Poetry Special – (December 2015 / 15.25)
Artist, Richard Kostelanetz has individual entries on work appearing in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, and Postmodern Fiction, among other distinguished directories.
Erin Elizabeth Smith
After you left, I swept the house
of fingernails and hair. Vacuumed twice,
dusted the table, Windexed mirrors
with cool precision.
They say you can never remove someone
completely from a house—dried skin coughed up
through vents, fingerprints on the baseboards,
hair in greening drains.
So why should I bother
to detect this sediment of you?
Are these the threads from your white tee
or from the artist who owned the house before
with her pencil etchings, eraser ash?
Or from the man, prior even, who kicked
in the front door, splintering
the delicate innards of knob and screw?
Sometimes I wonder if you still wax
my prints from your linoleum, sweep
the sand I traipsed in after our Delaware disaster?
If when you dust your lamps, your living
room drapes, do you wonder
if that is my lash stuck to the shade—
if it is, maybe this time, the last
of my remains meant for removal?
Erin Elizabeth Smith is the Creative Director at the Sundress Academy for the Arts and the author of two full-length poetry collections, The Naming of Strays (Gold Wake 2011) and The Fear of Being Found, which is being re-released through Zoetic Press. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals, including Mid-American, Florida Review, 32 Poems, Zone 3, Gargoyle, Tusculum Review, and Crab Orchard Review. She also teaches in the English Department at the University of Tennessee and serves as the managing editor of Sundress Publications. Find out more about her here.
A Man Walks Into A Bar
Wearing a wetsuit, stinking of the sea
He reaches for the nuts and orders
Scotch on the rocks, metaphorically
Drinking in the pockmarked driftwood
Of a woman fishing inside her martini
For one of her testicle shaped olives
At the bottom of her bottomless glass
She sucks the brine and says, You like snorkeling?
Deep sea diving, he explains, splashing booze
Overboard like a one-armed captain at the wheel
Of an overturned ruling that sparks riots in his blood
I’m Roulette, she purrs. What’s yours?
Jack Pot, he says. Her smile begs to be bought
Scotch and gin collide into the high high tide
What are you searching for during your dives?
A pearl, he says, of truth. I’m always on the lookout
Wanna see mine, she says, scratching the surface
Of her shell. He lifts her hand to his ear and hears
The night in her voice walk the plank of possibilities
I live just around the corner, she says with a stare
To her surprise the man unzips his suit to prepare
Garth Pavell writes stories, poems, and songs. He was a finalist for Bellingham Review’s 2013 49th Parallel Award for Poetry and Mudfish Magazine’s 2014 11th Annual Poetry Prize. Pavell’s writing most recently appeared in Avatar Review, Main Street Rag, and Mudfish. He works for an international animal welfare nonprofit in New York City.
I Am the Finger Dreaming
I bend like the backyard’s dying poplar,
cry out when touched,
want to be held, fearing it.
I swell as if pregnant,
try to straighten
so I can button satin blouses,
shake hands without pain.
I want to be agile,
to be bowed to and kissed
in the old European manner.
I need courtliness
to counter this monster.
Carole Stone’s latest collections of poems are American Rhapsody (CavanKerry Press, 2012) and Hurt, The Shadow (Dos Madres Press, 2013). Professor of English Emerita, Montclair State University, she received fellowships from Rothermere Instititute, Oxford University, England, Hawthornden Castle, Scotland and the Chateau de Lavigny, Switzerland. Her poems have appeared in Cavewall, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Southern Poetry Review, and Nimrod among others. She divides her time between Springs, NY and Verona, NJ.
At every step we took inland
the conviction forced itself upon us
that we were in a country
differing essentially from any
hitherto visited by civilized men.
We saw nothing
with which we had been
The trees resembled no growth of either the torrid
the temperate or the northern frigid zones
and were altogether unlike those of the lower southern latitudes
we had already traversed.
The very rocks were novel in their mass
their color and their stratification
and the streams themselves
utterly incredible as it may appear
had so little in common
with those of other climates
that we were scrupulous of tasting them
had difficulty in bringing ourselves to believe
that their qualities were purely those of nature.
At a small brook which crossed our path
(the first we had reached)
Too-wit and his attendants halted to drink.
On account of the singular character of the water
we refused to taste it
supposing it to be polluted
and it was not until some time afterward
we came to understand
that such was the appearance of the streams
throughout the whole group.
I am at a loss to give a distinct idea
of the nature of this liquid
and cannot do so
without many words.
Although it flowed with rapidity in all declivities
where common water would do so
yet never except when falling in a cascade
had it the customary appearance of limpidity.
It was nevertheless in point of fact
as perfectly limpid as any limestone water in existence
the difference being only in appearance.
At first sight
and especially in cases where little declivity was found
it bore resemblance as regards consistency
to a thick infusion of gum arabic in common water.
But this was only the least remarkable
of its extraordinary qualities.
It was not colorless
nor was it of any one uniform color—
presenting to the eye as it flowed
every possible shade of purple
like the hues of a changeable silk.
This variation in shade
was produced in a manner
which excited as profound astonishment
in the minds of our party
as the mirror had done in the case of Too-wit.
Upon collecting a basinful
and allowing it to settle thoroughly
we perceived that:
• the whole mass of liquid
was made up of a number of distinct veins
each of a distinct hue
• that these veins did not commingle
• and that their cohesion was perfect
in regard to their own particles among themselves
and imperfect in regard to neighboring veins
Upon passing the blade of a knife
athwart the veins
the water closed over it immediately
as with us
and also in withdrawing it
all traces of the passage of the knife
were instantly obliterated.
If however the blade
was passed down accurately
between the two veins
a perfect separation was effected
which the power of cohesion
did not immediately rectify.
The phenomena of this water
formed the first definite link
in that vast chain of apparent miracles
with which I was destined
to be at length encircled.
Author’s note: Found poem. From The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe. Chapter 18.
Editor’s note: Since this poem was submitted and accepted, Bill has become an editor at BFR.
Bill Yarrow is the author of Blasphemer (Lit Fest Press 2015), Pointed Sentences (BlazeVOX 2012), and four chapbooks. His poems have appeared in many print and online magazines including Poetry International, RHINO, Contrary, DIAGRAM, FRiGG, THRUSH, Gargoyle, and PANK. He is a Professor of English at Joliet Junior College where he teaches creative writing, Shakespeare, and film.
Old Time Drought Solutions
bathe a cat in sulfur water
to make it rain
O sisters, O daughters
& gift him flea-less mane.
cross two matches, sprinkle salt
light a fiery chain
under smoky assault
above dry cistern vaults.
O conjuring rants,
make rain in dance—
in burning yarrow
to free our farm
from a dry tomorrow.
there’s time to atone
a pagan borrow:
boiled hog bone
& fennel soup
sieved onto stone,
circle the coop
with a hen’s wet feather,
an hour’s whistle loop.
if nothing is better
then there is eve, O
eve to mourn the weather.
Catherine Moore’s work has appeared in Grey Sparrow, Provo Canyon Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and in anthologies most recently by Pankhearst Press. She’s the winner of the Southeast Review’s 2014 Gearhart Poetry Prize and is the author of Story, a chapbook published by Finishing Line Press. Moore has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Tampa.
Jennifer Finstrom on Joani Reese’s Night Chorus
Night Chorus by Joanie Reese
Lit Fest Press, 2015
Reading Joani Reese’s Night Chorus, I wrote down a list of words inside the back cover, much like an informal index of ideas. Even before I began making entries in the back of the book, I was already being led into the text by what was happening in the very first poem. The first poem provides a foundation for what the reader can ultimately expect. It is simply called “The Poem,” and since I love poems that are self-referential and about writing, I was engaged immediately. “The Poem” gives us a world where the text is “not about death” and “certainly not about love” and instead “offer[s] the seduction of apocalypse.” I’ll say more about this idea of apocalypse later and how I see its implications elsewhere in the text.
In the first section, Reese gives the reader a multitude of places and characters. In addition to seeing Anne Boleyn in “A Thousand Days,” a lovely villanelle where “drown” is one of the repeating rhymes, in an eponymous poem we also see Ophelia, who of course drowns quite literally. Reese’s Ophelia “considers company” for an abortion “but decides to go it alone.” At the poems end, she “dives, secret gripped / in a palm.” And no matter Ophelia’s fate, her secret survives, “swims and flickers / in the dusky wash of half-light, then is gone.”
The idea of drowning is present in many other poems as well, sometimes clearly in words and sometimes in implications. In “Playa Encanto,” there is a dead baby dolphin, and though the baby didn’t drown, it is buried “beneath Encanto’s waves” by a couple who are vacationing. The idea of vacation and travel appears elsewhere in the book as well, providing a juxtaposition with thoughts of home. In travel, there can’t help but be a sense of where we began, and the place we live is often not so clear as when we are elsewhere.
“To a Husband, Once Removed,” another poem that we’re given early, is one of my very favorites in this collection and one that I read out loud almost immediately. In this poem, we are also on the move but not on vacation. The poem’s focus is on finding a new place to live, and after discovering this sanctuary in “a cabin on a back road,” the speaker says, “I follow uncertain directions without dread. I’ve walked / down such dubious paths before.” This poem returns at the end to the implied idea of apocalypse. And while apocalypse might not seem a very “homey” idea, in the context of this book, it appears more intimate than I’ve thought it before, maybe because there can be apocalypses that happen on smaller levels than what we often picture. This poem ends with “Sometimes, when it looks as though something will die, / it surprises and offers a flower or two”—an image that was, for me, one of the book’s biggest revelations regarding beauty.
The third section, “Motif,” begins with the previously mentioned poem called “Now,” which is where Night Chorus enters a new dimension and where I began to create my idea index. “Now” is the first poem that puts us specifically in a home, in what should be a safe place. This is a short poem, only seventeen lines with the longest no more than five words, but it unsettles me more than any of the earlier poems with their themes of drowning and fire and storm. This poem begins with “the past / being dragged across the heart / pine floor” and the speaker “afraid to move / into the next room.” While the past is its own sort of (often private) apocalypse, the poem’s ending is even more chilling: “Stay with me tonight and dance” the speaker says, “safe from the ruin / beyond these bolted doors.” (I think that this may have been the point that I added “door” to my word index.) I want to spend a little time on that last line. It’s the choice of preposition that interests me. Since the menacing past is inside the house, I would expect that the ruin mentioned at the end to be inside the house as well. However, “beyond” situates it (at least to me) as something that is outside of the house. If this is the case, there is nowhere safe to be.
Home ended up dominating my index and even having subcategories.
Home (the idea of)
• wasp home
• the home of our bodies
• the homes of others homes as unsafe places
What I will carry with me out of the text is a sense that even if we are not necessarily safe even in our homes (because that is where memory can so very easily find us), the peril that we are in won’t necessarily kill us.
Apocalypse doesn’t necessarily end with death, and there is a tension between what is gone and what is left. I could point this out in “The Cost” or “Almonds,” two of the prose poems in the fifth section, “Intermezzo.” This idea, however, is nowhere more evident than the last line in “Sand Dollar,” the final poem in the book. Much of what flows through the collection is in this poem as well: the idea of travel, the sea, memory, and an object that is more than it seems. The sand dollar itself is the speaker of the poem, “the coin / of mermaids in your palm.” The poem—and the collection—ends with “I am the arid bone of flowered stars,” and in that line is contained my final insight: sometimes the “flower or two” (or any unexpected beauty that we are given) come only after upheaval, come only when “endings clarify, chasten.”