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kryptonite

 

kryptonite

 

EXCERPT FROM EMERE’S TOBACCONIST (FROM DIATOMHERO: RELIGIOUS POEMS)

Nothing is to be preferred before justice.

-Socrates

 

There are roach motels

Set out around almost every portal to heaven.

Watch for them, but do not beware, my love

For when the sweet die

The adhesive turns to honey on their feet.

I

There was one point

When I had rolled over slightly to the left

When I thought I felt a slight peace.

I just seemed to bleed out faster that way .

Once someone bent down and lapped a stream from my ear-

A childhood friend of mine

Twenty years ago in rural Ohio,

Long since spread out into middle age,

Across a landscape fate would sow for her.

I wanted to reassure her, Rachel, you’ll live.

I was already halfway in paradise,

 

Waiting out my death.

The destruction to my body was like a pedicure.

As I flipped through magazines,

Mercy sat down and spoke to me.

“When you died you were beautiful,” she said.

“May I show you around?”

But then Justice came in, in her big white robes

And let her hair fall over me, and lifted my shirt,

And gently put her mouth to my nipple

And let my story fall open.

At one point, it seemed,

While my assailant

 had stopped momentarily,

and gone to piss behind a tree

(An inane act of discretion)

Somebody had come along,

Taken my destiny from me

Placed it in a basket,

And sent it down the river,

A baby Moses

For someone to find, among the reeds

As others were finding my body with the bright recognition

 of finding an Easter egg

And the spreading numbness of coming up upon a snake

Coiled at their feet in the brush,

A snake curled ‘round an egg.

My  white-blonde  hair was due to deepen to gold at sixteen.

But the hairdresser in my DNA

Simply sat there, in a darkening studio.

My menstrual cycle was due to start when I was thirteen.

But it stopped, like a jammed washing machine.

The movers arrived a few hours later. My teenage and adult years were packed up and put into freight.

Then they came and boarded up my memories of my last moments on earth.

“Don’t go near yourself,” I was warned.

We set off through the woods

Passing those sent to find me,

And I caught my foot on a snarl of hair

And a snare of rotted clothing.

“Don’t worry…that’s Snow White,’’ somebody reassured me.

“She accidentally fell out of her glass coffin,

And no one bothered to put her back in.”

I didn’t understand my death any more

Than a two year old understands the language

Of a room of adults talking around her.

I kept fidgeting under the table as they were discussing

 how I had been killed,

Playfully biting them, like the kitten I had had when I was five,

Pulling at the hems of their gowns.

Justice took me on a tour of the facility.

“The roach motels you see set out at every entrance,” she said,

“Are not our only way of keeping evil out.

Recycling here is a lot like recycling on earth:

Not everything that comes to us can be put back into the cosmos.

The bins you see at the gates are only for redemption-based products.

Some think they’re getting away because they’ve existed

Inside the camera of the body for so long,”

She explained,

“But when they get up here we simply pull the film out…

And expose it to the Light of the World.”

Other children were brought up on the escalator.

They had no adolescence and no adulthood,

And had to wear hand me downs.

Some of the lives were too big for them.

“I can barely fit into your teens,”

One complained. And:

“My, your old age is vast! Look how it hangs off me!”

In the baths one day

I met Heide Goebbels.

“‘Misch, Misch, du bist ein fisch,’”

I called playfully, on the stairs,”

She said,

“Not realizing my next incarnation

 was already plunging down the Elbe towards me

On a fishing line that could still be cut.

Rapunzel bent over the drain we circled

So we might climb back out of death on her hair;

As we eddied down,

sending the maiden back into her myth with bald spots.

There was a blockage in the pipes

As if our guardian spirits

Knowing we were only children

Had sent any premonitions to us

Watered down, like a toddler’s apple juice;

Gauging, as responsible adults will,

The impact of traumatic imagery on the very young.

So we didn’t know

That our lives had quietly begun hemorrhaging

Til they woke us in a bed wetting.

As soon as we realized what was happening

My sisters and I

Seized as many memories as we could as we

Tangled into the drain

Hoping the Lord wouldn’t notice

As we climbed into a wayward dinghy

Taking no oars, being absolutely silent.

There was a benefit to dying in numbers

In a mass pandemonium

Where the stars, already overcrowding paradise

Were temporarily indistinguishable

 from the numbers coming to heaven.

For a long time we drifted;

Occasionally legends passed:

Peg Powler, pulling Ophelia in her teeth;

The head of Orpheus

Singing sleep, little ones, sleep

To Willa Harper’s children, in their skiff.

There were other children on the banks, at night

Dressed in hospital gowns,

Who had not died, but were hovering on the edge of it,

Who stared at us,

Eyes thick with morphine,

Half looking forward, dreamily

To going to heaven

Bundled into their illnesses like storks;

Others in the dense riverbed foliage

Who’d crept by night into Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights

Thinking they were going into A Child’s Garden of Verses.

By the time they saw the

Asses,

Upturned, in the greenery

Spurting chlorophyll,

Pain was spurting dark green

The cool foliage of the garden where they crawled to die

And woke up, ten seconds later

Pulsing like pod people

In the dawn flower beds

Of Eden.

After we had gotten X amount of centuries out to sea

We could look back in time and see the sepia clouds of World War II behind us

As others would look back en route to Catalina later

And see smog hanging over Long Beach.

Days past the point

where billboards along the shore appeared

Advertising classes

For atheists, coming into paradise

With no language skills

Like immigrants off the boat,

We washed up,

Flickering like flashlights whose batteries were about to go dead.

We had carried mystery in us as long as we could

Knowing that it must die

So that we could live.

When the last Titanic victim died, at 97

And entered the heat of the Light of the World

She melted out of that berg

Like an Arctic mummy

And stood before herself in 1912 again: a soggy little girl.

Her first night there, when she woke in the dark and asked for some water,

They brought her a glass of the sea she’d died in.

This is frugality ,

The transmigration of elements.”

But there were dangers:

Once, when they went to hose down the screens

They’d put down to stop the damned from rising

They were appalled to find

Millions upon millions of ascending prayers

That would have been answered, decades or centuries ago,

Had they not been intercepted

A plea to survive the Spanish American War,

Desiccated in the screen & drifting down in an exoskeletal snow

With a plea for a Tonka truck at Christmas 1978.

Once I lifted a waffle iron

On a soul that was still forming

And the batter clotted,

And the spirit was ruined.

I crept out guiltily,

As Cook raised her fist at me darkly .

There were many being reborn.

But often, they were difficult babies.

I saw one who had been a horse

Trying to come out as a human

Which rendered him a centaur.

“You should have seen one of our reincarnates last week,”

One physician told me, rolling his eyes.

“In her last life she had been an idea. Can you imagine the

difficulty that kind of transition presents…delivering

something intangible

Into a human form?”

The kennels of reincarnation were also in a constant state of disarray.

There were many species

Becoming confused by the mating odors of other species…

Wolves lurching toward humans, and such.

Eventually

I decided to be born again

My memory of the afterlife, they said

Would last only through my early childhood,

After which the skullplates of forgetfulness would grow over it

As forgetfulness scabs over the incoming dead,

To present the Lord with a perfectly smooth knee.

I was taken

To the border of Samsara

To be seen off.

I saw my former lives jumping, like dolphins, in the west

And my future lives jumping

Out in the east.

How beautifully they both played, in light and air!

For a time, I just drifted through variations of the afterlife,

Picking up jobs here and there;

For a while as a  migrant worker

In the Elysian Fields

Until I thought I should be reborn somewhere.

I wandered upstream in the snow.

Rabbit was being born by Old Man Bickle’s farm.

For three years, I was a rabbit.

 

Then got word downwind

As I was an old hare,

Close to dying

That a family one county over was going to have a baby.

 

I lived to be 85 that time

And dropped off the radar for a bit.

Last word anyone had I was a hunting dog

Drowsing at my master’s feet

By a hearth in Lake Tahoe.

(Read Part II of “Emere’s Tobacconist” here)

_____________________________

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 the rugged terrain above Boulder, Colorado. Visit her here or here.

don mee choi bio pic

from Diary of Return

August 8, 2002

I arrived below the 38th parallel.  Everyone and every place I know are below the waist

of a nation.  Before I arrived, empire arrived, that is to say empire is great.  I follow its geography.  From a distance the waist below looks like any other small rural village of winding alleys and traditional tile-roofed houses surrounded by rice paddies, vegetable fields, and mountains.  It reminded me of home, that is to say this is my home.

Close up: clubs, restaurants, souvenir and clothing stores with signs in English, that is

to say English has arrived before me and was here even before I had left.  PAPA SAN, LOVE SHOP, POP’S, GOLDEN TAILOR, PAWN.  I followed the signs and they led to one of the gates to Camp Stanley, a heliport, that is to say language is not be to believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience.  A woman in her seventies lived next to LOVE SHOP. She was taking an afternoon nap.  She has never left below the waist and eventually came to be regarded as a great patriot by her government, that is to say she followed the signs and suffered from lice infestation during the war and passed the lice on to the GIs.  I followed the houses that reminded me of home.  They led me to another metal gate and barbed wire.  Another woman was having lunch at My Sister’s Place.

She did not remember which year she had returned except that she remembered hearing about the assassination of our Father, that is to say she was here and I was still elsewhere and the unity of language is fundamentally political.  She told me a story with her right index finger.  Her finger fiercely pointed to her mouth, then between her spread legs, and then her behind.  She had no choice under the GI’s gun, that is to say she had no choice about absolute choice, that is to say her poverty was without choice and when absolute choice was forced upon her she chose a GI, that is to say she chose empire because empire is greater than our Father, that is to say she followed and left her daughter to its geography and her index finger had no choice but be fierce under absolute choice, that is to say she had arrived home.

 

Italics: Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

__________________________________________________
Don Mee Choi is the author of The Morning News Is Exciting (Action Books, 2010) and the recipient of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award. She has received the 2012 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize for All the Garbage of the World, Unite! by Kim Hyesoon. Her translations also include Anxiety of Words published by Zephyr, When the Plug Gets Unplugged & Princess Abandoned by Tinfish, and Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers by Action Books.

basile pic

LOURDES

Matthew is plain on the tongue and fleeting.

Lourdes sits, instead of sex, on two blue crates,
feeds herself blue lemons. Lips sodden,

she bathes. She tastes the burn
in the lantern of her chest.

Lourdes snakes straight through the garden into her own bed

opens her dignities and pleasures
like guava

white cotton underwear
___to the side
open with pulque

wet of cachaca
without the sugarcane,

& boys with biblical names
make no appearance,

especially Matthew,

a worn worm soldier jamming its way
into the core of a ripe melon.

____________________________________
Lisa Marie Basile
 comes from the bloodline of Giambattista Basile, the fairy-tale writer. She is a graduate of The New School’s MFA program. She is the author of Andalucia (Brothel Books) and Triste (Dancing Girl Press). Her chapbook, war/lock, is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press in 2014. She is the founding editor of Patasola Press, an assistant editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal and a managing member of the Poetry Society of New York.  She contributes to a few secret projects and wears Joseph Quintela’s #bookdress.

hecker biopic

Conscientious Protests
–after Julio Cortazar

What a conscientious protest: marketing One A Day vitamins to death-row inmates,
performing a little Crip Walk when security wands the standing body like a barcode,
listening to the bald deputy bad-mouth his own root canal that hasn’t happened yet.

What a conscientious protest: naming each bandoleer bullet after the cast of Soap:
Jimmy Baio lodged in a Basra watermelon, Diana Canova blew off a man’s wrist in
Mosul, Billy Crystal jammed in the barrel and fell out of the muzzle looking like a nickel
run over by a combine harvester, Robert Guillaume killed two relatives hugging in
Karbala (through his back and out of hers), Richard Mulligan and Katherine Helmond
fired into the air together as a warning to nobody.

What a conscientious protest: making The Today Show explain itself as a concept,
justify its existence as a time passage in the Milky Way galaxy, codify its moment
in culture and divulge its intentions for providing baking tips, 5 easy steps to person-
alize refrigerator magnets, polarizing soccer moms with a well-placed kidnapping
statistic conducted specifically for one county in Kentucky, then cut to commercial
on an awkward boy holding a sign: “I came all the way from Nag Hammadi Library’s
heresiology section to meet Willard Scott since I’m Mithra and I do whatever I want.”

What a conscientious protest: Occupy Ebenezer Place in Wick, Caithness, Scotland,
credited as the shortest street in the world at 6 ft., 9 in. In boots and hoodie, my 6 ft.,
4 in. frame disrupts miserliness, auto and pedestrian traffic, Tuesday trash collection.

____________________________________________________
Jeffrey Hecker
was born in 1977 in Norfolk, Virginia. A graduate of Old Dominion University, he’s the author of Rumble Seat (San Francisco Bay Press, 2011) & the chapbook Hornbook (Horse Less Press, 2012). Recent work has appeared or forthcoming in La Reata Review, Mascara Literary Review, Atticus Review, La Fovea, The Waterhouse Review, Zocalo Public Square, The Burning Bush 2, Turtleneck Press, and LEVELER. He resides in Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia

Kim Vodicka bio pic

E N T I T L E D:

LET’S DRINK AND FUCK

Lucille Baller,
a walking bowel movement.

All the pretty girls and the Mardi Gras, too.

Bitches go hard. Bitches fat it out, too,
when push comes to love.

Never let the truth
get in the way of
your eyes.

Paris is burning, and we shan’t be home tonight.

You cut me I bleed perfumania.

I want a normal happy life,
I either wanna wife and children,
or I wanna rich and famous,
or I wanna be had.

To make some impression, some mark upon the world,
all you have.

You hit it big, you anal bleach.
Paris is burning, and we shan’t be home tonight.

Sometimes you prom yourself to sleep.

The girl with two heads has also two hearts.

And all that vajiggle jaggles most beautimously.

Gotta loosen up this making face for everything.

So if we’re all going to hell, well
well then,
okay, then
okay.

We are perfectly troubled of contents,
there.

Ever since I felt your lisp on my lisp
down the bury the hatch.

We wear a strawberry letter.

Poised and elegant are the jonquils
in yellow and green repose.

Poised and elegant are we, reposed,
unblessed.

Oh but yes, I do, and t’ruly bleed love,
still I cannot b’leed all,
so be still, my heart.

Stand by your,
your not-man.

If all the raindrops were lemon drops and cum shots,
oh, what a—
oh.
Well then.

My spirit faggot is the world that ain’t all Ferris wheels or Bueller’s
day off.

When the things of our adore of nor concern
are all for goodness sake’s.

The hope that was the one bright awesomely,
the light.

Paris is burning, and we shan’t be home tonight.

All
is full
of hate.

And it ain’t rape
if you scream
HOLD UP, WAIT.

Whatever,
quoth the raven,
whatever,
my dog ate my willpower.

I slut shame belief.

The fucks you give are costly.
The fucks you don’t don’t cost a thing.

Fuck don’t cost a thing,
except your life, maybe,
but it was worth it, maybe
you’re worth it.
Maybe she’s born with it.

Full blown roses and/or AIDS.

Maybe it’s Makebelieve.

Bitches go hard. Bitches fat it out, too.

The fat one,
the black one,
the hot one,
the one.

Bitches go hard. BITCHES FAT IT OUT, TOO.

And it won’t stop.
And it can’t stop.

Stop it.

So their bacchanal was a debacle,
there was nothing with which to peel the bananas,
no shadowplay from which to venture forth.

So if you don’t like what’s on the table,
you better find a McDonald’s
and a roll of paper towels.

Some redeeming social value.

Have your infinities mammogrammed yearly.

___________________________________________________
Kim Vodicka grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana and received her B.A. in English from UL Lafayette in 2010 and her M.F.A. in Poetry from LSU in 2013. During her time in Baton Rouge, she coordinated Delta Mouth Literary Festival, hosted a psychedelic rock show, “Shangri-La-La Land,” on KLSU, and interned for Dig magazine. Her artwork has been published in Tenderloin, and her poems have been published in Shampoo, Ekleksographia, Dig, Spork, Unlikely Stories, and RealPoetik. Her first book, Aesthesia Balderdash, was published in June 2012 by Trembling Pillow Press.

bibliophile pic

Elizabethton, Tennessee, 1929

When wages sank and conditions became intolerable, women led a strike of the Glanzstoff Textile Mill. While their menfolk’s anger often erupted in violence, women used laughter and bold defiance of conventional feminine behavior as weapons against a bewildered National Guard, which was made up of their neighbors until backup was called. Though prosecutors branded them “wild” and “disorderly,” the women earned support from their pastor, sheriff, fellow townspeople, and local merchants.

Those big companies sprang like arrows
into the heart pine of Appalachia,
shaking hands with homegrown ambition,
eyes popping for our breasted hills,
sinewy creeks, and I suppose for what they saw
as backward-walking mountain folk.
They knew we had few laws to cry
for what a man ought give,
and no union to guard
what no man should take. No woman here
lines her closet with pretty things bought in town
or strings the hollows with high hopes.
A straight wage and a level word
we earned wading the chemical baths
that pull plain cellulose to clean filaments of rayon,
to stockings and bolts of color cloth.
We pulled that stuff, and when words ran out,
we shut the mill down, lined up like vertebrae
across the road.
They came with tear gas, nearly putting out our eyes,
but we stood, by God, stood laughing
at the National Guard -
boys who’d sat next to us in school,
who’d pitched rocks into the Watauga River,
one of them father to my children ten years ago.
For my divorce,
and our backtalk,
for shoving away soldier’s guns stuck in our faces,
they called us “lewd,”
and, red-faced, ordered us to walk 12 miles to jail.
We said no.
Later, raises never showed.
Management one-by-one scattered our girls
to the fields and washtubs,
bending our backs, biting our tongues.
But I knew what I was doing and I don’t deny it:
the six weeks we worked for ourselves
and stood for each other,
echoes of our shouts disappearing
like the longleaf pine
while we laughed, boys,
we just laughed and laughed.


__________________________________________________
Cesca Janece Waterfield is a journalist, poet, and songwriter based in Virginia. She has been selected three times to receive songwriter grants from The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). She is the author of Bartab: An Afterhours Ballad (Two-Handed Engine Press). Her poems and fiction have appeared in numerous literary journals. She can be reached at cescawaterfield.com

emily-vogel-2

Poems are “instruments for thinking” (Allen Grossman). The object of a poet’s thought, however, is often unstated–especially in lyric poetry. Lyric poetry never speaks to an audience, and so–as it is when we are alone–the speaker does not feel compelled to explicitly state the object of thought but only the thoughts themselves. In this review, I want to try and discern these objects of thought in the works of two poets whose work seem directed at resolving particularly spiritual problems.

***

diatomhero

diatomhero: religious poems

The primary question about Lisa A Flowers’ work is this: What spiritual universe does her poetry inhabit? What are its rules and how do those govern the assumptions and hence possibilities/ambitions of her work?

It seems to be a world in which incarnation is the rule, and yet there is also a kind of Heaven and Hell–locations that suggest some kind of finality. The figure of Justice speaks in one poem:

“…the Lord just takes all those who have died that day and consumes them.

The good ones are absorbed into His system,

And the bad ones pass right through it

And drop out into Hell,

Which is situated conveniently beneath Him as a toilet.

Some think they’re getting away because they’ve existed

Inside the camera of the body for so long.”

Heaven, here, I can understand as the escape of Nirvana, but not Hell–unless Hell is the earth, which I suspect is the case. What is the nature of this incarnation then? The images of the poems are constantly morphing, yet the syntax suggests stasis: it’s possible to go many lines without encountering an independent clause. Even flesh itself undergoes a kind of reincarnation.

But more importantly, I suspect that reincarnation is itself a kind of metaphor for dualism: mind-body, but also the dualism of one’s inner spiritual conflict. Reincarnation seems to be an image of the trauma of thwarted spiritual aspirations. The most compelling image of this metaphor is the “Rorschach” (from a poem of that title):

I was two places at once:

One side of my body bleeding indistinguishably into

Oneness, like an inkblot,

The other sketching the actual picture,

Past and present lives

Back to back, in a Star Wars trash compactor.

After awhile I opened my napkin and recognized myselves:

Two Versailles rivals turning fans to each other’s disdain,

A flattened hydra peeling itself off a window,

“Beast turning human,” like Nora Flood’s lover.

I think trauma is the right word. Reincarnation, though natural, seems to be a constant tearing, disorientation–a surprisingly appropriate metaphor for the self of modern poetics.

This raises some more questions for me about Lisa’s work: What is the relationship between trauma and time, between trauma and eternity? If trauma can stretch across eternity, then it is a fundamental aspect of the self. It seems to me that this is the question Flowers’ writing attempts to answer; it is this conflict that she aspires to resolve.

***

AC_Digressions

Digressions on God

The title of Emily’s chapbook is utterly perfect for these poems. “Digression” is almost a sustained method. One line in particular captures this movement:

Today I will have a conference with God,

And then I will boil a potato.

Many (not all) of the poems begin in an abstract thought on God or theology and eventually unwinds into an indiscernible particularity of Vogel’s everyday life. For instance, Vogel often addresses a “you” without any qualification–a figure made poetically inscrutable by the particularity of reference.

As readers, we are quite used to the opposite model–the upward aim–its firm entrenchment in Romantic poetry, especially. Vogel’s poetry is deliberately “downward aimed”; in this sense, the chapbook’s dedication–”In honor of the Holy Spirit”–is entirely appropriate as the Holy Spirit is God’s outpouring upon the world. This chapbook is not about man’s ascent to God, but God’s descent upon, His digression on man.

So what are the spiritual aspirations of Vogel’s poems? I think Vogel states it fairly directly in her poem “Exile” when she says

One must find the most reasonable solution

to the problem of despair.

One must come to some conclusion about God

without upsetting

the order of ordinary miracles.

What is the spiritual universe of Vogel? In her poems, this problem of despair is the abstract, where the idea of good can overwhelm the good, yet it is enmeshed and arises in daily-ness:

I am not, like a Poet, walking alone on the street,

reovering lost memories in the stench

of fih markets, finding hidden meaning

in a city train.

I am consoling your busted heart

in a desperate attempt to dispel the terrible Pride

which plagues my spirit. I am mad

with the desire to go mad with desire.

Yet final line contains a conundrum, and I believe it is aspiration of these poems to resolve this conundrum: “desire” is used in both its senses here–both abstract (“the desire to go mad”) and particular (“with desire” for the particular “you”). Vogel attempts to rectify both these senses of language by means of her digressions.

tarot pic

JH: Congratulations on your first book diatomhero: religious poems. I treasure how this poetry holds every religion responsible for being authentic and explores exactly what kind of turmoil/freedom of movement (of creed, language, time, space) arises in such a busy atmosphere.

I’m thinking specifically of Christianity’s notion of finite resting places (blazing hot or room-temperature) teamed with Buddhist/Hindu reincarnation notions and Greek polytheistic elements. The book is a cream vichyssoise where these ingredients are available to be salted, peppered, and consumed. Could you talk a little about how the book is and is not a supplement to all religious texts?

LF: I love the word ‘vichyssoise’. It’s blonde as a Gibson girl in a mint satin evening gown, as per the synesthetic-green letter ‘V’. Definitely a word with the curls of the sun.

The title, diatomhero, is an anagram of the bible’s “I am the door”, a statement that comes full circle in the book’s final image, and applies just as much to Christ as it does to Janus. To open the doors of all myths and religions, to ‘let’ their darkness, (un)like bloodletting. At the end of the book, when Bluebeard’s chamber is opened, there’s not slaughtered women hanging on hooks, but far fields stretching out—a wide open country to fly out into ecstatically, like a heavy symphony unlocking its heavy doors and letting itself out of itself in its final movement. As opposed, for example, to a story like Poe’s Red Death, that ends walled inexorably up in its own terror. I’m not talking about imposing one’s own will against the will of the muse/work itself, or about ‘revisionism’ or ‘escapism’, but about a deliverance seductive enough to embed itself in the text without compromising it. Like Tangina in Poltergeist saying, “this house is clean”, only it’s “this myth is clean”… but with no tricks to follow.

A supplement is a continuation. The question is whether the myth is on a blind loop, or if it’s aware of intrusions. If we took the story of Princess Thermuthis finding the infant Moses among the reeds, but put the river hag Jenny Greenteeth in his place, what would that have done to the evolution of Christianity? If Hera had given birth to Christ; if Mary had found herself with Zeus’ child, because he came to her in one of his characteristic disguises, as he came to Danae as golden rain, etc. These combinations can be perverse and amusing or they can be profound: Ariarhod and Christ falling in love, and Christ finding, in love for her, a new world outside Christianity—like Cortez, or like the iconic awe of someone who’s never left the heartland seeing the sea for the first time. In Annie Hall, Woody Allen describes a relationship as being like a shark that has to keep moving forward or it will die—so we can apply that to myth, and of course to the myth of the dying god. If the inhabitants of a myth found themselves on a dying planet—a planet that was, of course, the myth itself—they would have to evacuate, to look for a new life in another legend. In somewhat of the same spirit, then, immigrants—drifters—from other afterlives appear as migrant workers in the Elysian Fields.
Theoretically, too, the book is written for synesthetes. And, as such, is ideally meant to be seen  through synesthesia, like 3-D films are meant to be seen through 3-D glasses. And this is where  the mythological blending/puree meets an ideal medium, because of course the synesthesete  already has a sense of the dis/harmony of totally “unrelated” things—which are not really  unrelated at all. So essentially the book is a preliminary study of synesthesia as myth and religion. I say “preliminary” because I’ve not gone near as far with this concept as I want to.  diatomhero is an incomplete book, and it’s a work in progress, as all poems are. It plays with the  “worlds colliding” theme, which a lot of people have of course played with, but I would like to think/hope (?) it does it in a unique way.

JH: The play turned-compact long poem makes for a jarring opening sequence which describes a  manufacturing plant for souls and bodies. I love how this really kicks out the chairs from under  the audience from the beginning. Readers must navigate the balance between the playful and the  scarier. Everything familiar remains in the ball room but it’s simply misplaced, like hearing your  favorite childhood song performed by a band of Gorgons on a harp strung with your mother’s  funeral hair-do. The willingness to travel these fissures is crucial to enjoying the poems. Was  there a purposeful attempt in these afterlife sequences to balance nostalgic memory with what  are undeniably horrifying dream elements?

LF: I love that Gorgon/funeral hair juxtaposition, and I love this question. I think nostalgia, or  merely fantasy, is a natural retreat in times of trauma. But—again with the deliverance premise—  there’s the idea that a dream is an innocent desperately trying to communicate its plight through  a nightmare, rather like what happens at the very moving end of the Spanish horror film The  Orphanage. Variations of this concept have often been explored in Grimm and Perrault, et al. The innocent as needing help in being extracted from the context of a nightmare, but being unable to tell anyone how to do help them. The imprisoned who have to be saved by the freer being virtuous (Beauty and the Beast), or by sheer chance (The Frog Prince.) It’s up to the rescuer to figure out the riddle. And this is perfectly apropos because it is, of course, how the process of wisdom actually works. However, diatomhero is not about being rescued, but about being resourceful enough to rescue yourself. And about the arc as rescue, the underside of the arc that will return you to its exact opposite: a divine inevitability, a point beyond which the absence of good becomes so acute that the reality of its difference from evil is unmistakable, and no longer philosophically debatable. This, to put in the simplest terms, is salvation by default. And it takes us to a quote by Djuna Barnes, one of the most beautiful quotes of all, which I used as one of diatomhero’s epigraphs: ‘the unendurable is the beginning of the curve of joy’. I had a dream once that someone gave me that quote—the quote itself, in words—encased in an 80s style/Desperately Seeking Susanish jelly bracelet. That was the way that particular observation presented the true genius of itself to me—by literalizing itself.

djuna

JH: Emere’s Tobacconist is noted as having been originally constructed as a ten-act minimalist play, a whittling down that resulted in many sleepless nights. What sections did you extract and do you plan on producing it as theater in the future?

LF: I’m still negotiating the technicalities of the staging (and by “negotiating” I mean going over it in my own head, because nothing is on the table right now as far as production goes). Most of the acts are in fact truncated. The car accident victim who sees the bloody windshield of his car turned to a red stained glass window as he enters paradise reappears; in the extended scene Marc Chagall is there, having been commissioned to render the last earthly memory of the man into something sublime. So the rest of that scene is dialogue between those two men. There’s a monologue by Shura, the daughter of Ted Hughes and Assia Wevill, in which Shura enters—and goes wandering around—the childhood memories of the woman who found her dead and tried to revive her. There’s the blood of the slain turning white socks pink in heaven’s washing machine. There’s more Huck Finnish adventures down the river with John and Pearl in Night of the Hunter, in which they meet all kinds of water myths, and stories, like Ophelia and the singing head of Orpheus.

JH: Readers will invariably focus on myth and doctrine. I see those elements more like background music. They also aren’t meant to represent what they historically or even physically represent, as when somebody in your afternoon nap hands you a fork with no food on it and you thank him and simply eat the fork, which tastes like Special K (the cereal). I also noticed a kind of Confessional coming-of-age Bildungsroman fable (The subsequent 1000 odd color photos of the rest of your life) working in this collection. It may be beside the point, but could you address some of the “real-life” challenges you may have been facing that sub-atomically got engrained in the white spaces between the ink?

LF: Dadaberry Crunch! (Why didn’t Wonka invent the Dadaberry?).

The writing of diatomhero, in tandem with several events, was accompanied the realization that there’s no such thing as “odds”, because something is only randomly likely or unlikely to happen until it happens to someone you love or to you. The concept of likelihood or unlikelihood is a consolation device—and a privilege. This has probably been common knowledge to enlightened people for centuries, but I didn’t always know it. I used to feel that there was a difference between myself and someone who had died. I don’t anymore. That’s not a fatalistic statement, it’s a statement of gratitude, because gratitude is about recognizing randomness as much as it is about celebrating and honoring blessings—because life and existence are joys to be celebrated and honored, not because you’ve made it out of the hole thus far. One of the final images in Rorschach came from attending a dear friend of mine’s viewing. Some weeks later, I had a nightmare of her on the embalming table. But it ended with her zodiac sign (Cancer) leaving her body like a crab and scuttling off into the ocean. And then the crab ended up on the shore of the Riviera, in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, and climbed out onto the shore of that film, and her birthday (the 4th of July) fused with that film’s iconic fireworks scene. The nightmare had outsmarted itself and become an act of escape, of transfiguration.

catch a thief

JH: What classic cinema made this collection possible?

LF: I didn’t even come close to honoring the great religious films, like Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent and Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, though their spirit was very much an inspiration. Jack Clayton’s The Innocents. Scads of films that weren’t mentioned in the appendix. Carnival of Souls. The Virgin Spring. There are so many it would take far too long to try to list them. David Lynch’s work is always in me, like a kind of libido. Inland Empire. Children’s films that deeply affected me as a child, and that I vividly remember seeing on the big screen, are certainly in there, at least in spirit. Watership Down. The Last Unicorn. Fantasia. A huge influence that wasn’t cited was Kubrick’s 2001…the line “his life wrenched out of him like a discus/that goes flailing off to the Lord” was more or less directly inspired by the iconic bone-toss scene in that film. And the monolith scene at the end, in the marble mansion, with the sound of ancient man echoing through the hallways…right outside, like the tinkling distant sound of an orchestra would be audible throughout the halls of Gatsby’s mansion. That is beyond genius. It has never been equaled in film. Echoing because time has collapsed, and the dawn of humankind is now in the next room on the other side of the wall. Then the water imagery in the last scene of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible—one of the most horrific and unwatchable of films, with the most beautiful ending–appeared, with its flashing space-time continuum, and the sprinkler system in that last shot that the children are gallivanting around fused with the Greek myth of Arethusa and Alpheus, united forevermore in the fountain. And of course the sprinkler system is also the biblical fountain, the fountain of youth, the godhead.

irreversible-1

JH: Much has transpired when we reach the opposing Pioneers, yet I consider each essential bridge poems. The first considers the 19th century practice of daguerreotyping a dead child. Following the action in the previous sections, this is the first moment in the book that considers death may be an insipid motionless activity after all. Everything moves in the room with the dead person except the dead person. The second poem, however, maintains hope the mind of a shooting victim post-mortem is still very busy. I like how you give a little credence of the dead body, but ultimately have to ignore it. Do you feel society is too transfixed of physical aspects of being dead (and alive) and probably misses the exciting stuff?

LF: I think I’m too transfixed with it. As, of course society is and has been, down through the ages. Memento Mori. “Everything moves with the dead person except the dead person”…this is a brilliant question and a brilliantly worded question. I kept studying these Victorian daguerreotypes of people who had been photographed—right after they had died—with their eyes open. They had what Dickinson called “the distance/on the look of death” but it’s a distance that has also evaporated in itself mid-flight because the soul has left faster than the eyes can process the recognition of its leaving. You can see the same thing in some of Andres Serrano’s corpse photographs… an almost polite suspension in the eyes. There’s that soon-to-diminish flashbulb-brightness that’s always there, of course, but what we’re looking at is actually a stunned rapidity of departure. It’s not death that’s an insipid motionless activity, but the ‘politeness’ of the corpse itself, in its waiting for others to try to process it. I saw it as a taut bladder, like someone wanting to piss into salvation but holding it out of consideration for their loved ones/mourners, but after awhile they can’t hold it anymore, and their soul is starting to trickle out and piss itself. But they’re trembling, and their muscles are beginning to shake, and all sorts of things are starting to ‘fall’ out of their eyes… like the spider that appears, falling, gaping out of the eyes of the deceased, and falling out into the mourners, like all sorts of abominations and precious things, because the mind of the deceased is emptying into the beyond. The soul is being as courteous as it can for as long as it can, despite the fact that it is becoming more and more dazzled and seduced by the journey that’s now before it. But there is something gigantic starting to whoosh through the eyes, something massive, like a tsunami, and eventually that tsunami will flow out into pure light, into pure white water rapids.

The second Pioneers was inspired by an image on the Inland Empire deleted scenes disc (in fact, it was originally titled Inland Empire Deleted Scenes Disc, 16:36-11:06). The scene was a sequence of dulled, exploding lights that looked exactly like what someone who’d been shot in the back of the head while watching fireworks would have seen in their final moments. (And, interestingly, Lynch and the singer Moby do have a collaboration out called Shot in the Back of the Head, but it was post IE). The light slowed and imprinted, and it was as if part of American history itself had been shot, and was having a “life review” right up to the coast of the Atlantic, beyond which was England. The covered wagons had cycled back as far as they could go, and the holiday was flashing backwards into extinction.

diatomhero

JH: Mt. Fuji, Eden, Long Beach, Catalina, Tropic of Cancer, Scotland, Los Angeles, the Chesapeake Bay, Egypt, Sodom, Texas) are more memories than locations. There are also many instances where the speaker is making the most of bilocation. I’ll never forget when my old science teacher Mr. Jackson asked the PTA meeting “What if the human eyeballs are facing inward and we’re all looking at the backs of our own skulls? Please feel free to grab a Little Debbie cake at the exit doors. Watching you all eat makes me hungry.” How might diatomhero comfort Mr. Jackson?

LF: Mr. Jackson was obviously a genius. He reminds me of Jake Tucker, that character on Family Guy with the upside-down face, saying to Meg: “maybe someday we can get married, and you can go up on me”. The bilocation is toss-up, actually. Obviously LA, the Rockies, the Chesapeake Bay—all places or features of places I’ve actually lived—are drawn from real life, though very little in the book can be said to be autobiographical, in the linear sense. Most of the places mentioned simply presented themselves.

JH: Robert Duncan occasionally included fun characters into his dramatic verse: First Beloved, Queen Under The Hill. You too bring stock characters to life in diatomhero. Could you provide some gossip on the following funky bunch: Peg Powler, Willa Harper’s children, Old Man Bickle, Madame DuBois, Mike Teavee? I’m especially fond of Old Man Bickle. His farm is mentioned during your rabbit reincarnation stage.

LF: I’ve discussed Peg, aka Jenny Greenteeth, and Willa Harper’s children (Night of the Hunter). Old Man Bickle just appeared, though I suppose I must have been thinking of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle. I think Travis would have been quite at home in this book; he’s not as far from it as he might seem to be. Madame DuBois just appeared. I have no clue who she is. And Mike Teavee, of course is the prodigal son of Wonkavision. In another poem (in the new book) there are souls that get churned up the blades of the Fizzy Lifting room, because, unlike Grandpa Joe and Charlie, they’ve not learned how to belch, or are unable to—the afterlife is full of hazards, after all.

JH: As a poet who plays with myth also, I’m consistently impressed by this work’s ability to incorporate myth without the reader needing to arrive at your text versed in that myth necessarily. In other words, you achieve equilibrium between the secular and the psychopomp. How did you check that balance while writing this?

LF: Thank you—that’s one of the greatest compliments I’ve received about the book. I’m glad it comes across that way, because I of course have no way of knowing how it’s coming across to anybody. I personally think that my poetry is wide open. There may be some relatively obscure references here and there and stuff, but I don’t think they really interrupt anything (I hope). What I really want is to create an images playground. Anyone can get something out of an image. Like being a kid at Disneyland, and riding Small World and being transfixed with wonder (rather than being consumed with wondering how the ride is mechanically engineered, like all those colorless and usually talentless academic critics with their obsession with “structure” are—as if an artist is incapable of writing a poem outside the “rules”; eg, the rigor of an institutional body brace and the breadth of geisha steps. The first rule of Fight Club is “joyless”, they might say). However, this book is also a form of warfare, to me– against the time-space continuum trapping us, against mortality physically aging us against our own evolution and wisdom. diatomhero is critical thinking transmogrified into the imaginative. It is a book of strategy. Not, I repeat, escapism.

But back to the joy of images unto themselves. I loved what you said, awhile back, about Robert Desnos’s poetry feeling like the ball pit at Chuck-E-Cheese. That was such a marvelous observation, just beautiful, and a wonderful description of a triumphant legacy. We all know how terribly Desnos died. But he won, and his readers are still jumping into the ball pit.

desnos

JH: Will your second book of poems be similar or different from diatomhero? A bastard cousin perhaps? Where’s the next path of Pane di Altamura breadcrumbs for Lisa A. Flowers lead?

LF: I’m working on a surrealist study of early childhood now, and I’m loving it, and loving the process of trying to remember the way children (I) saw things before they were literalized or contrasted. I am also doing a series of reverse tone-poems, transcribing images from Schubert to Arvo Part to Krzysztof Penderecki. These range from the delightful “transcribing” Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite—I don’t mean its actual story, but the images it gave me—was wonderful, like revisiting my early childhood. By contrast, transcribing Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima was obviously very dark. This transcription method was interesting because I would program in symphonies and just shift from, say, Pachelbel’s Canon into Penderecki, and the poetry would change instantly, be violently ripped out of itself into another image, with no warning. The poem would plunge sickeningly, like a heart monitor reflecting someone who had just had a massive and unexpected adrenaline dump. It was as if images from the Canon had been catapulted through the ceiling in a violent earthquake, and were lying dazed on the floor of the Penderecki apartment below, completely unaware of what had just happened. It also went the other way: going from Penderecki into the second movement of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto was like the train murder scene in Fire Walk With Me, when the angel suddenly appears to Ronette Pulaski and the screaming and the horror simply disappears into the holy silence of light, out of time. There’s more synesthesia going on in this book, too. And, I suppose, more films throwing their images into other contexts, though I’m not going to keep repeating the same theme ad infinitum—my hope is simply to keep catching images worth keeping. And I remain enchanted with something Werner Herzog said about the highest, most exalted points of the creative process, and its results: “there’s very rare moments where I get the feeling sometimes I’m like the little girl in the fairy tale who steps out into the night, in the stars, and she holds her apron open, and the stars are raining into her apron. Those moments I have seen and I have had. But they are very rare.”

_________________________________________________________________________

Lisa A. Flowers is a poet, critic, vocalist, cinephile, ailurophile, and the founding editor of Vulgar Marsala Press. Her poetry has appeared in The Cortland Review, elimae, and other magazines and online journals. She is the author of diatomhero: religious poems. Visit her personal website here.

 

jarrell

Mary Jarrell, left, with her husband, Flannery O Connor, Peter Taylor, & Robert Humphrey. Courtesy of UNC, Greensboro

 

Mary Jarrell’s late husband, Randall Jarrell, is well known to literary people for his wonderful satirical novel, Pictures from an Institution, for his ingenious criticism, for his translations of Rilke and Chekhov, for his endearing children’s books, and, of course, for his poetry.

In 2002, I had the privilege of interviewing Mrs Jarrell for a proposed documentary on the World War II air war, and the literature that had defined it. Though the project never came to fruition, the interview was, of course, invaluable in its own way, and took on a life of its own. Though in many ways Mrs Jarrell—from the POV of anecdotes alone— didn’t reveal anything that hadn’t already been exhaustively covered in various biographies (including her own memoir, Remembering Randall) being in her vibrant presence, and in the presence of her husband’s memorabilia, was a rich enough experience.

The following interview took place in Greensboro, North Carolina, in October of 2002, at Wellspring, Mrs Jarrell’s assisted living community.

***
Mary Jarrell has survived almost all of her scholarly contemporaries. In person, she is tall and slim, with a face (as was said of Zelda Fitzgerald’s) that is far more beautiful and enigmatic than one would gather from viewing her photographs. It’s apparent that she must have been quite something in her youth, but, as seems to be the phenomenon of old age, all that beauty has migrated to the eyes, and it is through them that one can see her as she must have looked at the time she shared her life with her husband. She lives alone in a retirement community, closely surrounded by neighbors, with a dachshund as devoted to her as a child.

Moments after Mrs. Jarrell (“Mary please”) welcomes me inside, we are joined by a tiny black and tan dachshund that is not a puppy, she says, “but a full grown mini who weighs seven pounds.” She lifts the creature in her arms.

“Meet Schatzi,” she says. “It’s the diminutive for Schatzel; means ‘little treasure.’ Half the dogs In Germany are called Schatzi.”

I’ve already noticed that she seems a little hard of hearing, and as I check the sound level on my recorder, she says, “I’ll just get closer to you…some people have a gentle voice that I don’t pick up very well.” By now I’m ready to start asking her questions, but something tells me not to lead off the discussion of her husband’s work with The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, and I remark instead on my liking for his treatment of the surrealism of the passing of time in his poem The Face.

“Oh yes…. ‘I haven’t changed/you haven’t looked.’ Randall dreaded it, getting old. He didn’t want it to happen; so the passing of time was very real to him…and he was sorry to have to live through it”, she says.

Though I’m glad my remark has stirred such easy and immediate candor, her response also sets off a tremor of alarm: it seems to steer us in a direction I’d resolved to avoid (or at least not to broach this early in the interview): the lingering speculation that Randall’s death in a traffic accident at age fifty-one had been semi-suicidal.

In her memoir, and in many interviews, she’d of course dealt summarily with this conjecture (it wasn’t so, according to the coroner’s report), and I reassure myself that by now any resentment she may once have felt toward those still perpetuating the rumor in literary circles might have settled into the almost dispassionate objectivity she’d consistently shown on the subject in her writings.

So I decide to start out with Ball Turret, after all.

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
(“The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner”)

In Remembering Randall, Mary had elaborated on the fact that the poem was for Jarrell both a triumph and source of consternation, as it was the relentless public demand for the piece that inspired him to worry that he might become a one hit wonder.

“At present, you know, it goes for $250.00 a shot, and is in steady demand for TV as well as the printed page,” she says, gently touching the dachshund’s nose.

“Randall’s poem can be interpreted as being both anti-war and anti-state. But I presume he didn’t question the necessity of the second World War?”

Her answer is immediate and somewhat surprising. “He did …he really did. I was just dealing with that in one of his letters in which takes that up. He was very critical, especially of the Army, because to him in a way… it was an institution, sort of like Academia. And it had certain routines and inescapable requirements. Instead of looking at his past …you know, they knew he had been a teacher…they sent him to interviewing candidates and finally decided to train him to instruct cadets… and when they saw his teaching ability, they trained him for celestial navigation.”

I’m not sure I understand her answer, and rephrase the question. But she frames her reply in terms of her own feelings about the war (Hitler had to be stopped, etc), not Randall’s; and I drop the topic and remark that Jarrell’s brilliant criticism could eviscerate the loftiest reputations. (“Auden is like a man who keeps showing how well he can hold his liquor until he becomes a drunk.”)

“He finally moved away from that sort of thing”, Mary tells me, “He said, I’m not going to write any more severe criticism…it’s not worth it. It happened with his teaching, too. He only taught people that he really admired. Never mind the bad poetry. He didn’t teach bad poets.”

Abruptly, she laughs, relaxing. “You got this on tape?”

I tell her that I do, and ask her if she believes that Randall would have viewed the poetry of this day and age as being in a state of decline.

“Ohhhh, I’m afraid he would,” she answers quickly. “I have a friend that I often see… he’s retired, and divorced and teaches poetry at the Shepherd’s Center. And he likes poetry. But just this past weekend he told me that nobody, even the faculty over there, was interested in poetry. It’s always been a small minority, but it’s marvelous to see those who have lived on.”

Some modern poets (like Jarrell’s good friend Robert Lowell) who have done so, I observe, were surely helped by Randall’s honest praise.

“After some of his {Lowell’s) breakdowns… and after some time had elapsed…he wrote more and more of that ‘my life confessional’ sort of thing… Randall would’ve hated that. But the public liked it. Randall wanted it lyric and he wanted it visionary, and he wished that Cal had stayed with his marvelous historical poems like The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket.”

“What about the Beats? In your book you discuss a visit by Kerouac and Gregory Corso to your home, but it would seem unlikely that Randall would embrace the Beats as a legitimate literary movement, judging from his tastes. Can you expand on this?”

She adjusts the dachshund on her lap. “Randall wrote about that better than I could, and he acknowledged that they did have a part in those years; but he never liked the fact that they wouldn’t revise. We met Corso out in San Francisco, and liked him a great deal. But again, he was constantly submitting poems to Randall, but he wouldn’t revise. He’d quit, and start another until he had ten half-written poems, and Randall couldn’t stand that.” We both laugh.

“There’s a quote you might like… just this morning, on the cover of… well, it’ll be on the cover of the book that’s coming out. It deals with Randall’s…high demand on others.” She rises quickly to look for the excerpt and is gone for several minutes, but returns empty handed. “Well…it’s somewhere. But it’s a quote by Robert Penn Warren, and he acknowledged Randall as a very great critic, said that he was generous with his criticism, but that he had such high standards for other poets, and himself; and of course the critic Helen Vendler said that ‘Jarrell put his talent into his poetry and his genius into his criticism.’ And I think he just thought people didn’t spend enough time; he knew how much time it took. He would use the Army phrase ‘wash out’ to describe something in a manuscript that needed to be removed. He’d tell somebody, ‘I think I’d just wash that out’ And he told Eleanor Taylor {poet and wife of writer Peter Taylor} that about her own poems a couple of times”

(Draft page from ‘The Woman at the Washington Zoo’, by Randall Jarrell)

 

My research in preparing for the meeting had given me the impression that for some literary historians, Randall Jarrell’s place in modern American letters had been secured as much through his criticism as his poetry; so if I had true journalistic instincts I’d try to keep Mary talking about that aspect of his career.

But I was afraid (perhaps groundlessly) that she was becoming tired, and I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t leave without asking about what, aside from his criticism and one novel, I personally liked best of all her husbands creations…his children’s books.

“Randall’s lovely poem The Lost Children deals not only, like Peter Pan, with the inevitable loss of childhood from itself, but with a parent’s loss of a vicarious childhood through the children that grow up and away from them into adulthood. I get the feeling from some other of his poems that romantic love, for Randall, was maybe also somewhat a vicarious childhood….and this certainly seems to be the case in The Gingerbread Rabbit. Do you feel that’s true?”

“Yes,” she smiles, and looks out into the garden for a bit.

“Two little girls, one fair, one dark

one alive, one dead,

are running hand in hand through
a sunny house…
They run away from me…

But I am happy…

When I wake I feel no sadness, only delight.

I’ve seen them again, and I am comforted

that, somewhere, they still are”

(“The Lost Children”)

Surely this is Mary’s voice, the voice of his beloved speaking through Jarrell (dubbed “Child Randall” by Robert Lowell in an elegy) and it is this that gives the poem its empathetic tenderness. When, in The Animal Family, the hunter brings a “baby” home, the family unit, so coveted by Randall Jarrell, comes full circle:

“In two days he was sitting on the floor
by the table when they ate, eating with them…

in a week it was as if he had lived with them always.”

***

We walk out into the sunshine toward the awning where we are to board the vehicle that’s to take us to the resident’s dining room (I had been expecting a minivan driven by a retirement home employee) and I get a kick out of the fact that Mary Jarrell, a woman of a certain age, not only drives, but drives a svelte, compact sports car, flaming red, bearing the personalized license plate, “POEMS”.

Since long before writing Remembering Randall, Mary von Schrader Jarrell has, emphatically, been herself. And her answer to my final question strikes me with the realization that maybe it’s her story that I’ve mostly missed.

It had been arranged that we part company after lunch, “not so much for a nap, but to rest my eyes and lie prone with one arm over Schatzi at my side and practice my yoga deep breathing.” As we wait for my cab outside, I apologize for tiring her.

“I’m tired, yes. But happy,” she replies. “It links me to once again quote Benjamin Franklin’s observation to the signers of the Constitution, ‘I’m so old I am intruding in posterity’.” She smiles, and her remarkable eyes are as bright as a child’s in the sun.

“How do you think Randall would have felt about 9/11?” I ask her impulsively.

“Oh, he’d feel it”, she says, “but I can’t presume to say what his feelings would be. I mean, one’s opinions do change, and he didn’t live to see that. He died at fifty-one. But I didn’t.”