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“Acoustic Hike” a collection of poems and shortprose

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Acoustic Hike
a collection of
poems and short prose
by
Christine Gans
A MASTER'S THESIS SUBMITTED TO THE GRADUATE FACULTY
OF LONG ISLAND UNIVERSITY, BROOKLYN CAMPUS IN
PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS IN CREATIVE WRITING
MAJOR DEPARTMENT: English
SPONSORING COMMITTEE :
LrtyAsUL
LEWIS W;
llSt*-
v^
FIRST READER
SEALY GILILES, DEPARTMENT CHAIR
STUDENT SIGNATURE
DATE
^je/io
UMI Number: 1484765
All rights reserved
INFORMATION TO ALL USERS
The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.
In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript
and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed,
a note will indicate the deletion.
UMT
Dissertation Publishing
UMI 1484765
Copyright 2010 by ProQuest LLC.
All rights reserved. This edition of the work is protected against
unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.
ProQuest LLC
789 East Eisenhower Parkway
P.O. Box 1346
Ann Arbor, Ml 48106-1346
Special Thanks to
Lewis Warsh and John High
the poetic parents who have raised me
Dedicated to
my families
in Pittsburgh, and
in Brooklyn
Abstract
This is a compilation of poems and short prose composed between the Fall of 2007 and the Spring of
2010, including short poems, long poems, serial poems and individual poems, fiction, and creative nonfiction. The work presented in this compilation all reflect the mind of MFA candidate Christine Gans,
tangled up with conversational clips, images, and other authors. This work tells of experiences, and
accentuates some favorite stylistic forms. The content reflects relationships within the author, external
interactions with family and friends, not to mention the world around her.
Table of Contents
1. W i t h / W i t h out
1
2.
Smoking Cigarettes on Spandex Highway
3
3.
Seeing Behind
5
4.
Meeting with Roberto Bolano
7
5.
William Brandon for William Burroughs
9
6.
They rend the air
10
7.
Star lite walk
11
8.
Colossal Blunders and Career Girls
16
9.
Tracing Haste
18
10. Steep Sky
29
11. My Endeavor
30
12. Writers on Writing
31
13. Kenneth Avenue
47
14. Gray-tinged beard
51
15. for Max Wylie, d. 1975
52
16. Rain bow blaze
53
17. Paint Tray
59
18. Beer Tree
60
19. Baiting
61
20. Joe Loss
62
21. Static
66
22. Creek Chant
67
23. Quilting
69
24. Corner Warp
77
25. CODA
With / Without
We are always without a lighter
without patience
without exercise, money
without loneliness
without a pen.
We are always without space,
a key
sweets
sleep
water and
concentration.
Without oxygen,
without organization
Sun Chips,
direction or windows,
or cream cheese.
We are always without sex,
without comfort
without toilet paper,
utensils,
cigarettes,
and tolerance.
We are always without a freaking remote!
without time,
without a shower or a
cell phone
without our prince/princess Charmings,
without diets, selfcontrol, motivation,
without sleep, still
and without hate, because
it wastes too much time.
We are without 40s and chicken wings,
without natural sunlight and respect
without candles and driveways.
Without ourselves when
we are without each other.
1
However,
we are with fence-infused
bonfires, with
garbage, with ashes, with stuffy
noses and hairballs,
with carbon monoxide poisoning,
and mice
with laundry detergent and
ganja, lots and lots of ganja,
with salt &. pepper secrets,
with books,
intelligence, tea and
coffee and
family dinners.
We are with IC Lights and backyard boomsnaps,
with heart and rebellion and
appetites of Hippos.
2
Smoking Cigarettes on Spandex Highway
an autobiography
they are bad boats
she was the soda we meant to tackle
I touch parts of me I can't really touch
all of the letters used to be about people in rooms
they are like American flags, now made in China
they who shineth sway, I always say
for once, they love their anchors
would you be my cemetery and hold centuries old rock hands?
take this job and shove it!
because living isn't about having a pilot
dear red hook
this window thinks I'm trashy
there is no phone
morning is the new evening
we are here on earth to fart around—don't let anyone tell you different
or be lucky enough never to believe your own story
we just get used to the dark
don't even try it with me. I don't want to see your trucker hat
if you're floating in a field on fire, etc.
I told you I was saturated in one song, my life is saturated in one song
angry trout method
she's done with her first one
afraid to go home and be the only record played in my hometown
a place where people breathe backwards
but she never looks down to see my fingers fumbling,
after bumping footnotes and
making a soggy cigarette
justice is ever facing the pretty
I lost feeling in my arms but tried to keep going
if memory serves
3
it's just our two voices, watching the rainfall
all the while I watch her lips while I roll mine and
finally smoke it, lighting it every other hit
my favorite flower is dear Michael
one foot in the scotch, my hair of him
would it not be better to look down, or not at all
I've already got the story, and I'm not holding my breath anymore
Never. Get. Caught. Reading. Yesterday's. Paper.
you never know how many pools there are until you're up in the air,
we squint, we swallow your words no matter how sour they are.
4
Seeing Behind
Wilmington vibrates
through its avenue,
front windows sit atop the
roof like pupils, watching
Bordeaux colored vanity
box and mirror of
pearls. Sheer Dresden blue
attic hats, not the right
ones for early morning
mass. The soap at
Heights Coffee smells of
New Castle. I wash off her
nut roll clip-ons and terry
dry signs that repeat so that
the city can begin to exist.
Ironed American
flags lean on
tweed and feathered
fedoras above the shelved
small selections from
polished Keats and
poetry Bicycles. Funeral
prayer cards fall from
spines. It is the hat that
matters most, he would
say, a lost grace
recognizes the traveler with
little, discovering the
much he has not had and
will never have.
Persimmon couch thinning, records next to
framed portraits, World War
medals and an honorsmelling wedding dress.
5
Cider string turns
typewriter on, ever green hat,
cat's cradle design, like the
city, does not tell its past, but
contains it like the lines of
a hand. Wearing it he
wants to remember:
names of famous men.
6
Meeting with Roberto Bolano
In 2009, after returning from Pittsburgh, I dreamt that I was being taken to Roberto Bolaho's apartment,
in a country that could well have been Chile, in a city that could well have been Santiago, bearing in
mind that Chile and Santiago once resembled Hell, a resemblance that, in some subterranean layer of
real city and the imaginary city, will forever remain. Of course I knew that Bolano was dead, but when
the people I was with offered to take me to meet him, I accepted without hesitation.
Maybe I thought they were playing a joke, or that a miracle might be possible. I have been talking about
Bolano for years, wandering in and out of his life through his stories, wanting to walk along the streets
that he did, wondering. But I just wasn't thinking soberly, or misunderstood their invitation. Were we
going to see Bolano? Were we going to an old apartment he once occupied? Were we going to a seminar
on him? Was someone reading his work? Or was it another man by the same shadowed name? It was too
late for most of that and before I talked myself out of going with them, I told myself to shut it, and
followed closer. In any case, we came to a seven-story building with ivy climbing the right side like a stray
hair left out of a ponytail. The building was a cracking maroon and there was a bar on the bottom floor.
It was perfectly square and proportionate, symmetrical when you walked in the front door. Two pool
tables, an equal number of chairs and tables on each side of the room, the only asymmetrical aspect being
the actual bar itself, mahogany long and finished with a glossy coat. My friends who brought me there
reminded me of my brothers, probably playing a joke on me and half-slamming the door in my face upon
entering, as if to say, if you can't keep up then you better turn back. I caught the door before hitting my
nose and forehead peering into the place, and tapped it open with the 8 fingertips. It must have been a
dream, because usually opening a heavy door like that would require a slight bend of the knee and
staggered stance, not to mention an added shoulder boost. My friends, (of whom I recognized no one,
except for someone who resembled Jamey Jones, but a Jamey in his mid-20s like me in the dream, not
what Jamey looks like now, in New York, in graduate school) led me to a booth toward the back with
oversized seats and a tiny table and now that I'm walking through the place, all of the seats looked like
they could have been graced with the behind of the Queen of Hearts, tall and plush and velvet, large and
grand, and I remember thinking to myself or out loud, this is not the kind of place I'd picture Bolano in.
The lighting was dim and the windows were small with a terrible view of other desolate and faded
buildings. Dark velvet shadows were cast over the pool table making it hard to play or read for that matter
and the man behind the bar had an orange tint to his skin, but his face was clean and shaven
nonetheless. All of a sudden I wanted to talk in an accent, and for some reason my accent was British
(even though it is nearly impossible for me to pull off any sort of accent in the real world, in real life,
today). When we got to the table, at first I was surprised because Bolano seemed to sink down into the
plush seats, like a shrunken or shrinking old man, but then my friends and I entered the booth and sunk
just the same, creating an instant hunchback effect. Bolano looked at me with kind eyes that were blue,
not the blue of the sea or sky, but a blue that would most resemble Dodger blue, contrasting nicely on
gray. He did not look like the book jackets that I had stared at for years or the pictures I had Googled, his
hair was thinner and his glasses had thicker rims, he reminded me of Lewis or Jaime or even John High.
He was soft-spoken which made his accent harder to decipher. We were introduced and he looked at me
like he knew me, as if I was one of his cousins he hadn't seen in about 10 years, still recognizable, but still
getting used to the new-looking me, comparing it to the old-looking me over and over behind his eyes. I
asked him about William Carlos Williams. I asked him about Carlos Wieder, about his parents, about
the Garmendia sisters, about Lupe and Lorenzo, and I asked him why he didn't look very sleuth-like,
7
Have you given up the detective life? He laughed. I remember thinking, Wow, I made Bolano chuckle,
briefly, but it was priceless. I felt my cheeks warming up and excused myself to get a beer offering to get
him anything he desired, Not even a pisco? When I got back to the table, my friends had dispersed, some
at the bar carrying on side conversations or playing pool, one went outside for a smoke break and I was
actually relieved despite my anxiety earlier. He was charming in his short sentences and in the way he
stared off sometimes, fixated on the textured ceiling and walls. When I spoke he looked me in the eye,
but instead of making me nervous it was relaxing and I noticed his jacket was missing a button. I smiled
and noticed he was wearing a watch, What's the smile for? You're wearing a watch, 1 said, Yes, I
remember having conversations with Lewis about watch wearers, we are a dying breed, I said as I rolled
up my sleeves to reveal mine. Both of us stretched out our left arms opposite each other so that our
watches were sitting next to each other, hovering above the table, both with black straps only his was
thicker and looked more worn. Some say poets are a dying breed, he said, What do you think about that?
Maybe he was looking for a one-word answer or maybe he was looking for me to answer a question with a
question, but when I began to answer the look on his face was surprising. It was not one of warmness and
comfort like I had seen before, his eyes looked like they were disagreeing, but I continued, carrying on a
simultaneous conversation in my head where I was analyzing his actions and reactions while still
answering his question aloud, folding and refolding the napkin my beer once sat on. When I finished, I
looked for approval and he told me to follow him.
I unraveled his brain like petals of a rose, peeling one after another after another, seeing more and more,
but leaving a pile of petals on the table as we walked away.
Just before we approached the door, 1 saw Danielle who had apparently been there the whole time, she
stopped me and I told her about the conversation in the booth, 1 told her about Bolano and how I asked
him so many things and I was going to try to pick his brain some more. She couldn't believe it and
helped me think of a few more things to ask, then she asked if 1 wanted to share a smoke outside, so I
agreed, knowing that Bolano was waiting on the other side, since he was no longer inside the bar with us.
The lights that hung over the pool tables lit up the street as we opened the door, where I pictured Bolano
sitting on the bench just under one of the windows, lighting up a smoke himself, fiddling with a book of
matches, even dropping it with the sudden sound of two girls gossiping, but he wasn't there. The bench
was empty and the lone streetlight flickered, no hint or indication of the direction my favorite detective
had gone.
8
William Brandon for William Burroughs
I
I
I
I
left
left
left
left
The Perks of Being a Wallflower for Last Exit to Brooklyn.
Sandi and Andy for Tracey and Amphone.
2 brothers for 22 blackbirds.
my own room and wall-length mirrors for
a triple standard on the 14
floor of Conolly Hall.
1 left my part-time job at the pool for my full-time job as
an athlete and a student, oh wait I mean as a student-athlete.
I left a Chevy Prism for a metrocard.
I left listening to Polka music on Sundays with my dad for Hot97 and Z100.
I left cookouts on decks for sidewalk and rooftop barbecues.
I left cookie cutters for assortment, left star Fridays for temper Tuesdays.
When I left Pittsburgh, I left going to church every week and on
holy days of obligation.
I left day trips to Moraine and Lake Erie and left people that hold doors.
I left the Liberty tubes for the Holland tunnel and 1-79 for the BQE.
I left no phone calls during dinner and pasta every Thursday,
left Connor Road for Flatbush, left MapQuest for HopStop.
I left trampolines for pogo sticks and the creek for the Hudson.
I left the Civic Arena for the Garden and Giant Eagle for Key Food.
I left IC Light and Penn Pilsner for whatever is cheapest.
I left drinking in basements for drinking in bars.
I left the trolley for taxis.
I left Neville Island for Ellis Island, though I visit both rarely.
I left 40 minute drives to practices in Thomas Jefferson for a field in my backyard.
I left going to Nonna's for gnocchi, left Bucco's games and the Clemente Bridge,
left Warhol's grave just blocks away.
I left The Sesame Inn for Chinatown and
I left Carbonara's at the bottom of the hill for Little Italy.
I left Mandevillas on the deck for Cherry Blossoms at the Botanical Garden.
Note: William Brandon is my grandfather, currently 93 years of age.
9
They rend the air...
cut it abruptly and unexpected like
August lightning,
vocal chords competing with
cars and cobblestone echoing
like coins dropped on
pavement, alarming at first then
fading.
They're hawking fifty cent
bundles on every corner,
their hats saturated with city air, with
soot and spit,
yelling louder, hunger reading the headlines,
a whole bunch of raggedy Andy's with
no Anne in sight.
They are yellow and breaking,
following Kid Blink across the
Bridge, dragging worn-through
shoes on cement, waving at the
trolley dodgers, listening for the chime.
It's about midnight, coming home from the
theater their footsteps are syncopated,
they stop for coffee and a biscuit at
three cents a cup.
In the summer they sleep under
trees in the park or on the courthouse steps, breathing in sync with
the pre-dawn hum of the city.
Sometimes
you will see them curled
up around the grating on
the sidewalk where the
steam comes through.
10
Star lite walk
I.
It's mid-week and I take a star lite walk. Right at Franklin, left at the Laundromat and left at Park Place,
walking head down towards Bedford, beyond Rogers, reaching Nostrand Avenue much sooner than 1
thought possible.
I must have been talking to myself. Sometimes that happens when I'm walking without a specific
purpose, not walking to get somewhere, not walking to meet someone who has been waiting on me, just
walking, wandering, skipping cracks in cement and crunching orange leaves.
Pennies—heads up and down—litter sidewalks like forgotten bottle caps after a parade, usually bringing
good omens, they are meant to be passed along, not kept to yourself. Someone once told me never to
pick up change from off the floor or the ground, It's not yours, it doesn't belong to you. He was
superstitious and Haitian.
The rhythm is off, I think, but continue walking down Nostrand, passing Prospect, St. Mark's, nail
salons, hair salons, variety stores, bodegas, Caribbean take out, Liquor stores with double-paned plastic
proofing, a block from the Anchor House, right next door to the Kenneth Johnson Funeral Home.
Just a few storefronts away from Starlite, I stop in a jewelry store with Salt-n-Pepa like selections, ears open
for gossip. I hear one woman tell another that she was acting crazy that last holiday parade, but now that
her head was back on straight it's different now, Your family, the woman said, They're really different
now that you're back, to which the other woman replied, Just checked out for a minute, but I'm right
back in here, doin' the same thing, they laughed as they nodded and bent over slightly, agreeing with
each other, or maybe they didn't, maybe my back was turned and I just pictured them reacting that way.
Can I help you with anything? No, just looking, Bless, child, she said to me, her voice calming and one
that I imagined hearing when walking into church. The smell was the same, incense mixed with candles
that could also smell like incense themselves. I find some gold bracelets and a Bob Marley patch. One of
the two women leaves with a long drawn out departure.
You'll have to forgive me, she owns a store too and we never get a chance to catch up, you know, you need
that kind of thing for your mental health, they don't teach that to kids these days. Mental health skills? I
say, treating the last word like a grease fire. Yeah, she says, self-confidence and esteem, they should be
required to teach that, because they may be book smart, but they're not all there, are you agreeing with
me? I nod, looking directly in her eyes she says, That's why all the serial killers out there are college
graduates, but they aren't okay up here, (pointing to her head which features her hair wrapped up in a
bride of Frankenstein sort of way). They say 'they'll learn it at home' but the parents are having a hard
time with living costs, they don't have the time, and we can't expect the schools to do it... she trails off
and then asks, Have you gone to the university here in New York? Oh you have, well what do you think
about this? I spit out something about LIU and diversity, Oh, bless child, she says, That's great, are you
gonna come back, or did you just stumble into us? I'll be back. My name's Tracey child, bless.
11
II.
It's midday and I decide to take a star lite walk. This time it is cooler and less crowded, the air is
thinning, I walk the same route after finding a mailbox two blocks up on St. John's, then stroll, walking
not too fast, but not too slow, down Nostrand Avenue. I picture everyone inside their shops or on 3
floors of apartment buildings typing their Lunch Poems as I try to memorize mine, repeating lines to
myself in my head rather than writing them in the small notebook in my jacket, taking mental snapshots
rather than a role of film. Fast streets and tagged corners, no one noticing my plan behind my hat and
glasses, I'll go ask Tracey what she thinks of Starlite, maybe I'll buy some incense, she'll have something to
say about it, a comment, whether positive or negative, but I crossed the street and didn't stop in to chat
this time. Incessantly cracking gum and keeping warm with storefronts doused in Al Vann signs. This
time I wanted a better view and ended up at Barbara's Flower Shop, directly across from Starlite. Huge
windows lined the front of the store that faced across the street, it looked like a jungle in there. I was still
trying to blend in.
Position yourself in the greens in the front window, hidden in velveteen purples, below and in between
the ivy, and you will see Starlite. If you wait long enough you will see someone going in or out of the door
that faces Bergen Street. In my head 1 asked the Flower shop's owner what she thought of the place across
the street and in my head she nodded, and slightly sighed, a sigh that said she'd much rather be disguised
than exposed. An employee approached and asked what I needed, Um, I'm looking for a plant that
doesn't need much sunlight to survive, do you have any of those?
From Barbara's I can see the glow coming from the windows of Starlite, harvest colored and warm.
III.
I dreamt I was going to meet Roberto Bolano at Starlite. It was a sunny, chilly day in November and my
window was open.
The dream began mid-conversation, while sitting on bar stools; only it wasn't Bolano that I was speaking
to. It was David Duchovny. He told me he used to live at 170 2 n d avenue at 1 1 t h street and he used to
play ball in the St. Mark's cemetery across the street, cement tombstones as bases. He used to bartend at
Radio City, now he plays a smooth talker on Showtime. I asked him if he hung out in Brooklyn much,
and he nodded, sipping on Jack, But I've never been introduced to Starlite.
He asked me if it was my first time here and I said no, although that was a lie. The lights inside were
standing out more with every sinking step of the sun. They were orange and haloing the bar and Albert. I
asked him if he'd ever seen a Goose gourd, to which he laughed and then broke into a cough, which
prompted a cigarette break.
There was a divide in the customers, Old-Timers and New. The Old-Timers sat closest to the door, so they
could see who was approaching or who was standing on the other side of the glass buzzing the door and
disrupting.
Albert is the bartender, he tells me as Albert spins around facing the barstools and speaks, I can
12
t
introduce myself just fine, he says averting his eyes gently. Now what is it that I can get for you, Albert
asks, my eyes scanning bottles lining the bar. He says he'll be right back, he has to go take care of Mama
Dot, who's waving her Lincoln way down at the other end like a white flag of surrender.
When Albert comes back he asks me what I'd like to drink and David Duchovny answers, A beer, Sam
Adams, please, and Albert obliges. We start talking about dreams in my dream. I tell him about a recent
nightmare concerning lung cancer, but am quickly distracted by the wrinkles on his face. I think he said
something about white lighters being cursed, agreeing, I mirrored his concerned eyes, our elbows slightly
touching through 2 layers of sweater, until the music fish-hooked us into another conversation.
The jute box has an old, scratchy sound to it and the songs playing were different than the ones playing
outside on Nostrand Avenue, the ones that go well with drum beats. When you walk on Nostrand at
night the streets are busy with people standing outside smoking or rapping or yelling to someone across
the street and up 2 floors. During the day, just after noon, you'll hear babies crying when you walk by
street side rooms without windows open. After the sun runs inside, you must search for it or something
like it.
13
IV.
A star is a natural luminous body visible in the sky especially at night.
A star is a self-luminous gaseous celestial body of great mass, which produces energy by means of nuclear
fusion reactions, whose shape is usually speroidal, and whose size may be as small as the earth or larger
than the earth's orbit.
A star is a planet or a configuration of the planets that is held in astrology to influence one's destiny or
fortune—usually used in plural.
A star is a waxing or waning fortune or fame.
A star is destiny.
A star is an often star-shaped ornament or medal worn as a badge of honor, authority, or rank or as the
insignia of an order
A star is one of a group of conventional stars used to place something in a scale of value
A star is the principal member of a theatrical or operatic company who usually plays the chief roles, a
highly publicized theatrical or motion-picture performer.
A star is a person who is preeminent in a particular field.
An asterisk is a star.
V.
What happened next is hard to say. What I do know is that Albert asked me if I'd like a glass with my
beer and I said, Yes, (now that I know what my grandparents think of a woman drinking beer out of a
bottle; it means you're easy, or a floozy, or a hussy). I would love a glass, I respond with a transition in
mind, You know what my grandfather always tells me—if he ever sees me drinking beer out of the bottle
he'll wrap it around my neckAlbert's the best in the world, one of the Old-Timers tells me, A real mixologist, in his southern draw
stupor, he shows me the braid in his hair and tells me he's a native, The REAL kind of Native American,
he mumbles and I nod and I hope he loses interest but then gets louder, Ya hear what I'm saying, ya
understand me? Cold facts ice box truth, ya understand?
The music sounded like something the Cosby family might play at a backyard cookout on a relaxed
summer day in the suburbs. This was no lazy river milieu, it was upbeat and reminded me of skating at a
roller rink when I was young.
You gotta meet Billy and Kim if you meet Starlite. There's Mama Dot, she tells everyone what to do, And
they listen to me, she says above the crowd of chatting heads. We're native native, we're AfricanAmerican, and a little wee bit Irish, Billy says, to the braided man. Part Seneca and part Mohawk, or was
it Shinnecock and Mohegan? Anyway, there were a lot of people singing out loud to songs that I did not
14
know, dancing in their seats and wandering back and forth from bathroom to barstool. I thought I could
pick out who was family and who wasn't, but it was hard because everyone was making themselves at
home. The owner's cousin was making his rounds promoting business and the petition, has everybody in
here signed the petition?
15
Colossal Blunders and Career Girls
He had a dream that day,
it did not involve career girls.
George Whitmore was no Einstein, a Wildwood
native who watched the speech from the Lincoln
Memorial on TV that day, who spent time
wandering around his father's junkyard in Jersey.
They called him a drifter,
he was short-sighted and could
not afford glasses.
He was never Mirandized,
he cashed a bad check.
He cannot walk alone,
He must march ahead
He cannot turn back.
He will not drink from the
cup of bitterness and hatred, but
will rise to majestic heights
where physical force and soul
force meet.
His destiny was tied up in an Upper
East Side apartment building shoved between
a bed and a wall, saturated in sloth and greed
His destiny tied up in secretly tape-recorded
conversations and tied up to another.
Dear Richard Robles,
They beat on me whenever I said no.
Were you in Manhattan that day?
Do you know Emily Hoffert?
Then what were you doing in her apartment on 8/28 of '63?
16
Do you know Janice Wylie?
But isn't this a picture of her found in your wallet?
Did you sneak in? Did you break in?
After conspicuous cops coerced and interrogated, a
61-page confession was published. I was
tried for Minnie Edmonds and for Elba Borrero, who
brandished my ragged raincoat with attempted
rape and assault. She only saw one suspect through
a peephole and knew it was me or knew that
Newsweek offered ten grand to point the finger.
Officer Bulgar claimed that picture was
Janice, taken from her personal space, not
Arlene Franco and not found in a junkyard in New Jersey.
May of '65 the sweating stopped, the chair no
longer an option but it wasn't until December that
year that I shed my first tear, Keenan's voice echoing
in archives from the day I was put away,
"You can always tell when a Negro is lying by watching his
stomach, because it moves in and out when he lies."
Signed,
George Whitmore Jr.
PS: Thanks for confessing, heroin withdrawal must be a truth serum.
17
Tracing Haste
and the trustful birds have built their
nests amid the
sheltering boughs, only waiting to sing.
Suwato on Saturday is full of funerals,
one after another after another. Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome and cars and Acquired
Immune Deficiency Syndrome and traffic and
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and
tears and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
and footprints and Acquired Immune Deficiency
Syndrome and dust and Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome and empty beds on
straw and cloth in shanty towns.
This is the sound that the
stars like to make and
summer's the time they
like to sound.
18
Throughout the struggle, there was music.
Have you seen Zandile? it is a
feminine word and means the
number has multiplied.
Truth is a woman who is interested in chaos on
the page who does not believe in camouflaged linear plots.
Plundering is uncreative writing.
There is a usefulness of failure. Failing to be original, failing to be pure.
Old hat should be kept in secret closet.
A liar can reproduce the feeling that a wilderness can.
He told us to "invent a form" and I've never thought so dangerously about it.
Knights of Faith live, but fear failure.
Knights of Risk live, but fear failure.
Translators are self-righteous, she told me.
his father was a healer and a
hunter, a poet and a translator.
we sleep in
language,
language does
not come to
wake us with its
strangeness.
you have no idea what trash comes from poetry.
Make haste legible. And have a song of the day.
Trace your haste.
Exile is when you are not yet dead.
Self-stimulation Thursday
19
An hour passed, I realized the girl from
Brazil that sat next to and a foot taller than me,
had a dog by her feet. A huge
black bushy dog that belonged in
Alaska and was named Lennon,
like John, not Lenin like Stalin.
Sometimes I like to be left alone with myself.
Sometimes I like to be left alone in my head.
Windsor Terrace is where they go
on September Saturdays, softball and cleats
diving for foul balls on damp grass,
cut-off shirts and short hair cuts
striped polyesters, strollers and
one too many smacks on the ass
blue moon surveying above
we talk politics under Ginger's tent
It's so annoying when people think I'm straight,
dudes thirsting for dick sucking lips and smiling.
20
Can a tree hugger love a tree cutter?
Patch on left bicep of Mister Roger's-esque sweater.
Pink fountain water at the Point in Pittsburgh.
Who moves away in the rain?
With this Wii, I thee wed.
It smells like dirty sponges
It smells like Asian attic...
or shinguards
car alarm clock : Auto Larm Uhr
apple picking teams : Apfel Wahlend Mannschaften
an empty train pulled up in
front of my ripping pumas and
I almost got on
exercising
yellows
Pouring the Paisano
Tuesdays with
bellas the
bowls and
glasses and
glossy eyes,
the quiet stitch,
tweed entangled
calendar, a gift
21
box of Vicks cough drops
one orange sharpie
champagne bottle, unopened
book of matches, creased to the left
hammer, black handle, silver head
Marlboro Lights
glass pipe, resin filled, seven inches
list of movies to watch
one quarter
one band-aid
six coasters: Longhammer 1PA
one penny
green Dentyne Ice
one ashtray four cigarette slots
wine rack holds six
Seven years later they
play the newscast from
2001 on MSNBC. At 9:56, with
one click
1 relive the Towers swallowed
by smoke,
uncertainty in
voices beginning to
crack, when the third
plane hit The Pentagon was
hit, take a sip and
steady my unstable
mug, but
leave for work before the
fourth plane hit Somerset, PA.
we almost got run over by a
beard scratching motorcycle
man when we were
crossing the
cement stairs with the
chilled silver railing.
22
Your mouth a mirror, I
find it hard to hear when I
listen and squint, interested, but
hear reflections and haunting whispers
in spite of your Clark Griswald facade.
I find it hard to gather my
thoughts when they
stare back at me in your
mirror, your mouth makes me
swallow them whole, in bigger
pieces than are swallowable, like
red meat lodged in the
tube that blocks my breath, blocks
my speech, but is not visible in
my neck as I slowly digest, like a
mouse in a snake, but this
lasts much longer.
A wrench thrown
through a window, glass
shards the size of
bicycles wheels, look back two
paces and I'm on the
roof, at
the end, where the
space between
moment and moment escorts
you into another scene.
Gripping the gutter, an arched
high bar swing, it's up to fate and the
house it's attached to, to get away, the
weight of my body horseshoes the drain pipe fingertipping its tensile strength.
23
We face it together, side by side,
one after another
more lighters than
cigarettes left in
the pack.
"Ghettooo... Nobondy smilin'...
welcome to America... land o' opportunity..."
he said to my ponytail walking
up the ramp placing my
hand on the iron painted black,
harmonica, behind me a
stocky whistle and he finished the
song standing at the end of the
platform or maybe the
train finished it for him
Girl with mahogany
curls, looks like Kim from Rocklyn Place,
someone 1 used to know—
we braved the new and
in the eleventh hour she
called to say her dad was gone,
killed with headphones on,
his lower-half dragged on the
trolley tracks. I remember his
wake detailed and well, but the
funeral like newspaper
24
clinging to the side of a
curb, soggy and static
Some say I have unlucky
eyes, but they like
to translate Spanish
signs on the subway
or try to
Having a conversation
quietly can happen
One week before:
mailed ballot
best friend moved west,
rained all day and
the night before:
identifying mug
shots on Park Place,
practicing posture
On November 4
I wore blue.
I wore brown.
1 wore white
And noticed the
subway floor
speckled red
white and blue.
:
She confessed to
Googling me when
we first started talking.
I only use the
last match in the
book if 1 know
who left the
second to last.
I'd like to write
your chalkboard
chronicles on
stationery from
Nona's house with
a stencil, or
maybe without.
1 paint
his room
because
he can
no longer
do so,
his face
a canvas
forcing a
smile.
I keep
her cookbooks
in the
kitchen
on my
goldcolored
bookshelf.
Do not lean on doors
or brothers.
Do not hold doors
or hands.
Bowling Green walls painted red.
is undetectable,
Crying in the dark
rain
are undetectable.
Tears in the dark
27
Conosce che dicono . . .
You know what they say . . .
Nessun danno fatto.
Meglio tardi che mai.
N o harm done.
11 tempo aspetta nessuno.
Better late than never.
Tutte le buone cose vengono a coloro che a\
Uanima e piu spessa dell'acqua.
lono.
Time waits for n o one.
All good things come to those who wait.
Blood is thicker than water.
28
Steep Sky
So, I looked up, and
we were in this giant
dome like a glass
snow-ball-andsocket joint, and
Mark said that the
amazing white
stirrups were really
only
holsters in the
black hodgepodge of the
domestic partner, and
when you went to haystacks, prickly
heat broke away
from the glass, and
there was a
notch, a whole
sheet of music
star white, which
is brighter than
Apache, but doesn't
hurt your eye candy.
It was vast and
open and thinly
quiet, and I felt like
an Ibizan hound.
When we hit the turkey all the
sorrow got scooped up into a
vale, and it was replaced by a
solstice on the tarantula player, a beautiful
sophistry called "Lap Dog." When we
got out of the tumult, Sam screamed this
really fun scorpion and there it was, Dragnet.
Lifeguards on
buffets and everything that makes
you wonder.
29
My Endeavor
in-toxicated
one
approaching the line of
attempt, attempting to retrieve
the irretrievable she said. They
talk in translations
as interesting as
stories of time of waste of strength of
rest.
1 conceive
a stellar comfort
my miles
I've not yet counted but
rather described in lines.
From that trip, and
twenty dreams
ago, reading a building's wall
for facts
for translation
one accounts for personal style
from time to time.
30
Writers on Writing
Brenda Coultas
9/17/07
A self-proclaimed
studier of
persons and
documenter of
trails, can the
term bornagain writer be
applied here? Or
possibly bornagain poet?
She got seduced by
poets,
wandering
around the
Bowery aimlessly, but we
never do
anything
aimlessly, she
said, her
eyes wide
and dreaming of
freedom on the
page, being
free on the
page,
making
sense is
overrated, she
said, one
must only
stroll the
31
city and
enjoy, and
remember to
tremble in
front of
the good
stuff.
Samuel "Chip" Delany
9/24/07
The music has
got to be a lot more
subtle in
poetry, he said,
like speaking numerous
complex and multi'
syllable words
consecutively, the
tongue has to
recover,
he
writes for the
intelligent twelveyear-old lurking in his
crowd of
readers, shuffling their
dark shoes along
the faulted sidewalks past St.
Mark's bookshop,
searching for short
fingernails, the shorter
the better,
pondering why it
is that everybody writes
32
poetry in high
school and very
few continue, and
why does Aunt
B think that
love is like
peach ice
cream, if you've
never had
it, you'll never
have anything
to miss. Marry a
brilliant poet, he
said, one who will
cut out all the
adjectives.
Chuck Wachtel
10/1/07
If you
have a
wobbly
table, he said,
What Happens to
Me is
good—your
coffee won't spill and I
think, he added, that
Literature
should be
useful, and the
fat one
(The Gates) is
good for kids
to sit on so
they can
reach the
table.
33
"We all have
our places where
things
happen, I like
checkout lines, he
said, I never
research until
I get
stuck, and sometimes I get too
close, I get
claustrophobic.
He admitted, it
is very
hard not to
write the same
book twice and
when he
was growing
up, Lassie was
like second-hand
smoke, you didn't
have to see it to
know about it—he
admitted that he
likes the revelatory
structure of
dreams and that 'How-To'
books are whale
shit. It was
always a
love story, he
said, they'd
go to the
beach a lot, but
writer's don't
dream of sports
cars.
34
Ugly Ducklings
10/15/07
Six by
Six
is not something that
pays our rent, she
stated. Did you participate in the "puns only"
section at the antireading, it was a
kind of carnival type
reading, typewriter produced portraits
painted in words.
It all started with Gustave
Courbet he said, and he
read from a new poem about
buttons, in a necklace of
buttons , sides do not
matter, and
Se said she likes to "know how
things are made," and she
built a sofa once, a terrible
sofa, but "I wanted to
figure it out" she said on that
Monday in October, the
lights were dim and a
breath of yellow glow
graced Matvei's glasses. He
admitted he has never
been so afraid of buttons.
Do you agree with Anna, is
naming a form of
violence? And what was it that
made her weep, made her
worry, and made her
look away, I cannot recall.
I don't know where poetry is
going, she said, the numbers are
so small, and she thinks that
maybe there are too many
35
great poets of the early 2 1 s t
century, maybe the next
great poet is a term that will
not exist because it
cannot exist.
As for advice for the
presse, the warning
was, an American poet is a
gamble, a foreign
poet is even more of a
gamble, and a dead
poet is the
biggest, that's one
person's opinion.
Wang Ping
10/22/07
In her quiet speaking
voice, which is the exact
same as her
reading voice, she described herself as still a
wild, unruly,
artist, her only
loyalties to writing, truth, and
people and she spoke about
burning bridges in order to
enter writing, risk stability at
any cost, you may not
get a job, and it's just as hard to
get a book published as it is to
enter paradise. Empathy makes a good
poem a "hit" poem and she
claims that "Of Flesh and Spirit" was
not
autobiographical, not
all of it, but Lewis disagreed.
She described him as, not
what she expected, flying
hair, two shirts both misbuttoned, she wrote her first
story about a chicken and a
duck, and she said that Lewis
introduced her to Allen Ginsberg. His
class kind of saved me she said, but
this was after she left the East China
Sea, after the twelve hour
boat ride back to mainland, after
she left the place where books were
banned or
burned and they only read Mao, the
libraries were sealed, she
said.
Anne Waldman
10/29/07
"just a couple of
punks" she said, just a
couple of hippies those
angel hair
editors. She said that
MFA's are too
competitive, too
rarified, but "you could
work in a program like
this and
infiltrate these
places"
Marriage: A Sentence. A
prison sentence? there is some
kind of connective
tissue that makes these
poems a
book. She declared, "I saw
couples in the
arrangement."
Sentence...a prison
sentence? "is
37
that what you
meant?" he asked, "It's a
double entendre."
She refers to the
Beats as a "heroic
age, the
New York School and beyond, in
times like
these... I miss Allen," she said.
"I don't like that
word," he said, heroic, " I mean—I'm
aching (while rubbing her
arm), I've been sitting at my
desk all day... trying to
carve out
time." But could you
carve two hours out of
your day to write?
On St. Marks between 2 n d and 3 avenues, people
at their apartment until
1:00 am, "then we got to
work, stay up all night and not
sleep very much...cooking
pasta late at night for
poets, or
making milkshakes for their
friends."
She thinks it's
essential,
meditation, "it's not
about being Buddhist—or
any kind of 'ist'—know your
mind. Why does it
work? how? the intensity of
how you
think, navigate the
contradictions.
She wanted the
titles to be a
38
whisper, or whispered,
later, an afterthought, shifting the
emphasis.
"You wouldn't describe a
performance piece in
literary terms," she said.
She spoke of
Bali, "in Bali," she
said, "there is not a
word for
art, it is so
incorporated into daily
life."
The Women of
the New York School were
into poesis, emphasis on the
making, delight in the
making, "I have survived and
I have lived to tell about the
seagull in the
sky and I am
important because..." She described
it as "amusement with an
attitude...make the world have
this lighter, tough...ness. The poem
chronicles it's own making."
Anne is this "old
karmic person in
my life," he said.
Writing a poem, it's
like "opening a field," she
said, "the field is the page... the
throw of the dice, indeterminacy, and
is randomness scary?" she
asked. Now it's a
tattoo parlor and body
piercing (their apartment on
St. Marks and 2 n "), the birth of
39
the New School part duex, "putting
books together, because it was
fun," they weren't concerned
with final form and
closure, a neat ending was
not needed. It is about
putting knowledge on your
sleeve, "you people are
so lucky," she said, "this is
a great time to be
a poet!" and I believed her.
"And why is Amiri Baraka the
only black at the Ed Dorn
event?" she questioned in the
final poem she performed, and
I believed her, because I was
there, at the Way More West
reading, the poems of Ed Dorn
at the Poetry Project on
April l l " 1 of last year, it was an
amazing night. Anne read, I
gasped when Amiri Baraka
walked in, and Ed Sanders kissed
his copy of Way More West when
he finished reading. Amiri
Baraka's voice broke,
"we used to
write letters to
each
other
like crazy
people."
Simon Pettet
11/12/07
"We kind of have a
running conversation," Lewis
admitted, "usually
40
me
saying, "hey Simon, write a
longer poem."
His poetry is
Short and delicate, he
practices the art of restraint, "I believe profoundly in the white
space," said Simon, "I want
it to be sitting
squatting in
that space." He
told us he does not
go for the precious, but
"the precious
jewel."
When asked about
his nationality, the Britishborn, New Yorkgrown, writer responded, "I
call myself a
citizen of the
world—and I write it
in French."
"Even now," he
said, "people come
up to me and say...
John Lennon
Johnny Rotten
Queen of England... when
people think of
England they think of
Masterpiece Theatre, don't
they?" he asked. The
trouble with pronouncing
his British patriotism
in poetry, the
weight of Blake,
Shelley, and
Keats on my
back, he said
41
Simon admires
Ezra Pound t-shirt
slogans like, poetry is
news that stays news, and I
picture him wearing a
child-size white
shirt with bright blue
print underneath it
all.
"My name is
Simon and I have a
problem with titling," we
admired his honesty and he
spoke about liking the
first line to
snake from the
title, "The Fool" begins,
on a mountain
meditating with his
dog, Spot," It is
mundane, he says, "but
Spot is a pretty
profound name."
He looks for
an "Ah-huh" moment in a
poem and when it
is finished he
said, "I always wish
the poem well in
its life...go little poem...releasing the poem, letting it
go.
"When you
permit me
to see
with lucidity
my anger" he
read and reread those
lines, slowly and wellspaced, a
breath a
line and a
lesson in
breathing
dynamics.
Bernadette Mayer
11/26/07
"If you asked me who my
favorite living poet was... I'd
say Bernadette."
She laughs at the question "what
project are you working
on now?" HA-HA, so she
always has an answer, the
noon poems, the 3:15 A.M. poems, and
Memory and Midwinter Day she has
Projects brewing on all boilers. Tell
us the truth Bernadette... and
so she answered, find your
voice,
"voice, ew, who says
that?" with a disgusted look on his
face, that's what they say—so I say
Don't find your voice! "you already
drank all that wine?" he asked and she
looked calm.
When she prepared to
read she said "So what I thought
I'd do is go through
Scarlet Tanager backwards" and she
commented on being a
Porch-school poet, "I always write
poems in the summer on the
porch"
43
"what
do you do when it's cold? What would
you be called?" A desk-school poet I
suppose? HA-HA the winterschool poets. What if you
put a comma after every
single word in a poem? then
you would be known as the poet
who put a comma after every
word, then people will say you have
found your voice. "My first
book" she said "was called Moving, it
was published by
Anne Waldman... HA-HA. "Charles
Bernstein is part of this
group who calls themselves the Language
Poets... HA-HA... some
say it was my
fault," Bernadette admitted, but what
about Found Poems, you can
also call them free poems, a letter on the
street,
She told us she read
James Joyce in high school and
got in trouble, and also got kicked out of
college because "I wore
sandals around campus and because
I read Freud." Curiosity and
Catholicism do not go
together, said Lewis.
"I had been writing this
poem in my head for a
long time... and one day I
wrote it down." Someone asked why? And she
said "I guess I was
tired of thinking about it." When
she began to read her
poem about Brooklyn, she
asked him, "can I say Fuck in your class?" she
writes down her dreams as
often as she can and
44
puts them in this folder called
dreams, we pondered the life of a fulltime poet, a nine-tofive poet, one
time Bernadette and
Anne were supposed to write an
article on basketball for
OUI, "Anne, knew nothing about
basketball... we put
both our names on it, so
now... it's a collector's item" HA-HA.
Tonya Foster
12/3/07
A born and bred New Orleans
girl, she told us a family
story connected to writing, she
said she was three, "I remember
this car—my father used to
match his shirts to the
color of the car" She told us
about growing up in the
south, her voice timid and refined,
sounding brand new to speaking
about herself, "I would write
occasional poems" she said, and she
was known as the cute
child who wrote and
spoke so articulately, "my
goal was to change my
name so I would end
up on the bookshelf next to Kafka and Nabakov." And
when first introduced to it, "I
couldn't really GET poetry" she said, but "I
wrote and wrote and dreamed about
writing." She was not motivated to
go to college in the same
town with the same
45
people, so she applied to this
school [Tulane] where
it was already too late to apply and
said "if they give me money, I'll go" and so
I got in, she said, but they said they
didn't have any money—and I said
well, neither do I!
Claiming loyalties to Jazz Poetics, she
engages multiple voices, localities, and
cultures, she enrolled in an MFA program with
Lorenzo Thomas at the University of Houston, but
was "weirded out by the MFA," she admitted, I
was surrounded by all of these trust-fundbabies... "do we know what trust-fund-babies are?" asked
Lewis, and we all nodded, she told us about visiting
various programs and how the Univ. of Michigan gave
her a "bad feeling... and if you're from
New Orleans, that's enough."
She commented on names and
faces from her past, "Ed Hirsch never
gave up on me," she read from her
college years collection and told us
about her Ph.D. program, "I love it, that's
because I'm thinking of it as an
MFA Program—time to read—time to
write—time to read
and write." There are bubbles of
thought in my writing, she
said, and this collapsed moment of
interruptions.
46
Kenneth Avenue
Without knowing it at the time, we had our last Christmas in my grandparents' house this past
December. Our last Eve in a cramped living room singing carols around a tree that gets smaller as we
grow taller. It is the most anticipated day of the year for my father's side of the family; it does not come
often enough and always passes too quickly. This most cultivated and adored family tradition has always
taken place in the house on Kenneth Avenue on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. If you go up the river on
route 28, it is off exit 13, Russelton/Creighton, I've known how to drive there since I was eleven, before I
knew the pedals or signals. Now that I am in my twenties and their combined age is 177, I am their
unofficial chauffer when I am in town. I made that drive five different times this past December, not
worrying about the cost of gas.
When you cross the New Kensington Bridge, you leave Harmarville and the neon lights of
Wendy's, Ponderosa Steakhouse, and Dairy Queen fade in your rear view mirror. "We used to go down
to that factory on the water and run through their scrap yard to collect scrap metal," my dad reminisced
as he pointed at the building right on the water with more windows broken than in tact. "Then we'd
take it down to this welder and he would pay us a few cents for each good piece," he added, "anything to
make a buck." The building's small square windows, like many of the windows in this town on buildings
and houses, tarnished, smoky, or broken. Two columns poke up above the skyline to the left, puffing
clouds of smoke every time I count to three, acting like a metronome enforcing the pace of the town.
The few street lights along 9
Street always turn red upon approaching them and there are never
more than a handful of cars parked in the lot in front of the grocery store, dollar store, and pet store. I
always pick up my feet when crossing the railroad tracks and Maziotti's bakery comes into sight. When I
was younger, Nonna's house was where my cousins, Mikala and Lynn, and I used to meet for sleepovers.
Going to Nonna's for the weekend was like going to Disneyworld. We lived in the tri-state area of
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Nonna's house was not a geographical central location, but it
was central in another sense. When we got older (I think I was around six), we were allowed to walk
down the street by ourselves and pick up fresh bread from Maziotti's. It was there that I learned what a
baker's dozen was. "Go to Maziotti's and come right back," Nonna would say, and we were not allowed
to go all the way to Roosevelt Park by ourselves or to Spazanno's to buy an ice pop. My dad and I turned
right at the corner after passing the Italian flag painted garage door and the faded Pepsi logo on the
47
building next door. The town's soundtrack is church bells on the hour accompanied by distant sirens
and the bark of neighbors' dogs.
Certain pieces are always there to build the puzzle: cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and too
many boisterous voices for one, small, three bedroom house. The tables that are set up for dinner reach
from the back window to the front with just enough room for the twenty-some chairs. The radio station
that plays only Christmas music around this time of year faintly playing, my father acknowledges the yard
where he and the Boy Scouts used to sell Christmas trees. The most popular spots in town have slowly
transformed into empty storefronts and lonely cross streets with aging traffic lights. Unlike the town, the
tree at my grandparents' house never changes. Nineteen small red stockings with each of our names,
organized on the tree in age order, my father and his row of names near the top, under the red stockings
reading Mom and Dad closest to the angel. Painted wood ornaments with cotton detail, these stockings
are the official symbol of initiation into the family. Every marriage or birth calls for a new stocking to be
made and they all hang directly under my grandparents Andrew and Angeline.
As my father and 1 walk up the porch steps, the shadow of St. Vladimir's Church covers one side
of the street and the red bow or the pine needles on the wreath are scraping the glass on the sweating
front window. I picture my dad sitting on the cold metal milk box as a kid. One time he felt too sick to
go to school, but Nonna sent him anyways. He walked out the door and just sat on the front porch right
next to the door. When Nonna came out to check the weather, or to wander over to her neighbor
Gloria's house, she saw him, "Boy, did 1 get whooped!" my dad's voice repeating in my head, I've heard
the story too many times to count. He looks at this house and misses what it used to be, the Grand
Central Station of Arnold, PA. The church-goers, the neighbors, and the endless family members that
would just drop in to say "Hi" and end up staying for dinner and dessert, and also fruit and coffee. He
hears the stories of his uncles and father working in the mines. He hears the women gossiping during
days of making pasta in the kitchen and then perogies with the ladies at church. The days so saturated in
Italian and Slovak tradition, the words, songs, food, and family. He will miss those days the most. I
think he already does.
The lights from inside are blurred but the voices are clearer as we open the screen door, then the
heavy door, and simultaneously scream "Merry Christmas, Christos Razdajetsja!" We don't take our
jackets off until we've finished giving everyone a kiss and hug. It is like walking into one of your favorite
photographs in an old album. My father walked into the home that he and his siblings grew up in, across
the street from the church where they attended grade school, where he was an altar server, and where his
48
family actively participated in the community. I, on the other hand was walking into a home that held
memories of sleepovers and holidays, Easter egg hunts, midnight snacks, and millions of unnameable
childhood games. We used to throw things down the laundry chute, like shoes, books, stuffed animals
just to see what could travel the fastest, down to the small space where clothes collected in the basement.
My brother hid there once during a game of hide-and-seek, and it will go down in history as one of the
best hiding places of all time. It took a solid hour to find him. What stands out more than any of these
memories are the unforgettable meals that I had in this house.
The house has three generations of stories to tell from age nine to ninety-one, the scent of
spaghetti cooking, calamari baking, bakalla, red sauce, white sauce, smelts that were fried earlier in the
day, and a thin layer of garlic fog coating everything. Aluminum cauldron-like pots are busy on the stove
as the women fill the kitchen with chit-chat and the men sit on the couches trying to catch a nap before
the marathon meal, being sure not to ignore the youngest cousins doing their best to entertain. The
children exude energy and I watch the youngest, Haylee, jump from one lap to the next on the couch and
then dart through the doorway when called by her sister in the dining room. Mikala, Lynn, and I used to
all have those stick horses with a stuffed head on the top, complete with a string that we could hold like
reigns, as if it were really controlling the horse, and we'd race around the first floor of Nonna's house.
We designed a mock racetrack that started in the living room, passing through the front door hallway,
around the pantry door and coffee maker in the kitchen, through the dining room and back into the
family room where we would end. The horses have since been retired, but the racetrack is still visible if
you look hard enough.
In the hallway by the door a bookshelf hides the staircase. It is in such an inconvenient place for
a young child looking to get into trouble, in direct view of the kitchen and living room where we
socialized most. The bookshelf holds hundreds of books with fading titles and famous names, some of
which have been in the same spot for so long that they're sticking together. I found this out a few
summers ago when I went to visit on a break from college. My grandpa, always eager to talk about
books, allowed me to glance through the shelves and choose something to take with me, so I did. I took
a small, blue, fabric covered book of Shakespeare's sonnets. The bookshelf ends about a foot from the
ceiling and above the books my grandfather's hats are kept, variations of fedoras mostly. He never leaves
the house without a hat on his head and he keeps them out of reach of the children.
They will move out of this house within the year and I don't know where my grandpa will keep
his hats if they move into an apartment complex. It will not have the same smell, though, I know that for
49
sure. I will miss that the most, the smell of a house that has been lived in, the smell of Nonna and
Grandpa's house. 1 wonder what they will miss most about their house. The memories, the comfort, but
the people on the block have changed and the familiar faces are fewer year to year, "but this is a great
house," my grandpa says, "who would ever want to leave it." He is right, but his children convinced him
otherwise as they watched their mother begin to tear, "I don't like to be alone there, ya know, but it's
okay." In five or ten or twenty years that block may change back to the smiling street it used to be, but
only time will tell. As we wash and dry dishes in shifts after our feast of seven fishes, I wonder where my
grandpa's books will be kept in their new place. Not to mention, where my grandmother's 1950s
aluminum pots will be stored or her 1950s refrigerator with the horizontal handle that you can only see
in old movies now. The knobs on her white stove have red lights that glow when the stove is on. I always
thought they looked like two eyes on each side, the cabinet below half-smirking, half smiling. When the
front burner was on and the back was off, the stove was winking at someone and I always assumed it was
winking in Nonna's direction.
50
Gray-tinged beard
The removal of
wisdom reveals
hundreds of cracks
while two
coke bottle blades survey
seasonal details of a back
seat birth.
Third floor
core drilling
concrete rebounds
alibis off salty
wounds and unwashed hands.
Kitchen window with
gunite facade facing
exterior sidewalk terrain,
air tight climate
and uncontrolled.
forMaxWylie, d. 1975
He had a nightmare that day
it involved career girls.
Max Wylie was no Whitman, he
was no Wilde and he listened to the
speech on the radio that day.
He wandered at lunch times from
his executive desk
pondering Yorkville badgerings
He was always walking alone
he marched with his head
down and often turned back.
Drunk from the cup of
bitterness and hatred that daughter,
wife, and daughter sipped,
his destiny anchored in one afternoon,
frozen instinct in a single shot of mercury.
52
Rain bow blaze
1.
The L Word plays every Sunday night on Showtime, but today is
Thursday, it is the twentieth of March, and the
very first post-winter-day.
Do you think it's a stereotype to think about my girlfriend while I
watch the L Word! She is sitting to the right of me, and there
are five other people in the room, only 3 Yi are gay, we think,
Which L word are you talking about? Bette and Tina are
talking on tv, in the elevator, about their
daughter, but mostly about each other, and about the
L word love, on their way to see their psychiatrist,
Are you talking about Lesbian? Is that your L word?
Bette told her it was like coming
home, "I don't think of it as an affair," she says as
they sit in the dim elevator during a sweaty blackout in
LA,
"It feels like I'm coming home," their dark
clothing casting shadows on the metallic panels in the elevator, and
something back flips, drop-kicking the back of my ulcerated
throat, I have been
screaming for her for so long, and she is
sitting next to me her glowing skin and Bermuda
blue water eyes, I see an island in one, I send her
Matisse painted blank cards,
This week when we were watching the L Word, not until Monday
night (a day late
because I was home in
Pittsburgh when it premiered),
we watch and
think, finally a slightly realistic
lesbian break-up scene, they fight, but
they talk and discuss, and
repeat, only Jodi is deaf, so
they are signing back and forth and talking at
the same time. The words are spoken quickly at
first and then they slow down as the thickness and depth of
the conversation grow. I peak into the eyes of my girlfriend, and she
sees the millions of scattered pieces of Jodi's life, Bette is
breaking Jodi's heart using signs and words, finally
Bette wrestles her hands away from Jodi who was attempting the
passionate kissing which would lead to the
"break-up" sex or the
"save the relationship" sex, whichever way you want to
53
look at it, there are many different degrees. Jodi was
guiding Bette's hand between her legs, and the spring in her head and
hands tightens, Bette snatches her hand away, refusing sex,
that is a sign, in a lesbian
relationship that things may not be saved, there are
signs and
no sex is a
sign that this too may drown in a
puddle as slowly as a letter from me to her but
quicker if a lucky penny were attached to the outside, it would
drown quicker with a
lucky penny attached. That is odd. I
look at my girlfriend who is used to being the one getting her
emotions dangled in front of her like the goats and puppets of the
Van Trapp Family puppet show. 1 see fear burning forest
fires in her eyes, reliving her past heartaches.
That's what great tv is supposed to do, right? Empathy is the
word and I wonder if she wishes for a
reunion scene in an elevator when the
electricity is cut and it is just her and her
ex and the steamy silence
between the two of them.
2.
It began at the bonfire, they camped overnight during the Subaru Pink Ride for Breast Cancer Research, plenty of
spandex and estrogen, the sexual
tension between Bette and Tina was kept in the
flames that pin-wheeled in front of them, that's when
Jodi first figured it out. It must have been a crack of the bark
sparking that startled Bette, or maybe the
campfire game of "I never" which turned into a discussion on cheating, yes maybe it was that, that made
her
reflect a jack-O-lantern glow in her half-dollar sized dark
eyes. Jodi asked her about being in love, about cheating, and she
froze. Bette, the wellspoken domineering business woman was speechless or voiceless or wordless, maybe even thoughtless. That night there was no
skin to skin; they looked to the
stars, and pondered the other
side. We decided that this
campfire was missing a
sing-a-long and we sized up her guitar that stands in the
corner of the apartment propped up on my Pumas. The guitar that
sat, un
touched in the corner since the week after her birthday in mid54
February. She had a dream, a daydream really, while riding
home on the subway listening to all acoustic
guitar featured songs. Rosette and her self, well a bunch of us, sitting around the oversized coffee table in
my apartment, two black folding chairs
opposite the long green couch, leather and soiled on the
bottom from a bad spill, we were all just
sitting around and she picked up her guitar balancing it between her
knee and armpit. She dreamt (and she hardly ever dreams) that she just
started playing and Rosie started singing, as if it was the
norm, the thing we always did when a sudden burst of
silence blessed the group of four or
five or more. There was a distinct
silence at the bonfire on The L Word too, only Bette and Tina and Jodi, the whole gang, did not burst into
an
acoustic version of "Elias" or "Perfect" or "Galileo," it was
silent and Bette was guilty.
She dreamt that she only sang when the chorus
came around again or maybe the very
first line in the song.
3.
Those shoes make life better. New
Balances and socks, thick
socks that make your feet
sweat. Watching basketball on
Monday night and symptoms and everyone is
wearing sweatpants, pajama pants, or Adidas warmup pants probably from high school in Denville or
Carson City, in Queens or
Westerly, R.I. The syndromes,
the facts, the frequently asked questions, chapter six, paranoid and
loving it.
Phantom sounds, ringing phone, doorbell, is someone calling my name? Crisp white tee, the book said
he wanted to run home to check if his iron was plugged in, but fought the urge with another drag,
returning later to
devastation, ashes.
I heard
there are 5 women to every 1 man on the Island of
Manhattan, Abby told us this in her drunken
stupor last night, midnight, one sleeping to my
right, the other
one smoking, we listened, she is amazed at how many
women date loser guys, people wonder why, look at the
ratio, the odds, there are more women, including the
gay men (or so I've heard). So, half
55
gay and half not worth your
time.
Three options: do it
yourself, date a girl, or fuck the losers. Fuck the gay
men? Option four. All of this and short-term memory
loss.
4.
Today I dream
I am imitating your handwriting, I dream of
Cadillacs, and Deadliest
Catch premieres tonight on the Discovery
Channel. So much stuff in dreams seems to come from
books, it's as if everyone is writing about you and all the
authors are my neighbors. Once life begins it has a stasis or
balance, is that radio playing raindrops? I'm anxious to be done!
She came to
me in a dream and said, keep breathing in those people who
wait in line for their chance to play their needle on your record, surround
yourself with perennials, cover as many blank things as you can
find, even if they are not yours, make
money, make a family, make
babies, she said,
where ever you go, whenever
you go, I'd fall in love with that city that
time that
beach that
house that
child who has
your eyes who speaks your
words who has the same
awkward stage.
5.
On Sunday, while shutting my eyes in the afternoon, after the night
before of too many destinations,
or drinks, or not
enough winks,
alarm rings and we
get the coffee from the man at the bodega in a cutoff red shirt. Morning minutes pass quicker than the falling
temperature of my coffee, coaching on Roosevelt
Island, the alternate twilight56
like zone in between two boroughs, back to
Brooklyn for innings of softball, it is the
twentieth of April and I am just now at
3pm lying down, I set my alarm for
4:15 and began to count
sheep, to sleep, they say it helps. 1, 2, 3, cartoon
cloud-like sheep
jumping over dirty rusting fence, wait I want the
fence to be wood, not white, but made of
wood, and cartoon-like also, 4, 5, 6, and 7, the 7th sheep hits the
ground and trampolines up toward the sky, eye follows, and 8 appears
just below the clouds, while
falling back to the earth 9 appears and trampolines
back to 10, up and down, strong man jack hammer, round bell at the top like a
star on a
tree, 11, 12, she told me she had a scary dream, this
morning, 'did we fall asleep on the basement floor?' and 13,
14, 15, but then I realize as I'm counting I'm slowly beginning to see different screens piling on top of my
jumping
sheep, sheep screen with
numbers, then carnival anvil game
screen, then tree, star, the scary dream—old Turkish
man with glasses standing by the stairs—an
image of us on the basement floor, a blanket below us the cold
tile, the pink couch and the window must be open, because I'm sleeping with my arms
crossed. I squint to see through each
layer, what number am I on? 28, 29, I didn't skip any, yet, that
is why I have had trouble sleeping this afternoon and others before
this, there are too many things going on up there, above my
eyebrows, behind my forehead, in there, my
brain, too many
millions of little men working all the gadgets and doing the song and
dance like Willy Wonka, 46, 47, did I skip 45? I have to go
back, I do not understand why this
isn't working, I won't go past 100,1 should be
asleep by the time I get to 100. Maybe I should
learn to meditate, or at least switch to decaf when I'm onto my second and third
cups.
I tried to pray, but then I stopped. The pipe did not help
either,
when he's bent with pain,
I enfold his soul and
cradle it in the blue restless web
my fiery mouth sends up,
and I curl a potent solace to
charm his heart and
heal his weary mind (Baudelaire). All I need
57
is another trip to the Continental for the redheads, or to
Rubyfruits, for champagne shot glasses, Felicia's name
was southern comfort, or cupcake, or Allejandro, no that was
Allie's, something to heal my mind, something methodic like the metronome
beat in my chest and throat and my pulse
navigating through veins and pressure points. Close eyes and
count again, 59, 60, 61, imagine 61 kites, or 61 beers, or "An orgasm shot?
she just said she ate an oreo
cookie... I'm on 70...72... 73...74, wait, I skipped 71, I'm
skipping seventy-one times in a circle the panther follows me, I
hear "Der Panther" being whispered by a low voice
Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betaubt ein grofter Wille steht (Rilke).
The soft course of lithe, strong steps, which in ever-smaller circles turn, is like a dance of power around a
center, in which, benumbed, a mighty will stands and a plane passes overhead.
58
Paint Tray
Paint Tray
Lightweight, yet strong
Sold on hardware store shelves
Fell off grocery cart coaster
Brushless.
I am
Hugo Orange
Iced tea neighbor
Dressed in shadows, dirty barcodes
Fence friend.
Clean first
Belly facing down
Pour paint slowly in gut
Place on floor or ladder and dip
Rollers.
59
Beer Tree
Red Sash
Jamaican made
Helping white people dance
Making ugly people prettyHooray!
Focused
Sitting sunbeamed
Sucking earth roots with fangs
Tree CPR or mouth to mouth
Maybe
First sip
Flick lid to ground
Cement stings metal edge
Below branches, where lost caps go
To die.
Red Stripe
Makes a lousy
Fabric softener but
If held, makes you look beautiful
Try it.
60
Baiting
On the Pennsylvania turnpike going a solid seventy-seven with Dori in red, riding me into another noon
while screaming neon yellow Kelly Clarkson out all four windows; today I feel a little bit brave talking to
myself during the slow ones...
I wouldn't choose this lifestyle if I were given the choice; choosing anxiety and worrying about what the
people I love the most would think and feel and I wouldn't choose to be discriminated against, fearing
that I won't have a baby or a wedding or a shower for either ever, or a family, or that I won't be able to
bring someone home for Christmas and graduations, that I won't be able to supply a future family with
deserved benefits and rights, or god forbid I marry an immigrant in California like Shirley Tan, a lesbian
mom from San Mateo who fled the Philippines in fear of her life after a family member attempted to
murder her and murdered other members of her family, because of a dispute over her grandfather's
estate; Shirley took the proper steps to gain political asylum when she came to this country, she built a
life for herself in this country, including a marriage and 12-year-old twin sons, but the marriage is not
recognized by the Federal government, so now their family will be split up or forced to live in fear in the
Philippines, reaffirming that no one would choose this, that I didn't choose this but that I am grateful for
being born into this world gay, declaring that it is who I am and a part of me just like my curls and strong
hatred of the color pink (only on myself, not on others), insistently telling them that I can still love with
an admirably strong heart, that I believe with great conviction you should always treat people the way you
want to be treated and also that it is easier to smile, than to be angry, in spite of the looks on their faces, I
would tell them that it's not about disliking men or any abuse that I may or may not have endured, that
to my core I am interested in and attracted to women, no matter how many times I've tried to convince
myself otherwise and despite the fact that he hates gay people because they brought AIDS to America,
even if he thinks that humanity is at risk because of this phenomenon,
I would tell them that the most important thing in my life is family, that the most amazing thing in my
life is the feeling of being loved and being in love and I would ask them for their support, because it
doesn't matter if the whole world is behind me, I love them so much that I want them behind me; and I
would tell them I haven't changed, that they just know more about me now, the me that I want to propel
our relationship, that I want them in my life, not just a portion of it, but fully involved; and I am telling
them because not telling them is breaking me, or maybe it's just how much I miss them, especially
because when they became a couple and started a family they were supported, even through times when
people could not understand them, they were loved and I would make sure they knew what I've gone
through and I would be brutally honest.
If I were telling my parents I was gay I would cry; I would look them in the eyes through tears; I would sit
up straight and take deep breaths; I would reach out to them with a hand if they did not reach out first; I
would let them feel; I would let them digest; I would give them time, patience, understanding, and love,
because I believe in treating everyone the way I want and deserve to be treated; they call while I'm driving
echoing any number of suburban myths about girls that go off to the big city, about college athletes,
about girls that want to make their parents proud in blue-ribbon school districts, but could not choke
down a blow-job if their life depended on it; while I spit out tears that slid into my mouth below the blue
glasses and tinted windows.
61
Joe Loss
I.
Let's dance at the makebelieve ballroom for
seven lonely days of the voo
doo moon, my darling Bella Bella
Marie my darling, misirlou, 1 am
in the mood for a
wedding, a melancholy
rebetiko, or belly
dancing, when it is evening
behind the lavender blue
clouds with these hands soft, tender,
sincere,
pianolo number
nineteen October twilight an
oasis for tulips and heather and
forget-me-nots.
II.
the youngest of four
children, whose
father was a
cabinet-maker, whose
mother's name
was Ada, and who
began violin
lessons at the age
of seven, wrote a
song about a
wishing ring and wrote
love letters in the
sand all over the
world, the unraveling happened in
Monterey, in Chicago, and
even the seven
hills of Rome.
III.
Southern fried beautiful
eyes, button up your
62
over
coat Annabelle before
you leave the blue
room, it is a deep
purple April
in Paris, remember the
evening a nightingale san
in Berkeley Square, we
linger awhile and
count crochets in
our sleep.
IV.
his daughter, wife of
famous British coach
builder, her
tears fell along
the boulevard in
the eleventh hour
melody along with
wheels and
percussion
from the Carolina
moon. The breeze and
the hum of
an unfinished
symphony, put them
in a box and the
curtain came
down.
V.
known as the Royal
family's band, his
orchestra played at
Buckingham Palace, and
Windsor Castle, the
princess Margaret made
them play "Satin
Doll" seven times. Some
say he has come a
long way since
the days of Spitalfield's Market and
Christ Church and
Itchy Park.
VI.
In pine tops' footsteps Joe married his
Bella Marie her name was
Mildred Blanch
Rose, she enjoyed the
average Joe Loss work
week on Basin
Street, it consisted of up to nine
BBC broadcasts, five afternoon
concerts and six evening
dances during the
height of the blitz of
World War II. She did not
protest the annual Queen
Elizabeth II cruises either.
VII.
Vera Lynn, "the
Forces' sweetheart"
hosted Sincerely Yours, her radio
show to entertain the troops
"you go to my head in a
chipped cup of tea, the angels
sing and the man with
the mandolin plays."
VIII.
When they begin the beguine
it brings back an evergreen memory
I'm with you once more under the stars
and drown by the orchestra playing by the
even the palms seem to be swaying
except when that tune clutches my
heart,
pulls it over my shoulder, and I see
two sleepy people and the reflection of
a
foggy day in your eyes.
so don't let them begin
the dance, not just
yet, let them play and
let the dance sleep like a
dead desire 1 only
remember
make them play until the
stars that were
there before remain, until you
whisper to me once more,
and we suddenly know what
heaven we're in.
65
Static
Pack wax
wash shake
carry rotate
twist roll
smoke eat chat
turn tone
nudge stuff sigh,
sound
smile, roll
laugh smoke
work high count
greet take
caramel medium double
beverage vendor banter
banding, kiting
opening closing writing
bouncing
sniffling filing
locking lurking rocking shirazing raising eight
stares satisfying
fits framing
minds.
66
Creek Chant
Crossing was easy at low tide
where Coney Island Creek met
Sheepshead Bay. Navigating
Gravesend Neck Road east,
Cowenhouven's Lane south, down swampy
narrow dirt track to Gysbert's
Island farmhouses, lonely inhabitants
and the fording place.
Wooden bridge and oyster shell paved
road over salt marsh toll house. Scented
breeze, sea-bathing, and flimsy wooden
shelters on common lands
until the Coney Island
House, now Neptune and
West Sixth
prostitution houses
sodom by the sea
night bathing
Manhattan Beach
urban divers
scow dumping
Grappa grapes in
wine-ing cellars
Frankie Yale worked at the
Harvard Inn cabaret on the
Bowery. He'd bring
liquor from Gravesend Bay,
up Coney Island Creek to
Wheeler's shipyard to unload it
near the Cropsey
Avenue Bridge.
67
Restaurants served liquor in
teacups, Gargiulo's sold wine
by the jug.
Frankie Yale had a boat on the
creek named Cigarette that
nothing else could catch.
Who was in charge of the
precinct the night that
Dreamland burned?
68
Quilting
1.
A plan to store burial urns at an
island lighthouse is stalled the
fires this time California
fires out of control as 500,000
flee, fanned by high winds, a
fear that flames may reach more
heavily populated areas, and I can
feel the
heat closing in, feel them out
there, making their moves, madness as
method and terrible Tillie, setting
up their devil doll stool pigeons, where
the departed rest and see dye in
the Trevi: some Romans see
red, but others cry
ART! black boots and redand-white stripes evoke
Nazi-allied Arrow Cross, crooning
over my spoon and dropper I
throw away, tilting the scales of
justice as Bush warns Cuba on their
plan for transition, late edition. He
knows the
ins and outs, from the
ground up. To be a
journalist in Iraq, uneasy
days, but few new overseer leaps in four years, these times demand
the times, at Washington Square
Station, vault a turnstile and two flights
down the iron stairs, catch
an A train.
2.
In Bolvia, prostitutes sew lips together in
protest, whistle-blower finds a
finger pointing
back, First of all, it was
69
October, a rare month for
boys, the rural life, two
pigs, secure price controls on
food, the state shall not
Rock 'n' Roll, time for
Bundesmacht, In China, the
point of broadcast music is to
lull the masses, not
arouse their angst, they sent their
first probe for the moon into space, Sri
Lanka admits more
damage by Rebel Raid, here they
come, a vessel is seen as a
treasure, a fire hazard or a
victim of special
interests, we'll always have
Putin, marching into
American sunlight, almost
stealing the show but
selling her husband, did the
white house edit the chessboard killer's testimony? and who
doesn't heart Huckabee?
3.
When he woke in the
woods he knew a
move west could be
risky, red socks on
their feet and their
fans letting loose, offense overload teaming up from afterthought to defending champ, the world is what it is; lions
feast on new manager, men who are
nothing, who allow themselves to
become nothing, have no
place in it. He went to
Northwestern, but he's no egghead,
thrashers edge the
70
Canadians, extra points and
a deal with the world, and is the marathon by
water? Not the best road
show, but it's like
this guy is 70 years old and
he's overthrowing us, he said, in the
dark and the cold of the night he'd
reach out to touch the
child sleeping beside him, feeling like
a fish in a fishbowl.
4.
Marathon of bands covers twentysix miles of
music while a
winning soccer coach faces a
ruthless foe, there are
fatal beatings in quiet
college towns finding tongues
tough to tame, gadget
guides, Golden Triangle drug king dies, it
was inevitable: cameras, computers,
cell phones, gadgets, gadgets, deaths,
deaths, deaths, Chef Tell concocting
without a smile now and Leon
Brand no longer an architecture
award inventor, Peter A.A. Berle had one
middle
initial for
each title: Lawmaker and Conservationist,
downloads, music, death, death, and even a
biochemist at eighty is
gone, all the news that's
fit to innovate.
The scent of bitter
almonds always reminded him of the
fate of unrequited love.
71
Whenever a new
governor is
elected, the
subway soon gets
more expensive.
5.
Toy with daterape drug recalled in a 'relief rally' the village of
Holcomb stands on the
high wheat plains of
western Kansas, subprime tangles when
trust in an expert is unwise
Yahoo criticized on
the wall street rebound and the markets and
the markets have
gauges and wall
street bonuses are expected to
shrink, I thought they were
shy of publicity but not of
money, a lonesome
area and it is only the
seventh day of November, and
shares rise on earning
reports, rewards for
extra time spent with
patients, a model that
pays for quality
focus and Fiji water, that
other Kansans call
"out there."
72
6.
Granted: I am an
inmate of a
mental hospital; my
keeper is watchng me, he
never lets me out of his
sight; except arts, briefly, Japanese
tonal colors for
tales dressed in
Kimonos, not from
here: an opera for
Houston immigrants—play that
funky spinning bike wheel, Berlin boy, or
do the outrage, bile, hardcore
punk...and a
sensible lost-and-found frighten you? there's
a peephole in the
door, Or could it
be Prievat-Livemont's poster
advertising absinthe that has
Irish sheep hoof-totoe-ing with hip-hop? Imagine there's
no heaven, just
Flamenco and
absinthe returns in a
glass half full of
mystique and misery.
A ferocious band makes no
apologies, well, maybe
a few, and
my keeper's eye is the
shade of brown that
can never see through a
blue-eyed type like me.
7.
Nobody was really
surprised when it
happened, not really, not at
the subconscious
level where savage
things grow. The latte
war around the
corner where the
road begins and urban tactics warn
us about the wizard of
whimsy
amid the
willows and chickadees, bird'
watchers spot a red
flag, and are accused of
catching a case of pigeon
paranoia, sanctuaries from
trouble, but no one is
there except the chicken and
rice man, his sister said it
best,
"he has no life, but a big heart"
Don't ban feeding the
litterbugs go after the
pigeons, and check out this
story about the best parking
spot, "why he moved
into my car, and why 1
let him" on an
unloved lot, a new source of
friction arises
they say in this city
deal if by air
steal if by sea
74
8.
The plight of the parttime page
turner, all this
happened, more or less
laugh lines, a good mystery
not concerned with the
economic game: trying to
guess what happens next or reconsidering the possibility of
human hibernation,
why we read, a good mystery,
the big sleep and if
Blair becomes
Catholic, the British
will
yawn.
the geography of hate, a good mystery
Japan hunts the humpback, a good mystery
illegal mingling, a good mystery?
except for her sunglasses, Berry is
naked, a good mystery...
Other voices shouting
most experience or
enough experience and the
love of the horse
race is often ignited in
the imagination, how
"what it takes" took me
off course, a good
Freud is widely taught
at
universities except
in
the
psychology department.
References
The bold print in each poem has come from the following sources according to order of appearance.
Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs, 1959
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, 1962
Mao 11 by Don DeLillo, 1991
The Road by Cormac McCarthy, 2006
A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul, 1979
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1985
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, 1965
The Tin Drum by Giinter Grass, 1959
Carrie by Stephen King, 1974
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, 1968
The House of God by Samuel Shen, 1978
All other words were generated from my own mind and from headlines and clippings from various New York Times issues, see
attached work.
76
Corner Warp
1.
Faint breeze from
Franklin Avenue pushes
velvet plush
Peruvian curtains,
two pass in velour jumpsuits that match the
color of their
hair, but only the
tips, about two
inches
Art work selling on
walls, a slender
mirror guarded by
faceless guards, unlike their
neighbor in all her
female daintyness, afro and all between her oversized hoop
earrings
Follow the arrow on Park
Place and you will
not end up in the
park but
a place where car
mufflers and
sirens are permanently part of
the soundtrack harmonized by
hollering and catcalling outside the
store on the corner.
Kids scooting up and down
curbs men wearing high
socks and sandals the
smell of garbage and
laundry and Franklin
Avenue and the
77
shuttle shaking the
earth under my
sneakers.
2.
Rumble of an
engine in the distance, left
side, sounds like a
dirt bike, but
not quite the
camry or corolla, waxed
and polished, no
not a dirt
bike and certainly not
rubber-necking material.
Slow walking man saunters at a
snail's pace clutching a black
plastic bag, no
bottle and the trees wave at the man
doing laundry across
the street, close my
eyes, and inhale
sheets, but I cannot smell the clouds he seems to be squeezing
wind creeping up catlike on the block. A
lonely red cup half
tired of waiting for the
spare tire.
3.
Thinning black Converse
canvas covering nestled
bones, paling skin and
pavement, amble to the
memorable beat of Mister
Softie's song. Staring at
nothing except a crack in
the ground and not
wondering when it
first appeared or
anything about it
at all, a
man drags the
end of a hammer along the
black iron fence, he is
wearing an MTA
vest, the one's that
can be seen in dark
tunnels when they are
working, but sometimes they don't
work like light bulbs and I
know this because two
subway workers were killed at
HoytSchermerhorn stop
right by
our old
place, and I
didn't believe
him, him with
the hammer, they
were fixing the
fluorescent lights that
hang above the
platform and
it was obvious they
only finished the
local side and
called it a day. He
packed up his
thermos and went
home.
4.
The thermos and old fashioned lunch pail look, remind me of my ex and her ever-evolving wardrobe of
aging garments: the sweater vests, fedoras, the plaid pants, plaid collared, buttoning shirts, and short ties,
and short hair, always on the verge of getting shorter. She owns the title; she was the first.
We were lying in her bed. Both of us, lying in her single bed in her parents' house, in her room with walls
covered in pictures ripped out from Four Four Two Magazine that were familiar to me. Michael Owen in
his red, Liverpool jersey, next to pictures of the new Adidas Predators, she loved the Predators, the blue
and red, the white and red, the silver and red, because Beckham wore them. Now she wears a mixture of
old rat pack Brooklyn, with trendy West Hollywood chic. In high school, she wore flaring jeans, her hair
was to her shoulders and straighter and darker, and she even wore eyeshadow.
By December our friendship progressed to the every day level. Writing notes, talking on the phone at
night, sharing a locker, and spending whole days together was not unusual. We were best friends.
Sleepovers occurred only when I wanted to escape, which ended up being consistently once a week. We
watched music videos on MTV or European soccer games until 5 a.m., and talked until our eyes dropped
heavily. One particular frosty night, following a basketball game at our high school, we slept in her bed.
This night, the occasional brush against the hand, or hip, or thigh, became more. Our accidental
moments of touching became a few seconds longer each time, until our faces met in the dark and we
kissed for the first time; my heart beating loudly in between my ears, beating outside of my chest, pulsing
in toes and fingertips.
It was not a drunken, high school, truth or dare kind of kiss, not a spin the bottle, or awkward first date
kind of kiss, but a short and delicate kiss. It was repeated, but it was all kind of fragile. I didn't know if it
was real, or a joke, wondering if she was only trying to get me to kiss her so that she could tell everyone at
school what a huge lesbian I was. My face was hot and turning red just thinking of the embarrassment.
The next day her first words to me were, "I didn't know you liked to bite so much."
5.
Where have you
been my blueeyed son shine darting
across the narrow road,
and through warped
windowsills saturated with
September suns, something
looming above it
all and I realize that I have been writing
with a red
pen all week, writing
"changing the
subject with an urban
80
distaste for concrete.
I wrote your
name on the page with me
Papermate red
pen.
6.
Newspaper on the
block curb hugged by a
brief World Briefing, Mexico
floods Tabasco
state, four days steady
rain the Coast state of
Tobasco rivers over-there
banks, leaving vast
capital under
water. Photos showed
parts turned—a lake—and Gov. Andres to the city's
central, leaving their homes,
people
around affected by
river levels
continuing to
rise.
7.
Green and yellow not
quite
touching on the
leaves above the
keyed altima by
a ConEd
car missing one hubcap, it is October and I
stand two feet from
two pumpkins and an
oversized gourd. Colors
81
crack the rear view
mirror shows a
sign on the other
side of the
street, black bold
print and a neon
backdrop matching the
shoe string hanging
from my
neck, the
neon sign
posted across the
street
shouts STOP THE WAR NOW! And the
pigeons on the sidewalk have feet that look like pink-newborn
skin, trying to figure
out what color to
become, butterfly chairs
and mosaic tiles. The
green towne car
waits on the
corner and it's body rusts and deteriorates—royal
blue and black plaid
vest, a purse passing a
model-height man. 1
wonder if he knows
his stature is lean and
lanky with his long beard and
wirey hair falling backwards
and forwards in the faint
mid-day exhale. A cowboy with a pipe and a
cane meanders down to
Demerara Cuisine and
a cactus blocks my view of...
82
8.
the air hiding between the
buildings is hazy, not
quite
thick
enough to be
called fog, but the kind of early
morning mist, the
kind of air you
imagine lingering while
walking through a
Frank O'Hara poem. It
canopies the
pavement, walking I
ponder threes... of
feminine marvelous and tough, and
then of erudite, dazzling-slim, and
badly loved, and then of a rosary, the
catechism, and amber barrette. Red
from the Pharmacy sign
across the street and the
streetlight at a stop the
brake lights
blur, and I
walk to the
train with a
song in my head, but I
cannot recall the
words. Lyrics weaving
through my
thoughts and I
felt like 1 was in a
scene from an old
movie, with a woman singing
deeply to someone. If I
knew the words, I could be
there in that room while
she is singing, maybe I
would lean against the
door, in the
spot, and I caught myself,
I stopped
breathing... on my way to the
83
store, not noticing the
building with the
toothpaste blue
railings behind me in
the rear
view mirror.
9.
Saje and iced
coffee, but not before six o'clock, picked
up the times and
thought about all
the news that has
already happened and
we
did not even witness
daylight today, this
December Sunday with
minimal
hours of day
light. The night
crept as close as
a flat-face
bus
to a
car at a
stoplight and
snow and
rain that
froze to the
streets on St.
Mark's Place.
10.
Week in review-the
glow of lamp
posts, steam and
84
heat linger on the
window—streaking then
dripping and deeper and
deeper the tree on
the counter is
wire and sparkles a
star dangling red, a
star, wire—rimmed
edges, wire mesh screen
star, his jacket red and
sheer the red
shine of the
leering man
steering conversation at
the counter by
the window. His
shoes black and
polished, the
string from his
pocket almost
reaching his knees unzipping his jacket the
man whose skin was
a deep brown a
robust, full of
flavor looking
brown. Ghirardelli dark
brown and the light
above the CCM building at
705 Franklin is
bright and
blinding the
windshields on the
cars that pass by, burning
holes in the cars at the
point where my
eyes meet the
white
paint and the
85
fluorescent
white
light, blurring
vision the small circle of
light grows two
times and lengthens. Look who
talks to the enemy
while the couple of journalwriting, coffee drinkers
doodle about wool
hats and Ball glass jars that
look vintage, or something like it, and
remind me
of my
grandparents'
basement and
homemade apple
sauce with a
pinch of
cinnamon.
11.
Our family used to go pick apples at the orchard by my grandparents' house. At least once a summer we
picked, peeled, and smashed, just add some sugar and any hand that's able. We made them by the quart,
in Ball brand glass jars. The smell of apples, soft, rotten ones and crisp red delicious in large quantities,
can sometimes be nauseating to me. One time, after coming back from an apple-saucing experience, I can
remember the half-buttoned shirt 1 wore, bright blue with white seams and white ridged buttons, sewn
with white thread. 1 smelled as if I'd been rolling in the orchards for weeks, stems and green leaves falling
our of my hair as 1 laughed and fell to the ground with the dog that guarded the one level home and
loosely, fenced in orchard. He was a small, black puppy, his name was Dash and his summer coat was
long enough to reach the grass.
The smell remained on my clothes hours later, back at home and mom and dad rushed out to dinner,
repeating listen to whoever it was that was watching me that night. And I know that I was taught to trust
those older than me, to believe them and aunts and uncles and grandparents and babysitters, to trust that
they would take care of me. I had no reason to think otherwise; the scent of cinnamon still imbedded
under fingernails. I remember that night was one of the nights we played a game, the game that my
insides blush, and made my stomach ache.
I do not remember the first time, or the last, but it was a game that I did not like to play, and it was a
game I could not tell anyone about and as a child I found it hard to assume anything horrible, or terrible
86
about a secret game. A child rarely protests a game. I tried to think about it less and less, the more and
more it happened, and when I knew they were going out for the evening, my stomach knotted itself
all the way to my throat, a lump of anxiety lingering, unable to swallow. Please. Don't. Leave. Me. Alone.
Again.
On my parents' bed, he made me lie down, boy-cut shorts stained with grass, pushed down around my
ankles, he examined me and he made me touch him and I remember hating that the most. Feeling his
blood rushing, and I remember it burned where he touched me. It burned when he touched me, and
after he touched me. The thick gold posts that lined the bed were dulling by the minute; the frames on
the walls went faceless. Faces, the pieces to the puzzle, but I had not practiced figuring things out, yet.
The why's and how's, the cream and rose flowered quilt, stitched with fishing-line seams itched my back,
scratched and scarred, but shirt-less. He touched me and I held my breath, so not to scream, clenching
my jaw for hours, so tight that it ached for days at a time. It was worse when I could see his eyes or when
he spoke to me and softly whispered the step-by-step instructions. I ground my teeth back and forth;
clutching faceless photos. 1 thought about doing cartwheels in the front yard, and recited poems from A
Light in the Attic, in my head.
12.
Ball glass jars for
water, a candle
light breathing, heart
beating against the
wall, it casts a
shadow under the
Barcelona nou-aire
coffee sac art
project, stenciled numbers and
the shadow beneath it
looks like a
web for connecting the
streets from her to
me, or a web for a
spider named
Charlotte. I come to
the garden
alone to observe and I am
not the one who
put the
edges in my eye.
87
13.
A wreath hangs on
the mirror that
remains between the
coffee machines and
cash register, this
mirroredwall in front of
us when we
wait
I
look at the wreath of
various red and
violets, three rib'
bons and three
dangling drops of
plastic, resemling
icicles, tap the
mirror and each
other, and my
reflection speaks to
hers, she
stands only a few
inches from my
north face
fleece exterior oversized to keep
warm and her
reflection's face is
five times the
distance of her
forearm. Her
reflection's face looked
straight into my
eyes, her
reflection's head about the
same height as the
black plastic tops of the
coffee pots keeping
warm atop their
machines, she
spoke and steam rose from
88
her reflection's ponytail as her
hands smiled, her eyes
spoke, and her lips
shaped around my
reflection's zipper, just
below the wreath
14.
reef? the coral wreath, or
Christmas reef, Great Barrier
wreath, pine-cone... red
bow-wearing reef, or
whatever sounds write
to you. The
man on the
stool in front of the
counter whose
silhouette is
framed by the
floor to
ceiling windows, with
the frontpinched hat, has
bleach spots on his
jeans that are entirely too snug for
him-his drink is
tall, slender, and slightly
curved and orange in
color, with a
strawberry in it white
straw, yes... Crocodile
Dundee belt and
beige shirt, pale
skin and puffy
jacket placed on
the stool to his
right.
89
15.
Coffee bag sac
art
cover the
walls in the reflection of the
mirror only four and a
half bags fit
on
one
four
faceless images
wearing scarves on
their heads and
wrapped around
their necks, green and
blue checkered backgrounds on yellow,
blue, brown, and
white scarved
women faint
black stenciled
numbers brand their
faces and shoulders in
the place where
their eyes should
be. Made in
Puerto Rico on
coffee bean
bags
two
a mother holding a
baby, an orange background on the mother's
dress her pursing red
lips while cradling her
brown baby, defined
eyes and nose, she
tries to hush the
child dressed in a
white gown with not
face, a number below
three
green patches in
opposite corners of El
Salvador traveled
sac reading
Spanish words in the
reflection is impossible because of the un
translation, reading
words and letters in a
foreign language in a
reflection is a
difficult task
four
the plaid wall of
yellows, blues, greens, and
reds, threading and
treading, only gets
bolder and more
pronounced screaming
tired and patient
tradition inside theatrical
lines and
creases of her headwrap, a mustard dark
yellow, a blend of her
stringed... ribbon-ed necklace and her skin
tone, she has no
lips or
eyes or
nose, only a
head swaying to
reggae tones, tilted
slightly to one side,
91
sitting in the plaid
field, the plaid of
and old man's
Sunday's best and she
had pants that
resembled that
plaid coffee bag
sac, the front
side folded
over dropping and
I think it is
the strap of the
woman's dress, and I
wish to tie
it in a
stone
secure
knot.
16.
Wind chilling and all
day last
night has
been
melting to the
ground while "The
Sunny Side of
the Street" plays, the
ice and snow are
running away covering their
ears or playing
dead in puddles on
the streets and sidewalks, destroyed by
cars or
sneakers or
skateboards and wheels of
all shapes and sizes. The
92
decoration strung from
corner to corner above
the front window
looks like a pearl
necklace, but I do not
know anyone big
enough to wear it, the
term larger than
life comes to
mind.
93
CODA
My relationship with writing runs parallel to no other relationship I am a part of. Writing has not been
constant in my life, but it has been consistent. I have turned to writing at some of the highest and lowest
points in my life. Writing began like a small seed in the tip of my toe and has sprouted a little more with
each year; it has blossomed into limbs and extremities and occupies a good portion of my brain.
Occupies may be the wrong word; writing does not replace other thoughts entirely, but rather, writing
infiltrates them. Writing, words, language, lines and spaces, they have become so much a part of every
other aspect of my life. They are one of the many tinted glasses that 1 wear from time to time.
I never liked reading. I always liked to write things down and communicate, but I hated sitting still and
reading. In middle school, 1 would skim through books we read for English class. I remember Flowers for
Algernon and Johnny Tremain, but nothing that drew me in. I do remember my English teacher was one of
the most amazing teachers; like Ms. Honey from Matilda. It was for Ms. Ciliberti that I did a book report
on The Outsiders. 1 wrote poems in middle school that were rhyming poems about following dreams.
When I entered high school, I endured semester after semester of mandatory English classes. We read
plenty of Shakespeare and other classic canonical books: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, Of
Mice and Men, and more. These books were some of my favorite to discuss and write about. At that
point, the only full-length poem I was familiar with was "The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost.
My interaction with more contemporary fiction, poetry, and creative writing, was minimal, until my
junior year when I took a Fiction course. Fiction was a course that mostly seniors took, so I was
uncomfortable even before walking into class. It was taught by Mrs. Schomer, a woman who spent a
good portion of her life in the Peace Corps. She was short with gray, mushroom cap hair, and embarking
on retirement. She loved Fiction like no one I had ever met. We read Snow Falling on Cedars (Guterson),
A Lesson Before Dying (Ernest J. Gaines), Tta Bean Trees (Barbara Kingsolver), A Day No Pigs Would Die
(Robert Newton Peck). In her class, I began to realize why people read. She broke down intimidating
words like "imagery" and "symbolism" and "metaphor". She made Fiction something that I could wrap
my brain around.
It was during this same semester of high school that one of my friends suggested I read the book The Perks
of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. It is set in the suburbs of Pittsburgh in 1991, and tells the
story of Charlie, the wallflower, who most likely attended the same high school I did, or the high school
in the next town over. His high school experiences took me to another world.
I was always drawn to certain lines in books or movies; the ones that struck me, I remembered,
memorized, and underlined. But the first time I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I felt like
underlining the entire book. When I was finished reading it, I took all of my favorite lines/quotes and
typed them up. I took my favorite ones and posted them around my room at home, in my locker at
school. It's safe to say I had a small obsession with the book. Not to mention the fact that as soon as I
finished it the first time, I started reading it a second time. It was Chbosky's style of writing, and also the
way I identified with the content, that lured me in.
94
Charlie's life was full of attending football games, random parties, experimenting with drugs and sexuality
and friendships; he read, he wrote, he was sensitive and lonely, ambitious and kind, but odd. He and I
thought the same things when we walked down the same hallways. What I loved about Charlie's story
was that I knew it was based on real events that the author experienced. I recognized the places he and
his friends hung out. 1 drove through the same tunnels and held my breath until I saw that insane view
of the city, just like Charlie and his friends.
My strategy has always been to absorb, like a sponge, the words that fill the air around me. I remember in
high school, writing down quotes from books and songs, or things that my friends said that were funny; 1
typed up a list of quotes from a history teacher that I had who quoted Cool Hand Luke every chance he
got. This habit continued to progress through college where I found myself having journals full of quotes
from books, poems, people, anything really, newspaper articles, e-mails, journals and journals and
journals. Finally, in my creative writing classes in college, I realized that all of this was material. That I
could reproduce and edit and revise all of these words that 1 had accumulated. Once I was immersed in
the college classroom, my fascination with language and words became more defined. I began to admire
how people constructed their thoughts with words, their process, and their strategy.
My relationship with writing has flourished in New York and at Long Island University in particular.
When I came to LIU, I knew I was interested in writing. I signed up for a journalism class and assumed
that my writing career would begin there, progress gradually to press releases, and continue in whichever
field I favored. That soon changed after my first journalism course. News writing was boring to me. It
was sort of like an equation, a prescription, and I needed freedom. But I still did not know how to weave
together my interest in reading with my interest in writing. They were still separate to me.
Poetry developed from an interest into a passion when I came to college and participated in my first
Creative Writing class. It was in this first class that I met Lewis Warsh. After the very first class, I knew I
loved workshops. I loved reading creative works and then writing our own versions of them. When
Lewis spoke I was engaged, and when we read I was fascinated. It was in these initial classes that I was
introduced to Robert Creeley, John Ashbery, William Carlos Williams, Eileen Myles, Ted Berrigan,
Frank O'Hara, and Lydia Davis. These writers have become top on my list of favorites along with
Jeanette Winterson, Bernadette Mayer, Anna Moschovakis, and many more. It is their writing that
inspired me to keep writing in my undergraduate years. I became more and more enthralled in poetry
and the poets that we read in class.
My relationship with writing has grown and evolved unlike any other passion. As a child and throughout
my life, I have been an athlete. As an undergraduate at LIU, I played on the Women's Soccer team;
soccer was always an unquestionable passion of mine. I felt it in my bones when I woke up for practice in
the mornings and stepped onto the field before games. My passion for writing, however, did not make
my heart race. It was a very different feeling, and the two passions never intersected. Still to this day, it is
hard for me to creatively write about playing soccer. It is one of those subjects like "love" that I feel I
would describe in a cliche or stereotypical manner. It has been hard for me to locate the vocabulary
needed to honestly speak and write about my experiences as an athlete. For me, the two passions were
very much separate.
I had a few teammates and friends that shared in my excitement of creative writing and poetry: Meghann
and Jackie McCormick. We often shared poems, stories, ideas, and played word games with language.
When we had a new assignment in a writing class, it was the only thing we thought about all week. I
95
finally found school work that 1 genuinely enjoyed doing. And I found friends that enjoyed it just as
much as I did. We loved reading new authors each week. We loved trying new styles and forms each
week. Writing bonded us, and still does to this day.
One aspect of both my athletic and my poetic passion that overlaps is my desire to learn and improve. I
was always drawn to reading poetry, but I had little confidence when creating it. Once I learned some of
the rules, it became a different adventure. Every week I wanted to get better. I liked revising poems many
times based on comments. I entered into dialogues about my poems discussing why I made certain
choices in punctuation, spacing, and line breaking. The consciousness and the awareness are what
transformed my interest into a passion. In writing, just like in soccer, the desire to improve my
technique, along with welcoming criticism are things that have helped me become the person (and writer)
I am today.
For my twenty-first birthday, Lewis gave me a copy of his book, The Origin of the World. 1 loved its delicate
lines and the threads that ran through it. It was a book that made me want to underline and highlight
and write and re-write, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In my last two years as an undergraduate, it
became clear to me that poetry was going to be part of my life forever. That it was a part of me. That it
could not be a separate piece. It was at this time that Lewis suggested I start to volunteer at the Poetry
Project in the East Village.
At the Poetry Project I was introduced to a community of writers. I got to hear legendary poets and
writers, while other favorites that I admired sat in the audience. Every Wednesday I would go with a
journal or notebook, and just listen. I'd write my favorite lines, or the side commentary that sometimes
erupted. I wrote about the crowd and the atmosphere. It was my weekly creative vacation. Attending
poetry readings added a new dimension to writing poetry, a new layer.
Another huge influence in my undergraduate career was John High. After participating in Lewis's
workshops, I had a Poetry workshop with John High. Rather than reading a poem and then writing our
own imitation of it, John's assignments were more open-ended: write about fear, write about perfection.
This stifled me. I was not used to these assignments, and I had a hard time with them originally. As the
semester went on, it was through these assignments that I began to explore some suppressed feelings and
thoughts. Through the workshops with John and Lewis, I began to seriously contemplate my future
relationship with writing.
It is hard to calculate the lifespan of a passion. Some stick with us forever, some exist for years, or for a
summer. For me, the spring of 2006 was a wake-up call; my collegiate soccer career had ended, and a
little piece of me ended with it. In the fall of 2007, I enrolled in the MFA program and began to
consciously pursue my second passion. It was like deciding to move in with someone, even though we'd
only been dating for a few years. I was scared to death.
One aspect of poetry that intrigues me is the shape of a poem, how the poem is constructed, including
where the words are placed on the page. I have experimented with right-sided poems, long poems,
experimental futurist and surrealist type poems, and the "shape" I have begun to favor is that of a skinny
poem: a poem that travels down the page quickly, and does not have particularly long lines. This is
directly related to my adoration for Eileen Myles and once again I hear Lewis in the back of my head, "a
line is like breath," he says. A short line takes only a short breath to say, and a longer line requires a
longer breath, sometimes two. My head thinks in short breaths, so the lines I write are not very long.
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On top of that, I love the idea of shifting from line to line, making your eyes snake through the poem, so
my short lines end up being cut to even shorter lines, making my poems very slender. Breaking lines is
one of my favorite things to do. After I write a line, or four, or twelve, I'll stop and break lines. I'll think
to myself, "break up the thought".
One of the most influential tools that I've used in my writing is imitation. Upon being introduced to all
of these poets that I now idolize, I was taught to write like them. Not exactly like them, but I remember
reading, William Carlos Willams's poem, "This is Just to Say," and then we wrote an apology poem of
our own. This process of reading a poem and then emulating it, or taking a line from it and starting a
new poem with it, is a resource that I acknowledge and benefit from. Other poets, our professors, the
writers sitting next to us in class, or the ones that we see at readings, they are resources and they provide
me with the tools I need to construct my own poetry.
During my first semester in the program, I took a course called Writer's on Writing, in which we got the
chance to hear authors read and talk about their writing. It was here that I gained so much valuable
insight into the mind of a poet. Once a week it was like I was back at the Poetry Project, writing
feverishly as poets read and spoke. We got to ask them questions and hear them talk about how they
have continued to write, despite the poor reputation that writer's often have. It made writing real for me.
These authors didn't come in and tell us to write a Lord of the Rings, and then retire. They told us how
they write alongside of teaching, how they make ends meet, how they pursue their passion alongside of
other careers. They expressed to us that writing is not a luxurious career, but a fulfilling one.
Another characteristic that I love about poetry is the specificity that is possible. It is easy to say something
made you happy, or sad, or angry, but it is pinning down the particular degree of that emotion that
excites me about poetry. It is getting so specific, that someone can literally know exactly what you are
describing. I don't want to write "happy" on the page, I want to tell you exactly which kind of happy I
mean: getting an A on a paper happy, ice water after exercising happy, or running in the warm rain
happy; which kind of happy? Wang Ping described it well when she spoke in Writer's on Writing about
the word sorrow. She said that if you have really experienced sorrow, you don't have to write about it.
You won't have to write words like sorrow on the page, you will write "what a cool autumn day," and that
will say sorrow for you. It is about empathy, one's ability to put oneself into another's shoes. It is about
the writer making it possible for the reader to experience what they are writing, the writer's ability to
"take you there," or "let you get close," or "allow you to connect," all of these commonly used phrases.
This is one of the most difficult things to do, and to do it in a way that no one has done it before is the
challenge. To me, that is one of the most alluring aspects of poetry.
Another course that changed the way I think about my writing was Creative Non-fiction workshop that I
took with Deborah Mutnick. After reading James Baldwin and Jamaica Kincaid, we wrote an essay
centered on "place". She stressed telling stories that have not yet been told; giving a voice to someone
who has not had a chance to tell their story. We read about The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, in Argentina,
who search for their disappeared children, and in response, wrote a Testimonio essay. It was one of the
few times I'd been introduced to this genre, and it was the very first time I wrote a Creative Non-fiction
piece that addressed my sexuality. It was the beginning of my testimony. I remember speaking with
Deborah and her encouraging me that my story needed to be told, but I just could not find the words to
articulate.
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Throughout my time in the MFA program I was introduced to many different styles and lineages in
writing. In workshop with Akilah Oliver, we read Roland Barthes alongside Alice Notley, Eleni
Sikelianos, and Kristin Prevallet; the title of the course was "Eros and Loss". My chapbook for the class
included the serial poems, "Joe Loss" and "Rain bow blaze". Another class that stands out when
reflecting on my time here was a course that I took with Patricia Stevens that focused on South African
Literature. We read novels, poetry and non-fiction, and also watched South African films, discussing in
depth the atrocities of apartheid and the continued suffering through the literature of South Africans.
In the summer of 2008, I attended the Summer Writing Program at Naropa University in Boulder,
Colorado. I took a course with Anna Moschovakis that focused on Translation. We read Ivan Blatny
and Wittgenstein, along with pieces like "Fidget" and Barbara Henning's M} Autobiography. It was during
this week that I wrote, "Smoking Cigarettes on Spandex Highway" and "My Endeavor". I stayed with
Meghann McCormick for the week and completely immersed myself in the Naropa community. We
attended events, went to coffee shop readings, heard guest speakers, and most of all wrote. It was a
powerful week of indulging in my passion, and after it, I was exhausted.
It was in a Theories of Writing Class in the Fall of 2008, with John High, that I continued to submerse
myself in non-American poetry. It was John who introduced me to Ezra Pound and to Paul Celan. John
suggested I do a presentation on Nina Iskrenko and polystylistics, and he gave me a copy of The Right to
Err. I read it twice through, focusing on both languages and comparing them. It was as if I'd met a
kindred spirit. I wasn't used to her style of writing, but it awakened something in me. It showed me that
all aspects of life are interwoven: nature, self, others, passions, pains. The world of writing is a place
where all of those overlapping and generative characteristics can shine in confluence. We focused on
other foreign writers such as: Jacobson, Stein; we discussed "duende" and the intricate perspectives of
Lorca.
Alongside of Theories of Writing, I was also taking the Long Poem class with Lewis, reading Patterson by
William Carlos Williams. It was during this class that I wrote "Tracing Haste". It was during this year
that the stress of living one life in New York, and another in Pittsburgh, began to weigh heavy on my
mind and heart. I became slightly closed off and anxious about my double-life, that everything became a
struggle. Even moments with my pen and paper became stressful. And as soon as this semester ended, I
made a major change in my life. I came out to my parents.
I returned after a long weekend in Pittsburgh to begin a summer class with Barbara Henning called
Traditions &. Lineages. She began the very first class by saying, "you can't learn anything about traditions
and lineages in writing, unless you know about this," and so we read "Song of Myself aloud. That
course was my first introduction to writers such as Roberto Bolano, Aime Cesaire, and Italo Calvino. It
was after we read Bolano's Ety NigHt in Chile, that I wrote "Baiting". It was also only a short month after
coming out to my parents, and as I mentioned earlier, I had never dared to write about my sexuality in a
non-fiction manner. This time it was different. When I finally allowed myself to think, speak, and write
down the secret thoughts I had floating around in my head, I could not stop. It was truly liberating. It
was the first time I wrote about the frustration that I felt and the long sentences mirrored my thoughts;
they were running into each other, bumping into each other, clashing, crashing, but more and more, the
angry chaos in my head became decipherable.
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In my last fall semester in the program, I took two challenging courses: the Roberto Bolano Seminar and
also a poetry workshop with Brenda Coultas. They were both challenging for different reasons. The
Bolano course required a lot of reading centered on very serious subject matter, but Bolano is one of
those writers that makes you want to write. We traced Bolano's lineage, both in writing and in real life. I
was addicted to his images: hard and soft coinciding. I found myself writing in longer sentences, more
compound thoughts, and trying to do the things that he does in his writing. For one of our weekly
responses I wrote, "Meeting with Roberto Bolano".
The Brenda Coultas workshop was a different kind of workshop for me. We focused our poetry on
investigation, on uncovering, on revealing, or re-telling. I struggled with our weekly assignments, never
quite sure what approach to take, and never quite satisfied with what I produced. And then we began
our final projects. "Star lite walk" was my five week project, and what a world to immerse myself in.
When I leave the MFA Program with the experiences and knowledge that I have acquired over the past
three years, I will not stop. 1 will continue to read and write and share those things with others. I will
always be working on a new "project", probably multiple projects at the same time. I will leave Long
Island University, but I will look back often: "Sometimes
you will see them curled
up around the grating on
the sidewalk where the
steam comes through."
Christine Gans
April 2010
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