Joanne Limburg is the author of two poetry collections published by Bloodaxe. Femenismo was shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection Prize; Paraphernalia was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. She has also written a memoir: The Woman Who Thought Too Much (Atlantic Books, 2010). She lives in Cambridge with her husband and son.
“The poems that make up The Oxygen Man (Five Leaves Publications, 2012) were written in response to the death of the author’s younger brother, a brilliant chemist who took his own life in 2008. They follow Limburg as she visits the mid-Western town where her brother lived, worked and died, range back over their shared childhood, and look ahead as she tries to work out what it means to be the one who stays behind.”
“Limburg’s universe appears to be constantly twisting away from perception even as she pins it down in lines of singular economy.”
– Poetry Book Society
She will harrow this town, she will turn him up,
whole or in pieces. Being a sister,
she knows that brothers are born to trouble.
Her part is to rescue him,
lend him a heart to face his enemies,
or failing that, confound them herself
with withheld smiles, or with her sharp
big sister’s tongue; and if she finds
them gone to ground, their damage done,
she’ll cut the losses for both of them
and seek him out, wherever he’s lying,
broken and say, Brother, there’s
no shame in one lost battle, or
in ten. Put the phial down –
don’t drink! And if it is too late
for that, she’ll scruff the man and stick
her fingers down his throat, or find
an antidote, or make her own,
or heave time back, or failing that,
and even failing that, she’ll take him home,
and never mind how small the pieces.
Sylar and Elle
Into the midst of things more real
and personal, creep Sylar and Elle.
She is shaking with grief and rage;
he wants to know if he can feel
for someone else, he covets pain.
So he approaches her, this girl
whose father he scalped some episodes back,
and she cries You! and zaps him. And again.
I’ll kill you! Zap! She hurls blue lightning
from her palms, it hits him dead
in the chest, and he falls back, his arms
spread wide, a T-shaped allusion to something –
make that ‘someone’ – the viewers know,
and maybe love, and maybe pray to.
Then, in case you hadn’t got it,
he gets up. He has no wounds to show
but he looks chastened, and his shirt’s
in charcoaled tatters. I understand,
he coos. You hate me. Let me have it:
I can take it. She slings her hurts
again. Again. The shirt is gone
completely. His body twitches back
to life, as we expect. He’s keeping
calm. He’s kept his trousers on.
Elle’s given up, she’s emptied
of her hate. His work complete,
Sylar crawls to her, the blue
sparks in his hands, all mended,
and they laugh. I never want
the scene to end, but it must.
I want to do what Elle does, give it
all to Sylar, but I can’t.
Today, instead of dying,
you could go to work,
open up the lab
that has your name on it,
power something up –
some expensive toy
it took two grants to buy –
and set creation going.
I said creation. I know
the things that you can do:
engineer an enzyme,
speed up evolution;
one of your early tricks
was making oxygen.
Do that once more for me.
Take the manganese ions,
the ones the flowers use,
bind them up with ligands,
stick them in solution,
add your hypochlorite,
wait. We’ll wait.
Maybe minutes, hours –
you know, I don’t – but then
we’ll see the bubbles rise.
Now that’s your own good stuff:
breathe it, breathe it in.
Blue is not your colour.
Let everything be green.
from The Oxygen Man (Five Leaves Publications, 2012).
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Archive for April, 2012
Kayo Chingonyi was born in Zambia in 1987 and came to the UK in 1993. He studied English Literature at The University of Sheffield where he completed an undergraduate dissertation on the work of Saul Williams and co-founded a poetry and music event series called Word Life.
His poems are published in City Lighthouse (tall-lighthouse, 2009), The Shuffle Anthology (Shuffle Press, 2009), Verbalized (British Council South Africa, 2010), Paradise By Night (Booth-Clibborn Editions, 2010), Clinic II (Egg Box Publishing, 2011), The Best British Poetry 2011 (Salt Publishing, 2011), The Salt Book of Younger Poets (Salt Publishing, 2011) and Out Of Bounds (Bloodaxe Books, 2012). He is an emerging writer-in-residence at Kingston University and works as a freelance writer, performer and creative writing tutor.
He has performed his work across the UK at such venues and events as The Big Chill, Larmer Tree Festival, Essex Poetry Festival, London Literature Festival, Sheffield Poetry Festival, Contact Theatre, The RSC Swan Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, The University of Bradford and Buckingham Palace. In 2010 he was a touring artist with the British Council as part of Verbalized, a collaborative tour of South Africa and the UK.
“Some Bright Elegance captures those moments of transformation when people, places or objects take on new significances. In the book this is explored in relation to bereavement, the transcendental qualities of music and the search for spiritual understanding and connection.”
“More than a title, Some Bright Elegance is a statement of intent, a promise that Chingonyi delivers on.”
– Jacob Sam-La Rose
“This is the work of a strong and passionate new voice in UK poetry, made even stronger by the contrast with the ‘bright elegance’ of the style.”
– Dr. Nathalie Teitler
“Chingonyi’s poems have a permanence about them that belies their dark fragility. Some of them even approach that supposed impossibility: an investigation into the nature (spiritual and physical) of things. Chingonyi’s opening salvo reminds us that to be fully human is in itself an act of being fully observant.”
– Roger Robinson
‘It is possible for you to reach it but you will grieve a great deal’
– The Gospel of Judas
Imagine the husk of a man who knows
his son will die before the week is out.
You ask him why he sings, no doubt, baffled
by the faith it takes to open the most
stubborn of hearts, make a bloom of gently
insistent beauty. This is when your own
newly sprung bloom would shut itself again,
afraid that get well cards are only empty
measures of sentiment, the weight of a word.
You’re sorry with no answer to this obscene
riddle: a stubble headed boy whose scream
fissures the night ward watched by a just lord
who won’t intervene, for all this man stops
to find the tune that, even now, isn’t lost.
Some Bright Elegance
For the screwfaced in good shoes that paper
the walls of dance halls, I have little patience.
I say dance, not to be seen but free, your feet
are made for better things. Feel the bitterness
in you lift as it did for a six year old Bojangles
tapping a living out of Richmond beer gardens
to the delight of a crowd that wasn’t lynching
today but laughing at the quickness of the kid.
Throw yourself into the thick, emerging pure
reduced to flesh and bone, nerve and sinew.
Your folded arms understand music. Channel
a packed Savoy Ballroom and slide across
the dusty floor as your zoot-suited twenties
self, the feather in your hat from an Ostrich,
the swagger in your step from the ochre dust
of a West African village. Dance for the times
you’ve been stalked by store detectives
for a lady on a bus, for the look of disgust
on the face of a boy too young to understand
why he hates but only that he must. Dance
for Sammy, dead and penniless, and for the
thousands still scraping a buck as street corner
hoofers who, though they dance for their food,
move as if it is only them and the drums, talking.
When they laid our father out, mwaice wandi,
I want to say, I’m meant to say, soft light
played the skin of his spent face and the sobs
were, of course, a jangling kind of song.
If I could take you where the sandy earth
meets his final stone, tiled and off-white,
we might have learned to worship better gods.
He was known, in the shebeens, as long John.
At the wake relatives tried variations
on the words of the day: I am sorry
for your grieving/your trouble/your loss.
I’ve been weighing these apologies for years
that pass and retreat like disused stations.
I think of his walk becoming your quarry,
his knack for beguiling women, your cross.
It’s enough to bring me here, past tears
to where his face simplifies to a picture:
the shrine in Nagoya, him stood, Sequoia
among lesser trees, looking good in denim;
every inch the charismatic spectre.
In his memory my voice bears his tincture –
saxophone played low slash boy raised on soya
porridge, chloroquine, a promise of heaven.
There are days I think I’m only a vector
carrying him slowly to my own graveyard
and, standing at the lectern, rather than my son,
will be another copy: the same sharp
edge to the chin, that basso profundo hum.
Kid brother, we breathers have made an art
of negation, see how a buckled drum
is made from a man’s beating heart
and a fixed gaze is a loaded weapon.
from Some Bright Elegance (Salt Publishing, 2012).
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Read more about Kayo at Poetry International Web.
Janet Rogerson lives in the North West of England. She has an MA in Creative Writing and also teaches Creative Writing. She has spent time working in various places including a university, hospital, bank, factory, shop, pub and prison but she likes to work with poems most of all. She is currently studying on the PhD Creative Writing programme at the University of Manchester. Her poems have been published in The Rialto, Smiths Knoll and Stand. Her pamphlet, A Bad Influence Girl, from which the poems below are taken, was published by The Rialto earlier this year.
“In this outstanding debut, Janet Rogerson puts her finger on the odd moments when the extraordinary meets the recognisable and everyday: ‘The hearse has driven onto the grass!’ exclaims one vivid, unsettling poem and, throughout, Rogerson keeps the tone light as the material darkens, telling stories which sting and convince in poems whose timing is bewilderingly confident and assured.”
– John McAuliffe
“Janet Rogerson becomes our bad influence, addressing us intimately, telling us secrets and showing us a variety of entirely seductive characters and situations. Her language is sparky and exciting, delivering poems of extraordinary detail, establishing the realism from which they often fly into the surreal. She shows us a different way of looking at the world and we accompany her acute poetic voice zigzagging through these surprising and delightful poems, not one ‘statement a linear one’.”
– Alicia Stubbersfield
A Pebble Hits The Windshield
and at the same time across town
a loud noise cracks the glass
of a carriage clock.
Am I missing something?
How many times will you tug
that drawer, anger rising
against the fork or spoon
that holds it shut – how many times
before you close your eyes?
Is it funnier to see a person
or just to hear them
With a porcelain elephant’s trunk
it is only a matter of time.
The fractures and fissures
are of little note, that is,
how they occur – force, pitch,
a small boy, but you could
lose yourself in the splintered
circle of cracked glass.
Cops have been known
to circle a bullet hole
for days, clockwise
You can lose yourself
in the splintered circle
of cracked glass and find
yourself still lost years later
going around and around
stopping briefly at the summit
only to fall harder
faster down again
blood on your fingers
was that a bullet?
When they left the forest, they left no footprints, they stopped our breath, chilled us and put us to ground, they were warriors striding out with fire and friction, dressed in black their eyes dark and fixed in time, fixed in history and a thousand photographs, you knew they were harder and crueller than we could ever be yet they looked upon us with kindness, they impressed us and we felt humbled, honoured, we wanted to feel the grass beneath our knees, you would not say they were sexy, because they were sex, you would not say they were immortal, they were mortal just like us, they were the opposite to us, even the ugly ones were so beautiful they took our breath and flicked it from their fingers like water, it evaporated into the ether, became insignificant, they were never strangers, they were inside and outside of us, after them everything was different, they defined us, it made little difference if they were good or bad, over time the gods and devils became one and the same, connected by truth or lies, this is why to kill is just to kill but to assassinate is a hissed, whispered utterance, that lasts forever.
The Lovely Garden
The graves were windows with their shutters down.
The flowers were fresh on some and dead on others.
Best is fresh, second is dead, and last is none at all.
An oblong with a stone, again and again and again.
Walking up and down the rows
I realised what was wrong and felt the need
to tell you quickly, just in case. I left a message.
When I die curl me up and place me in a round box.
I cannot lie on my back like a corpse.
I started as a circle, so don’t iron me out.
Don’t make my last statement a linear one.
from A Bad Influence Girl (The Rialto, 2012).
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Tom Gilliver was born in North Yorkshire in 1990. After studying as an undergraduate at Christ’s College, Cambridge, he is currently writing an MPhil dissertation about twentieth-century poetry. He is especially fond of the poetry of W S Graham and Ian Hamilton Finlay. His first pamphlet, The Graft, is published by Salt Publishing.
“The pastoral mode has traditionally been the playground of the young poet. These quiet and lyrical poems take on the difficult task of maintaining a living connection with literary tradition. The Graft turns upon moments of uncertain feeling wherein the clarity of loss dispels our anxious dialectical interrogations. The poems are cross-pollinated with images of cyclical change, haunting, germination, hibernation and resurrection. The desire of order runs up against the fact of our hybridity, which is reflected in the delicately variegated forms of this collection: ‘a mutation, no more or/ less, like the rest’.”
“In this startling debut, Tom Gilliver walks a quiet bridge by night, his companions the ghosts of old poets and a tyre-deformed hedgehog. These delicate, aurally gorgeous poems perform their strange work on the mind – an accretion of formal and tonal enigmas – ever alert to the ‘flare’ of language, its ‘hoarse gifts’.”
– Sarah Howe
Before We Thaw
With one finger on the atlas,
Bella traces the confused outline
of Nova Zembla.
She says it is as far up as you can go
without turning to ice.
She says it is where icicles come from
in the night, and where reindeer go
Beyond the window torn paper is falling,
filled with mistakes
and sketches and drafts.
For a Quiet Night
Let us go where we will not be
overheard, and are unguarded:
here where the hours
could not be smaller.
The planets are turning
in and losing
hair, leaves, sleep.
Now she is coaxing
the fringe to where it must
part, and telling
how the pale would come
to rest, how the days
were taken in by heart.
I walked home with the moon
and the hedgehog’s misshapen ghost.
You followed me, for a little way.
Was it your whiteness or the moon’s
that ducked behind each chimney?
Or did you wear the uniform of night,
since as I looked I lost you in its ranks?
And whose was the sadness —
(it smelt like dawn)
— that all this will be forgotten?
from The Graft (Salt Publishing, 2012).
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Cathleen Allyn Conway is a poet and journalist. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Magma, Cliterature, South Bank Poetry, Full of Crow, The Beat, Ink Sweat & Tears and 3:AM Magazine. Originally from Chicago, she now lives in London, where she is working on a PhD in poetry at the University of Greenwich. Her first pamphlet, Static Cling, is published by dancing girl press.
Morning, ten hours after arrival, light
slatted through shades like 80s sunglasses,
you unwrapped your package.
Was I not what you ordered?
Late night at a filling station in Anaheim,
trying to hand over gas money you refused,
your hand finger-picking skiffle
on the denim-ridges of my knee.
“Old Tom Waits or new Tom Waits?”
His blues beat stirs the west
coast air that steeped my lungs.
And later, in the dark,
the dark that hid orange-peel thighs,
go-faster stripes ripping across my belly,
I thought of the Observatory, the Valley,
the Hollywood sign, so surprised it wasn’t lit.
Previously published in South Bank Poetry #7.
Her voice quavers as she issues commands,
hands shaking as she picks up the spit-slicked
cat-o’-nine tails to snap at the apples of his ass-cheeks.
He snatches the whip, leather burning her fingers,
flicking his wrist, mouth slack:
No, no! You’re doing it wrong! Like this!
Her stomach jumps as acid bubbles rise,
force her to lurch his spiked champagne.
She pushes up from the bed, runs to the dark
bathroom, where piss rivulets splash the toilet bib,
retching gullet burning, as the rough snort of cocaine
off the kitchen counter rockets through the flat.
Breath choked, she scrapes snot ropes from her nose,
squints in the shadows, as he parks a chair in the hall,
cushion farting under his bare skin. You’re still my mistress;
you’re still in control, he says, tongue lolling,
rubbery cock bouncing in his palm,
bulging eyes glassy, like a butchered cow.
Previously published in 3:AM Magazine.
Inanna in Illinois
If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.
– Ishtar to the gatekeeper of the underworld
What you wanted was Inanna, sozzled goddess,
rolling up in a chariot Camaro, stinking of cheap
beer and cheaper cigarettes, hair stiff from the scalp,
acid-washed jeans tucked in fake leather boots.
Your Inanna tramps across the state line,
between the twin rivers of the Calumet,
looking for you in strip clubs and dive bars,
truck stops and no-tell motels,
to drag you home, curl up on your bed,
stretch her sparkling claws, before buoyantly
unwrapping the hot pink spandex g-string
with your name on the crotch in gold glitter.
But what you got was a different Inanna:
Instead of spreading her holy legs, waxed
temple welcoming, silicone hot from the
tanning bed, body taut from pole dancing,
your Inanna rose from the Underworld,
sucked you into her squall, weeping rain
from grey eyes wild like the iron Atlantic,
grist in her teeth and blood on her mouth.
from Static Cling (dancing girl press, 2012).
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Terry Ann Thaxton is a fourth generation Floridian. Her first collection of poems, Getaway Girl, won the 18th Annual Frederick Morgan Poetry Prize, and was published March 2011 by Salt Publishing (UK). She has published poetry in journals such as Rattle, Connecticut Review, Comstock Review, Hayden’s Ferry, West Branch, Tampa Review, Cimarron Review, and others. Her essays have appeared in Seattle Journal for Social Justice, Fourth Genre, and Teaching Artist Journal.
She is Associate Professor of English at UCF where she founded and directs the Literary Arts Partnership at UCF which provides creative writing workshops to alternative populations throughout central Florida, including shelters, assisted living centers, residential treatment facilities, public schools, and prisons. She also directs ArtsBridge and is the faculty advisor for the student organization, Arts for All Ages. She has received grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women, Youth Service America, the Florida Humanities Council, and United Arts of Central Florida. Her book, Creative Writing in the Community is forthcoming from Continuum Publishers.
“Terry Ann Thaxton sifts through the images of a childhood half-buried among the pines and saw palmetto of her native Florida and unearths a child orphaned by abuse. In a home where “Southern Baptists exchange judgments”, she hides among a tribe of siblings, roaming the woods and playing games that hold equal degrees of cruelty and love. At the first opportunity she flees – into the arms of more abuse, then, wildly, into years where “suitcases fell from the closet” and “she thinks of marching toward [the pond],/ perhaps reaching a gray cloud, pulling the switch”. And yet, somehow, “the sky offers its philanthropy all day”. The genealogy of despair is also the genealogy of hope. In the search to clarify the past – and thus transform the present – these poems turn over the shards of memory like the colored glass in a kaleidoscope, looking for an angle that will light up the great mystery of how we become and continue becoming who we are.”
“In this collection, Terry Ann Thaxton holds the reader hostage, and sets her free at the same time, in poems that walk the line between pure tension and pure festival, terror and recreation, anxiety and beauty, and always with sure steps, perfect timing, uncanny musical intuition. In Getaway Girl we are introduced to a poet who brings the world to us in eerie clarity, giving mystery and the spirit their full due while staying firmly grounded in the gritty details of a life. “Let me demand// a vase as a sequel to myself”. Terry Ann Thaxton has given us the vase, and the self, and a whole new way of looking at this world in her remarkable, unforgettable, poetry collection.”
– Laura Kasischke
“In Getaway Girl Terry Ann Thaxton enters the haunted threshold territory between past and present. In these lyric narratives she explores how and why we stray so irresistibly to that place. Despite the harrowing circumstances of the poet’s childhood and early adulthood, despite the absolute necessity for escape, there’s a paradoxical longing to be found, to recover “the lost openings of my life”, echoed beautifully in the empty carapace of a box turtle, fishcrows crying for shore, the unsent letter of a remembered voice … Thaxton is a poet of nature, but first and foremost she is a poet of remarkable imagination. This is an authentic, marvelous first collection.”
– Nancy Eimers
Inside the house, red
as a bruised peach, someone
kicked me saying this
is love, but
I found my broken
perfume bottles at the edge
of the stone steps, my
and my only escape
was over homemade ball fields
where I found myself
chased by headlights
of the drunken car
he drove that made the baby
inside die. To remind me
of the baby,
he buried — under a pile
of old garbage bags —
the dog he shot. I put my hands
through the front
window to make him
stop, but every night, in my dreams,
I looked for the baby I lost, tearing dress
after dress out of the branches.
My black coat hid the face
I kept trying to lose. And when he left
to buy apologies
at the card shop
I hoped he would
not return. There were other
times I waited
for him, committed crimes
for him, like the time I kept
the motor running
in a truck at the edge
of a deserted road while he
rolled heavy electric spools
from construction sites,
carried stacks of lumber,
and then scattered
nails, hammers, and paint
into the truck bed. I was is
getaway girl. I remember
him urinating on me
as if I were a stone
statue by Picasso.
I wanted someone to take him
to Africa and lay him under
the heads of elephants.
I wanted to see him dead
in a lake of grass. Instead, he kept
pinning me against the wall,
tying me to the floor,
and I smelled the heat of Florida
coming up through
the tiles in the bathroom.
I begged my grandmother
to lift her arms from her grave,
grab his fists, his ankles
and tie him to the damp,
Let go of the scattering sounds of other boys
crushing butterflies in the schoolyard, eating
grasshoppers, stepping on your fingers.
Reach into the ground, into the dirt of your infancy
and find your own answers —
the madness inside you may never die.
Remember the saying of the water-skimmer
whose mouth filled with mud water and dried fish.
Remember the soccer field when you were five,
the space you were told to stand in, the insects you found,
their antennae, thorax, heads, legs, abdomen.
Let go of what people say to you,
let go of their questions.
The echoes of the schoolyard may never stop
ringing in your sleep: the other children climbing monkey-bars,
shooting baskets, skipping rope, playing Red-Rover, Red-Rover.
Forget the straight lines other children make.
Your madness is almost invisible.
Remember the dragonfly behind you, the monarch above you,
the darkling beetle below you,
the harvester ant, the scarab, the ladybird.
Remember the insect-speak of your world that, even now,
Take hold of the silence entering your world —
answer only the cries of the insects; your mother is not
leaving you and the insects in your dreams will never die,
they will not lie to you or drop
you into night. They will not ask you to explain
the words of the song you are singing.
A Different Life
when you leave your child under
twenty-four hour suicide watch
and he’s eleven
and a prisoner in a private war
you blame yourself for the cars
he dove in front of
the buildings he jumped from
the wall of the bedroom
he banged his head on
the clothes you armed him with in the morning
the same clothes he shredded in the afternoon
you blame yourself for the time
you left him screaming
at the day care
and that woman washed his mouth out
you blame yourself for not knowing
how to do this
you walk out of the hospital
into an uncaring afternoon
and you reach for
what do you reach for?
the trees with leaves that fall apart?
the clouds that are really nothing?
I was the painted tongue, and when I called
her name that she had hidden beneath
terrazzo floors, dried flowers
called for morning, and I invited my son
to ride bkes with me into the woods where we walked
through high grass, through lichen,
toward a stream. Then Mother’s necklace
called me home, and, in my dream, she was reading
the truth I had written, Mother never played
games with me. The voice of reason: if you bury
a necklace, it will come back as earlobes, but
I am in exile — Mother never wanted my
voice, even though I tried to tell her
I was not a white ballerina pretending
to be a flamingo. Last week there was an alligator
in my flowerbed — nine feet — the trapper
wrapped each pair of legs with electric tape,
taped his eyes shut. A man across the street
called the TV station — hungry, they said, for a
girlfriend, and my son sat on the sidewalk
and sketched the scales on his back. I did not want
to be reminded of the failure of my life: a dead
baby, three husbands, a dirty kitchen. Mother told me
I’d never keep a man because my bangs creep
into my eyes. Mother, I can see through my hair now,
I can see the box where I keep the necklace you did not
want to wear even in your death,
I can see you waving, giving birth to
a memory I don’t want back — terrazzo beneath
my feet, a tree I once knew, the living
room chair I hid behind
so you’d think I’d finally escaped, so you would not put
a dust rag in my hand, you playing card games
without me, your teeth, firm,
staring at me, beads on my tongue.
When I was young
I noticed the children next door asking a robin
to teach them the songs
of trees. Later, I gave birth to a boy
and he unwrapped the sky. Now I walk to the window
behind the vase with tulips and watch
dawn try to tear apart
the dark, but the tulips grow
tired waiting for sunlight. And I think,
here is a woman exhausted
at thirty-seven, destined
to lean on the furious arrow
that demands women stand up
for themselves. How will I find the road to forty?
Sometimes at night, walking home, I hear
bells down the street,
and I know that one day
even my son will leave,
and sometimes my mother calls
from her death asking to see
the quilt she made. Then she shows me
our old house, moves
furniture around, tears down the walls
between my room and my brother’s,
and gives me more furniture, but I have
nowhere to put it. One night my lover
whispers into my ear that I am
a sweet woman, easy to love,
says the first time he touched me
he knew he loved me. Then one day
a younger man shows me —
and because I’m almost forty I want to see it —
his journal, tells me he’s enamored with me.
When a friend shows me a mirror
sculpted with pink flowers, I tell her that in it I see aging.
She says, no, what you see
is fear. I want to dream myself with wildflower
hair and my lover a waterfall
from the north cooling the Florida sun.
What if my family forgets me?
What if my lover dies before me?
What if I stand on the roof of my house
and notice that all housetops look the same
under a full moon?
What if the sun appears desperate, what if all these things
that have happened to me are connected?
What if the trees say nothing.
Another Night in Jealous, U.S.A.
There is a woman in bed where sleep
does not exist. This dream will end behind
her lips gesturing desire. First she breathes
his name, in fragments, her arms and words fly
from her body. Oh, why do dreams obey
obsession? I see that this is her hand,
commanding him to worship. There is a
quarter under her words and her next chant
begins. Under her tossed hair, her fingers
singing, is dinner for two. In the room
she hangs his shirt opposite the mirror.
There are raw eggs, candle light, some
dancing. Then a song: fountains stop their wish
and she carries him across her loneliness.
He unbuttons his shirt, her dress; a fire
mounts in the building behind them, and songs
ride waves of cliché blue. Time mistakes my
tears for night. I’m chewing my dress, a bomb
talking. I want to run her out of town,
and then I want him to find angry rocks
in her language. Instead, they slither down
the pavement of my body and stroke
each other’s lips. My toes are furious.
My hair is a shroud on streetlights. The chimes
insist that I feign madness. Then my dress
unwinds, the street turns on its side. Sometimes
I turn away, see nothing, and they laugh;
then she turns her head and I see myself.
An hour before my surgery you quizzed me
about a Celtics game, how Bird shot one
from behind the basket — did it count?
you asked — you’re my lover girl, you kept saying,
touching my hair, then — what’s an over-and-back?
I answered one of them right.
The anesthesiologist told you
she’ll forget you kissed her
and I did.
I woke up looking at the clock:
8:40 in a room with one long metal table, tubes
hanging from walls, a little light, two nurses.
Someone wanted a break. Another patient whose ovaries
had been removed, moaning, and I was the lucky one,
only the cyst. Someone asked
my name again.
I returned to my room and the clock,
broken, read 8:20. You handed me flowers
in a sailboat cup — I could’ve floated
out of there but I could not wake up
you told me at eleven
I could stay at the hospital all night,
told me you’d come back at nine in the morning —
all night I waited 40 minutes: the light
in the hall, nurses forgetting to kill
the pain, door left opened, the clock reading
8:20. Voices of women and men, light,
nurse, thermometer in my mouth.
In the morning the doctor showed us
pictures of the laparoscopy: a mass
of blood and tissue, cyst
big as an orange, bleeding into the abdomen,
the fallopian tubes, the ovary, the uterus,
and something, she said,
that was supposed to be white. The day before
as they prepared me
for surgery, so that I would forget the pain held inside
my body, you had asked me to tell you
stories of a boring television show over and
over — General Hospital, something I’d watched
for twenty years. I told you that before I learned to trust you,
its characters were the people I counted on,
and created stability in my life. The nice gangster
who refuses to use physical force and marries
the wrong girl to save himself from a life
in prison, the psychopath who in prison befriends
the craft woman who helps him escape. Gives him a drug
to lower his heart rate, so he appears
dead. She arranges a funeral,
buries him, then when the time is right, she digs him
up, and as he is thanking her,
holding her gently from behind, he wraps
a thin white rope around her neck
and kisses her goodbye.
I am trying to recall my walk this evening,
if I took one, if the wave of sky
at the corner of the street brought me
home, and I am trying to remind
myself that my lover is in the next room
reading a book without me — I am almost certain
that he once showed me the words
of wilderness, and if I could crawl into the trunk
in the corner, I might find an explanation of
my invisible life — perhaps the dinosaur my son drew,
or the photograph of myself at ten
in a swimsuit, wet, arms at my stiff side
— a ten-year-old marine prepared to obey
her daddy’s orders. I have already forgotten
all the birds my lover gave to me in the shallow water,
and I do not recall when I hung
the burlap on my wall or if I am the one
who hammered the nail. There is no scented candle
next to the feathers in the crystal vase,
but somewhere llamas watched the sunrise
and someone bathed in the river of brown
and gray. There are no peaches in the basket
near the duck who could, if he really wanted to,
find a pen or an envelope and ask
a friend to save him. There are no more
beaded birds upon my cheeks.
There is no longer a clock in my fingers.
There is no man in the next room with lust
for my slender arms. There is no mailbox
on a street lined with oaks,
there is not even this room and I do not know
if I am in the book my lover reads or if
I am only the shadow from a dream I once had
in which palmetto fronds swayed above us
and a few small birds I could not name.
from Getaway Girl (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order Getaway Girl.
Visit Terry’s website.
Read Jen Campbell’s short review of Getaway Girl.
David Briggs is an English poet and teacher. He was born in 1972, and grew up in the New Forest. He received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2002, and has since placed poems in a range of magazines and journals, including Poetry Review, Poetry Life, Poetry Wales, New Statesman, The Guardian, Agenda, Limelight, Iota, Magma, Horizon Review, The Frogmore Papers, NthPosition, Stride, Trespass and Notes From the Underground.
His work has featured as a Showcase in Magma, in the anthology Reactions 5, edited by Clare Pollard, in Roddy Lumsden’s Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010), Rupert Loydell’s Smartarse (Knives, Forks and Spoons, 2011), Todd Swift’s Lungjazz (Cinnamon, 2012) and on BBC Radio Bristol. He also gained a commendation in the 2007 National Poetry Competition.
David’s first collection The Method Men (Salt Publishing, 2010) was shortlisted for the London Festival New Poetry Award.
In the hours between sitting down to write, he is Head of English at the Grammar School in Bristol.
“The Method Men is the much anticipated first collection by Eric Gregory Award winner, David Briggs: a taut, deft and elegant book, featuring poems previously published in magazines such as Magma, Poetry Review, Iota and Poetry Wales, and in small groups of three or four in significant anthologies, including Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010).
Briggs’s work doffs its cap to a wide range of influences, from the Graveyard School to Miroslav Holub, from John Ash to Ted Hughes, from Marianne Moore to Charles Boyle; yet, retains its own distinctive sensibility — a concern with the idiosyncratic strategies we employ in attempting to navigate an ineffable and dangerous, yet quotidian, world. Pylons, the blank pages at the end of a book, an album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, bathrooms, public parks, clowns and teacups are all lit at the edges with a gunsmoke-blue glow by a transforming imagination.
The Method Men explores, in a sometimes disarmingly personal way, what Larkin referred to as ‘a style our lives bring with them’ — what we are, and how that came to be.”
“The Briggsian mode herein firmly established: worldly and unworldly flights, wryly delivered; quiddity of thing and place; Middle Age and Space Age detritus excavated; ‘damsel-tupping goatswains’ and David Sylvian; method and magic; lyricism and deft use of the down-stroke. This poet delivers. Elegance and snarls. Damn, another talented b_______to contend with.”
– Matthew Caley
“David Briggs is brilliant at pointing out the absurd contradictions of being human — our struggles with romance and reason, superstition and cynicism. These poems, alert to the history of folklore — witchcraft, scrying, entrails laid out on stone ‘like a book’ — also wittily expose our own, twenty-first century irrationality. In Briggs’s world, the ghosts of Highgate Cemetery dress: ‘in frowsy, mutton-sleeved grave clothes’ and ‘Rain is either hearsay or heresy’. The religious imagination and deadpan realism hang in constant tension. This is seriously good, intelligent poetry for those who like method in their madness.”
– Clare Pollard
“An interest in the forms and the musicality of lyric verse is a strong feature in David Briggs’s attention-grabbing poems, as is the inscrutable relationship between landscape and the mind. Although broadly traditional in style, there are subtle influences from more experimental work, such as the poetry of John Ashbery and his near namesake John Ash. Briggs’s personal narratives are imbued with ludic conceits, often played out in quirkily historical settings. This is a striking and varied debut collection.”
– Roddy Lumsden
Scrying evolved during the early
Cuckoo period: an old crone,
exiled to the thick of the wood,
saw through her crude glass darkly,
for a fee. One might pay with duck eggs,
robed in night to avoid arcane
imputations of devilry. And
we are led to wonder just
what, exactly, she could see:
the clause in a ripening Will?
All grist to her mill, as she
sat picking through the offal
of lone wealth and longevity.
The Method Men
Carson found the pregnant heifer
by releasing his canniest cockerel
dead centre in its coop and staggering
the same pattern of steps across pasture.
He might confirm a rough, east-by-south-east route
from patterns in loosely-scattered grain.
If he then clubbed the newborn to death
after studying its amniotic membrane,
and opened its bloody entrails
on the nearest boulder like a book,
it was said he read nature fluently.
But Woodward saw cuckold horns in his own hearth
on Lammas Eve. So, he pitched a lamb’s
shoulder bone on the flames and wept gladly
at the confirmation of its cracking.
A westward flutter of swifts helped Metcalfe
learn the name of the man who had stolen
his buttern quern. And McIvor always
pitched his tent where a chain-swung amulet
suggested a bed of soft sediment.
Both men made their bread discerning
the lines etched by Fate in palms and foreheads.
Me, I always learned enough by firing
my full quiver of arrows at random
and observing the manner of their falling.
Or, when that failed, I could always find
omens in your first words each morning.
What to Burn When You’ve Burnt Your Bridges
Ten years he claimed he’d been travelling.
The beard fell authentically on his chest
like a medal. He wasn’t extending
a metaphor, in the way some might claim
any manner of existence as a form
of ‘travelling’ when viewed in the right light.
Ten years on the road, of no fixed abode;
genuine wanderlust through civil wars,
deserts, plains, colonies and kasbahs.
Crow’s feet perched with a predatory gait
on his milk-sick eyes, while we guessed his age.
‘So, has it changed you much?’ the Dutch girl asks.
He claps open calloused palms, conjuring
an old, passport-sized photograph of himself.
Better to ask what it was that drove
him to exile when only a boy:
eyes wide as moons about to break
orbit from a faithless planet; the smile
fixed as an African border; but, this
is a question he doesn’t seem disposed
to answer. I choose not to ask.
Better to pass him the kif; call for more
coffee and hookah; watch his match burn blue,
then green, as it laps up the celluloid;
reach across the backgammon board to catch
the ashes, even if there is no wind
this wakeful night in which to scatter them.
Burn Your Own Demons!
— James Douglas Morrison
Translation of the inscription on his tomb
Not ravens, as we’d been expecting,
on his granite headstone, but scented
envelopes and Chivas Regal bottles,
CND buttons and gladioli,
Lucky Strike packets, votive candles,
silk panties, fingernails, peyote bark,
witch hazel, conical reefers,
photographs, vials, snakeskins, hair,
From behind the sepulchre, another pilgrim.
Veritable pilgrim. He squats square on
to the bronze, legend-bearing plaque:
KAWA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY:
magics a bottle of Martell from his coat
and sucks like a gunnery officer;
wraps brown resin in Rizla;
lights the fanned touchpaper of his slight
torpedo with a flick of the gunflint
in his Zippo lighter. He slams the lid
shut like a starboard hatch against brine,
leaving a faint whiff of paraffin.
He submits to its unguent accuracy.
He is stardust. He is golden.
He digs this cemetery. It’s, like, a garden.
A Portrait of the English Technician
Now, at last, central government is telling them not just what to teach, but how to teach it. The process of turning teachers into technicians continues.
— Paul Trowler Education Policy
The English Technician will wear carmine jackets,
and one shoe marked ‘High’,
and one shoe marked ‘Low’.
The English Technician will abandon the photocopying
to Arctic winds lurching through the schoolyard
like overdeveloped schoolboys, because
he has sensed something divine
in that bell-bordered wasteland.
He will brew the perfect pot of peppermint tea;
recite Soyinka while spooning the sugar;
remark that the quality of the evening sky
is like a delicate filigree of Transvaal silver
he received from a blind, Egyptian carpet merchant
in exchange for a contretemps about Chatterton.
The English Technician will ride
a green, butcher’s bicycle through the school gates
one minute before the bell every morning.
The English Technician will often be unnecessary,
but always elegant.
He will sometimes be found
rubbing earth into his cheeks
because he has forgotten the battles
of Sherra-moor and Agincourt.
He will sometimes be found rubbing earth
into other people’s cheeks.
In winter people will cry,
‘Where is the English Technician?’
because they believe the sky to be falling.
It will be difficult to know clearly
what the English Technician is thinking,
as he brings you books opened to pages
you had not formerly known to exist.
from Seven Stations of a Record Collection
From Her to Eternity
I knew her by reputation before we met:
expelled from Roedean, from the family mansion;
legend told she rode Godiva-style (for a bet)
down Lyndhurst High Street; barred from The Stag Inn
for being ‘Mad as a bag of adders’.
So, I was prepared when she led through moonlit trees
to her Romany caravan, dealt ‘The Lovers’,
began to teach me female anatomy.
I couldn’t reconcile her neatly-clipped vowels
with the cheap patchouli; snakebite-and-black
with Cancale oysters; the van with the Chelsea flat.
She left, one night. I don’t know how she lives now,
and I wouldn’t know where to pick up the scent.
I let the walls close in, year by year; but she went.
Conjugation in C Minor
She was a ‘cello. He was the invention
of radio. She swooned; became a swallow,
with feathers of white, black and aquamarine.
He foresaw glory in distant war.
Briefly, they became Pachelbel’s Canon:
she reminded him of formal gardens.
He fell wounded in battle.
The military psychiatrist discerned
he was a lark, but he sang out of tune.
He escaped in his shirt: unbuttoned;
unironed; they became Sandinistas,
bribed the electorate with cigars
and avocados. They became folk songs
in every mouth of the Republic.
She evolved into Vesuvius
erupting over Pompeii, flooding the Forum
with lava. Thousands died, were fossilised.
Those that escaped worked together
at the foot of her slopes, knowing flood,
fire or earthquake could claim them anywhere.
Sagely, they planted till cities grew.
She became gin; he, the pressure valve
of a steam engine. It was raining.
Twins were conceived, rurally.
That night, she was a juniper; he was pistons,
turbines and industrial revolution.
Their progeny inherited these sorrows.
They sing them as ballads from market-barrows.
My Year of Culture
After Kathleen Ossip
We’re walking home late from the theatre,
my lover and I. She’s wearing pearls
and a line trouser suit — it was a ‘well-made’ play.
‘Sweetheart’, I say,
‘the writer drank snake blood for inspiration’.
She flicks her tongue.
We’re lying in bed reading the supplements,
my lover and I. I’m wearing yellow socks;
the D.A.B. can’t find a signal — she hopes I kept the receipt.
‘Ma Cherie’, I joke,
‘the static between stations is an echo from the Big Bang’.
She grapples the bedclothes.
We’re in the Blake room at Tate Britain,
my lover and I. She’s using her catalogue
as a fan — it’s the hottest May since records began.
‘Hey’, she taunts,
‘there’s nothing shameful in going naked’.
I loosen my tie.
We’re drinking gin and tonic near the Opera House,
my lover and I. I’m wearing a russet, silk suit
with matching Turk’s head cufflinks — we’ve seen Otello.
‘Sweetheart’, I ask,
‘would you take a pill that healed existential doubt?’
She whistles through her teeth.
We’re in a gondola on the Grand Canal,
my lover and I. She’s wearing white jeans
and Ray-Bans — we arrived by train from Milan.
‘Hey’, the gondolier says,
‘you want I show you the house of Lord Byron?’
We shrug. We’ve seen it before.
We’re in the front row at a reading
by the next great Oulipo stylist,
my lover and I. Shes wearing yellow culottes
and orange Converse All-Stars — everyone here’s a writer.
‘Hey’, she whispers,
‘what’s the optimum lexical density of a reading?’
The poet delivers a poem made of snarls.
from The Method Men (Salt Publishing, 2010).
Order The Method Men.
Read Julia Bird’s review at Hand + Star.
Read Steve Spence’s review at Stride.
Read Matt Merritt’s interview with David at Polyolbion.
Rebecca Lehmann is the author of the poetry collection Between the Crackups (Salt Publishing, 2011), which won the Salt Crashaw Prize. Her poems have been published in Tin House, The Gettysburg Review, The Iowa Review, and other journals. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a PhD from Florida State University, and has been awarded residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center. She lives in Wisconsin, USA, with her husband.
“Between the Crackups is a frolicking romp through the abandoned factories, overcrowded highways, and forgotten rural landscapes of America. This provocatively voiced book explores themes of sexuality, gender, class, pop-culture, and aesthetics. Some of these poems are sonnets, some are multi-voiced elegies, others are meditations on loss. From the balmy swamps of Florida, to the snowed-in forests of northern Wisconsin, and back again, Rebecca Lehmann captures a feeling of cultural unease and personal panic in tight, smartly worded poems that banter casually with the tropes, traditions, and authors of the Western poetic canon. In the book, the Old English poem ‘The Dream of the Rood’ is re-imagined as a two-part, modern-day fever dream, the classic pastoral landscape morphs into an apple orchard occupied by off-putting children, and the entire season of autumn goes missing. Part serious meditation and part carnival fun house, these poems will make the reader chortle, chuckle, snort, and maybe even blush.”
“These poems read like just-fashioned old-fashioned letters – not e-mails, not texts, not tweets – from one’s neglected, slightly pissed-off subterranean self. They are bold, agitated, self- and other-mocking, artfully raw, nonchalantly inventive, infused with necessity, and altogether stunning.”
– Mark Levine
“Rebecca Lehmann is an advance scout in the war between the heart and the intellect. The heart wants peace, but the mind wants to blow us all to kingdom come, because we are working in factories, we are lost in Detroit and Memphis, we are driving South. What can save us? she seems to be asking. Not God with his wafers and hymns. Not sex with its tricky ambushes. Not anger that is setting the world on fire. Maybe it’s love, she says, or maybe words with their euphoric brew. Or maybe not.”
– Barbara Hamby
Letters To A Shithead Friend
I broke a glass this morning, and it reminded me of you, sprawled across the kitchen tiles. I’ve been keeping this news for a year and a half—my neighbor rifles through my garbage cans at night, and I sleep with a rusted scissors beneath my pillow. You want the truth?—mostly I am writing angry poems, hoping your teeth will fall out.
Sky blue is a stupid color. I don’t care what burlesque girls have to do with ping-pong balls, you’re still a shithead. I put a magnet over your face on the picture of us at the Lion’s Hall dance on my fridge. Your attempt at communicating with me via crossword puzzle is lame. I’m sure you can think of something better than that, like skywriting or a parade of circus elephants.
I received the bouquet of balloons and have already popped them all. My long needle for sewing leather purses worked best for that. I draped the broken rubber parts over my houseplants and sang Happy Birthday to myself while chain smoking unfiltered cigarettes.
P.S. I can’t understand you when you talk with your fingers in your mouth.
The ten kittens did not impress. I let them loose around the neighborhood, and got complaints. Now I have to go to a neighborhood coalition meeting and explain the whole situation to them, about the failed skywriting, and what a total shithead you are, and how I Magic-Marker all over your letters and send them to the children’s wing of the local hospital to cheer up the cancer patients.
Please stop. I got sick off the cotton candy at the county fair I went to with the tickets you sent me. Let’s face the golden clothed trumpeters; you’re not going to win me over like this. I am tired of being angry. Not lions nor zebras nor cobras nor mongooses. No soda fountains. I can’t touch your new jacket—don’t mail it.
I have been in touch with an old lover. He has propositioned me. I don’t have an apology, he said. He said, I would have moved to Iowa with you if I had known about the tornados. He is driving a motorbike here posthaste. He said, Sidecar, tomato, bulgur-wheat, bumblebee. I’ve picked up aviator glasses and a leather dolly. Good luck finding me ocean-side.
Your perseverance is stupid, because I don’t like you anymore. I was just telling my dentist about the peppermints you left lining my porch railing. Luckily, they did not rot my teeth because I fed them to the local roosters. My old lover and I are building a boat to sail to Cuba. I am a tiny communist with sunburned shoulders. We are leaving our apologia under the southernmost boulder.
I have joined the ballet. Water from the secret piscina baptizes my esophagus. I am cleaner than you.
I can’t express how much anger I feel towards you. After my stag leaps through the open-air courtyard, my record-breaking pike jumps off the rusty box spring of the used bed my old lover bought me. Let alone the frustration for getting me kicked out of Cuba. Back off. I left you a roll of pennies to throw at the pigeons by the fountain, so go use them. My watercolor class meets in an hour and I don’t have time to stroll the boardwalk backwards with you.
P.S. My lazy eye will always watch the plum dish—don’t even think about it.
The Youngest Girls In Memphis
The youngest girls in Memphis
wear bridal veils to afternoon tea.
They wake up from naps with double
vision and balled feet. We call them
brats, and mean it. They are all
too bold. At night, they drive hail-
dented cars across the fog-laced
highways of southern Tennessee.
They gulp cans of cherry pop. They sing
Heartbreak Hotel in falsetto, and smoke
in the airport lounge, although
they are travelling nowhere, and fast.
One day we notice their boots
have cut into their toes. Their feet
are bleeding. One day we notice
their eyes losing pressure, the filmy
sheen of glaucoma dressing
their pupils. They hang garlands
above their doorways, mark
an X in ash on each of ours. But,
they are just girls, after all,
we shouldn’t expect too much.
Though their lips may purple
and peel, though their ears bleed
with the pain of the South,
though they are waxen
and unruly, still we want them
to sit at our breakfast nooks,
braiding one another’s hair. Still we
want them to sing in soft coos
to our infants. We never expect them
to erupt like angered volcanoes,
their vomit and loose teeth pooling
on our tabletops. This is a surprise
every time; this is the event horizon.
The Devil Is In Detroit
For instance, you fucked me with my feet
up by my head, but never gathered me to you.
Often, when you fucked me from behind,
you imagined I was a man. When I was on top
you imagined I was younger. You wanted my breasts
to be perkier. You wanted me to get rid of my moustache.
When you did fuck me and you were on top,
you imagined I was a doll, with ringlets in ribbons.
Put this pink smock on, you said once,
and, The Devil is in Detroit. He must have been
riding in a Cadillac. I’ll never forget
what your limp penis looked like in the bathtub,
a wet puppy nestled in your testicles. You didn’t
like disturbance. I put my feet in anyway.
You put your hands on my face,
like this, and they left a mark. You put
your hands above my heart, like this, and pushed,
1, 2, 3. I didn’t know what you thought
when you fucked me while I slept. I was
asleep then; I could only smell you.
If saffron could come like that, clinging tightly
to my buttocks, then surely you could too.
With your puffed up fuck fingers
you left red welts on my fanny,
flopped your penis back and forth before it hardened.
When you were fucking her, you were looking down
at her tiny teacups jiggling up and sideways.
You slapped her forehead. You slapped her throat.
The birds outside the windows chirped,
the curtains blew across your back.
You could hear me moving through the floor.
You called her Bully, pushed in harder.
Between the crackups, a light came,
strong enough to cut the blight.
I had my legs open, like I was.
The air filled, the smell of hot plastic cups
and sickbed. And tissue. And if you could
have touched me there, you did.
I never told anyone the bruise you made,
but wished I had a bone to break against the wood.
Ten Bells Tell
Visions of lovebirds and prickled pears,
an inability to spell or tell
time, a heightened sense of hearing,
as in to hear the little tweets
upon the grates.
Had they but singsong
equal to their greeting.
To hear ten bells tells
we are falling, the bruise
on the leg like an angered owl.
The fingers peeling back,
weird human tricks, in the palm
a scar the shape of a supernova.
A pocketknife cut through.
Inability to hold one’s head up.
To hear ten bells tells
we are not dying after all.
We may believe we are.
One’s hands like jackrabbits
ready to hop and bite
the nipples of one’s lover.
One’s head in silhouette.
In the maelstrom. And all the birds.
To hear the tin cups.
of the bells, bells, bells.
Not signaling apocalypse.
To scar the face. An inability
to hold one’s head at bay.
On the offensive, the pungent
smell of a body in a southern summer.
The odor like rotting cacti
and cat piss. The weather a crash.
The face in place. To cut
the hands. To pull the skin
back, spit in the wound.
Inability to bifurcate during times
of stress and resolute paranoia.
Inability to stay within one’s shoes.
Cover up the face with a scarf
like winter. The stink. Inability,
the hard-song. The coming together.
The equation of our lives is expressed
as a measure of something—
we just can’t remember what.
Perhaps it is something easy,
like sleep or joy. The peeling
laminate of the shower wall
would not qualify. Or maybe it would,
if, underneath the cheap plastic,
between the mold-bloated studs,
there were something truly beautiful.
Maybe there’s a basket of kittens,
certainly not dead and maggot ridden—
maybe an old library book, a smudged
due-date stamped in red on the ivory card
tucked inside its paper pocket.
The morning that I found out
the man I’d once wanted to marry
was marrying someone else was like
a sheet of black construction paper.
I thought about the bigness of the universe,
about the astronomy professor I had
in college who presented the class
with an impossible equation
to track the speed of a star
exponentially moving away from us
in the expanding ether of space
(imagine the universe like plum pudding,
the textbook read, in which the plums
represent stars; as the pudding bakes,
the plums move farther
and farther away from each other).
I couldn’t solve the problem,
only made it as far as 1/∞=0.
The terror that brought. Later,
that night, I woke from a dream
I’d had of a snarling monster
nesting in my oven, its matted fur
spotted with light and ice, its snaggle-
tooth a mess of old skulls, forced together.
The History of Yesterday
Origins have no location in this history:
a story of who did what, and when, and why.
The impetus could be orange blossoms, or cockatiels,
or a short story set in Texas; it doesn’t matter.
All we have are fragments—the aluminium
melted under friction, and the paint, rust resistant,
left a burgundy splatter. A man named
one poem Yesterday, and one Pussy Juice.
School children fretted over spelling rules.
The zippers on their backpacks and jackets
broke as simultaneously as destructive orgasms.
Sometimes we remember the loud scream,
sometimes the loud scream remembers us.
Sometimes the sky is a dirty slut, sucking off the sun.
from Between the Crackups (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order Between the Crackups here, here or here.
Visit Rebecca’s website.
Karen Rigby was born in 1979 in Panama City, Panama. She is the author of Chinoiserie (Ahsahta Press, 2012) as well as the chapbooks Savage Machinery and Festival Bone. Awarded fellowships and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, she has been published in Poetry Daily, Washington Square, Meridian, Field, Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West and New England Review. Her poetry is anthologized in Best New Poets 2008, among others.
She is one of the founding editors and webmasters of Cerise Press, an international online journal of literature, arts, and culture. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, she reviews for BookBrowse and industry magazines including ForeWord Reviews and Kirkus Reviews. Her work has appeared in Next American City, Words Without Borders, High Country News and The Writer. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Minnesota. Karen currently writes in Arizona.
“Winner of the 2011 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, Chinoiserie travels through centuries in poems that carve wonder from ruin, from an illuminated manuscript to New York on the eve of disaster, the Emperor’s nightingale to neon acquariums. A sensory flight, intricate in its vision, Ecclesiastic in its hunger, and brutal in its portrayal of a solitude that “could surrender/ to the hammer or the flame”, this book of curiosities draws inspiration from 15th century masters, Japanese animation, mid-century films, Marguerite Duras, and other sources. Inspired by an art created miles from its origins to become its own translation of landscape, texture, and pattern, Chinoiserie disrupts boundaries between tribute and theft, reinvention and repetition. It evokes the fanciful as well as a darker potentiality, seeking a language of “pearl and roaring”.
In his judge’s citation, Paul Hoover writes, “As Randall Jarrell famously noted in a review of William Carlos Williams, poetry’s first and most lasting pleasure lies in the act of seeing. Karen Rigby sees with feeling the magic of things shaped by language … But here also are the musical cadence, subject range, and ceremonial precision of true poetry. Such words can be recognized, through two thick walls, for the subtlety of their murmur: “Of creamware, only stacked and brittle confusion./ We bargain daylight out of black bread”. This is, quite simply, a gorgeous and powerful book”.”
“Sumptuous yet restrained, Chinoiserie has the intricate beauty and tensile strength of spider silk. Karen Rigby’s deeply imagined poems shimmer with reticence: an oddly seductive privacy that continues to unfold with each reading. Each line ignites subtle explosions of perception; each gesture is exquisite and mysterious, invested with the ineluctable reserves of lyric. Poems this nuanced and strong, wild and grave, seem to be written with a feather and a chisel. They are that delicate, that indelible.”
– Alice Fulton
“In Karen Rigby’s poems, ideas and things coexist seamlessly. Dense, unpredictable images and beautifully unlikely sounds evoke not only a sensory universe but also a rigorous mind, on which nothing, from art or life, is lost. The eye that looks down in ‘Bathing in the Burned House’, the ‘I’ that sneaks up in ‘Black Roses’, the wildly associative eater of ‘Borscht’ – all make the ground shift beneath the reader’s feet. Chinoiserie is a nourishing book, to be savoured slowly.”
– Adrienne Su
Last winter on the corner
of Fifth Avenue paint buckets filled
with poppies. I remember not for their jazz
tearing a backdrop of snow,
but for the way two men unloaded
buds like munitions.
One of them wore fingerless gloves,
cupped cellophane throats.
Below him a brother or son
shuttled fox fur
between the truck
and curb. I knew from the cold kiss
of his touch petals gave no scent—
he did not lean into the red corona, it was
pure commerce. Pods hung,
Nightingale & Firebird
As if the song encoded in the wheel could railroad
to the garden, the mechanical grind transformed
the nightingale to music-box, the music to evergreen
vistas. The firebird was another story: inventory
of dust on the wings. Dried blood on the red-gold
coat. One thread about tin substitutes for splendor,
the other a ghost-image for your burdened heart.
Easy to confuse the black chinoiserie with feathers
torn from ashes, twin halves for a childhood fear:
you were never loved. You could surrender
to the hammer or the flame but no one would come.
That which they called wonder was only a greased key
in a courtesan’s palm, and when the bird sang, no one
heard the sound a wing makes when the current breaks.
Norma Desmond Descending the Staircase as Salome
Sunset Boulevard, 1950
The heart’s declensions beat against
the newsreel storm. The beaded shawl
ropes through my arms. The script
would have you believe grief muscled
into me: asked for, and given the head
of a saint. When the klieg lights sear
my skin I don’t remember the body
bloating in the pool or the Black Maria
nosing down my drive. I don’t remember
when I shot Joe Gillis—only the blue
flute singing. I could live forever
raising my own hand to my neck,
each time surprised by its cool pulse.
In that kohl-rimmed prime
I calculate seductions stair by stair.
Between the keyless rooms and the city
that loved me no one speaks as if
my crossing were the deposition
of a god. Blood winters my veins.
The hammered air burns lonely
as bones turning in sleep.
© Chinoiserie (Ahsahta Press, 2012)
Visit Karen’s website.
Chinoiserie reviewed in Publishers Weekly and
The Adirondack Review.
Visit Ahsahta Press.
Alec Finlay is a poet and artist whose work crosses over a range of media and forms, from poetry to sculpture, audio-visual and neon, adopting such innovative poetic forms as the mesostic and circle-poem. Born in Scotland in 1966 and currently based in Newcastle, much of Finlay’s work reflects on our interaction with nature and considers how we as a culture, or cultures, relate to landscape. Recent projects include The Road North (2010-11), a contemporary ‘word map’ of Scotland composed in collaboration with Ken Cockburn over a year-long journey. Recent publications include Mesostic Remedy (morning star, 2009), Mesostic Interleaved (University of Edinburgh Press, 2009), Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections (University of California Press, 2012), and Be My Reader (Shearsman, 2012). In 2010 Finlay was shortlisted for the Northern Art Prize. Question your teaspoons is published by Calder Wood Press.
I miss the skimming
over the dark lochan
the waters where I swam
with the blue dragonfly
the Sea Eck
her little mast and sails
are broken and forlorn
pond mud smears and splashes
the hull that gleamed and shone
while duckweeds stoop the gunnels
rudderless her windblown helm
wheels in the merest breezes,
but, glory faded, she floats on
sailing the little boats
Ailie and I are let
pick one sailboat each
hold it carefully
by its weighty keel
of lead, careful
mind the rigging
at the lochan’s shore
we slip them lightly
and, if the wind is right,
as my zulu and her fifie
bob and tack
their angles across.
My job always
to race round the path
fetch them both
when their sprits
caught in the rushes.
Sailing the little boats
never lasted long
but for our sharing
Sue’s trug was always
near to hand
with green twine
trowel and secateurs
for this northerly elevation
the tiny pears
and russet apples
wooden and sour
the wrinkled golden
quince and neat green
and purple gooseberries
like blood blisters
to pick by the punnet
That was the week that Dad got his diagnosis
and the flowers broke that are now in shards,
the week we heard the cancer was terminal
and the flowers broke that are now in shards.
That was the week the dog went fighting
and the flowers broke that are now in shards,
the week his cheek swole up like a fur balloon
and the flowers broke that are now in shards.
That was the week that I got the chills
and the flowers broke that are now in shards,
the week the virus became a winter fever
and the flowers broke that are now in shards.
That was the week the bloody dog bit me
and the flowers broke that are now in shards,
the week we each had our bottles of antibiotics
and the flowers broke that are now in shards.
That was the week the lid of the teapot fell
and the flowers broke that are now in shards,
the week the pieces scattered all over the floor
and the flowers broke that are now in shards.
That was the week I decided to stay in bed
and the flowers broke that are now in shards,
the week there was nothing but Bach on the radio
and the flowers broke that are now in shards,
with the dog curled beside me like pastry
and our flowers all broken now in shards.
this is just to say
that I have taken
the little boats
with keels of lead
and hanky sails,
the fine woollen socks
your muses gave you,
a dusty mouth organ,
and some books
Creeley, Le Corbusier,
The Zen Gardens of Japan
the rest of what’s left
is the world’s to keep
from Question your teaspoons (Calder Wood Press, 2012).
Order Question your teaspoons.
Visit The Road North.
The title is taken from a motto composed by Georges Perec.
Cover Stonypath c. 1970, photograph by Bob Anderson,
courtesty of the artist.
Cover photo: note that the basket contains toy sailboats,
The punnets of fruit referred to in northern elevation were sold to Paul the Grocer, whose van visited once a week; all income went towards the purchase of SPI wargames.