Aug 152016

allan cooperAllan Cooper


In 1974 I found Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, translated by Stephen Garmey and Jay Wilson. I was twenty and had just begun my first real attempts at writing poetry. I was insecure and hesitant about my own work. What if I couldn’t write? What if my idea of becoming a poet was a sham? I was encouraged by these lines in the Fourth Elegy:

….Look, I’m here, waiting.
And even if the lights are turned down, and someone says
“There’s no more, that’s it”–even if the emptiness
flows toward me like a grey breeze from the stage,
and none of my ancestors
sit beside me anymore, no women,
not even the young boy with the brown squinting eyes–
I’ll stay. I can always watch.

Or I can always read. So I decided to read as much poetry as I could. I searched out North and South American, European, Chinese, and Japanese poets to see if I could  develop a voice that could carry the kinds of images and insights that I found in Rilke’s work.

During the fall of 1975, the Canadian poet John Thompson and I had several long discussions about Rilke. He encouraged me to write English versions of some of Rilke’s shorter poems to see what they looked like. I tried two or three and took them back to Thompson. He liked some of the lines, made several suggestions, and the exercise slowly helped me with my own poems. But for years Rilke haunted me, especially the Duino Elegies. At times, reading various translations was like looking down into roiled ocean water and seeing something moving beneath, but nothing was clear.

It seems to me that the Elegies were something entirely new in the canon of literature, as Tom Thomson’s paintings of Algonquin Park were new to visual art, or Pablo Casals’ interpretations of the Bach Cello Suites were new and astonishing in the canon of musical performance. One of the great risks of translating Rilke, especially the Elegies, is that it’s tempting to bring in the “ohs” and “ahs” and embellishments of the original, but we don’t speak that way anymore. One question that dogged me was what Rilke would sound like if he were writing now. So I began translating Rilke with a contemporary English voice in mind.

The themes of the Elegies are immense and often personal. There are passages in the Elegies either addressed to or about his mother and father that are as moving as anything I have read. He praises the things of the world, cathedrals, children, heroes, young women, animals, catkins, mountain springs, and that list in the Ninth Elegy:

…perhaps we’re here to name things, to say house,
bridge, fountain, wooden gate, water pitcher, apple tree, window–
at the most pillar, tower… But understand, to say them
in such a way that the things themselves
would never think of. Isn’t the secret purpose
of this coy earth to urge lovers on
so that they leap inside with ecstasy?

Rilke’s friend, the pianist Magda Von Hattingberg, said she felt there was a certain dislike of simple joys in the Elegies, but I don’t believe this is the case. In the Ninth Elegy he says we’re here to praise, to transform, to be alive in this world:

Praise this world; don’t try to tell an angel what can’t be said….
Show him how joyful and innocent a thing can be; show him
how much it is ours, how much sorrow and grief become pure
in the end, serve as something, or die into something, and blissfully
escape beyond the sound of the violin. And these things of the world
that live only a short time know that you’re praising them…

Or this the passage from the Seventh Elegy:

To be here is marvellous. Even you young girls
sensed it, you who had nothing, who seemed to sink down
into the filth of city streets, the garbage festering,
open, on display. You had an hour, maybe less, that small
space between two moments when you felt
completely here, your veins filled with being alive.
But we forget so quickly what a laughing neighbour
neither confirms nor envies in us. We want to hold it up
and show it, but even our most visible joy can only reveal itself
when it’s transformed completely inside.

I don’t pretend to understand everything that Rilke says in the Duino Elegies, but working on the poems daily for many months has given me new insights. They feel like long letters to us, letters about what it’s like to live and love and die on this planet. I think of them now as letters to the universe.


The Fourth Elegy

Living trees, when do you sense the coming of winter?
We’re not in touch; we don’t have that instinct
the birds feel in autumn. Late, at the last minute
we coax ourselves onto the wind
and fall abruptly into a cold, indifferent pond.
We’re conscious of the blossoming and the withering
at the same time. And somewhere lions are roaming,
unaware of any weakness in them.

And we, who try to focus on one thing,
already feel the lure of another. That conflict
is part of who we are. Don’t lovers
always find the limits of each other?–
although they promised
a certain space, to pursue bliss, to find a sense of home?
They prepare a quick sketch of the other side,
a sort of background of pain
to help us see them, to make
themselves clear. And we don’t even understand
the contours of our own feelings,
only what forms them from outside.
Who hasn’t stood at the curtains of their own heart, shaking?
And when they rose, it was the landscape of goodbye.
That’s easy enough to understand. A familiar garden,
moving slightly in wind. And then a dancer stepped forward.
It wasn’t the beloved. No matter how lightly he danced
he was someone else, a carpenter coming home through the kitchen.
No, a puppet is better. At least it’s complete. I can stand
the limp body, the wires, the face
that’s almost expressionless. Look, I’m here, waiting.
And even if the lights are turned down, and someone says
“There’s no more, that’s it”–even if the emptiness
flows toward me like a grey breeze from the stage,
and none of my ancestors
sit beside me anymore, no women,
not even the young boy with the brown squinting eyes–
I’ll stay. I can always watch.

Am I right? Father, didn’t your life
taste bitter after you’d tasted mine,
the first distillation of what I had to do,
and you kept tasting as I kept growing,
and you, troubled by the aftertaste
of such a strange destiny, tested my lofty vision.
And you, my father, who since you died
I’ve held so often inside me, in my wishes and dreams,
you, concerned and afraid for me,
traded some of the tranquility the dead own,
their kingdoms, for my grain of destiny,
am I right? And all of you
who loved me from the beginning
of my love for you, a love I turned away from,
because when I loved you, the distance in your face
turned into something infinite,
and you were gone… When I’m moved by it
I stand in front of the puppet stage,
or stare at it so intensely an angel appears
to counter-balance my seeing
and make those limp bodies come alive.
An angel and a puppet: now we have a play.
Then the separation created simply by our presence
can come together again. And at last, out of the seasons
of our lives the cycle of everything is transformed. Above us
and beyond us an angel is playing. If no one else feels it,
at least the dying must sense how pretentious
our accomplishments are here.
We won’t let anything be what it is. What I wouldn’t give
for those hours of childhood, when everything was more
than a memory, and what opened out in front of us wasn’t the future.
Our bodies were changing–we felt that–and sometimes
we were in a hurry to grow up, just to please those
who had nothing to show for having grown up.
And yet when we played alone, we were delighted
by what never changed, and we stood in that place
between the world and our toys,
a place where a pure event had been waiting to happen
from the very beginning.

Who can show a child exactly as she is?
Who will place her like a star, and put the yardstick
of immense distances in her hand? Who will make a child’s death
from grey bread, which grows hard, or leave it
inside her round mouth like the core
of a shining apple? What moves a man to murder
is easy to understand. But death,
all of it, completely, even before
our lives have really begun, to hold it gently and not be bitter–
we don’t have the words to describe this yet.


The Seventh Elegy

This wooing, this courtship won’t be part of your nature anymore,
for your voice has outgrown it. Now your cry is as pure as a warbler’s song
when the abundance of spring lifts him up, and he almost forgets
he’s a small, fretful, anxious thing, not this complete heart
thrown into the clear light of a deep and limitless sky. Like him
you would court the silent one you love,
and she’d begin to feel you, still invisible to her,
and some reply would wake inside her, almost a kind of inner listening.

Even the spring understands this–there’s no place
that wouldn’t carry the sound of your announcement. The first
short questioning notes, and the day, pure, affirms it
and shelters it with more and more silence.
Then the song goes higher and higher, up a stairway of notes
to that dream temple of the future; a trill, a warble, a fountain of notes
that in their rising already know they will fall,
for this is a play of promises… And the summer still to come.

Not only those summer mornings, and the first light breaking,
but the way the light changes and opens up the day;
not only the day, gentle around blossoms,
and the shapes of trees, so solid and strong;
not only the intensity of this unfolding power,
light touching the forest paths, the dusky meadows;
not only the rolling thunder at night, and the air clearing;
then near sleep, and some premonition you finally understood…
But the nights themselves, high summer nights,
and the stars of this earth.
And when you die, to understand that those stars are infinite:
this is something you will never forget.

Look, I’ve called out to the one I love. But she wouldn’t be the only one
who would come. Young women would rise from their insubstantial graves
and stand here. For once you call out, how can you put a limit
on the depth of your cry? The dead are always longing
for the earth again. When children feel something completely
it’s enough to last them for the rest of their lives.
For our destiny is nothing more than the closeness we felt as children.
How often you outdistanced the one you loved
as you ran blissfully, breathing quickly, into the open spaces.

To be here is marvellous. Even you young girls
sensed it, you who had nothing, who seemed to sink down
into the filth of the city streets, the garbage festering,
open, on display. You had an hour, maybe less, that small
space between two moments when you felt
completely here, your veins filled with being alive.
But we forget so quickly what a laughing neighbour
neither confirms nor envies in us. We want to hold it up
and show it, but even our most visible joy can only reveal itself
when it’s transformed completely inside.

Beloved one, the world only exists inside us.
We spend our lives transforming it, and the world outside us
slowly disappears. And where a house once stood
we create an image of that house inside us, board
by board, as if it were still there, complete, in the imagination.
The spirit of our age has built immense reservoirs of power, shapeless
as the intense emotions it draws from everything.
Temples and all sacred places mean nothing. And where one
remains, where we worshipped, and kneeled and prayed,
it lives on in the invisible world.
We can’t see them yet, we
can’t find them inside us, those pillars and columns
that could be so much greater now.

Each hollow change in the world has its forgotten ones,
who don’t belong to the past and aren’t a part of the future.
For even what is closest to them seems distant.
This shouldn’t confuse us, but make us stronger
in our labour to preserve those forms we still recognize.
Once they stood among us, in the middle of a destiny
that slowly destroys things, in the middle
of what we don’t understand; endured there, and made the stars
bow down from the protective heavens. Angel,
this is what I have to show you: it’s in your gaze,
saved at last, rescued, standing there,
those columns, sacred gateways, the sphinx,
the grey domes of cathedrals thrusting up from a strange city.

Angel, wasn’t it a miracle? Be astonished, great one, for this
is what we are. Tell them what we accomplished here; my breath
is too short to praise it. So in the end we didn’t neglect
our abundant allotment, this world space
which is ours alone. (And how terrifyingly immense
that space must be, which hasn’t overflowed
with our feelings after thousands and thousands of years.)
Wasn’t a tower magnificent,
even compared to you? And Chartres was immense, and the music
reached even higher and transcended us. But even
a young woman in love, alone at night by her window,
didn’t she reach almost to your knee?
Angel, don’t think
I’m wooing you, and even if I were, you wouldn’t appear. For my
call is always filled with leaving, and you couldn’t move against
the strength of that current. My call is like an arm stretched out
to hold you back. And my open hand, as if reaching up
to grasp something, defending and warning
at the same time, is something
you will never understand.


The Ninth Elegy

Why, if the rest of our lives could be spent as quietly
as the laurel tree, a darker green than all
the other trees, with small curves on the edges
of every leaf (like a wind’s smile)–why do we
try to escape our human fate,
and yet long for it…
Oh not because of happiness,
that quick profit we take just before the coming loss.
Not out of curiosity, or to give the heart practice,
which the laurel tree already feels as well…

But because being truly alive is difficult: because the fleeting
things of the world need us, and in a strange way
call out to us. And we’re the most fleeting of all.
Each living thing is here once, that’s it. And we
live once. But to have been here
once, completely alive here–
to have been a part of this world–nothing can take that away.

And so we’re driven to achieve it.
We try to hold it in our simple hands,
in our overcrowded seeing, in our heart which is speechless.
We try to become the world. But who would we give it to? We’d
hold onto it forever…But then what could we take with us
to the other side? Not our seeing, that we learned so slowly,
and nothing that happened here. Not one thing.
Perhaps pain then, and the heaviness of life,
and love that lasted a long time;
and what can’t be said. But later, beneath the stars,
what would we say? There are things better left unspoken.
The wanderer doesn’t bring a handful of earth from the mountain
to the valley, or what can’t be said, but the pure word, the intense blue
gentian. Perhaps we’re here to name things, to say house,
bridge, fountain, wooden gate, water pitcher, apple tree, window–
at the most pillar, tower… But understand, to say them
in such a way that the things themselves
would never think of. Isn’t the secret purpose
of this coy earth to urge lovers on,
so that they leap inside with ecstasy?
How much a threshold means
to two lovers, who wear down their own
threshold, like those who came before them,
and those who are yet to come…light as can be.

This is the hour to say things, and this is its home.
Say it now. For now more than ever
the things of this world are falling away from us,
and in their place there are acts without images,
acts like shells that crack open
as soon as what is inside outgrows it and takes on a new form.
Despite the hammering of our heart,
the heart lives on; and though our tongue is clenched
between our teeth, it continues to praise.

Praise this world; don’t try to tell an angel what can’t be said.
You can’t impress him with your grand emotions. In the universe
he feels more and more, and you are just a beginner. Show him
some simple thing which, passed down over generations,
lives on in our hands and our eyes.
Tell him about things. He’ll be astonished, as you were
standing by the rope maker in Rome, or the potter beside the Nile.
Show him how joyful and innocent a thing can be; show him
how much it is ours, how much sorrow and grief become pure
in the end, serve as something, or die into something, and blissfully
escape beyond the sound of the violin. And these things of the world
that live only a short time know that you’re praising them;
transients, they want us to preserve them, and we’re the most transient
of all. They want us to take them inside our invisible hearts
and transform them into ourselves–whatever it is we finally are.

Earth, in the end, isn’t this what you want: to rise inside us
invisibly? Isn’t your dream
to be completely invisible one day? The earth, invisible!
Isn’t your urgent message to be transformed?
Earth, dearest one, I’ll do it. You don’t need to show me
anymore spring times to win me over; just one
is more than my blood can take.
I’ve belonged to you from the beginning, without saying a word.
You’ve always been right, and your inspiration has always been death,
that friend, that companion.

Look, I’m alive, but what feeds me? Neither my childhood
nor the future grows any less… an infinite presence
rises from my heart.

—Rainer Maria Rilke introduced & translated by Allan Cooper

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.



Aug 142016

Susan Gillis photo by Alexandra PasianAuthor photo by Alexandra Pasian.


Yellow Crane

These cold blue dusky mornings, softly cloudy up high, the comfortable rolling of tires on pavement like sighs, the crane on the St. Patrick building site quiet, underlit by a harsh industrial light.

Across the rooftops, lights over the freeway like a small village.

Everything’s bare but for the yellow shrubs overhanging the low wooden fence between the parking lots. Sidewalks and gutters are papered with a mash of leaves.

The dawn sky darkens toward winter, closes in on the busy glare, closes it up inside a spun shell like a wasp’s nest.

At 6.30 precisely the crane swings around through all the compass points, comes to settle pointing west.

How I would like to find that panel in my heart that opens, and open it.


What’s that gentle tapping below the shush of tires, as though at great distance?

                        That’s Vlad with his hammer, building the concrete forms.

What’s that small vibration grinding in my bones?

                        That’s the truck hauling girders slowing down outside your window.

What’s that hot musk like a skunk in a corner?

                        That’s what they dug up when they first broke ground.

What’s that tang behind my teeth after coffee?

                        That’s the yellow crane swinging back and forth above the maple crowns.

What’s that form racing toward me in the sky, looking so much like a cloud?

                        That’s a cloud, a dark cloud, just as it seems. Look how it glows, violet and gold, like the inside of the quietest room.


Behind and above the yellow crane
the sky is an almost uniform grey
streaked with lighter bits,
messy and thick like putty.

Not a cloud I’d want to lose my head in.

The longer I look, though, the more it seems
that cloud is all that’s in my head

and the crane’s yellow arm
is what I lean on when I lean
into the place that had just been view.


A large room where a lot of people were having casual sex, not hot really, just sort of nice, before the earthquake and the building falling in.

Waking to the whole building shaking and the fear of it really happening, an earthquake or the building falling in. People in the building across the street grabbing things and dashing outside in underwear.

I hunkered in a corner. No one knew what to do.

Waking from that to nothing, no panicky people, just morning light catching the yellow crane three blocks away and a kind of helpless relief.

The crane is pivoting. When it stops and points east, it looks like it’s pointing up toward the sun. As it swings south the angle seems to change, though once it passes it’s clear from where I lie that it’s on the level.

Hurrying past the building site I find the wrong glasses in my case, turn to say something friendly to someone who’s not my friend, who hurries past me toward a young woman who is waiting, clearly in love. An octopus swims through the unfinished rooms, bruised purplish tentacles emerging from the window holes.

The life of the imagination—would you choose it over the life of the mind?

What would you do, waking to the dawn sky in the mirror brighter than the same sky outside?


As though winter had permeated these objects,

morning light and the coming storm animating,
galvanizing them,

the crane’s short arm, the counterweight hanging from it

each ready for its action to begin, light

sliding along the yellow steel,
pinging off every bolt and join,
blistering, magnifying

the flat grey weight that holds everything steady
like a great square moon maintaining a distance,
always the same distance, light

bouncing into the filigree of leafless trees, dropping,
dropping, brightening as it drops
so I forget the storm gathering there.

In the mirror in front of my window
a man moves down a set of porch stairs in shadow,
small, backwards, behind my building,
a rogue villager lifted from a Renaissance tableau.

One hand slides along the rail as he descends.
The other drags a shiny plastic bag

swollen at the bottom, a bouquet in reverse,

the sky white,
the storm imminent.


They rest lightly on the invisible floor, these clouds
glowing with inner buoyancy, grey and glowing with immanence.

All the greys on the grey scale lolling, lightly resting
their porpoise bodies, their eel-selves, weed-strands, bobbling ocean junk.

If all the souls lost at sea this decade stood on each other’s shoulders,
the tycoons, troops, tourists, students, sailors, politicians, pirates, pilots, pets, ……….honeymooners, flight attendants, fishermen, drunkards, divers, criminals, ……….citizens, children

they’d reach the bellies of these clouds, so the one on top
could strike them. Such pearls would spill out! Bright confetti

of lives and portions of lives yet to live would spill down
smothering everything with unspeakable richness.

Instead the world is covered in snow, which returns to the sky
only to fall again, though I beg for plum blossoms

and would settle for feathers. The sky
is thumping us on the head like a stern teacher

from an old book no one reads anymore, shouting
Fools! Have you learned nothing?


Watching the yellow crane, thinking about the book I’ve been reading, excited and unsure, opened by it.

The narrator meets a lovely girl. He says he wishes she could grow up quickly, grow into a girlfriend for his old age.

I close the book. The crane revolves. No: the jib swivels.

I feel the need to walk a little.


The temperature drop is hard on the new foundation plants.

They dwindle and show more stem than the same specimens further down the row.

Look how that rugosa rose throws up hips at dogs and walkers! Sun-warmed as any summer berry, in spite of frost.

Their dry little brown crowns are pointed yet modest. Oh, weren’t we all flowers once? they intimate; bees knew us, your nose knew us, summer breezes too.

We still hold secrets in our gleaming hearts—

What am I saying? Plants don’t speak English.

And they certainly have no interest in me.

How still they are against the concrete wall, the old ones flush, the young ones thin and almost beaten.


I go for a walk, and when I get back, my house is reduced to cobweb.

Young oaks, hurry up and grow into a house for me!


Boom, traveller, plumb, hook, cab – I will miss the yellow crane when the building is finished.

The crane has just lifted a load of steel I-beams and lowered them to a point I can’t see, though I can see the figures of people walking along the roof.

Days close in on a wasp’s nest of days.

Is there a procedure for emptying myself?

As when the sky suddenly empties and resurges toward a storm.


Girl on a Sidewalk Heading towards the Metro in the Rain

burgundy and nylon tangled wetly
across grit and chainlink
a black scurry
half shrouded
many pronged
lost world receptor
instrument of past battles
channelling doyouthinkIgiveafuck

more wind than song
more push than rain


What is so complicated about tenderness? The whole world is wounded.

I opened the curtains at 6.50 a.m. to a rich blue sky flocked with puffball clouds, airy yet firm, dreamy piglets of cloud, the yellow crane over the treetops catching the morning light, its long arm elegant, definitive, reaching northward.

The smell of tea rises together with the clatter of a scrap metal truck passing on the street.

If I am concrete and river, if a direction, which?

“Desire, loneliness, wind in the flowering almond – surely these are the great, the inexhaustible subjects –“

A thing is sliding along the crane. The arm swivels; now it is out of sight.

“The world of dew is the world of dew. And yet, and yet—“

Wash, dress, eat, drive, park, talk, perform, record, return, drive, eat, undress, wash, repeat. Note a few random beauties.

What is “really living,” anyway?

Now that we really are.

Imagine the voice of a salamander.


Turning left onto the main road coming home, the gilded sky
deepening to indigo, there in a gap between buildings

the thin moon, long and keen, low in the sky as a streetlamp,
an open c turned, stretched, a loose hair, a thread of zest.

“To what summoned? And to whom? Blindly” driving somewhere
and it’s holy, isn’t it, to be called like that, drawn by force toward

“the unattainable small valley” past “horizons of woolly haze.”
Then in an instant called from sleep, summoned through the interchange

of dreams. How like yawning,
pulling the curtains open on a fine morning

to cloud radiating up and out from some low point behind buildings,
loud arms tinted pink as cake, holy spokes radiating out from the blind

wound of the railyards, Our Lady of industrial wrack, traffic squall –
Between the glass of my window and the brick, steel and concrete beyond,

panels of light and shadow tilting –
As I stood looking, two pale legs and part of an arm

floated forward in the dim interior across the street, the very clouds
come forward through the city and up the stairs.

And why not? Why not? Why should our bodies not appear
as transient forms? Smoke and nothing, gathered in a moistness.

Apparition with Blue Coffee Mug

Apparition in a Window

Suppose I pass this woman every day on the street and not know her?


When form changes, meaning changes, but my father’s gaze
is my father’s gaze

whether I’m beside him with my hand on his good arm
or just looking at him in a photograph

or catching his grin in the last few leaves of the maple
flashing and waving – “summoned” is a mild word for it.

I reach up to the curtains
and if I’m not careful I’ll pull the whole contraption down.


What’s that tearing I hear in the distance?

                        That’s Vlad, ripping away the forms.

What’s that tremor I feel in my ribs?

                        That’s the jack hammer, ripping away the street.

What’s that hot wave like gas at the pump?

                        That’s the future, spilling over the river.

What’s that thickness gathering under my tongue?

                        That’s the sludge of knowledge and memory, festering in the canal.

What’s that rushing at me from all directions?

                        That’s your life, disguised as traffic. Look how it gathers in morning light like molten glass.


Slowly the canal is returning to life—the stink of algae expands, cyclists appear, dogs trot on leashes, sparrows flower the shrubs along the bank.

Then the gates are opened upstream and the fresh, still-chill water rushes out to meet its ride to the sea.

Half submerged, ballooning, a plastic bag snagged on concrete billows like a sail.

“A rust-coloured sail dragged in the furrow of a wave….”


Evening began to turn everything golden.
My city, though ugly, broken down, grit-whipped, stricken

is also vibrant, shrill in the way summer insects
are shrill, calling out for their lives

and once I pushed through the uglier elements of hatred and fear
I could hear more birds.

As I approached, the skyline grew
bright in front of distant hills, and in front of the skyline

giant screens depicted pixelated towers
multiplexing the future.

Everything so bright!

The people inside them weren’t doing anything
I recognized.

—Susan Gillis

Susan Gillis has published three books of poetry, most recently The Rapids (Brick Books, 2012), and several chapbooks, including The Sky These Days (Thee Hellbox Press, 2015) and Twenty Views of the Lachine Rapids (Gaspereau Press, 2012). Volta (Signature Editions, 2002) won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. She is a member of the collaborative poetry group Yoko’s Dogs, whose work appears regularly in print and online, and is collected in Rhinoceros (Gaspereau Press, 2016) and Whisk (Pedlar Press, 2013). Susan divides her time between Montreal and rural Ontario.


Aug 132016



Night Train to Venice

1. Montepulciano, November 2010

Flawed premise from the start—
an hour to explore in this hill town
before joining Annie,
and I mistook Saint Donato,
buried in Venice, for the Donato
who composed madrigals,
also buried in Venice.
Happy error. Stepping onto
Via di San Donato, I sang what I knew
of ‘All Ye Who Music Love’.~

Singing from the wrong Donato
I headed from the Piazza Grande
down Via Ricci and was stopped
by the sound of sorrow.
In a courtyard of the Palazzo Ricci
a soprano was rehearsing Górecki’s
Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.
Late autumn’s early darkness.
She stopped, started again, practised
ascending grief’s ladder.~

Start off singing a madrigal, return
with words a girl wrote on a wall
of a concentration camp, set to music
by Górecki. I didn’t learn he’d died
until the next day, but lingering
beneath such sadness, I didn’t need
to know. The music
stopped, I walked on,
and the lights in the valley
were candles in a starless church.~

Down Via del Paolino to Via di Collazzi,
where last year we rented a room
with a framed print above the bed
of Piero della Francesca’s
pregnant Madonna, fitting, since I was
trying to celebrate the first birthday
since my mother’s death. I paused
above the valley, recalling
Mother’s teaching me
to make memory scrapbooks,~

then wondered if the Palazzo Ricci
might be connected to The Memory
Palace of Matteo Ricci, a book
I half-recalled about a Jesuit
who taught mnemonics
to his Chinese hosts. It doesn’t matter
that later I found no link, by then
I’d made an outdoor version of Ricci’s
inner palace, linking each street
to the memory of a loved one.~

Ricci’s memory palace was based
on a Greek poet whose works survive
only in fragments. After Simonides
left a drinking party, the building
collapsed, crushing his family
and friends beyond recognition.
Walking past the tables in his mind,
Simonides recalled where each reveller
had been, helping the living reclaim
what there was to reclaim. ~

Since then, waking at night, I often
walk this route in my mind, recalling
loved ones, and if I make it back
to Via di San Donato before sleep,
I set off on pilgrimage to Venice,
to Murano, and the Church
of San Donato where three huge ribs
hang like upturned crescent moons
beneath the Madonna’s feet, proof
that Donato once killed a dragon.

The palace collapses on our friends,
our families. Heartbreak,
and then a route through dark streets,
searching for the chapel
of the human heart. Three long ribs
shine in flickering light beneath
a likeness of a Byzantine Madonna.
Dragon or whale. Dinosaur
or dragon. Outside, the star maze
and the shining water roads.

A silent car climbs the steep hill
across the valley. Was the soprano
practising for a concert or offering
her own tribute to Górecki?
I walked on when she finished, linking
hill town streets to friends and family,
but Górecki found a way to remember
the six million dead. He created
a ladder of complete silence.
Then let one voice ascend.


2. Antibes, March 2011

Strange, once again
to be night-journeying, it seems,
towards Venice,
though I was only there
a few hours, forty years ago,
and almost managed
to miss it completely. Only
the impossible bones
in the church of San Donato
made any sense—

Call it the Little Library
of the Road, the way the right book
sometimes waits for you
in a hotel or train compartment.
So F. Scott Fitzgerald
welcomed us to Antibes:
on a shelf in the stairwell, Annie found
a copy of Tender is the Night
which she began reading to me, out loud,
even after I’d fallen asleep.

My turn to read next night.
Didn’t try to go back
where I’d last been awake. Began
where Annie left off, trusting
my dream-self heard
all that I need know, hoping
I recalled the story enough
from reading the book
four decades ago
on a night train to Venice.

Once he said, Draw your chair up
close to the edge of the precipice
and I’ll tell you a story—
fragments then of Fitzgerald
at the rim of sleep,
like tesserae in a mosaic,
clear glass on both sides
of gold leaf so candlelight
will be more luminous
than the gold of narrative itself.

All week our day-selves drove about
looking for where our night-selves
had been at bedtime, partying
with Nicole and Dick Diver.
The Villa Diana and the village
of Tarmes aren’t on the map,
but the rose-coloured hotel
is five miles from Cannes,
so starting with that landmark
we sought out roads to the precipice.

Forty years ago, Annie praised
Tender is the Night in a letter,
so I took it on the train to Venice.
An Austrian psychiatrist next to me
was travelling to see a French girl
in Murano. He spoke English well
and was charming, a young Dick Diver,
but he criticized Fitzgerald
for glorifying the edge. Don’t
go seeking the abyss. It will find you.

Those days, I was just trying
not to go mad. My consciousness
had an alarming ability to suddenly
lurch backward and suspend itself
above and behind my head
so I’d have to hold on to whatever
was there until I found my way back
inside the old brainpan. The precipice
for me was the fear of the broken
ladders of the family tree.

Nicole grabbed the wheel,
forcing the car towards the edge,
hitting a tree instead. The children
screamed as she faced Dick
triumphantly: You were scared
weren’t you? she accused him. You
wanted to live. What
could he say, though he didn’t.
Yes, fear of death, but also
fear of the crack-up. Precipice fear.

Made it through Fitzgerald
to the Church of San Donato
and his dragon, but returned abruptly
to the station, impatient to get back
to Vienna for Annie’s promised letter.
All these years and I’m still this side
of madness, and we read
to each other, waking or asleep.
Do you remember where we stopped
last night?—No, Love. Just keep reading.


Pinot Grigio

Because he learned to love this wine late in life,
after his hearing was shot, he called it
Pinot GRATCH-ee-ah,
and I’d try to correct him, Pinot GREE-gee-o,
and he’d agree, Pinot GRATCH–ee-ah,
and we’d leave it at that,
which was just as well, as today I learned,
in Wine for Dummies, it’s pronounced
Pinot GREE-joe.

After the rest of us left, my sister found
Dad had stocked enough Pinot Grigio
to make it through the Apocalypse
so she brought bottles to his friends. Perfect,
since Dad loved combining the virtues
of visiting the sick and giving drink to the thirsty
by smuggling chilled bottles of wine to friends
in the nursing home—‘It cheers them up’, he’d say.
It must have cheered my sister too,

talking with his friends, and when I confessed
that I was wrong all along about the name
she described lingering over a glass
with Dad’s Italian friend Giulia
who said, ‘I never heard him say
Pinot GRATCH-ee-ah, it sounded more like
GRAZ-ee-ah. Sometimes, he could be
almost courtly. Grazie, molte grazie’,
and Giulia raised her glass to the air.


From The Little Colloquium by the Sea

Too dark now to see the spring tide’s breakers
………..bludgeon the shore road below our house—
………………….they’re surely sundering our lane

for a second time this winter—
……… we add turf to the fire, start to read
………………….to each other, but find

we can’t compete with the storm’s howls
………..and the stove’s answering roar. Still,
………………….there’s something companionable,

just writing and reading silently in the same room
………..while gusts outside reach 160
………………….kilometers per hour. 160, the same

speed the Turkish cab driver sustained last fall
………..through foggy rain all the way to Munich.
………………….Travelling faster than a hurricane, we

were the unrelenting wind that could upend trees
………..and bring down power lines, a yowl
………………….through the German countryside

that might at any moment be cut short.
………..Yet inside that potential destruction
………………….stories unfolded, whose tellings

began on the plane earlier: there was ample time
……… share whiskey with seat mates
………………….and talk up there after the aborted

landing in Memmingen, and the retreat
………..back into swirling clouds, circling
………………….for an hour till the weather eased.

Finally we descended a second time
………..and just as the runway reappeared—
………………….the safe Earth a few feet away—

we climbed again abruptly
………..then flew off towards far-off
………………….Friedrichshafen. Audrey,

sitting next to us on the plane, had
……… get to Munich to give the keynote speech
………………….at a European Union

health conference, so when we landed
………..she hired a cab then urged us to join her.
………………….No time for the driver

to look up the conference centre
………..on global positioning, so he typed
………………….the address with one hand

as we flew down a link road.
………..Tonight, back in Ireland, the windows
………………….pulse like something living,

but it’s good to be firmly
………..on the ground, this house of concrete blocks
………………….is going nowhere,

though the thrumming stillness here
……… like being in that cab, or that plane,
………………….a place where strangers could share

a few last words, or speak
………..whatever most mattered. Audrey
………………….trembled as she told us

how she’d just cleared security in Dublin
………..when she got a call from Canada
………………….to say her brother Ivan had died.

She’d had to continue towards Munich
……… give her speech but now it seemed
………………….impossible we’d get there in time

so our gentle cab driver leaned forward
……… if being a few inches closer to the road
………………….would help him see

and let us get there faster.
………..Passing an exit, I realized the road
………………….led to the Alpine foothills

where the novelist W.G. Sebald was born,
………..and I tried to imagine that side trip,
………………….fog probably freezing

or turning to snow as we entered
………..the village of Wertach, but we tore on
………………….instead towards Munich,

the speedometer still at 160,
………..the highway signs warning
………………….of slippery conditions,

and I remembered how Sebald
………..died at the wheel.
………………….As if to keep her brother

with her in the car, Audrey was telling us
………..a story that Ivan told her
………………….that their mother told him,

which felt like the way Sebald’s character
………………….recounted intimacies

several speakers deep,
………..and there was a fine balance
………………….of terror and camaraderie

as we learned that Audrey
………..had known our late friend Patrick
………………….on Cape Clear Island. Annie and I

first faced winds of 160 on Cape Clear,
………..where Paddy said, Island life is like
………………….being in a boat together, eight miles

out to sea, and we just have to make sure
………..we all stay in the boat.
………………….Then Annie told Audrey

how Paddy had died on Cape the same day
………..she’d had emergency surgery in Boston.
………………….Annie woke to a comforting

hallucination of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
………..dancing cheek to cheek. She’s written
………………….about this—how Astaire

sang at the foot of her bed, Heaven,
………..I’m in heaven—but what connects for me
………………….now is that Astaire’s name at birth

was Frederick Austerlitz. So Austerlitz
………..danced for my wife, who lived, and Paddy
………………….died way too young,

and we’d met his friend Audrey,
………..we were in this boat together
………………….with her now, we were travelling

faster than some hurricanes
………..and the cab seemed filled with shades—
………………….Sebald and Paddy

and Audrey’s brother Ivan,
………..and the cab driver’s wife whose photo
………………….was taped above the dashboard,

the beginning of a story we never got to finish—
………..and maybe even Fred Astaire.
………………….The distance between life and death

felt very short as we hurtled down the Autobahn
………..and I recalled how Austerlitz thought
………………….the dead and the living

might occupy the same space,
………..but those who are already dead
………………….must find the living quite unreal.

And I recall staring out into the night,
……… in the direction of Sebald’s birth,
………………….then wondering

if 160 kilometers per hour was the same speed
……… the firestorm he described
………………….that rushed through Hamburg

after Allied retaliations, flames reaching
………..a mile in the air as they sucked
………………….the oxygen from everything.

It will be a long time before I forget
………..roaring through Germany
………………….as part of that imagined inferno.

I turned the conversation back to Paddy and Ivan.
………..Destruction and horror are never
………………….very far off, but in the meantime,

there is the chance
……… be part of this colloquium
………………….between the living and the dead.

I wish it did not feel so one-sided.
………..I wish the ones who spoke
………………….were the ones who knew anything.

—Theodore Deppe

Theodore Deppe is the author of Children of the Air and The Wanderer King (Alice James Books, 1990 and 1996); Cape Clear: New and Selected Poems (Salmon, Ireland, 2002); Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo, 2009); and Beautiful Wheel (Arlen House, 2014). A new collection of poems, Liminal Blue, is due out from Arlen House in 2016. Ted holds an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts. A recipient of two grants from the NEA and a Pushcart Prize, he has been writer in residence at the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT, and Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Ireland Review, Harper’s, and the Forward Book of Poetry. Ted has taught creative writing in graduate programs in the U.S., Ireland, and England. He is on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA program, and directs Stonecoast in Ireland. He worked as an RN for twenty years while teaching poetry and fiction classes. Since 2000, he and poet Annie Deppe have lived for the most part on the west coast of Ireland, and they presently live in Connemara.


Aug 112016

Zazil by Mari H. Res+®ndiz


Zazil Alaíde Collins (Mexico City, 1984) has written four books of poetry: Junkie de nada (a first collection structured around Jarocho musicicans and the well-known Mexican lotería card game), No todas las islas (her prize-winning book that charts the history of her family myths by way of a sort of nautical cartography in verse), El corazón, tan cerca a la boca (in which she weaves together ekphrastic prose and poetry inspired by the photographs of Nora Nava Heymann) and, most recently, Sipofene. Sipofene, maybe her finest book to date, represents a sort of tabula rasa upon which Collins can construct a fragmented vision of the problems of our times. In the words of Javier Taboada: ‘Zazil Alaíde Collins’s Sipofene does not spring from any myth. By way of a journey back to an original state, the poetic voice strips bare the world of our times “los días más oscuros”. The geography of desertion: the pain that stretches out to the four cardinal points.’

In a world of shortening attention spans and click-bait journalism, it is refreshing to find a poet who still believes in the integrity of the poetry collection. Each of Collins’s books to possess their own unique focus and structure. Perhaps it is not surprising that Collins, also a broadcaster with a wide range of musical interests (her co-edited bilingual volume Músicos en la Ciudad de México/Musicians in Mexico City will be launched this August), is drawn to this kind of project: each of her books feels like a concept album in verse.

This interview, in which Collins discusses her wide range of influences and literary obsessions, was carried out via a series of emails between Zazil Alaíde Collins and Dylan Brennan. Included also is a videopoem featuring the opening verses of Sipofene, click CC for subtitles in English. Translations of poems to English by Cody Copeland.

DB: Tell us about your early life, where you were born, grew up, studied… and when and how you first came into contact with poetry.

ZC: I was born in the Roma neighbourhood of the Federal District, now officially known as Mexico City, on Saturday, September 1st, 1984. One year later, after the earthquake of September 19th I moved to La Paz, Baja California Sur, with my paternal family; a desert in which I learned to walk and observe. It’s an essential part of the imagery of my written work, and the place to which I return any time I need to touch base. When the city was reconstructed, I returned to the Roma area and studied my whole life in Mexico City. My university days were spent between political sciences, literature and anthropology.

My introduction to poetry was aural, before any kind of formal reading. There was never any lack of poetry books in my parents’ house, so poetry was always close. My parents even partially named me after a poet, the Guatemalan Alaíde Foppa, who, to this day, remains disappeared…

The first books of poetry that I can remember were popular cancioneros and two collections by Cuban poets (when I was a child my father lived in Cuba and his gifts were books from there): Mundo mondo by Francisco de Oraá, and Con un garabato by José Antonio Gutiérrez Caballero. In my adolescence, I was struck by “Tarumba,” by Jaime Sabines, and I discovered poetry by James Joyce, George Bataille and, by accident, the Mexican poet Mariana Bernárdez—by my reckoning, one of our most outstanding contemporary poets. I became obsessed with the work of Artaud… And I continued discovering authors in our family library, like Nicolás Guillén and César Vallejo. A short time before entering university I bought, also by chance, a facsimile edition of Muerte sin fin, by José Gorostiza, which changed something for me (I can’t say what it changed, but reading it still excites me, just like “Tarumba”).

Although I could go on naming other authors, the aforementioned ones opened up channels of perception for me, and are part of my initiatory journey, along with the internalised expressions of music and dance. When I was a girl, I studied contemporary dance for a few years and one of my ways of registering the choreography was to write down words that, little by little, began to take the form of verses; I would say that these were my first poems, without me knowing they were poems at the time.

DB: Which poets do you read these days? Which ones have influenced you? Which do you dislike?

ZC: Right now I’m reading the recently published books by Ernesto Miranda Trigueros and Javier Peñalosa. A few years ago I realised that I only read work by dead authors and, since then, decided to force myself to read work by my contemporary colleagues; amongst them, ones I definitely try not to lose track of include Mariana Bernárdez, Camila Krauss, Javier Taboada, Jair Cortés, Alejandro Tarrab, Daniel Bencomo, Ingrid Valencia, Daniela Camacho, Tere Avedoy, Fabio Morábito… I’m also reading a book by Coral Bracho, another by Guadalupe Galván, and I’m re-reading Heather Thomas, who I met a few months ago at a poetry reading in Egypt and whose work I enjoy greatly.

I think that I’ve been influenced by reading work by Oliverio Girondo, Wislawa Swymborza, Octavio Paz, Haroldo de Campos, Miguel Hernández, Jorge Guillén, García Lorca, Ángel González, Anne Waldman, Ferlinghetti and Gertrude Stein. While not poets, António Lobo Antunes  and Roberto Bazlen have become something magical for me. At least they are texts that I admire and re-reading them continues to provoke questions. I believe that poetry should consist of a constant questioning, perennial. I also believe that music exerts a permanent influence over me (even more so than poetry); I cannot disassociate from the poetic endeavour the lyrics of composers, from Henry Purcell to Chico Buarque, from Son jarocho to Canto cardenche (a kind of Mexican a cappella form).

I do not like poetry that tires after the first reading; that feels like something tepid. While we all develop our own obsessive metaphors (words, recurring images), I am not attracted to writers who seem to be writing a monopoem. There are poetics that seem overvalued to me, but it’s not for me to mention them. I will limit myself to saying that the poets that I dislike are those who have abandoned a feel for their own body, who have lost the musicality, the spontaneity. I also dislike poetry with the tone of a saviour, of an illuminator.

DB: Forgive if I’m mistaken but I sense more of a gender balance in contemporary Mexican poetry than in prose. Is this true? Do more women write poetry than prose these days or am I wrong?

ZC: It’s strange. I agree. However, in the professional practice, I mean, from so many anthologisers, teachers, editors or editorial committees, it seems to me that female poets remain relegated, while, in the case of female prose writers, things seem a bit different. Female prose writers seem, somehow, “freer” to me, more at ease, less worried about forming part of a power base, which is something healthier, from my point of view. Maybe I’m wrong. I feel that female poets are more protective of their own space, distrustful even with other female poets. In this way, sometimes there is not a gender balance when they act in the same way as those who violate communal liberties and achievements. In other words, there is not always a sense of sorority between female poets; at least not when it comes to my own experience in central Mexico.

DB: I suppose we could talk a great deal about female poets. I still hear people using the word “poetisa” (“poetess”); can you say something about that? Also, is it more difficult for female poets to get published these days? I know it certainly used to be that way.

ZC: I’m amazed that the word poetisa is still used, among poets. I have never liked this mark of differentiation; I subscribe to Anne Waldman’s “Feminafesto”: “I propose a utopian creative field where we are defined by our energy, not by gender.” I believe that it is difficult for women to get published (nowadays I don’t know if it’s easier or more difficult than it is for male poets) because we are not taken as seriously; “Could it be that we don’t go out boozing with the right editors?,” I often ask myself (in an ironic tone, of course). There exists a professional and emotional dialogue that continues to be “restricted” between genders. I have never understood why, but the act of publishing tends to be sectarian in nature, due to a series of factors of public relations, which sometimes spring from motives of class, gender and even sexual orientation. Of course, when I read phrases like “We badly need more Mexican women to write literature of the highest level like the work of Elena Garro, we urgently need them to stop wanting to earn a fortnightly wage and to get down to the business of writing,” though it may just be nothing more than marketing, it is clear to me that the rift still exists. It seems to me that some colleagues have not understood that the problem is not talent, but the conditions and access to certain spaces. For starters, while women earn less than men for carrying out the same job (any job) we cannot begin to start talking about equality. In Mexico people complain about the PRI but many intellectuals (who work in publishing) possess that same PRI mentality, where cronyism and favouritism take precedence over merit, and they are often the people who make decisions about who gets published and who doesn’t. At the publishing houses there also exists a kind of false democratisation: they often don’t even read manuscripts seriously. But, the more autonomous work that is produced, the more this schizophrenia can be challenged.

Sipofene – Zazil Alaíde Collins from Andrea Grain on Vimeo

DB: Is poetry changing nowadays? Is it reinventing itself or is it the same as it ever was? What about the Sipofene videopoem? How did you come up with this idea? Tell us about the process, the director, those who took part, etc.

ZC: New media has caused changes with regard to the way in which readers approach literature, and authors have adapted too; it’s something reciprocal. It’s not that new, really, either; since the avant-gardists there have been textual and discursive explorations, and those who believe that these experimentations, between literature, dance and visual arts, for example, have existed since the beginnings of civilization. My undergraduate thesis dealt with the textual borders of video-poetry, so you can see that I’ve studied the theme for quite a while. However, though I fantasize about directing my own video-poems, my own weaknesses are clear to me: “the cobbler sticks to shoes,” as the saying goes. The reinvention within poetic languages stems from an integral approach to text, audio-visual elements, collective work with photographers, videographers, editors, actors… Literary work can also be viewed as a kind of laboratory. The idea of collectivisation includes working in many fields; at least attempting to initiate dialogues; in this way, creating small mobilisations (this is my idea of activism).

I had already seen photographs and videos made by Adrea Grain Hayton for musical groups, and as she studies literature, I decided to propose that we did something together, without any pretensions, so I just suggested that she could do anything she liked with a few of my poems. She liked the idea and chose just a few sections, as Sipofene is a long poem. She asked me a few questions about the meaning and intention of certain lines, but it was she who visualised and directed the material. For me, poems liven when the readers (not the poets themselves, as authors) perceive them, recreate them, taste them, and, so, I’ve always preferred the readings that others can give to my texts, even when they don’t coincide with my own original ideas. I wanted to know how someone with a visual imagination like Andrea could understand the poem. And in a spirit of making community I decided to invite people who I admire, either because they are friends or because they are poets that I both admire and read (only one poet couldn’t make it).* We met one afternoon at my house, every participant read in front of a camera the complete verses of the first section of Sipofene, called “Bóreas,” and then Andrea cut everything, extracting fragments of each collaborator and combining them. I know that she absolutely associates the visual part with the Greek myth of Boreas and the horses.

*DB: That was me, so sorry I couldn’t be involved.

 DB: Tell us, what books have you written? Tell us a little about each one? What about the process and the reception that your books have received from readers?

ZC: I’ve written four books of poetry: Junkie de nada (Lenguaraz, 2009), No todas las islas (ISC-Conaculta, 2012, City of La Paz State Prize winner in 2011), El corazón, tan cerca de la boca (Abismos-Mantarraya, 2014) and Sipofene (La tinta del silencio, 2016); and,  independently I’ve adopted my thesis on video-poetry as a free e-book: Videopoesía, poíesis fronteriza: hacia una reinterpretación del signo poético. I’ve also participated in some anthologies of essays and, also, poetry, as co-author: Deniz a manzalva (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2008), La conciencia imprescindible. Ensayos sobre Carlos Monsiváis (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2009) and the major anthology Antología General de la Poesía Mexicana: poesía del México actual. De la segunda mitad del siglo XX  nuestros días (Océano, 2014). I’ve uploaded nearly all my books to Google Books so that they can be looked up online.

Junkie de nada is a sort of compendium of my first poems; I completed it in less than a month with poems that I’d written over a period of five or six years, approximately, and I tried, of course, to give them a sense of unity. At that time I had to hand a set of lotería jarocha (a variation on the Mexican card game resembling bingo, this one featuring figures from Veracruz folklore), from the Canadian printmaker Alec Dempster, and, in a sort of eureka moment I got the idea that I could play around with the idea of a collection of poems that revolve around the cards of a lotería set. It was fun to throw down the cards and to group the poems together, according to a character or emotion. Some friends from university ran an independent publishing house; they liked the material and decided to publish it. I showed them the poems after they’d been rejected by an official publisher (the federal government). A huge plus for me was that they allowed me to suggest authors for an epilogue, and, of course, I thought of the poet that I admire: Mariana Bernárdez. The editors got in touch with her and she accepted their proposal to read my work and to write something. The book deals with metapoetical anxieties; all part of exploring the meaning of life. I was 25…

No todas las islas was conceived as a sort of cartography of my family’s history (and myths); I threw it, like a message in a bottle to the sea, into a competition and I won the Baja California Sur state poetry prize, and so I got to have it published. This made me very happy because, apart from all the rest, I wrote that book thinking of my seniors (my grandparents, mainly), who live there and whose parents were involved in the foundation of that state. During the editorial process, I suggested to the state government the idea of producing a special edition, different from their normal collections. In reality, all I wanted was permission, for them to allow me to print a special limited edition on my own, one in which two friends would help me, one that would include colour and playful typography; but the publishing section of the Instituto Sudcaliforniano de Cultura liked what they saw and decided to take the chance and change their collection style from that book onwards. While Efrén Calleja, a friend and, now, neighbour of mine, was in charge of the edition, and Benito López was the designer, for almost a year the three of used to meet on a weekly basis to discuss colours, typography, meaning, size, corrections, etc. In this way it has been the book with which I’ve been most involved and the one that has caused me most professional delight. That level of communication with an editor and designer is something I’ve yet to replicate. The book is structured like a travelogue, an imaginary journey, but one which can be followed on Google Earth through the suggested coordinates.

El corazón, tan cerca de la boca is an exercise in which I decided to try to write just one poem, one that would weave together strands of poetry and prose, by way of ekphrasis and the photographs of Nora Nava Heymann. Ideally, this book was conceived in conjunction with the images, but the publishers (Abismos) decided not to include the images—they don’t do that kind of publication—so that, in the end, only the text remained. At the same time, I suggested that a jazz singer work with the material and musicalise some poems in free form; in that way, the texts which gave rise to songs were also translated. The music is online and can be downloaded and/or listened to. The book plays with the word “Bardo,” as a concept and state: the poet bard and the Buddhist “bardo” which represents the intermediary state, a state of transition (another one of my obsessions). Many of the metaphors stem from a journey to Ireland, peyote, meditation and nephelomancy (a form of divination based on observation of clouds).

Sipofene is a long poem that I wrote in 2015, which stems from images of a trip to the desert and the feeling of political discontent, after interiorising these lines from Ferlinghetti: “If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.” When I thought of the text, I visualised it as a performance, and from there came the desire to make the video, which is free to be seen by the public.

Even today, I still find reviews and new readers of my first book, because, who knows why, they still can be found in some bookstores in outside Mexico City. I think that’s the book that has been reviewed the most, both in print, radio and television. Each of my books, though, has found a distinct audience, I think, because of the playful approach I’ve tried to establish, from the visual to the musical.

DB: What about practical things. When do you write? How often do you write? Where? Any particular process?

ZC: My methodology involves writing a dream diary as soon as I wake up (many of my poems stem from dreams), and keeping notebooks under my pillows, in the bathroom, dining room, in my bag, etc. You never know exactly when that powerful line that can guide a poem or book can appear. I don’t think I have any particular process, but I usually write in the small hours of the night (that is what I most enjoy: the silence), and then closing myself off at home (it doesn’t suit me to be out in the open air); I’m a bit of a hermit but I don’t like to force myself. There’s an intuition which beats in a peculiar manner when I need to sit myself down to write; I try to yield to it.

DB: What is Sipofene?

ZC: Sipofene is a place where death doesn’t exist, from the conception of the indigenous Americans, the netherworld. I knew this a long time after the word had resonated in my head, when the first verse arrived: “When the bones burn, Sipofene,” which motivated me to start the poem. I’ve tried to remember how that word made its way into my imagination, and the surest clue is that I probably heard it in one of the films of the Twilight saga (yes, it’s true, I consume almost anything related to werewolves and vampires)… Or some kind of trick of the subconscious after a reading towards which I was indifferent, what do I know… As the poem advanced, it flowed for two intense weeks, and I found that this world (the world of Sipofene) was an intermediary state, a theme that I had dealt with before in El corazón, tan cerca a la boca. It’s possible that my age is accentuating this anxiety, but this third state that flitters between past, present and future, this third way of being is, for me, the current social, political and human condition. We are living at a time of confrontation between opposing systems, radicalisation, fanaticism, and we need to reconstruct from another perspective, comprehensive and able to accept dissent and diversity. I tried to write while eliminating genre distinction, thinking of a somewhat personified Sipofene that could be something like a muxe (a third gender) that would speak of the search for identity of those who are exiled, for a variety of reasons. There’s an underlying tone of lament, musical, I hope, revolving around our dead and battle-wounded. Sipofene is the others. And the others are all of us who search for, hopeful or resigned, a new world: “another world is possible.”

DB: The published version of Sipofene is something special, tangible, very pretty. Tell us a little about the editorial process. Did the publishers approach you or how did it work?

ZC: I wrote the poem and decided to put it up online, via Amazon, with the idea that some publisher or editor might be interested in it, but, really, so that it could be read online by anyone. I also decided to give away free copies of a paper-bound PDF via social networks and, among my contacts, a former colleague from my master’s program at UNAM read it and told me that she had set up a publishing house and wanted to talk to me. I’m referring to Ana Cruz, editor of La tinta del silencio. And that’s how it all started. I got to know the publisher’s work and I was convinced by her idea to manufacture books by hand, numbered copies, in personalised editions, that suit the text and the author. The publishers were very meticulous with regard to communication and editing. The idea of a prologue and the cover image were left wide open, and so I decided to invite an illustrator that I admire, Alejandra Espino, with whom I’d been wanting to collaborate for a long time, and she agreed to draw the cover image and to make a serigraph. For the prologue I turned to Javer Taboada, a colleague who I also admire for his astute readings and, also is someone who knows my work well since we’ve been reading each other since we were very young. My ideas of publishing involve bringing together talents and disciplines. This is something I’ve been able to accomplish with this book.

DB: To finish up, tell us about contemporary Mexican poetry. Do you like it? Is it in a healthy state? What do you think?

ZC: I like it because I feel that it’s regenerating, like every fabric. Little by little it finds its connections and now it’s difficult to judge it but the debate about whether or not a regeneration exists is growing. We are many voices; for me it’s a restless choir that still hasn’t decided what it’s singing about or, indeed, who is doing the singing. I suppose it’s fairly normal, as it matures. I think of poets such as Homer Aridjis, Ramón Rodríguez and Dolores Castro as completely contemporary voices as well, with solid trajectories free from the false bureaucratic quarrels, with a restless and pointed poetry.  I feel the same about, although he has died, Gerardo Deniz. It may be that Mexico still hasn’t stopped revisiting its modernity and, for that reason, authors such as Los Contemporáneos and Octavio Paz still seem to beat so closely. Poetry prevails thanks to its sincerity; if that continues, as far as I’m concerned, it will never cease to be current.


—Zazil Alaíde Collins & Dylan Brennan

From No todas las islas

Natural History

Words are crabs
Buried in the deep.

Shipwrecks speak
in seashells.

The wind sings its syllables
of whispered names.


The Giant Women

They came from the north,
but no one knows when they were wiped out.

From the cave of music
they made their rounds,

raising their pentagram arms;
they all croaked under lock and key.

The old men claim to have seen them
devoured by the sea.


from Boreas

THE DAY LABORERS howl with the sound
of war in the poppy fields,
music for bull calves,
train whistle that carries the breath
of the soldier suckled by Chernobyl.

There’s so much slackening the thread, Sipofene,
such fire in the crotch,
…………humiliated boots,
…………metallic hands,
…………headquarters’ silences.

What will the dust bring,
if we’re always dead in the presence
of the violet stockings’ nudity?
It is a field of iron, Sipofene,
…….a keloid field.


from Austral

with more poems and tulips;
no resection of the migrant
who flees in order to survive
the harassment of offices
that are after his right thumb.

Tell us what emporium has robbed you?
How many prisons have you trod?
Who knew the truth of your sandstone?

The cherry and blue meeting houses
were part of the eclipse.
We speculated up until the year of your birth.

of an angel of clay
in the jaws of the common grave,
no one asks for his minimum wage
at the sides of Cadmus’ ships,
and no one deserves to die by stone
on a high tension cliff,
but there go the 50 thousand orphans
who have lost their hunger
walling in the cattle.


from Zenith

the substance that undermines us
breaks us
deludes us
the exhausted gaze of serfs;

it’s called weariness, Sipofene,
this solitude without a capital
these lead hillsides,
paradise of the dissidents.

—Translations by Cody Copeland


Cody Copeland

Cody Copeland teaches English and writes poetry. His work has appeared in Mexico City Lit, The Ofi Press, and The Bogman’s Cannon. He is currently based in Mexico City.

Dylan Brennan by Lily Brennan
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

Aug 092016

Daniel Lawless 2

Portrait of My Father

Face forever dull scarlet, puckered when he snuffled
Up the last packed flakes of Erinmore
From one of his half-bent’s and gave it out as acrid
Comment on our clothes, my comics, Saint Michael’s
Shoddy footwork on the pitch.
There was a pineapple on the tobacco tin; according to him Virginia
Was full of them, and drunk Indians.
At eight I kept ship’s nails, odd stamps, two perfect ambered bees
In one; by twelve pinched coins against the day
I could train away from that ancient nobody. Then
Cancer. April. Or May. The parlor swooned. By June
His raw lips were a flea circus. Morphine, and soon that jutting
Lawless chin and half his jaw lopped off — a map
Of olde Eire jammed on his shoulders I’d trace with curious fingers
From Kinsale to Letterkenney
As he dozed chair-bound halfway into Benny Hill. October
In memory means standing straight as line poles
At his casket against the garlic-gales
Of Monseigneur’s Castelli’s Lord’s Prayer, our threadbare
Sunday bests smelling of his forsaken Erinmore. The rest
Half-forgotten. Photographs interred in plastic jackets.
Christmas, wistful. Snowflakes. School, our silent friends.
Birthday masses with old women in black dresses, Ma chirping
He’s with the angels, et cetera, we were Irish.


Up late

This morning, leather-gloved against blisters and armed
With my aunt’s grand new Flexrake Basket LRB 140 —
An impromptu visit to their old house-keeper Florene’s
rusting double wide
To pick lychee nuts, which I’ve never tasted
But my uncle Bob assures me I will love
Shaved into coconut pudding and topped with something
He calls his Lychee Love Sauce.
She’s not home, of course, Florene: colon cancer. Two years ago
Now. A long haul, her black-haired widower concedes, polite but
Staring straight ahead over the dashboard, waving us on
As he backs the pick-up down the cracked asphalt drive.

It’s hard. Harder than I would have thought.
Twenty minutes maybe half an hour of swatting no-see-ums,
Twisting our doughy necks and arms into soft pretzels,
Working the spring-loaded jaws so they claw
The stems without breaking the rind and then suddenly rain
That pulls us toward the carport: smokes, Cokes in a cooler
Where we’d left them,
Tired chit-chat between rolls of thunder as we lament
The sorry state of Florene’s garden, until turning back we spot
A dazed-looking figure on the neighbor’s lawn.

Sylvie, Clara summarizes — grand-niece, sixteen, drugs as we watch her
Watch us, unseeing, cheeks smeared with mud,
Slow-dancing to la musique inouïe,
Fiddling with a garter snake, making a bracelet, a necklace.
She’s beautiful, wearing nothing but a man’s swimming trunks.

And shall I speak now, Reader, of the rain that never ended,
Our rolled shoulder dash through it
To the car as we left her to her reveries, Florene’s double wide
Receding through the fogged-over rear window
As we bumped back down the gravel road,
The tart almost candy-like scent of what lychees we’d gathered
Squirming out through the twig holes punched in the single Winn Dixie bag
We’d managed to fill,
The darkness of the kitchen as we spilled them on the counter
Where Bob stood with his Oxy peeler, the slow brush of his forearm
As he swept the rough pink-red of their hides
Into the sink to expose balls of translucent flesh?
How we waited as he ground them with fresh coconut flakes
And poured a steady stream of heavy cream and egg yolks
Into a bowl, how we spooned that still-warm pudding up with plastic forks
From Hardees, the rain finally diminishing to plump drops plopping
From the gutter?
Or are you still thinking about that half-dressed dancing girl
With her scorched toddler-mind, how childishly beautiful she was
Making jewelry out of a snake,
The aroma of her pale breasts and the illicit thought
Of kissing them, taking them topped with Lychee Love Sauce
Into your mouth?

—Daniel Lawless


Daniel Lawless’s book, The Gun My Sister Killed Herself With and Other Poems is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry, February 2018.  Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Asheville Review, Cortland Review, B O D Y, The Common, FIELD, Fulcrum, The Louisville Review, Manhattan Review, Numero Cinq, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and other journals. He is the founder and editor of Plume: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry.



Aug 072016



A complicated wood 

I spend my morning wondering
about your covered wrists,
the long silences, like those left
in the treacherous sounds
between islands after ships are lost.

I watch the precision
as your fingers navigate a paper-clip,
unlock, then remake the bends,
again, again, again.

At night I exhume, re-wind
Klein and Jung and Winnicott.

My grandmother had a music box
her father made; each time I visited
she’d wind it up, lift the wooden
lid to let the mechanism plink
its mournful Hornpipe
as a siren pirouetted on a rock.

It sits above my desk.
She lies beneath the knotted wood
wrapped in a familiar scent.

Diatom1The glass images between the poems are examples of work by the poet Michael Ray. More can be seen here and here.


An island turning over on its side

Like insomnia, our meeting wasn’t planned.
She sat opposite the only empty chair.
Madame Bovary lay shut beside her tea.
There was music in the thinness of her wrists.
We talked until the café dropped its blinds,
walked across the city to her bed.
After the tide receded we lay naked.
The gutter pipes were choked,
sheets of rain cascaded.
I watched as she turned over on her side;
the sweep of headlights undoing her youth.
In her left eye, a small red island
floated in a blue unstable sea –
a country I was too young to understand.


Livres de la solitude
After Louise Bourgeois

The room is lit
for an interrogation.

The floor, a raised
white platform.

A ring of grey sticks
is growing up –

a cleft fence
or whittled children.

Inside, books of red
cloth are stacked;

the raw edges, bound
with blue thread.

A column
as tall as a woman.

This is love
balanced, sewn shut.


Speed my slowing heart

Outside, liverish leaves are falling
on the lawn, reticulated by the wind’s
bitter this way and salt-flung that.

Autumn has left our picnic spot side-parted.
A bald patch shows the blackbird’s small
white packet and in the air a flick-knife

panic to where he perches in the tree,
and no doubt wonders why dawn and worms
and cats always come in that order.

The thought of breakfast takes me from last night’s
failure, to the cloud gathering above our kettle,
and the sky which couldn’t be more loaded.

Snow begins to fall, reminds me of spring
and us looking out beneath the willow’s
canopy of fluff, speculating why the foxglove

only trumpets every other year;
and how its stem of empty seed-heads
stands like a spent and tattered phallus.


That life 

Who paints the bargeboards blue and oils
the gate that used to creak? And despite
seagulls littering the roof, risk of full moons
flooding the yard, who chose the ruined
church, sinking into bracken, for their view?

Who walks a lurcher along the shore,
parks their battered black car a cat’s
hiss from the window box, rioting
violets massed along the sill?

Who sleeps in this cottage with its attic
room of wormy boards sloped towards
the early morning sun? And who
is stood barefoot, on those kitchen
flags that gave such cool relief?


We break milk

move to solids
and trees shoot
leaves like a fix
for breath

we break ice,
and boats move
like small fingers
through slush

we break cruths –
truss the feet
of young girls,
vacuum pack fruit.

We break down
and listen with
the psychomechanic,
to the fault.

— Michael Ray


Michael Ray is a poet and glass artist living in West Cork, Ireland. His poems have appeared in a number of Irish and international journals, including The Moth, The Irish Independent, The Shop, Cyphers, The Penny Dreadful, One, Southword, The Stinging Fly, Ambit and Magma. In 2012 he was a winner in the Fish International poetry competition. In 2013 he was shortlisted for the Hennessey award. In 2016, he won the Poetry Ireland Café poetry competition. Michael’s visual art has been collected by the Irish Craft and Design Council, the Department for Foreign Affairs and the National Museum of Ireland.


Jul 132016

Version 2


Sleep & Disorder

And what about this coffee? It’s as bitter as you could want, as strong, but sleep
xxxxxxis still a second-cousin, settling in for a long stint on the living room sofa,

Sleep, the unapologetic, the sulky codependent, the toll collector dozing while the
xxxxxxhonest traveller’s gate of horn backs up from here to Hudson,

And through the ivory portal, the false gate, the illusive and mendacious, all the EZ
xxxxxxPass holders pour through like lies on a talk show,

Forget it all, they urge, forget the elegant phrasing, the just word, just nod in
xxxxxxagreement, and whatever you say

Let it be as acid as newsprint or the ions rising from your screen as some bastard
xxxxxxlays it out again,

The line that’s just that, the rhyme slant as a graph, the carbon-steeled irony forged
xxxxxxand capped and traded, by which I mean

Given away: all that our enlightenment, all our progress and our verse had thought
xxxxxxto save from bad or worse, so much smoke from the tailpipe

Of that diesel blocking the lane or revving up the grade or downshifting for a pit stop
xxxxxor whatever else keeps the show on the road,

The radio playing Sweet Dreams again between the static where the signals fade.


Fiddler’s Dram

The smell of Islay whiskey, sharp sea air, iodine and cold
Spray smoking over rocks. With that in my head, I don’t care much
About the crazed varnish, about the old bow’s thinning hair.
Just this sudden brightness in the fine part of the tune,

That would be worth singing about, if it weren’t already song.


Robert Graves

The sun a disc of beaten bronze, as dull
As the late dusk moon was bright,
And summer is overripe, the downward pull
Of green limbs under their apples’ weight.

An old man scratches at a song (the harp
His voice was once upturned, unstrung),
The scribbled, etched-out lines have wrapped,
Poor vines, a ladder, broken-runged,

The pickers leant against a tree to rot,
All that’s left of his knowledge now,
That once he climbed in praise, forgotten,
Who burned his fingers on her brow.


Who Would Have Thought the Saxophone
xxxxffor Charles Lloyd

In the high school band room, the sax section runs over their parts, no breath,
xxxxxxjust fingers on the fine-tooled keys,

Clump and clack of pads and brass, a pure early modern mechanics, Adam Smith’s
xxxxxxpin makers laboring

In service of a great music of commerce, each silent and intent, as a century passes
xxxxxxlike nothing, like a fife tune,

And somewhere a march is stirring, somewhere someone imagines a reedy, gut-
xxxxxxborn tone,

Undercutting the splendid assurance of the cornet, honking at the euphonium’s
xxxxxxplatitudes, and as always,

Although the argument is efficiency and the underwriters (Fokker, Enfield) smart
xxxxxxin parade dress,

There is always more at stake: the airman’s barrel roll for the pleasure of the
xxxxxxcivilians on the ground before the strafing, the infantryman’s poems jammed
xxxxxxin his haversack,

Then Bechet’s soprano, then the massed sax sections of swing, the cutting
xxxxxxsessions, the aspirants and acolytes,

Trying out their fingerings at a side table at the club, Chicago, a couple of
xxxxxxwhite guys in plaid and khaki cheering from the sidelines;

In a cottage on Milvia Street in Berkeley, the click and clatter of typewriter

And at Big Sur, an old man with a horn under his arm has walked a little further into
xxxxxxthe scrub where the trail dodges back from the cliff

Considering that long paradox of infinite division. Who would have thought the
xxxxxxbroken might contrive such beauty.

Who would have thought the saxophone might be one voice of god.


You Can’t Have Too Many Poems About Coffee

It’s the bitterness you want each morning, waking, thirsty, to drive away the
xxxxxxsentiment, the dreams of charity, of comity,

You know what they’re like: the reciprocal bartering in the souk below the outer
xxxxxxwalls, the market town with the cobbled, stall-lined street leading
xxxxxxdownhill to the river, all those interdependencies,

And the worn prayer wheels of the monasteries, the raising of the rope bridge
xxxxxxacross the chasm, the whole National Geographic panoply of other-
xxxxxxworldliness and good intentions.

Let the acid in the brew stave them off as you sit at the breakfast table, let the ice in
xxxxxxthe trees along the boulevard snap the branches clean before anyone heeds
xxxxxxtheir supplications,

Your day belongs to the formalities of calculation and conveyance; your place is the
xxxxxxQuarter of None, the clock poised always at the point of the contract’s

You would not walk out in this cold with anything but the warmest overcoat, with
xxxxxxanything like regret in your mind; you would turn nostalgia from your office
xxxxxxdoor and send him packing, the eager scrivener

With his letters of reference from your threadbare friends back in the provinces.
xxxxxxYou would tighten your scarf and your double-breasted greatcoat and grab
xxxxxxtwo sticks of good oak,

One to stir the fires along greed’s margin, that strict and narrow path, and another
xxxxxxto tap your ashy way down the ledger’s decline,

Back to those outer regions, where traders and monks sit over their steaming
xxxxxxcups, and if you don’t know their language, at least you can accept their offer

Of tea, sweet with honey, cardamom. At least you can acknowledge the bitter
xxxxxxdrought that waking is

—Jordan Smith

Jordan Smith is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Clare’s Empire, a fantasia on the life and work of John Clare from The Hydroelectric Press, and The Light in the Film, The Names of Things Are Leaving, and For Appearances, all from the University of Tampa Press. The recipient of grants from the Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill Foundations, he lives in upstate New York, plays fiddle and flute, and teaches at Union College.


Jul 092016

Yannis Livadas


Dissection of four reminiscences on Rue Casimir Delavigne

Spirit is revealing itself through the exultant image of a prodigal.
And through another one.
Even though there is nothing more normal than the end;
Find other subjects to relinquish.
Over an undetectable point
Comes the time when words surrender to their masters.

I was never in despair.
And beauty is no more what people thought about her.
I stumble on the ship
That Ranajit Jana shakes;
The printer of my new book
In Calcutta.

I go to the National Library.
That’s a nice line as it is.
Inside they discuss the latest Nobel quietly.
The employee, a former drug addict now
Even worse with this ponytail
And a jackal glower.
I say, where can I find this one and
I would certainly like to take a look at that.
She says, both are out of the question,
Since the institution is under renovation.
But if you want
You can sign your latest book for me
(She recognized me).
My pen stops writing and
Only half of my name is scribed.
I push the pen point but she says, it’s good enough
As it is.

The trafficking of readers
It is a proof
Of poetry.



Of all the dubious elements of the abyss
The boomerang ideas
I most appreciate,
Which return dazzling
To their one and only locus.



Turns of cordial words
With particular interest
Limit the dimensions.
Most I admire Praxiteles
than Hermes.
Until night becomes a virgin.
So that being means to write.


I guess I will survive consubstantial

Very recently I stated the problems
Of experience as strongly as the bagatelles
Assume expatiating that they find us
Fatalists when once they considered us adaptive
To whatever concerned us.
I imagine that will survive all alone
Consubstantial with the imperfect
I am reviewing out
Of the blue.


This swollen face is a wreath

This swollen face is a wreath.
Many of those who exhibit the unseen arrangement
Of death are not visible.
In contrast to the unscathed delirium of life.
So, don’t bother.
Interiority equals cowardice.
Conceptually some delve into fears.
Not here though.
Those over there are resuming
Based on the peacefulness of the testicular balls.
Such hours you have to rejoice
That the spirit is man
And with just a weather forecast
Is getting ready for
The futile.

—Yannis Livadas


Yannis Livadas is a Greek poet, born in 1969. His work constitutes the idea of experimentalism based on «organic antimetathesis» — the scaling indeterminacy of meaning, of syntactic comparisons and structural contradistinction. He is also an editor; essayist, translator, of more than fifty books of American poetry and prose; an independent scholar with specialization on American modern and postmodernism literature plus haiku. He contributes to various literary magazines, both in Greece and other countries. His poems and essays have been translated in eight languages. He lives in Paris, France.


Austerity Measures/The New Greek Poetry [is included with six poems] (Penguin Books 2016)
Modart (Alloglotta Editions, Athens 2015)
Strictly Two (Sea Urchin Editions, Rotterdam, Holland, 2015)
The fat of the fly (Kedros, Athens 2015)
Au comptoir de La Manne au 90 rue Claude-Bernard (Édition privée, Paris 2014)
Sound Bones (Iolkos, Athens 2014)
At the stand of La Manne, 90 rue Claude Bernard (Private edition, Paris 2013)
La Chope Daguerre + Ηusk Poems (Kedros, Athens 2013)
Bezumljie (Peti Talas, Serbia 2012)
Ravaged By The Hand Of Beauty (Cold Turkey Press, France 2012)
Kelifus (Cold Turkey Press, France 2011)
Ati – Scattered Poems 2001-2009 (Kedros, Athens 2011)
The Margins Of A Central Man (Graffiti Kolkata, India 2010)
The Star Electric Space/An International Anthology Of Indie Writers [is included with 4 poems](Graffiti Kolkata, India 2010)
40a (Private edition, Athens 2009)
John Coltrane & 15 Poems for Jazz (C.C. Marimbo, San Francisco 2008)
Apteral Nike/Business/Sphinx (Heridanos, Athens 2008)
John Coltrane and 12 Poems for Jazz (Apopeira, Athens 2007)
The Hanging Verses Of Babylon (Melani, Athens 2007)
Annex of Temperate Emotion (Indiktos, Athens 2003)
Receipt of Retail Poetry (Akron, Athens 2002)
Expressionistic Feedback (Akron, Athens 2000)

Anaptygma/Essays and notes on poetry (Koukoutsi, Athens 2015)

The Laocoon Complex (Logeion Books, Athens 2012)


Jul 082016

Kinga Fabo 2016


Blow Wind, Blow

You sit me down. Make my bed. For me. For you.
For her. The way she swings around. Sways. Bows.
Let’s say: I’ll tell you. Let’s say: You’ll listen.

My dearest!
You congregant!
How should I use you?
I’m sitting right here and murmur.
I am sweet, you are sweet.

It was beautiful. Congregated. Used.
I should have done something to him.
There were many other
things. Things? Many?
It was winter. Hard. Un-
There was a woman. A man. Insignifican’


Dracula Orchid

We didn’t choose each other.
We were locked together.
Watching his ugly face.

He looks back: I see myself.
Who is in which end of the cable
who is that places me at his will?

This isn’t a game between the two of us,
this tug of war.
Someone’s pulling my strings from above:

once he pulls me, next he leaves me.
Smells the blood. Nosing around me.
The heat of the body. Steaming.

Can’t take it anymore. This distillate is too raw to me.
The beast wins out of beauty.
The scale goes off balance.

Two derelict puppets. Deteriorated.
Event in the greenhouse: behold.
The heart’s been stubbed.


False Thread

Seasons jam up.
Drill through the spring.
Winter, summer start attacking.

The flood makes a run.
Surging again and again
stalls and then throngs ahead.

Under the sea, the land is shaking.
(The unhoped front comes with such commotion.
While the other is dragging a heatwave.)

The shipwrecks of the lips: pilling of syllables.
Slurs and stutters.
Breaks and floods the words with anger.

It hits. Or gets hit by a syllable
culminating above it.
Gives no time to get resentful.

There is its double if it bales out.
None holds a grudge against none.
It hits. Or let others beat it.

The client is the same man.
Hiding in my shadow.
Matters not what I say or do.

There is no love: Spring’s been postponed.
It might be hiding in my shadow.
Snip. I’ll cut you up, you false thread.

(An iceberg broke off in Greenland.
The woods are on fire around Moscow.
The air is poisonous above Moscow.)


I’m not a city

I’m not a city: I have neither light, nor
window display. I look good.
I feel good. You didn’t
invite me though. How
did I get here?

You’d do anything for me; right?
Let’s do it! An attack.
A simple toy—
wife? I dress, dress, dress

The dressing remains.
I operate, because I’m operated.
All I can do is operate.
(I don’t mean anything to anyone.)
What is missing then?

Yet both are men separately.
Ongoing magic. Broad topsyturviness.
Slow, merciless.
A new one is coming: almost perfect.
I swallow it.

I swallow him too.
He is too precious to
waste himself such ways.
I’d choose him: if he knew,
that I’d choose him.

But he doesn’t. My dearest is lunatic.
In vain he is full: He is useless
without the Moon, he can’t change,
he won’t change,
the way the steel bullets spin: drifting,

the blue is drifting.
He tolerates violence on himself, I was afraid
he’d pull himself together and
asks for violence.
I watched myself

born anew with indifference:
(if I melt him!)
stubborn, dense, yowls. They worked on him well.
Right now he is in transition.
He is a lake: looking for its shore.



You are free, said the stranger.
Before I arrived there.
Costume. I had a costume on though.
I was curious: what his reaction might be?

He closed his other eyes.
I’ll send an ego instead of you.
Getting softer, I feel it, he feels it too. Hardly moves. He chokes himself inside me.
Now I must live with another dead man.

It’s not even hopeless.
Not vicious.
Serves the absence.
Delivers the unnecessary.

—Kinga Fabó

Kinga Fabó is a Hungarian poet, linguist, and essayist. She is the author of eight books. Her latest, a bilingual Indonesian-English poetry collection titled Racun (Poison), was published in 2015 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Fabó’s poetry has been included in various international journals and zines, as well as in anthologies. Some of her individual poems have been translated into Persian, Esperanto or Tamil. One of her poems, “The Ears,” has six different Indonesian translations by six different authors. She has also written an essay on Sylvia Plath. In everything she’s done, Fabó has always been between the verges, on the verge, and in the extreme.

Gabor G. Gyukics is a Hungarian poet and literary translator.



Jul 012016



World of Two

I was too young to know better when I put him
in a dress. Poor thing. What was his name?
My brother would remember. I regret it now.
But at the time I pretended he enjoyed it. I had
no sisters, only four older brothers. What was I
to do? I created our own private world, spoke
for both of us and pretended he enjoyed it in his
dress, sometimes even a bonnet. There was tea.
There were conversations. I meant no harm.
He was so handsome, fair, big-boned. It was
a world of two. Took him from the barn. I put
him in a stroller, held him there with one hand,
pushed it with the other. What was his name?
All I remember was the day he got away.
I scared myself. We were on the screened porch
and he hid beneath the flowered sofa, which
I learned had wire springs. A button got caught
in the coils. The more he pulled to escape
the worse was his pain. Poor thing. I put him in
a dress, not the last boy. I pretended he enjoyed
it. I meant no harm. What was his name?


Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains)

In a sea around us the rain echoes
that I’ve wronged you. Striking, I have found
no dry match left. Nightly, vespers
from the advancing sea whisper
of your leaving. Your leaving now surrounds
each day. Inescapably, all gestures
have an undertow. Rain wraps around
my legs to draw me down. I conjure
your mouth as mine fills with water. Sound
and sight ebb as slowly we drown
in the rain around us as seas whisper.


Mare Spumans (Sea of Foam)

A dark science swept me into this
birdless place. Each morning, the forgetting:
stars erased at daybreak, a thousand
deaths. Whelks strewn upon the shore, beautiful
in their wreckage: fleshy pinks, pale
violets, the violence they endured
making them more beautiful. They call
from a former cloistered life and will be
smaller tomorrow, half-buried in the sand,
becoming sand. Nothing now to hear, broken
open, split to silence, still a sea within.


Mare Cognitum (Sea of Understanding)

Happy is he who forgets that which can’t be changed.
— Strauss, Die Fledermaus

Lethe in droplets day by day. Ask for the erasure of snow, of water,
the arcing fell swoop of the Bird’s Way to let go this life, or an empty,
oarless boat in which to hunker down. My Polish grandmother
searched my childhood eyes, chanting, Dlaczego tak smutny jestes?
I was already halfway to another place. Make no mistake, I’ll miss it
sorely, yes. First, the feathered ones, then iridescent trout, streams the
green of a bruise, each deer and goat and dog. But luna moth, so what
if I call you a sulphur, a swallow, a salmon? If vermilion becomes
chartreuse? I’ll rename the world and then transform its every purpose.
No more bee geometry, not another sum. It will start with walking into
rooms, forgetting why I’ve gone there, finding foreign objects in my
hands, finding my hands foreign, as I let fall my dignity, my raiment,
like peonies their petals. Open me as ants unglue tight buds. Take
away my secrets one by one. I’ll pray to gods of light whispering,
no stars tonight no stars, envisioning dark flying things: the pipistrelle
and mourning cloak, a lover winged. Nymphs soaring in cast after cast,
and I will fly, piercing the heavens, galaxies away, in search of one
whose name I’ll have long escaped.



She wanted it and didn’t want it
with equal strength. She wanted it
fiercely then didn’t want it just as fiercely
in alternating rhythms. Little Curly,
Little Bug, a stray, twice dispossessed,
chosen for her hardiness. No longer
to be trusted, the body inside the body,
stone inside a shell, grew shapeless. Designed
for no return, the night became infinite as
wedlock. Was it a failure to separate
in the end? She sought no other
world than this: to know kindness.

—Mary Kathryn Jablonski


A gallerist in Saratoga Springs for over 15 years, visual artist & poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski is now an administrative director in holistic healthcare. She is author of the chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met, and her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals including the Beloit Poetry Journal, Blueline, Home Planet News, Salmagundi, and Slipstream, among others. Her artwork has been widely exhibited throughout the Northeast and is held in private and public collections.


Jun 072016

George Szirtes


A Bomb at the Book Launch

much happened then.
We vanished and the streets
filled up with others. Then there were
more books

and more
to read them. Books
were breath. Books were just air
in motion, words broken into

Why then
the stillness? Why
the silence after us?
Didn’t we deserve accolades
of breath?

had happened. Things
broke. Matter exploded.
We were fragment and fire and air.
We launched

our books
into the sky.
We were our own book launch,
We ourselves were the explosion.
The bomb.

It was
as imagined,
ourselves exploding, blown
like soot into corroded air,
like breath.



He had everything
and felt entitled to it.
Entitled is good.

The taxes he paid
were not the taxes he paid,
why should anyone?

People try to save.
It is natural to save.
Everyone does it.

The moon does not yield
all the sun’s light. It must save
some for its own use.

The sea’s energy
belongs to the sea. Why should
the sea not prosper?

It is natural
for the sea to salt away
salt for its own use.

Far away islands
are a natural resource.
They are resourceful.

Far away is good.
Islands that are far away
are good for business.

Wealth is natural.
The way things are is nature
being natural.

We are far away
and natural. Nature is
just and generous.



You see them perched in a row on a beam
high above the city. They have no harness,
no safety rail. They are munching sandwiches
prepared by their wives sixty storeys below
or bought at an early morning stall. From there
they survey the world like gods without power,
like flightless sparrows or shreds of windblown paper.
At school, when asked about careers, they answered:
this, this girder, this vertiginous height, this pay,
this beer, these sandwiches, are what we aspire to,
life being short, and frequently shorter,
occasionally abrupt and always dangerous. This pride
is what we master, this mustering of self and air,
this, and fatherhood or livelihood, the fight
in the bar or the alley, the triumph or disaster
of a joke told to gods on the same high beam.
We’re born for this, to this, it is our station
and pride, our working principle. The foreman
strides among us, the boss approves the plans,
the food appears on our plates. It is our domain.
It is the urban wind that blows between streets
that are yet to rise to their full stature. We hang
between floors like decorations, a rank of medals
strung to a ragged chest. It is our choice. We make it.

Then they descend, one by one, along more beams,
down steps, resisting gravity, as they’re obliged to.



The boy
I was is not
the man I am, he said,
his brow darkening with effort,
then laughed.

The boy
I was is not
anything special now.
I don’t even remember him,
he said.

You know
what you want but
something gets in the way,
he said and laughed again, then took
a drag.

It is
not just yourself.
It is some other thing
you must deny and so you do,
he said.

I knew
it from the start.
I was the bad thing there
just waiting to happen, he said
and drank.

I kept
my hands where they
could be seen. My eyes were
open and smoking. I was clean,
he said.

it gets too much,
he said, but you have to.
Speaking is useless, as are tears
and fists.

Your moods
are frightening.
You are impossible
and guilty and it’s the guilt that

Some days
I think of harm.
It’s my business I think.
At least it’s me that’s doing it,
he said.

The boy
is dead. My death
is born out of his. But
this is not death. This is just me,
he said.


Four Notes after Felicia Glowacka

They lean towards each other as if
life had bent them out of true.
Is it love? It is the very fog they breathe
and stumble through.

Weighed down by their own
lack of gravity. It’s late.
It’s there in the twisted bone.
Night’s unutterable weight.

There are people one bows to. To others
one bows lower still, averting eyes.
Few of us are born to be brothers.
One is of a moderate size.

Three drunks
emerge from a stray
thought into frozen air
then bawl and sway
and vanish into day.

—George Szirtes

George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948. He is the author of some fifteen books of poetry and a roughly equal number of translations from the Hungarian. His New and Collected Poems (2008) was poetry book of the year in The Independent. The Burning of the Books (2009) and Bad Machine (2013) were both short-listed for the T S Eliot Prize which he had won earlier with Reel (2004).


Jun 052016

Sharon McCartney


Susan appears agonal and preterminal.

From a neurological consult report dated September 18, 1979,
11 days before she dies.

I have to look up agonal.
Of or related to great pain.
As in the agony of death.

She was in pain.
I never thought about her being in pain.

Her long hospital records indicate her primary problem began with seizures in 1961.

A malignant glioma in the left temporal area, excised
surgically in January 1961 at the Mayo Clinic.
Rochester, Minnesota. Then, radiation. She is 11 years old,
my big sister by 10 years. I am the baby of the family.

Mother calls it “cobalt treatment.” Old black and white
zig-zag-edged photos from Rochester, before the treatment,
show Susie, grinning maniacally from behind a monstrous
snowbank and lobbing snowballs toward the camera.

We live in a small ivy-green bungalow in a new subdivision
in Sunny San Diego. Three white birchbark willows
congregate in a curved brick bed by the driveway.
I pedal my purple stingray with its glittery banana seat
and tassels to May Scott Marcy Elementary School.
Except for Susie, we are like everyone else.

She has grand mal seizures. We call them spells.
When she has a spell, we say, “Mother, Susie!”
Mother comes and strokes Susie’s brow
until the seizure passes. She kneels
and cradles Susie’s head in her lap.
This happens daily and everywhere.

In the checkout line at FedMart,
while Mother is waiting to pay, Susie
careens sideways and crumples. Fat faces
stare and I stare back until they look away.

Susie is unpredictable and often violent.
Plates and glasses are thrown. Squad cars
in the driveway are not uncommon.
Sedatives and syringes sleep in the fridge.
Mrs. Foster, the nurse who lives up the street,
comes to stick Susie when necessary.
Mother bakes a German chocolate cake for her
and dispatches me up Mott Street with it.

Rose Canyon slumps behind the house
with its iceplant, tumbleweeds and wild mustard.
While I’m in the backyard, playing horses,
there’s a ruckus indoors.
Susie is howling something
that sounds like “kill me, kill me.”
She is held down on the bed
by Mother, Daddy, Stephanie, Doug,
each with a limb.
This scene does not involve me.
I’m not even sure that I actually see it.

In private, Stephanie and I play a game
of making fun of Susie. I pretend to be Susie.
I knock on the bedroom door and say,
“Stephanie, Mother says you have to come
and get into the … dog.” I pretend that I can’t
remember the word for car. This makes us roar.

Sister Stephanie and Sharon, 4 and 7

1969, Mesa Vista hospital for “acute psychosis.”
Hydrocephalus. Pressure on the brain.

Susie is rolled in an old green army blanket
to immobilize her during one of her rages.
She is deposited on the Chevy wagon’s
middle seat to be driven to the hospital.
Daddy stands in the garage beside the car
and he is weeping.

1972, a low pressure ventricularperitoneal
shunt to drain the fluid. An infection.
The shunt requires replacement later that year.

1973, a neurilemmoma. Craniotomy.
After that, she is mute. A “neurologic cripple.”

We have a van with an hydraulic lift.
Mother ties Susie into the wheelchair
and drives to Del Taco where Mother
has a floury quesadilla and coffee with cream
in a styrofoam cup, which she drinks
in the parking lot next to the Subaru dealership.
The ridiculous sun is always shining.

Past history. Refer to old chart.

Permanent tracheostomy and gastrostomy.
Mother pumps formula into the stomach tube.

1976, Susie is hospitalized yet again
for “abdominal distention and regurgitation.”

Mother pumps food into Susie
and then Susie vomits it.

Medications: Diamox, Dilantin, Mysoline, Potassium Chloride and other medications as per her mother’s attached list. Family History: Noncontributory. Review of Systems: Noncontributory.

Agonal. She is in pain.
For years and years, pain.

Strapped upright in the wheelchair,
parked in front of the living room’s
console TV for The Wheel of Fortune,
eyes lolling, she is in pain.

She has been cared for at home by her mother, with some occasional assistance from night nurses. This admission was prompted when she seemed to be “going downhill,” according to the mother. She has had temperature, been less responsive, and has not urinated normally. In addition, she has been agitated and combative.

Her inhuman utterances,
the mouth crooked, saliva stringing.
Urine in the sofa, in the wheelchair,
in the canopied princess bed in the bedroom
across the hall from my room
where I stay up late late to watch
Johnny Carson, Tom Snyder.

The suction machine thumps and squalls.
If the trach tube is not cleared, Susie will suffocate.
Imagine a metallic hole in your trachea.
Now, a thin plastic tube going in, sucking.
I only think about how noisy it is.

The patient is unable to aid in any self-care.

Mother sleeps with her. Twin beds.
Daddy sleeps in the den as he always has.

Mother naps in the afternoon, when she can.
I see her sitting on the bed’s edge, as if
she has just woken up, her head hanging.

The house smells like pee and shit.
The floral sofa is particularly redolent.
Sometimes there’s an ambulance
in the driveway, red lights strobing.

I never think about her being in pain.

Mother bends Susie’s arms and legs twice
daily in the room with the mirrored closet doors.
Sometimes Susie makes noises.
I do not think of them as moans.
It’s just Susie.

The patient has always been in the same mental state, virtually comatose, since I have been seeing her. However, the mother continues to notice changes in the level of consciousness, noting that sometimes for periods of weeks to months she will respond, watch television, smile, and Mrs. McCartney notes that Susan has actually said several short sentences. Nonetheless, none of those have ever been witnessed by any of the medical profession and there is some question as to whether the changes are perceived to be greater by the mother than they are.


Sharon McCartney's motherMother

Mother will not put Susie in a nursing home.
Mother says, “She would be dead in a day!”

No one ever talks about it,
what has happened to our family.

She has urinary tract infections,
pneumonia, low grade fevers.
Eventually, an indwelling catheter.

I never think about her pain,
her real physical pain.

For years I have regarded her as being in a persistent akinetic, mute or vegetative state secondary to her multiple brain tumors, shunt and general debility…. It would appear to this examiner that the combination of nonreactive pupils and absent doll’s eyes, unresponsiveness, and respiratory depression can all be related to progressive central nervous system deterioration because of the effects of the numerous central nervous system insults to this poor girl.

This poor girl. No one in the family says that.

When I run away from home,
to the beach, and am returned
24 hours later by the police,
Mother chooses to converse with me
about my tribulations while washing
Susie. Arms, legs, genitalia.
I stare into the closet’s mirrored doors.
I can see Susie behind me, naked and inert.
I realize that Mother is making A Point,
but I will not bow down.

We are stubborn.

1961, the doctors say Susie will not last
another six months, but she does.

1994, Mother, in mortal pain herself,
on a morphine pump, refuses to die
until Lupe, the hospice nurse, scolds her:
“Gladys, it’s time for you to go.
Susan is waiting for you.” Mother dies.

Is there any value in exploring this?
Whatever you deny grows stronger.

Go there. Stop avoiding it.
Stop pretending it didn’t happen.

Her prostration, slack hair, flaccid arms.
Mother heaving that thin, collapsed body
onto a fresh Chux. The cyanotic limbs.

She was in pain. Imagine any one
of your children in pain. For years.

1. Occlusion distal valve of ventriculoperitoneal shunt.
2. Normal pressure hydrocephalus, controlled.
3. Grand mal epilepsy, controlled.
4. Status postoperative posterior fossa brain tumor, neurilemmoma (1973).
5. Status postoperative left temporal glioma (1961).
6. Feeding gastrostomy tube in place (1973).
7. Permanent tracheotomy in place (1973).
8. Status postoperative laparotomy for bowel obstruction (4-3-76).
9. Status postoperative scalp debridement for wound dehiscence over shunt tube (4-8-76).

Mother is a martyr, but she’s not a hero.
She gets tired and bitter and morose.
When Daddy buys a motorboat (his business
is doing well) and names it the Susie-Q,
Mother sneers, “He would buy her anything.
He would put a pool in the yard if she wanted it.”

I want a pool. I would love to have a pool.

It was Dr. DeBolt’s feeling, with which I concur, that there has been progressive CNS deterioration, from her already low level function over the past several months and that it was not unlikely that this was a central fever. In any event, it seems clear that no further medical work-up is likely to be helpful…. There was a long discussion with both Mr. and Mrs. McCartney by myself as well as by Dr. DeBolt regarding heroic measures and it was felt that because of Susan’s general condition, resuscitation should not be undertaken.

Susie dies on September 29, 1979.

Daddy is with her when it happens. After,
he waits at the hospital’s front doors to tell Mother.
Mother says, “Thank God it’s over.”
And walks back to her car.

I am away at college, but Daddy phones me
with the news. My knees goes weak.
I have to sit down. I’m thinking,
“Wow, that actually happens.”
I thought it was just a cliché.

There is a funeral, but Mother does not attend.

I come home for a visit at Christmas,
the first Christmas after Susie’s death.
I bring my laundry and Mother does it for me.
When the dryer is finished, she dumps
the clean clothes in Susie’s wheelchair
and trudges it down the hallway
to the mirrored bedroom where she irons
and folds and irons and folds.

—Sharon McCartney


Sharon McCartney is the author of Metanoia (Biblioasis, 2016), which appeared originally in its entirety in Numéro Cinq, and five other collections of poetry: Hard Ass (Palimpsest, 2013), For and Against (Goose Lane Editions, 2010), The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Nightwood, 2007), Karenin Sings the Blues (Goose Lane Editions, 2003), and Under the Abdominal Wall (Anvil Press, 1999). She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law, and Pomona College.


Jun 042016
Photo by Francesco Fiondella

Photo by Francesco Fiondella

Tirukkural encodes the cultural intelligence of the Tamil people in its 1,330 couplets (called kurals), written sometime between the third and first centuries BCE in south India by the legendary poet Tiruvalluvar. Like other classical Indian treatises on right living, Tirukkural starts with a section on virtue (dharma), continues on to a section on wealth (artha), and then covers love (kama). (More about Tirukkural can be found in my earlier essay, here on NC.)

Though ancient in origin, these verses are still alive in Tamil culture. My mother tells me that the local Indian cultural association where she lives in rural Ohio has just started a kural-memorization competition for the kids. Each participant has to start from the beginning of Tirukkural, the very first couplet, and recite as much as he or she can remember. The prizes are awarded to the top memorizers, one dollar per kural. I laughed, thinking of how much money a kid could make if she made it all the way to the section on wealth (that’s $380 for getting there).

The following couplets are from the first and third sections (virtue and love).

 —A. Anupama


Chapter 8: On possessing love

In love, what lock? Heartache
gleams on the tear tracks left in its wake.

The loveless take all for themselves, but those who love own
not even their bones.

Love unites thought and action in pure life—
a consummation to the very marrow.

Love’s thrill leads to
friendship—boundless bliss.

Love’s possessors manufacture this world’s joy,
and, by possessing joy, win glory.

Pure virtue is love’s sole fruit according to the ignorant, oblivious
that pure valor ripens alongside.

Boneless worms in sunlight burn,
as do loveless people in moral virtue.

Loveless hearts bloom in an arid waste
on parched trees, withering.

What use are the outer limbs of the body
without the inner limb?

A love-filled path is the soul,
without which the body is only bones covered over with skin.


Chapter 122: On night visions

My love’s messenger came to me: a dream.
What feast of thanks can I offer it?

Of my eyes, shaped like darting fish, I beg sleep. Then for my love
truth will pour from my suffering heart.

Awake, he never came to me, but, asleep,
seeing him preserves my life.

In dreams, I seek that fierce pleasure, which in my waking life
avoids me: I find him.

Awake, my vision and its dream
met in one sweet moment.

If waking life would cease and only sleep persist
my love would never leave my mind.

Awake, he never came near. What cruelty takes, in my sleep,
its right to torture me?

I dreamt he made love to me. When I woke,
he swiftly entered my heart.

In this waking life, he offered me nothing. Yet I ached when in my dream
my love evaporated from my longing eyes.

Every day they will gossip about us and my forsakenness. But my dream
they didn’t glimpse, thankfully, these villagers.


from Chapter 123: An evening lament

Budding in early morning and unfurling all day,
the evening blooms, like this ache.

—Translated by A. Anupama


A. Anupama is a U.S.-born, Indian-American poet and translator whose work has appeared in several literary publications, including The Bitter Oleander, Monkeybicycle, Fourteen Hills, and decomP magazinE. 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 ( and blogs about poetic inspiration at


Jun 032016

Helwig photo



The morning kitchen catches sunlight.
Stare out past the bare branches

into the strangeness of a November day
that cold as it is, grows colder.

The air is hung with yellow,
the darkness of red roses

living on and being almost human
and wrong, the sky as bleak as a man

seeking only himself, observing light,
hungry among the dying trees.

Can you hear me thinking?

By the Clay Road

The complicated turbulence of sky
catches itself in the shining silver
mirror of a rainpool. If, only if
I bend at a perfect angle
of torso to leg and head to neck,
a delicate background of tall stems
will frame in this water the bright
circle of filtered sun, the white
unlikeliness of reflected cloud. Only if
I bend to the luminous event.



Unexpected, astonishing, as if to enlighten or reward us,
they have come
at a slow walk, three horses far off and moving toward us
as winds thrum

as hoofs crush fallen leaves. Horses, mute riders sway,
prepare to vanish
again, fading slowly far down the tall aspen perspective in sunglow
which will burnish

the present with its tint of light and shadow at the angle
particular to beast, rock, this
hour of day, then dissolve into diminished after-events as plans entangle,
miss and dismiss.

The trail of those horses speaks the locked nature of sequence,
of the past,
each horse and silent rider diminished to a notion of perfect absence,

beyond recall, restored to the space
of possible skies,
which might define some other order, precision to attain peace
and grow wise.



The chalk-blue walls shape
this afternoon of favoured ghosts,
mysterious harmonies of the heartbeat,
the many years, day by day
from the astonishment of birth
to the astonishment of death.

The man who sings will call
remembrance into time,
the personal, the vivid
hover in a nowhere, a where,
a possible now, closely
present at the end, behind glass,
the known, seen through
the mysterious rooms, the house
remembered, the house
forgotten. Keepsakes, capture
of a moment, Dickens, Tennyson
bound in green, a platter,
the Wedgwood teapot,
shaving mug from the barber’s shelf,
in an Atwood rarity, a joke
inscribed long since.

An empty vase: the elegant curve
of clay spins the click of perfect
consonance, its rhyme
the music of its being:
not will but the accord of grace.

—David Helwig


David Helwig is the author of more than 35 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction including, most recently, About Love, 3 Stories by Chekhov (Biblioasis) and The Year One (Gaspereau Press), Duet and his autobiography The Name of Things (Porcupine’s Quill). The founder of the Best Canadian Short Story Series, he has edited more than 25 books for Oberon Press. In 2007 he won the Writers’ Trust of Canada Matt Cohen Prize for distinguished lifetime achievement. In 2009 he was appointed to the Order of Canada. His avocation, however, is not writing but vocal music. After abandoning this for some years, he returned to it in his forties and has sung with a number of choirs in Kingston, Montreal and Charlottetown. He has appeared as bass soloist in Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and Mozart’s Requiem. He currently lives in an old house in the village of Eldon in Prince Edward Island.


Jun 012016



kill a dance & enjoy
your body stands
like candlelight

because this is a bag of echoes—come on,
now that you have drunk too
much silence, book

a forest, days
as recent as breath is
the only person that can carry

to your shadow. A lot
is not seawater, a lot is my journey
from birthday to languages—a

sound comes by
midnight & you say mid
night is for self, up

there, only a raven
knows my first
name; to get that

song out……………… out
…………of black nylons



are roads
following broken
spider legs?

because her
voice no longer
enters their shoes

is the light through
with seeing inside
a raw egg? or

have the people
planted apple eyes in
their prison yards?



………….there are different colours
………….when we go out
………….of our eyes near
guitargirl: non
……………………………………….dit is a field in
………………………………time with moon
……………………light—when a tree is
…………drunk, we can
……………………………………………………place for
……….there are no
……………………………………………………his suitcase,
……………………………………….know he wore



i do not chew fruits
that i cannot pronounce


whoever made
my body, first
drank a moon


it is open & close
to fire, it will body
along midnight’s
time you will
cry, she replied


it is written on bodies
that clocks will
not age nor


& shadows
in the attic
are sisters


changes every
body from

lines to
a quiet family


—David Ishaya Osu


David Ishaya Osu (b. 1991) is an Afo native from Onda. His poetry appears in: Vinyl, Chiron Review, Cutbank, The Lampeter Review, The Nottingham Review, Spillway, Juked, RædLeaf Poetry: The African Diaspora Folio, A Thousand Voices Rising: An Anthology of Contemporary African Poetry, among others. David is a board member of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, and was selected for the 2016 USA Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. He was poetry editor for The James Franco Review. David is currently polishing his debut poetry book.


May 142016

IMG_0444Art work by Greg Mulcahy


Julot Calcascieu and I have not spoken in years. Estrangement between writers once friends is common; its reasons are always personal and complicated.  In this case, I’m not sure what the reasons are. Perhaps it was a long-forgotten insult given and received, or growth, or change, or life. And really the reasons don’t matter.

Calcascieu and I were first associated with Abigail Allen’s magazine, Phantasmagoria. We were both contributors, and we shared, or I thought we shared, similar views on where literature was and where it needed to go.

Perhaps my views have changed.

Perhaps his have.

A conversation that was pleasant turned unpleasant, and each of us discovered who the other really was.

As I’ve said, we haven’t spoken in years, but things find their ways to me sometimes, so I will state categorically that I did not steal from Calcascieu or cheat him out of money.  I covered our expenses for a joint reading we did in a nearby state. I asked him to reimburse me for his share. He refused. Maybe there was a misunderstanding—I grant that possibility. But there was no swindle or theft and absolutely no attempt at either.

Arguments about money are always arguments about money, especially when money is, as it was and continues to be, scarce, but they are often arguments about something else as well.

Maybe this is an argument about disappointment, both personal and professional, or about the disappearance of an imagined solidarity, or sympathy, or world.

But I can tell you this. Julot Calcascieu has a hat, a hat he wears at readings. Julot Calcascieu calls this hat a “poet’s hat” and believes it essential to his image as “poet and theorist.” Now I live in a cold climate that seems, contrary to fact, to be growing colder. Consequently, I own a dozen hats. But none are magical or empowered or definitions of my identity. Julot Calcascieu is a construct, self-constructed perhaps, but no less so for that. Yeats’ “tattered coat upon a stick” if that.

Maybe all poets are.

Still there are the poems.

The poems, still.

—Greg Mulcahy



Went to Lakewood
Didn’t see a swan
Or fifty-nine
Anything, but some
In a parking



Finding another
Via internet
With my name
& did his mother
call him
ti’ bijoux
or what
& how



There are times
When a
Needs a
Really sharp



I was not
The good
Always two:
The good one
The other one.



And if you did not love me
I would not mind.
The poet said.
But she
First she
Made a world
In her poem for them.
That was the difference.



Poetry has
Use as the
Movies teach—
Use it
To engage
Poor students
Poor schools.
You’ll need—
Of course—
Inspired teachers
As heroes—
Who do not
Cost too



First, there was no money.
Then the War.
Then money.
Then money and small wars.
Then no war and money.
Then money.
Then money and small wars.
Where did that money get to?



And the prisoner of the story
Given a page a day
A page
A day
To write on. No more.
Picture him sitting on the
Pencil and page in hand.
Looking out the dark bars
For enough.
No more.

—Julot Calcascieu

Greg Mulcahy is the author of Out of Work, Constellation, Carbine, and O’Hearn. He teaches at Century College in Minnesota.


May 122016

Betsy book pics 2013 - 147



Crisp air, press of ladder rung on instep,
iiiitree sway and dappled light, then stem twist
iiiiiiand the weight of apple in hand—

reaching through that leafy light, did we ask
iiiiwhat else we were after?  Some desire
iiiiiito possess the whole splendid day, sun glint

on grass, September’s slow withdrawal,
iiiithe drying leaves sparse now, so the apples
iiiiiiwere little flames.  Strange that we make

one fruit both medicine and poison,
iiiiprescribed and forbidden, as if everything’s
iiiiiimixed, and there’s no forgetting that darker

hunger at work, blind to the damage it does,
iiiiego’s bad apple, poison in the star
iiiiiiand gravity, gravity, gravity.

But then wind-falls in wet grass—paradox
iiiiof fortune—how sweet for the bees and wasps
iiiiiiwho find the cores warmed by the sun

into a heady liquor, and sip.   Once
iiiiwe had a wooden apple made with such skill,
iiiiiimore than one person picked it up

thinking to bite, until our dog finally did.
iiiiWe found it under the couch, splintered
iiiiiiand pocked, and with stern voices banished him

to the yard.  As if once down the stairs
iiiihe wouldn’t happily enter that bright world
iiiiiiof rock and dirt, nuthatch, beetle, squirrel.



Say you’re out jogging in New Hampshire
and come across one feeding on berries

and too busy with those sweet juices,
with fattening up for winter, to bother with you,

who just wants to move along country roads
on your own two legs, between meadow and wood,

not too fast, not too slow, out for a run
before porridge.  Innocent enough,

but still an intruder, still something a bear
might sniff as trouble, bothersome

for a creature intent on moving through
her world unharmed eating berries

with her cub on an August morning—
and so a creature much like you.

But there’s that cub, and you’ve been warned:
sing, make a racket, till they shamble off.

A barroom ditty comes to mind,
all those bottles of beer on the wall, so you sing

as if a song could save you.
You wave your arms overhead to make yourself bigger—

or boorish, you begin to think,
as mother nudges cub off into the woods.

After all what did you see?
Just a glimpse of bear body through roadside scrub,

and nothing, nothing of its beauty.



The Jersey shoreline where I grew up
was hardly a cliff, but it was an edge

where we kids clamped our feet in sand
and felt the tide crisscross our ankles

pulling the ground out from under.  Before us
stretched the whole blue-gray beyond

drawing us toward the horizon’s flickering line.
Distance and dazzling surface filled our eyes,

then made me cringe at the thought of swimmers
caught in riptides.  When one caught me,

the girl I was probably could have stood
if the storm surf hadn’t kept knocking her legs

out from under, rolling her, closing over,
the slamming her breathless into black out.

Beyond shore, the great watery meadows
cared nothing for her, crabs crawling along

the stirred-up bottom couldn’t tell girl from
broken off tackle, and gulls cruising

overhead weren’t crying for her either.
Whoever pulled me out didn’t look back,

just walked off, as if angry at having to haul out
a kid who should have known better—

red caution flags out all along the shore.
Or maybe I just needed to wake up

alone in the sudden clarity of
wind-swept beach, stove-in storm fence,

one low slung wire against a quilted sky—
alive in a way I wasn’t before

the sea swallowed then coughed me back out,
before I woke on that rain-pocked beach,

sand thick in my scalp, seaweed clinging,
and sat up, and started to crawl.



meant pricey when Grandmother said it
in the grocery store, clucking over asparagus
in winter, raspberries in March.

But in Mother’s voice it meant something more
like adoration—until later,
the word turned into worried “oh dears”

as I composed my adolescent dramas,
those rough drafts of destiny.  I hardly noticed
the derelicts lined up in the doctor’s hallway

getting jabbed through their clothes
as I walked in, anemic from dieting.
I hadn’t yet taught the guys in prison

for drugs, for doing what others just dream,
hadn’t heard stories of childhood damage,
so could almost think drunks deserved their fate.

As if dogs deserve to be kicked, to be under
another’s boot, the way our neighbor
jabbed a broomstick into his great Dane

trying to turn her from sweet to vicious.
No one on our street was deaf to those cries,
her whimper and shriek as the man snarled.

Each afternoon as I read Bible stories
into my grandmother’s hearing aid box,
stories that thrive on reversals—last, first,

poor, rich, those who give, those who hold back—
I thought I knew which ones God would love.
I was young.  I thought I knew.



On the musical scale of vowels, E
is up there at the level of shriek.
Eeek, a mouse!  Seek is one thing,

Eureka! another.  So much searching
for ecstasy, endless satisfaction,
as if you could stay on Everest forever.

“Third heaven,” St. Paul talks about
in one epistle, though how he got there
he can’t say, and he can’t stay there, either.

The thorn in his flesh, whatever it was,
made sure of that. As my love says, you can
be so heavenly, you’re no earthly good.

Easy to imagine enlightenment
belonging to just the few who scale the top,
or those high flyers who thrive on extremes,

and not the little guy down below,
not the monk walking home from the river
with his bundle of reeds, but the devil

who stops him to brag, “I do all the things
you do.  You watch and I never sleep.
You fast, and I eat nothing at all.”



Dante says she’s a kind of heavenly worker,
not quite an angel but more than a force
as she turns the wheel from famine to feast,
making failure last no longer than fame.
But failure, that big red F at the top of the page,

stops me in my tracks.  Once I thought I could
just take it, not write the paper on Freud
and Buber.   But the thought so frightened me,
my whole body  felt an electric fizz.
“F—  that,” I must have muttered, then sat down

to write, living on muffins and coffee
a whole week, dropping a small fortune,
in the pay phone, crying to my boyfriend
about Freud’s money metaphor, his belief that
women spend all our psychic energy

growing up…   So that freaking little F
on our birth certificate freezes the wheel?
Our fate’s rigged, and any faith we have
is just infantile delusion, oceanic
feeling with no base in reason or reality?

Tap-water coffee and Buber all night—
how I hoped for some splendid refutation.
Against reason he tells stories:  Here is
Rabbi Isaak pacing a bridge in Krakow
because he’s dreamed a treasure hidden there.

Here’s the captain of the guards scoffing, “Ha!
If I believed in dreams I’d have to go
to the house of a Jew named Isaak and dig
under his stove.”  Well, the rabbi hurries home
and finds that treasure, as if faith—or fate—

is all detour and surprise, stepping out
to find the way back in.  With his fortune,
the rabbi builds a house of prayer—because,
Herr Doktor, what to do with such a gift,
but pour it out into more giving?

“Good grief”
says one of Dante’s gluttons, ghost-thin
on Purgatory’s Terrace six—  “good,”
because he knows his agony will end.

So, golly, Mr. Golem, you just keep
going round, gazing at what you can’t grab,
growing gaunt on your diet of hope.

Down here it gets pretty grim when I lose
sight of “Let go and let God.”  In that void
I still hear my four-year-old sophist son

telling me he can turn on the TV
and see Spiderman each afternoon, but—
significant pause—“I’ve never seen God…”

Well, not in blue tights and a red hood,
not casting webs or scaling walls, either.
Addressing that absence, all the big saints,

those holy goombahs, say faith’s in the gap
between holding on and letting go,
so to find God takes three words: “I give up.”

But they aren’t often said with soft sighs
in a well-appointed parlor, are they?
More likely it’s a groan or plea for help,

when you’re losing your grip on a cliff edge.
That’s where the old joke comes in—guy grasps
a crumbling ledge, feels his fingers slip,

cries out, hears that big tuba voice call down,
“Let go!”  Looks around, tightens his grip,
shouts back, “Anybody else up there?”


Happy, Happy, Happy!

Keats calls the figures on the Grecian urn,
never arriving but not dying either—

as if we’re always on the road, between—
truth/beauty, head/heart, heaven and hell—

or what was that recipe we found once?
Himmel und erde, mixing potatoes and apples,

mashed so the two we loved separate were fused
like healing stirred, blended into hurt,

so you can’t tell them apart—the wound,
the crack, the tear that lets in light…

But happy to me always meant arriving
at the goal, then getting to hang at poolside
after hard work, sipping a pastel drink
with its little paper umbrella.

Who wants to be stuck going round and round?
Still, if you’re Keats spitting blood,

or the bull on that urn, then the slower you go
the better.

Though it takes more than dragging our heels
to arrive where Catherine of Sienna does,

saying all the way  to heaven is heaven,
especially when it looks like hell.  The hacked up

ruins of what once was a town, the heavy weight
of the dead loaded onto carts,

the buttons, bones, shoes still in the rubble
when the survivors comb through:

against those scenes, only the smallest gestures
seem to hold—the cup of water

handed to a prisoner on a train, the shawl
wrapped around a shivering child at the border,

the last piece of bread a hungry man
breaks in two.

—Betsy Sholl


Betsy Sholl has published eight books of poetry, most recently Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin, 2014), which won the 2014 Maine Literary Award for Poetry, Rough Cradle (Alice James, 2009) and Late Psalm (Univ. of Wisconsin, 2004).

Other books include Don’t Explain, winner of the Felix Pollak Award (University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), and The Red Line, which won the 1991 AWP Prize for Poetry (Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1992). From 2006 to 2011 she was Poet Laureate of Maine. She has had poems published recently or forthcoming in Brilliant Corners, Field, New Ohio Review, and Image. Also, this past spring she performed some of her jazz poems with musicians Gary Wittner and Jim Cameron.

Three earlier collections of poetry came out with Alice James Books, where she was a founding member. A chapbook, Coastal Bop, came out with Oyster River Press in 2001. Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, among them Field, Image, The Kenyon Review, The Massachusetts Review, and The Missouri Review. In 1991 she won the Maine Arts Commission Chapbook Competition. She is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship and two Maine Artists Fellowships. She has taught in the Writing Program at M.I.T. and until recently taught at the Univ. of Southern Maine.


May 072016
Ingrid Ruthig (photo: Iwona Dufaj)

Ingrid Ruthig (photo: Iwona Dufaj)

Layout 1


Crow goes off, a gravelgullet.
An exit wound beyond the pane.
What day? Fuck fuckmonday.
Fivefifteen a.m. Wrong time.
Unholy hour. Rollover, ah—
Squawksquawk! Notetoself:
fellthatdamnedtree where crow
now Everests exhilarated as
Hillary. Here, radio goes off.
Gawd. Pop song’s off. Sloppy,
not in time or tune. My ears.
Brain’s gone off. Altered state.
Not quite sprung. Ungodly March.
Note to Nature: keep your sex
to a dull roar. SQUAWK! Right.
No sleep now. Stare at where
roof apparently is. Conjure
a silent reveal of stars. Far off.


Pangnirtung Arrivals

Never spied a white pine up here.
But time was when monster-gods
appeared to ancestors, real as fact,
to restock the story banks with fear.

Grandfathers spoke of ghostmen
with snow-bitten skin, with eyes
of a queer light, and their vessels
lodged tight in the hardfloe.

Visions now, for those not flown
to less-cloistered lives, are as strange.
Red char’s turned white, meltwater
floods out the permafrost bridge,

while north-straying jays and robins
telltale an arrival, and a departure.
Another shard of icecap cracks,
tips and, now loose, strays south

to shrink from view, while I try to
imagine how this story might end –
pines with a future here, seeding new
tales to relay beneath the Aurora sphere.


That Summer in Paris

the streets sweltered, people
prostrated nude on the floor,
prayed for release from the heat
that seized them, off guard –
privacy thrown to an awol wind
they cast the nets of windows, doors
to snag even gossip of a breeze
in Haussmann’s suffocating dream
instead had to listen to each other
bicker, suck ice chips, dissolve
like desire in hell-fired beds,
sweat, shrivel in misery,
speak of death on the phone –
given no reprieve they listened
and listened to limestone walls
heat-seek air, pavement yield,
potted plants sag, Gallic tempers
on mercurial rise, the Seine drag
its sluggish wake to the sea –
listened till they could no longer
hear a final gasp mimic a sigh
or imagine the hush of a river
slipping unnoticed into ocean.



This sombre supplicant to the whims
of living, age, genetics, and weather,

this thin fortress, the stronghold of I,
is a tension network of sensation.

On ossified scaffold, it’s a flexible
wrapping we’re packaged inside.

A billboard, too, it instills, as ads do,
desire, a bid for a genome meet-and-greet.

At night, shifting across sleep’s dunes,
with luck it’s an oasis from strain.

Shield. Splash page. A porous balloon
loosed to time’s slow deflation, it sinks

to earth. In the border and creases of
its map, hints of where we’ve been appear,

and of where from here we might still go,
charting the trip to Terra incognita.


Southbound Out

Itching to hitch a ride at Kaladar,
the old guy’s all gums and grin –
a portrait no one’s thought to paint.
He hovers at the road’s shoulder,
thumb out, dusty, trying again.
The cardinal splash of his cap
and suspenders flag his intentions
as sure as a sign would, and south
is the only direction on his map.
He blind-eyes the campers
who tail-wind the opposite way.
Leans instead into their turbulence,
a middle distance he’s set sight on,
away from blueberries, marshes,
the isolating fuss of visitors and
a fickleness that tricks them
into thinking they are at one with
this blasted nature. He’s moving on
before the hibernation sets in up here,
where earth’s a skim coat on rock,
roots creep varicose near the surface,
and shadows in a slippage
of daylight will soon enough
recoil and disappear.

—Ingrid Ruthig

Excerpted with permission from This Being by Ingrid Ruthig © 2016, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside.


Ingrid Ruthig earned a Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Toronto in the 1980s and practised the profession for more than a decade. Her work as a writer, editor, and artist (read the Numéro Cinq interview) has appeared widely, with poems published in The Best Canadian Poetry 2012, The Malahat Review, Descant, and many other publications across Canada and abroad. She is the author of the poem sequence & artist’s book Slipstream, the chapbook Synesthete II, and editor of The Essential Anne Wilkinson, Richard Outram: Essays on His Works, and a forthcoming volume on the work of David Helwig. Her poetry collection This Being was published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in March 2016. Ingrid lives near Toronto.



May 052016

Denise LowDenise Low


xxxxxxx(Kenneth Lee Irby, 30 July 2015)

You no longer “care” for anything to eat
except sweet brandy

xxxxxxA last bottle,
xxxxxxyes, I bought it,
xxxxxxand I’m not sorry

You sip
slumped sideways on the sofa
xxxxxxbracket of spine tilting
fever-red cheeks
xxxxxxthe marionette lines barely
xxxxxxXXXxxholding you up

long-sleeved denim shirt
xxxxxxover skin so thin
blue veins shine
xxxxxxXXXxxbones jut the collar

xxxxxxsoon will come the morphine angel


Like a fool I bring
Japanese fairy tales—
xxxxxxmy father’s book
xxxxxxrich slick mildewy paper

Your overgrown thumbnail slits pages open

Through your hands tumble bright
xxxxxxred foxes
xxxxxxyellow-lantern moons

You tell me your mother’s last words
xxxxxx“Are the plants watered?”

And you breathe to me,
yes the breath labored,
xxxxxx“This is, as they say, a last gasp”


A round moon rises overhead

The bloody mud knot of your heart
xxxxxxloosens jagged dithyrambs.

For good-bye I lay hands
on your blanket-swaddled chest
xxxxxxfeel it, that swell
measure unspindling


Eskimo Curlew, 1891

xxxxxxxAfter a photograph by Terry Evans
xxxxxxx“I ask the curlew for cinnamon-barred feathers”

“Eskimo Curlew”
crossed legs Arctic blue, bound.

“Field Columbian Museum.
Shot over Emporia, Kansas.”

Tender down molds
the throat. The sharp-spear

beak pierces vanilla-white
wood-fiber backdrop.

A wisp of shadow
half-moons the body:

curve of lunar eclipse, folded wing,
curve of expired breath.

Past tense before I was born:
“They nested in Arctic tundra,”

says my dead father’s
Field Guide to the Birds,

the voice: “an oft repeated, soft,
mellow, though clear whistle”

or “the wind whistling
through a ship’s rigging.”

“Flocks migrated through the Plains”
when he was a young man holding

his Peterson’s and sighting “under-
wings conspicuously cinnamon buff.”


Labels from The Field Museum:  Cardinals

xxxxxxxxAfter photographs by Terry Evans

9 July 1881
xxxxxBush on this day: collector
xxxxxat Blue Island, Cook Co.
one female buff-
xxxxxand tangerine-feathered

December 11, 1883
xxxxxwithin the specimen drawer
xxxxxone iridescent crimson male
neck twisted to uncertain sight

September 16, 1893
Museum founded
to house collections assembled

25 February 1907
Mound City, Ill.
♀ female still plump
xxxxxpeach streaks across sky-gray breast

Unmarked date:
Wright at Dane Co., Ill.
another ♂ male
xxxxxwith the finest head crest

♀ female fell from nest
at Orrington and Garrett Ave.:
desiccated, ashy brown,
xxxxxa solid ghost collapsed

December 27, 1913
♂ male caught at Salamonia, Indiana
now a pressed faded feather rose

Indecipherable dates:
47 Cardinalis cardinalis specimens
xxxxxeyes sightless behind
xxxxxwhite-cotton eye sockets

July 2002
xxxxx“The loss of these living
things is tempered
by a quiet tenderness”

—Denise Low

Denise Low, 2nd Kansas Poet Laureate, is award-winning author of 25 books of prose and poetry, including The Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family’s Story of Delaware Survival (forthcoming from Univesity of Nebraska Press), Jackalope (short fiction, Red Mountain Press); Mélange Block (poetry, Red Mountain Press); Ghost Stories (Woodley Press, a Ks. Notable Book; The Circle -Best Native American Books); and Natural Theologies: Essays (The Backwaters Press). Low is past board president of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs. She blogs, reviews, and co-publishes Mammoth Publications. She teaches professional workshops nationally as well as classes for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies. Her MFA is from Wichita State University and PhD is from the University of Kansas. She has British Isles, German, Delaware (Lenape/Munsee), and Cherokee heritage.




May 032016

Momina Masood

Leaving Eden

I have been
The virgin you were promised
for good behaviour,
And a sizeable body count.
But I have left Eden (some of us do get out)
Beyond unwanted pregnancies, the Sharia police,
I have finally found,
My own little patch of apple grass. The eunuchs sing
Of ancient harems and cultural constructs, while I,
Who have traded her hijab for a scandal, climax
thinking of god.



We’ve embraced the silence of the Third World,
And multiply viciously in cardboard settlements.
Our kind is unappeasable, we spread out
Like contagion, a flurry of headscarves
And religion. We’re quite popular,
And desperate for attention, you see,
There are mouths to feed, we are, after all,
Your Other. We’re necessary.
Slowly, quite unnoticed, we’ll take over the world.
A race of Frankenstein monsters,
We’ve already begun.


To Pakistan


I have wept on the cobbled floors of Lahore,
looking for the Pakistani Dream.
Furrowing through an endless trail of paper
in dimly-lit halls of alien embassies.
(My kingdom for a way out, if you please.)
Our history for a better accent
of a language we do not speak.
In plastic whorehouses, I sing
of foreign invasions, exploding lilacs,
unwanted refugees. In the arms of a dying race
peddling religion and pornography
(Whatever works, you see)
We laugh over the sound of children
coupling, drawing graffiti
of a generation’s collective unease
by the canal where the city ends
into more dust and traffic police.

We have moved on from visionaries, and opium,
to a militant sense of clarity.
Welcome to the land of the ideologically free!
Our beautiful postcoloniality.


With strawberry flesh in my teeth,
I smile up to the sky.
We have learnt to crane our necks
above the stink and the plastic,
to where Baba’s finger
draws silver triangles in the dark.
That’s the North Star, he says,
and we choose together
different cobbled floors
brighter neon signs.
We choose the possibility, Baba and I.
Our necks growing longer by the minute,
till we reach Heaven,
or fall off from the edge of the world,
or break and scatter
flushed off in the entrails of Hell,
with wailing children, and senile grandmothers.
The muezzin shrieks and the stars go out
in reverence to dead gods and false idols.
Baba tells me a story as we clasp hands under the breaking firmament,
and the weight of the dead we inherit.
We are the Magi of a brave new world, he tells me,
laced with rubber bullets and selfie sticks,
the looming towers of the metropolis, our only gifts
to the blood-soaked child, washed on seashores,
exploding endlessly, perpetually, into a sticky mass of blood and hair.
(We are ever so sorry!)
Yet we are redeemed as we stand, naked and sweaty,
looking for the North Star, for

we have learnt, after all, my dear
to crane our necks, beautifully
above the rot and the fish smell
of sins and human longing.
that might be as utopian as it gets,
for the lot of us.
The Magi stranded on a colossal waste,
chasing the sound of gunfire, the trails
of arms and outstretched fingers
pointing to an unreachable beyond.

—Momina Masood


Momina Masood is a literature graduate whose work has previously appeared in 3:AM Magazine, The Missing Slate, The Bombay Review and The Bombay Literary Magazine. She is 23, lives in Pakistan, and writes for the absolute necessity of it.