the blue collection 3: collaboration
(Fall 2012 / 12.26)
Christopher Allen, Jenny Baker, Ann Bogle, Sheldon Lee Compton,
Cheryl Dodds, Rupert Fike, Jane Hammons, Lynne Knight,
Dorothee Lang, Sara Lippmann, Leslie Marcus, Felicia Mitchell,
Rebecca Seiferle, Christopher Woods, and Bill Yarrow
Editor’s note: For blue collection 3, ten writers respond in poem and flash to five art pieces selected from BFR’s 2011 issues. The connections between the art, poetry, flash, and commentaries are a true testament to the possibilities of the creative process.
* * *
Silhouette in muted grays
(May 2011 / 11.9)
after Cheryl Dodds’ Silhouette in muted grays
An old man sits dreaming of revolution.
In the shadow of a statue that speaks of death
as all statues speak of death, an old man
dreams of being young again, his blood rising
easily as wind, his face unmarred by time.
On a gray day, a muted day, a man sits dreaming
in the shadow of death.
Impossible to know what he’s thinking: he’s dreaming
too fast, faster than wind, faster than blood
making its circuit, the heart beating, beating
its hundred thousand times a day.
Impossible to see time at work on him.
Or on the statue. Yet it happens, moment
by moment it happens, the wind, the air eroding
the face of the stone, the face of the man
dreaming of revolution: time yielding to time
the way life yields to life, the young man
the death of the old man, the old man
the death of time being measured in dreams
because he feels the wind’s chill now,
the damp air, minute evidence of the earth’s
revolution. Wait. Wait for the moment he rises
to go, all shadow and wind, into time.
Meantime, he would wait for the birds.
Before she left home his daughter built him a feeder. Harpooned it into the earth; dusted off her hands and appraised her work. I’m not a pet person, he protested, the weight of the bird house bowing the stake with regret. Iris’s parting gift was a preposterous luxury: laundry white, with pillars and skylights and a wraparound porch. A plantation compared to how they lived. Just fill it, she said. He did: seed, grains, bits of cereal and dried fruit. The girl was right. There always was company. Sparrows came to feed, blue jays, preening cardinals. Squirrels came too, the lazy ones, black and gray tails full as raccoons’, bullied about the birds. The shock of an albino reminded him of the skin of a woman he loved once, but perhaps that was an oversimplification. Conflating memories had become habit, misplacing details in other events. Years folded onto themselves along the same trafficked lines, squared and creased as one of those paper fortune tellers Iris used to make, her answers: yes, no, maybe. Try again.
Soldier boy/ oh, my little soldier boy/ I’ll be true to you
Iris in the front seat with her cheese puffs singing. At least he could ensure a cheerful childhood soundtrack: The Shirelles, Buddy Holly. Summers went like this: a tarp and a tent, a dozen broken eggs, endless possibility. At 9, 11, at 13 she fed him from her neon fingers; handled the wheel while he fumbled for his chew. Like a pair of fugitives, only the one drawn to flight had already gone missing. What remained felt unnatural at first – a child without a mother – until their sworn silence filled the world. No one was watching. They could hightail it to Niagara Falls, crawl inside barrels and forget all about Lake Wallenpaupack. Instead, they clung to the road, set their sights on catching the horizon, as if distances between moving points could ever be overrun.
Wind blows behind him. Leaves crunch underfoot. He’d been her sole guardian. She would come for him, in time.
Birds were once loyal as planets, provided he never let the shells outrun the seed. Then the seasons changed, bringing snow in September, hail in July, and with it, a more permanent migration. For how long, now? He’d lost track. With the birds gone his bald yard crackled in shame. Salt drops on his lip, a signal to his tongue, wagging as if in search of a lost crumb.
He could no longer trust the weather but counted every brick – diner fries, river canoes, jars of maple syrup …
To map constants and change: this was Iris’s reasoning for revisiting the same places on road trips. An Alpine slide park remained an old splinter factory; a paranormal museum now stood in the place of a former candle shop.
By this logic, it was inevitable. She would cycle back to claim him as her destination.
Their favorite was Crystal Cave. Stalagmites, stalactites, calcium deposits that resembled E.T.’s finger. Phone home, Iris would giggle, her voice echoing in the hollow where down below bats slept through the afternoon. Tour guides explained that without water to nourish these natural wonders would crumble to dust. Signs warned Do Not Touch but that didn’t stop either one of them from palming the clammy pillars. He’d found Iris’s mother here, a miner’s daughter, terrycloth jumpsuit shivering in the pits; maybe that’s why they never tired of it. Too much love, not enough, the restless business of want pumping through Iris: I ain’t afraid of no ghost. The temperature stuck to 54 degrees regardless.
He could almost feel her approach, retreat. Double-back. Felt each moment inside an hour’s swallow of last days as a man divided, body and husk. Like that famous painter capturing lovers with their heads screwed backward, unrealistic but romantic, poised for a kiss, he’d become watchdog to his own wrongdoings; still he waited, his feet melding into the earth, wetness leaking through his wheel-bound seat.
A bell rings.
At last, a female voice: “Banks, you’ll catch a chill.”
How she looked or who she’d become or whether she had children: these things he did not know. Her life was never his to shape. All that mattered now was the promise of a hundred fluttering wings. Beaks fastened to his shirtsleeves, carrying him to Iris, so that she might find it in her heart to forgive.
When I first saw Cheryl Dodd’s Silhouette in Muted Grays, I felt immediate sympathy for the old man contemplating the image of the young soldier. But I didn’t feel any deep connection to the image, and I wondered how I would ever write a poem about it when I felt so distant and detached.
The next morning, I was reading a novel by Michel Houllebecq and came to a sentence claiming that the son is the death of the father. I felt struck by this idea although I wasn’t sure why; I don’t have a son, and both my brothers were stillborn.
Half an hour later, I sat down at my desk to write, and Dodd’s Silhouette in Muted Grays drifted into view of my mind’s eye. I stared at it for a minute or so, wondering what it was doing there: I had no intention of trying to write about it that day.
Then I went into a trance, and the poem wrote itself.
I call it a trance because I don’t know what else to call it. When it happens, I don’t seem to be the agent of the words, which come from seeming nowhere. I seem more like their medium. Often I have no recollection of having written them although I can usually trace my way back to the source. With this poem, along with the image itself, it was the passage in Houllebecq. With another poem, it was an image in an Alice Munro story about people on a crowded ship crossing the Atlantic. With yet another, it was hearing the words “deep quake” on the radio the day after the 2001 Seattle earthquake; they led to a long poem, “Deep Quake,” about my mother’s dementia. There’s no telling when it will happen or what will trigger it, but I do usually feel sort of jarred at the moment, as if things have suddenly shifted deep within me. Maybe they have.
Trance poems seem like payoff for all those hours of grinding away at poems that turn out to be nothing more than exercises. Trance poems don’t happen often, but knowing one might happen is enough to keep me showing up at my desk every morning. It’s a little like knowing I might win the lottery if I keep buying tickets. I don’t buy tickets, as it happens. But I do show up at my desk. I do all my gambling with poems.
I almost never work from prompts, let alone visual ones, so while I was very much intrigued by this project I also felt somewhat intimidated. Cheryl Dodds’ artwork bowled me over. Here was this striking distillation of sadness, alienation, and heart in muted grays and whites. How could I ever attempt to do such a photograph justice, much less in any remotely organic way? I was terrified so I sat and sat with this image, and then sat some more, and sure enough, eventually, as if from relief, the character began to stir, and with it, his story.
(August 2011 / 11.14)
“Light, God’s eldest daughter.”
Unlike so many Victorian plots
her younger sisters were not fairer.
Light was the beauty, and parish ledgers
recorded her marriage (certainly arranged)
to Lord Matter’s son whose unified fields
adjoined God’s spread, their wedding a grand fête,
stuffed boars on the periodic table.
All hedgerows were left in place of course,
but the servants, now merged, cut paths
for Sunday dances, new-found romances.
Although her dowry remained unsettled
(for to accept a tithe from God felt wrong),
Light flourished on her new home manor,
sunlit hours passed in its prism’d tower
from which she daydreamed for all to behold
color, her gift – long before directors
waited to shoot scenes in her golden hour,
long before last call in worn cabarets
where she can still be found at closing time,
nursing one last drink then shifting to blue.
A Bridge Between
I set the scene in the mirror behind Patrick: me next to him on a hard made bed, a new Polo shirt folded between us like a deep blue bridge against the deeper blue spread. The Go-Go’s were singing “Our Lips are Sealed,” and Patrick’s hair was so blonde it was gray. “She’s not my mother,” he whispered. “She told me”—his lips touched my ear—“she can only buy my love.” He didn’t look down at the bridge between. He didn’t have to. The room smelled like a department store. When I didn’t respond: “Would you rather they lied to you your whole life?”
I turned away from the mirror, from the inevitabilities of discovering who I was and why I was there in this room that smelled retail fresh with this gray-haired unloved orphan. I had fifty cents in my pocket. I took the two coins out and gave them to Patrick. They disappeared behind his left ear. “Magic,” he said.
“My name’s not really Patrick.” It was later on, days later. We were sitting on a stage. Singing. The chair between us was kicked out like something hanged and swinging. We were tenors—I in the first chair, Patrick in the third. I leaned across the gallows and whispered “Then what is it?” But the words were washed out by a crescendo—by pinks, blues and baritone browns, like a 70s pantsuit, all swirls and sadness. If he had reached across that chair and put his hand on my leg, I’d have known his name without asking. But how to know without crossing the bridge between?
The middle is gone.
I’m careening home in the rain: “the flood of the century” they keep saying on the radio. Doing ninety at least. I’m 73, maybe 74. I always lose count in May. I’ve just left a restaurant where I tipped the waiter 50 dollars because I love him but am afraid to say it. An eye wanders to the rear-view mirror, stares at a shaking gray head. I wasn’t always this drunk in mirrors. Once, I was a slender faceless boy, with the voice of an angel, a fear of mirrors, full of expectation for the cruelty of others.
There’s a bridge out tonight. A flood on Murry Creek took twenty tons of cement down like a knife into layer cake, so I’m forced to take a new way. Home. I remember that angel boy. He was too porous, like a sponge never full, like all the floods in the world would never satisfy his need for . . . I forget the rest.
The car crests, descends, barrels toward the crown of the next hill. I see them standing there in the rain, on the gravel shoulder. On the edge, neither one thing nor the other, as they always are. Three silhouettes awash in indigo, ghosts on bikes. They are Patrick, a shadow who sang third-chair tenor who would never tell me his real name. “Because,” he said later, “if I tell you my real name, I have to tell you that I don’t love you.”
“I love you,” I lie to the mirror and swerve. The night swells with the perfume of everything I’ve lost as I take the trinity out. It feels honest and final, like knocking a chair out from under the damned.
It was the chairs that first intrigued me in Christopher Woods’ striking photograph –maybe there had been a play read-through that didn’t go so well. But the more I sat with the image, the more I was drawn to the light.
Thomas Fuller was a historian during Cromwell’s time, and I can’t remember where I read it, but his title quotation has been rattling around in my head for years. It’s half metaphor, half aphorism, almost a four-word story on its own needing just some verbs.
And since I was in the midst of re-reading Jane Eyre and Middlemarch (Why had I not loved these books in college? Why had I resisted their charms?), they couldn’t help but inform Light’s story that I knew had to reference Werner Herzog’s obsession with the Golden Hour. Plus Light is immortal so of course she can stay out late drinking. A blueshift means the object is coming toward us. There, now the commentary is longer than the poem itself. I love it when poets do that at readings. Many don’t, but I do.
The deep blue in this image draws a range of emotions from me. I studied it for a few minutes and then allowed my subconscious to tuck it away for a few weeks in which the feeling of the missing or the “knocked-out” middle grew and became the starting place for the story.
(Summer Quarterly 2011 / 11.15)
After Jenny Baker
I am trying to decide, here, now,
if I am as cold as in a dream
in which I am the only person
reflected in a mirror of snow
frozen in time like a photograph
and white as a ghost of a snow angel
made by a child who does not ski
but falls down instead to play dead.
What I decide is that a dream
can be as warm as I want it to be,
even when it is eight below
according to the gauge inside the box
where my heart pumps blood
until the snow angel animates
and I rise up out of bed
to shake the ice off my gown.
A dream is just like a mirror
reflecting one thing or the other:
a ground covered in ice and snow
where cold captures the imagination
or a horizon where mountains rise
and clouds too, like mountains,
give us something more to imagine
until we end up standing tiptoe
on a drift of snow to get a better look
at what we thought we could not see.
It was in the last expulsion/explosion (theories differ) that we became OneWith.
Tsunami. Seism. Zud. All matter cast out outcast came back like a gangster on crack.
What did it think it was? Who do we think we are?
It thinks we think it thinks too.
Earth. Water. Air.
In the big remix some OneWith got brain matter material/immaterial. Bacteria iron neon moss mercury skunkweed coral reef loam peak plankton.
Mutate. Sporulate. Bud. Regenerate.
Volatile—we surface UpTop—hydrogen nitrogen ammonia helium.
Some OneWith got data datum information. Thermosphere. Mesosphere. Stratosphere. Records exist. Haboob. Typhoon. Derecho.
Some OneWith got memory storage story/history. Mumble mutter hum buzz. Kebra Negast Qu’ran Torah Bhagavad Gita Phtagoras Dhammapada Bible Upanishads Tao Te Ching Thelema.
Some OneWith got appendage. Flutter slump lurch lunge. Movement surfaces UpperUnder. Plastic upwells. Cleave cap bench bomb.
At the core: heartbeats. Nickel iron nickel iron catastrophe/catalyst.
When Sam Rasnake tells me that I will be writing about a photograph entitled Eight Below, I look at the image and hope for sudden inspiration, which often comes to me via visual images. The landscape feels stark, though, and I wonder if I am too cold, if I am eight below, if I will be able to warm up and enter the landscape of the photograph and put myself there. Inspiration does not come quickly. I decide to study the photograph more carefully.
My eyes are drawn to the weather station, with legs so long that I think that sometimes the snowdrifts are taller than they appear now in Jenny Baker’s photograph. Until the cursor of my mouse drifts over the alternate text for Eight Below, and reveals “weather station 2,” I think that this weather station is a birdhouse, which makes me think of a warmer season. When I realize that it is not a birdhouse, I keep that image in my mind as I shift to understanding how a weather station in such a cold place could seem so simply constructed and yet do so much work. Instruments are concealed and protected.
Then I settle on the snow and ice. The snow is vast, both in foreground and background, and the photograph makes me think again about how cold is cold. I wonder where this is. Where I live, I can see snow and mountains and big blue skies with clouds that echo snow at times, each winter, but this place that I am experiencing via the photograph has a different terrain. It feels colder than southwest Virginia. I know that the artist lives in New Zealand, so I write to her to see if situating myself in the real landscape will help me to think about the image more.
When Baker tells me that the photo was taken in Tukino, Central North Island, New Zealand, I do what we do when we cannot visit a place easily in person. I visit this terrain via Google Earth, zooming in via a satellite image that is not as evocative as Baker’s photograph yet which helps me to feel more grounded. I am realizing that more and more, as a poet, I need to feel grounded, even when my feet find their path in a virtual world or in the mental landscape that comes to mind when I study a photograph. I wonder if the experience of Google Earth will find its way into the poem.
I write my poem. I revisit it and write it again. It t does not come quickly. Eventually, when I am satisfied, the poem is about the process that I describe here, and it is also not about that process but a way of explaining the feelings I had while studying the photograph. The poem takes me from “trying to decide,” the central emotional response, to musings that come to mind. In the end, my poem is as much about the process of coming to see something as it is Jenny Baker’s wonderful photograph. It arises in my mind, my dream world, so somebody else’s poem would be different, the snow of the imagination drifting a bit with the wind of inspiration.
My 2012 Resolution was to take a photograph a day, so when I was asked to write something in response to Jenny Baker’s Eight Below, I had taken over 300 photographs and used some of them as the basis for short pieces of writing. I’ve always had an interest in geology and geography, so I was immediately engaged by that landscape and the weather station. In periods when I’m not writing (2012 has been one of those), I often just make lists of words; I don’t keep them in a journal or try to make anything of them. I just write them down and throw them out, or let them pile up on my desk. So I began that way, afraid that I was being too literal, just describing. I had no story idea. But when the phrase “Beautiful opportunist” came to mind, I knew I had the ending, so I returned to each section and tried to aim it at those two words, hoping the whole piece would achieve some kind of coherence.
(January 2011 / 11.1)
I disdain the sound of
the shredding of wallpaper,
even if it sounds like the rustling of very fine
fabric being gauged
by a thousand pin-pierced fingers;
so what if I’m the clothes horse
of all those women sewing for centuries
in the domestic interiors of virtue? Even
the ribald song of the weft and weave
and the being penetrated in the very act
of making the finery of those who could afford
such dresses could not keep the taffeta
from feeling postmortem. The dress felt like a corpse
in my hands; it fell to the floor but was grasped
at the moment of falling; my hands
had become the most elegant hangers.
Entering a room, I whisper like a sheaf of heart
patterned paper that’s pulped with the sigh
of extinction’s forest. I’m gone up in the smoke
of the factories where a thousand and a thousand
and a thousand women were winding thread
onto spools or giving their lives to the treadle,
and all for a look of hauteur. What else can I do
but look back at the world in the remote style
of one who, being counted too dear, oh dear,
is counted as not even counting ? I myself
am the ornament of this goat head caught
in my rhetorical skin.
Sheldon Lee Compton
On the third day of his funeral, David Shannon gave his life savings to his son, Paul.
It happened just as everyone was about to leave to get rest for the burial the next morning. Paul Shannon’s father was a platoon sergeant in Vietnam and saved lives at some point forgotten in the family history. But people remembered it all now, with his soulless body silent in front of them.
The burial would be a long drawn out thing with twenty-one gun salutes and a flag folding and pressed military suits, topped off with an unknown group of veterans who had served with David Shannon. None of the family knew a single attending veteran, and few spoke to them. This was why, just as everyone was leaving on the last day of the funeral, Paul’s uncle Gerald stopped him in the sinner’s foyer.
Courtney, who wore a loud, blue dress and more jewelry than was proper for a funeral, took Paul by the elbow when she saw Gerald smile at Paul. On their wedding day four years before, she swore Gerald had propositioned her in the parking lot not ten minutes before she was to be standing at the altar.
It was a claim Paul expressed concern for at the time, new to the tactics of marriage and wanting nothing more than to avoid an argument about an accusation he could hardly believe to be true in any case. Gerald was many things, but not a man prone to doing anything behind anyone’s back. What Gerald did, he did directly in your face. Paul offered none of this to Courtney then, instead consoling his new Michigan bride while she derided everything Kentucky, beginning with Gerald and extending to nearly every aspect of the place he had grown up. Over the past two years, Paul had become so proficient at biting his tongue, the shame of doing so had slipped away into those dulled habits couples honed early and maintained as best they could for as long as they could.
In the sinner’s foyer were the restrooms and water fountain, along with a bulletin board with the phone numbers and addresses of church members who had moved away to other states or other towns. It was the place Gerald could always be found during a funeral or church service, hands in his pockets. Paul respected him for not being pretentious, so when Gerald stopped him in the foyer and held up a pint Mason jar like a prize catfish, Paul smiled and at once felt more relaxed. Others, who might have stopped to pat Paul on the back or offer a rushed hug, only glanced and nodded in Gerald’s direction then continued through the foyer to the front porch. Paul was happy to see them go. More so that Courtney joined them, turning her shoulder just enough to be noticed.
Gerald shook his head, a motion of pity for Paul at being tagged with such a upturned woman who spread tales just for the drama. But the shake of his head said it with the right balance – just pity, no judgment. And he didn’t dwell on it long, looked instead back to the Mason jar.
It was three quarters full of faded and wrinkled dollar bills, tattered green rectangles like flags left from lost battles. Near the bottom was sunken copper and silver treasure. Loose change. Gerald handed Paul the jar and didn’t say anything. He pointed out a wad of yellow paper at the top of the jar, a note or letter or possibly little more than scribbling, a grocery list, doodles. He tapped the side of it with one oil-coated fingernail and then followed the others out the door. Revealed in the two inches following the bottom of Gerald’s pant legs were white athletic socks contrasting perfectly with black, plastic rental shoes.
On the porch, Gerald wheezed out an easy laugh and hiked his pant legs even higher. He grinned and shrugged his shoulders as if to dismiss onlookers, backhand whispers. Black sheep were his kind of people. Courtney stood at the bottom of the steps, hands on her hips like an orchid dropped in the middle of a scorched hillside during fire season.
That loud, summer sky color here, at his father’s funeral, of a sudden turned Paul’s stomach, different this time than the many times before. He watched her spit gum across the parking lot and smile at one of his younger cousins as he passed by. She pushed her tiny breasts up and frowned when the cousin didn’t look her way.
Gerald patted his arm and made to leave, but Paul held to him and called for Courtney. Still adjusting those barely breasts, she eased up the steps to him and Gerald handed her the Mason jar, told her to go buy her something shitty, something you couldn’t polish to a shine, something she could match with anything about her.
He then collapsed down the front steps behind a cackling Gerald, the two of them a fluttering of stiff dry cleaning, and piled into Gerald’s pickup truck. They mufflered away and didn’t look back to see that insignificant blue dot fading out before God and the whole world.
When Sam Rasnake invited me to participate in an Ekphrasis project for Blue Fifth Review, I was given a choice of three art works published in previous issues of Blue Fifth Review. Yet, it was not so much that I chose to write in response to Topika as that the work chose me, immediately getting under my poetic skin in a sense. The work by Leslie Marcus has an ease and fluidity of technique; it’s lovely, particularly in the texture and patterning of the work, the floral pattern of the skirt taking up more than half of the work, and yet conveys a sense of the disjointed, as if ‘pieced’ together. She seems almost not to wear her skirt; it could be paper, a sheaf of folded patterns that somehow leans against her lower body. This feeling of being ‘pieced together’ made me think of fabric, the long history of women and sewing, particularly in connection to art, as my own response evoked the sense of being ‘pinned’ or ‘needled.”
I teach a number of art history courses, so it’s inevitable that I’d notice that the woman with her hand on her chin in Topika has a hint of Rodin’s The Thinker. She seems detached and evaluating a reality beyond and outside the work. Her stylized appearance, a little vintage, a touch of avant-garde, a bit of the pre-Raphaelite, her semi-African wooden bracelets, her large art deco ring, she ‘s postmodern, that movement that like a flock of ravens plucks the fruit of every age. This semester, one of the courses I’m teaching is Women, Art, and Society, a course that takes its name from textbook, Women, Art, and Society, the groundbreaking feminist look at art history by Whitney Chadwick.
So what strikes me most is the connection between women and sewing, all those young women and girls working in textile mills, but also the way in which the image of a woman sewing in a domestic interior became a common subject, painted over and over again. The woman herself treated as a symbol of purity and devotion, the calm tranquility of the home and her virtue was conveyed in the act of sewing. In Judith Leyster’s The Proposition, a young woman is trying to focus on her sewing while ignoring the man who leans toward her, propositioning her with a hand full of coins. In Judith Blunden’s The Seamstress, a young woman has turned to the window and is praying to the sky to be released from a lifetime of ‘piecework,’ like the shirt that lies before her on the table.
Sewing, fabric, fashion have culturally always been connected to the identity of ‘woman,’ from the Three Fates who spin out the thread of every life, to latter interpretations that are invariably sexual, all the ribald songs of the loom and the spindle. For instance, in the Victorian era when the treadle sewing machine was introduced, one of the concerns was that the women, operating the sewing machines, would have ‘inadvertent orgasms.’ As a result, lithium was added to the drinking water of the factories in order to induce sexual control, and not uncoincidentally the arrival of what was called “the new woman” was accompanied by new fashions that allowed women to move.
Fashion is another gaze in which women, as subject, have often been caught. Berger suggests women are not only the object of the male gaze, but incorporate that awareness into themselves, and the woman in Topika does seem to contemplate herself. Unlike Rodin’s thinker where the effort of thinking is portrayed as muscular and difficult, her thinking is aware of the impression she makes. With her low power pose, one arm resting on the other, which rests upon the edge of the floral fabric, she leans upon herself; she is in a sense ‘folded up’. There was a way for me in which the attractiveness of the image, the prettiness of it and its treatment artistically, jarred with my awareness of the pose, the echoes of other art periods, and so the appeal was troubling, a kind of goat head caught in the skin of my awareness. My poem in response is written as if the woman in the painting were speaking, and as if she too were aware, both of the impression she is making, and of the realities that have created the role that she wears, the fabric of her identity.
The visual was stunning. Color and substance and emotion. A sadness, a desperate longing and that hint of prestige that so many of us are denied. The turn of the head, away from the lesser citizen. The immaculate dress that seemed to do nothing at all to cure this knowledge. The haves and have mores. But where are the people, the souls, the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, nephews, etc. who make this possible? These are my people, and those are the people I will always write about. Not some snoot in a fancy dress who is most likely as happy as the rest of us, but unable to say so because of cowardice and false comfort – false because to sacrifice peace of mind for such a thing is no different than gashing out your tongue to speak more clearly.
Berlin past present
(Fall Quarterly 2011 / 11.22)
“I Alone Am Escaped”
we are running through the unguarded alley at midday
our pursuers in blue suits are unsuccessful suicides with knives
if I can just make it to the zocalo…
if you can just make it to the zocalo…
if we can just make it to the zocalo…
if we can just make it to the zocalo, we will be safe
the sun like a bromide beats down relentlessly
threatens to reduce us to data-like dust
all of a sudden we, all of us, are covered in grasshoppers
they hop on our hair, nest under our arms, bang on our teeth
in the confusion, I get separated from my friends
fall into an air grate, lose consciousness
when I awake, it is dark, the sky a dull cinnamon
I make it to a vacant escarpment
the distance to the zocalo is six square city blocks
B.E.B. is my sister and studied visual art at Macalester. That girl acts like a second-generation artist. She is five years younger than I am and eleven years younger than our brother, P.S.B., whose art at five was boss. Later, he had a permit to buy pot in Oakland and moved near Yosemite. His present initiative is to teach audio recording to junior high kids. His audio archive of Bay Area musicians extends along two walls, twenty-five by fifteen feet, in drawers of C.D.s hundreds deep. Where will it go, I asked, permanently. “I’m starting to think about that,” he said. I pray that my papers will go to a medical library. What a lousy prayer. I was wistful at B.E.B.’s graduation. Bagpipes played and Kofi Annan spoke. Kids without religion yet steeped in heritage circled plum trees in robes. Presbyterian paneling is there in craft.