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poems

Lee Ann Roripaugh

 

tsunami as misguided kwannon

her hypervigilance such that

everything becomes a piercing

a harrowing she can’t turn off

 

her superpower a wound

a lightning rod / and sponge / speaking

the language of wounds to wounds

 

like echolocation that dopplers

the contours of another’s sorrow

against her own ricocheted song

 

or touch subtle as the naked push broom

of a star-nosed mole’s tentacles

nuzzling the bruised flesh of worms

 

or a nose for muscling out fresh blood

old ghosts / the sweet fat of lost dreams

like a winter-lean bear come spring

or feathery antennae’s raw quiver

pinched to ash by the hot sparks

of disconsolate pheromones

 

her nervous system a glitter

of neurotransmitters on fire

 

an electric-chaired switchboard

short circuited / fuse blown

 

she’s the exposed nerve:

 

exuviated snake / hulled bean

husked cicada / chaffed seed

peeled grape / shucked clam

she’s the conduit / aperture / cracked

mirror to all that’s scintillant and broken

 

until her compassion mushroom clouds

and swells like a fever / a red infection

a rising tide of salt tears

for the world’s fractured core

 

how could she possibly stop herself

from sweeping it all into her broken cradle

to soothe and rock and weep over ?

 

(her fingers itchy to pilfer and spare

what’s plush and tender

like the rabbit stolen by the moon)

 

how could she possibly stop herself

from the mercy of washing it all clean

in her terrible estuary of lamentations ?

First appeared in Sugar House Review.
_____________________________________________________________

Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four volumes of poetry, the most recent of which, Dandarians, was released by Milkweed Editions in September 2014. Her second volume, Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press), was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose for 2004, and her first book, Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin Books), was a 1998 winner of the National Poetry Series. The recipient of a 2003 Archibald Bush Foundation Individual Artist Fellowship, she was also named the 2004 winner of the Prairie Schooner Strousse Award, the 2001 winner of the Frederick Manfred Award for Best Creative Writing awarded by the Western Literature Association, and the 1995 winner of the Randall Jarrell International Poetry Prize.

 

Her short stories have been shortlisted as stories of note in the Pushcart Prize anthologies, and two of her essays have been shortlisted as essays of note for the Best American Essays anthology. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Roripaugh is currently a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review. She is also a faculty mentor for the University of Nebraska low-residency M.F.A. in Writing, and served as a 2012 Kundiman faculty mentor alongside Li-Young Lee and Srikanth Reddy.

BruceCovey

People I’d Like to Meet

Ken Singleton & Emerson Boozer. Wait, I already met Ken Singleton &
Emerson Boozer signing autographs at some kind of auto show when I was a kid.

Haixia Zheng, Otis Birdsong, World B. Free.
Nancy Kerrigan & Tonya Harding. Surya Bonaly.

The Flash. Lucille Ball. Rosemarie Waldrop.
A helicopter. A litter of kittens. A pair of mittens.

A bolt of lightning. Ellen Page, Kesha. Martellus Bennett.
Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, & the Blue Marvel.

A raindrop. A footprint. 2,000 years.
An image of an image of Billie Holiday.

Yayoi Kusama, Robert Smithson, Jenny Holzer.
(I already met Henry Rollins & Mike Watt & Vincent Price in bookstores.)

Jane Freilicher. James Schuyler.
A dozen roses or slices of bread.

The He & She from the That’s What They Said jokes.
The They & Them from They’re Making Me Do Things statements.

Kathleen Hanna. Ian Curtis. Yolandi Visser. MIA.
Lana Turner, named after the journal. After Frank O’Hara. John Cage.

Vanilla, almond, cardamom, & coconut.
A poor excuse. A field of wheat.

Edward Field. Some kind of statement. A lemon tree.
Kafka. An undocumented week.

 

_______________________________________________________________

Bruce Covey’s sixth book of poetry, Change Machine, was published by Noemi Press in 2014. He lives in Atlanta, GA, where he publishes and edits Coconut magazine and Coconut Books and curates the What’s New in Poetry video reading series for the literary web community Real Pants. He also serves as Small Press Editor for Boog City and has taught at Yale, Emory, and the Atlanta College of Art.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths

The Human Zoo

Soon I appear through the fog, my face presses against the cage. There is a scrim of dark edging the metal. You are there, pushing life toward my mouth with your fingers. Now I reach without biting. In the dark my own hands grasp how small & tame I am. You say, stay wild with your eyes & ideas. But imagine if my hand could not find your hand. Through the skin of what has survived. If I come up for air but then slip again beneath the current, remember how I glittered, with water pouring from every pore. You would walk down into our earth & watch me race behind the captive green glass. I leave you the gills of my faith, the jaw of my empathy. The flowers will remember my rain & my murmurs. How absurd I am. Even the thunderheads will remember a woman who shook with fire. You sink my net to the floor & work fast. It is how we must perform kindness. My flesh opens like a black claw. Why are you still not afraid of me? I want to see how close the sun will near the water. How the end will hold a woman’s wings above the flames.

______________________________________________________________

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and visual artist. She is the recipient of fellowships including the Cave Canem Foundation, Millay Colony, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her visual and literary work has appeared widely. Griffiths is the creator and director of P.O.P (Poets on Poetry), a video series of contemporary poets featured by the Academy of American Poets. Griffiths’ fourth collection of poetry, Lighting the Shadow, will be published by Four Way Books in 2015. Griffiths teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lighting the Shadow is now available: http://www.amazon.com/Lighting-Shadow-Rachel-ElizaGriffiths/dp/1935536575/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424987994&sr=8-1&keywords=lighting+the+shadow

terri witek

The Street Where I Lived
______________________(on one Facebook thread, I asked for a childhood address
______________________and a detail from that house. 24 hours later, I asked for an
______________________address where something bad had happened and one detail
______________________from that house)

I think it was on Reservoir Street
_____on 1234 Fremont Street
I think it was on Elemetra
_____on Huckleberry Road
named for Desert Avenue
named for Humble Avenue
named for Swallow Lane
_____for South Layton Boulevard
_____for the oil company
I think I lived on Park Avenue East then
_____on Primm Road then
_____on Lydale Place then
it was was Smith Drive then
where I lived__Denver Avenue
___________Buffalo Avenue
then orPrinceton Road
named for Paseo Primero
named for Menahan Street
_____for East River Road
I lived on East Fairfax then
_____on Northwest 60th Court then
or maybe it was Brookview Drive then
_____or Olympic Drive then
_____or Independence Avenue
where I livedPuritan Avenue
_____livedGreenbriar Avenue
_____livedSer Del Drive
where ISt John’s Avenue
_____ISwiss Hill Road
_____IRiver Avenue lived
on___17th Avenue South then
_____Offenburger Strasse 45 then
_____105th Place Northeast
whereIUniversity Avenue
_____-IRua Madalena
lived__Aleknagik Road
there_-Cain Road
there_-Bomar Avenue
there_-2234 Winnebago Trail
there on Elm Grove Road
_______Linda Lane
_______City Park Avenue
and__I think it was 3rd Street
instead of 4th__I’m sure
it wasn’t__5th or 2nd
where it all__ripped
__________climbed
__________sneaked
__________happened
behind the alley
behind the orchard
_____the playhouse
_____the orange tree
_____the splintery
_____the fire escape
_______balcony
__red porchwith raccoons
__________-with ice tea (hello)
__________-with brick light post leaping
__________-with low-hanging maple limb
our first and only dog
is buried there
where I livedwith red shag carpet
___________with windowsills 2 feet deep
_______________a swimming pool
_______________a big rock
_______________a ufo
_______________a wood-seated swing
my dad made
_______________mayonnaise on white bread
my dad made
and air conditioner
meantblue sky with clouds
meantbaked asbestos shingles
meant3windows too large for the rooms
_______2 windows too small
meant poster with presidents
only through Kennedy
only red bicycle
only the dock where
company coming
only the torn corner
_____of a screen
_____of a cherry tree
_____of a porchlight
_____of grandmother’s cello
and I think it was there
storm torqued black crack
mustard yellow crack
emphysema there
divorced there
shot in the driveway there
_____my one-block-white
_____one-block–black tile there
_____sky turned yellow-green there
where I came home from school
______________from the neighbor’s
(that was Bit’s mother)
______________from Chris and Mandy’s
via satellite phone
via clock radio
via Old Time Rock and Roll
there waiting for my dad
_____2windows too big
and I lived there
_____purple sheets
I lived there
_____school bus
I lived there
_____rushed the fence
_____whippoorwill
_____splintery
_____2 windows
_____my father’s swim trunks
tied to the railing

_______________________________________________________________

Terri Witek is the author of Exit Island (2012); The Shipwreck Dress (2008), a Florida Book Award winner; The Carnal World (2006), Fools and Crows (2003), Courting Couples (winner of the 2000 Center for Book Arts Contest), and Robert Lowell and LIFE STUDIES: Revising the Self (1993). A native of northern Ohio, she teaches English at Stetson University, where she holds the Sullivan Chair in Creative Writing. In 2000, she received the McInery Award for Teaching, and in 2008, she received the John Hague Teaching Award for outstanding teaching in the liberal arts and sciences. Throughout her career she has worked with visual artists, and the reverberations between mediums is explored in much of her work. Her collaborations with Brazilian new media artist Cyriaco Lopes have been featured in galleries or site-specific projects in New York City, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

 

Lynn_Levin

Faux King in the Parking Lot

 

It was in the parking lot
at the Samba Club
between sets at the Huxley wedding

and he was an Elvis impersonator.
We’d eyed each other during “Love Me Tender”
through his heavy lashes he nodded me over.

Ah, to be taken without being adored.
Though to be adored without being taken
is also a wonder.

Those silver studs on his white suit.
The Brylcreem (I didn’t know
they still made it)

left oil stains, dammit, on my nice
linen skirt. Techno boinked from a passing car
and we pumped to it.

He said his wife didn’t
understand him. “I never sleep with happily
married men,” I told him.

Curling his lip, the faux king shot
“Then you ought to sleep
with your husband.”

I should have slapped him.
But his thighs were hot
and the side of the car was cold.

 

From Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky Press, 2013)

______________________________________________________________

Lynn Levin is the author of Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky Press, 2013), a Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in poetry; as co-author, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press, 2013), a Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in education/academic books; and a translation from the Spanish, Birds on the Kiswar Tree (2Leaf Press, 2014), by Peruvian poet Odi Gonzales. A two-time Leeway grantee, Levin is also a Bucks County, Pa. poet laureate, and a 10-time Pushcart Prize nominee. She teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

Egan 1

Datura suaveolens

If there were flowers
on the moon they’d look like this,
droopy and luminous,
butter-colored, fading down
to white, I’m thinking,

swinging my bare feet,
sipping at some moon-hued wine
from the lunar landscape
of Sardegna, just as he
asks me if I know

they’re often called “moon-
flowers.” I did not know that,
but I’m not surprised that
he does, nor that he’s read my
poem-thoughts again.

I do know, though, that
this blowsy flower’s parts are
hallucinogenic
as all get out, something that
Rappaccini would

have been proud to bring
into existence were he
in that business rather
than that of breeding a toxic
daughter, beautiful

but unlovable.
And just then I remember
how we went for a walk
through the park behind Domus
Aurea one day

and I was angry
because he hadn’t listened
(or maybe hadn’t heard)
and we passed the Datura
in full moony bloom

and he pretended
that the blossom was an old-
fashioned telephone and
he was trying and trying
to reach me. I thought:

This is marriage, not
some lunatic delusion
of my or his making;
this is what you do,
and I
laughed, and we walked on.

Previously published in Southwest Review, and then appeared in Strange Botany/Botanica Arcana, Italic Pequod, 2014.

______________________________________________________________

Moira Egan’s poetry collections are Strange Botany/Botanica Arcana (Pequod, 2014); Hot Flash Sonnets (Passager Books, 2013); Spin (Entasis Press, 2010, for whom, with Clarinda Harriss, she also co-edited the anthology Hot Sonnets, 2011); La Seta della Cravatta/The Silk of the Tie (Edizioni l’Obliquo, 2009); Bar Napkin Sonnets (The Ledge, 2009); and Cleave (WWPH, 2004). Her work has won many awards and has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the U.S. and abroad, including Best American Poetry; The Book of Forms; Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics; and Kindled Terraces: American Poets in Greece. With her husband, Damiano Abeni, she has published more than a dozen volumes in translation in Italy, by authors such as Ashbery, Barth, Bender, Ferlinghetti, Hecht, Strand, and others. Their translations of Italian poems into English have been published in many U.S. journals, as well as in the FSG Book of 20th Century Italian Poetry and in Patrizia Cavalli’s My Poems Will Not Change the World (FSG). She holds degrees from Bryn Mawr College, Johns Hopkins University, and Columbia University, where James Merrill chose her graduate manuscript for the David Craig Austin Prize.


Egan has been a Mid Atlantic Arts Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; Writer in Residence at St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, Malta; a Writing Fellow at the Civitella Ranieri Center; a Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center; and, in 2015, with Damiano Abeni, will be the writer in residence at the James Merrill House. She lives in Rome, and teaches English and Creative Writing.

Allison Joseph


The Downside of Superpowers


Invisibility makes you aloof,

brute super strength makes you an easy mark

for anyone with trucks to haul, no spark

of gratitude from them. The truth?

Your gift is only special if there’s proof

and ordinary mortals want your work

to entertain them day and night, til dark,

your life a kind of superpower spoof


where all you do is turn them on with speed

or x-ray sight or teleported flesh,

the way you walk through walls or dash through time.

Does anybody care about your needs,

grant you vacation days, an empty beach?

No wonder apathy’s become your crime.

_________________________________________________________________________

Allison Joseph lives, writes and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where’s she’s part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University.  Her latest books are _My Father’s Kites_ (Steel Toe Press) and _Trace Particles_(Backbone Press).

KirunKapurFinal

Just in time for November’s end, this week’s feature offers a heady mix of augury and inspiration. Here’s the stunning title poem from Kirun Kapur’s new book, a powerful first first collection that charts indelible histories.

 

Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist

I don’t know when I realized he had one eye that watched me, alive, the other free to read

the heavens. Could he see I grew where others couldn’t? Could he read my face, in its

lines all their faces—my aunt’s that morning, in the mirror beside mine, hissed, don’t

stare, don’t forget details, it’s your honor to look for all of us. Did he see I hated his eye,

sometimes, hated my honor: the hand always above me. Which eye reads that hand?

Which eye can judge its weight? I wanted to look away. Wanted to cry. His untethered

eye was milky as a teacup. Why have you come here, daughter? Couldn’t say, My father

made me. Couldn’t blame, You looked at Her hand, but you didn’t save Her from a firing

squad. I wouldn’t confess, I am afraid I’ll spend my life under a hand that I can’t stop or

hold. He never touched my palm, imbedded with pencil lead, or the moon under my

thumb, scarred while opening a can. He assured me I’d make a fine wife, a fine mother of

fine sons, prove to be a credit to my family, while his iris swiveled like a wobbly fan. I

made up my mind right then to open my hands—their forked wires, their lines of names

and places—take them.

 

First appeared in FIELD

__________________________________________________

Kirun Kapur grew up in Hawaii and has since lived and worked in North America and South Asia. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, FIELD, The Christian Science Monitor and many other journals and news outlets. She is the winner of the 2012 Arts & Letters/Rumi Prize for Poetry and the 2013 Antivenom prize for her first book, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist. She is co-director of the popular Boston-area arts program The Tannery Series and is poetry editor at The Drum. Find out more at www.kirunkapur.com.

Potts
Potts

From the recently published collection, Trickster (University of Iowa Press), Randall Potts offers some uncanny arithmetic.

Math

I put 0 and 0 together
And arrived at nothing.
Nothing was accomplished.
I had done it perfectly.
I made 0 disappear into 0.
I made sure nothing was left.
There was no doubt of it.Next, I made 2 into two.
It was easy: numbers are words.
I made sure nothing was left.
I made sure nothing was said.
I made sure nothing was written
It was getting complicated.My thumb was black with ink.
So, everything I touched became
itself plus me.
Every addition complicated it.
Every mark was a number.
Every number mocked.

I settled on the number one.
I refused all manner of addition.
I was careful to touch nothing.
That’s impossible,” someone said.
I knew someone was right.

____________________________________________________________

Randall Potts is the author of Trickster, published this fall by the University of Iowa Press, Kuhl House poetry series. His previous collection of poems, Collision Center was published by O Books in 1994. His chapbook, Recant: (A Revision) was published by Leave Books in 1994.

He attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and has taught creative writing at the graduate and undergraduate levels at the University of San Francisco and California College of the Arts. He lives in Berkeley, California.

For more information on Trickster, visit: http://www.uiowapress.org/books/2014-fall/trickster.htm.

Dubrow

 Photo credit: Cedric Terrell

 

Casualty Notification

            The Only News I know / Is Bulletins all Day / From Immortality.

            – Emily Dickinson

 

Switch channels, stop

the breaking news,

press mute to hush

the anchorman’s reviews

of war, his litany

of each device

and bomb gone off today.

Silence the price

of bread or medicare

or gasoline.

Make the black pinpoint

on the TV screen.

Unplug the blackbox

from the mouth of the wall.

Uncradle the phone so

nobody can call.

Let the venetian blinds

blind everyone

to what’s outside—the dead,

indifferent sun,

the car pulled up along

the curb, the vexed

men in uniforms

looking for next

of kin. They bring a check

to pay the cost

of grieving. Their dark sedan

puffs out exhaust.

And now, the only sound

a daybird singing,

the only bulletin

a doorbell ringing.

 

Previously appeared in West Branch (issue 74, Spring 2014)

 

______________________________________________

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of four poetry collections, including Red Army Red and Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2012 and 2010), and is the co-editor of The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems About Perfume (Literary House Press, 2014). In 2015, University of New Mexico Press will publish her fifth book, The Arranged Marriage. Her work has appeared in Southern Review, The New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. She is the Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and an Associate Professor of creative writing at Washington College, where she edits the national literary journal, Cherry Tree.

 

 

Kathryn Rhett

Photo credit: Cade Leebron

As autumn deepens, poet and essayist Kathryn Rhett meditates on the magnetic forces of inner weather.

In Bed

I can’t stop talking about the weather.
You say not to, and I can’t stop.
Did they say it would rain?
The white light pours down—I don’t
think it will rain, but did they say?
I don’t know. It’s eight o’clock
in the morning—
one child has a fever
and another is in a play about death
and nobody’s slept.
He’s performing all the parts about death,
death itself and the one who doesn’t want to die.
The rain and the one who waits
for what they say—
they didn’t call for snow sometimes they’re wrong
it’s no wonder with all this
change in weather he has a fever.
You say not to, and I can’t
stop the white light that filters in
through fabric blinds.
If only you would with your hand
cover my mouth, lay down some violence
like what we watch with satisfaction on TV—
lay down some violence against me
while we wait for
death and what they say we’ll get.

The poem alludes to the play “Death Knocks” by Woody Allen, originally published in The New Yorker, July 27, 1968.

___________________________________________________________________

Kathryn Rhett’s essay collection, Souvenir, has just been published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. She is the author of Near Breathing, a memoir, and her poems and essays have appeared in Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, River Teeth and elsewhere. An associate professor at Gettysburg College, she also teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte, and in the Pan-European MFA at Cedar Crest College.

For more info about Souvenir, visit: http://www.upne.com/0887485893.html.

Dan Brady

The Lost Ark

Between their wings, space only
for God. The air, charged. Within,
only dust. What shall we put in the ark?

Nothing, but the tablets. The gold
flaked away, baring acacia. The poles
broken. We cannot carry it any further.

What shall we put in the ark? Nothing,
but the testimony. The sand, cemented.
The faces, muted with time. Silent. Eyes closed.

What shall we put in the ark? Only that
which has been commanded. Only that
we may listen. Our attention. Our obedience.

Our vigilance. What shall we put
in the ark? Our ears, our hearts. Nothing,
but the testimony. How He speaks

and moves. The sound of his laughter.
The sound of our cries. His provision.
His victory. The walls, fallen. The necks,

broken. The hands, struck down.
The ark, untouched. Buried, unseen.
What shall we put in the ark? It is over,

destroyed, yet not undone. Nothing,
but what is there. Two tablets. Dust.
The power. The sound. Nothing. The dust.

But what?

 

___________________________________________________________

Dan Brady is is the author of two chapbooks, Cabin Fever / Fossil Record (Flying Guillotine Press, 2014) and Leroy Sequences (Horse Less Press, 2014). He is the poetry editor of Barrelhouse and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and son.

Kate Rosenberg-Minbiole

THE FOURTH WAVE KISSING PARTY

Let’s not invite the whole class; let’s pretend that we are the bosses of the fourth wave. [The Fourth
Wave, JoyceAnn McManus would say. In all caps, she would say] and when she is done being the
boss of the way words will appear, we’ll kick JoyceAnn out of the waves. When we play pretend,
we’ve got on cowboy hats and eucalyptus panties—refreshing!—and go off into the sunset every
evening and to the disco every night. [That would be cow
girl hat or cowwoman hat JoyceAnn
McManus would say and bucking broncos and steers and the dull-eyed cows she would say not
noticing that
girl and woman have been left behind for altogether new pronouns JoyceAnn McManus
wrings and wrings and wrings her hands] and we wouldn’t have time for those words we’d opt out
of consensus we’d just leave her behind so much on speed we’d be. May peace be with the slow-
worded. Yippee Ki Yay the way we are and will be, we bosses of the fourth wave; we labia-ed Bruce
Willises, we ecstatic and drugged and discoed and rocked hard; were we each to pull a book from the
shelves loosening a new cluster is The Way We Were. Is the way these waves go which is all we agree
that we’ll ever agree? JoyceAnn? From behind the shelves whose open backs are portals. Petals we’d
say we’d say slippery sounds all day because we could say them without gagging on them the oysters
sliding perfectly the way they do in dreams the way they do when the party makes our waves
temporal. When we find ourselves sliding backward past the first wave where our loves light slender
torches and we dress in full skirts go braless kiss in corners kiss again in corners where all there is is
kissing and our mouths are too busy to say JoyceAnn McManus shut your mouth all you have is
words and we are kiss

_________________________________________________________________

Kate Rosenberg-Minbiole is a feminist housewife cowgirl movie star who is also a lecturer in the Program for Writing and Rhetoric at Penn State University. She has her Ph.D. from the University of Utah, her MFA from the University of Arizona and has published here and there, but not yet everywhere. Kate’s got a husband and a daughter and if she had a dog, she’d call him Yadi.

sea change Jorie graham

 

This is the final part of Joan’s essay.

     When viewing the poems of Jorie Graham in the Sea Change collection, it’s a little harder to pinpoint place. Graham’s poems have narrators that inhabit more of an internalized physiological place. This is a much different approach than Tretheway’s internalization of place. Graham does not rely on characters influenced, defined or trapped by place. There are few external settings in Graham’s poems. There is also not the hierarchal feeling we get from Hull’s poems or the definite characterization in the sense of place we see with Di Piero.

     Graham, instead, has a feeling of total embodiment in her poems as if it is both a foundation and a place of diffusion and dispersal. The narrators inhabit the world around them as they inhabit their own psyche. In the title poem of the collection “Sea Change” Graham begins her poem from this viewpoint that everything from wind, to news, to how the body feels is all interconnected:

“One day: stronger wind than anyone expected. Stronger than

ever before in the recording

of such. Un-

natural says the news. Also the body says it. Which part of the body—I look

down, can

feel it, yes, don’t know

where. Also submerging us,

making of the fields, the trees, a cast of characters in an

unnegotiable

drama, ordained, iron-gloom of low light, everything at once undoing

itself. Also sustained, as in a hatred of

a thought, or a vanity that comes upon one out of

nowhere & makes

one feel the mischief in faithfulness to an

idea.” (3)

     There are several key phrases that strike the reader aside from the flow from the distance of wind, the detachment of the news and the ultimate feeling within the body of this impending change or doom: Submerging us, unnegotiable drama, sustained, as in a hatred of a thought, mischief in the faithfulness to an idea. The reader feels as though this “wind” this “feeling within the body” and this “everything at once undoing itself” reaches the physical, psychological, and emotional. But in relation to place, the body is the foundation of meditation. Sensations and feeling become immediate responses and are used here to exact a sense of truth. As if from the grounding of the body comes the wisdom for experiencing sensations that speaks to the body of instantaneous truth. Even though the emotional and physical body appears to be on the same level in this hierarchy, the body and the emotions that speak to truth are all illusive. Place in fact, has no more bearing than a feeling within the body. Everything is interconnected with the same importance.

     Graham speaks of the body in the same terms used to describe an eco-system. By doing this, she reminds the reader how powerfully we are connected to nature. She also reminds us how tenuous this connection can be if not nurtured and how, in destruction, the body will feel “everything at once undoing / itself.”

“Like the right to

privacy—how strange a feeling, here, the right

consider your affliction says the

wind do not plead ignorance, & farther and farther

away leaks the

past, much farther than it used to go, beating against the shutters I

have now fastened again, the huge mis-

understanding round me now so

still in

the center of this room, listening—oh,

these are not split decisions, everything

is in agreement, we set out willingly, & also knew to

play by rules, & if I say to you now

let’s go

somewhere the thought won’t outlast

the minute, here it is now, carrying its North

Atlantic windfall, hissing Consider

the body of the ocean rises every instant into

me & its

ancient e-

vaporation, & how it delivers itself

to me, how the world is our law, this indrifting of us

into us,” (4)

     Graham has given us this place, a room with shutters fastened, and as with the other elements of this poem, the reader is not sure if this is an actual room or a metaphorical room; or for that matter, a metaphorical wind, feeling, impression or dilemma. This intermingling of senses allows the reader to experience this poem in a way that reaches them on an emotional level. Every reader can understand this idea of uncertainty and movement of change: how reverberation and regret in the form of past decisions can feel like a wind that encompasses everything. Graham takes this one step further though, reminding us that “the body of the ocean rises every instant” and that “the world is our law” which takes the reader outside of the narrator and into a state of mind where we must consider the larger, more intricate things around us. Our thoughts are carried out in concussive reverberations, which extend beyond the seemingly simple constraints of rooms and shutters and singular feelings.

In “Root End” Graham has the narrator moving through a well known house:

“The desire to imagine

the future.

Walking in the dark through a house you know by

Heart. Calm. Knowing no one will be

out there.

Amazing

how you move among

the underworld’s

furniture—

the walls glide by, the desks, here a mirror sends back an almost unseeable

blink—“ (48)

     The movement of the narrator through this familiar house in which things “glide by” nearly unnoticed by the narrator suggests that this is only a placeholder and that, once again, it is the internalization of the familiar, the knowing “how you can move among / the underworld’s / furniture,” that is the more important sense of security for this narrator. The things in this place are only meaningful because the narrator takes comfort in the “knowing that no one will be / out there.” There is a sanctuary that the reader senses here, a feeling of complete control.

“Here a

knotting of yet greater dark suggests

a door—a hallow feeling is a stair—the difference between

up and down a differential—so slight—of

temperature

and shift of provenance of

void—the side of your face

reads it—as if one could almost overhear laughter “down” there, birdcall “up” there—

although this is only an

analogy for different

silences—oh—

the mind knows our place so

deeply well—you could run through it—without fear—even in this total dark—“ (48)

     This idea of the skin, the brain and the body understanding where you are is so interesting. This place exists as an extension of the mind so intrinsically that the brain and body can sense what is there, what is not there, and what will be there in one thought. This is not a place that: controls, traps, or defines the character or narrator. This is a place defined and controlled by the narrator in a very definite way.

“look hard for where they rise and act, look hard to see

what action was—fine strength—it turns one inside out—

what is this growing inside of me, using me—such that the

wind can no longer blow through me—such that the dream in me grows cellular, then

muscular, my eyes red, my birth a thing I convey

beautifully

down this spiral staircase

made of words, made of

nothing but words—“ (50)

     Graham takes the ending of this poem down to the minuscule structures of cellular and muscular growth of this “fine strength–it turns one inside out.” And then returning to the wind, but this time, “the wind can no longer blow through me” until finally we come to the last line of the poem “made of words, made of / nothing but words.” Graham has taken us through the house, the wind, the body, the mind, until finally we are left with “nothing but words.” This metaphysical interaction of the things around her: the wind, the body, the reverberating aftermath of decisions, and then finally only the words, brings this idea of not only internalized place, but a place controlled that ultimately becomes a lesser influence when pitted against the body, the brain and the physical interaction between these things and the vast world beyond it.

     Place is an intricate tool used by all of the poets discussed here. Whether used to refine, delineate by extension, or by enhancing intimate characteristics, place plays an important role in the development of the narrator and other characters within the poem. Place can help chisel out intricacies and emotional relationships the narrator has to other characters. It can also help to broaden their viewpoint and bring them to reconciliation with the world around them. Place can pit the character against his or her past, themselves, entrap him or her within circumstance, or give the poet a springboard to jettison a character up and out of their surroundings and into a transcendent state of mind. Place not only helps guide the reader through the movement of the poem it also weaves in additional threads so the reader can see characters and images through the intimate lens of each poet. When used creatively, place can open up infinite possibilities to aid in the expansion and development of characters in poetry with this sense of concussive reverberations that expand, extend and continue to define how the narrators and characters move within their worlds.

Jill McKenna Reed

Jill McKenna Reed

To-Do During Riots 1

To-Do During Riots 2

To-Do During Riots 3

To-Do During Riots 4

________________________________________________________________

Jill McKenna Reed is a poet, writing instructor, and beekeeper living in Portland, Oregon. She is co-editor of “Winged: New Writing on Bees,” an anthology of modern literary writing, forthcoming in October of 2014. Jill earned her MFA in Creative Writing Poetry at Portland State University. She is a native of the Chicago area.

linda hull collected poems

linda hull collected poemsThe Selected Levis

 

This is part two of Joan’s essay. Part three  will be posted on Thursday, October 23rd.

     When we look at the poetry of Lynda Hull, her poems seem to combine the backdrop of Di Piero and the internalization of Tretheway in her Collected Poems. And while the early poems are heavily textured, it’s easy to see, not only a change of perspective, but also a depth that developed in the poems written just before her death.

     In the introduction to Collected Poems, Komunyakaa stated: “Hull’s poetry creates tension through what the reader believes he or she knows; it juxtaposes moments that allude to public history alongside private knowledge. Thus, each poem challenges and coaxes the reader into an act of participation … Measured experience informs these poems.”

     This “challenge” and “measured experience” is what I believe culls the sense of place from within Hull’s poetry and allows the reader to dive in with all five senses. Hull is not only describing a place, but her experiences in that place. Hull is equally meticulous in describing the sounds of the trains and the longing they produce in her characters as she is the bead of sweat that trickles down the back. Hull tells the reader not only what is happening, but also where it is happening and why that is important to her, the characters and the reader as well. As Hull builds these physical layers around her characters, the reader is pulled into the same sense of claustrophobia and can almost hear the sound of the trains passing or the wind through clothes hanging on a clothesline.

     The poems in The Only World, published posthumously, elevate the ordinary, everyday things surrounding her characters and push them onto a more personal level. In “Chiffon” Hull’s use of phrasing and word choice creates a tactile sense of heat:

“Fever, down-right dirty sweat

of a heat-wave in May turning everyone

pure body. Back of knee, cleavage, each hidden

crease, nape of neck turning steam.” (151)

     Hull has rooted her poetry in experience and relates these experiences through an intense emotional response like a sense-memory she has already shared with her readers. These descriptions begin to feel like a sort of communally informed memory, which allows the reader to remember the feel of a trickle of sweat creep from the neck down their back. Hull then places unexpected images next to one another that enhance and expand the sense of place in a way that opens up the poem like a multi-layered image.

“a shock

of lavender clouds among shattered brick

like cumulous that sail the tops of high-rises” (151)

     This idea of a surprising “shock” of flowers among shattered and crumbling brick gives the reader the sense of a dilapidated part of the city, where these flowers persist to grow and rise colorful against the backdrop of the city. Hull’s deliberate use of interspersed short lines grabs the reader’s attention and tells them “pay attention, this is important.” The contrast of shattered brick and bright iris gives the reader a contradictory but solid sense of place. This contradiction in juxtaposed opening images alerts the reader to the fact that there are many layers and facets that make up this place and Hull intends to attempt to give as many to the reader as possible. Hull takes this even further when she transitions from sweat, brick and a shock of wildflowers to this somewhat hopeful flashback interaction with a group of young girls, labeling her “the cousin on the bright side” in this still innocent game of dress up:

“This morning’s iris frill

damp as fabulous gowns after dancing,

those rummage sale evening gowns church ladies

gave us another hot spring I, 1967.” (151)

“the endless rooftop season

and sizzle, the torched divided cities…

Camphorous, awash a rusty satin rosettes,

In organdy, chiffon, we’d practice

Girl group radio-hits…

JoAnn vamping

Diana, me and Valerie doing Flo and Mary’s

Background moans…”(152)

     These images set against the backdrop of “torched divided cities” and the significance of 1967, just before the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, shows these young girls, so far from the changes to come, as they mimic the girl-groups in gowns. But, Hull interrupts this setting of innocence on this rooftop with not only the suggestive omens in the actual streets, but the realities in the upcoming lives of the girls as well:

“a landscape flagged with laundry, tangled

aerials and billboards, the blackened

railway bridges and factories ruinous

in their fumes.” (152)

“JoAnn who’d leave school, 14, pregnant.” (151)

and then later:

She was gang-raped later that year. The rest,

As they say, is history. History.” (152-153)

     But Hull doesn’t leave us in this setting of the clash between innocent role-playing and the reality of this place with these young girls. She ends the poem recalling the “cousin on the bright side” image and traces this reflection back to the iris, which seems to be a hopeful image:

“Bend

to these iris, their piercing ambrosial

essence, the heart surprised, dark bitter.” (153)

     Hull has transported the reader from the present to this conflicted past and then returns us back to this image of the iris all the while suspending these characters, and her readers, within a scene of shattered buildings, rooftops and the contradiction of the bright flowers as metaphor for the young girls.

     In “River Bridge” Hull uses this sense of place in a much different way. We are given a series of venues that seem more like the vistas a nature writer would describe, but these are city scenes, that are all at once mysterious and alluring, but always vividly tactile. The reader becomes as encased as the characters within the motif of clotheslines, trains, trolleys, streets and bridges that seem at once to tower over and ultimately trap everything within:

“The train

slashes its path through the neighborhood, whirr

and pulse. The heart and fuse of distance filling

the room, hurtling through countless frames,

the scene—now that curtainless room of young men

preening shirtless before their mirrors, now

the ward of iron hospital beds. I’ve seen them.

By the screen, the white cat swivels her ears

to follow the train until it’s lost in glass.” (168)

     Hull gives the reader increasing levels of place. There is what they inhabit but also all the things that are beyond their reach; the places they cannot touch; the things they will never see. The dual voice in this poem interjecting with “No not that one,” “I’ve seen them,” “Why That One?” in the beginning of the poem gives the reader a sense of an inner collective voice which becomes a deeper more questioning voice later in the poem: “so this is what its like to die” “now, now this sweet wrenched only” until this voice gives the reader a kind of soliloquy in part V:

I am the stranger coiled on the landing, singing

this is the bridge of the flying hands,

the mansion of the body. I am the one

who scratched at your door, the one who begged

rough coinage. This is the blessing

&this is a hymnal of wings. Hear the heart’s

greedy alluvial choir, a cascading train

whirring the tracks; called back,

called back from the river.” (173)

     This is the human reaction to this cacophony of images that have trapped them in … this is what has become of these voices in these places. The ending of the poem brings all of the elements in the sections together and the final line leaves the reader with the resonating “Someone feed them. Someone said get out of town” reflecting back to the “get-out-of-town-fast-story” from section II.

“The cat leaps again, a train, striking this time

a smooth oiled chord, as if there might be a

singing on the other side of the tracks.

Some Jordan. That otherness, those secret times

the bridges beneath the surface of life.

Pull on the rough coat and salt-wet shoes.

Let the liquor burn your throat. Did I do that?

Could that have been me? Those figures crossing

The bridge, setting out, always setting out.

Voices I must keep listening for in these sharpening

Leaves, among stacks and flames,

The smoking pillars. Someone feed them.

Someone get them out of town.” (174).

     With these closing lines we have the convergence of all: the bridge, the trains, tracks, and people trapped within wishing for what is beyond this place, searching for a “Jordan” and finally the unresolved and resonating “Someone feed them. / Someone get them out of town.

     While Hull paints vast overshadowing places in which her characters are imbedded, Larry Levis gently places his characters in the places they work, live and dream. Place in Levis’ poems doesn’t so much overshadow or become another character vying for attention as complement them as if they are grounded in their surroundings; as if the place they reside is a natural setting like a tree in a forest or beach near an ocean.

     In the Afterward, David St. John said: “Often, Levis’ championing of those at the margin of society—migrant workers, the disposed, a variety of spiritual transients—is set against a landscape of encroaching morality.” (228). How better to set these, then in a place that defines as much who they are as what they do? Which is exactly what Levis does.

In “Winter Stars” Levis opens with:

“My father once broke a man’s hand

Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,

Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father

With a sharpened fruit knife, & he held

The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first

Two fingers, so it could slash

Horizontally, & with surprising grace,

Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,

And, for a moment, the light held still

On those vines. When it was over,

My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,

Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.

He never mentioned it.

I never understood how anyone could risk his life,

Then listen to Vivaldi.” (87)

      In this opening stanza, Levis has deftly interwoven place around his characters. It appears seamless. By telling his reader that this happens “over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor” and by naming the man (Rubén Vásquez) Levis shows that this is a migrant worker and that his father is the boss, or owner of the farm. Levis also tells his reader that this is a commonplace occurrence and not something out of the ordinary: “When it was over / My father simply went in & ate lunch.” Levis then goes one step further in setting up the levels at play here by telling the reader his father is listening to Vivaldi. And while all of the characters are in the same place, the distinction in the hierarchy is clear; the father is the boss, the man with the knife is the employee. The narrator, the owner’s son, is outside of this altercation, and in seeing this interaction from a distance, sets up the voice for the rest of the poem. While he is in this place, he isn’t a part of it, physically or mentally, but only as an observer.

“sometimes, I go out into this yard at night,

And stare through the wet branches of an oak

In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars

Again. A thin haze of them, shining and persisting.” (85)

     This sense that the narrator has of being lifted up, out of this yard and into the stars further defines his sense of detachment from this place in his sense of longing to be elsewhere. The setting up of this distance in the beginning lays the groundwork for the way he views the depths of his father’s illness. But even in the analogy he uses to describe his father’s illness, he still stands outside what is happening:

“If you can think of the mind as a place continually

Visited, a whole city placed behind

The eyes & shining, I can imagine now, its end—

As when the lights go off, one by one,

In a hotel at night, until at last

All of the travelers will be asleep,” or until

Even the thin glow from the lobby is a kind

Of sleep;” (88)

     Once again, Levis contrasts the father as being indoors, even his illness takes on the characteristics of a large hotel, with strangers dimming lights as they drift to sleep. But when the focus returns to the narrator, he is still outside:

“I stand out on the street, & do not go in.

That was our agreement, at my birth.” (88)

     This metaphor for the relationship with his father is not only an emotionally distancing one, but also physically displacing. As Levis ends the poem, we are once again with the narrator gazing at the stars:

“”The pale haze of stars goes on & on,

Like laughter that has found a finale, silent shape

On a black sky. It means everything

It cannot say. Look, it’s empty out there, & cold.

Cold enough to reconcile

Even a father, even a son.” (88)

     We are brought from the expanse of stars to this “final, silent shape / on a black sky.” The father now resides in this otherwise star filled sky as a dark shape that has replaced “everything / it cannot say.” And although this may seem at first to perpetuate the distance, even in death, between the father and the son, the very act of placing the father as a permanent fixture in this star filled sky, that has been the son’s refuge, places the father in a position of meditative significance. As if in the very act of carving out this space for the father, Levis seems to reach a kind of transcendent understanding. The symbolic continuation of the established relationship in this way shows an acceptance and understanding in which the father becomes a permanent and unchangeable presence. Could this acceptance, finally, be a symbol of that longed for reconciliation?

     In “1967” Levis combines farm work with the clash of the narrator’s need to expand psychologically from the place the narrator lives:

“Some called it the Summer of Love; & although the clustered,

Motionless leaves that overhung the streets looked the same

As ever, the same they did every summer, in 1967,

Anybody with three dollars could have a vision” (180)

     Levis is taking the reader completely out of physical place in this poem and venturing into the idea of altering reality without changing the place. But doing this, he alters the set physical properties and can take the narrator so far outside of the physical by adding the dimension of the mind in a definitive way:

“Some people spent their lives then, having visions.

But in my case, the morning after I dropped mescaline

I had to spray Johnson grass in a vineyard of Thompson Seedless

My father owned—& so, still feeling the holiness of all things

Living, holding the spray gun in one hand & driving with the other…

With a mixture of malathion & diesel fuel,

And said to each tall weed, as I coated it with a lethal mist,

Dominus vobiscum, &, sometimes, mea culpa, until

It seemed boring to apologize to weeds and insincere as well,” (180)

     This somewhat comical stanza begins to point to the “generation gap” in the late ‘60s. This shift shows how he, the new generation, views even the weeds in a new way. The idea that he needed to apologize to the plants he is spraying is in direct contrast to the way his father or the migrant workers would approach this task. And while this does not specifically create a change in the place itself, it does create a difference in how the narrator views this place. Whereas in previous poems Levis has this narrator as separate from this farm, from these chores, here, through the psychological change, he is more in tune with it than previously seen.

“The bird’s flight in my body when I thought about it, the wing ache,

Lifting heaven, locating itself somewhere just above my slumped

Shoulders, & part of me taking wing. I’d feel it at odd moments

After that on those days I spent shoveling vines, driving trucks

And tractors, helping swamp fruit out of one orchard

Or another, but as summer went on I felt it less & less.”(180-181)

     This internalization of the things around him becomes a separate consciousness and even though he absorbs these things, it is not the work, or a connection to the people, but the internalization of the place itself with which the narrator becomes singular. This is short lived “as summer went on, I felt it less & less.” And, once more we are pulled back into this distance that has plagued the narrator:

“As the summer went on, some were drafted, some enlisted

In a generation that would not stop falling, a generation

Of leaves sticking to body bags, & when they turned them

Over, they floated back to us on television, even then,

In the Summer of Love, in 1967,

When riot police waited beyond the doors of perception,

And the best thing one could do was get arrested.” (181)

     As Levis closes the poem, the narrator is looking even further than the farm around him. He is viewing the world as though he were in the center of a whirlpool from which he is once again distanced. The momentary oneness he felt to the things around him has slipped away with the drug leaving his system and the reality of the world has seeped back into his conscious state. This recalls the ending of “Winter Stars” which finds the narrator outwardly in the same physical place but now with a more meditative understanding of the things around him.