Jun 132017
 

Jane Clarke

 

Promise

After the talk with the palliative nurse
over cups of tea in the kitchen, my mother
tells me she’s already asked my father

to promise he’ll make it through the winter –
it’ll be sixty years in April, Charlie.
Sixty years since she walked down the aisle

in her dress of pristine lace, beaded bodice
and tiny satin-covered buttons at the nape,
a full skirt of tulle falling from her waist

to red and black tiles. Ballymoe Church
is tumbling now, stone by stone,
beneath the weight of brambles, ivy, ash.

I was eager and silly as a suck calf, she laughs,
as she readies his tablets, a whiff of silage
rising from the coats drying by the stove.

 

When he falls asleep

at the kitchen table and drops
another cup, my mother bends
without a word, sweeps up

the broken pieces in her hands,
looking out for shards in case
he wanders bare foot in the night.

 

Planting Trees

Dad taught us that paper
comes from trees and the word for book

comes from beech. He showed us
the olive-grey bark, smooth as river rocks,

how to tell the light hues of young wood
from the gloom of the old

and how to count the rings – starting
at the centre, working out towards the edge.

He’s unable to move from his bed,
but when we ask about the row of beech

beside the bridge, he’s clear as a bell,
my father’s father’s father planted them,

a shelter-belt for a nursery, when the British
were giving grants for planting trees.

Tomorrow, I’ll get dressed,
we’ll go down to see them again.

 

I’ve got you

Through days of morphine,
tidbits to tempt his appetite,
there’s nowhere else to be,

I hold his teacup to his lips,
wash his face and the hands
I rarely touched.

During the night old hurts
and worries surface
like stones in a well-tilled field.

What time is it now? he asks
on the hour. He sings to himself
and murmurs lines he learned

as a child, ‘All we, like sheep
have gone astray, we have turned
everyone to his own way’.

When he asks to get up,
I hold his wrists,
brace my weight against his.

For a moment he’s confused –
it’s ok Janey, I’ve got you,
go on now, you can stand.

 

Respects

From Roosky, Creemully, Louglyn,
Kiltoom, Kilbegnet, Moyliss,
Brideswell, Lecarrow, Creggs,
Athleague, Ballinleg, Carrowkeel,
they came to pay their respects.

They shook hands with us,
stood by his body and bowed
their heads. Cattle men,
sheep men, carpenters, teachers,
foresters, nurses,

mart managers, vets;
they said prayers, laid their hands
on his chest and blessed
themselves, then filled the kitchen
with the man they knew,

a grand man altogether,
always out early, a hardy hoor,
a good judge of a bullock,
fierce man to work, a man of his word,
he had woeful hands.

I slipped out for a while to see
the flawless orange globe
hung low over the Common
and a flock of whooper swans
feasting on the last of the winter grass.

 

Dunamon

i.m. Charlie Clarke

They dig slower as they go deeper,
taking turns to heave shovels of clay,

throwing bigger stones and rocks
up into the tractor box.

Son, grandson, nephew, neighbours,
they’ve already gone down five feet,

when they lay their tools aside,
drink tea, light up for a smoke

and agree they couldn’t have
a better day for digging a grave –

not a cloud to be seen,
sunshine melting last night’s frost,

and, from the woods behind them,
a chaffinch singing his heart out.

—Jane Clarke

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Jane Clarke’s first collection, The River, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2015. Originally from a farm in Roscommon, Jane now lives near Glenmalure, County Wicklow. In 2016 she won the inaugural Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year Award and the Hennessy Literary Award for Poetry. She was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature 2016 Ondaatje Literary Award. www.janeclarkepoetry.ie

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Jun 092017
 

Photo by Jada Lillo

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Widdershins King

after Robert Graves’ The White Goddess

The augur reads your body as a map to the stars,
a map to ourselves. Your hollow-leg limp, your
slanted dance becomes our left-handed magic.
What for you is necessity, for us is harvest and a
night’s sleep from which we all wake while you
ache all night, grown too tall for your withered
hips. You whisper into the solstice flames, and
we follow your fixed-point starlight toward the
future. You pivot left then fall, but we rescue
you from the dust. When we stake your torso to
the forked oak tree in the center of the grove,
before we touch fire to the cured wood, you
warn us you cannot die, have already died long
ago, and learned to keep one foot hidden beyond
the threshold.

X
Teeth

In the booth behind me, a woman speaks to a man.
“Thank God we didn’t try to have a baby,” she says,
“my tumor would have eaten them, would have gained
superpowers!” She laughs, but laughter faded as gray
skin. The man does not reply. I wonder which
superpowers she means. Telekinesis?
Cancer with wings?

What poisons seed my cells?
What malevolent mouth might my body feed?

Admitted to hospital Monday,
transferred to hospice Thursday, Jana
died Sunday.

After, I helped clean out her apartment.
Dust thick as frosting, a sour smell—dog
piss and dirty drains and insane cells
celebrating Carnival in her ovaries, her
lymph nodes, her lungs.

Her words written inside the cover of a calendar five-years
old—THIS YEAR I WILL:
TRAVEL TO DENMARK! PERFORM STAND-UP! SEE
MY CHILDREN SETTLED AND HAPPY!
Her spiral notebooks, scarred by ball-point pen—blue
letters, a forest of upper-cases where her left hand cast
a faint shadow of ink as it crossed the page.
I bagged her notebooks in green plastic bags and threw them away.

The fox’s road-kill teeth etch each afternoon
as I drive home. Sharp white bordered by gums
black as cave glass, black as fresh tar
skinned from the off-ramp closest to home.
Day by day, the fox collapses into herself,
into the dark spaces she left behind in the gutter.
Along the horizon, mountains muzzle
the west wind. Volcanic rock wears down
into brown dust the color of the fox’s pelt.

Why do I crave my daily peek at death—shrunken body,
gleaming teeth, black gums—but this afternoon the dead
fox vanished, teeth and all? Famished, I gnaw my arm to
bone with pointed fox’s teeth.

When my turn comes, I will swallow my prescribed pills.
I will never wear a pink wig, but I will slice off diseased
bits of flesh to toss into the flame.

I will appease the gods. After all this time, we
still believe in gods hungry as ourselves.

X
de novo

Any minute now, the neurologist will open the door & introduce us to the MDA rep. We will fill out forms & sign our name, initial here & here. Each form will read, diagnosis—unknown/in progress. M— dances from square to square, counting floor tiles. Not until the moment when the doctor transforms from work-a-day technician to palm reader, do you fully appreciate the blessings of an unknowable future. Or course, an existential dilemma looms in every instant the proverbial bus misses your vulnerable bones or the apocryphal lightning preserves your tender skin. Yet the absurdity of consciousness amidst the cosmic soup of mystery rests far easier on the mind in healthy times. Listen to the oracle whose voice outlines a vast unknown in a series of appointments and procedures—blood draw; genetics testing, cardiologist; orthopedist; muscle biopsy; MRI; neurologist.

Once home, we comb our digital photo files & compile a timeline of milestones. This age M— army crawls. Remember how he used to roll his toys, scoot after them, playing fetch with himself? We called his game Adventure Time. Here’s the age he crawls—here he pulls himself up to standing, takes steps. Maybe a little late. This age his heels creep off the ground, & when his stance widens, his skinned knees & elbows never go away. He tries to ride a bike & can’t get the pedals around more than twice. For years he can’t skip or hop but see here? Here he leaps, both feet leaving the ground.

In the process, we discover a video from the Airplane Museum: M— in a yellow bi-plane toy, built for toddlers but just big enough for our 5-year-old with his long legs & tiny frame. After an initial push, M— gets the pedals going, his laugh echoing off the concrete floors & metal girders of the hangar’s roof. I film while J— chases her brother & you juggle between our son-the-yellow-missile & museum exhibits—bombers & fighters & helicopters spanning 70 years of American wars. He shouts, I’m in the jet stream! The video bounces & cuts on my, Sh!

Then I’m weeping into your T-shirt. You hold me & ask, What is it? I say our son’s name, only his name, but your grip tightens. You looked it up, didn’t you? I nod. The doctor told us not to look it up! An already-written future at work inside his cells shapes his body whether we know its name or not.

X
Waiting for the Turn

We tread the wave. The Pacific yearns landward and the
tide rises. Once the wave passes, we settle on the long
shelf of sand and holding hands, we balance beyond
the break. My son watches the wave
crest and crash into gauzy white foam, but I
watch the open ocean, timing the swells
until we can leap into the next wave.
Here he is, my boy, singular offspring of countless kisses.
Inside his body history coils, which is to say he contains
the future as the ocean contains us and a sea of air contains
this singular gold-and-blue bead of October afternoon.
Swells build and my son clings to my shoulders
when our feet float free from the sand.
In a time of transition, no amount of time
makes you accustomed to the taste of grief. How will we survive
this suffering? Variants of unknown significance
perform their invisible, broken work inside the membranes
of his cells while another wave pulses warm water
closer to shore and we buoy ourselves in this warmth, my son
and I. We laugh, delirious in the sunlight, and my son touches
his crooked finger to salt drops beading on my face.
He believes the drops are broken bits of wave.

X
How you will learn to ride a bike:

1) Press your thumbprint into your cells’
structures until you don’t know
what will happen yet; 2) Round the shape
of your head with my soft sounds; 3) See
ahead, the horizon of a new
structural bend in the happenings
of boys & dragonflies; 4) What flies
is not time but belief in time’s promise;
5) Forget all I’ve ever said; 6) Discover
within yourself novel repetitions with wings;
7) Fly along the horizon:
try to remember you’ve always known how.

X
Spaceboy, I Miss You

You dance across the ceiling.

You wrap arms around my neck, a hug, a plea
for rescue. I hold you to me. You curve your
body into the spaces between us, and hold me
until you’re full then you float upward to
dance. Under your feet the ceiling’s white, flat
paint wears away.

Nightblue pajamas outline your body, like the sky
your fragile arms, legs, hips, tummy and back, traced by
constellations— Ursa Major, Orion, Castor and Pollux, the
Scorpion, the Forgiving King glow in the dark.

Your walls grow thin.
Rhymes told slant, your tiny narrow fingers stretch
back and fold until they nearly meet the tender skin
binding your hands. You shake and sinew over the
ceiling, and I watch your joy in body, your star-
sprinkled pajamas. You twinkle through the space
between us, and I want you inside my arms, held
close. I wish to speak, to call you back to me, but you
move high on your toes and dance.

Knees jut, hips swizzle,
elbows and wrists and hands knot the air like wings.
From the twisted knots of your ankles, always lifting
you to your toes, you fashion ache into song,
into dancing stars, ceiling not strong enough to hold
such joy.

Come back to me. Come back
to me. I’ll rewrite your constellations.
I’ll repair the scrambled syntax. I will hold you,
stronger than the ceiling, my star-walking son.

I will not lose you to hollows.
I will not forget how you dance.

X
Scar Powder

after The National, “Graceless”

I am invisible and weightless, fine bone
powder voice dissolved in water you
caught inside the vase to feed stems of
goldenrod and firewheels, California
poppies and bluebells plucked from
Colorado meadows rescued from my
childhood summers. Bluebells.
My grandmother calls them witches’
thistles, her voice transparent as water.
As water I will rise up stems because
there’s a science to rising through
windows and my grandmother’s voice
calls through glass—witches’ thistles,
not for malice but for magic—listen, all
my thoughts of you become orange, red,
yellow, blue blooms in the vase
up on the shelf where you will say
it is the side effects that save us,
scars give us grace.

—Erin Lillo

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In addition to writing, teaching, and parenting, Erin Lillo reads too much and listens to music too loud. She also has an ongoing competition with her husband to see who can work the most lines from The Big Lebowski into everyday conversation. Currently she’s losing. Her work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review and The Tishman Review. She has an MFA in poetry and fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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Jun 082017
 

Clint McCown

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Entropy

Knowledge
is to understand
the differences;
wisdom
is to bridge the
common ground.

Suspenders and
suspense, for example:
shoulder to shoulder
but otherwise unattached.

Which is the one
to learn from?

Even on our worst day,
we can draw abstractions
from the concrete.
Even an unanchored
suspension bridge
can be easily supported
by the simple suspension
of our disbelief.

But abstractions leave us
none the wiser.
Let’s get practical here.

The river is beautiful
only until
we have a need
to cross it.

The river is ugly
only until
we reach
the other side.

Back and forth
we go.

The earth is as much
pendulum as ball:
so even the
peaceable kingdom
will know a day
of slaughter.

And another.
And another.

Progress, it seems,
takes us nowhere
we haven’t already been.

The earth is as much
pendulum as ball.

The river is beautiful,
the river is ugly,
but the river is not
the flooded landscape or
the drought-cracked bed.
The river is only the river.

The pendulum
slows,
revealing every star
as finite.

Fire reduces
half the universe to ash;
what’s left will freeze
into atomic dust.

Don’t wait for the sun
to fill the sky.
If there’s a worm hole,
take it.

Remember that
shade tree
in your old back yard.
You’re there now.
Stay a while.

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If Left Alone

every blade
unsharpens
over time

every color fades
toward neutral

every fruit drops

every drop dries

every strength
falters

every breath
every light
goes out, and

every memory,
good or bad,
is lost

I am now here
or
I am not here:

two states
separated by
one letter,
one infinity
of difference

which is the one
to celebrate?

which is the one
to mourn?

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On Claudia’s Birthday

Friends aren’t what they used to be.
The circle has widened beyond
all horizons, and now people
we don’t know
wander in from the street
to rummage through drawers
and stare into the refrigerator.

In this third year after her death,
Claudia, or the fact of her,
prompts the ghosted internet
to tell the world
that it’s her birthday.
That’s not inaccurate, of course:
beginnings are indelible.
But still.

Old-fashioned friends, who know
a platform is no place to live,
send love and share the grief.

But here and there among the posts
the clueless barge right in:
Do something special today!
one tells her.
Have a fun week! says another.
Many happy returns!
Someone sends a birthday song.
A winking smiley-face.

Claudia herself
might have laughed off
these misplaced hints of immortality.
But who’s to say?

Every form of parchment
fades in constant light;
what once was clear becomes illegible.
Now we see through a glass darkly
and then darker still.
No doubt this same congratulation
will make the rounds again next year.

When you see it,
remember the snuffed light
of blown-out candles.
Think how much you’ve lost.

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When Death Comes Knocking in the Night

Oh, you again, I say.
The terror has worn thin.

Habit teaches us to live
with anything, I guess —
the way I stopped worrying
about the atomic bomb
in sixth grade
after the fiftieth false alarm,
all us kids huddling
beneath our desks,
waiting for the final flash.

He still leans on that famous
scythe — a habit of his own.
I think he carries it
only to scare the children,
to keep them at a distance.

He’s not such a bad guy,
just lousy at making friends.
And in spite of what
you may have heard,
he’s terrible at chess.
He’s cool about it, though —
whether it’s a thousand
or ten thousand games,
one win is all he wants.

Our routine is almost playful now.
Stop me if you’ve heard this,
he says. But he never stops.

How many dead people
does it take
to change a light bulb?
He grins his trademark grin.
The number doesn’t matter!
he howls.
There aren’t any light bulbs
in the grave!
Then he cackles like a
drunken sorority pledge.

The humor, he believes,
lies not in the joke itself,
but in the way he tells it.

He tells it repeatedly.

How many dead people
does it take
to change a light bulb?
he asks again.
This is the only joke he knows;
for him it never gets old.

But for once I surprise him.
The number doesn’t matter,
I interrupt.
Dead people can’t climb a ladder.

Death gapes at me,
eye sockets wide,
grinning uncertainly
at my departure.

But the third time,
inspired, as he often is,
by the breaking of fresh ground,
he tries a variation of his own.

The number doesn’t matter!
he cries with sibilant glee,
The dead don’t need light bulbs!
They’re dead!

He thinks he’s hysterical
and laughs so hard
he unhinges his jaw.

How many dead people
does it take,
he begins again.

This goes on for a while.
He’s on a roll now,
as possibilities unfold
without end.

Eventually, boredom sets in.
I tell him I’m still listening,
that I’ve closed my eyes
only to concentrate
on his infinite comedic range.
I tell him his eternity
of punchlines is amazing.
I think he buys it.

How many dead people
does it take,
he intones
for the umpteenth time,

but I’m drifting away,
forgetting the joke entirely.

I ease down
through the sweetness
of the shadow.

Words release me
from their mystery,

and I sink, dreamless,
toward the usual slumber,

not knowing
how long, or how deep.

— Clint McCown

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Clint McCown has published four collections of poems and four novels, the most recent of which, Haints, received the Midwest Book Award. He directs the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University and teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency MFA program.

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Jun 062017
 

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The Elements of Cohesion Must be Weakened

And there was a good way off from them
an herd of many swine feeding.
(Mark 5: 30)

In the Gospels demons hurl themselves head-long
Into a herd of swine and the swine promptly rush
Over a cliff and drown in the sea. It is easily a scene
Goya imagines quite closely in another context: when
Revolutionaries in the hours before dawn, sleepless
For several nights, walk now closely together, as if
Synchronized after a long rehearsed performance
And prepare to execute two brothers. A two-year old’s
Tantrum likewise is always preceded by a trespass
Into a country of endless exhaustion. No one present
Notices how he passes over that border. Soon he trips
And slips out of his mind, screaming and convulsing.
His eyes evidence a far away look. Cities are bombed out
Beneath them. Outside the tombs two men press
Their heads into their hands because of the demons.
Nearby, the smell of swine. With Goya it is the same:
Innocent bystanders hide their faces behind their hands
As in a game of peek-a-boo. Recall how in Kurosawa’s Dreams,
When over the decimated landscape of the hills demons wail,
It’s because their pain is too much: sharp bones protrude
Through their skulls. In Goya’s painting we cannot see the eyes
Of the revolutionaries who will do the shooting. Their backs
Are turned, their heads are cocked low to the butts of their rifles.
We see how the surviving brother pleads. And we see how the one
Holding him steady stares out of his skull as if he will never sleep again.
I can see the city roofs and the spire of a church over low hills.
Beneath the cliffs, which are not visible, the sea is inaudible.
Perhaps Christ is about. Who knows! Goya’s painting hangs
Close by on my wall. The revolutionaries locked in step, eyes unshut.

x
The Scene From Here

So I see near the beach beside the docked
and decommissioned ferry, a makeshift flagpole
on which hangs, half-mast, the French Tricolore.

I run past. The route I take follows
the trail beside the channel, its slow waters
flowing from lake to lake, its currents shallow,

benign, so that no danger troubles the swimmers
who recline and drink on their rubber floats before
they leap in and submerge. Nothing is hidden of summer

in the Valley where all along the shore
children build tiny sand castles, dig twisting moats
into the mud. Lone suckers feed on the lake floor.

It’s been a weird July. Every afternoon for over a week
storms break over the mountains—lightning, thunder—
the rain falls hard. Conversation turns to the weather.

What’s the worst they’ve seen (if they’ve seen it before)
those who’ve been here a long time can’t recall
or won’t say, and the weather anyhow has its own way

of doing things. It’s easy to stare at the hills and think
about nothing. As if the mountains would have you wander
into them, burrow into fallen pine needles, stay there.

Soon I turn from the trail and run up-hill on the old track
or where the railroad tracks were that once ran the span
of the valley from the coast into Alberta. History marks

landscape like a scar, like the flesh healed into woven stitches
above my right eye, so that a reddened furrow is cut close
but hardly visible except to those women who’ve pressed

their fingers there. In the evenings I’m reading Euripides
on my mother’s patio, near the lakeshore where a giant peach
is open until late; teenage girls inside serving ice cream floats

later flutter about the beach above the glow of their cell-phones.
Early in the morning last week I woke to the sound of a voice
announcing on a megaphone the names of marathon runners

as they crossed the finish line. AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, applause,
all the spent athletes like in Ovid, that story near the end
about the runner who had escaped the finale of the last age,

when iron returned to fire and fire to sand. He moved like an ant
below the gods who at that point were left with little to do;
they say Apollo caught him easily, pressed him between his finger

and thumb, squished and ground him up until he too was sand,
flicking him down to where he was left with the rest of civilization,
subject to the wind’s shifts. In the afternoon my three year old son

learns to swim. I prop him on my knees in the lake, cup my hands
underneath his arms; he does not let me relax my grip but screams
delight and terror when I throw him into the air and let him fall

again into my hands and collapse into my arms, cold water
washing over his face and hair. He cries because of his wet eyes,
all the water in his nose and mouth. Later, on the sand, he tells me

Babi, you protect me, right? I recall that version of Theseus’ myth
where he wanders without a spool of yarn stashed in his pocket.
My boy is a diamond cut into the air. My own midway inclines toward dust-

dry ponderosa bluffs, the shelter of my ear like caves carved into the clay
cliffs which rise here on either side, the trail metamorphosed into scree.
The Trojan Women all wail and wail. There is no happy conclusion.

The ships on which they sail take them elsewhere far away.
Last week in Nice a few young drunk Brits took selfies next to a family
mourning their dead. Life returns to normal quickly.

Out on the lake the boats pull skiers; above the water a man
harnessed to a parachute is pulled around awhile. The scene
from here shows him minuscule, like a dead man in an airborne pulley.

What is normal? The air I breathe is dry, dry. The mountain flowers
are yellow. No sound from the trees.
Not even birds.

x

The Etymology of Ideology

They didn’t know what they were doing. The train
Tracks on the hills behind their minuscule town were long
Abandoned; the last train passed through years before.
So the body they found, the horses near the pastures,
The dogs unleashed in fields, all this took on its own
Larger contour, like a collective vocation, an invisible
Order into the late afternoon, the hours before stray parents

Called one another and inquired into their children’s
Whereabouts. I have not seen them at all, not for a long
Time. Up in the bush the fires begin intentionally. Because
The hero of the story, the smallest, is bored too easily. Or
Because—it’s anyone’s guess, really—he is already insane.

x

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his ordinary head
except from photographs, eyes wholly terrified.
And yet his torso, bent over his bound hands,
is like a light flickering in some empty apartment,

illuminating: a table, a cracked cup, itself. Otherwise
he’d be merely bare life, unlucky in foreign lands,
a common captured adventurer, hostage
to barbarians in a bombed city, almost a fiction.

Otherwise you could forget him. His body,
beneath vacant space, poised before collapse,
would not hesitate, tremble as if a living man:

he would not, from all the borders of his headless corpse,
burst like a dumb star: for there is no place left
where you aren’t seen. Your life will change.

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On the Origins of Utopia

Many people have long felt the desire to do something
With their lives besides consuming goods. They desire
To interact and develop but for this there is no remedy
Calculable in classical economics. This gets me
Wondering. It would be a fine thing, all that flourishing,
Along with everyone else, but also decently private
So as not to burden one’s neighbors with too much noise
Or such a torrent of dumb ideas all at once. Space required
Is also allocated into the general scheme of the better life,
If not the best life, since the latter wedges its dissatisfaction
Into the minds of each of us according to our old desires,
Childhood vistas, incurable heartbreak by the age of sixteen.
It was silly then but also so totally serious that now our leaders
Wage their private warfare, their revenge, and we’re all implicated.

x

On Tyranny

Such hateful things. Heiro and Simonides,
Reclining through the uninterrupted afternoon,
Contend that the tyrant cannot do better than
To immediately hang himself. This is not bad advice
Except for the tyrant’s refusal to listen to Heiro and Simonides,
Who’ve fled together into Goya’s painting, Shooting of the Third of May.
But they fail to outrun the tyrant’s many admirers—
Those armed men, bored silly, lonely, who otherwise have nothing to do.
Now they’re occupied with the At-Oneness of the tyrant’s intentions:
The execution of Heiro and his friend, the poet, Simonides, dying beside him.
Still, Heiro does not cease to give his two cents worth; he raises his arms;
If the blood-muck pooling beside his feet became a common fire
Around which those who are lonely tell stories,
Then this is Heiro’s final story before the end of all that is Heiro:
Thus he stands and raises his arms above the earth, his gestures
The size of cosmos, his complaints Promethean,
Against fickle gods, against the machinery of lust,
A Tyrant’s boredom, against those whose bodies
Are equal to mass times distance, whose ignorance
Is dense as a failed universe, hopes dismantled
Like the station wagon of a family shot dead, in cold blood,
Ill-favoured and forgotten…Heiro sees it all,
Claims the remainder for the Greatest Story Ever Told,
The incredible bulk of a husband’s failure; the noblest
Scholar on his hands and knees, barks on command,
While furtive urchins run towards the river,
Lie on the ground, cover their bodies in mud, turn into slugs.
Now Heiro sees it all so quickly, he wants to tell it all,
But he vomits as he commences—with what great fortitude!—
To utter his final dispatched breath. Such hateful things.

—Darren Bifford

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Darren Bifford is the author of Wedding in Fire Country (Nightwood Editions, 2012) and Hermit Crab (Baseline Press, 2014). His next book of poetry will be published with Brick Books in 2018. He lives in Montreal.

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Jun 052017
 

Miranda Boulton (The Painter)xxxxxxxxKaddy Benyon (The Poet) 

 

The studio is at the top of the narrow terraced house in what was once an attic. Clean, white lines, and a long slice of window that displays the city below, glittering in the sunshine that has followed a snow flurry. The space has that rich, expectant silence of all places where creativity occurs. It belongs to the painter, Miranda Boulton, and its walls are lined with canvasses that are part of her recent body of work, one of which, Day to Night, was selected for the 2016 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The paintings draw on the 17th century Dutch tradition of flower painting, but here the eerie calm of the black background surrounds a vortex of layered expressionistic images that have a mesmeric quality. Miranda tells me how the painting came about:

Day To Night  40 x 30 cm, oil on board (2015)

Miranda Boulton (MB): I was thinking about how I was painting and I was flicking through my phone late at night. I saw this image of flowers and the next day I tried to recreate it. I used to use photos to paint from, I needed something solid to reference. With this painting, I let go of all that and just worked from memory. It was like getting rid of my stabilizers. I let go and it all seemed to come together for me. It became more about the process of painting, of one stroke leading into another, then taking it off and going back and forth in layers of paint… pentimento… it was letting go, so one mark led to the next, it was a process of trying to get to something, of knowing and unknowing.

Pentimento, I discover, when I look it up later, comes from the Italian for repentence, and refers to traces in the work that show the artist has changed her mind in the course of composition. The traces may appear in the underdrawing, or in the painting over the drawing, or in subsequent over-painting. It seems appropriate that working from memory and its infinite layers should result in a palimpsestic painting of such complexity. And appropriate, too, that the unfathomable depths of the internet should provide its origin.

MB: A lot of the source material I use is from the internet. I quite like the distance. When you’re dealing with flower imagery it’s so personal and I find the internet neutralises that. The image becomes a free-floating thing that can mean anything. Then it’s about capturing that meaning.

Victoria Best (VB): I have this idea of the internet as a vast unconscious, just not your unconscious, but other peoples’. It’s like a huge daydream in which you cycle through other people’s discarded images.

MB: I think all the paintings are about ghosts, they are all haunted. For me it’s very much an acknowledgment of the past and the present merging… It’s an interesting thing about painting that you have this whole history behind you and you have to acknowledge that. You have to deny it and accept it; you have to hold it somewhere but it can’t be too much to the forefront. Because I studied art history I had too many images in my head and it took me a long time to desaturate myself. Now I know what my influences are, but I don’t spend a lot of time looking at books because it’s memories I’m interested in filtering. It’s these traces that are left on us that I want to explore and I can only do that when I’m in process. It’s a process of knowing and not knowing and letting go and it’s the actual paint, the texture and the materiality, that allows it out.

VB: It’s all about the flow.

MB: It becomes almost meditative when you know you’re functioning in the moment. You have to hold it all, be aware of it all, but you’ve got to put it over to one side when you’re doing it. I think there’s a process in doing a body of work. You start with an idea and there’s a point where you have to look back and quantify it, think it through. It’s like going below and above water. I understand it now although for a long time I didn’t.

VB: So how long did it take you to do this?

MB: This painting? Probably took me about six months. In different settings and times so there are different layers. Each of these paintings has been completely other paintings before, and worked through over time, and completely destroyed and then worked into again and again. There’s an archaeology.

VB: Do you have to work through sketches in order to get what you want?

MB: No, but I work things out when I’m doing these smaller ones. I work out a gesture, ideas, and then it comes to fruition on the larger ones. They have many more layers underneath the surface.  Sometimes it works in one layer, but if you haven’t worked on the layers underneath it doesn’t have quite the same density to the surface.

A World in Itself  50 x 40 cm, oil on board (2016)

Nevertheless, I find myself deeply drawn to the smaller paintings with their bell jar effects. Having been in the presence of Miranda’s work for a while now, the theories of Rollo May on creativity are coming to my mind. In his book, The Courage to Create, May proposed that creativity is first and foremost an encounter, be it with ‘a landscape, an idea, an inner vision, an experiment’. We know in works of art when that encounter has significance for ‘genuine reality is characterized by an intensity of awareness, a heightened consciousness.’ Artists, for May, are people who have the courage to risk turning their intense, sensitive consciousness onto their world in order to have those startling encounters. If you have escapist art, you won’t get that experience of encounter. But with Miranda’s work, I’m conscious of being in the presence of something very real and visceral.

MB: There’s a lot of figuration. This one [Day to Night] there’s a lot of limbs and different parts of the body. To me the image in the middle is like a kind of truncated torso. Whereas these ones I was interested in being much more internal… internal organs, blood and guts. But made quite timeless in a way and contained.

VB: You have this very 19th century effect here with the bell jar. You have something very sterile and held without oxygen but in fact you can see inside it to the blood and the guts. That’s a terrific draw into the painting.

MB: It’s the old and the new, a collision. There’s a timeline when you read a painting. You have a moment when you take the whole thing in, and then you unpick it. Every book, every movie, is fed to you chronologically, but painting is very different. It happens in the moment and then unfolds over time.

VB: Because painting can’t explain anything. Most other artforms explain, but an image doesn’t.

MB: No, you have to bring your own meaning to it, you bring yourself to it and you respond to it in different ways. It can take a lot of time. Once you’ve seen that painting and you start to look into it, you will never see the same thing again. It’s amazing and one thing I absolutely love. It’s the temporal process of painting and I think that’s why building up these layers over time is very important to me, because you’ve got to unpick them over time.

Rollo May also talks about the artistic ‘waiting’, the necessity of holding still and calm in the face of the empty page, the blank canvas, for the next right step to take place. ‘It is necessary,’ he says, ‘that the artist have this sense of timing, that he or she respect these periods of receptivity as part of the mystery of creativity and creation.’ I ask Miranda if this is something she is ever conscious of: waiting for the images to settle and the time to come.

MB: I don’t think I’m aware of it but I’m aware of creating the conditions for it to happen. If you’re too aware you trip yourself up. You have to get in the studio and just do it. This week after the holidays I went back into the studio and I had one day when nothing worked. I was going in and out between the layers of paint looking for the imagery. Two days later I went back in the studio and had a great day. It takes a long time for it to come out of the painting and some days I’ve got a real fight on my hands. But when you get there, it’s so worth it.

VB: When we first discussed doing this interview, I was talking about art often being pre-empted by crisis. And your feeling was slightly different.

MB: I think for me, it’s never been about crisis. It’s a feeling of being very uncomfortable, vulnerable, and then I know I’m getting somewhere because it’s really, really hard.

VB: Rilke says the artist is a perpetual beginner in his or her circumstances.

MB: Yes, you’re going back to the beginning often and questioning. It’s a process of uncovering yourself. Because it really is all about you. Maybe there’s a point when you take a step forward that you know is really positive because its uncovering or exposing something else about yourself. I need that vulnerability to know I’m having a real encounter with the work.

I have been impressed all along by Miranda’s creative serenity. I’m beginning to realise that she has this startling grace because she is so at home in her processes, so welcoming to every stage of creativity, accepting even the hardships – perhaps especially the hardships – as necessary and relevant. I’m intrigued to know how she began painting.

MB: When I first started painting seriously, about 15 years ago, it was landscape based. My Granny passed away at 101. I had a very close relationship with her and when she died I went to the house and found this book of photos that my Grandpa had taken. I never met him; he was a painter and he died before I was born. The photos were taken in Norway in the 1930s and for two years I painted from them. I put other things in, figures and animals and really made them my own. I created this whole mythological world from them. I’ve always had this thing about combining figures within the work whether it’s landscape or still life, there’s just this humanistic side, something fleshy in there. I have tried to move away from it but it always comes back whatever I do. I’ve accepted that now.

Recline  40 x 30 cm, oil on board (2011)

VB: Did you know you would always do something artistic?

MB: Yes, I always wanted to be a painter. I suppose growing up with painting around me and Granny telling me about her days at the Royal College, it became this mystery, the mystery of the artist.

VB: So both your grandparents were painters?

MB:  They both went to the Royal College and met there. Granny went into fashion design and he went into painting. So growing up with it around, it was always a possibility. It was open. It was allowed. And my Grandpa’s studio was still in the house and she didn’t clear it out. So I used to go in there and just stand and look at all the brushes and the paints and the canvasses and things. There was just this kind of romance in my head.

VB: How has motherhood been? Has motherhood got in the way?

MB: I think it’s helped. Beforehand, I used to spend hours thinking, what shall I paint, what shall I paint? And then suddenly, I had no time. I had two hours and I had to get on with it. It really freed me up, it stopped me judging myself. I used to go to a lot more exhibitions and read a lot more books, look at a lot more paintings and suddenly I had no time and it was actually the best thing. I was so image saturated and the possibilities… when you get to a canvas you have endless possibilities. I had to strip it bare; it was a kind of going inwards to go outwards. And also, because I was in the home, it kept me sane. So my son would go to sleep and I would put the baby monitor on him and go and paint.

VB: Did the landscapes move into the flowers? Did you have a stage in between?

MB: Yes there was a stage when I was playing different genres. I like working within a genre, a seam I’m really mining. So I did the landscapes and then I was working with lots of different imagery for a couple of years. I used to trip myself up. I’d get so far with a line of imagery and then think, that’s getting a bit problematic, I’ll try something else. But you never get into anything in depth if you don’t stick with it.

VB: You need that concentration and focus.

MB: If you look up here I’ve got rules of painting. I did those nearly two years ago when I said to myself: you’ve got to hone in. And I’ve stuck to it and it’s been the best thing.

VB: How much is art about permission?

MB: Yes, precisely. But you’ve got to understand your own methods of making it harder for yourself – or momentarily easier, but harder in the long run. I was making it easier by saying, I’ve got bored of this, I’ll do a figure, I’ll do a landscape, I’ll do all of it. But actually I was tripping myself up for the long term. In the short term it was keeping the flow going.

VB: Isn’t that the way? The running away is never…

MB: The facing up to it is what matters. You stick with it. I told myself: if you want to paint flowers, then you paint flowers. Do what you want.

VB: Why is that the hardest thing? To say: do what you need to do, what you want to do, what exactly speaks to you in the moment, free from other people’s demands and expectations. I don’t know why that’s so hard.

MB: We’re very self-critical. But I think the thing that’s probably changed over the last few years is painting from memory. Although the landscapes were about memories they weren’t my memories, they were my grandparents. It’s about traces left on our minds. It’s an interesting thing about the process. You think you’ve gone somewhere really different and then you realise…ah, I’m back in the same place. But maybe I have moved forward a little bit. For you, it’s really different, but probably no one else realises it.

VB: So maybe it was with the flower paintings when you felt you’d actually found your…

MB: Yes, I understood because it was the second massive body of work I’d done, and I understood what the first one was about through the second one on a much deeper level. You have to have a fascination with something. Then to understand that fascination you have to do it for long enough so that you can go back to the beginning many times.

VB: You have to have a whole revolution.

MB: You have to lose your way massively and then find it again.

VB: The art of going wrong.You have to go wrong first before you can go right.

MB: And this is what I’m talking about with the vulnerability. You have to sit with that absolute discomfort.

We have stumbled into the territory of my favourite theory about creativity – that it is as Kathryn Schulz says in her book Being Wrong, ‘an invitation to enjoy ourselves in the land of wrongness.’ She argues that art comes about because ‘we cannot grasp things directly as they are.’ In consequence, there exists an exploitable gap between the real and our perceptions, a gap embroidered and embellished by the powers of imagination. The artist who permits free rein to imagination effects entry into a parallel world ‘where error is not about fear and shame, but about disruption, reinvention and pleasure.’ This extends to the consumers of art as well, for we look at art in order to lose ourselves, so that we might find ourselves in new ways. I think of Miranda’s pentimento, the layers and layers of overpainting that create these deep, pleasurable palimpsests in which we cannot distinguish which lines, which forms are the ‘right’ ones to read. And I think of her embrace of vulnerability and discomfort, knowing that these are the states that open into creativity, not block it. It seems strange to think about wrongness in relation to Miranda and her art, when she is so clear in her vision, so steady in her process, and so calm about the necessity of creative disquiet. But it’s the eerie uncertainty of her paintings and their ghostly resonance in which the past and the present collide that remain in my memory long after seeing them.

Mary  60 x 65 cm, oil on board (2017)

MB: I’ve just done these two paintings this week. I don’t think this one’s finished, though this one definitely is. It’s possibly a little bit more easily read than a lot of my paintings but I’m so happy with it. It’s just hit something for me.

VB: I love the cameo. It’s something my eye is drawn to the whole time. I’m looking at the centre always in reference to the frame.

MB: For me it’s like a mirror. You’re reflecting yourself within the imagery.

VB: It’s interesting what you were saying about having to work in a place of knowing and not knowing, of certainty and doubt, the past and the present. There’s a really interesting play here between wildness and control.

MB: Yes, there’s a sort of romantic quality to it. There’s a deliberate wornness, an acknowledging of age. Which is reflected in the background and also in the imagery.

VB: I love the texture of the pink. It feels like it’s reaching out to me.

***

The room is small but high-ceilinged and orderly, comforting and snug. There’s one wall of bookshelves filled with thin volumes of poetry and notebooks that have the properly thumbed and used appearance of books constantly considered and reread. Above the small, neat, desk there is the most beautiful storyboard I have ever seen. I can’t read the lines printed on the white cards that fill the margins, or make out very clearly the cluster of images pinned in the centre, but it feels as if something very rich and complex is going on in this thought cloud. The room belongs to the poet, Kaddy Benyon, whose first collection, Milk Fever (2012) garnered awards. She is working on her second, Call Her Alaska, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, ‘The Snow Queen’, and has finished a third, The Glass Harvest. She is also currently writing a novel. Kaddy’s early career was as a television scriptwriter, but then her work took an abrupt turn.

Kaddy Benyon (KB): I think it was when my son was a baby that we moved to Cambridge and I did the MA at Anglia Ruskin in Creative Writing. I thought: I am only going to write teen novels because I’ve written Hollyoaks and I know exactly what I’m doing, thank you very much. And I came out of the machine two years later a poet. I wasn’t expecting that; I didn’t really know how that happened.

VB: Did you get an assignment to write poetry that started you off?

KB: In my final year there was going to be a scriptwriting module and I said to my tutor, with respect I’ve done this as a job and I think it’s a bit of a waste of time. Can I do an independent study? And they said, yes, we have this brilliant poet [Michael Bayley] who tutors people. Would you be interested in poetry? I was really playing hard to get and said, well I love reading it but I don’t think I’m a poet. And my tutor said, just go for a week with him, see what you think. It’s seven years this week that I met him and we’ve still got this lovely collaborative relationship. The first poem I ever wrote for him, we met up for the tutorial afterwards and he was very serious. He looked at me and I thought, fuck, it must have been awful. And he said, this is seriously good, send this out. It got taken by London Magazine, the first thing I ever wrote and it’s in my book [Milk Fever] as well, the one called ‘Ice Fishing’. He really loved it and he just encouraged me. He reads every poem that I produce, even now.

VB: It’s funny isn’t it… do women have muses? Is he a muse?

KB: I wouldn’t say he is. He’s sort of like my safety net. If a poem hasn’t been Michaeled I feel it’s no good. It needs to go through him and get the thumbs up or the thumbs down. Sometimes he’ll say, this isn’t quite there, just leave it for a few months, come at it from this angle, or this drafting technique. Everyone needs someone who’s above them on the ladder and who says, come up here, it’s great. I don’t really know any other writers who haven’t got that first reader, who you can stand in front of, kind of naked, and say: I’ve produced this, I don’t know what it is. Could you look at it? Do you still love me? I’m nervous, Michael’s nearly retired now and he wants to do less and less. So I feel like I need to have my eye out. I need to have a writing mummy or daddy, because it can’t always be him, even though it’s been brilliant and I hope it continues as long as it can. It’s frightening. I suppose to acknowledge the need for that is halfway to getting it.

VB: So let me get this straight. After Milk Fever, you did the ‘Snow Queen’ poems [Call Her Alaska] and then you moved onto this new body of work?

KB: The Snow Queen isn’t finished. That was why I was in residency at the Scott Polar Museum [in Cambridge] and that was Arts Council funded. It did produce the exhibition, ‘The Snow Queen Retold’, and there are something like 200 poems in draft. About 30 are done.

Robbergirls

You came and I was longing for you.
You cooled a heart that burned with desire.
…………………………………………………….—Sappho

The Robber Maiden

You were the prettiest little trinket
these sooted eyes had ever seen,

& yet I robbed you
of your defences: laid you

out on a bed of straw, slipped
you dripping from your hood, your furs,

those rabbitskin boots.
You wept when I licked the icedust

glister from your breasts; kissed
your twenty-three ribs; spread

heat & delight between your thighs.
We wintered on whispers &

firelight & my hundred smoky
turtledoves peeping from the rafters

seemed like poets, rolling love
on their tongues instead of ashes.

Gerda

Slipping from her mother’s whiskered
skins, she haunts my tangled forest

dreams, a bandit in snicking
thickets. She creeps under cover

of leafmould, fingerblades grazing
my lips, strips me of my mantle, my kirtle,

those rabbitskin boots.
Pinned between her jack-knifed limbs,

a scent of flame & fury rises from her
skin; her flapping rabble of filthy

mocking birds laughing from the rafters.
Snowmelt: whetted backbone to

aching backbone, I steal from her
choking stranglehold, drag her kicking

heart from its unlocked, bare chest,
spit on the embers of her desire & flee.

VB: How many poems are you looking to have?

KB: Probably 50 to 60 so I’m way over. I’ve got the luxury of choosing. But I had a bit of a blip. It was in 2014 in the spring, just a bit of a mental blip and needed to take time out. I couldn’t write anything for three to six months but I was still at the Museum, and it was quite difficult because I was almost pretending everything was fine. But I wasn’t producing, although I was doing all of the research. I was loosely following the journey that Gerda makes in the fairy tale but sometimes I put quite a feminist slant on it, sometimes quite a Sapphic slant with her and the Robber Girl. I did my research trip to Finland and it was almost like I was taking in so much information and possibilities that I couldn’t hone it down. All of my notebooks are just full. About a year ago I went through them and typed up everything I could, so it is a more manageable beast now.

VB: What was the first thing that drew you towards ‘The Snow Queen’?

KB: When I was seven, my dad went to Denmark on a business trip and he bought me a version of the book back. I just fell in love with the pictures, the one of the Robber Girl in particular. Because they terrified me but they excited me at the same time. So there was quite a wicked pleasure to it.

VB: There is something about the Snow Queen. What is it about her?

KB: I assume, with my Jungian head on, that she is an archetype in all of us, scares all of us, and we think she’s going to kiss us and we’ll freeze. I don’t know.

VB: I think she’s somewhere between being scary and comforting. She’s the cold mother. There’s the possibility of the maternal and of patronage… but there’s also something vicious as well. This is what interests me about poetry. I can get my head around a novel of the ‘Snow Queen’ or an analysis of it. But poetry — it seems to me a strange way of saying that what you want to say isn’t easily said.

KB: I feel a real chiming with the fairy tale and I think I’m all the characters in it as well, like in a dream. I can be icy and distant when I’m into my work, and I could attach my sledge to an idea and go racing off without thinking.

VB: So you were working on Call Her Alaska, and then the poems on the islands came along?

KB: Yes, I had this breakdown I mentioned in 2014 and I was feeling so ill and I said to my husband, let’s just go somewhere we’ve never been before, let’s go to an island in the middle of the sea. My poetry tutor used to mention this place that was a bit like Avalon; I didn’t know whether it was fact or fiction, and it was Lindisfarne. I said, let’s go to Lindisfarne and all four of us just fell in love with it and we’ve been back every year since. I think about 30 of the poems came just in that week. Then I got a residency this time last year to Eigg, and we went to Skye in the summer. So the collection is about those three different islands, and I don’t know why they came to get me, but they did. That manuscript is being Michaeled at the moment. And I’m just scared of that as well. I’m scared of everything I write.

Cloudberries
……..(after Edwin Morgan)

There were never cloudberries
like the ones we found
that tender afternoon
in peaty ruins
Lindisfarne Castle
a late autumn sunlight
wind moving in the dunes
heather staining the mainland
your pale hands emerging
from fingerless gloves
to uncover a little plant
preserved in salty darkness
you untucked its leaves
revealing three amber jewels
the first bruised to a juice
the second placed delicately
on your tongue your blue eyes
on mine my open mouth
watering to take the final honey
cluster between my lips
leaning side by side
our wellies kicked off
you urged me to abandon
my island living
walk the causeway beside you
my tight fist nestled in your palm

let me be beautiful
in that remembered light
precious as the rose gold lodes
coursing deep within
your highland hills
let me reach for you and follow

let the tide rinse away our tracks

VB: The anxiety of creation is so prevalent. I remember reading that creativity is a form of trespassing on the divine – Prometheus being one of the first examples, stealing the secret of making fire, and the Gods punished him for that.

KB: The liver business. That feels right, intuitively. This novel I’m writing… it’s fast. I feel like I’m channelling it, or I’m being whispered it, so it’s not really mine. It’s almost like the gods are giving me this gift and then I will claim it as my own by saying: by Kaddy Benyon. But it doesn’t really feel like that.

I tell Kaddy about one of my favourite theories of creativity by the psychotherapist, Christopher Bollas in his book Cracking Up. Bollas pointed to the constant free flow of ideas, images and thoughts that race through the mind mostly unobserved as the basic element of our fundamental creativity. Like rush hour traffic, these mental elements congregate around experiences that have a particularly intense emotional resonance, though often they may be simple things, scarcely worth the charge they give us on first appearances. Bollas talks about ‘psychic bangs, which create small but complex universes of thought.’ But I wonder whether the sensitive, dynamic, creative mind both uses this free flow and falls foul of it. I think that stress plus a freewheeling mind often results in catastrophising. Creative folk may well produce beautiful and innovative result from free association. But it’s hard to prevent our thoughts from delivering us into dark mental alleyways where we’ll likely get beaten up.

KB: That really makes sense to me because my analysis has underpinned everything that I’ve written that I’m proud of. The analysis has taught me to use my mind in a free associating way that I use with all my poems. It’s almost like a mind map.

VB: It’s about processing, isn’t it? Because things get processed very small in the creative mind.

KB: That’s true about noticing, I think, letting your mind be open to noticing how things are connecting up that you might not be conscious of yet. That’s what the analysis has done for me.

VB: You went into analysis after the breakdown?

KB: No, I was already in analysis. It was 2008, so it’s been nine years this January and my first creative writing teacher at university, Edmund Cusick, had died quite suddenly and quite young and I had just had my son. We’d moved house as well. I was overwhelmed and I needed someone to talk to. I didn’t actually know what analysis was at that time, but I knew that my teacher who died, who was a poet as well, was very into Jung. So I looked it up on the strength of his stuff. He was the first person, when I was 18, to tell me I could write. He was the first one to give me permission. I was at university and he used to say, right, I want you all to keep a dream diary and write poems in response to your dreams. So that’s completely how I work now.

VB: So dreaming is an important part of what you do?

KB:  I’ve had poems that have arrived from dreams, fully formed. Not often; a couple in Milk Fever, like the one about Louise Bourgeois just came. I do keep a dream diary, because I think dream material is free from all the stuff you’re trying to force or impose upon it to make it mean something. And it means something in its own way anyway, it just might not make much sense. I quite like things that don’t make sense. They have an intuitive sense but not a logical one and I like that.

I’d been reading Carl Phillips’s wonderful meditation on poetic creativity, The Art of Daring, shortly before seeing Kaddy, and his insight on poetic meaning, that any ‘successful poem – one that is true to human experience – will resist closure. To be resonant is to resist absolute closure’ occurs to me now, thinking about the experience of dreaming. Closure, or what stands in its place in the poetic universe, often comes in the form of form, in the typographical shape of the poem on the page. Phillips suggests ‘Form, shape – these may be our only way, finally, of making sense of the world around us. And the body may be the one form, finally, from which we begin, each time, our knowing.’ I’m intrigued by the neat, firm formality of Kaddy’s poems, and one, ‘Causeway’, is a particular favourite of mine.

Causeway

No workmen or bulldozers, just two plucky women ceaselesslyX trying to reach one another despite winter storms, rising tides, savage winds untamed from Scandinavia. Daily they strive – not so much to hold back the tide – but to work with it, around it, in deference to its unstable surge to spoil, spill and gush across their toil; to ransack any progress and demolish vague relations to the mainland. Natural drainage is compromised by drifts of sea-born debris: silt, salt, wrack and shattered shells, all plotting to induce some fresh destruction. And I know, god how I know, how it begins to feel like a punishment, a kind of ritual destruction, this endless, joyless, repeating and repeating and repeating only to witness the sea’s deleting.

KB: It’s about the analytical work and the way my emotional tides come along and destroy it every now and then. And we start again. I’m trying to do new things with form and every experiment I don’t know if it works or not. In Call Her Alaska there are a lot of two-sided or two-faced poems that are almost wings with a column of nothing in the middle. One is about Gerda on one side and the Robber Girl on the other and they’re seeing that they shared a bed in a very different way. It was quite complicated to do and sometimes I just want to rip them up and throw them out the window. But when they come good it’s worth it.

VB: I always think of you as so finished in what you do. Whatever I’ve read of yours has been so polished, so beautiful. I think of you as someone who produces these carefully faceted gems.

KB: I’m aware that I’m doing that as part of my process. My eye can’t tolerate a messy poem. But I think it’s too much of a constraint on myself to express myself neatly and symmetrically at all times. Because life is messy and humans are messy.

VB: But maybe there’s something in that form that holds back, that holds you back in a sense.

KB: I think I needed that with Milk Fever for sure. I needed a container to be absolutely watertight because I wasn’t sure what I was dealing with and it was rising up from somewhere I’d never tapped. And I was constantly flooded with the material that was coming. It was almost like I had to impose the form on it. But now I’m more comfortable with my process and I feel I can’t be writing poems that could have been in Milk Fever now. I have to have moved on and be taking risks even though its terrifying.

VB: Thinking about containers and Milk Fever… I was just thinking about your mother and the fact that the hug is the basic form of containment. It’s that: I’ve got you moment. You’re within the circle of my arms.

KB: Yes, and it’s probably also the strongest recurring theme in my analysis. I’ve said to my analyst nearly every day for nine years, can I have a cuddle? And she’ll say no, you can’t have a literal cuddle, but I’ll cuddle you by holding you in my mind. But I do feel the analysis  has opened up the creativity. I was aware since I was six I wanted to be signing books in Heffers. That’s all I wanted, ever. But I didn’t know how to do it, or how much of my self I had to draw up and present to the universe to see if the universe would like it or not.

VB: One of the things I’m most interested in is this idea that art comes from the place of being wrong. And that can be from the fact that reality is always distorted by our perceptions. I’m thinking of what Carl Phillips says, that poems tend to transform rather than translate.

KB: What comes to mind when you say that is: when I was writing a poem called ‘Strange Fruit’ it came from my most shameful feelings when I was a teenager, ugly and repulsive, and I felt like I had to say it, but I had to put it into beauty. Is that what you mean? That I made something ugly beautiful?

Strange Fruit

Sometimes I have an urge to slip
my hands inside the soiled, wilting
necks of your gardening gloves;
to let my fingers fill each dusty
burrow, then close my eyes and feel
a blush of nurture upon my skin.

Sometimes I am so afraid my hurt
will hack at your figs, strawberries,
or full-bellied beans, I dig my fists
in my pockets and nip myself. Sometimes
I imagine the man who belongs to
the hat hanging on the bright-angled

nail in your shed. I think about you
toiling and sweating with him;
coaxing growth from warm earth;
pushing life into furrows. I am curious
about what cultivates and blooms
there in your enclosed, raised bed –

yet I want no tithe of it for myself.
Sometimes I just want to show
you the places I’m mottled, rotten
and bruised; I want you to lean close
enough to hold the strange fruit
of me and tell me I may yet thrive.

VB: Yes, but without translating it into something obvious or too straightforwardly explanatory. You didn’t need to have an explanation. What you needed to do was transform that sense into something meaningful.

KB: That makes sense. And I think I didn’t really realise the weight of that in my work. Not just in my poetry, but in the novel as well. It’s almost like the kernel of it is my biggest shame. Or rather, the thing I was made to be most ashamed of, but I actually found it beautiful.

VB: I like that.

KB: I was reading one of the Notting Hill Editions books of essays, the one called Humiliation. The author was saying something about shame and vomiting and diarrhoea when all your most smelly, shameful, awful innards just come out violently, and that’s like the creative process for me. That’s how it feels. And I do feel mostly ashamed of my productions until I can polish them and make them beautiful. My first drafts are like the worst nappy in the world, just a shit explosion.

VB: Shame is a cul-de-sac of emotions. Guilt is about reparation, but shame you’re stuck with. I’m ashamed of myself, I can’t exist, I can’t live, I can’t be. You have to do something with that. The psychiatrist, James Gilligan, made a study of the most violent prisoners in jail and found that they had all suffered terrible shame in early life.

KB: It’s a real head-hanging one, isn’t it? Shame and rage are next door neighbours.

VB: And rage turned inwards is anxiety. So there’s a whole circle of stuff going on… it’s the circle of artistic life, isn’t it?

KB: Why do we do it?

VB: Because ultimately it’s reparative. Somewhere along the line.

I, too, have that Notting Hill Editions essay by Wayne Koestenbaum entitled ‘Humiliation.’ Later, rereading it again, I find an anecdote that strikes a chord, as it were. One of his fellow students at an unnamed summer music school tells him about the way that a popular teacher whose speciality was ‘relaxation’, ruined her own performing career by sitting down at the piano for her onstage debut before an applauding audience only to be sick over the keyboard. Koestenbaum has this reflection to make on the story: ‘Vomit on the keyboard – that image symbolises, for me, the always possible danger of the body speaking up for its own rights, against the stringent demands of the mind’s wish to construct a plausible, attractive, laudable self for other people to consume.’ Thinking about Kaddy’s poetry and the anxieties that surround her creative process I feel a strong belief that it’s one of art’s most important tasks to stand up for not just the rights of the body, but the reality of the body, the reality of our messy, upsetting, often overwhelming existence. It’s the job of art to talk about all the truths no one wants to hear, in ways in which they might finally manage to hear them and be assuaged. In that way Kaddy, like other artists, can experience the all-important acceptance of what feels like the worst of the self, though it’s only our shared humanity. But what I also hear in everything Kaddy says is her intense, passionate love of her creative process. In the very act of polishing that turd, Kaddy’s love trumps her fear and that is a powerful act. I ask her if she feels valid as a writer.

KB: When Milk Fever first came out, it was like, oh I’ve produced something and people like it and this is strange and nice. That was 2012 and I do feel very under pressure to produce either another collection or do something different so I can sustain that viability. I don’t feel like it’s just a given forever. I find myself longing to be in the position, either as a poet or a novelist, where I have a publisher and any idea I have will be considered, and hopefully published. They have faith in me, I have faith in me… but I just don’t feel I’m there yet.

VB: It sounds like a good family thing. You want that parental authority in place.

KB: I’m never not working. It’s constantly what I’m doing and worrying away at. I love it. But when you can’t prove it… People often ask me in the playground, ‘When is your next book coming out?’ and it’s the worst question ever. Because the answer is not only when I’m ready, but if I ever get another publisher. I think it was quite affecting that Salt stopped publishing single author collections of poetry about the year after mine came out. So I went from the euphoria of yes, I’ve arrived! To oh shit, I’ve got to start again. So now with The Glass Harvest, it’s kind of done. I imagine if I sent it off to a few places they’d at least read it because I’ve been published before. But there’s no guarantee and I just can’t face the no. It took me two years to write that and it just meant so much to me as it was all that I went through. So I’m not sending it anywhere. Because that might just stop me writing altogether and I’m in the middle of this novel.

VB: The process is horrible and can be toxic at times, and not at all good for people who are writers. It’s ironic that you couldn’t have made it worse for people who are writers.

KB: And it’s frightening, weirdly, conversely, just to know that an agent is waiting to have a look [at the novel]. Even though most of the other writers on Hollyoaks had agents, I’d got the job on my own and I didn’t need an agent to look for anything else. And now it’s that horrible thought: would anyone be interested? Would anyone take me on? Would they earn any money from me? Oh God, too much pressure. You know when you don’t know whether you’re being bold or stupid? That’s where I am with it.

VB: My money’s on bold.

***

This is what happens when you work with creative people. Miranda and Kaddy – who happen to live minutes apart – became interested in each other’s work over the course of these interviews. Now Kaddy has one of Miranda’s paintings on her wall, and Miranda has some of Kaddy’s poems. They both intend to create something in response to the work of the other. In six months’ time, we’re all going to meet up again to see what they have produced and to discuss the creative processes they went through. Intense, irresistible curiosity, the lure of the new idea or the intriguing object, was something we never spoke about in our interviews – it just went ahead and happened instead.

.
Born in Cambridge, Miranda Boulton has a BA (hons) in Art History from Sheffield Hallam University and finished three years on the Turps Banana Correspondence Course in 2015. She has exhibited widely across the UK and was selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (2016), The Salon Art Prize (2011) and The Artworks Open (2010 and 2011). Her exhibitions include: a two-person exhibition ‘Off Line On Line’ at Studio 1.1, London (2015), and the solo exhibitions ‘Lost in The Middle’, New Hall Art Collection, Cambridge (2012) and ‘Outside In’, Madame Lillies Gallery, London (2011). She has work in private collections in France, USA, Ireland and many locations within the UK. Miranda is currently co-curating a group exhibition ‘Storyboard’ at Lubomirov Angus Hughes in London, which opens on the 14th April. www.mirandaboulton.co.uk

Kaddy Benyon’s first collection, Milk Fever, won the Crashaw Prize and was published by Salt in 2012. She has also written poems in response to Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’ for a collaborative exhibition with a costume designer during a residency at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. Last year Kaddy travelled to the remote Scottish island of Eigg for a residency with The Bothy Project. Whilst there she wrote poems toward her second collection, The Glass Harvest. Kaddy is a Granta New Poet and has been highly commended in the Forward Prizes.
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Victoria Best taught at St John’s College, Cambridge for 13 years. Her books include: Critical Subjectivities; Identity and Narrative in the work of Colette and Marguerite Duras (2000), An Introduction to Twentieth Century French Literature (2002) and, with Martin Crowley, The New Pornographies; Explicit Sex in Recent French Fiction and Film (2007). A freelance writer since 2012, she has published essays in Cerise Press and Open Letters Monthly and is currently writing a book on crisis and creativity. She is also co-editor of the quarterly review magazine Shiny New Books. http://shinynewbooks.co.uk

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.

May 152017
 

Michael Catherwood

 

Radio Jazz
“No photographs of Pinetop Smith are known to exist.”

The gray riverbank
was dry with snakes of tree roots
and the radio

waves bounced the static-
charged air with night time jazz.
Pinetop Smith clicked keys

in a fresh boogie
woogie: “hey don’t move a peg
until you shake that

thing.” Pinetop Smith killed
in a Chicago dance hall
by a stray bullet.

The clear evening sky
is fresh ink now as I stand
by the Missouri

forty years later.
Music dances on my arm
like breath. The full moon

shines blue where stars
dot my wrinkled hands
steps from the river.

Tires kick and crunch
in the gravel where the past
clings to the thick light

while Pinetop pounds keys
over distances of years,
over brave currents.

 

Public Works District Yard 6

 

I
I organize these summer months
and reduce tasks to numbers,
fixate on numerals in a mantra:
rise at six, work at seven, lunch
at eleven-thirty, break at two,

punch-out at three-thirty, drink
Absolut from five to twelve, sleep at one,
cut four swipes into an overgrown lot
then circle three times along the fence line.
We search for addresses of empty lots

to mow: at 3123 Patrick there’s no house:
broken bottles and weeds and gravel.
If I find a house at 2958 Burdette, 3016
would slide in here. Often we cut
the wrong lots. We unload the Bush Hog,

cut fence wire from the flail blades
after the previous job. Then mow.

 

II
My last day at District Yard Six,
I bolt on flail blades and my hand
slips, my forearm catches
a jag of metal. The blood stands
like Jello. My foreman finds

some butterflies and we make
a quick patch job. Driving home
I think in a week I’d be back
combing newspapers, searching for work.
I drive home along the Missouri River,

by the automobile boneyards,
past factories and welding shops, by
the trailer courts filled with kids
celebrating in their blue plastic pools,
past the faded Go-Go Lovelies sign

and shaggy parks and a dim cafe. Along
the river I turn onto an access road and park,
watch the current churn up logs
and bright litter. I stand there for a long time
as the bank boils whirlpools,

then think for a moment the world is dying,
that we were all suffocating. The moment
passes and I get back in my rusted Pontiac,
turn on the radio, fire up a cigarette,
then spin over the gravel in triumph. In

the rearview the gray dirt rubs out the sun.
The gravel sings along in my fender wells.

 

The Subject

Both I still see dead—Mark
thin on a gurney in the hospital,
Pat sitting on his living room floor,
tv on, his chemo pack pulsing.

I could have done better, could have
looked out for my younger brothers
more. We all took defiance seriously
so we laughed at death, expected,
courted it, a gift Dad gave us,
along with excess.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWe are in the park,
climbing pine trees,
the sticky balm on our hands,
its scent in the air.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWe ascend with grace,
grip tightly the branches,
always moving up to light.

—Michael Catherwood

 

 

Michael Catherwood’s second book of poems, If You Turned Around Quickly, was published by Main Street Rag 2016. In 2006, The Backwaters Press published his first book of poems, titled Dare. His third book, Projector, is forthcoming from Stephen F. Austin Press in 2017. He has published poems, reviews, and essays in various magazines, including Agni, Aethlon, Black Warrior Review, Borderlands, Burning Bush 2, Georgetown Review, Hawai’i Review, Laurel Review, Louisiana Literature, Midwest Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Sycamore Review, Westview, and others. He writes essays for Plainsongs and has recently published poems in The Common, Poetry South, Solstice, Louisiana Literature, Measure, the minnesota review, New Plains Review, Bluestem, and the Red River Review. His awards include Intro Journals Award for Poetry from AWP, two Lily Peter Fellowships, the Holt Prize for Poetry, and National Finalist for the Ruth Lilly Prize. In 2003, he received an encouragement award from the Nebraska Arts Council. He was nominated for a Pushcart prize in 2014. His website is http://michaelcatherwood.net.

 

 

May 132017
 

Denise Blake

x

The Beaching

The pod of whales beached themselves on Rutland Island,
chose the isolated sweep of the Back Strand to come ashore.
My grandmother in her final years would have understood.

Those long-finned pilot whales suffered some trauma,
became distressed and confused. And so for her that winter
when told her grownup daughter had died suddenly.

Three years later, hearing that her eldest had also
passed on threw something within her off-kilter.
Sent her mind homing towards the Back Strand.

The whales had wandered together, over thirty of them,
swam through Scottish waters to the Sound of Arranmore,
heading towards the crescent of shoreline and their ending.

She would have understood, the Rutland-born woman
who had long left the island but yearned for that place; called
for it constantly, rose from her sickbed in the middle of the night.

I need to go now. They will be waiting; it will soon be low tide.
She wanted to journey, follow those already gone,
float ashore, let grief beach her there on the Back Strand.

x
Circus Days

You don’t have to run away to join,
it comes to you around their thirteenth year.
You hadn’t even noticed they were in-training
until you sense excitement,
strong as fumes, building up in your home.

Music gets louder, nights and mornings confused,
every room is taken over as the friends, arriving
in single file, increases to friends of friends
to claim every available seat, even yours.

The circus builds around one son, then the next
and the next until soon, three rings are running
full flow. You try to become the ringmaster,
the one in control, while you collect tickets at the door,
take further bookings, supervise training, do the laundry,
provide meals for the performers, refreshments
for the audience, try to watch all that is happening.

And just as you notice that one son is putting his head
into the lion’s mouth, the other is walking a tightrope
without a net, you look over to the furthest ring
at the clown juggling madly. He makes the slightest
gesture, out of sync with his act, and your heart stops.

His show has become the riskiest. He is juggling
frantically, the big smile really is painted on,
his hands are shaking and he is about to drop
everything, as those who you thought were his friends
are not laughing but jeering. You clear the ring,
silence the noise, take him into your arms and hope
that he will begin to talk, tell you what is wrong.

You watch when he starts to go back to his ring,
lifts a club, two clubs, four, until he is juggling well again.
While in the distance, his brothers are starting to pack up.
The show goes on until the troops move to another city.
Your house has become calm, you miss the circus days.

x
Mother Goddess

Demeter: mother of Persephone, goddess of the harvest
and the cycles of life. The Universal mother whose daughter
went missing, who did not drink, eat or bathe until she found her.
Mother of grain and crop, the bountiful gift, blessings on
those who looked after her own. The curse of unquenchable
hunger on those who brought harm to the ones she had borne.
Mistress of the home, producer of life, she sent her cubs
through a darkened cave into immortality and a blessed afterlife.

As it was with her, it was with my grandmothers and my mother.
Good mother, blessed mother, working mother, fairy godmother.
Guardian angels; tooth fairy, baker of birthday cakes, lovelorn healer,
soother of hot fevers, stitcher of torn hems, night-time story teller
who taught us how to walk, talk, sing, dance, cry a river and then smile.
Mother Nature full of fresh berries, wild roadside flowers, lilac
filled fields. A lioness, black bear, white vulture, all-present mother.
Watch over my clan, watch over their future, watch over their care.

The Goddess mothers: Anu, Gaia, Toci , Rhea, Durga, my own;
a Cailleach and Bríghde, Glinda the good witch, moody woman, crazy
kitchen-dancer. Mommy, Mummy, Mum, Ma, Granny, a Mháthair.
Creator of cycles, unconditional love and hurricanes. The core of peace.

Give me guidance, nourishment and strength. Help me to hold on
and let go, be present and absent, wise and foolish, the past and future.
Help me to be the mother my own sons need, the person they will cherish,
and the woman who will warm a hollowed soul in those who need a mother.

x
The Dream Turns

Everyone sees what happens on the front porch,
we were lucky to have a swing-set in the back yard.
I was going to be a ballerina, until I saw how much
practice it took be left standing on my tippy toes.

Holy smokes Batman. My mother saw me belly-flop
off the high diving board. She was stuck behind the fence.
There were birthday parties on picnic tables in the park,
lightning bugs and fireworks on the fourth of July.
The Yellow Submarine was just one long cartoon.

I was thrilled when Oswald was shot. Hated LBJ, Nixon.
How could they ever trump that? They should have seen
when the Cuyahoga River went on fire,
that pollution takes a long time to implode.
How are things in Glocca Mora, will you go lassie go?
We used to throw the cat down the stairs, to prove he would
land on all fours. We wondered why he turned vicious.

x
Aboard

Wave-beaten pier, a leap into the craft, lap of sound against the boat,
gurgle of bilge pump, life jackets, life saver, the punt propelled in motion,
surge of cloud on sea-blue heavens, rudders through the harbour, thrash

of buoys, tangle of ropes, crush and curl, swell of turning white waves
washing back to the Port. The growing roll of engine denotes
a journey has begun, anchors long lifted, our spirits buoyant, emotion

crests with the plunge and surge, waves of wind. Grey seagulls splash
into bottle-green depths, rise above the stern, fly overhead and behave
as victors, irritate the vanquished with shrill calls from sea-scorched throats.

The ferry passes. Dorys slop, splash, roll and fall in our southwesterly vision.
Sweep of air, taste of salt, tinge of marine, flounder of foam. Wave-wash
lifts the hull, turn of spring tide, sink to low tide as seafarers brave
gales: small craft warning Sea area Erris Head to Carlingford Lough.

Oar, tiller, winch and moulding, bulkhead, portside, aft and mooring.
Crab nets, lobster pots, leap of dolphins, slink of seals, diving oystercatchers,
mackerel, herring, hook and sinker. A cuckoo calls. Light abounds as we follow
the coastline, the full flow of seawater in our blood, head to the open ocean.

x
Seaweed and Rotten Potatoes

This ridged inlet of shale and rock facing the Atlantic
contains a cruel, cragged beauty and a fierce knowledge.
Its history holds a summer’s day when a white fog stole
up the sides of these cliffs, over the hills, in a cold trail
that left a black blight in its wake and a terrible odour.
A bank of shingle covers the coastline and my boots shift
as I try to walk along the shore. I can’t hold my balance.
I think of that question, why did they not eat fish?
Some whose lineage survived still question their resilience.
But boats were stripped to bare bones and pawned off.
Makeshift fishing gear was sold for bags of meal.
Fragile currachs smashed off the savage shoreline.
Fish rotted putrid if left sitting out for any length.
Men rowing home drowned in sudden squalls
and when the ocean stilled, what remained was silence.
Others who edged along the sheer cliff-face searching
for black tar lichen and kelp trails met brute-force waves.
So they came to this beach in their droves. Whole families
climbed steep rocks, barefooted through jagged shingle,
searching for limpets, periwinkles and seaweed,
scraped out what minuscule nourishment could be found
inside a small shell and ate it raw. They fed from barnacles
and salt-soaked bladderwrack straight from the shore.
They scavenged until the limpets and bárnachs
were depleted, until the bare stones could give no more.

—Denise Blake

x
Denise Blake’s collections, Take a Deep Breath and How to Spin Without Getting Dizzy, are published by Summer Palace Press. She is a regular contributor to Sunday Miscellany, RTE Radio 1. Her poems have been published in many poetry journals. Denise facilitates creative writing in schools and with adult groups.

x

May 072017
 

.
That Summer with Charlie

The summer I needed money for college
I hit every construction office in town
and finally got my chance, a new motel
going up three miles east on the highway, be there
by eight and they’d find me something to do.
My dad bought me a pair of steel-toed boots
and the next morning drove me out to the job site.
The foreman put me with Charlie, a little guy
with the strength of a Clydesdale horse.
His grip, when we shook, was callus and grit.
He was good with power tools and hammers,
good with cement, with tampers
and edgers, bull floats and trowels,
had me sweating to keep up with him.

Charlie drove down Coteau every morning,
picked me up at the corner close to our house,
telling me stories about what it was like
to be a soldier in the war, and how much
those Dutch girls loved the Canadian guys,
Charlie with the window always open,
cigarette spraying ashes over his shirt.
Once, when laying a pad of cement
for the long line of motel rooms, it meant
overtime for some of the crew, and Charlie
told the boss that I always rode with him,
I might as well stay; thirteen hours we worked,
it would be the biggest payday of my life.

Afterwards, driving home with Charlie at dusk,
I kept dozing off in the passenger seat, Charlie
tapping my shoulder at the corner, grinning
and telling me, don’t forget, tomorrow morning
I’ll pick you up the same time as usual,
Charlie who died a dozen years ago,
and not till I read his obit in the paper
did I think of our long gone summer together,
and realize how stupid I was, the kid
who never once thought to chip in for gas.

.

The Town He Remembers

He pulls off the Yellowhead, finds Railway Avenue in Paynton,
no sign of McGee’s General Store where the clerks knew his name,
no sign of Joe Luke’s Cafe where Joe sliced him free cherry pie.
He swings the truck and trailer to the side of the street,
stares at the road running south. Little chance for a u-turn there.
“My grandmother’s house,” he says, “is up this way.”
His wife and kids follow him out of the truck,
along a line of pines and broken poplars
toward the last house at the end of town.

Two storeys, weathered clapboard, empty windows.
The hobby horse that he rode will be gone now,
and the Indian hammer from Cut Knife Creek.
Yes, and the wind-up bird he feared
with the beak that might seize his ear.
No trace of the barn with the deer’s head on the wall,
the dark eyes that stared and stared at his own.
He points to an upstairs window.
“I remember watching a storm from there,
the whole house starting to shake
black clouds rolling in, not even noon,
the town and prairie dark as night.”

The kids keep glancing back at the truck,
edging away. There’s not much to see.
A screen door opens across the road,
a woman steps out, hands on her hips.
We aren’t trespassing, he thinks,
but she’s calling them over. He explains
about Grandma Mondy, but she shakes her head,
says they were looking at Gus Schrank’s place,
Ida Mondy’s house was the next one south,
torn down years ago to make for a bigger field
when the price of wheat was high. He feels
disoriented, a bit foolish, but she invites them in,
offers them lemonade and cookies, asks
about his mom, his aunts, and he thinks
it’s still the town he remembers.

.

Where I’ve Lived Most of My Life

I’m sitting on a bench on Main Street,
wind turning the corner by City Hall,
bringing with it chocolate bar wrappers,
a crushed styrofoam cup, a torn envelope,
crumpled sheets of newspaper, scraps
of our lives tossed on the street.
People hurrying by, their eyes half-shut,
a whirlwind of dust rising around them,
I consider how long I might sit
before someone passes I’ll recognize.

I used to delight in trivia games.
What band leader once sang backup
with the Hilltoppers? Billy Vaughn.
Who left his second best bed to his wife
when he died? William Shakespeare.
Who was on base when Bobby Thomson hit
the home run that won the ‘51 pennant?
Clint Hartung and Whitey Lockman.
With the slats of the bench grown hard
on my butt, a sudden thought blows in
on a swirl of wind: Who trusts memory anyway?

Thirty years I taught in this town.
I knew the name of every girl, every guy
in grade twelve, every last one of them.
When they came to my class, I put them
in a seating plan, warned them I was
watching them, but not to worry,
they hadn’t sprouted warts on the nose,
I was matching names with their faces.
And where are those names today?

A woman swings out of the Pita Pit,
hair lifting over her collar. She walks
toward me, high heels rapping,
the start of a smile on her lips.
She looks like someone I may recognize,
but this is the moment the wind
hurls grit in my face. I close my eyes,
hear her footsteps fade and vanish.
Trust memory? At this moment I’m not
even sure why I’m waiting here in the wind?

.

What His Mother Said

Sometimes, she said, a man’s flaws
are the size of elephants.
They might be rearing, trumpeting,
he wouldn’t notice a thing.
The boy was sure she meant his father,
was just as sure she wouldn’t say it.
I think I understand you, she said,
but who knows by the time you’re grown?
Most men are a mystery to their wives,
themselves too. They don’t say what they mean.
Fact is, they seldom know it themselves.

The end of the day as long as the sun,
a pale moon already riding the sky,
the boy with his nose at the window
watching his father trudge in from the field,
his hand slapping bugs on the back of his neck.
His mother began to slice the overdone roast,
a cross-rib, he supposed, his father’s favourite.
Wealth, he remembers her telling him once,
isn’t the money you store in the bank.
The sound of the opening door. The blaze
that flared in her eyes like the candle flame
when she let him light the wick at Easter.

.

Coming Home at Night

He pulls into the driveway, snow in the headlights,
tracks smudging the walk, a drift over the shovel.
He turns off the lights, the ignition, and sits
where he is, hand gripping the wheel, radio silent,
a ping under the hood, metal contracting
as the engine cools. After a while he notes
how his hand hangs on the wheel, drops it
to the arm rest, later notices the cloud
of breath on the windshield, and beyond that
the house, no light at the front step, no light
in the windows. She must be in bed.

The streetlight down the block casts a pale glow
through the yard, and he can see curtains
lowered in the master bedroom windows.
When he understands that he’s shaking
with cold, he opens the car door, steps out,
picks his way through the snow and enters
the dark house. Hangs his coat in the closet,
tiptoes down the hall to the bedroom.

He opens the door, stands, listening,
her breathing like that of someone asleep.
He sheds his clothes in the dark, warm air
on his legs, the furnace exhaling below.
Clad only in shorts, he steps to his side of the bed,
slides under the covers, the bed sinking, a sigh
deep in the mattress. The quiet house.
He matches the pace of her breaths
with his own. How easy it is.
On the far side of the bed
her body curled like a fist.

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Another Dark Hour

When she slips from their bed in the night
he’s sprawled half out of the covers, breathing
easily, right arm dangling over the mattress edge.
How can he sleep so soundly, she wonders.
She walks toward the kitchen, the hall floor
creaking as she passes the second bedroom.
The living room on the left is dark, not a hint
of light through the picture window sheers,
the street lamp on the corner burnt out again.
She stands for a while with the fridge door open,
the light falling around her as she stares
at the vegetable bin. Cold air pressing against her.
She considers the pitcher of water, reaches
for it and sets it on the counter top, the fridge door
open behind her, her slim figure framed
at the kitchen window, her image on glass.
She closes the door, looks out on the dark yard,
the ragged hedge that divides their garden
from the grounds of the school in the distance, a single light
burning in the lot where the teachers park their cars.
At this hour there are no children climbing the gym set,
no children kicking balls on the soccer field,
and she can hardly imagine them there in the light.
The pitcher forgotten on the counter before her,
she stares at the school, sombre and empty.
Her hands clasp her shoulders, but can’t stop
the shivers. She turns suddenly and walks
back down the hall, the hardwood creaking
at the door of the second bedroom,
the room with the bed that is empty
and will always be empty now.

—Robert Currie

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Robert Currie is the author of eleven books, most recently The Days Run Away (Coteau, 2015) which was a finalist for the 2016 High Plains Book Award for Poetry.  Back in the 70s he edited and published Salt, a little magazine of contemporary writing.  More recently he served two terms as Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan (from 2007 to 2010).  In 2009 he received the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. Email him at robertdmcurrie@yahoo.com

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May 052017
 

Sydney Lea and his granddaughter Ruthie

 

Enduring Chaos

I watch a dog, a pure-bred white Alsatian,
Approach a small, mange-wasted, coal-dark cur.
This at a park in a fashionable quarter of Boston,

Where I –dog-lover that I am– await
A wagging of tails, rather than what ensues:
White beast’s attack on black at the park’s iron gate.

Can a dog be smug? When the mongrel gives its neck,
The Alsatian seems to gloat, as if he’d taught
The mutt to stay outside the enclosure’s fence.

Is it this inconsequential ruckus that prompts me
To range far and wide in mind, in pure revulsion?
In any case, on a nearby wall I see

An illiterate, spray-painted scrawl: All Mooslims Out!
Old Chaos still provides us with directions,
Though they’re not that at all. He shows no Tao,

No road to Truth and Light, no Golden Mean,
But suppurative disorder. We tend to impute
Our woes to those whose suffering dwarfs our own.

This must be someone’s fault, we think. Where is he?
Milton grasped it all: his Satan’s scheme
Appeared to Chaos commendable, exemplary.

Note, however, that Milton found no shame
In hanging Roman Catholics. The more things change,
We’ve rightly heard, the more they stay the same.

The best lack all conviction while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity,
Wrote another poet. Rightly. Enmities burst,

The old and new. Hitler’s atrocities.
Stalin’s. Mao’s. Pol Pot’s. Late Balkan horrors.
Revenge of Hutus on their neighbor Tutsis.

Wrongly forgotten slaughters by King Leopold.
On and on. These weren’t enough to check us.
One country, armed to the maximum, summons a fool,

Or rather a knave, who calls for even more armaments
To make, he claims, his nation great again.
Knaves thrive on Chaos, as do his wretched minions:

Discord, Night, Confusion. Yet this ignoramus
Is one of many, his global counterparts,
With their nasty lackeys, building a bridge from Hades

To Earth, which malignant spirits travel across
To entice us feeble mortals. That’s Milton again.
His version of Satan whispers by way of such ghosts,

It’s the Other’s fault. He’s not like us. He’s bound
On our destruction.  Quickly, let’s erase him.
In 1989 a wall came down

And we rejoiced, and now another wall–
No, many walls are under construction. Chaos
Tells us that the Jews are ruling all.

He rails at the Mexicans who tend our cows
And pick our fruit.  Or, more likely in our time,
He curses those bowing eastward at certain hours.

The sun now slips below the architecture
Of the Puritans’ city; a brutal storm blows in
Off the Atlantic; the frigid leaves of winter

Are lifted by a whirlwind in a hissing mass,
Whirlwind that in due course we all may reap.
The leaves at last are crushed against the fence.

I seek some refuge from this gale, so vile and vicious.
In my fraught recollection all the while,
That cruel white dog looms large as Cerberus.

—Sydney Lea

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Sydney Lea is the former Poet Laureate of Vermont (2011-2015). He founded New England Review in 1977 and edited it till 1989. His poetry collection Pursuit of a Wound (University of Illinois Press, 2000) was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Another collection, To the Bone: New and Selected Poems, was co-winner of the 1998 Poets’ Prize. In 1989, Lea also published the novel A Place in Mind with Scribner. Lea has received fellowships from the Rockefeller, Fulbright and Guggenheim Foundations, and has taught at Dartmouth, Yale, Wesleyan, Vermont College of Fine Arts and Middlebury College, as well as at Franklin College in Switzerland and the National Hungarian University in Budapest. His stories, poems, essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and many other periodicals, as well as in more than forty anthologies. His selection of literary essays, A Hundred Himalayas, was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2012, and Skyhorse Publications  released A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife in 2013His twelfth poetry collection, No Doubt the Nameless, was published this spring by Four Way Books.

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May 032017
 

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Though primarily known for his haunting, enigmatic novel Pedro Páramo and the unrelenting depictions of the failures of post-revolutionary Mexico in his short story collection, El Llano en llamas (The Plain in Flames), Juan Rulfo also worked on various collaborative film projects and his powerful interventions in the areas of documentary photography ensure that he continues to inspire interest worldwide. One hundred years after Rulfo’s birth (May 16, 2017), Deep Vellum Publishing will release The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings. This momentous publication includes the first ever translation of Rulfo’s second novel alongside fourteen other short texts. Numéro Cinq is proud to present this conversation between Dylan Brennan and translator Douglas J. Weatherford (both Rulfian scholars). Excerpts from four of the texts are also included below.

Dylan Brennan (DB); Douglas J. Weatherford (DJW)

DB: The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings has been selected by BBC Culture among their ‘Ten Books to Read in 2017’ and by The Chicago Review of Books among the ‘Most Exciting Fiction Books of 2017’s First Half’. Are you surprised by these accolades? Why is this book generating such interest? 

DJW: I am pleasantly surprised by the early interest in The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings. Juan Rulfo (1917-1986) is one of the most important Mexican and Latin American authors of the twentieth century and yet in the English-speaking world he has seldom received the attention that he deserves. I believe the book is generating interest for several reasons. First and most importantly, Juan Rulfo is a big deal. His most iconic books —The Plain in Flames (1953) and Pedro Páramo (1955)— were innovative tours de force that challenged narrative forms and helped usher in the so-called “Boom” of Latin American literature that would include such renowned writers as Carlos Fuentes (Mexico), Julio Cortázar (Argentina), and Nobel laureates Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia) and Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru). I’m sure it helps that many around the world are remembering Juan Rulfo on this year, the centennial of the author’s birth. It’s also possible, I suppose, that some —hopefully on all sides of the political isle— are looking for ways to build bridges with Mexico to counteract the tensions of the current political environment. Ultimately, I believe that The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings is an exciting publication for English-language audiences. For those readers already familiar with Juan Rulfo, it offers the opportunity to explore his work beyond Pedro Páramo and The Plain in Flames. For others, I hope that this anthology will serve as an introduction to one of Mexico and Latin America’s most beloved writers.

DB: The myth that Juan Rulfo’s artistic output amounts to just two books and a few photographs still persists. Why is that? Where have these texts been hiding all these years? 

DJW: They’ve been hiding in plain sight, as I’ll explain in a moment. The myth is very attractive: that Rulfo came out of nowhere to publish two books of fiction in rapid succession before abandoning the craft, overwhelmed perhaps by the weight of his own success. It’s a fascinating tale and one that has been repeated for so long that many are hesitant to let it go. Indeed, it’s the version that I learned as an undergraduate major of Spanish in the mid-1980s. But it’s also a fabrication that diminishes the valuable contributions that Rulfo made as a semi-professional photographer and as a writer in the Mexican film industry. Additionally, it ignores the existence of The Golden Cockerel (El gallo de oro), a second published novel that routinely and unjustly has been marginalized from the Mexican author’s literary canon. Indeed, the exclusion of The Golden Cockerel has been so complete that, until now, no full translation had appeared in English. Although authored most likely between 1956 and 1957, The Golden Cockerel wasn’t published until 1980. That delayed release, combined with the text’s often misunderstood connection to film, led many Rulfo critics and aficionados to disregard the novel. The Fundación Juan Rulfo reprinted El gallo de oro in 2010 and, since then, has offered two commemorative editions that package the author’s novels and anthology of short stories together, a move that draws attention to the significance of The Golden Cockerel. My translation of this second novel is paired with fourteen additional texts (plus a summary of the novel that Rulfo wrote). All of these items have appeared previously in print (many of them posthumously), but never included in The Plain in Flames. Some are well known, others much less so, but all bear witness to the same creative demons that define Rulfo’s literary output.

DB: What is The Golden Cockerel‘s connection with the cinema and in what way has that connection led to its marginalization? 

DJW: That question was at the heart of an introductory essay that I wrote to accompany the 2010 release of The Golden Cockerel.[1] It’s clear that the decision —made most likely by Jorge Ayala Blanco and not Rulfo— to publish The Golden Cockerel in 1980 as a film text (“texto para cine”) had a deleterious effect on the novel’s reception. It also didn’t help that the piece was released sixteen years after Roberto Gavaldón adapted it to film (El gallo de oro, 1964). In that context, many simply began to refer to The Golden Cockerel as a film script, a denomination that is still heard frequently. To this day, in fact, there are some bookstores in Mexico City that incorrectly shelve the novel next to printed screenplays. As such, most researchers who have written about The Golden Cockerel have felt an obligation to address its generic classification. And, in an attempt to free the novel from its mislabeling, many of those individuals have tried to fully divorce The Golden Cockerel from its filmic roots. My preference is to affirm the piece’s identity as a novel while celebrating its very real connection to the Mexican film industry. Rulfo was a film enthusiast who, in the mid-1950s, was hoping to find additional creative and financial opportunities in cinema. Indeed, it is likely that Rulfo wrote The Golden Cockerel precisely so that it could be adapted as a film script, a task that ultimately fell to Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez. In the end, I think that it is appropriate to acknowledge the cinematic origins of The Golden Cockerel while reading it as what it is: the second published novel of one of Mexico’s most celebrated writers of fiction.

DB: In addition to Rulfo’s second novel, you have included fourteen other texts in this book. How did you go about selecting which texts to include? 

DJW: My original idea was simply to translate the three texts that were published together in 1980: The Golden Cockerel, “The Secret Formula,” and “The Spoils.” I discarded that idea quickly, however, realizing that it would be a mistake to perpetuate the mislabeling of The Golden Cockerel as a film text. It would also have been, I believe, a missed opportunity to promote other Rulfo writings that have never appeared in English or have done so but only in limited release. Will Evans of Deep Vellum Publishing was very interested in an expanded collection. Víctor Jiménez, the director of the Fundación Juan Rulfo, was more cautious and became convinced only when it was clear that we could build a collection that would have a strong thematic unity while offering an interesting reflection on the creative world of Juan Rulfo through texts that, although lesser known, already existed in print. There were three of us primarily involved in the selection of texts: myself, Víctor Jiménez, and Juan Francisco Rulfo, the author’s oldest son. The anthology includes a number of short pieces that, despite never appearing in The Plain in Flames, have circulated widely and are generally acknowledged as part of Rulfo’s canon: “The Secret Formula,” “A Piece of the Night,” “Life Doesn’t Take Itself Very Seriously,” and “Castillo de Teayo.” Another item, a letter that Rulfo wrote in 1947 to his then fiancé, was published in 2000. The remaining items —ten narrative fragments— are less definitive in their generic and canonic identity and have appeared almost exclusively in Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks[2], a unique gathering of Rulfo’s unpublished —and, in many cases, unfinished— writings, authorized by the author’s widow. The texts of Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks are eclectic in nature and include early drafts of Pedro Páramo, fragments of a film script, portions of two novels that the author began and never completed, and other experimental writings. The nine items selected from this collection are unique creative explorations that fit well into Rulfo’s literary canon and exhibit clear narrative structures that allow them to be read as independent, story-like texts.

DB: We’ve seen many examples of posthumous publications, most recently a “new” Bolaño novel appeared in late 2016. These are not always well received. Then again, sometimes we get Kafka or Dickinson. Were there any ethical concerns or worries associated with publishing work that Rulfo himself had chosen not to during his lifetime and, if so, how were these addressed?

DJW: The Golden Cockerel is not a posthumous publication, of course. But our decision to pair it with additional texts, some of which Rulfo never published, can certainly be perceived as controversial. And I was constantly aware of the responsibility of working with an author, like Juan Rulfo, who was self-critical and often hesitant to send items to press. I was encouraged, to be sure, to be working so closely with the Fundación Juan Rulfo and with members of the Rulfo family, and to be selecting only texts that already exist in print. Additionally, Víctor and Juan Francisco liked the selection of texts that we came up with so much that they decided to create a version in Spanish. That edition, titled El gallo de oro y otros relatos (Editorial RM), appeared at the beginning of this year. But returning to your question, the most poignant response might come from Rulfo’s widow, Clara Aparicio de Rulfo, who faced the same controversy when she decided to release Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks. Indeed, I mention her reply —tender in its tone— in my introduction to The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings. Clara explains that she resisted the temptation to conceal her husband’s working papers out of a responsibility to share the valuable writings (“so full of him” as Clara writes) that her husband left in her care. Ultimately, I hope that readers will see The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings as a valuable and respectful collection that, as I write in my introduction, “bears witness to Juan Rulfo and deserves to exist because each text is ‘so full of him.’”

DB: The Golden Cockerel had never been published in English. The same can be said for some of the other fourteen texts. Like most worthwhile tasks, translation can be as frustrating as it is rewarding. What challenges did you face when translating these texts? I’m particularly interested in specific problems and your strategies for overcoming these issues. 

DJW: That’s an interesting question since I have long felt that Rulfo’s first novel, Pedro Páramo, is tough to translate to English. Margaret Sayers Peden offers a strong version (Grove Press, 1994) that, nonetheless, seems not to reach the poetic, experimental, and mythic heights of the original. The Golden Cockerel is an easier exercise and yet not without its own challenges. This second novel is more oral, less polished, and less mythic than Pedro Páramo, and it is less experimental than the stories of The Plain in Flames. In The Golden Cockerel Rulfo uses long sentences, abundant punctuation, and numerous short paragraphs. All of these characteristics feel natural (if perhaps less formal) in Rulfo’s original, but can seem awkward in translation. I found myself shortening a few sentences and lengthening some paragraphs, all the while struggling to balance a desire to conserve Rulfo’s unique voice but making the text more comfortable to English-language readers. Another interesting issue that I confronted was whether to translate a nickname given to Bernarda Cutiño, the primary female protagonist of The Golden Cockerel and one of Rulfo’s most memorable women, standing alongside the remarkable Susana San Juan of Pedro Páramo. Bernarda is known as La Caponera, a polysemic label that is complex even in the original Spanish. One writer (Alfred Mac Adam) who translated a few pages of the novel rendered the term into English as Lead Mare, referring to the horse that is placed at the front since other animals tend to follow it. The choice is not inaccurate, of course, but feels awkward. I decided to conserve the original —La Caponera— untranslated and italicized, allowing the reader to discern the label’s meaning through the narration’s context, much as Rulfo does in Spanish.

DB: What led you to study, research and, ultimately, translate the work of Juan Rulfo? Why should Rulfo still be read in 2017? 

DJW: One of my primary research endeavors of the past decade has been to better understand Juan Rulfo’s connection to the Mexican film industry. As part of that project, I have worked extensively with The Golden Cockerel (including its two film adaptations) and became convinced that the novel deserves a wider audience. I found it baffling and frustrating that the novel —sixty years after its composition and nearly thirty years after its publication— had never appeared in English. In other words, I wasn’t a translator looking for a project; rather, I was a Rulfo devotee who noticed a void and felt a certain obligation to make this significant novel available to English-language readers. My efforts were, in many ways, a clichéd “labor of love” that became a truly enriching personal and professional journey through Rulfo’s lesser-known writings. Indeed, I hope that the reader of this anthology will approach these texts with the same excitement that defined my own exploration.

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The Secret Formula

The truth is that it’s difficult
to get used to hunger.

And although they say that hunger
when divided among many
affects fewer,
the only true thing is that here
each one of us
is half dead
and we don’t even have
a place to lie down and die.

As it seems now
things are going from bad to worse
None of this idea that we should turn a blind eye to
this matter.
None of that.
Since the beginning of time
we have set out with our stomachs stuck to our ribs
while hanging on by our fingernails against the wind.

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Totonac idol in Castillo de Teayo, c. 1950 (J. Rulfo) 

DB: Can you tell us a little about the Rubén Gámez film that this poetic text originally accompanied? Did Rulfo see the footage first and then write the text or vice versa? Is this a poem, a monologue for cinema or something else? Does The Secret Formula alter when divorced from the cinematic images? In what way? It seems, at least, to me, to be a text that is still painfully relevant today. Do you agree? Why? 

DJW: “The Secret Formula” is unique among Rulfo’s writings for its poetic structure and for the way it came to exist. Rulfo wrote the text at the invitation of Rubén Gámez who used it as a voiceover narration to accompany portions of his experimental film by the same title (La formula secreta, 1964), an allusion to the ingredients of Coca Cola and a critique, among other things, of the influence of the United States on Mexico. According to Gámez’s widow, Rulfo’s participation in the film came about after a chance encounter in an elevator. Rulfo had somehow seen portions of the still-in-production film and, meeting the director for the first time, expressed his enthusiasm for the project. Gámez, on the spur of the moment, invited the novelist to provide a written text to incorporate in the film. Rulfo seems to have written “The Secret Formula” very quickly and, although it is possible that someone other than the author gave the text the form with which it is now associated, it’s clear that Rulfo produced something more akin to poetry than to narrative (although your suggestion that it might be read as a “monologue for cinema” is not off the mark). There is no doubt that Rulfo’s text can be read independent of Gámez’s film or that it fits comfortably within the author’s literary canon. And yet I highly recommend that readers seek out La formula secreta by Gámez to see how seamlessly Rulfo’s text is incorporated into the experimental, dialogue-free vignettes that make up one of Mexico’s most significant independent films. Finally, I absolutely agree that “The Secret Formula” continues to be relevant. Rulfo imagined the piece as a lyrical response to the marginalization and suffering of Mexico’s poor —whether at home or abroad as immigrants— who, in biblical tone, demand to be seen and heard.

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Castillo de Teayo

A pale, yellowish gleam appeared in the east, revealing the outlines of everything. Meanwhile, on the side of the mountain, the world remained gray, increasingly gray and invisible.

Then, right in front of our eyes, was the Castillo. Its shape was strange in its seclusion, still undisturbed by any sign of life. It was surrounded by a mist that rose like steam from the humid earth and the dampened walls smoothed over with moss. With the moss covered in dew. That’s what we saw.

Night had come to an end.

That’s when that guy appeared, tall, thin, with his shirt open and a beard swarming around him in the wind. He stopped in front of us and began to speak:

—This is where the gods came to die. The banners were destroyed in the ancient wars and the standard-bearers fell to the ground, their noses broken and their eyes blinded, buried in the mud. Grass grew over their backs and even the nauyaca snake built its nest in the hollow of their curled legs. They’re here again, but without their banners, once again enslaved, once again guardians, now watching over the wooden cross of Christianity. They seem solemn, their eyes dull, their jaws dropped, their mouths open, clamorous beyond measure. Someone has whitewashed their bodies, giving them the appearance of the dead, wrapped in shrouds and ripped from their graves.

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Female figure in Castillo de Teayo, c. 1950 (J.Rulfo)

DB: Castillo de Teayo—You have described this text as ‘a travel narrative that often feels like a short story.’ Fictional memoirs seem very much in fashion these days. Do you think that its hybrid form contributed to its marginalization? There are various instances of critics attempting to see Rulfo’s photography as illustrative of his fiction, using quotations as captions and so forth and, therefore, neglected his photographic work that bears little resemblance to his prose. However, Castillo de Teayo seems to represent one of the few times when the photographs are meant to illustrate the prose. Would you agree? Why/not? 

DJW: Juan Rulfo was fascinated by Mexico’s history and highways and his wanderings, especially in the early 1950s as a travelling salesman for the Goodrich-Euzkadi tire company, resulted in a number of photographs and travel writings, some of which were published during the author’s life. For example, Rulfo agreed to serve as editor for the January 1952 edition of Mapa, a travel journal sponsored by his company, and he likely visited the archaeological site of Castillo de Teayo for material to use in that publication. Although a selection of photographs from that trip would appear in the journal, the narrative text that he wrote was not included and would not appear in print until 2002. It’s true that some critics have tried to see Rulfo’s photographic endeavors merely as a reflection of the author’s literary output. Such a perspective is misguided, however. Rulfo, who developed a profound interest in the visual image as early as the 1930s, never intended to limit his creativity to the written word. In recent years, as more of his photography has appeared in print, Rulfo has gained a reputation as one of his country’s premier photographers. “Castillo de Teayo,” as you mention, is an exception to the rule as text and image combine to tell a story of a rich and vibrant pre-Colombian past that continues to define Mexico’s present moment.

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A Piece of the Night

The guy who claimed to be Claudio Marcos had also become lost in thought. And then he said:

—I’m a gravedigger. Does that scare you if I tell you I’m a gravedigger? Well, that’s exactly what I am. And I’ve never admitted that my job pays a pittance. It’s a job like any other. With the advantage being that I have the frequent pleasure of burying people. I’m telling you this because you, just like me, should hate people. Perhaps even more than I do. And along those lines, let me give you some advice: don’t ever love anyone. Let go of the idea of caring for someone else. I remember that I had an aunt whom I really loved. She died suddenly, when I was especially attached to her, and the only thing I got out of it was a heart filled with holes.

I heard what he was saying. But that didn’t take my mind off of the quiebranueces, with his sunken, unspeaking eyes. Meanwhile, back here, this guy just kept prattling on about how he hated half of all humankind and how great it was knowing that, one by one, he would eventually bury all those he came across every day. And how when someone here or there said or did something to offend him, he wouldn’t get angry; rather, keeping his mouth shut, he would promise himself that he would give them a very long rest when they eventually fell into his hands.

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Sculpted relief in Castillo de Teayo, c. 1950 (J. Rulfo)

DB: A Piece of the Night—Unlike most of Rulfo’s narrative fiction, this story is unmistakably urban. Rulfo lived in Mexico City for many years, yet rarely does it appear in his fiction. Why do you think that is? How is the city portrayed in this story? 

DJW: Although associated so fully with Mexico’s rural towns and landscapes, Rulfo is seen more accurately as an inhabitant of Mexico’s largest urban centers. He was still very young, for example, when he was sent to live at a boarding school in Guadalajara after an assassin’s bullet claimed the life of his father. Eventually Rulfo would bounce back and forth between Guadalajara and Mexico City before settling permanently in his nation’s capital. So how does one explain Rulfo’s preference for rural spaces? Although there are multiple explanations, the one that I want to enumerate here is biographical. Pedro Páramo opens with a son who travels to the small town of his mother’s memories to search for a father that he never knew. That return to discover one’s enigmatic origin is, in Rulfo, as much biography as it is literary motif. Rulfo’s fascination with provincial Mexico —especially with the small towns of southern Jalisco where he was born— reveal a pained nostalgia for what Rulfo lost with the passing of his father. Although the scarcity of urban environments in Rulfo’s creative output is real, it can be overstated. As a photographer, for example, Rulfo shot a number of images in metropolitan settings. And he would place characters in urban environments in  “Paso del Norte” and “A Piece of the Night.” This latter piece is a particularly touching witness to Rulfo’s interest in the city. Although read today as a short story, it is, in reality, a fragment of an urban novel, tentatively titled El hijo del desaliento, that the author was composing as early as 1940 before deciding to abandon the project. “A Piece of the Night” has long been one of my favorite Rulfo tales. Set in the rough-and-tumble Guerrero neighborhood of Mexico City (near Tlatelolco), the story follows the nocturnal wanderings of two life-weary protagonists, a prostitute and a gravedigger, as they search for shelter. With an infant in tow, the trio is connected archetypally and ironically to the Holy Family. A year ago, hoping to see how closely the story connected to the actual urban environment that Rulfo describes, I walked the same streets and plazas that appear in the story. It became clear that the author wasn’t interested solely in the metaphoric potential of his protagonists; rather, he was offering a very real portrayal of an actual city environment that he knew well.

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Cleotilde

Where I don’t want to look is toward the ceiling, because up on the ceiling, moving from beam to beam, there’s someone who’s alive. Especially at night, when I light a small candle, that shadow on the ceiling moves. Don’t think it’s just a figment of my imagination. I know what it is: it’s the shape of Cleotilde.

Cleotilde is also dead, but not fully so. Even though I’m the one who killed Cleotilde. And I know that everything you kill, while you remain alive, continues to exist. That’s just how it is.

It’s been about a week since I killed Cleotilde. I hit her several times in the head, massive and hard blows, until she stayed good and quiet. It’s not like I was so mad that I was planning on killing her; but a fit of rage is a fit of rage and that’s the root cause of it all.

She died. Afterward, I did get mad at her for that, for having died. And now she’s after me. That’s her shadow, above my head, spread along the length of the beams as if it were the shadow of a barren tree. And even though I’ve told her many times to go away, to stop harassing everyone, she hasn’t moved from where she’s at, nor has she stopped looking at me.

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DB: Cleotilde—This story was previously published in Los cuadernos de Juan Rulfo (Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks) in 1995. It reads like a finished story, as opposed to a fragment of an unfinished project. When was it written and was it originally meant to be part of a collection of stories that never materialized? It’s a brutal story of obsession and murder that I am particularly fond of. Why do you think it has still remained relatively unknown, despite having been published in Los cuadernos?

DJW: You are absolutely correct to read “Cleotilde” as an independent and polished short story. Indeed, I hope that the readers of my translation do just that and discover a remarkable tale that deserves a place among Rulfo’s other short fiction. And yet Yvette Jiménez de Báez included the piece in Juan Rulfo’s Notebooks in a section that she titled “On the Road to the Novel” (“Camino a la novela”), a classification that suggests a role as precursor to Pedro Páramo. To be sure, the violence and vengeance that define the narrative, along with its tormented apparition, the murdered Cleotilde, easily connect it to Rulfo’s first novel. Although it’s unclear exactly when Rulfo wrote this story or why he chose not to publish it, I don’t disagree with Jiménez de Báez’s decision to view it as a variation on the people, places, and themes that would eventually lead Rulfo to write Pedro Páramo. Although it’s true that “Cleotilde” has enjoyed only limited dissemination, it has appeared on the big screen as one of three stories that Roberto Rochín adapted to film in the feature-length Purgatorio (2008).

—Douglas J. Weatherford and Dylan Brennan

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Editor’s Note: Excerpts and photographs appear here courtesy of the Fundación Juan Rulfo, Deep Vellum Publishing, and Douglas J.  Weatherford.

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Douglas J. Weatherford at Laguna de Sayula. 

Douglas J. Weatherford is an Associate Professor of Hispanic American Literatures and Cultures at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah). He has developed teaching and research interests in a wide range of areas related to Latin American literature and film, with particular emphasis on Mexico during the mid-twentieth century. Much of his recent scholarship has examined Mexican author Juan Rulfo’s connection to the visual image in film. Weatherford’s translation of Rulfo’s second novel El gallo de oro (The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings) will appear in May (Deep Vellum Publishing), the centennial of that author’s birth.

Dylan Brennan is an Irish writer currently based in Mexico. His poetry, essays and memoirs have been published in a range of international journals, in English and Spanish. His debut poetry collection, Blood Oranges, for which he received the runner-up prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award, is available now from The Dreadful Press. Twitter: @DylanJBrennan

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. (“‘Texto para cine’: El gallo de oro en la producción artística de Juan Rulfo.” El gallo de oro. By Juan Rulfo. Mexico City: Editorial RM).
  2. Los cuadernos de Juan Rulfo. Transcription by Yvette Jiménez de Báez. Mexico City: Era, 1994
May 012017
 

A. Anupama

.
An anklet

for that sweet light tangled inside
the forest will praise the peacock’s foot

pain cannot withstand your word
or the careless gift of your gaze upon the peacock’s foot

song erupts with ash and lightning
in the air between us: a glaze to the peacock’s foot

whatever you asked the river for
the morning has appraised against the peacock’s foot

demain-matin, the lovers say
as though waking could raise the peacock’s foot

I walk towards you as though
the sweet gum tree scatters gold, pays for the peacock’s foot

I drape my arms around your shoulders—
we fall in phase with the peacock’s foot

if any rose could rise like this lotus,
the sun would smite to raze the peacock’s foot

while still as the forest stands,
Anupama says follow always the peacock’s foot

.

That

that separates this world
and opens figs in this world

that question and stance
operates all rigs in this world

quiet that patience and sing
while your voice still digs in this world

not fair to say what gold is
when demons wear wigs in this world

to hide this world in “that separates”
and in stomachs of pigs in this world

the second-nature glance of the jay
stains joy in the amygdala: this world

.

Inner fire

this world that separates life and mind
could dissolve in the line of jewels

claw-of-the-tiger mark on a breast
carefully, artfully revolves in the line of jewels

the mid-afternoon light plays
tricks when the room involves the line of jewels

leap down from the abacus
and into his arms to solve the line of jewels

vermilion in a stare-down with sky blue on our
color wheel, where our eyes evolve the line of jewels

touch doesn’t save it, nor caress—
only skin surrenders to resolve the line of jewels

his heart-temple and mine fall in ordered silicates,
but into opals’ fire entirely devolve by this line of jewels

.

Beyond

hold out a red umbrella to the rain
was the refrain of her song in the broken cloud

drips red, drops clear as birth, drips no matter
the right or the wrong in the broken cloud

wet eyelash steers desire, wet clothes tempt skin
to steal along in the broken cloud

only a moment kissed you back
in the iron gong in the broken cloud

a wheel on a rutted road, shuddering,
and her body a tongs in the broken cloud

she does not bite the day in half, and for you
her light bleeds long into the broken cloud

.

Corallium rubrum

throw the diamond overboard
and sink into the mind of coral and jewel

somber fish, shaped like eyes,
make their wishes to find the coral and jewel

roses spread their petals like gills,
sweep us into one mouth to bind the coral and jewel

I throw my arms around your neck
and a tidal braid unwinds the coral and jewel

what is sharp and what is soft
and what is desire’s vermilion—the kinds of coral and jewels

your touch only barely escapes gravity’s velocity:
this world’s rind, covering coral and jewel

what oceans, left untouched
in synchronous hearts behind the coral and jewel

.

Unknotted garland

Of what is my love made, I ask,
‘til dawn pulls a red shade, I ask.

This night is deep as bells in sleep.
Unfair to dress you in tiger suede? I ask.

It’s only a dream, and I need you
soft to my touch. Why a blade? I ask.

Soften your knife on my throat
where all your diamonds are laid,
I ask.

Spill them into my lap, the offering bowl
of your accolade,
I ask.

Your glittering truth stars my thighs.
Is any sky left to wade? I ask.

My dress of silk shushes the floor.
Ripped and frayed? I ask.

And for all your caresses and sweet words
my naked blood must be paid?
I ask,

but silent, with my eyes
open and without compare, I’ve said, I ask.

—A. Anupama

.

A. Anupama is a U.S.-born, Indian-American poet and translator whose work has appeared in several literary publications, including Waxwing, Drunken Boat, Monkeybicycle, Fourteen Hills, and CutBank. She received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. She currently lives and writes in the Hudson River valley of New York, where she organizes literary community (RiverRiver.org), and blogs about poetic inspiration at seranam.com.

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Apr 142017
 

.

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) was a Russian and Soviet poet who is often considered one of the greatest contributors to 20th century Russian literature. “Well, if you are talking about the twentieth century, I’ll give you a list of poets,” Russian Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky once said. “Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva—and she is the greatest one, in my view. The greatest poet in the twentieth century was a woman.”

The following new translations, by Mary Jane White, are from Marina Tsvetaeva’s final published collection, AFTER RUSSIA (Paris 1926). The poems are witty and lush, and are part of White’s long project of Tsvetaeva translations. White has recently compiled her translations into a 288-page manuscript, which is awaiting publication. White’s previous Tsvetaeva translations include the collections Starry Sky to Starry Sky (1988) and New Year’s, an elegy for Rilke (2007).

— Benjamin Woodard

.

A WINDOW

On a pleasing Atlantic
Breath of spring —
Like a stupendous butterfly
My curtain — and — I

Like a Hindu widow
Enter the gold-lipped crater,
Like a listless Naiad
Enter the sea beyond a window . . .

5 May 1923

§

TO HONOR TIME

                                 for Vera Arenskaya

On the refugee-road!
It whooped — and bolted
Headlong on its wheels.
Time! I don’t have time.

Caught up in chronicles
And kisses . . . like sands
In rustling streams . . .
Time, you let me down!

Of clock-hands and wrinkles’
Furrows — of American
Innovations . . . — Empty jar! —
Time, you give me short measure!

Time, you hand me over!
Like a debauched wife — a “new toy”
You drop . . . — “One hour, but it’s ours!”

— Your train leaves on a different
Track! . . —

Since I was born past
Time! To no purpose and in vain
You resist! Caliph of an hour:
Time! I will pass you by!

10 May 1923

§

HIS SISTER

Hell’s too small, heaven too small to contain you:
Everyone’s already at the point of dying for you.

But to follow your brother, sadly, into the fire —
Really, is that customary? It’s not a sister’s
Place, to radiate passion!
Really, is it customary to lie in his barrow . . .
With your brother? . . .
………………………………— “He was and is mine! Even if he’s rotten!”

— And that’s the order of precedence with graves!!!

11 May 1923

§

NIGHT

Time the upper reaches are laid bare,
Time you gaze into our souls — as into our eyes.
These — open sluices of blood!
These — open sluices of night!

Our blood surged, like the night
Our blood surged, — like our blood
The night surged! (Upper regions of the ear
Time: a world poured into our ears — as into our eyes!)

The screen of the visible pulled back!
On time’s distinct calm!
Time of the ear opening, like an eyelid,
No longer do we have weight, or breathe: we hear.

A world channeled into our endless ear’s
Helix: sucking down sounds,
Helix, — our endless soul! . .
(Time, you enter our souls — as you would our arms!)

12 May 1923

§

TO STEAL . . .

And perhaps, the finest victory
Over time and gravity —
Is to pass, without leaving a trace,
Is to pass, without leaving a shadow

On the walls . . .
…………………….Finer perhaps — to exact
By refusal? To erase myself from mirrors?
Like: Lermontov moving through the Caucuses
To steal, without disturbing the rock-faces.

And perhaps — the finest amusement
Given the finger of Sebastian Bach
Would be not to trouble the organ’s echo?
To collapse, leaving no dust

For the urn . . .
…………………….Finer perhaps — to exact
By fraud? To write myself out of the latitudes?
Like: Time moving through an ocean
To steal, without disturbing the waters . . .

14 May 1923

— Marina Tsvetaeva, translated from the Russian by Mary Jane White

.

Marina Tsvetaeva is considered by many to be one of the greatest contributors to 20th century Russian literature. Born in 1892, she published many volumes of poetry during her lifetime and was greatly admired by the likes of Boris Pasternak, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Anna Akhmatova. She committed suicide in 1941, and since then, her poetry has been widely translated.

§

Mary Jane White is a poet and translator who earned an MFA from The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the recipient of NEA Fellowships in both poetry and translation. She has published numerous books of her own poetry, as well as Tsvetaeva translations, which include Starry Sky to Starry Sky (1988) and New Year’s, an elegy for Rilke (2007).

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Apr 132017
 

patrick-oreilly

x

Martinmas

I.

Draw the curtain.
Find the ground fasted –
an unspoiled, infinite, hushing

white. And planed by rigid light,
a light that slides like golden straps
across a stiff white cloth

one dares not rustle. Steady. Draw
no breath. Listen. Draw
thyself below the fallen snow.

x

II.

Last night’s frost a shock to all systems.
What goes without saying: the key
turning in the ignition,

the engine not turning over.
Roll the boulder up the hill.
Repeat. The key turning, the key

turning. The engine finally
turning over. What goes without
saying: a prayer. The wheels turning.

x

III.

Roll the boulder up the hill.
Repeat. Roll the boulder away
from the tomb. In the precise spot

between two towns the channels crack,
their signals scattered in the snow.
Pull over. Catch your breath.

Hear the nausea fizzing up.
This is where the tethers snap:
tundra: white noise, natural light.

x

IV.

No spires to fishhook Heaven.
No bats batting ’bout. No belfry.
Closest thing to a gargoyle here,

a grouse hunched in an alder tree.
No iron hinge, no oaken door;
no room, you’d think, for any god.

The angels get their hackles up.
Hoary-feathered skull-gull roosting,
a handsaw Jigsaw Gothic.

x

V.

Creaking lightly past the ribwork
and lighting candles on the way.
Flotsam-coloured light kneels on

twelve carved apostles left alone
to digest and to ruminate.
You’ll notice their resemblance

to sailors who have disappeared.
An ancient furnace wails, its warmth
twenty thousand leagues away.

x

VI.

Whatever convoluted way
I come up from the furnace room,
a gravity will draw, will drag

my eye toward the Sacred Heart,
in the foremost lobe of church.
that solar plexus

where all prayers’ limbs’ nerve endings meet,
Introibo ad altare Dei
and feel those closed eyes follow me.

x
x
x

Paul’s First Mass at Corinth

In the warm drone of the first reading
Eutyches falls asleep
and tumbles over a railing
into the worm-drone of the first reading.

Eutyches falls. Asleep
he dreams a bird sailing
in the warm drome. The first meeting
and already, one sentenced to death.

x
x
x

Office Hours

Like Civil War re-enactments,
stamp collecting, priesthood something
a man just stumbles into when
he starts to feel the prick of time.

Administrating eternity.

A radiator’s knuckles rap.
A rats’ nest in the linotype.
The dry tongues of a calendar

with every month epitomized
by one of the Old Masters.
December: the nativity,
Bronzino. But if I flip back

to March, El Greco, his pieta.
That fog-blue skin that Jesus has.
The Marys, Peter, turning blue,
like Jesus took all reds with Him.

El Greco – the Greek – how did he know
that springtime here leaves minute shards
of winter guilting in the bone
three bodies huddled can’t evict,
or all that fragrant red and gold
won’t hold the blue beneath our skin,
that winter here is a lifetime long?

x
x
x

Sullivan’s Observatory

“Down here, now, there’s nothing to be at.
But I worked as a machinist forty years,
and I always did love looking at the stars.
If not for this, I’d have me wife drove cracked.”

An arsenal of copper pipe and salvaged
mirrors he had piled up in that shed,
and a massive hole cut in the roof to let
the stovepipe out. Never mind the damage.

“I saw the Perseid showers once,” he lied.
He had porthole glass for lenses. Scratched to shit.
You couldn’t see a blasted thing. “Well, Father,

whatcha think? Can you see Heaven?”
“Oh yes,” I said, “they’re tinkering away
to try and get a better look at us.”

x
x
x

Small Hours

Seven steps from door to bed.
Shoes. Then socks. Then trousers.
Collar on the nightstand. Black shirt,
button button button, ’til I’m
sitting there
xxxxxxxxxxxxdefrocked. A priest, naked.
When I close my eyes even I can’t
imagine it. I should prowl out
into the street to mystify
the neighbours.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxI should turn in.

Stretch the full length of the bed,
fold my arms first in, then out
like swimming.
Christ. Corpse. Christ. Corpse.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxGetting nowhere,
my eyes groping
from bookshelf to sideboard
to phonograph, things left behind
by Father Whosits. This is how
a priest propagates, begetting
antiques and booklice. So do I
populate the earth: sheep after sheep
night after night.

x
x
x

Encounters with Men

A joke, to start.

So a priest walks into a bar

and the place goes into rigor mortis. You can hear
the difference between talk and conversation:

a nod, a whisper.

Jesus. Never? Can you imagine?

A young fella like that, it isn’t natural.

Yes, well you know what that crowd are like. Keep an eye
on the kids, if I were you.

That’s what keeps the quiet between us
so thick the counter buckles.

x

When I was five, my father taught me how to fight. Or tried:
held my fists before my face, two knots of little bones
bound in pink crêpe. I’d have to find other means:

anyone can see my hands,
un-cuffed, uncramped, unblistered, clean as paper,
a joke to finish.

“So a priest walks into a bar…”

x
x
x

Confession #2

I feel awkward, shy, afraid.
But here it is, incredibly boring, so boring I can’t believe it’s true.

I never had an impulse to go to the altar.
I thought everything we were doing was awful.
There are many things in your heart you can never tell another person.
“I ain’t real sure,” for example.
Love is a publicity stunt, and making love – after the first curious raptures – is only
xxxxxxanother petulant way to pass the time.

He would have been a great director, which eventually he wanted to be.
I never said, “I want to be alone.” I only said, “I want to be left alone.” There is a whole
xxxxxxworld of difference.
I only said “The diaphragm is the greatest invention since Pan-Cake makeup.”
If a woman makes a mistake unintentionally, I don’t believe she should be condemned
xxxxxxfor it.
Or shook with such violence that he left ten black-and-blue finger prints on my arms.

You should cross yourself when you say his name.
But once a woman has forgiven a man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.

People used to say that I had a feeling of closeness, a great warmth of loving everybody,
xxxxxx that they could tell me their troubles.
But the worst part of it all is this: no matter how hard you try, you find you cannot
xxxxxxpossibly please everyone.
They had to say something about me, so they wrote stories of their own fantasy and
xxxxxxcalled me temperamental and hard to handle.
That’s a heavy load to carry when one is tired, hurt, and bewildered
and no one gives a damn.
It never occurs to them that one is simply tired.
And hurt, and bewildered.

Love is disgusting when you no longer possess yourself.
All you have to do is to say you want to be alone.
Right?
Please?

A found poem, made up of quotes from silent film actresses.
x
x
x

Confession #3

Father, forgive me my sins. You see, Father, I had to come see you.
You see, my son – I, I mean, I’m getting myself tangled up.

Wednesday I hung out the wash and I took little Paddy out with me.
There’s never a happier child – Father, he wouldn’t say “boo.”

When I was done I knelt down to see what he’d got into. He was
playing with some kind of jar. No idea where he got that.

He was filling the jar up with ants and shaking them out on the ground.
I told him not to be at it. Why can’t I? he asked me.

Not in a saucy way, mind you. I told him the ants would get hurt if
he kept on shaking the jar – that they were frightened of him,

he wasn’t nice if he did that. But he shook them right out on the ground. I
said “I’m gonna count, mister. One. Two…” Do you think he would stop?

Dead ants. Dead. I tried taking it from him. I screamed myself red. I
could not get him to understand they were … and he

was so big. He kept shaking and shaking. I
struck him. I struck. O God, Father, what a clout I gave him.

—Patrick O’Reilly

x
Patrick O’Reilly is a recent graduate of the MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan. He has written for untethered, The Partisan, and Numéro Cinq, where he is a contributor. In 2015, his poem “Shelter” was long-listed for Best Canadian Poetry. He lives in Montréal.

x
x

Apr 102017
 

Afric McGlinchey 500px

.

I, a travelling country of windows

All the bony roads,
spokes shaking off a mouthful
of sleet, and you
further forward than me, or inward perhaps
– a heaped bush – stop.
Fleeting shock of silence;
and then the rattling again,
struggling past the cages. Say one lunges
from above, tipping its point
like a Damocles sword – dare I?
I know what is in that box
stiffly packaged in white canvas
– the first of the seven sorrows –
this, then the next to come tumbling
will be – no, let’s
travel back, round the coastline up north
where the mattress groaned under
our bouncing feet and feathers flew
from the bolsters – wait!
Was that the creak of a door, pink
glow of the landing wallpaper?
He’s here! And fast as the smallest
laughing fury, we’re under the sheets:
one on the floor, pretend-sleeping
the silence intense as the thickness
of snow set across pillows
and pillows of fields.

.

Cha
after All my Friends,
an electronic composition by Edan Ray

Laugh! I nearly ran to the riptide
confluence where stories
are peripheral, and simply water
works. Only you know
the notion of it. Only you keep me
laughing. Only you rush
into the pedal of the music
or crossover
silence that smacks
up against wayward torques
squeaking liquid and you and you
and you, my friends, run backwards, slow
motion as the ocean. Shhh…
or bass it. Strobe-light-fix
each gesture in distortion,
loose-wristed, star-fired, brainless
with excitement. Cha.

.

Nine ways to identify an alley cat

l
Her lashes are upstart
ravens’ nests;
serrated shadows.

ll
Her coquettish circling
is accompanied by a throaty,
insistent growl.

lll
She sets a flat rock
with found risks,
until others hanker too.

IV
She cadges guts
from harassed butchers,
then lays them in the dirt.

V
She almost always
escapes the bolt.

VI
Yes, she’s scratched, but still,
quickens with the music.

VII
She rattles
in a crowded corner.

VIII
Her hooping, toppling,
wounded movement’s like the lick
of a failing candle.

IX
Her thought-ghost proves
that death’s mutation’s
merely a ruse.

.

Faith is the thing with feathers

Beneath the vaulting,
the elderly, deeply-kneeling

and kyphotic,
rock like a pendulum.

In each radiating chapel, a candle
forest is offered up to souls.

The choir’s complex
harmonics echo across pews.

Incense is a series
of hovering exhalations,

visible as umbrellas
in the narthex.

Prayers flutter, three
hundred breaths a minute.

Lungs, rain-licked,
hum white; each tongue

an edelweiss. Leadlight
vignettes glitter

in the clerestory: an angel’s
wing-lashed fire,

in twenty-one-gram
refractions, holding all this.

.

End of the blessing

To me you were the heart’s X
against my Guernica wall,
drowning out calamity.

I was addicted to your trip trap
words, lush as ferns,
all the way to fractal.

And the tandoor of my body grew
wide awake; tongue, a fire
racing through the field.

You seduced my mind,
till it was perpetually
undressed.

What’s left inside me, now
you’ve drifted off,
taking all the alleluias?

.

Montage

The old philosopher is sharp as ice in winter,
fracturing all the wicked weights,

the resonance of his voice, lacerating
so-called safe spaces,

until they are ripped and sewn again,
upright as trees.

His words are gateways to the sublime,
conflating human agency

with the natural order, the body
of shared memory with the vanished sign.

There should be flowers, he tells us
in a clear-cut voice, simple as ink.

Every night, his teachings turn to the blue
laws, or stallions

or the book of hours. Come dawn,
he reaches the double zero

in a landscape of confession – luminous
and ferocious, divine and apocalyptic,

inviting invocation and resistance
to those overpouring

toward war – that avenue
lined with little lamps of snow.

—Afric McGlinchey

.
Afric McGlinchey was born in Ireland. She grew up in Southern Africa, moving frequently between countries, and received degrees from Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town. She has also lived in London, Paris, Dublin and Spain. She returned to Ireland in 1999 and currently lives in West Cork. Her début collection, The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, published by Salmon Poetry in 2012, was translated into Italian and published by L’Arcoloaio. Among other awards and honours, in 2011 she won the Hennessy Poetry Award, and in 2012 she was nominated for a Pushcart prize, commended in the Magma and shortlisted in the Bridport competitions. In 2015, she won the Poets Meet Politics prize and was awarded an Arts bursary to complete her second collection, Ghost of the Fisher Cat (Salmon Poetry), which was nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2016. Runner up in the 2014 Sabotage Awards for best reviewer, she is also an editor. www.africmcglinchey.com

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Apr 082017
 

The two poems which follow are taken from Make Yourself Happy, the latest collection of poetry by Eleni Sikelianos. These particular poems were chosen by our reviewer Julie Larios specifically because they made her happy—and because they represent a level of energy, concern, wonder, and engagement (with both the beauty of language and the beauty of the natural world) that is typical of the poems in the book. The review of Make Yourself Happy may be read here. We also have an interview of Ms. Sikelianos for Numéro Cinq readers here.

—Julie Larios

 

Making the Bird Happy

House finches bobbing on the branches
like fitful punctuation marks, comma in a puff of snow, blobs
of feathered exclamation
points bouncing
in the cold. They
decorate the view and entertain
the cat with red-winter tail feathers and caps. But
an hour later they’re gone. How/where
did they go?

They’re in the back of the bird book
with low “burry notes’
The red-shafted flicker who was also in the tree gives
a soft muffled bwirr
contact call, a clear keew
close contact call, a soft lilt
………..wik-a-wik-a-wik-a

Every beautiful bird is in Texas.
Indigo bunting.
Lazuli bunting. Look at that bird’s
bright-blue forehead!

Say’s Phoebe says
…………pidiweew, pidireep, pidiweew

a phoebe never mistakes herself
for a bird………………she will never mistake herself for someone’s happy nest

“that’s not the way the bird would see it”………..soaking
…….in ultraviolet spectrum,….magnetic fields,……….sunset’s polarized glow
….a feather drab to us hovers in bird-world in pearlized light

yet when Parker plays “Ornithology” even the cat looks up
belief, the bird is happy
to the bird I keep applying what I think I know

N5

Do Nothing Fancy

I shall do nothing fancy
to make myself happy. Help!
I dwell here because I do not dwell
among the dead. But sunlight
is lethal to some, so shall I
make a golden ring that replicates itself or build a golden
hour from which is banished grief to
make the hour so roundly happy? Some will bind
themselves in beautiful things and some
in chains. Some made a fetter from
………..–     the sound of a cat’s footfall
………..–     the beard of a woman
………..–     roots of a mountain
………..–     sinews of a bear
………..–     breath of a fish
………..–     spittle of a bird
but what kind of beard?

Name your letter….name it Gleipnir
(a manackle smooth and soft as a silken ribbon)

call it the wolf-joint………or call it the wrist, it is
where the wolf or the world will bite
(put your hand it its mouth as a pledge)

Now: How will you settle an argument with only one hand?
wrist…..wreathe….wrest…..writhe….wr – to twist
the human mouth makes the movement-sounds
twisting out of the bindings
twisting away from how
make yourself happy moving
freely towards the experimental sky
and language the false start to love is

Eleni Sikelianos

N5

Eleni Sikelianos is a poet, translator, memorist and professor of creative writing at the University of Denver. Her books include Make Yourself Happy, The Loving Detail of the Living and the Dead, Body Clock and many others.

N5

Apr 022017
 

Image of poet Michelle BoisseauMichelle Boisseau

 

In Situ

The seaweed salad beside an ice cream float.
A flop-eared goat on the doghouse roof.
An elbow peers out of a torn sleeve
among the poolside breasts, partially eclipsed.
“Strange neighbors,” came from the neighbors.

Favorite sweater aboard the emptied bus.
A spoon between axes. An ax beneath the truck.
Outside the circus a planet inside a puddle
shivers like a horse near an orchard.
Next to me and wide of you. Trickling light

down my back, just when I’m settled into
an orbit far from the sun with its noisy huddle,
I’m nabbed by a grammar that unmatters me.

 

To an Oak

A chatter of acorns, a cloud of wigglers—
in a flood of excess we started out,
worked our way into a squishy place
and gathered strength for the big push.
The ponds emptied their faces to the sky.
You kicked out the floor of the seedcase
and sprouted hairs to drink with. I was cut loose

and hurried down the hallway by a nun.
For a time we could stand head to head.
You laid down tracks of time, a blink
of green each spring laddered into reach,
every leaf celebrating the feast of light.
Greedy for the hurry and soon enough
I was grown and sloughing seeds.

Your bark furrows, your shadow breaks,
clearly you weather your share of sorrows.
But I don’t think you get lost wondering
what it’s worth. Now fifty, sixty years go past
and you’re just setting to work. Your first
crop of acorns meteors the garden
and I am what nested for a while.

 

I Ain’t Studying No War

“ A cancer cell can, in theory,
keep dividing forever.”

 

Like the picky monarch in the milkweed
forever can thrive only on the maths
of theory which is also the habitat
gods, exaggeration, and the grasping need

for ever-and-ever
and the flipside, never, never, never.

Mother, brother, brother, younger sister
and now–coronas break up like whispers.

We could use Lear’s dexterous fool to turn
inside out the rule of these war metaphors,
to pluck apart this laughable lingo,
so we could cradle the goose-fleshed thing
and tender in our hands the thrashing heart
of beauty which can grow only because it starts
and therefore must dwindle and die

like every bird and every star.
Oh, reason not the need.
And don’t ask why.
Sooner or later we all lose at war.

Mother, brother, brother, sister and now
the claws snap fast inside me as well.
I won’t strap up and flail against the swell.
The wind and the rain grumble from the west.
I want to be stroked apart like a flower.

 

“2-28-2014”

Your final date comes to even numbers:
geometry writes the line as 2—

it means length without width. At 12:44 a.m.
you started riding the incalculable

line narrower than the dragline a spider
throws out, tinier than the silk’s proteins

tied head to head (& absolutely straight),
smaller than quarks inside lightweight

hydrogen: for even a quark isn’t only math.
Now you live in pure theory. The point

on the calendar has only position.
Nothing is less. “2,” legless swan,

the number that separates. The line,
the border you crossed wasn’t chalked,

but I see it and toss a stone before me
and hop toward where it doesn’t land.

 

Still Life

Four tangerines on the table,
one rolled behind the salt
as if to simper all alone.
Well, it’s no one’s fault.

The snow is coming down
welcome for once, a comic cloud
in all its riot gear. Things go.
What happens to me now

and next won’t be about
loneliness. Ahead, a drop off.
And the clock that says an hour’s coming
you cannot start or stop.

—Michelle Boisseau

 

Michelle Boisseau won the Tampa Review Prize for her fifth book of poems, Among the Gorgons, published by University of Tampa Press in 2016. Her A Sunday in God-Years, Arkansas 2009, in part examines the slave-holding past of her paternal ancestors in Virginia, into the 17th century. Trembling Air was a PEN USA finalist, University of Arkansas Press, 2003; she’s also published Understory, the Morse Prize, Northeastern University Press, 1996, and No Private Life, Vanderbilt, 1990. She has been publishing her poems in prominent literary journals since 1980, and her work has appeared in many anthologies, websites, and textbooks. Recent poems are appearing in Best American Poetry 2016, Poetry Daily, Poetry, Gettysburg Review, Yale Review, Southwest Review, and Shenandoah. Her textbook, Writing Poems (Longman), is now in its 8th edition. Boisseau has twice been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches in the MFA program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she is Senior Editor of BkMk Press and Contributing Editor of New Letters.

 

 

 

Mar 112017
 

Susan Elmslie

X
X
A Poet Has Nine Knives

One to trim the fat
One to cut the line
One for father’s back
One for that crook Time
One to keep it sharp
And to slice it thin
One that’s sly and jagged
As a gutted tin
One for keeping sheathed
One to pick the latch
One whose only deed’s
To carve your epitaph

X
X
THREE POEMS FROM “TRIGGER WARNING”

Unteachable Moment

woe to the innocent who hears that sound!
xXX—Odyssey 12.44, Fitzgerald translation

In lockdown, I’d been desperate
to hear sirens; once outside, safe,

they were too much. Paroxysmal,
dopplered, they blared past me hur-ry

hur-ry on the way to
my daughter’s daycare,

and at home, in our living room, on the TV:
looped footage. Our near silence

punctured by the stifled lament
of police cars, ambulances careening to the ER,

converging on the scene
I’d just escaped.

My husband and I,
slumped on the couch,

unable to get out the oars, were watching
our daughter playing on the floor.

“That?” she asked, pointing
at the screen. “Ambulance,” I said,

but she shook her head, still pointing,
her finger stirring the air.

I turned it right down, but I could still hear it.
I told her, “That’s a siren,”

waited to see if she was satisfied
with just the word, or if she’d press me

for what the sound itself meant
this moment. I was queasy

watching my school on the news, as if learning
who and how many

could stanch the genre, as if the next
“kept to himself” wasn’t also taking cues,

gearing up— shooting selfies, posed with his Glock—
and again, on every channel,

sirens will serenade kids filing from schools,
some with their arms on the shoulders of the kid ahead,

looking for all the world like anguished rowers.
I got down on the floor.

X
If

(after James Hoch, Miscreants)

if he had taken up guitar, played
ping pong or Ultimate Frisbee, tried
deep breathing, accepted human frailty,
adopted a mutt at the SPCA,
shovelled his neighbour’s walk,
did a year abroad
if there were more ways in than out
if he felt that someone was listening, maybe
a boy on the beach, after parasailing
at Île Sainte-Marguerite, the scent of umbrella pines
and eucalyptus in the air,
taking sips from a can of Kronenbourg
if his favourite aunt had been a police officer
if he’d had a favourite aunt
if his car had gotten a flat, and he’d taken this
as a sign to take a spiritual U-y
if he had smelled fear and been able to name it,
if he could laugh at himself
if he’d read Dostoyevsky, Ian McEwan, Tim O’Brien
if he’d preferred the Guggenheim and techno gadgets to guns
if he made a mean gulab jamun or tiramisu or quindim
if it was so simple it was beautiful
if he’d had a sibling with cystic fibrosis, a teacher from Trinidad,
a chum who medalled in Taekwondo, a summer of love,
a walk in the park, a hug around the neck,
a Sudoku habitxxxxxxif he had talked
to his doctor or mother and tried meds
and planted some sub-zero roses
if he had been pulled over for unpaid tickets,
bowed to cosmic irony and vowed to give peace
a chancexxxx.if he had not been born, or was somehow reborn
xxxxxxxxxxxxif we could recognize him this turn,
xxxxxxxxxxxxslipknot time, help him
xxxxxxxxxxxxto feel good in his skin
xxxxxxxxxxxxwhen he begins this
xxxxxxxxxxxxday and when he lays his head down to dream

X
Conventions

the same message: how horrible it was, how little
there was to say about how horrible it was.
xxxxxxxxxxXXXxXXxx—Bob Hicok, “In the Loop”

The running and then
the footage of people running.
After the chaos there is silence,
a failure of words but not of sound,
which we know travels in waves,
and the speed of which is still the distance
travelled per unit of time.
The sound of a firearm going off
in a school hallway is not unlike the sound
of a metal locker slamming inside your head.
The colleagues you hugged
and who hugged you will go back
to arms’ length, which is healthy.
Maybe you will cry
one night doing dishes,
up to the elbow in thinning suds,
combing for straggling flatware,
which might suggest something poetic
about the correspondence of the elements
or, when you think about it, the extraordinary
capacity of the workaday to anchor
and unmoor us.

X
Faith is a Suitcase

You’ve lugged it
down narrow aisles,
hoisted and stowed it overhead
with the ersatz pillows,

leaned on it
during the layover, dozed,
head nodding like a monk at prayer.

Hello split seam, wonky wheel.
Who wouldn’t blame the gorilla?

Locked, key lost.  It waits
in the corner of the room
like an agèd aunt.

X
Ativan

Fleck of wherewithal.  Just
to have it in a tiny faux-
abalone box, to know you can
lift it with a licked pinkie,
if required.  Bitter
plaster-of-Paris smear
under the tongue
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxXxbecause
the mind’s default is flee
and your baby’s lumbar puncture
is scheduled for 2:30.  Necessity
and consent
in a slow dissolve.
Not so much a buffer
as the strength to stand
beside the hospital bed
and be two of the hands
holding him for the needle’s kiss.

Descent

My baby was still nursing, and I’d lean over
the bed’s steel rails to give him the breast,
let him twist his fingers in my hair until he slept
anchored by electrodes, gauze bonnet, fat snarl of wires
twisting into a Bob the Builder backpack
that housed the Trackit box near the call switch.
I could not leave the ward though they urged me to
go home, get a shower, change.  At night,
an infrared video camera captured our quiet ballet.

I could not leave, could not leave.  On the third day
I was sent down to the basement,
to the abandoned locker room.
Past the heavy steel door that would not quite close,
I stood under exposed ducts, frazzled fluorescent tubes
in a ship’s bilge. Whiff of mildew, occult drip.
In the dim light I found the one narrow
shower stall, the slick edge
of the torn plastic curtain, pulled it back.

No one to hear me.  My baby
lay in a bed flights up, electrodes
pasted to his scalp, helmeted in gauze.
I stripped, hung my milk-sour track suit
and hospital towel on a hook, stepped over the lip
onto a flattened shopping bag spread like a lily pad
on the blackened grout, institutional-green tiles.
The first cold water,
my baptism.

—Susan Elmslie

x
Susan Elmslie is a poet and college (CEGEP) professor of English and Creative Writing in Montreal. Her collection I, Nadja, and Other Poems (Brick, 2006) won the A. M. Klein Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the McAuslan First Book Prize, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and a ReLit Award. Her poems have appeared in several journals and anthologies—including the Best Canadian Poetry in English (2008, 2015)—and in a prize-winning chapbook. Susan has been a Hawthornden Poetry Fellow and has read her poems in translation for the series curated by Guy Cloutier for Les poètes de l’Amérique française. A first-prize winner in the Arc Poem of the Year contest, Susan has been longlisted and shortlisted for other national and international poetry contests. Her book Museum of Kindness is forthcoming with Brick (Fall 2017).

x
x

Mar 102017
 

Fleda Brown

We’ve published poems and essays by Fleda Brown before, but this is something special, an apotheosis of sorts. Thursday, March 16, 5-7 pm, she’ll launch The Woods Are on Fire: New & Selected Poems at the Corner Loft in Traverse City, Michigan. The book contains 20 poems selected from seven earlier books plus 48 new poems and comes out with the University of Nebrasks Press in its Ted Kooser Contemporary Poetry series. The eminent Ted Kooser himself wrote the introduction.

x
Fleda Brown book cover image
The Woods are on Fire: New and Selected Poems
Fleda Brown; Introduction by Ted Kooser
University of Nebraska Press, 2017
Paperback, $19.95
978-0-8032-9494-3

x

The Winner of the Art Prize

Is a 15-foot quilted forest scene
hundreds of trillium from puffily
quilted at one end to sewn-on
tatters at the other. I was saying
I don’t understand the bombs
that blow off the heads of children
and soldiers how bombs can be
expelled from their casings
with a rapture by rapture I mean
the desire to ignite and whether
this is evil or springtime-mechanized-
outsourced-multiplied-stretched
unto exhaustion. Jerry’s back
has seized up electrodes have been
fastened to various locations
to repeatedly fire to wear out
the muscles so they might return
to their previous pattern except
new pains keep coming seedlings
edging up from the dark white blasts
of trillium a natural law. Odysseus
returns after Troy, after the Cyclops,
the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis
the bloody heads of his crew their
bodies eaten or lost at sea Odysseus
after twenty years returns to Penelope
sword unsheathed suitors slain
even old Laertes murders all around
as if peace is death in other words
so what I don’t get is the quilt how
those thousands of tiny piercings
and piecings for weeks and months
when you stand back mean a forest
serene sun-dappled flowered.

x

Burial

—for Thomas Lynch, undertaker

You’re right, it’s good to have a body
in state, satin-surround, to kiss the face,
open the ground, see how it is with all
of us, how it was with my classmate
Frank who died of measles, his pillowed
freckles dark and done.
Good, the blatant coffin, the procession,
the undertaker, the taking under.
To turn a body to ash—I can see how
it flies in the face of full-on facing
how slow the earth means to be.
XXXXXJack, however, yesterday opened
a tiny wooden box and dropped
Nancy’s ashes in a hole. We each spaded
in loose dirt. What ashes were left,
that is, after he’d launched most of them
in the lake: an advantage,
to unhouse ourselves fast and float
where we will, lonely, maybe, without
even the worm’s witness, but delicately
dispersed.
XXXXXI’m thinking, though, of the gar
my uncle Dick dropped in a planting hole,
the huge white pine that peaked thirty feet
above the rest, the legend of that lain
at the foot of the tree, what one
hands the other by way of heft, the air
ponderous with it all these
eighty years.

X

Not Dying

He says he wakes and it feels momentarily
like he’s finally dying, a giving way, a sinking
or hovering, can’t say, but momentary: a window swung
open you don’t realize until a breeze.

I take him for a ride along the tongue
of land, west looking east, looking back at the city
from a point. Jet trails. He points them out, strung
like necklaces, one fresh, with its glint out front.

We talk glaciers how they stuttered and glinted
down Michigan, pools for each pause,
those excellent lapses. And branches bare because
the trees are all dead, he says, forgetting the time of year.

No, I say, dormant. Road hum. Ducks with their flawless wake.
It hurts to turn his head. I slow and turn. Each new thing
needs to be dead center, unencumbered. The names:
mallard, jet trail, Power Island. Boat slips claim

blank water breathing in their hollows. He says it feels
like dying, he says it as if he had been lit up from the inside,
a room waiting, a waiting room. Not an ordeal,
but road hum and light.

At night the aides come by. One kisses him goodnight
on the lips, he says. Where? The lips. He smiles
as if he’s gotten away with something. He’s miles
away, a faint agreeable aftertaste. Nothing he can describe.

X

Too Much Going Wrong

I want to quit thinking about
trouble and instead praise
the cars moving exactly right
along the curved roadway, not
bumping each other or the curb.
Days that were thick and watery,
everything at its summer: gerbil,
peanut butter, tippy-cup, days
that started over and over
and were still small as a VW
with its hard shocks and no
seat belts and you beside me
in the Infant Seat made of wire
and plastic and facing forward,
held down by nothing yet
at the intersections my arm
flew out to hold you back
so that nothing would happen
while everything was happening.
Sheets on the line, diapers tumbled
at the Laundromat for softness,
and in the mirror, Look, you found
yourself and me, hair and tongue,
the most delightful shapes,
words just beginning, slobber
and drool as if the universe had
thought this up, in particular,
and showed us as if in a dream
and we dreamed our way, through
nights and days, without crashing,
and inside the car the sweet
music and the small feet
bouncing up and down.

—Fleda Brown

x
Fleda Brown has published nine collections of poems. Her newest book, The Woods Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems, from U. of Nebraska Press, in the Ted Kooser Contemporary Poetry Series, is just out. Her memoir, My Wobbly Bicycle: Cancer and the Creative Life, came out in 2016. She is professor emerita at the University of Delaware and was poet laureate of Delaware from 2001 to 2007. She now lives with her husband, Jerry Beasley, in Traverse City, Michigan. She is on the faculty of the Rainier Writing Workshop, a low-residency MFA program in Tacoma, Washington.

x
x

Mar 092017
 

agustin-fernandez-mallo-by-aina-lorente-solivellas-500pxAgustín Fernández Mallo (Photo by Aina Lorente Solivellas)

.

From Joan Fontaine Odisea

4.

A created thing is more perfect
the less it carries the mark of man,

thank you, Bar Code, for still guaranteeing silence,
the ingredient in objects alchemy was searching for.

Underneath this skin is another skin,
and under that another, and another, and another,
and thus, as many layers as you like, until n∊N→∞
antecenter of the center which is finite.
That center is the mask.

[the week has 8 Mondays. The 8th is the week]

.

4.1

This beach is one I don’t recognize. A bottle moves
closer in to shore with the message afmallo@hotmail.com, which
I myself wrote when I was a capsized drifter
and I didn’t throw messages into the ocean but into rivers
which
[I didn’t know] goe out to the see whiche is deeth.
You spread out pure,
unoxidized,
unwinged.
On beaches you’ve never walked you now step upon yourself.

.

5.

The ball traces a parabolic arc and
the golfer matches its arpeggio with her back.

The sky tenses and her breasts,
more mercury than ever, complete the silhouette
against the ocean of grass.
……………………………….It’s raining
against the grain.

The water’s geometry can’t overcome
the dry thwack of silence when the atmosphere gasps and the ball touches
….down.
Sphere against sphere. Your nipples
[endless and expectant] turn down, the windows
of a beach hotel in winter.
……………………[a car honks, your husband’s waiting].
No caddie could ever
pick your clubs like me.

.

5.1

Light at dawn undoes the knots
on bowties, cuts through the make-up,
dissolves smoke and happy new year!s
in that hollowness that lasts a few hours
when the calendar shifts a digit.
………..I surprise myself thinking one day I’ll be an ancestor.
You come in pulling on a bra strap, oblivious
to the black and white confetti stuck to brittle hair,
I want you to know that tonight is my birth, you say,
and I won’t be able to forget you.
In that house we were all
terminal mannequins from Golpes Bajos,
material from childhood [where nothing ever happens
and you have to make it up].
Creation and Apocalypse sometimes coincide.

.

5.1.1

The point of remembering is forgetting
oneself, making the heart into
a weathered magnet that leaves
things equidistant from each other,
…………………….spinning
…………………….in their places,
the point is not to try to find out
where the sliver of light under
doors is coming from,
or the sliver of light between your lips.

.

14.

At the end I saw my body empty out
………..[1.83 m in 64 kilos]
a pencil with no lead you joked
Saturday afternoons
and Antonio Vega was playing:
I get a chill when I see
your young body and your soul
isn’t in its place anymore.

A suitcase with no destination
is a suspicious object.
A body with no shape
………..[1.83 m for 64 kilos]
is the axis around which
a traveler spins, awkward and pointless,
never my guest again.

.

14.1

I look at your smile and I think
all lyric poetry expresses loss.
A child doesn’t write verse,
a diet of memory still hasn’t
passed through him, they still
haven’t shuttered
his local Toys Я Us.

.

70.

The first light of day doesn’t stop the night,
it keeps on weary in another
more visible and secret sector.
…………[grass between asphalt cracks,
…………ice on the edge of a kiss,
…………the implosion of planets,
…………the silence of objects].

What you’re seeing isn’t morning,
but the logical opponent of night
produced by binary reasoning,

to wake up is to be reduced to photons,
center and stop-point
of that other nocturnal particle which is sleep
sectioned into petals.
And they fall.

.

From Ya nadie se llamará como yo


I see a forest and something more alive inside (prayer)

…………An indeterminate being wanders through the valleys, howls on the peaks, sleeps beneath the snow, its tracks take on different directions all the time. Nonetheless, it senses the Earth’s magnetic field. I know because its footsteps follow the veins of certain minerals. (Cardiology)

I see a forest and something more alive inside.

…………The cells of the retina are the same as those of the skin because when we are embryos the retina is part of the skin. This gives us a clue as to why the literature of every civilization develops a multiplicity of analogies between the eyes, the epidermis, and that which unites them, light. (Great Migrations, 1)

I see a forest and something more alive inside.

…………The wolf rejects us because he knows that in his chest there is an area, no larger than the pit of a cherry, which is incredibly sweet to a palate we believe we have forgotten. (Zoophilia, 1)

I see a forest and something more alive inside.

…………In a big-box store I saw kids playing with balls from the display stand, pedaling around and ditching the bike wherever they felt like it, jumping rope, hitting punching bags with no rhythm; the ones who weren’t yelling were laughing. “These kids here have grown up inside, they don’t know anything else,” he said to me. (Foundational Moments, 1)

I see a forest and something more alive inside.

…………The hardcourt used for the game of tennis is obtained by crushing thousands of bricks taken from abandoned housing developments. (Great Migrations, 2)

I see a forest and something more alive inside.

…………Animals pose in front of the camera lens but not because they feel they are being watched. The pose is older than their looks, even older than their bodies. The pose is blind, but it sniffs, it finds its way. (Speleology, 1)

I see a forest and something more alive inside.

…………In rural areas Nature is strictly separated from the human habitat: specialized physical and climactic barriers are erected between the home and open country to ensure survival. In cities, the urban landscape forms a continuum with the buildings’ interiors, the city enters its apartments in the form of colors, smells, materials, and even flora and fauna. This continuity is what ensures the survival of the inhabitants of an urban space. (Extreme Climatology, 1)

I see a forest and something more alive inside.

…………In me there is no body: I am a ship travelling in the same direction as Earth. (Pet, 1)

I see a forest and something more alive inside.

…………Regarding the ancients and their languages, now dead, we must remember that we only retain their texts, the writings they’ve left us, not the sonic record, and so we have no idea how they pronounced their words. If today we could hear a Greek from the 4th century B.C. pronounce poiesis, or a Roman say rosae, it’s possible we would hear what would, for us, be grunts or birdsong. Just thinking of Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra spouting out sounds like a dog barking, or a whale or a robot, produces a kind of shiver that could knock down a good portion of our idea of History, or even of civilization. What’s left to us is the mute materiality of that writing, and we make up a sonic landscape for ourselves, built as a fantasy. Thus, the only thing that truly brings back the past in real time is sound. That’s why voices are so important for the paranormal, for spiritualists, in live concerts, political rallies, etc. The oldest recorded human voice is a 35-second recitation of the poem, “America,” read in 1890 by its author, Walt Whitman, and recorded on a primitive wax cylinder. 35 seconds which not only seem to bring the poet to us from beyond the grave, but which also establish year zero of human speech such as we know it today. (Spring, 1)

I see a forest and something more alive inside..

—Agustín Fernández Mallo, translated by Zachary Rockwell Ludington

.

Agustín Fernández Mallo was born in La Coruña in 1967. He is a qualified physicist and since 2000 has been collaborating with various cultural publications in order to highlight the connection between art and science. His Nocilla Trilogy, published between 2006 and 2009, brought about an important shift in contemporary Spanish writing and paved the way for the birth of a new generation of authors, known as the ‘Nocilla Generation.’ He has also published a book of stories, El hacedor (de Borges), remake, and the essay Postpoesía, hacia un nuevo paradigma. His poetry is collected in the volume Yanadie se llamará como yo + Poesía reunida (1998–2012), and his latest novel, Limbo, was published in Spain in 2014.

Zachary Rockwell Ludington teaches Spanish at Emory University in Atlanta. He received an award in 2014 from the PEN/Heim Translation Fund for Pixel Flesh, his version of Agustín Fernández Mallo’s Carne de píxel. His creative work has appeared in Drunken Boat, PEN America, and elsewhere.

.
.

Mar 042017
 

maura-stanton-500px

.
Fog Walker

…….misread rain blurred flyer

Trust me. I’m one who loves all fogs—
misty, yellow, blue, rolling or grey—
I’ll walk your fog down busy thoroughfares
at any hour, clean up its wet messes,
pull it away from streetlamps and hydrants
but let it sniff around in the shrubbery
or blow its light breath against a window.
Some of the shaggy ones like to lumber ahead,
while others twine and shiver around my ankles.
Some squat stubbornly on lawns, others gallop
so I have to run to catch up with them.
I’m experienced. I’ve chased the big ones
rolling down mountain valleys, or huffing ashore
to slobber a coastline. I like the challenge
of herding something that doesn’t have a shape,
that lets me step right through its middle
and walk inside it instead of beside it.
I used to live down in my parents’ basement
playing video games for hours but now I’m out
in the damp air with my wispy charges
floating around me, obscuring the treetops
or stretching themselves across a ravine.
Tear off my phone number from the bottom.
For a small fee, I’ll also feed your fog
so while you’re at work it won’t get anxious
roaming your apartment stripped to the basics
since your ex-wife left with the two kids.
Stay in your cubicle, eat another doughnut.
I’ll walk your fog until it gets so weary
it barely billows over the park’s swing set
where you used to push your kids on weekends.
I work all hours, but I prefer the dawn.
You’ll hear me out there with my jingling leash
tugging at dangerous fogs that loom and rush
across the country roads where drivers speed.

.

Crooked Ruler

This ruler’s crooked—see!
It’s thin warped wood.
Lie it flat—no matter—
The line I draw is curved.

I plucked it from a bin
full of look-a-like rulers
so I could draw some columns
down the edge of a budget

and now I’m stuck with it.
Bold inches mark one side,
while centimeters like eyelashes
are painted on the other.

I could snap it in two pieces
but maybe I’ll adjust.
Inch by inch you can’t tell
and it measures scantlings.

It’s only wrong by the foot—
when you try for a straight line
you’ll end up with an orbit
pulling you out of plumb

like a promising politician
harmless as a candidate
whose trajectory turns oblique
once voted into office.

.

Dr. Griffitt’s Ginkgo

Andersonville Prison Camp, Georgia

What was that slender tree, the leaves aglow
And rustling through the stench like ladies’ fans?
He nursed the Union soldiers starving in rows–
Slopped gruel against parched lips, held dying hands.

Marched out beyond the palisade, his wrists
Roped, his ankles chained, he gaped, amazed
At the golden tree, how it managed to persist,
Its bright leaves glittering through the smoky haze.

Untied to shovel clay for the mass grave,
He stooped for a leaf. The guard’s whip burned.
He vowed–if he survived–someday to return
And thank the tree for the fierce way it gave

Him hope that the unlikely might be true—
You could flourish even here, eat shit, drink dew.

.

Roses in the Rain

All night the roses
Delivered too late
Held their poses
Under the lightweight
Florist wrap.
Left by the door
After a brief rap
That everyone swore
They hadn’t heard,
The roses I sent
Could speak no word
Of sentiment
As they grew chill
On the front stoop
While my mother, ill,
Sipped her hot soup
And the cat on her bed,
That heard the rap,
Curled back in the spread
To finish his nap,
And my sisters whirled
Out the back way,
Umbrellas unfurled
For the cold, dark day.

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Shadow Tissue

……….for Sharon

My sister finds a note pinned to her door
and tries to puzzle out handwritten words
part French, part English. She knows it’s a complaint.
But shadow tissue? That phrase is English.
She shows the note to waiters who just shrug.
No help from dictionaries so she tweets,
and followers love it, this shadow tissue.
It glows on screens, and slips into the mouth—
some like to whisper it on long commutes.
And isn’t it better not to understand?
Think sea foam, think clouds over the sea,
think the ineffable—that’s shadow tissue.

At last the note writer knocks on the door
and points to shadow tissue. It’s the awning.
The rain runs down the faded, striped canvas,
wetting the neighbor’s terrace just below
whenever it’s unrolled after a storm. . .
“please be careful opening shadow tissue.”
My sister agrees, and now that she’s back home,
she tells me her story about shadow tissue,
how she still loves the phrase—shorn of mystery.

But no, here it is, she’s passed it on to me,
light as a cloak stored inside a thimble,
a substance so right and strange that I tremble
as I unfold shadow tissue like a scientist
about to discover one of nature’s secrets.
How lovely, I think, as it flutters up
and drifts across the room in light-filled waves,
for this is surely the meaning of meaning,
shadow tissue, what it all comes down to—
if I can only grasp how it’s put together,
these shining lengths, these gauzy swatches,
so definite, yet impossible to wear.

—Maura Stanton

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Maura Stanton’s first book of poetry, Snow On Snow, was selected by Stanley Kunitz for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award and published in 1975. She has published five other books of poetry, Cries of Swimmers (Utah 1984), Tales of the Supernatural (Godine 1988), Life Among the Trolls (Carnegie Mellon 1998), Glacier Wine (Carnegie Mellon 2002) and Immortal Sofa (University of Illinois 2008), as well as a novel and three books of short stories. Her poems and stories have appeared in Southwest Review, Antioch Review, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, New England Review, River Styx, American Poetry Review, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review and many other magazines and anthologies. She has won two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, an O’Henry Award, the Supernatural Fiction Award from TheGhostStory.com and the Nelson Algren Award from The Chicago Tribune. Her poems have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac, Poetry Daily and the BBC radio program Words and Music. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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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

x

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.

x

x

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.

x

x

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.

x

x

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
x

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Jan 132017
 

Marjan StrojanMarjan Strojan

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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

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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.

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Jan 112017
 

stuart-barnes-480pxPhoto credit: Leigh Backhouse

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stuart-barnes-book-cover-380px

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’

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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.

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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

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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

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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’

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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 …

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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.

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—Stuart Barnes

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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.

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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

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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.

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Jan 092017
 

alison-prine

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Jan 062017
 

kathy-fagan

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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