|PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2014)
TUNDRA I. The first time I walk on tundra my feet sink. I wish I was lighter, my feet larger, like snowshoes strapped down, the broadness of mammoths spread across landscape, hills that turn into softness and drown lichen deep into permafrost. Layer me here beneath bearberry and crowberry, beneath pink salmon berries like flowers, cloudberries of orange, beneath cold. II. The first time I walk on tundra I am aware of bear grass like cotton, questions of gathering, weaving, how yak wool is combed from the chest not shorn, how to tear ground and roll beneath it, to sleep and brave winter, struggle this storm as one knit into sod and sewn into skins of caribou, returning everything as it was. III. The first time I walk on tundra I think of felled trees dropping and total decay, the sponginess of warmth beneath elements, pine needles and leaves and cones and eventual soil, how suddenly my feet dip but do not burst, all trees intact just bending, the becoming of one thing into another, how quickly we can change.
MARY STONE DOCKERY Issue 18. 2014. Page 23.
THE IDEA OF BRAD You went home with so many men you once thought you’d write a book, titling each chapter after a single name. But it could’ve been a series because there were so many Brads born in 1982 and you’re sure you’ve fucked them all. You once peed on a Brad’s front porch listening to him fuck his girlfriend right inside the door. It wasn’t your fault so many men lied to you or forgot to mention the women in their lives. You don’t know how many women called and left messages that they would find you and kill you. One woman asked you to meet her at Applebee’s and explain why a woman would ever need a man to hold her against the wall when they fucked. You dated a man who couldn’t get hard and he found you on his washing machine making out with his roommate. Another man gave you a shot of Tequila Rose and kissed the drops from your lips, his girlfriend in the next room. Before college, you learned how to get men to think about fucking you by saying words like blow job and backseat and by licking your lips, and this was adulthood and you didn’t say no because a no meant you had no control. No left you bleeding on the steps in a rainstorm, your cigarettes stolen, dignity an illusion. Enough tequila and you’d bend time with the bodies of men. When you met your husband you wouldn’t let him fuck you how he wanted. Now he refuses to fuck you at all and all you think about is where all the fucking comes from and where it goes and how we can feel its blur.
PAUL ALLEN Issue 18. 2014. Page 29.
FOR THE SPOKEN-WORD POET-FRIEND WHO DROVE UP TO BATON ROUGE TO TELL HIS GIRLFRIEND TO GET LOST AND AFTER 36 HOURS OF BOTH CRYING, SHE DIDN’T GET LOST, AND HE WAS GLAD Why sing if your song isn’t ready? Your song isn’t ready, and you don’t have the chops? You don’t have the chops and your voice isn’t there? Your voice isn’t there and you don’t have the breath, the look, the ear, and you don’t have a love, don’t have the love, and the walls have collapsed, and your silences come like terrible screams from an abandoned dream you had long ago, and you’ve forgotten the dream but remember the scream? The good of a vase is the space in the vase. The three-legged dog does not check your credentials. You passed the interview with a greasy sleeve. You dance like a frog but he loves you because he doesn’t feel love because he has had so much, so much, so much of people who might or will, will not, move, move along, that with light or without light, you are no threat and no lie because your hungers collide and colliding they make the big bang of no hunger, no wanting, no nothing, and no nothing is all, as nothing is all. You made a corral for yourselves, and as you made it, you made it from the inside, and you left no door, no gate, and in making you became the horses in it. The smaller the corral, the more restless you became, no room, no room (wild panic) frantic: I can’t breathe or be like this. And one horse said, “We should have built a larger corral.” The other one said, “We should be smaller horses.” And a crow came down, perched on the first post, and said, “I fly in stillness. Even when the little birds attack, I am still; in stillness the bars of the corral are a thousand miles away.” And exhausted and weak from loss of blood and everything. you went still, more still still, until the corral grew and grew and encircled the field, the ranch, the plain, the country, the continent and you and you ran in your freedom and did not crash into the bowed boards warping somewhere farther in the sun. Because of that you sing when your song isn’t ready.
ROBERT GIBBONS Issue 18. 2014. Page 54.
EXPERIENCE & ART
Skin with fat of the salmon there in the fridge just in case we don’t make it out past today’s brilliant, heaven-sent, chaotic snowfall I put my sunglasses on to see, after waking up late, feeling good about yesterday’s assembly, when individuals in the crowd asked all the right questions to bring out & illuminate a practice toward language, including heightening all the senses, setting down a swirling Vortex allowing Everything in at the same Time, perhaps especially Benjaminian Now-Time, which includes History & a bit of the Future, after waiting through the Vigil, Kristeva calls a feminine act, for the internal reverberation marking her preverbal construction of the chora constructed on the example from Plato’s Timaeus, shaped like a vessel or womb, so that the flow following that spark is so improvisational that a Music emerges out of the syllables transformed into notes remaining words within the rhythms of the instruments of the entire array of organs chiming in, offering a work, then, that variously turns on the written page into Experience & Art.
ED SCHELB Issue 18. 2014. Pages 56-59.
PORTRAIT OF FIVE COMPOSERS I “. . . we had swallowed Futurism – bones, feathers and all. It is true that in the process of digestion all sorts of bones and feathers had been regurgitated.” – Tristan Tzara Captured aircraft were scrounged for every available material, even to the point of draining lubricants from captured engines to keep one more plane alive. You show me the score to “Suicide in an Airplane” with its propeller blade obligato. The logistics of that death would have been daunting. The act requires technique, with the score resembling barbed wire, but not from an airplane. The Futurism we remember is Brancusi birdflight and typography and Marinetti caught between puppet and race car driver. Roll control through wing-warping. The kiss of death reveals its flaws the way engines sink in butter. The dying pilot would unfurl his maps of mechanical orchards. Until synchronization, bullets would ricochet off the propellers. Death by metronome! II The last jazz in my ears was Milhaud’s sardine tins empty of fish. There is some confusion about what constitutes a sardine. A smoked and dried piano key, for example, packed in oil. Or fingers. Long Rachmaninoff fingers. There are no dances drawn from the harvest of sardines. III Sad little sex poems. Sad little poems about underwear and seaweed. Sad little poems about pills. The notion of swallowing bird eggs appeals to me as a parable. Little vials of bird eggs where mockingbirds could thrive. The idea of symbiosis must account for Pécou’s dismantled tangos, sexy as eternity. What Picasso mutilated of Velasquez survives only by being burnt as fuel. To keep warm, ultimately. The butterfly bush is doing very well on its own. Sad little sex poems. A circle of kisses might justify those long stretches where nothing seems to happen. IV Perfection is rare in quartz obscured by each crystals’ luxuriant growth. The mechanisms behind rose rocks completely elude tiny hurricanes infested with mud. I’m not the only exile who identifies with red dirt. In his tide-song, Cowell submerges the Irish air into mud-swirls, chords fusing in the way of quartz in closed spaces. The crystals must be rooted in a matrix. I left my last record player stuck in Verdigris mud as a snail habitat when the tides recede. Too late to be included in Neruda’s seashell collection on the Isle of Negra. Exactly where is the libretto? V Birds do breed in dead wood, crosstimber scrub oak whose twisted grain makes it useless for anything but protection. I bury lullaby knives in burnt hillsides. The hurt color I don’t understand – the plum’s speckled skin on a blind grackle. So I assemble the liquid dictionaries, allocate the necessary yellows and blues and lavenders – all that color theory and Delaunay painted airplanes! And circles. That suicidal rumble overhead. Tender rivets, sheep fat, a fuselage to adorn with geometric ferns. I almost write geometric licks, the tongue’s exhaustion after all those paintings that taste like bridges or a vortex of human advance: a new blind spot in our vision, a few new blepharospasms or tics, and perhaps a revised method of computing time. Milhaud I’m not done with you. Boredom of the tohu-bohu. Objects shine. Wet mollusks and the stink of decay. Boxes of putrescent fish. Sardine tins dried out in the summer heat. All without the allure of bedsprings. Why construct a lute of dead birds? A calligraphy of confetti and sperm? I apologize for the reference to sardines, which can be fireworks of salt, waltzes of rancid oil. I walk down the escalator listening to Pécou’s Apache chants that sound like burying the heads of settlers. Geophytes survive drought by dying back to tubers, bulbs, and rhizomes. Succulent with spines those African rhythms. Outremer is a synonym for lapis lazuli. Yeats should have had his Chinamen play kettledrums with long-legged birds and let the plums and cherries bounce on the taut skin. Rattles strung from dried chiles, ideograms in butter. Sick of the fiddle bow? Make it hot hot hot.
DAVID LLOYD Issue 18. 2014. Pages 70-71.
WHAT REMAINS What thy lov’st well remains, wrote Ezra Pound in a steel cage near Pisa, where nothing remained but resolute sun and wind, the clothes on his back, books, hills in the distance where black smoke clung to the ruins of old Europe. But here’s a question Pound begged: remains after what? In that cage, it’s what remains after the decades-long mask of “Ezra Pound” – irritable Odysseus, nearly-old sojourner through new worlds, talking nothing but words about words – was stripped off. Distance, he discovered, increases; the sun, the wind could care less. But wait. Sometimes that wind brings gifts: on a shaky web, the remains of a bug a spider ate. Not too distant: grape vines, olive groves. On a blade of grass: Pound’s ant, a centaur in his dragon world. Nothing? Hardly – these fearful, difficult to see, old and elemental verities, as old as the peasant’s bent shoulders, as the wind’s fingers through a lattice, respecting nothing as much as itself. But what also remain, let’s admit this, are illusions, Pound’s Il Duce, twice crucified, so distant – so incomprehensibly distant from terraces . . . the colour of stars. The old, caged Pound, left with memories of being Pound in great capitals, troubadour where the wind blows; eminent hater of men. What remains for a caged man when the night shows nothing – not a moon, not meteors or stars, nothing but a hard mirror? In that awful distance he saw the uncertain remains of himself: pull down thy vanity, old man, how mean thy hates. Even the wind held its breath for those rhythms, sprung from Pound’s caged mind, where everything and nothing was old, briefly. He saw distance in the sun and wind – the something that remained of Ezra Pound. Note: Phrases in italics are from Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos.
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2013)
METEOROLOGY Love makes me take climate more seriously than myself. All because of her, the weather girl, who taught me Spanish by saying El Niño & how this has been lingering for decades. There are winds & they argue, politicians of apostasy. Westward draft fears eastward gale, neither wants its past. I wrote her a cento: ascend to the clouds / but we’re crustaceans / crunchy ones. My lines original like her body, always in the foreground, between chroma-keyed high & low areas, strangely, not any bigger than her hands. Some rumor the moon is a closet traveler moving 3km/year away from us, along its orbit of homelessness. I don’t like the moon, a promiscuous planet – crescent, meniscus, eclipse, as if faithfulness to form is juvenile. Patterns are progress – I fall for her, who reports a firmament of temperatures every day. Everyone wants her to control their future. Not me. I own her past on a shelf full of tapes, one for each forecast, but only the next day can I know what she’s said is fact or allegory, or both. I shouldn’t doubt her flaw, her fainting accuracy. I’ve sent her roses, but calx idly coats calyxes when I’m told to expect mild rain.
ALLAN PETERSON Issue 16. 2013. Page 43.
SAY THE CAUSES This time tomorrow Jupiter will have spun around twice and then some, light will have climbed down the chimney and gold furniture will have been dragged onto the evangelist’s set. I am sick of lords. We do not even know where the leatherbacks go, our own volition, why move too soon and the bee-wolf startles like the one day dead. Say the causes of Spring are the brains in the bulb roots of perennials, like crocus thinking all winter in the dark what to do. Say all they have told us, the eat and be eaten: live shortly, give in to the wind. Prophets have plants in the audience. One wink is plenty and the answer appears. They are still there, the beasts and the flower eaters, depending on what, we are still guessing. Light is a sometime thing in this dimension, dark. Everything’s not on fire. Dirt is the dead and the living mixing together. So what’s a body to do but all it can with its limits, whatever they are, love like there’s no tomorrow with nothing but life depending on it.
JAMES CLAFFEY Issue 16. 2013. Pages 54-55.
When a relative dies we burn a candle in the window and draw the blinds halfway down so the house looks like it’s napping.
“The Bird is dead.” That’s what the Old Man says when he reads he obituaries in the back of the paper today. Mam nods and the kitchen is silent for a long time. The clamor of a trapped mouse changes that and the Old Man raises the rolled-up Irish Press over the creature, all furred and tense in the trap. The mouse makes frantic and the Old Man brings the paper down on the trap with a thump. A trail of yellowish red trickles from its body, and Mam shakes her head and goes to get the brush and pan to clean the floor.
“Who’s the Bird?” I ask.
Mam ignores me, pouring Dettol antiseptic on the sticky mess, wiping the guts up with a J-cloth. The Old Man has gone for his captain’s hat, the one he found on a coastguard ship last year, the bells for Mass having already rung out, and it looks like he won’t linger this morning. There’s no school because it’s a Holy Day, the Presentation of Our Lord, and the Old Man is home from the oil rig for the month of February. At school the Master says it’s the fourth week of ordinary time, but it doesn’t feel ordinary at all.
“Go with your father,” Mam says, pushing me towards the front door where the Old Man is already blessing himself from the Holy Water font. It takes a minute to untangle my school scarf and pull on my anorak, and then I run down the road after him. Mam has gone back to the kitchen to clean the dishes and prepare lunch.
“Who’s the Bird, Da?” I ask again.
“Ach, some old boyfriend of your mother’s. He was planning on marrying her, until I showed up and beguiled her.”
We walk the rest of the way to church in silence, until the Old Man adds, “Oh, the Bird was hopping mad when she began to court me, by God.” There’s a funny look on his face and it seems as if he’s smiling. “I took your mother out to Inch Strand and gave her a rub of the relic and that was the end of it.” He claps his hands together and winks at me.
Later, I ask Mam what a rub of the relic means and she smacks me on the ear.
DONALD ILLICH Issue 17. 2013. Page 33.
SURGERY I wear my scrubs to the living room. I’m here to reconnect two arteries, a passage between husband and wife. It will take an unknown amount of time. Instruments lay on the table: kind words, honesty, forgiveness. I open her mouth and she says, “Why aren’t things the way they were?” A tap on the face and he says, “I thought everything was all right with us.” Between their flow of words, I cut into the red pulse of language. Through “Everything she does hurts me,” to “I don’t understand what he’s thinking.” When I discover the argument’s heart, beating roughly under skin, I know what I must do to help them. I let each of them touch the organ. If they decide to let it fall, the burst of a balloon, it’s over. If they bring it to their mouths, there is life. Still, life.
BEN BERMAN Issue 17. 2013. Page 35.
DROPPINGS It might be the crumbled ash from a match or toasted sesame seed off a loaf of multi-grain bread – though my stomach seems to know right away when there is life behind the walls – something about the pinched ends – no different, say, than the slightest lift in my wife’s voice – the imperfect pitch – that tells me she’s upset long before she tells me she’s upset. So we learn to trust speech less than language – believe in the subtle twitch of the eye over the keenly chosen word – until a fleck of dust settles in our eyelid just as we’re coming clean. Or gas rises in our digestive tract, and our boss assumes that pang in our colon is proof of a passive-aggressive streak. What’s left, then, but to try to ignore both the imprecise word and the nervous tic – put up walls and dismiss the gnawing behind them, slope bricks across the top and call it coping. Better to be wrong, we think, better to unset the traps, duct tape some holes and settle the mind. And then one day we go to fill the teapot and find a mouse, dead, in the sink – more humane this way, we think, but now we have to touch that limp body, feel its warmth in our hands.
ANGELA WOODWARD Issue 17. 2013. Pages 54-55.
The older print version weighed in at eleven pounds, the kind of book that demanded its own little display table. With the newly released electronic edition, the relationship between owner and object is normalized – the reader remains clearly in charge. The new version takes up no space at all, but hovers under our fingers, ready for waking at a touch. The editors, no longer limited by physical dimensions, have expanded the entries, operating under a philosophy of abundance. For example the entry under she:
The female person or animal being discussed or last mentioned: She was here but a moment ago. That female, that one, her. A female object or device. A ship, a hand grenade, a bomb. Alexandra, Madeleine, Sarah, Elizabeth, Ann. A man carrying himself as a woman. Archaic: child of either gender. Prepubescence. While man is a sexual being, she is only a container. Nothing has happened to her yet, and she makes nothing happen. She is our template, our stage. A doe, a fawn. A cleft in a rock. She gives us life. Angela, Isabel, Barbara. A particularly potent herb, where the ordinary one has no gender, and the efficacious one, whether anatomically of female gender or not, is she: she-vetch, she-balsam. She-cat. She-cousin. Scottish dialect: you: Has she bumped she little head? She was here a minute ago. You. Where have you gone? I smelled your shampoo on the street. Where was it coming from? I found a note in one of my books, her handwriting so potent, though it was only a list of movie times.
The accompanying illustrations rise under the cursor and with a click take the reader into a full-color video. Under street I found the modern meaning illustrated with a concrete cityscape. This dissolved into a muddy track, and then into a bare impression of paw prints disappearing into the underbrush. The word on the street, street-wise, street-cred, take us to metaphorical situations in which a street doesn’t figure at all. People stand waiting for an elevator. A waiter lays a table. Ice on a puddle trembles. An inner state of feeling that you have moved along a path: I found myself sitting with my back to the window, looking down at my knuckles. Each vignette contains multiple links, leading into or away from other definitions. Antonyms such as victorious are clear enough, as is streetless, with its unvarying gray waves rolling under gray fog, the reader lost at the railing of a wooden ship where the sailors pass behind without a word. Whistling. Whittling. To whittle. To while away the time. I haven’t seen you in awhile.
The instructions for the word origin function are far from intuitive, and embedded in an awkward block usually hidden under the upper ribbon. However, once I mastered the process, I was completely drawn into this fascinating glimpse into a word’s past. For example not twists and squirms under the etymological scalpel, springing apart into no whit, that is, the total absence of a person, a person’s abandonment by creatures living or dead, and ultimately, the loss of the spirit of the earth. The illustrations show the letters in the act of severing, next a snowfall, then a warehouse just about to take fire, and at last a close-up of the face of a radio, from which no sound emerges.
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2012)
ASSIGNMENT Twenty-eight is an odd age to die not from a cancer or accident, but in your sleep. When you killed yourself I was two and a half. Loss takes direction from you. I. From the yard, toward the closest neighbors: orchards unattended. Ten minutes below the house: the soft warning of swamp. Past the old bridge: collective farms with fields pale, consistent. An unpaved road to mark the northern front. II. Fugitive – the first longing I learned. You are always absent from memory. Not a flash of you, no shadowing. Fugitive the conviction assigned to your name. Nothing told of you to keep you unknown, where you had gone, each one answering one question with another – Ah, forget it. III. I have a picture of you. Grandmother says it is you. I have no doubt, suspicion, or accord. I see a young woman, a portrait whose background is clean, well-lit. On that day maybe you thought of your husband, how your image he would be sure to credit. Or already you had decided to die on the fifth day that November. Our teeth match. IV. Yet I would deny you, even more would deny those words that nearly encircle you. The hand that draws you is the hand of your son holding the watch timing his attempts at breathlessness. First without moving, then walking side to side in his room one minute, two minutes, three – his breathless body no match for you. V. I like to think you enjoyed sewing and singing in church. I know that no degree of faith recovers a suicide. The speculation exhausts me. VI. I have kept up a reasonable history, Mother. Twenty-eight years on you. No closer. How am I to leave you? Which half is yours, which half circumstantial? On the certificate the cause of death is exclusive. My word against you. VII. There are worse things than to have lost you at two and a half. I imagine knowing you first.
DEREK ANNIS Issue 15. 2012. Page 11.
THIS TIME OF YEAR Condensation on the living room windows is freezing again, creeping until the window is a sheet of ice. Darkness comes sooner each day during the holiday season. Empty chairs hold the most weight this time of year. This time of year my shoulders curl toward the center like the drying tips of fallen leaves and I can’t stop thinking about the tunnels that run through my grandfather’s heart, how they keep closing up. He’s due for another stent, and I can’t stop sneaking cigarettes, thinking about all the hours I spent curled up behind the pipe. I keep finding dead birds in my poems, and I can’t stop tossing them from the balcony, begging them to fly.
THOM CARAWAY Issue 15. 2012. Page 19.
LANGUAGE ACQUISTION I forget the names of things, what they stand for. Mountain is butte. River is river, but not. Tree is drowned. Cold, not bad. Unspeakable, cold. Emma puts sounds together, names her world with syllables. Deep in night, she wakes, forms sounds, and comes to make them to me. One arm asleep, I pull her into bed, lay her between her mother and me. I whisper forest, and she laughs. I whisper elevation, and she says, goo-la. I whisper home, and she whispers home. Her head rests in the bend of my arm, small breath warm against my skin, as she blinks her way back to sleep. I don’t know what woke her, will never know the dreams of her unformed language, but when she sleeps here, dreams until morning in the shelter of her parents’ bodies, she makes no noise at all.
ELISE GREGORY Issue 15. 2012. Page 30.
BENEVOLENT ME Inspired by Mark Strand I give up my fingers first, stone pillars at night. I give you my throat. I give up my tongue, which paddles through my thoughts. I give you my ribs, which embrace my heart. I give up my lungs like swollen peonies, who open for the gardener. I give you my untrustworthy thighs. I give up my knees like two silver bolts. I give you my womb, a gold sliced pear. I give you my footsteps, which crow of my existence. In the giving up of me, I become more than a narrow step in your head.
SARAH CEDEÑO Issue 15. 2012. Pages 61-66.
Sophie’s arms flapped in lowercase Vs as she pecked her plastic beak against the October evening. Her feathered headdress tethered a trail that almost reached her mother, Evelyn. Church bells clamored from one of the many village steeples, signaling that in six hours, it would be November. After the last house closed to trick-or-treaters, the pumpkins would begin warping their happy smiles into rotten oblong or smash against the cold ground, spiked by college kids. The pumpkins would reveal a few leftover seeds, now brown, but once pure enough to bake. In six hours, November would buck its hard air against the skeletal trees. Evelyn shivered.
“Quack,” Sophie said. She ran on the crisp ground along the canal, where the ducks she’d admired all summer had been.
“Soph, get off your tip-toes,” Evelyn called from behind her.
Sophie did as her mother asked, imitating the “proper” walk that the doctor had illustrated for her a week ago. After, he’d mentioned to Evelyn, in private, that he didn’t “think” Sophie had autism.
Though Sophie attempted to walk normally, Evelyn frowned. She appeared unnatural walking heel-toe, as though she were someone else. Every time Sophie slapped the ball of her foot against the ground, the failure of Evelyn’s parenting thumped inside her like a quiet tantrum.
Evelyn held her daughter’s trick or treat bag, a plaid pillowcase, weighted with suckers and crinkly candy bags. Sophie’s handmade mallard costume was her own design. Each scrap of fabric, every button and feather, was carefully selected by Sophie, and then sewn by Evelyn in front of the glow of the world news. Evelyn found peace in mending the night with Sophie. The hum of the sewing machine, the control of the levers, and Evelyn’s fingers pushing the fabric beneath the needle seamed the costume together while the world around her unraveled in gulfs of spilled oil, tsunamis, and residue of war. At some point in the night, Evelyn would see Sophie’s eyelids fight sleep, and eventually give way to heavy breath and slight twitches. Evelyn imagined Sophie’s tendons quieting, too, gathering strength beneath her skin for the next day.
You’re something, all right, Evelyn always told Sophie, but left out that she was the product of uninhibited pleasure – a mix of vodka and techno, of abandon and expression. Sophie was the result of a night that went on for months. The relationship between Evelyn and Ben, Sophie’s father, soured too early to support its own life.
Some days, Evelyn was tired of bearing the worry about Sophie alone. Ben wouldn’t have been the right one. She didn’t even have to remind herself. Evelyn saw Ben in Sophie – not just in her eyes that squinted even when wide open, or the freckles that made her face sweet even when angered, but in the way she absorbed facts to make life easier to bear.
At Sophie’s school, Evelyn was an amateur among professional mothers. The teachers looked at Evelyn suspiciously when they reported that Sophie stayed inside during recess, where they kept those who were being punished, to read a wizard book or examine the ant farm.
Though no one said anything, Evelyn knew by the way kids looked at Sophie, who perched on her toes, they were watching. In the middle of the night, Sophie howled like a siren, so loud Evelyn imagined she was dreaming the haunted cries of the world. But it was always Sophie, with pains in her ankles and calves. Evelyn flexed Sophie’s foot heel to toe as her doctor prescribed. Evelyn would say, “Sophie, they are just growing pains. It won’t last forever,” and Evelyn knew Sophie believed her.
When the doctor asked Evelyn how Sophie was doing in school, Evelyn lied as though she were doing her daughter a favor. As far as the doctor knew, Sophie had an armful of best friend bracelets and ate her lunch at a chattering table. Her grades were fine, but it was the social aspect that worried Evelyn. It was no surprise to Evelyn that Sophie didn’t want to be a part of the witch clan for Halloween, or a princess, or an angel.
The canal bridge lights carved out Sophie’s shadow against the grass, making her taller than she was – even on her toes. Evelyn was pleased at the large shadow Sophie cast against the land, at how indistinguishable her daughter had become from herself.
Ten years ago, Evelyn had dressed as a black cat, and Ben, a migrant worker. After the Halloween party, he pulled her to the canal path. The moon hung fat and heavy behind the rails of the lift bridge.
“Did you know Halloween is a religious holiday?” Ben had asked Evelyn.
“You believe that?” Evelyn asked.
“Seriously. It’s a celebration of sainthood and martyrdom,” Ben said.
“What do you know about saints and sacrifice?” Evelyn asked.
“I read about it for class,” Ben said.
“Do you read the newspaper?” Evelyn asked.
“You know I do,” Ben said. “What does that matter?”
“Are you going to Afghanistan?” Evelyn asked.
“The only war I fight is when you open your mouth,” Ben said.
Evelyn giggled. “Oh my god. The moon,” she said.
“Yep. It’s there. Hasn’t been destroyed by terrorists,” Ben said.
“Shut up. It’s beautiful. Come back to my apartment so I can get my camera,” Evelyn said. “I want to take a picture.”
“What are you? A photographer now?” Ben asked.
“I’d rather be a photographer than . . . than . . . ”
“Dirty Sanchez,” Ben said and pointed to his fake black mustache. Evelyn couldn’t excuse hanging out with him. He was a bartender at The Canal Bench, and she was too young to drink there. She had no fake ID. He let her friends in with her. It was convenience.
Ben threw his sombrero down on the brick path, as though he were preparing for something. The knot of his poncho pushed against his neck.
“You’re disgusting,” Evelyn said.
“And you’re a cat,” Ben said, sliding his hand along Evelyn’s black tail. He picked up his sombrero and sat it on Evelyn’s head. “The cat in the hat,” he said.
“Clever,” Evelyn said.
After taking off his caterpillar of a mustache, Ben smoked a cigarette, sighing after each puff. She watched the tip blaze and smolder into ash, wondering how he found peace in something so violent. He’d kissed her harder than she wanted that night.
In August, Evelyn took Sophie biking down the canal path. They tossed stale bread against the rocks and watched the ducks snatch them up. Surrounded by drying blades of grass and unlit fireflies, Sophie told her mother she was going to dress as a male duck for Halloween. “They are the prettier ones,” she said. “I want real duck feathers, too.”
When Evelyn placed the feathered headdress on Sophie’s head at their apartment door before they left to collect Halloween candy, Sophie giggled.
“What?” Evelyn asked.
“It’s really pretty,” Sophie said, checking herself in the wall mirror.
“Yes it is,” Evelyn said.
“Cassie wanted me to be a princess, but I like this way better than a crown,” Sophie said. “And it’s okay we didn’t have real duck feathers. They would have had germs from the boy ducks.”
On Mondays, Sophie and Evelyn would go to the library. Sophie would gather duck books, check them out, and read them front to back and over again. The following Monday, they would pedal over the canal bridge to the library to exchange those books for more. Sophie took the books to bed with her and read them with a flashlight far past her bedtime. Evelyn let her tuck them away with her. In the morning, Evelyn would wake Sophie by lifting the picture book off her chest, and Sophie would look up at her with the very same eyes, it seemed, as the ducks on the cover.
Evelyn even read a few of the books, believing that they held some secret, some goodness Sophie saw that sh didn’t.
“Did you know ducklings can swim right after they’re born?” Sophie asked one night during dinner. She licked the butter off her bread and left a smear on the corner of the page with her index finger.
“No, but it makes sense,” Evelyn said.
“How does that make sense? I didn’t know how to walk when I was born,” Sophie said. “And,” Sophie said, flipping the page. “It says here that mothers abandon their own ducklings if a Redhead lays its eggs in their nest.”
“What are you reading? A redhead? Jesus,” Evelyn said.
“A Redhead, Mom. It’s a kind of duck. And their abandoned babies are called foundlings,” Sophie said. Evelyn grabbed the book from Sophie.
“Nothing, Sophie,” Evelyn said. “Some things you just shouldn’t read.”
“Come on,” she said. “The next page tells how sometimes ducks eat frogs. It’s in the picture.”
Evelyn fanned the book’s pages and closed it. “No,” she said.
After Sophie went to bed, Evelyn sat down with a glass of wine and read All About Ducks. She was as far as page thirty-eight before she reached the chapter on breeding. In the photo along the margin of the page, two adorned ducks prodded at a female duck, and, according to the caption, would not stop until the female gave in to them. Evelyn knew Sophie would ask questions Evelyn couldn’t answer if her small world dissolved into torment. Evelyn tore the page from the book and rolled it into a little globe of terror.
“If you go to France next year, you can’t dress up for Halloween,” Ben had said that Halloween night on the canal path. He knew Evelyn had applied to art school in France. “The French didn’t learn about Halloween until 1996,” he said.
“No. What? I don’t believe that,” Evelyn said.
“Sure you still wanna go to France?” Ben asked.
“I’m not sure I want to leave my apartment some days,” Evelyn said.
Evelyn had nearly changed her mind about flying to France for art school in September of that year, when she’d watched the campus ROTC step in sync, chanting outside her Main Street apartment. Her television screen still showed the burning towers, lighting at the tips like cigarettes stood upright, fallen to ashes as though the world were their tray. The news coverage made Evelyn want to pull her shades closed, but that wouldn’t be fair. She felt guiltily safe for a moment, looking down from her window at the trail of college boys that moved forward like army men.
That night, she woke to a humming noise from the street, and imagined the sirens prompting children of the cold war generation to crunch up under their school desks, and their parents to construct bomb shelters on their property. She swore she felt the toppling of a building, its staff workers glimpsing the nearby elementary school on their way to the pavement. This is not how Evelyn would paint the world.
She called Ben. It was three in the morning. He didn’t answer.
She took the phone with her to the window as though there would be someone on the line. The street cleaner moved along the sidewalk pushing debris, a pizza box, a random wrapper. She knew life would go on until she no longer woke when the street cleaner scuffed past her building.
Sophie’s face lit up when Evelyn stepped out of her own image. Evelyn wore a costume every year. This year, she was a cowgirl. Sophie had wanted her to dress as a frog, but Evelyn insisted that her costume had to be human. After Evelyn convinced Sophie that she was not going to hop around in green cellophane, Sophie put an iridescent frog sticker on Evelyn’s felt cowgirl hat.
Since giving birth to Sophie, Evelyn felt that she was borrowing her own life from her daughter. The size-six thrift store cowboy boots that Sophie had picked out for her were hard against her heels and made her pinky toes numb.
“Mom, keep up,” Sophie said.
“If you had invited Cassie to come with us, you wouldn’t have to keep me so close,” Evelyn said.
“I told you, Mom, she went with the other girls. It’s okay. Anyway, I don’t need friends for trick-or-treating.”
Sophie remembered that Ben wasn’t around sometimes, and asked where he was. Evelyn couldn’t be sure where he’d gone since graduation. It wasn’t a lie when Evelyn told Sophie her father didn’t want to be a part of her life. It was a small tragedy that Sophie didn’t know her father, but it gave Evelyn delight that she could steal her daughter away from the world.
Ben was hung over when Evelyn told him about the pregnancy. It was May, and he planned to move back home to teach history in the fall. Before, they fought about the budding war, who to have drinks with, how Ben thought Evelyn was overcome with fear, but they both agreed not to see the pregnancy through. Ben’s face dropped all worry.
Evelyn went to a hospital alone, to a brick building meant for saving lives. She fidgeted in the waiting room, reading a coffee-ringed article with war headlines of sand, success and defeat – too many high stakes. She wondered what the definition of success was anymore. When the nurse called Evelyn from her seat, she was surprised. The nurse was young and friendly. And pregnant.
Evelyn’s nervousness made her worry that she was feeling fetal movement.
“Is that the baby moving in there?” she asked the nurse.
“Where? In you? Already? No. You’re not that far along. Try to relax,” the nurse said.
While reclined on the examination table, Evelyn babbled about the strange weather lately, how she was afraid the next suicide bomber would walk right onto her campus, how she no longer wanted to open her mail. The nurse had turned the ultrasound machine away from Evelyn and nodded as she peered in on Sophie, who was still just a bean in Evelyn’s body. The nurse’s belly hovered like a planet near Evelyn’s own still-flat abdomen. She tried to imagine the baby behind the nurse’s powder blue shirt. This morning, Evelyn woke up and placed her hand just below her belly button, apologizing for what she was about to do.
“It scares me to think what will happen next,” the nurse said.
Evelyn paused with her mouth slightly open.
“I mean with all the terror. I can’t make sense of the world,” the nurse said.
Evelyn heard her own pulse, a film of static bending in her ears from the machine. She felt warm, and told herself there were four heartbeats in that sterile room. The cold jelly on her abdomen produced an image she couldn’t see with the monitor turned facing the door. A stranger entering the room would have more vision than Evelyn.
Away from the lights of the bridge, the canal was invisible, and Evelyn had lost sight of Sophie’s reflective strip. “Soph,” Evelyn called. “Come back here. Let’s go get some more candy. The Sharps are giving out king-sized again this year. Besides, the ducks have gone south for the winter.” Sophie knew this, Evelyn thought.
“No, Mom. I just saw a fledgling. I swear it,” Sophie said, her voice dwindling between the trees and wind.
“A fledgling?” Evelyn asked, not looking for an answer. She couldn’t remember when Sophie stopped calling her "Mommy."
Sophie insisted the duck was huddled against the bank of the canal, which had still not been drained for the winter. She flipped up on the balls of her feet, as though her curiosity pushed her up through her skin. If it weren’t for the headdress, the costume would resemble a scarecrow. When Evelyn stared enough, she found threads peeking from the seams, the wool nearly separating. Some kids mistook Sophie for a Native American, and made noises hooting and slapping their hands to their mouths. To Evelyn and her daughter, the majestic weave of emerald feathers was a costume itself.
“Sophie. Stop. Stop right there,” Evelyn called. Her pace increased, but not fast enough.
The day Evelyn decided to keep Sophie, she left the hospital with the medication clacking in an unlabeled bottle. When she got home, she threw the orange pill-bottle in the trash can along with the pamphlets for the French art program, and then ate a cheeseburger.
Evelyn hadn’t told Sophie about any of it, but wished Sophie knew how she struggled to keep her, still.
Something splashed in the canal, an accidental splash, too large to be a thrown rock, a blind squirrel, a grenade.
“Mommy,” Sophie called.
The canal water was fatigue-gray. An unfriendly wash of pop bottles and paper would litter the edge of the canal once mid-November came.
Sophie splashed in the water.
This can’t be, Evelyn thought. She yelled for Sophie and finally saw the reflectors on her mallard head forcing the water up.
Sophie’s brown hair splayed, framing the feathers, as her head fell under again. Evelyn couldn’t see where to dive in after her. She jumped in anywhere. She hunted clumsily in the mess of the canal for Sophie, the duck feathers, her beak. Anything. Finally, a gasp. Evelyn stretched her legs to touch the bottom with her toes, to walk to Sophie, but her feet met nothing.
People gathered on their cell phones, all calling emergency, all squeezing their children’s hands. The parade of disguises stared down at Evelyn, so foreign, like they might have been a world away. They flailed their arms and begged them both to come out.
Evelyn grasped the beak that had covered Sophie’s mouth not five minutes ago, and refused to crawl from the canal.
SILAS HANSEN Issue 15. 2012. Pages 67-68.
THE MASCULINITY TEST
I started working at the restaurant the summer I was sixteen, between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I worked in the kitchen with a bunch of guys – the only women were the waitresses, and they felt like a completely different social class; they dressed nicely and flirted with customers, and we stayed in the back, away from the public eye. But I belonged in the kitchen. That’s where I could relax, could turn off the side of my brain that worried about things like learning to drive and my mom’s best friend who was dying of cancer and the feelings I was starting to have for my best friend but couldn’t quite explain, even to myself. I could wash dishes and scrub pots and pans and joke around with the guys and feel like I was one of them.
Months after I started working there, just before school started, I was standing in the alley on a smoke break with Sean, my favorite cook. I didn’t smoke – had asthma, in fact, and had to stand on the opposite side of the alley to avoid breathing it in – but Sean always made me go outside with him when he took breaks. We would stand out there and talk as long as we could, desperate for some fresh air, for a building to lean against, even if we couldn’t sit down, and take just a little bit of pressure off of our feet.
Sean was thirty-two to my sixteen, but that didn’t stop us from becoming what I thought of as friends. I had spent most of my life feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere – I had friends, of course, but none of them really understood me. It was more than just the fact that I couldn’t stop looking at my best friend’s chest during math class, or that I constantly thought about what it would be like to kiss her while I should have been listening to what she was saying. They didn’t know those things, though Sean had figured it out, and teased me mercilessly in private even though I had confirmed nothing.
Still, I could see it in their eyes sometimes, when I talked about my plans for college and after, about how I couldn’t wait to leave our tiny hometown, in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York, and never come back. Even if they didn’t say it, I could always feel the question bubbling up in the space between us: “But why?” Sean was different, though. He had grown up there, too, and had moved away when he dropped out of high school when he was sixteen. He would tell me stories sometimes, about the places he had lived before coming back after his dad died and he had to take care of his mom – Austin, Nashville, Brooklyn, Chicago. He understood why I wanted to leave, knew because he had tasted the outside world for himself and then found himself stuck there again, with no chance for escape.
And so that night, standing in the alley between the restaurant and the abandoned building next door, I stood with my back against the brick while Sean stood on the other side, lighting his cigarette in the dark. He took a few drags, then looked at me and smirked. “Hey Hansen,” he said. “Look at your fingernails.”
I asked why, but he just repeated the command. So I did it, folding my fingers toward my palm, as if I was making a fist, but looser. I studied my nails carefully. “Okay,” I said, “what am I supposed to see?”
Sean was too busy laughing to respond for a moment, and then he coughed before finally catching his breath. Then he told me to look at the bottom of my shoe.
I was used to Sean playing practical jokes on me, to him being kind of a jerk. He would put handfuls of flour in my soda sometimes, and once he wrapped my car in duct tape and saran wrap so I had to cut through it to drive home after work. And I was growing my hair out that summer, in an attempt to look more feminine, but it was stuck in that awkward stage where it was too long to be a guy’s haircut and too short to really look like a girl’s. He told me I looked like Oliver Twist, which I still don’t understand – but that didn’t stop him from calling me “Oliver” all summer. But this was different: I couldn’t see what Sean’s desired result was.
I didn’t ask this time, though, because I knew he’d just tell me to do it again, and keep telling me to until I did. So I brought my right foot up off the ground, bending my leg at the knee and crossing it over in front of my left. I held my bulky black sneaker – Vans, if I remember correctly – and looked at the sole.
Sean laughed so hard he dropped his half-smoked cigarette on the ground. I had no idea what he thought was so funny, but I knew it was about me, and I knew it couldn’t be a good thing. When he finally caught his breath, he said, “Wow, Hansen, I always knew you were really a dude.”
He started making a list of new names he could call me – Luke, Larry, Leonardo – anything other than Lindsay, my birth name, which he never called me anyway. He laughed until he sent himself into another coughing fit, and I stood there, my face burning, not sure how to respond.
I’ve thought about this moment a lot in the almost-nine years since, as I’ve slowly made the social and medical transition to living my life as male. And even though I know – knew, even then, when I had lived my whole life in a place where things like how you hold your body and how you look at your fingernails determine your masculinity – that Sean’s game was stupid, that it doesn’t matter that I gave him the “masculine” answers to the test anymore than if I had looked at my nails by holding my hand up in front of me, palm out, fingers straight in the air, this moment still matters. It matters because of how embarrassed I felt, standing there in that alley while Sean laughed – not because of my answers, but because it felt like Sean had exposed something important about me, something so hidden that even I didn’t know it yet.
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2011)
JELLYFISH 1. Ancestral, alien, they pulse, they press against the water, slow as breath. They hover, glassed-in: hearts kept in a jar, the brain suspended in its case; elaborate but elemental; otherworldly, oddly human, shades. At times, among them, I have felt it: the privacy of matter, the permeated inwardness of flesh; from which the mind comes; out of which the manifold wet organ blooms with all its inwardness intact. A kind of consciousness: they ride the currents, tracking plankton by tracking light, but trail their tentacles behind them like a ghost whose last gown, tattered, floats on air the ghost-flesh doesn’t feel. Engines of survival made up mostly of their element: the sea spits them out and they collapse. Kids poke at them with flip-flops, shovels, sticks. No longer medium to motion it creates, their flesh becomes a stubborn bubble, the brain’s forgetfulness once all the thoughts are gone. But when they move, they matter. They enchant. Impersonal, unthinkable, with abstract grace they dance on currents they divert with every pulse. Only eating, only eating, they exult and send a careless ripple down their limbs. Nothing else as strange can draw me in. Faceless, sideless, eyeless, indistinct, they are not us. And yet to watch them is to sense the matter of oneself, slowed as light is bent by water — light absorbed and light dispersed until there is no light at all. Across a net of nerves, jellyfish conduct the stuff of thought in utter thoughtlessness — nothing gathered, nothing brought through time within the tenure of a self. No self. No jellyfish. No bell inflating like a lung on a machine. No less unreal for being seen, they spread through thought like ink in water, mindlessness in mind — until, confused with thought, the thoughtlessness breaks down. 2. Beneath the water’s surface, the pool became no place, my self no self, the shards of sound a sacristy, their grace became my grace. I was a kid. I went there to escape. It felt profound — my eyes closed, sense deranged. Sounds turned into substance, each the same, each echoing its medium as it estranged all habits except grandeur. That inflamed. Air called me back. It sought its level and I went, following the pull into a human element where sounds were sounds I knew. Up there, the spirit lost its shape, a bubble snapping on the surface as the water edged and thinned and broke and blew away. Now I need more stable forms to call that spirit back. Much more than jellyfish, the norm has been the sight of others’ rooms when I’m walking home at night. The spirit blooms in strangeness, and this is as far as I want to go — a few blocks down, where living shows as a potential, a freeing sense that most of what I know is once again unknown, but knowable; that this is all, that this can last, that there is nothing missing here that would be missed. As I look, a man walks in and pulls a wine bottle from the rack. The spirit leaps up, summoned, sensing it exists.
HOLLY VIRGINIA CLARK Issue 14. 2011. Pages 18-19.
THE BIRDHOUSE In the last box, a pigeon sleeps, in the last glass box, sleeping with her head tucked against her breast, head tucked in, wings flicking out and tucking in in her dreaming, dreaming herself away, starting awake from the spasm of a dream, waking, shaking awake, shaking, my heart jumps up, though I swallow it down, swallow hard, as if I’m dreaming, heart jumping — she has my face, eyes that wrinkled walnut brown, my face, locks of hair pulsing around her cheeks in the little eddies her panting makes, making her face at me, her gaze the long-forlorn, as my mother used to say, and her lips, the long-forlorn, moving silently, forlornly, I can’t hear you, I say, which is true, she has my face, which is true, the long-forlorn, I guess she wants out, out of the silent glass box, out of the long-forlorn, the little eddies, swallowing, I can’t help you, I lie, she lifts her belly, lifting so I can see her egg, the mess she lies in, the shattered, wet mess she’s sheltering, she’s knocking her toes against the glass, I can’t help you, which is true, I can’t hear you, which is true, I can’t, the long-forlorn throbbing in her throat, her toes knocking against the glass, throat throbbing in song, Hold, Hold, she sings, to the wet, shattered mess, to the wet, sheltered mess under her belly, she sings, sings, this strangest of birds, hold, hold, she croons, I can’t, I lie, hold, hold this strangest of birds, I lie against the glass box, the silent box she sings inside of, lifting her belly, watching the yolky bones, I lie against the glass box, the silent glass box singing inside itself inside me, she sings, watching the bones sinking, the yolk and bones sinking inside her nest, under her belly, sinking, I lie, I hold my belly, sinking, I can’t help you, holding the glass, lying against the glass, panting, swallowing my bony heart, belly throbbing, little eddies singing in my belly, lifting, a shattering like bones in my belly, I can’t hear you, belly sinking, singing, hold, hold these yolky bones, the sinking nest, hold, hold, the ragged forlorn.
LISA AKUS Issue 14. 2011. Page 36.
PUMPKIN POEM (UNTITLED) This pumpkin she is carved into that small orange dress of another color one might call “little black” but that is a different purpose — to see her tonight is to walk shoeless among the earth from which she grew the twirling vines of hair that coil along the stump of her neck, when you get there will you drink the early autumn rain collected in her collar? And though she sits on the round of her rind asking you to pick her, she is not meant for a lover’s tongue, for the sight of her alone is a dance you’ve tried to remember the taste of from long ago as the movement of still winds in your empty mouth.
MARTHA SILANO Issue 14. 2011. Page 43.
SIZE What she thought was large — a 64-ounce Big Gulp, boxcars creaking from one end of town to the other, Jupiter’s red spot, the silvery, sweeping pinwheel galaxy — are tinier than the tiniest bone in a pygmy shrew. Big, it turns out, is 300,000 light-years wide, a dark corona surrounding the Milky Way, which it wears like the halo of an angel in mourning, a cloud-like penumbra, a gypsy’s funereal kerchief ten times the size of every visible star, every trace of dust, gasp of gas, each planetary speck. Try that on for size. Try on the black babushka beyond which everything else is shroud-less mycoplasma. This is the size of her thoughts as she walks down row after row at the Tomb of the Unknowns, lowers her small and uncloaked head.
KEETJE KUIPERS Issue 14. 2011. Page 49.
LETTER TO AN INMATE IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT We all want to know our worth, the value of a tin can, a newspaper in the rain. You must remember the rain – its teeth, its tongue? Think of what it’s been made into, how it’s been transformed: solid, liquid, gone. Sometimes I put my fingers in my mouth and chew on what they’ve done. Do you ever do that? Do you count the bricks? That’s what we do on the outside, too. We make them and then we count them. I read in the paper they’re closing down the mill, talking about condos, selling it off at auction machine by tired machine. But killing something can take a long time. I cut down a tree and it took all day. First an ax, then a saw, then dragging it up the hill like a dead body – all heavy and already forgotten. I used some beautiful old blade to strip off the bark in curls. It smelled like a new house, except I wasn’t building a house. I left it out in the field for a year of rain. Try not to ask yourself what this waiting means or why you’re held inside it.
PHILIP METRES Issue 14. 2011. Page 50.
LETTERS TO ST. PETERSBURG window to the wistful you kept me up at nights / puppeteer your strings of light / untether us from beds / you’ve framed yourself / not to be framed unmateable untranslateable you my words shoaled in shallows you seas I wallow in / I flail to seize you again / see you in washed-out image on my office wall / the lurid cathedral built on spilt blood / this Midwestern sun erases alluring city in which I lose & lore you where gradeschool children could not help / but throw snowballs over the mass grave at Pokrovsky / where I skittered over history apparition of Gandlevsky shaking shaking Gogol & Dostoyevsky you unowned & owed / how the cameras came / eras seared on eyes how many dreams I’ve wandered in our neural galleries where your countless winter face framed by kerchief ascended past as I descended the terminal escalator sans guile & lyre turning to you so that I could see what I would love & lose forever / those interminable days where saffron insides of apartments gilded the gray outside where camera the room in which I hide / to hold you where the mooring of albums & digital nets emptied / where my words herded everything but the you of you this is the same song harped on the same strand of sand this is the problem of words & now again the ghost ship of a building skeleton scaffolds where torn plastic tarps masked as unlashed sails flagellate the stone / shred themselves / a history of the self where all the windows eye the shoreline O inward window / carved from ribcage & flight / O windward gate of the mouth locked & jawed I’ve gotten no closer to you, cursed & dear city, than to my death! to burn posthumously like a word / an echo of dusk you of the summer sun never ceasing to sing to you I cede / urn of eyes / to you I turn return to you whatever I’ve taken / sudden blood briny in my mouth / city seeded in me if only to spread open the holy psalter of you & be spread open / voice of my voice, shoulder open my soiled throat
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2010)
TRANSLATIONS I want to believe we can’t see anything we don’t have a word for. When I look out the window and say green, I mean sea green, I mean moss green, I mean gray, I mean pale and also electrically flecked with white and I mean green in its damp way of glowing off a leaf. Schiele’s Green, the green of Renaissance painters, is a sodium carbonate solution heated to ninety degrees as arsenious oxide is stirred in. Sodium displaces copper, resulting in a green precipitate that is sometimes used as insecticide. When I say green I mean a shiny green bug eating a yellow leaf. Before synthetics, not every painter could afford a swathe of blue. Shocking pink, aka neon aka kinky pink, wasn’t even on the market. I want to believe Andy Warhol invented it in 1967 and ever since no one’s eyes have been the same. There were sunsets before, but without that hot shocking neon Marilyn, a desert sky was just cataract smears. I want to believe this. The pale green of lichen and half-finished leaves filling my window is a palette very far from carnation or bougainvillea, but to look out is to understand it is not, is to understand what it is not. I stare out the window a lot. Between the beginning and the end the leaves unfolded. I looked out one morning and everything was unfamiliar as if I was looking at the green you could only see if you’d never known synthetic colors existed. I’ve drawn into myself, people say. We understand, they say. There are people who only have words for red and black and white, and I wonder if they even see the trees at the edge of the grass or the green storms coming out of the west. There are people who use the same word for green and red and brown, and I wonder if red seems so urgently bright pouring from the body when there is no green for it to fall against. In his treatise on color Wittgenstein asked, “Can’t we imagine certain people having a different geometry of colour than we do?” I want to believe the eye doesn’t see green until it has a name, because I don’t want anything to look the way it did before. Van Gogh painted pink flowers, but the pink faded and curators labeled the work “White Roses” by mistake. The world in my window is a color the Greeks called chlorol. When I learned the word I was newly pregnant and the first pale lichens had just speckled the silver branches. The pines and the lichens in the chill drizzle were glowing green and a book in my lap said chlorol was one of the untranslatable words. The vibrating glow pleased me then, as a finger dipped in sugar pleased me then. I said the word aloud for the baby to hear. Chlorol. I imagined the baby could only see hot pink and crimson inside its tiny universe, but if you can see what I’m seeing, the word for it is chlorol. It’s one of the things you’ll like out here. Nineteenth-century critics mocked painters who cast shadows in unexpected colors. After noticing green cypresses do drop red shadows, Goethe chastised them. “The eye demands completeness and seeks to eke out the colorific circle in itself.” He tells of a trick of light that had him pacing a row of poppies to see the flaming petals again and figure out why. Over and over again Wittgenstein frets the problem of translucence. Why is there no clear white? He wants to see the world through white-tinted glasses, but all he finds is mist. At first I felt as if the baby had fallen away like a blue shadow on the snow. Then I felt like I killed the baby in the way you can be thinking about something else and drop a heavy platter by mistake. Sometimes I feel like I was stupid to have thought I was pregnant at all. Color is an illusion, a response to the vibrating universe of electrons. Light strikes a leaf and there’s an explosion where it lands. When colors change, electromagnetic fields are colliding. The wind is not the only thing moving the trees. Once when I went into those woods I saw a single hot pink orchid on the hillside and I had to keep reminding myself not to tell the baby about the beautiful small things I was seeing. So, hot pink has been here forever and I don’t even care about that color or how Andy Warhol showed me an orchid. I hate pink. It makes my eyes burn.
NATHAN McCLAIN Issue 13. 2010. Page 22.
MAN REFLECTING ON MAN One man made of breath caresses furniture Left on a lawn overnight. Another Man made of sawdust separates when kissed By wind. He coats the inside of a coffee mug Waiting to be filled with sunlight. One man tucks himself behind I. Another Pours his nearsightedness into a spyglass Sees the sea lapping itself, sees the forest Falling open like a mouth, tree limbs hung limp With fruit. One man dreams himself a stone Lodged in the slingshot’s jaw, dreams himself The door of an unspoken word. Another Hears a voice & echoes the voice he hears. One man’s lips touch lips smudging A wine glass, the way one cigarette sets another One aflame. Then, in the bright doorway Of the unspoken word, a silhouette appears.
ELIZABETH TWIDDY Issue 13. 2010. Pages 24-25.
TO WILL: Well! Here we are together, all alone. You look a little white, but not angry. With that loop of rope around your neck, the hole of your mouth, stunned, you look struck by fear. You’re pinned neatly in this tree –Whoosh! Wings flush out in the distant woods, a blue sound. You know, in the pre-dawn light, everything is blue. It reminds me of a time I woke up alone, barefoot, in the woods. I’d been sleepwalking. The sound of wings woke me up. First I was startled, then angry at myself for panicking: I was lost with no light. Fear choked me. How would I find my way home? Holes in the black sky made chinks of light between pines. Holes in the ground were visible now: my footprints, blue in the damp earth. I followed them home without fear. Will, are you afraid of being alone? I must admit I feel a little angry seeing you hanging here. Are you listening? Wings are pulsing everywhere. Inside us, beyond us, wings are thundering. I imagine you now in a kind of hole, a vacuum, no light, no sound, but full of anger. Do you remember the time I turned blue? When I woke up, my chest felt bruised. I was alone; I couldn’t breathe. The world of my mind turned white with fear. I went to the emergency room where doctors thrushed with fear like birds in their white coats, fluttering their wings around the x-rays. They left me on the steel table alone while they chittered among themselves. I felt myself sink in a hole of white light, until I was aware of nothing. Blue, when I woke up. Blue veins, blue gown, blue tube. Angry wings above my head. White light, pixels of angry light thrashing madly. The tube was a plastic hole, like fear running air into my lung, tissue paper, blue, saying yes pink, saying no blue, my lungs, like wings catching new wind, my delicate, flimsy hole, and lo and behold I was still alive and alone. When they beat their angry wings, do you feel fear inside your hole? You bastard, I’m blue, and alone.
JEANNINE HALL GAILEY Issue 13. 2010. Page 37.
SHE JUSTIFIES RUNNING AWAY I just wanted to be somewhere I could smell lemon trees in April where the sea wind wasn’t quite as cold (you know this damp grows in my lungs like a plague) and the sky a bit less weepy. I missed my land of pomegranates and figs, of ripe cheese and blood orange, the tart black taste of volcanic soil. It wasn’t you, sweet prince, or our tiny castle (the dust mounting in closets) or the crying wounded mouths of children. It was sunlight that burned my memory. It was my lips that craved a sweeter fruit. It was the citrus blossoms in spring, the twisted cypresses, the warm salt air. It was the white, frolicking goats in me that called. I will shuck myself open to the blue hot world.
CHRIS DOLLARD Issue 13. 2010. Page 41.
SOLITARY (BRAVE) Everything I know about prison I learned from you when I was five. I asked how many birthday parties you missed and why you dug a hole through your closet into mine with a pencil to pass me notes, both of us huddled in places where we knew we shouldn’t be. We heard heavy footfalls that somehow never found us. You drew stick figures in striped pajamas. You said, That’s what we are, but I thought I wasn’t. I could still leave my room. You weren’t allowed to, and every note you pushed through plaster I didn’t understand. I only saw the alphabet, letters I was still learning. You sat in each corner of your room, dreaming of sheets tied together out the window, of scaling walls, of running through the woods with me.
JEFF TIGCHELAAR Issue 13. 2010. Page 49
ONE WAY OF LOOKING AT THIRTEEN BLACKBIRDS A black cat crossing your path is bad for luck, it’s said. But to cross the path of thirteen blackbirds – that has to be a sign. There’s meaning in the way they’re sitting on that line side by shadowy side, yellow eyes unblinking, staring down at you all of one mind, just waiting to dive.
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2009)
TO SURVIVE INSIDE THE WHEEL OF DAYS “Crocodile mama, crank open those jaws, let twenty wriggling pipsqueaks out to swim,” we say to a human soul that’s lay too long in its swamp bottoms, to a spark of God suffocating in a muddy mind. If the soul’s chilled by a deadly bond to what should’ve been lost, we call, “Mountain wind, snap gold from the aspen nodes, cover the summer-dun fields with flutter and color.” In our bethel of remedies, we, the blue-striped lizard ladies, welcome all bedraggled spirits — those with hands that do nothing but pick at blisters, the whimperers, those with hair that’s forsaken its snake-power, all of its nerve – and we feed them the savory decay of a desert sheep baked on the boulders, horns and all. We keep the coyotes away so they, the human souls, can limp and dither their way to a meal, and when they’re sated, we bathe their hands in the salt-and-sage- spiced blood of jack-rabbits and ask them to do what they came here for: “Scrape off those brittle old skins you slither around in,” which aren’t their bodies, but the doubts of their bodies, crusted and constricting. We cache away earthquakes, stone knives, burst clouds, flowers, cures for every form of heartache . . . but try to make a grab for us, we’ll break tail and run. Instead, step sideways into our sandstone home, light as a dusky breeze that’s come from the river. If you wait with the flooded senses and tensile crouch of a kangaroo mouse, we’ll find you varnished with shadows, your layered fears a carving surface for our primal glyphs: paw, talon, feather, scale, maw.
PAISLEY REKDAL Issue 12. 2009. Page 8-9.
BODY OF STUFFED FEMALE FOX, NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM Nothing ever was this slinking, vicious, glass eye embedded in its slitted red, skin husked and sealed forever in a vacuum — the false gray sedge where no dog hunts and it’s lost its sleekness as it’s lost its sun. She ages terribly behind her glass. Nothing ever was this slinking, vicious, so why should we admire or hate her, husked and sealed forever in a vacuum, the frozen attitude of cunning strung over wire, the razor nails replaced and aging terribly behind glass? Imagine the raw, wet wounds in the body she could open up. Why admire or hate her for them, why not call her existence, simply, honest: an animal practicing its craft designed by nature? Now it’s strung over wire, the razor nails replaced with plastic as her forest was itself replaced by us, the raw, wet wounds we tear into its body. Years ago, signs across the neighborhood listing all the cats found mutilated declared a man was busy practicing his craft, nature redesigned by violence. We have to find the killer, they said, before the forested park fills with bodies, the cats turned into girls and the girls into women. Months later, the signs were torn down, the notices listing all the cats found mutilated declared a mistake. The culprit was a fox. But now, behind glass we’ve found the killer: the violence we think we cannot be or feel more than, the once-red body that fascinates us turned female, signs beside it torn, the notes on its habitat in disarray due to construction. The culprit is a fox. Behind the glass lighting flickers, throws down shadows so that we cannot see her. She raises up a paw and the once-red body that fascinates us freezes in its shabby immortality, stands disfigured in its habitat, in disarray due to our construction of a world that keeps her always different from us; in our imagination of ourselves, degraded. We cannot see her. She raises up a paw as if in supplication, cone nose tasting the air frozen in its shabby immortality, disfigured by the box we’ve locked it in, as we’ve locked in her, imagining how she’d slink from the forest to drink at a puddle of rain, the picture of herself degraded by a car’s sudden headlights that cut across the surface. She lifts her head, cone nose tasting the air as the wind lifts too, riffling the grasses, the trees, the fur at her throat; a movement which, as she stops to drink at her puddle of rain, could be herself or God or nothing: an absence in the headlights that cut across the surface. She looks into her puddle of rain but cannot imagine more, does not need to, like us, a wind riffling through grasses, a movement like rain running down a glass room. Nothing ever was this slinking, vicious. She could be herself or God or nothing. Instead, she’s husked, red. Sealed forever in a vacuum.
CHRISTOPHER KENNEDY Issue 12. 2009. Page 15.
RARA AVIS My mother was born with wings on her ankles. She’s been cutting them off since she could hold a butcher knife. They grow back. She cuts them off. She can’t fly. The wings are useless. They reappear with the promise of flight, the false hope of escape. She tries to ignore them. They itch like scabs. She cuts them off. She dreads the day she loses her strength and lets them grow untamed. She fears she might be tricked by the arc of their shadows into believing in their power, the moon and the stars inviting her, the open window examining her faith.
BILL CARPENTER Issue 12. 2009. Page 44-45.
LUKE I’m driving back to the McDowell Colony over the night roads of New Hampshire: Route Ten from Hanover to Newport, turn right at Goshen on route Thirty-one, my little Sube straining up Lovewell Mountain, lights puncturing fog and snow at the same time, road lost, yellow line faded because they don’t have taxes in New Hampshire: Live Free or Die. I crest a hill and there’s a dog, dead, big German Shepherd, snow on his fur, dog blood frozen on the road. I stop the car. A man comes out of his house through the snowy fog: he’s old, he’s in long underwear, he’s weeping, he says, “You killed him, mister, you take him away.” I tie a rope from my bumper to the dog’s neck. “Don’t drag him,” the man says. “His name was Luke.” I haul the carcass into the rear seat and drive, blood on my clothes, blood on my brand-new car, searching the radio but there’s nothing but NPR: Garrison Keillor reading from Robert Frost, He will not mind my stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow. Bullshit, I say to Luke. He will. He’ll call the New Hampshire State Police. What does Frost know? He is as dead as you are. I stop next to some snowy woods to throw Luke out, but I can’t do it. I am divorced. My kids are off at school. He’s all I’ve got. I turn south on 202 and reach McDowell but there’s no one up, a light in just one studio, somebody writing late. It’s snowing again. It’s cold. I open the rear door and pick Luke up, but he seems lighter, he feels warm, I open his chest up like a winter coat. I put it on, I pull his back over my shoulders, big Shepherd head over my own. I am amazed that the eyes work, the nose breathes, the mouth opens when I move my lips. I walk to the lighted window and look in. He’s in there with his Pepsi and his computer, trying to write a poem but he can’t get the last line, and he can’t sleep. I rub my nose against his window. I want to play, I want him out here, I want a stick thrown over the wet snow. I pull the fur tighter, I rub a paw over the pane, but he won’t hear. He lights up a cigar, what does he care, he’s got the photos of his ex-wife, his kids, why would he need a dog? It feels like time to get down on all fours and find some action, but the only light comes from the blind moon, blind smell of snow, woodsmoke and porcupine, somewhere a distant horse, giving his harness bells a shake. Maybe the cooks have started breakfast: smell of brown sugar, strawberries, French toast, then something bitter, maybe one of the visual artists coming into heat, I’m not quite sure. It’s fun. I frisk my tail. I follow my nose and run.
Jeannine Hall Gailey Issue 11. 2009. Page 6-7.
When Asked Why I Write Poems About Japanese Mythology — A letter from the suburbs of Seattle to the suburbs of Tokyo I will send my voices out over the water where the same cedars that litter my coast used to tower over yours. Once green, your cities have nibbled forests into bonsai. Our hinoki trees are shipped across the ocean for your sacred temples now. Postcards of volcanoes rise from a blue sky in the background of our homes, we share zones of tsunami, seasons of weeping cherry. I read about women’s spirits haunting peony lanterns in the forest. Men follow them, fall in love with women long dead. In shallow graves rotted with tree roots, they still sing. And here in pages hammered from your language into mine, sometimes with clumsy fists, I have listened to the bush-warbler mourn her children, the fox-wife’s eyes in the darkness have warned me of the growling of dogs and fire. And when they disappear in silence, it is not really silence. Their echoes burn themselves into stone, into the living screens of my childhood, fill my mouth with ghosts. Ghosts sit in my mouth and sing. Our grandfathers were at war. I grew up in the birthplace of bombs that poisoned children, burned holes into your sacred earth. Their poison is part of me. In the shelter of a shrine, a small girl holds an umbrella. She becomes a white bird. She whispers and a thousand cranes, a thousand burning flowers pile up inside me, spill out onto these pages. Forgive me, ghosts, for my hard, unbeautiful hands, for my tripping tongue, as you demand a healed future, some untorn prayer.
SEAN PATRICK HILL Issue 11. 2009. Page 8-9.
SOMETIMES I SEE MY COUNTRY First, you must understand how I live in a borrowed country, The sky wide as a storm, but one that never gets off the ground. There is far too much room out west to get lost in. Back east, our sky supported itself on clouds of late summer oak. Winter, we knew, would bring that world to its knees. Trees starved year after year. Sometimes, we hardly held on. But still the hills broke, frozen waves against fields. Dry corn stooped and shuffled its brittle limbs. In a country like that, the sky seems to fit. Sometimes it gathered itself into rain that fell between hills To be reborn a river. People wore the right clothes: leather boots with hard soles. And all the times we came to wear ourselves out, you could believe it. It’s just that the sky here doesn’t fit — it’s not that I haven’t touched it. It works its rain into me like nails. Timber here is that soft. Out back, past the star magnolias, I found rhubarb growing near Some dumpsters along a warehouse wall. I thought of my grandmother, who planted rhubarb and corn In a sky so large she couldn’t keep it from pushing through the fences. I carry that garden around in my heart — I don’t know, I guess I just like the toughest plants. I moved to this city on a whim. I thought I might learn to love its car lots, Its newspapers blown under busses, the men who rest their carts Under the dogwoods and drink their Steel Reserve. I thought I might believe in my fortune: Soon you will be sitting On top of the world. I haven’t the strength to argue. I lost many things that move: a lover, a dog, money, respect. Meaning everyone else lost all respect for me. All my hills gone bald, my skull prickling with bare oaks. Is it any wonder sometimes I see what is left of my country? That it makes sense to me why the skin of the fruit grows bitter? Home, we think, is where you hang your head, or hang around, or just hang. We live under a fantastic sky, it’s true, but here they call it Poverty with a view. In less than a week, all the stars fell from the trees.
NOMINATED BY EDITOR ON THE BOARD OF CONTRIBUTING EDITORS FOR THE PUSHCART PRIZE
JAMES DOYLE Issue 11. 2009. Page 13.
THE GOD OF THE NORMANDY COAST When the God of the Normandy Coast sits down for His afternoon pastry, the waiter asks Him if He wants coffee or wine with His snack and if He notices the dead man in the car just off Main and Grand. The God is rearranging napkins into white crosses. Such neat little rows. That is why He is the God and you are the dishwasher watching Him through slits in the dumbwaiter. He chooses wine, which was predictable. The dead man comes up to Him, sits down, asks, “Well, what’s the verdict?” The God shrugs His shoulders. Over fifty years now and still the shrugging of shoulders You’d think the only real dead were in the past. You feel like shaking His shoulders, shouting, “Come out of it!” But you are dead too, waiting in line, washing those dishes till they shine.
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2007)
comment In C++, a comment consists of all the text starting with the double slashes (//) forward to the end of the line. The compiler ignores anything in a comment. At the company town hall meeting, //in the movie theater again we see the same slides. The financial guys //old plots, new faces spin the numbers again, a visual rhetoric //fake stars painted on the scene of gray bars rising adjacent to red. Someone //dull plastic, factory-made tells a politically safe joke, and we laugh on cue, //generic and eggshell-empty our hands already under our chairs //hostages to paychecks and bills searching in vain for a taped envelope of tickets //or any way out of here or some coupon for a show we will never //not in this life, dear Buddha, have time to see. A trim woman who is stuck //with an echoing palatial home in her mid-twenties comes forward in her $3000 suit, //and its invisible seams smiles, and tells us nothing. It’s been another great year, //resplendent in its impeccable lie we hear through the gleam of clinically bleached teeth, //perfectly timed clicking but the market has been tough. Too bad about bonuses. //nothing gained, nothing at all
C. L. Knight Issue 10. 2007. Page 23.
WITHOUT WORDS When we were not speaking, I wondered how to tell you without words where I was going, how I would walk outside and breathe slowly to catch my heart before it raced into the swamp of singing that prowls about us. It was before we invented fire, before words, before the shape of words. When we did not speak, the air still burst with visions, animals purring, yowling, chaos parting air and water, the moon rising from underground gardens. When we did not speak, our fists formed meaning — unmistakable, furious curled into our mouths, too blue to utter, too red to grasp, too green to listen. We wove baskets of grief, killed ferrets and doves, skinned them and ate. When we learned to speak, the words became round beads we put on strings, chains of meaning to hang around our necks — too many syllables rivering through our veins like prophecy. We invented god to interpret the heavens for us, realized our tongues are small instruments if we wish to speak to the stars.
ADAM PETERSON Issue 10. 2007. Page 15-16.
My untimely death: Number nine
I die a young, untimely death and an anachronistic, untimely death. I find that my untimely death comes to me when nothing else would. Alone, I cough and cough, and when I pull the handkerchief away from my mouth there is one, perfect spot of red blood in the middle. It looks like the Japanese flag, and I hang it above my bed so that I think of sunrises when I wake up. I go to the doctor. He is an old man who practices medicine in his basement. He delivered me in my untimely birth, one month premature, and has guided me through every illness of my childhood and adult life with the nostrum-like reassurance expected of a doctor with a grey mustache.
He pokes my skin with a needle and one, perfect spot of red blood rises to the surface. It looks like Jupiter among the swirls of freckles on my arm. I take a picture with my phone and make it the background so that I think of storms when I want to call my ex-girlfriend. The doctor sucks up the spot of blood with an eyedropper and delicately moves it onto a slide where he examines it with all of the expressions at his disposal — hmm; ah, yes; I see; well then; interesting.
You have consumption, he says.
Do people still get consumption? I ask.
Only people like you, he says.
On the way home I buy black clothes and many, many more handkerchiefs. I have read about this, I think. I know what consumptives do. I never go outside and a deathly pallor overtakes my skin. I eat only beef broth and the flesh disappears from my bones. I become effete, sophisticated. I kiss a boy. Sometimes I faint in public. I cough even when I don‘t have to. There is never any blood.
I return to the doctor. He is surprised that I am still alive, but I tell him I don’t think I — or anyone — has consumption anymore. They have another name for it now, I say. Do you think I have tuberculosis? I ask.
Oh, God, no, he says. You have a case of the fits.
On the walk home I fall over in the street and begin to shake. I try to foam at the mouth. Everyone steps around me and after six or seven minutes of shaking I become tired so I stand up and go home. I throw away my black clothes, my handkerchiefs. I buy a helmet. I never fall over again. When I again go to the doctor he tells me I have the horrors.
The horrors? I ask.
The horrors, he says.
And this time the diagnosis is correct. I see apparitions that look like people I know, but they are not dead yet. This knowledge causes madness, the fits, consumption. I lay on my bed with my phone open. Above me is the Japanese flag. I cough. I shake at the horrors.
ADAM PETERSON Issue 10. 2007. Page 17.
MY UNTIMELY DEATH: NUMBER FOURTEEN
My untimely death takes all spring. In the winter I one-up Thoreau and move to the center of Lake Franklin-upon-Burbank to be away from it all, to reconnect with the world as it was meant to be experienced. I thought I would freeze to my untimely death because I live without shelter and scavenge for food among the ice and snow. The first night I make a pillow of snow and sleep beneath the stars. In my dreams I can see fish looking up at me through the ice.
In the morning I scavenge food at the ranger station. I have more luck. They have a fire house at the ranger station and as I walk outside I borrow it, like Thoreau might have, and turn the water on, like William James might have. I walk back to my home in the center of the lake. I drag the hose behind me, the water freezing, and as it touches the ice it forms a wall splitting the lake in twain. I never set foot on the north side of the lake again as I find myself stuck behind the wall on the south side.
Though I never again see anyone from the north side of the lake, I imagine them vulgar and blasphemous and pugilistic. Beneath my feet, though, I can see fish skirt the new boundary without hesitation and I am as envious as I am suspicious.
Back at my home, I use the hose to build ice walls with ice siding and ice bay windows. The water from the hose never ceases so I continue to build. I make a garage with a work bench and an anvil. I make an atrium with roses. When I try to rest the hose begins to make an unsightly hill so I take it up again and conquer the hill, like Roosevelt might have, and build a memorial on it. It is a memorial to everything, and all winter as I continue to expand my house – glancing over my shoulder to the north so much that in the morning my right cheek is sunburned; in the afternoon, my left – that as my house grows I find new things to memorialize.
On the day I spray a memorial to the sun it reappears again, like Eugene Debs might have, and a yellow plague spreads across the ice. In all directions there is only light, and I am blinded. Still it is cold, and I memorialize my blindness by making more hills, frozen Braille, even though I don't know the language, just big bumps that spell out my plea to God.
But it is only the sun that runs its fingers over them, I know.
I feel water collect at my feet. I go into the guest room and the ice duvet is gone. The iced kangaroo has left and soon the entire ice zoo. In my hand the hose sprays stronger than ever, but I cannot recreate what has melted away from me.
Soon there is no ice, just lake, and north and south are one. I am underwater. I let go the hose. It is at home. I feel fish brush against my fingers. I dream I chase them up, up.
DAVI WALDERS Issue 10. 2007. Page 26-27.
THINGS for W.S. Merwin If you look for me in this street you’ll find me with my violin prepared to break into song, prepared to die. from “For Everyone,” Pablo Neruda You translated his love poems and went on to other things — Beowulf, The Cid, Lorca, your palm trees, your own work while Neruda lived here in those years, building his third home, adding room after room to fill with things and more things. It is easy to forget the dusty beach towns — Algarrobo, El Quisco — their graffiti and crowds when you turn off toward Isla Negra. Cypress and monkey pines cling to the cliffs. Black volcanic rock juts from the Pacific below; seaweed whirls in wild blue water. It is February summer. I want to take it all in, the things, his ‘blue shore of silence’ above his ‘university of the waves.’ A giant glassy-eyed fish watches from the roof. An ancient red train engine guards the walk’s pink profusion of flowers. A caretaker’s house he bought in ’39 with earnings from books sold since his teens, he re-designed it to look like a ship, adding rooms to hold his collections. Though terrified of water, he gathered everything he could find from ships and the sea. ‘I traveled building joy,’ he carved on the weathered wood lintel under the red tin-roof. You enter walking the seashell floor in the foyer, then cross sliced tree trunks sunk into the concrete floor of the dining room. Shelves on every wall hold rainbows of colored glass: three hundred old bottles from France, hundreds of green, blue, and red glass piano leg protectors, dishes from Turkey, Russia, Sweden. Ships in bottles, masks from everywhere, closets filled with colorful hats for costume parties. The heavy wood dining table still set for nine waits for Neruda to take the biggest captain’s chair. “I am the captain of dry land,” he often said, looking out from his many telescopes, collecting hundreds of painted ships’ frontispieces. Six thousand shells he gave to a museum; another spiky, spiny, pearly thousand reside here in his shell room. In his study, where he wrote only in green (the color of hope), washing his hands before and after writing, he kept cases of blue and yellow butterflies; big, ugly beetles, the Chilean beetle, longer than a finger, his favorite. He wrote surrounded by photographs of his mentors: Baudelaire to the right on his carved desk; Whitman, ‘his poetic father’ on the left; Lorca, whom he loved and grieved in Spain on the wall above. And meerschaum pipes, hundreds of their carved white heads resting in cases. Murals of stone and rock on the way to the horse room, his ‘happiest horse’ sculpture, larger than life-size, acquired after forty-five years of negotiation, inviting his friends to his horse party asking them to bring the horse gifts when the horse’s parlor and men’s bathroom pasted with dirty postcards were finished. Enter the Kovache (‘cozy’ in Mapuche language) room filled with wooden animals ‘A house of toys,’ he said, ‘to play with from morning to night.’ Not just his own interests, but the local women he helped, whose hundreds of pieces of embroidery he sold on his travels, the thousands of Spanish Civil War refugees he paid for and re-settled in Chile. You catch your breath outside sitting on Tiburon, the red and white wood fishing boat he built for cocktail parties overlooking the Pacific. His passions are clearer now — poems about his socks, an ear of corn, a tuna on ice, a chestnut on the ground, salt, a lemon. Things. So many things. I have tried to take it all in as a gift to myself, to you who made him ours long ago — these common things still singing above the sea to a very uncommon man.
LIZ ROBBINS Issue 10. 2007. Page 31-32.
OUR NUKES OUR NUKES
1. Our nukes are in the habit of hiding themselves below ground as if shy, much like what the proverbial ostrich does with her head. Nukes from other countries reportedly do this too, sometimes hiding so superhumanly well as to have turned invisible. Do nukes work better as rumor than fact?
2. Our nukes resemble supermodels: tall and slender, with shiny designer garb and bared teeth. They saunter expertly, capable of overriding strong reverberations of hunger. They’re up on current wartime factions.
3. A woman in Detroit who screws together nuke parts says she’d rather make garbage disposals.
4. Our nukes are necessary demonstration, like good manners. We gladly pay 450 billion for a single year’s etiquette lesson. A woman in Kaesong dreams our nukes wearing diapers. A father in Brooklyn whose son dissolved like a tablet in the Twin Towers requests his son’s name be tattooed on our nukes, right below the Nike swoosh.
5. Our nukes bow their heads, doggedly prayerful, deferential to their own enlightenment. They wait for directions from above, while globe-sized hail continues to fall, out in the great state of Texas.
6. We scope for signs of resistance from our nukes, checking for tarnishing or dulled tips indicating possible neuroticism. We get those straightened right out. We tell the good ones stories so they can sleep at night. And they dream of long dark tunnels, the brilliant, inexplicable light at the end.
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2006)
IN MICHAEL ROBINS' CLASS MINUS ONE At the desk where the boy sat, he sees the Chicago River. It raises its hand. It asks if metaphor should burn. He says fire is the basis for all forms of the mouth. He asks, why did you fill the boy with your going? I didn’t know a boy had been added to me, the river says. Would you have given him back if you knew? I think so, the river says, I have so many boys in me, I’m worn out stroking eyes looking up at the day. Have you written a poem for us, he asks the river, and the river reads its poem, and the other students tell the river it sounds like a poem the boy would have written, that they smell the boy’s cigarettes in the poem, they feel his teeth biting the page. And the river asks, did this boy dream of horses because I suddenly dream of horses, I suddenly dream. They’re in a circle and the river says, I’ve never understood round things, why would leaving come back to itself? And a girl makes a kiss with her mouth and leans it against the river, and the kiss flows away but the river wants it back, the river makes sounds to go after the kiss. And they all make sounds for the river to carry to the boy. And the river promises to never surrender the boy’s shape to the ocean.
BOB HICOK Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 14.
RELATIVITY Leaves are jumping from the trees. At the sales meeting I wonder if suicide is catching. While Dave in his cumulus shirt reviews figures on the growth rate of suckers, I leave the room through a wormhole of boredom and have a child named Carla. In the seconds I don’t listen to the horse galloping through Dave’s lips, Carla plays softball and grows into a woman who is symmetrical and happy. Dave sits down and leaves are still brightly killing themselves. I think of dialing 911 but am plagued by the sense I learned a different way to cut a PBJ, just for Carla, a style no one else knows, that she’s inside the light years, looking out for me, imagining I’m just over the hill, tie off, under a maple catching every bit of orange before it shrouds the ground, as I do each fall to weave the dress she calls “fire fire, I’m on fire.”
CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 18-9.
PHOTOGRAPH OF JOHN BERRYMAN ON THE BACK OF LOVE & FAME I have no idea whether we live again — John Berryman I see the man who wrote his 11 intemperate letters to the Lord is the man half grateful near his end, a man almost at ease and deep behind his whiskers here. A charmer who won’t be completely run to ground, grizzled as the granite going to pieces at his back, he’s channeling his last cloud-split reasoning directly at the doubtful sky, uncovering any worth or last ditch redeeming chance, and carefully subscribing to that. Who then knows about the soul — chipped away with age, grey with cosmic grit, some evanescent paste holding together beyond our bones? I have some interest in this late line of questioning, that desperate dodge and grab at conviction while balancing on one foot, the sinking weight of everything you likely know on the other. I have a friend who revered and loved the man, as, I imagine, God intended us to respect that knot of light burning in the rare and fervent few among us. 33 years ago, Berryman posed, nonchalant before the lens in Ireland — Latinate, distilled, high lonesome ad jazzy riffs mixed with reflex and a syntactic ear for idiosyncrasy, inward somnambulism — a sober self-estimate that held him steady amid the wobbling flames, dreaming in the distracted atmosphere with love and fame trailing a ways off from where he later waved then stepped away, dawdling toward the glory of the dust. For a man who could not much love himself he came generous with his love and trust at last in God. O, time wears us away to little more than salt or sea air — here us elsewhere, but how to know which metaphysical hammerlock’s going to pin us down the years and force capitulation? Yet, he’s still credible, walking the edge, a famous sparkle of doubt in the eyes, teetering in the blind up-drafts of belief — both sides of the street in play, sand beneath the soft soles of his feet. He expects to fall and will blame, ex post facto and no doubt rightly, logically so, God, when he is not there, to swoosh out of the unphysical aether to hold, metaphorically, his hand, in His infinite one, that ardent strope of flesh and blood above the common traffic of the world, where sooner or later all our blood and bony minds fall to wreck, one afternoon. One day to the next, I find myself as reasonably sure as Berryman about the afterlife, and I would, at 50-something, line up behind him, my right hand raised into the air in hope of one. But my heart’s not finally in it; it’s still half bitter like a root vegetable they always said was good for you, and so will not likely lift me, heavy out of this world, as his must have — singing praising purely the fog thick invisible source, the blind- spot in creation sustained by desperate lines, and he dead-grateful for his gift, disavowing eloquence alone. Yet somehow her firmly clutched in one mildly shaking hand a glass half-full of Faith. For any proof, I have only, as I said, the friend who knew him, this photo, his clipped and thorny song — the conflicted pledges of an absent minded God . . .
TOD MARSHALL Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 31.
ARS POETICA VIII: AFTER HIKING MANY MILES TO HEAR THE MASTER SPEAK When asked for a definition of poetry, the master said, “beware all enterprises that require new clothes.” When asked for a definition of poetry, the master took his hatchet to the shed and shredded two quarter logs for kindling. When asked for a definition of poetry, the master kissed the questioner on the forehead then cuffed an ear. When asked, the master said, “In the shadow of the mountain, snow will last long into August, however hot the afternoons.” When asked, “Six girls without pants is not an excuse for wisdom.” When asked, the master sighed and replied, “There are things in the world that can kill you, and one of them is rats.” When asked, the master rose from his wooden bench and sliced a kitten in half. Shouted: “The last thing Icarus thought.” When asked the definition of poetry, the master points at his heart, “Somewhere, wildflowers and trout, somewhere the sparrow lives without fear of its shadow.”
NORA MCCREA Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 33.
HOW TO BOIL AN EGG: TARGHAZ INTERIORS
1. First, you have to not think about a lot of things. The passage through the vaginal canal of the hen, the feminine parts clinging to and pushing forward the papery shell enclosing a thin membrane around the possibility of a future chicken. Maybe you had one of those experiences, like at a natural history museum or working at a diner, where you may have had the privilege to see the blood spot. Some people never recover. The taste always reminds them.
2. The kind of pan with the special core that conducts heat all over is best. Allow the tap to rush frigid and breathless. The water will need salt. Have you heard about the slaves of Targhaz who dug out chunks of grey-white salt in sub-Saharan holes, dry as their salt-block homes sucking water from their bones as they slept? Foremen only lasted two weeks. Faces rotated through like the burning yolk-yellow round of sun overhead. And what about that snake god of Ghana asking for lovely virgin bottoms, rigid, and headless? I imagine I am that girl, pinioned, winner of a local beauty contest. While I’m waiting, it happens that blood drips down my inner thigh, red as hibiscus, spoiling the meat. There’s no warrior to rescue me. I have to rescue myself through biology.
3. Boil all this with the egg, seven minutes at least. If you’re hard-boiled, you’ll like it plain with a little salt and pepper. Sometimes, it’s easier that way. There are many ways to devil your egg, with blood-flecks of pimiento or the rendered fat of a hen. My grandmother used to make hundreds of these in the late 60s for what they called entertaining. In a bone-white house with tilework shimmering milky light off the walls, she laid them out in rows on gleaming platters. My mother came into the kitchen once in the middle of the night and found her peeling eggs. Her body was bent over as she was sobbing. My mother remembers the feel of her shuddering when she rushed to hug her, the streams of salt water running down between their faces.
WILLIAM HEYEN Issue 6/7. 2006. Page 59.
THE NOVELIST: A PLAY IN ONE ACT
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2005)
THE MOTHER OF THE MOUNTAINS But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.1 —Robinson Jeffers I. Hearing Takes More than Ears If a mama bear gets angry, imagine the Mother of the Mountains. Mess with Her children, She’ll dust off an avalanche; step out of line, She’ll realign your bones. She’s a blue-eyed beauty, and the mountains have their Mother’s eyes: deep lakes. Gaze into them, you’ll see their thoughts like fish— quick schools, slow rainbows-—look deeper, and you’ll learn to dream like a stone. What does She feed them? Rain for breakfast. Anything else? She peels them the sun for lunch. And at night? Big helpings of quiet, then the Mother of the Mountains sings them to sleep with snow. The trees are Her grandkids; She brings them birds to play with. Whenever it’s their birthday, She gives them an owl ’cause though She’s a blue-eyed beauty, She’s still kind. Even soft . . . even fragile. . . . Wolves howl to Her to show their gratitude. What about you? II. Not Even the Mother of the Mountains Knows How She was Born She might have been fire and twilight—fire in the Earth’s womb, waiting like an egg, and everywhere evening seeking a way inside. She might have been fire and ocean. Or just the answer to fire’s question, Why all this heat? She can’t remember, but She wears the colors of those elements: red and orange and yellow, and under them blue. She can’t remember. But Her children are burning rock; we know that much; and Her love for them is the water we drink and that love made the valleys we live in. . . . None of us know where we come from, not really. Questions climb higher than answers. Still, the Mother of the Mountains raised Her children up skyward, giving us places greater than ourselves to look. III. Some Mountains are Strays. None are Orphans. Of course She’s happy when they stay together, but the Mother of the Mountains understands being apart. You can draw Orion with your eyes each night; it doesn’t change the fact they’re separate stars. You can join any group—there are millions—but joining can’t subtract you; you’re still one. One peak in the Andes. In the Himalayas. In the Alps. One astonishing face of the Tetons. One shoulder of the Okanogans. One slender arm or curving hip of the North Cascades. . . . But you’re no more beautiful, maybe less, than Mauna Loa off in the ocean, surrounded by all that blue. You’re no surer than Kilimanjaro though he stands apart from a continent, away and above, like his Mother, in thinner air. IV. The Mother of the Mountains in Disguise Sometimes She puts on eagle’s wings and comes near. Not often, and not to give us an omen; eagles and mountains are both brown and white, and that’s all. I’ve seen it: Once, at the summit, She circled above and flew on. Another time She was riding the wind straight down . . . like the wind is a river, like the wind has edges and waterfalls. Then yesterday She perched on the roof of my dream: my back yard wider, the mountains closer, the stream running cold where I’ve always imagined a stream. I woke up thirsty, and those first drops splashing on the window screen made the whole day smell of rain. It wasn’t a sign. Don’t be an interpreter. Desire has meaning like a bird has meaning; that’s all. Who wouldn’t be an eagle? Who hasn’t looked at what they love and felt a lifting, or gliding, or plunge? V. Adding It Up 1. Bears belong to the mountains, not to us. 2. And lakes belong to the mountains, not to us. 3. The full moon silhouettes the mountains first, and when bears bend down to drink, they drink its light. 4. Forests are the mountains’ children, so we’d better write good stories for our shelves, stories that last as long as trees last, that grow in widening circles. . . . 5. Deer may take from our gardens. 6. We get back magic in return: a small amazement, illusion of floating, a sudden now-you-see-’em, now-you-don’t. 7. Sex at the top of a mountain makes a boy; at night, on the lakeshore, a girl. 8. We can’t ignore what’s happening. 9. Feeling’s not a choice. It’s everyone’s job. 10. In that hour before daybreak, even a city might concentrate, might quiet itself awhile and sense an older, deeper pulse. VI. Rising and Falling and Rising The Mother of the Mountains has long red hair, long as the horizon. Mornings, when She braids it, She sets the new world turning. Evenings, when She combs it out, Her hair is the western sky. It is here, in this night time, that Her dreams come open like the stars. I like the one about a man and a woman, how their bodies fit together, and sometimes their minds. Sometimes the woman has long red hair and the man is standing at the window and she crosses the space between them to look out too. . . . Sometimes she’s reading at the table, the words appearing like days—a page at a time; skip ahead, they’re still empty. When he asks her what comes next, she doesn’t know. It is here, in this dreaming, that the Mother of the Mountains is like us: full of love and aloneness. And it’s this dream She’s had, about a man and a woman, if the city wakes blanketed with snow. VII. Wolves Howl to Her to Show Their Gratitude. What About You? When people remember what counts most, they measure time by their children. So to speak with the Mother of the Mountains takes 28 days. You must learn to be patient. Ask the lynx. It carries that waiting all winter, then turns that waiting into speed. Ask the moon, never closing the distance. Both of them know fullness won’t last long; there’s always more beginning, more going; tell the Mother of the Mountains something new. Tell Her your story if you have to, but make it tie the river to the wind and lift up the green smell of moss and the memory of someone’s body you never got to touch and the jumping drum of your heart. . . . If one day you see a heron—a long blue stillness at the water’s edge, or a blue impossible flying— then the Mother of the Mountains did listen. And Her answer is yes. 1. Jeffers, Robinson. “Shine, Perishing Republic,” The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Ed. Tim Hunt. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2001. P 23.
Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 23.
Mail Order Bride A strange star, liquid skies, no smoking please. I make you good wife: slender figure, coffee eyes. You will recognize me by the flames surrounding my head. You will recognize me in a little black number. Insert obligatory comments here about excess of love and varicose veins but love itself is a blue and protruding thing. Panties . . . this is where it all starts. I want a gentleman with strong forearms. I want long talks late at night, a clean scent, the cool ruin. I want an annual income of at least one-hundred thousand. I’m most happy when dot dot dot The first thing people usually notice about me is dot dot dot I like weekends at the beach, the arp of seals, gasping the sodium but what’s a mermaid to do with so many crushed anemones? “Eucalyptus wind!” Someone shouts from the high cliffs. There is someone out there. That someone could be you. She smiles often, makes friends easily, her peeves are well hidden in polite societies. “Will you marry me?” I say three second delay. A plane, a snore, blue candy in wax paper. You will recognize me walking on coals near the terminal. You will recognize me by my red hat. Miss now Mrs. Now immigration procedures now frantic signatures. We are fumbling and fumbling unzipping the zippers that lead to nowhere.
Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 36.
The Selected poems All things are tragic when a mother watches! —O’Hara I won’t concentrate enough for the joy in novels & would much rather set my gaze on Hopper or at least his grave where he lies with Josephine. Look at me, smoking a cigarette, it’s much better for breathing & easier for the mouth than words. It’s true I pushed our chairs apart, but haven’t I said that already? How oranges are delicious with seeds? I see a blossomed tree in the landfill & I like “The Hunger,” but skip the longer ones. It’s true I never liked your fun, how you picked that fabulous nose, at a dinner table nonetheless. I am not the violent man, but I’m man enough by evening to leave this blood across the walls. Oh yes, living: the ant in the shadow of the heel.
Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 5.
As Water Reflects What is Above My Head Our woeful rowboat, Kismet named, the stars above and below us. Everything drifts. The oar that was in my hand is now not in my hand. My little stacks of paper blow away. Something tickles the edge of my eyelid. The water’s surface trembles. The moon reappears in the left-hand corner, hardnosed, a robber-baron, collecting acres of night the humble stars have reserved. This is how it looks from here, that the moon is greedy and a thief. I wish he would be kinder. My oar floats across his upturned face. I wish I were a poet. I want to say something foolish. Something flinches. What a large cage the sky is. How opaque the bay, and pale in parts, how it sparkles like nailpolish on a girl I saw once in a shopping mall in Dallas. How she is but a speck, how I am. How each word is essential and tiny. That the universe too is essential and tiny, so small that even my oar disturbs it—See how I touch the water in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world— Oar you are so pretty. I promise to use you as kindling as soon we reach the well-earned shore.
Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 46.
One Thousand Chipmunks One thousand chipmunks woke him up from a deep sleep and he mistook them for angels when he could simply have been amazed at a thousand chipmunks in one place.
Issue 4-5. Summer 2005. Page 16.
Godchild The woman who gave me to God can’t pronounce my name anymore. Every word was pulled out by the roots. My godfather, my dentist, used to take me up in his plane, used to frighten me with his love. He made me tiny rings out of gold pulled from other people’s teeth and could fit all of his giant hand inside my mouth. Now, my mother tells me he is lost on his long legs. Since his wife folded in half, he sits all day in a dark room rolled up in smoke while the t.v. shouts and sings and makes no sense. He named my dad, Curly; my brother, Squirrelly. Her name was Queenie, but I am just me and I can’t tell when he lifts his head up and looks towards my face if he recognizes that I am his, or feels the same tug, like bone pulled from bone when I say the word, love.
NOMINATED BY AN OUTSIDE READER
GREG GLAZNER Issue 4/5. Summer 2005. Page 30.
THE DAY WAS LIKE WIDE WATER winding down, a flat gray luster at the last of it. Neither of the phones was ringing. Flashes fell like a dull weather on the end-table’s leaning heap of mail. They were holding the cage open off-screen so the wolf could lurch and stumble out onto the grassy flatland. The dogs had let up for a while, the mouse had stopped scrambling inside the bathroom wall. They were panning through the sawgrass, the sky sealed off entirely with thin scud. The hour was pressed smooth as nickel. There was not one message, and nothing overdue. It could be spent without consequence, soft and flat and manageable as it was. A reply invited, but not required. It could be dropped without any jangling alarm.
NOMINATED BY AN OUTSIDE READER
GREG GLAZNER Issue 4/5. Summer 2005. Page 31.
THE EONS, IN THEIR MILLIONS, after the story’s one free instant of rising, the singularity, the place where it all seethes uncountable and free, untouchable by law, after 10-43 seconds the eras weigh back down in a gravity like middle age, the cargo plane stalls tail-down toward the teeming residential streets of a day’s overloaded front-page language, the phrases continually come down, hardening to prose before they hit, before they break, telling what’s left to tell, the denouement, the fifteen billion years of physical law, and what flourishes at the end of that long verdict.
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2004)
“Hello.” Prisoner inside my mouth biting words into my tongue. “Do you have the time to take a short survey?” Light travels slow without windows. “What local radio stations do you listen to?” If I lie still long enough my aorta will tremble, some birds answer their own calls. “How many hours a day do you spend watching television?” The octopus’ eye is similar to mine, people still live in Pompeii, trees without leaves are holding their breath. “What brand of coffee do you prefer?” When you’re thinking olive blossoms I can smell the oil on your lips. “How much do you contribute to charity?” I once bought an opal necklace
Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 28.
I always liked the smell of Christmas in church not the Christmas that you have to bow to a pot of frankincense or the Christmas when a woman with Tourette’s sits behind your pew yelling fucking bitch all mass but the Christmas when a really beautiful woman sans panty-lines sings “O Holy Night” so numbingly, that the night really does seem holy. I wasn’t sure what to make of the other woman’s outbursts— she couldn’t possibly be mad at God. Maybe she was pissed at Mary—loose woman— having an affair with the Almighty and now we all have to be saved because of it, because God couldn’t keep his hands to himself. We were all perfectly happy being heathens, we liked when the world swallowed us into its flooding belly and we swam until our arms just gave out our bodies sinking to the bottom where we hear that incessant beautiful humming maybe Ave Maria which the smooth singer can really belt out. Poor Mary, she never wanted children. Imagine your son nailed to a cross. If I live to be as old as Jesus I too would hate the horizon like I hate a toothache reminding me my body is rotting.
Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 46-47.
YOU ARE HERE —>
I will never, despite the spinning, fly off the Earth. It’s just not possible. The grip that holds it all together— all the oceans and coffee cups, wheat fields and butter knives, porches and the cats on them, cats who’ve seen it all before; all the mornings turning birds into music and streams turning stones into music and women turning me into music when they smile, when they tell stories; all the sunlight and shadows and moonlight and shadows; all the many moods of rain, and so much more—those hands keeping things together hold me here, despite the unlikelihood; despite odds of infinity to one, they’re a surefire bet. Big hands. Galactic. Hands building winds in the wind shop then sawing some down into breezes. For every thermal updraft, fashioning a hawk. Hands shaping mice in the mouse shop for food, seeds and cones in the wood shop for food with enough left over for forests and orchards and maples for the pancakes of the world. Or arranging flowers in the flower shop, or inventing the smell of cinnamon, or creating the flavor of peaches, the purring in cats . . . none of it necessary, no explanation or meaning. Which means they’re an artist’s hands, means you and I are paintings, means daylight and darkness are our frame, and we will never, even with the spinning, fly off the Earth while we’re alive. That’s a fact, but some facts are magic: Like our minds. Like sex. Like every evening the sun sets. Like grapes are for much more than vitamins. Like a cat’s tail, up and casually flicking, is telling us the cat feels at home.
MONIQUE VAN DEN BERG
Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 54.
WHAT I COULD GET AWAY WITH
After an unhappy year or two of marriage, I gave birth to a blind baby, and I didn’t love it. Out of your paternal passion, you swallowed it whole.
Afterwards, we sat around a yellow tablecloth and exchanged empty nothings. The wailing in your gut grew louder and louder. Finally, you ran to the bathroom and purged up our baby. It’s a girl!
Your black-eyed daughter whimpered, and you put her to your breast. What could be nourishing her but your untapped reservoir of love? You wept into her wheat hair, onto her starred skin. You gave her a name.
At this, I put on my wedding gown and began to accompany this scene on the cello. It seemed the least I could do.
Issue 3. Spring 2004. Page 6061.
My colleague’s competence began to depress me. A nice-enough chap otherwise, he remembered all course requirements for his advisees, could quote our department constitution at length & recount the intricacies of our annual revisions of this document. He could & would outline precise actions of our faculty senate from a decade before. He’d wax ecstatic or with melodramatic pain about the Modern Language Association schedule of events for next year. He corrected & filed minutes after coding them with colors for easy reference. His brain & heart were filing cabinets.
I went to him often. Edward, I’d ask, do you recall the time limit for the completion of a thesis? the new catalogue number for my course The Poetry of Poetry? the Board of Trustees’ policy on leave-of-absence without pay? Of course he did, & saved me much time as I followed my meandering feet from office to classroom to meeting room or wherever as I went about my distracted associational way, facts falling from me like dandruff, and the whole university order only the wisp of a legend in my mind.
I’m not exactly a dope. Even when it comes to facts, I’d lived defensively & armed myself, since graduate school, with these wasps—by the acronym PEAL AGS (peel eggs) I’d learned the Seven Deadly Sins in order of their deadliness; I knew the birth & death dates of maybe twenty authors, the names of the tribes of the Iroquois Confederation (by another acronym, COOMS); the name of Rip Van Winkle’s dog, the publication years of the nine editions of Leaves of Grass that appeared during the spontaneous one’s lifetime. But I have not been a fact specialist, & try not to worry much when my genius—no man ever followed his genius so far that it misled him, says one of the Concord masters—disposed me to forgetfulness. I have a hundred poems by heart.
Edward held firmly to the details of our department & administration. Beyond this, students I respected as glowing coals told me his classes were a recitation of just how many steps Alexander Pope took from study to toilet & back during the revision of a particular line in The Dunciad, & what the diminutive hunchback wore that morning, & what comma was placed where—never mind the effect—that afternoon. The text itself lay largely unexamined in the totality of its caustic & witty splendor.
But one day Edward appeared in my office with lipstick on his face & his hair mussed, his tie askew, his eyes those of an illuminate. Cynic, I at first wanted to ask him if he’d been between the sheets in a motel with his beloved erotic University of Chicago Manual of Style, but my fellow-feeling went out to him when he stammered a description of what had become his new & unexpected estate in the country of love.
May the lord of arrows bless him & keep him. May he be riven with blossom. May his students now breathe some of the loveliness of Pope’s couplet art.
PUSHCART NOMINATED POEMS (2003)
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