her third book, Slow Work Through Sand, won the 1998 Iowa Poetry Prize (University of Iowa Press), and her first collection, Natural Histories, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1979 (Yale University Press). Dreams by No One’s Daughter was published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Her hybrid book of craft essays, poems, and writing exercises, many of which began as lectures given at VCFA, is titled Library of Small Happiness is just out with A Taos Press. She also is the recipient of two NEA Fellowships.

Now Professor Emerita at the University of Texas-El Paso, where she taught for 27 years and established the Bilingual MFA Program, she has continued to teach on the faculty at Vermont College, which she joined in 1981. She also does freelance manuscript consultations and teaches skiing every winter at Taos Ski Valley in northern New Mexico.

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Nov 102016
 

Mark Cox

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Level

Each evening when they stop at a campground, he helps his father level the trailer. Everything has to be just right. You want the water to flow correctly, don’t you? You want the floors to be just like home and to wake up refreshed without a headache, don’t you?  They move from corner to corner, tightening the jacks. The boy looks at the bubble in the level. He calls out when it centers itself. Everything is ready then. There is a calm when they place the folding chairs in a semi-circle around the fire pit. They hang the gas lantern from a limb and lug the cooler onto the picnic table. Then there is always the sun’s glow against it all as it lowers beyond the trees. Now his father can begin drinking in earnest and without pretense. Now it is time for the night animals to stir.  The strong can stalk and the weak must cower from place to place feeding as quietly as possible. The boy knows how it looks to the neighbors. A happy family. Everything calculated just so. What did it matter? The leaves fell each autumn and were replaced. All the foliage here would be reduced to dirt before he could even drive a car. The light would still glow blood red on leaves at sundown. The dark was sure to come. There was nothing for him to do about it. He knows just two things for certain: he never wants to become like his father and he must control everything he can. It is just a matter of time. One day he will have a family of his own and things will be done his way– his way and no one else’s.

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Suncatchers

His sister is home already. A school bus drops her off at the door to their apartment building. The boy, though, has a short walk home, first along 57th Street, then west on McNeill. There is a row of fast food franchises on the latter, so he usually grabs takeout before the dinner rush. Their father works even later now.  He will check on them by phone around 4:30, just to make sure they are safely there. After that, who knows when he’ll get in. Sometimes the two are in bed already, having left any schoolwork out for him on the breakfast nook table. The boy looks up into the glass and steel that rises around him on all sides. It seems he lives in a world of mirrors, mirrors that reflect only other mirrors. From the street, the windows, with the sun striking them, seem the blazing scales of some book’s ancient beast. He walks faster, but not out of fear. He doesn’t want his sister’s shake to melt. He’s almost there. Mike the doorman spots him at the corner, toots his whistle and waves him into the crosswalk. Upstairs, the girl has set up TV trays in front of the sofa. She has lost weight since March. He brings her bigger portions, but that doesn’t seem to matter. She stands at the apartment’s picture window and looks across into the office building across the way. The business of the world is getting finished. Papers are being stacked, desk drawers are being opened and closed, files are being filed, phones are being answered. None of it seems real to her. Everything now seems temporary. When her brother arrives, they will choose a movie. It will be hard to watch, it always is, but they can’t help doing it. At the park feeding ducks, a Christmas morning, a day at the zoo. Somehow it doesn’t matter that they’ve seen them before, there is something new to focus on every time. They ask each other questions. They help each other remember. In some, her brother is so young that she is nowhere to be found. Time, now that is real. Sometimes they pause or slow the movie so it doesn’t pass as quickly. You can truly see the faces then, the small changes in features between smiles and complete sentences. Sometimes her brother goes to the screen and points things out in the background, things he remembers that she does not. Sometimes they freeze Mother’s face right as she is talking to them. And they finish homework that way, while her suncatchers in the window flare brightly, then dim.

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Prisoners

The girl has grown up beside the prison. She sees the walls every day. She sees the sun glint on the razor wire and imagines she can feel the massive doors opening and closing beneath her feet. State vehicles often rumble by, rarely with more than momentary faces in a window. Some nights, the girl dreams of a prisoner’s hands at her throat. The man wants help escaping. Food or a weapon. The girl is frightened and runs to tell her parents, but always they lie murdered in their bed. What is she to do now? Alone in this life with a baby sister to protect? The girl readies herself for the worst, the prisoner has followed her to sister’s room. The girl has her body between the crib and the door. And always at this point she wakes, charged with drama, unable to sleep, her heart having quickened. Tonight, she opens a window to listen. There is a distant siren, but not so much as a tomcat on her neighborhood streets. The wind bristles in the elm trees. She thinks about life behind the walls. What the cells must be like compared to her comfortable bed and her bathroom with a door on it and the air hundreds of men have breathed first. What could be yours in a place like that? How could you stay you? Who wouldn’t kill or kidnap a school girl to get out of town? Now, her mother comes in and puts her back to bed, away from the window. A mother just knows. In fact, she has her own unsettling dream of the prisoner, as does the father, as does everyone in the town. Even the prisoner dreams, though he dreams of waking up to breakfast with loud children and a wife, then facing a job which he isn’t trained to do. But soon enough the dreams will stop. Soon enough it will be morning again. And only the sun will be vaulting the guard towers, only the birds will be flying to and fro over the high prison walls.

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Headstrong

Their skeletons are still below the spillway. There is even some ravaged hide left, if one would call it that. Tough way to go, the boy thinks. The two goats even seem to be facing each other, just as they must have on the dam itself, barring each other’s passage along the narrow walkway. Not quite halfway across is where it seems to have happened, they met here and could go no further. The boy kicks a stone down and feels it in his stomach as it drops and strikes the earth. It hasn’t rained much this summer, the crops are withering, the county lake is low. The spillway is as dry as–well, as dry as these bones, now uncovered and bleaching in the high sun. Goats are gifted climbers; even plain old billies are nimble by nature. It would have been easy enough to pass. Or for one or both to turn and walk the other way. Headstrong, his mother calls it. She says it with a mixture of disdain and resignation, and just a touch of pride. She says he comes from a long line of stubborn men. Men, he knows, who get things done. Men who finish what they start. Men who make things happen no matter what the cost. The boy knows that some people thrive on conflict. He has seen the aggressive kids get their way. Maybe people are just angry that life is brief. That’s why they want everything now. The boy kicks another stone over the spillway, then a bottle cap packed with parched dirt. It lands squarely between the two dead goats, their skulls still poised at one another. What does anyone really want? To have been understood in this world, to have walked this spillway, the hallways of his school, the streets of his little town, and to be acknowledged for having been. To be considered. To be reckoned with. To be taken into account. The boy stands at the spillway till he can feel the skin burning on the back of his neck. Then he turns and goes back the way he came.

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Balls

The boy’s testicles hurt. This is something new. He straddles his bike gingerly, one foot still on a pedal, the other on the guard rail of the overpass. It is 10:30 in the morning. Traffic has lessened but is steady on the interstate. It is the long distance travelers now, not the commuters. It is the people who are really going places, seeing things he would like to see. A hundred years ago, he would be a boy by a river, watching his bobber dip in the water, watching driftwood make its way downstream or the occasional barge. This tenderness, the internet says, is part of growing up. It has to do with need and physical change in the body. He can expect a lot more where this came from. If he times it right, he can spit onto the roof of a tractor trailer. He doesn’t know why this matters, that even a little bit of himself swept out of town is better than none at all. To him, it comes out more like contempt and just feels like the thing to do. He thinks a long time before he starts tossing rocks, gravel at first then larger, trying to see how much he can get away with. There’s contact, but to his amazement it goes unnoticed, the world just speeds by, no one pulls over or calls the highway patrol. It is going to be a long summer. He could look for Jimmy and his friends, they always seem to bike around in a pack. Or he could head south and check out the new construction in that neighborhood next to school. He could snag a beer from the workers’ coolers. Anything with an element of risk. He can’t go home yet, there is nothing there but chores he’s been avoiding, help his single mother needs around the house. Cars are still streaming beneath him. The spit on that truck, it is in the next county already and he is still here on this overpass in the searing sun watching the world in its various colors pass him by. None of it, none of it sets quite right with him. He squirms a bit to get comfortable and he tugs at the crotch of his jeans, making room.

—Mark Cox

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Mark Cox’s most recent book is Natural Causes, published in the Pitt Poetry Series. More recently, he edited Jack Myers’ posthumous poetry collection The Memory of Water (New Issues). New poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Green Mountains Review, The Florida Review, New Ohio Review and Miramar. He teaches at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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Nov 032016
 

jody-and-nicky

x
Trakl’s Daughter

Her hands are cramped in the rain
and the air outside is grey as ruined skin.
Her village is eaten by shame.
Four horses stand waiting
in the wet. As they climb the hilltop
they have a readiness
clenched in their shoulders.
She cannot see them very well,
nor smell the breath from their nostrils
as they loom, ready and huge.
Her hands twist through cold water; tonight
they’ll sleep upside-down against her throat.

I share my father’s birthday —
you can call me Gretl, Elena, Amina, Jane;
There’s nothing mysterious about me.
I could sit down next to you on the train
or hand you the foaming cup across a counter.

Conceived at the edge of a cliff, born
into propriety, I was the wrong fish
in tiny denim overalls playing
with that red, wind-up bird which had flown to me
right out of my father.

For Papa?   Blue apples and lanterns
to blackmail him out of the fog.
The stained slope has darkened, boot-prints and blood.
Is she ready to walk up another ragged hillside?
Dawn drips honey on the horizon
but the way she travels remains in shadow
and the blue apples barely shine.

I trusted you!
But all you gave me was incessant moonlight —
its syringes, glint,
and a bowl of broth
that had already been bitten through.

nc

Talking to Myself on New Year’s Eve

Let me speak for the horse torn by crows
one horse, no rider. Left foreleg
raised up into those crows which have rushed
at his hide, his mane, his flesh
to eye socket and bone.

Let me tell of the small girl, thumb
in mouth, stepping down the street
as she looks side to side and over her shoulder
hair fringed by blood.

Let me sigh for what lived in the forest
and now is ash.

Let me write for the crash of water into the sheepfold,
for the saturation
where nothing will grow and,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxelsewhere,
for those drying winds:
the suffocating crust where nothing
sprouts, or rises even an inch
into the shaken air.

Let me find what calls me to sit for a moment,
sift out my tightened, held breath;
let me write so no one’s shadow
crosses the page without soon
moving freely away –

nc

More Beautiful

Nothing made the evening more beautiful than memory, not that the memory itself had to be lovely or even pleasant, just that the glow of recognition slid warmly down her throat and settled between the ribs. Outside her window the constant gentleman watched. He was never visible but she could feel the flick of his eyes across her shoulders light as silk and it was a comfort to her.

The gentleman in his long wool coat and fedora kept away from the corner streetlamp. Watching the quiet woman sit with her book was calming as though he’d swallowed a joy so deep it could never leave him.

Some evenings the trees were full of leaves, thick and absorbent. Others, the air was chilled, shiftless – the leaves a bitter brown or even fallen and blown away into the cold season. But the street itself always smelled sweet; it was that sweetness which shaped memory out of its drift of smoke.

The woman knows that sometimes memory is brutal and while the gentleman can never rescue her she will, the next morning, stretch out of her bedclothes—imperfect and alive.

nc

Baby

Baby has sweet toes & the boughs
Of the willow drape
gritty with shade. Mum & Dad
swing their knives
through kitchen air while Sister
plucks at Baby’s nose, tickles
her feet. Mum presses at the nick
on her upper arm; Dad’s
flung his knife away. His boot-steps
vanish down the street.
Baby giggles, then wrinkles up her face.
Sister wants to fall asleep
or swim with friends in the boy-flecked lake.
Mum wipes off the kitchen counter,
lifts down bread, jellied meat, mustard
& cheese. She doesn’t want
to call her daughters in, doesn’t
want, but has to.

nc

Only Child

I had a dove and she was fiction.
As I lay on summer grass
looking up through leaves,
she flew right down to me.

I kept my dove beneath my shirt.
At night she roosted on the bedpost
at the edge of dark pools
only I could slip my body into.

I wasn’t the kind of child
who carried death
like an opened book before her.
I tried to keep small, unnoticed.

I had a dove and she told me
stories; her voice,
low and rounded, comforted the air.
In winter we shared a rocking chair

by the icy like window. I held
her small heartbeat against my cheek.
My dove, who said she never lied,
taught me how to.

nc

The Scent of Phlox

travels with her
ahead  .    a dark twist of clouds
and stones spinning up off the highway

her windshield cracks

yesterday    on the window ledge   a dragonfly
caught in a spider web

she touched it with one finger
a moment’s last breath

the purple   phlox
lives in the corner of her eye

her windshield shatters

the road is slick and churning
as she peers straight ahead

two hands tight on the wheel
she remembers when she was five

how tall the bright short-lived sunflowers
between house and barn –

a first telling
of light from the earth

—Pamela Stewart

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Pamela Stewart (known as Jody) is a true “boomer” and New England born and bred. She took up writing in grade school because she couldn’t draw. She received a BA from Goddard’s ADP Program and an MFA (sort of) from University of Iowa. She’s taught creative writing at several universities including ASU, University of Arizona, UC Irvine, and University of Houston. In 1982 she received a Guggenheim and traveled to Cornwall in the UK, where she returned to live for seven years. Jody came back to western Massachusetts in 1990, and in 1994 she and her then-husband moved to a farm at the edge of Hawley. Over the years she’s published in a number of magazines, received three Pushcart publications, and is the author of six full-length books of poems: The St. Vlas Elegies (L’Epervier press, 1977), Cascades (L’Epervier Press, 1979), Nightblind (Ion Books, 1985), Infrequent Mysteries (Alice James Books, 1991), The Red Window (University of Georgia Press, 1997), and Ghost Farm (Pleasure Boat Studio, 2010.) A chapbook, Just Visiting, was published by Grey Suit Editions, London, in 2014. (All of this quite surprised her mother.) Jody continues to live on the farm with seven dogs, a number of elderly sheep, a rescued race horse, a couple of goats, and some old pigs and birds. At some point she intends to tackle a “new and selected” if the dogs let her, but first she’ll arrange and write a forward to some delightful letters sent between the late poet Lee McCarthy and Guy Davenport. She has a lot to be grateful for.

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Oct 112016
 

Okla Elliott

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Satan, Bring Me My Guitar (Or: Use the Condom—
You’ll Be Happy You Did Later)

Three times I wished to find an end

Twice you called and said it was the end.

What’s the use of all this trying this wanting-more
your denials your holding-together?
What use the machinations the theatre the holy pornography?

Mister, there are mystical stains everywhere
I go
these days; I don’t want
or at least
don’t want to want
or at least
don’t want to admit I want or want to want—

Oh, to hell with such
roundabout poetics.

My blood is 7 degrees Celsius.
I am not alone.
There are others,
brothers of near-freezing blood; it’s that near
that keeps us close, that forms us.

What makes this room
suddenly Dantean in demeanor?

The pastel skulls are too much,
recurring details of a Día de los Muertos
acid trip gone horrifyingly wrong.

I want to compose a song.
Here is the refrain:
Our Father, I would like to complain
of senseless erections.
I have been meaning to say so
for years, but it only occurred to me now
because I have your attention.

Okay…that song would suck, I admit,
but that doesn’t make me not want to
(or want not to) compose it. So:
Satan, bring me my guitar!

But you don’t want me to compose
a song for you.

What do you want?

You always talked about commitment
at any cost,
so I will prove I am committed.

I wrote the title of this poem
before I was done
and now I will commit
to that parenthetical condom,
which I included just to amuse myself
and my friend David Bowen
with whom I was IMing when I was
drafting this poem.

So, here goes:

You visit me

And I tell myself,
Use the condom; you’ll be happy you did later.

There should be a barrier here
something to block the past
from entering the present unhindered.

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Let’s Not Imagine

1.

Let’s say night never arrives again.
Would the moon disappear in a sun-flash?

And what if all the flowers in all the poems—
flowers I’ve often never seen or heard of, except in poems,
what if these flowers were petrified?
What would we make of these colorful stones
planted throughout world literature?

2.

I read about a torture method
used by rebels in South Africa. Necklacing.
You place a car-tire around your victim’s neck,
then you pour gasoline in the tire, and—
Well, you know what comes next.

The victim’s face disappears in a sun-flash
and all flowers should blossom stone forever.

Let’s not imagine the kind of corpse necklacing leaves.
Those eyes will not see the stars of night.
Some survived. Would you want to meet a survivor?

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Antinomies and Intensities

1.

Askew, askew, I float. The darkling waters
turn my helpless boat round.
The rippling dots of starlight—dead stars, dead.

The rippling of starlight on the water
and overhead. Silently, I merge the world
with my mind. Silently, it becomes one world.

I wobble myself upright and balance.
The body’s warm intensities, its needs,
its abilities. All of this, turning slowly

on the night’s river.

2.

I watch the weather gather
yellow doom into its belly.

The water will wash runnels through the sand.
It will wash away the self-monuments of man.

Say your prayers. The sky won’t listen.
Say them anyway.
The sound of human voice in the storm,
this might be of more value than we can guess.

3.

There is a vowel in the wind. A voiceless vowel.
There is joy in the void. A hopeless joy.

I will ride the waters over the cliff
into the abyss.

I will embrace this apocalypse—

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Ruinwind Sonnet

A hot wind has blown across land and ocean
bringing a desert howl, a desert death, with it.
The wind has changed the angle of your hair,
changed the angles of our hearts.
I sniff the air and smell death. I sense the depleted
souls of uranium shells.
Among so many battlegrounds and burial grounds,
how do I dare to be happy?
Your honest high-pitched laughter
carves the air, counter to the grain of the distant wind
that has burned my day to a ruin.
But that is just a metaphor in my life,
a neat poetic phrase.
Others, their lives are literally burned.

—Okla Elliott

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Okla Elliott is an assistant professor at Misericordia University in northeast Pennsylvania. He holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Illinois, an MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University, and a certificate in legal studies from Purdue University. His work has appeared in Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, Subtropics, and elsewhere, as well as being included as a “notable essay” in Best American Essays 2015. His books include From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), and Pope Francis: The Essential Guide (nonfiction, forthcoming).

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