On September 5, 2014, NPR ran an essay by critic Juan Vidal titled, “Where Have All the Poets Gone?” which questioned whether American poets still produce political work, and suggested that “literary [political] provocation in America is . . . at a low.” Because I find this assessment of contemporary American letters to be very incomplete, I wanted to take the opportunity to create a dialogue on the subject by curating a series of compelling political poems from contemporary American poets. I christened this series “Political Punch” as an affectionate reflection on the cocktail of poets who decided to honor me with their participation in my little Infoxicated Corner; it was intended to celebrate the glorious mix of poetics, voices, and life experiences all being shaken and stirred into a sense of community and conversation, being distilled into burning gulps of experience for the reader. Leaving aside all the boozed-up metaphors, it was also intended to celebrate my experience of American letters, in all their willingness and ability to pack a political punch.
I invite my fellow TheThe Editor, Lisa A. Flowers, to submit this excerpt from her long poem, “Emere’s Tobacconist,” which chronicles the trauma of a mother after the violent assault and murder of her young daughter (part I was published last month, and can be read below). Details of the mother’s grief and her daughter’s trauma are suppressed, as a coping mechanism, and inevitably arise elsewhere, transcribed by the mother-speaker’s psyche onto the daily surfaces of her removed reality. For Flowers, the political heart of this poem lies in her attitudes regarding the American prison system. Earlier this month, Political Punch ran a poem by a prison abolitionist; Flowers’s voice and the mother-speaker she creates both weigh in at the opposite end of the spectrum. This poem expresses outrage at the incidence of American parole boards re-releasing violent offenders who harm not only innocent children, but the parents and loved ones they leave behind. It’s rather popular in academia right now to support the cause of prison abolition; I wanted this series offer more than one viewpoint on the issue. While other poems speak to the fact that our prison system victimizes those it incarcerates, this speaks to the fact that other victims are created by a failure to properly contain sadistic, violent tendencies.
(Read “Emere’s Tobacconist”: Part I here)
Excerpt from “Emere’s Tobacconist”
In the weeks following her death,
When my mind was not ﬁt to live in
I stayed in a small hotel
On the outskirts of my consciousness
As a baby resides in its own bliss
While its mind is being constructed.
But when I tried to use the facilities
There was no running water.
When I turned the taps
They simply ran
With everything I had run from.
In my dream, we went to the petting zoo
In the garden of reincarnation.
I whispered excitedly.
“If you’re very still,
Your next life will come up
And eat out of your hand.”
Slowly, eyes bright, a little kitty had approached her.
Four months later
She was reborn.
I took her home.
For sixteen years
She climbed trees,
In sunlight, and gardens, and the comfort of home.
A week later
Down crept a spider
She had been incarnated into.
It came up to the outside windowsill
And stared at me, busy at its loom
As the storm
That would blow its handiwork away was coming up the coast.
We sat quietly together
‘Til I turned my back on its web and boarded up my window.
It was no different from any other winter.
I doubt I could have endured much longer,
My face propped up on wooden tent pegs,
Every once in awhile a gust of despair blowing it in
My womb a parachute
My child had used to jump from me and out into the world
A chute which,
As if I had stayed a virgin,
She was playing outside, in the front yard.
I was looking out, idly, as I stood at the sink, doing dishes.
There was a feeling
As if there had been someone in the house
Only a moment ago-
Who had left traces of a perfume I couldn’t place.
All at once I identiﬁed the scent-
Flowers of paradise
That cannot grow on earth.
I looked to the open door.
My little daughter was standing there, holding a bouquet of them.
That was the source of it.
I screamed once.
LOCAL GIRL’S BODY FOUND
It was my upbringing, impinged upon my sense of survival.
If I live in the memory of the living alone
And not in my own recollection,
There’s no reason to believe
I know how, ﬁnally,
I did die.
I simply came to a wall, and stopped.
It had never been there at all: my destiny.
I had been there.
It was as if I had been walking on air for 11 years,
When, like Wile E. Coyote
I suddenly thought to look down.
Like a dream, my head swung sleepily,
In a gentle arch,
Between two white fences.
The hare from an illustrated storybook of my early childhood
Bounded by, and spoke to me in a friendly way.
Baby animals came.
They were all soft, and welcomed me into their homes…
Little huts, dugouts beneath the earth-
But never dark or lonely, and lit by warm
Fires on the hearth, and smelling pleasantly of soup and cabbage.
Mother rabbit had breasts enough
To feed every child who had ever died.
“Poor little baby,” she said.
“Orphaned by life. Come warm yourself”
While my body was decomposing up the Chesapeake Bay,
My soul played on the ﬂoor with her children-
Dolls, marbles, Connect Four,
And was sent off to bed
With milk and kisses, and tucked in well.
As they were ﬁnding my body, and calling my parents,
I sat at the breakfast table with my new family ,
Eating Cream of Wheat,
Watching the snow fall outside the window.
During my burial
A mourner’s cry of horror escaped
And came streaking down, like a frantic bat trapped in sunlight,
The little tin roof of our cottage
And Papa Rabbit came out, with his pipe,
And ﬁrmly but gently retrieved it.
They fall like that, sometimes,
And get lost.
We let them go.
We’re kind; we open the door
And release them back into life
Some, blown out like dandelion seeds
Go to a far heaven of Northerners
Ruled by different gods
Where they’re taken into a lodge,
Where they stay for a long time.
Until one steps outside and sets his foot out in the snow
And when the others see how it makes a print
They know they have to return to the world.
Whereupon a spread white expanse appears in the tundra,
Indistinguishable as the prints of the last animal that crossed it.
Lisa A. Flowers is a poet, critic, vocalist, the founding editor of Vulgar Marsala Press, and the author of diatomhero: religious poems. Her work has appeared in The Cortland Review, elimae, Tarpaulin Sky, The Collagist, Entropy, and other magazines and online journals. She is a poetry curator for Luna Luna Magazine. Raised in Los Angeles and Portland, OR, she now resides in Colorado. Visit her here.