David Mondedeu
Variation 9 (from the series Variations on a Song)

David Mondedeu
Variation 9 (from the series Variations on a Song)

Editor’s Note



September: summer’s end, of course, and with it again, suddenly: school: and memories of that early morning in this benighted month, 1960, when I first found myself in its rough embrace. For some unfortunates, then, a welcome exchange of one prison for a slightly less menacing one: teachers who couldn’t hit or humiliate them instead of parents and siblings who could, and did. For most, though, had we the words to name it, a kind of – pardon the cliché – Kafka-esque sentencing: punishment for a crime we could not have identified, subject to no appeal, of indeterminate length. An experience many greeted with an admirable equanimity, to be sure; others with standard-issue tears, a face buried in a mother’s coat, resolved soon enough with the soft blandishments of teachers long practiced in such arts. Alas, I was not to be counted among either party. I ran away. Serially. In first grade, perhaps twice a week for the first several months, I would loose myself from the grip of my sister’s hand as we walked – she who had been installed as my guard – and sprint thoughtlessly across neighbors’ lawns and busy highways to what I instinctively took to be freedom, to huddle in the shadowy confines of drainage ditches and open garages, or even circling back to secrete myself in our own basement laundry room, trembling as I ate my lunchbag’s peanut butter sandwiches, awaiting with a sob or two my inevitable discovery and its attendant deprivations, which nevertheless failed for several months – and for reasons I in the end  cannot recall, perhaps merely boredom – to extinguish my desire for flight.

Readers, I know: this was not your experience. And I relate this little anecdote not to shock or amuse—oh, amuse, yes (if you could see my father scouring the neighborhood in his flapping  business suit and hear the piping taunts of his co-workers who with nothing better to do had, cigarettes dangling from their lips, joined him in my pursuit) a little, but hardly shocking given its era, right? – much less to paint myself in some way an apres le lettre Antoine Doinel (if anything my home life was what I longed to return to), or even simply to point you, now, to the memories of those first days of your education. But more important and interesting, to summon to you those recollections of your own exile – for that is its true name and nature — wherever and whenever it transpired, from the vast joys of the pre-adult world, into the inchoate terrors of the adult– and they are terrors — for which this back-to-school time stands as a potent if not universal exemplar. As does – far better — this poem from Philip Levine (suggested by Dore Kiesselbach) :



You’ve gotten in through the transom
and you can’t get out
till Monday morning or, worse,
till the cops come.

That six-year-old red face
calling for momma
is yours; it won’t help you
because your case

is closed forever, hopeless.
So don’t drink
the Lucky Tiger, don’t
fill up on grease

because that makes it a lot worse,
that makes it a crime
against property and the state
and that costs time.

We’ve all been here before,
we took our turn
under the electric storm
of the vibrator

and stiffened our wills to meet
the close clippers
and heard the true blade mowing
back and forth

on a strip of dead skin,
and we stopped crying.
You think your life is over?
It’s just begun.

from, Not This Pig, Wesleyan, 1963


And so to business.

The fall reading in Los Angeles is now, in fact, firmed up: Mark Irwin, Arthur Vogelsang, Mark Svenvold, Ralph Angel, and Marci Vogel at Beyond Baroque, LA, 19 September, 8:00 p.m., kindly emceed by Marie Lecrivan.  Copies of the Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013 will be available for purchase.

And Paris, too:  Marilyn Hacker, Molly Lou Freeman, Emmanuel  Moses, Jeffrey Greene  and perhaps Claire Malroux. The American University of Paris.  Grand Salon, Oct 30 at 6:30 p.m. I will be speaking with university students at AUP on the 29th, and reading with the group on the 30th.  Again, copies of the Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013 will be available for purchase.

Many thanks to all of these PLUME contributors!

Look for a review of the anthology from Tomi  L. Wiley forthcoming in New Letters, with others to follow.

If you’re in the vicinity, consider stopping by the Brooklyn Book Festival –Brooklyn Borough Hall and Plaza  209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn NY 11201 Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 10.a.m.—    6  p.m. Plume will be represented at the MadHat Press booth, with – once more,  copies of the Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013 available for purchase. From the festival’s website:

The Brooklyn Book Festival is the largest free literary event in New York City, presenting an array of national and international literary stars and emerging authors. One of America’s premier book festivals, this hip, smart diverse gathering attracts thousands of book lovers of all ages to enjoy authors and the festival’s lively literary marketplace.

(Again: on the off chance that you, poets, are interested in reading for PLUME or might want to organize a reading in your own neighborhood, please, again, email me at plumepoetry@gmail.com – we’ll make every effort to accommodate you, I promise.)

Our cover art this month marks the return of work from David Mondedeu, a Spanish-American photographer born in Houston, Texas, who now lives in Madrid.  He has published three books of photography: Sonnets of 40 Winters and 40 Springs, From the East, Light and Further South than Planned. He is currently printing Variations on a Song.  All of his photographs are printed as photogravures in limited editions and are sold at Ivorypress in Madrid.

Next up, after this issue’s Featured Selection, a collaboration  from James Daniels, with photographer Charlee Brodsky and an introductory interview conducted by our Associate Editor Nancy Mitchell, look for extended work from Glenn Mott; Daniel Bourne and Tadeusz Dziewanowski in collaboration; Gennady Aygi and the great Russian Tatar painter Igor Vulokh, also in collaboration; Linda Pastan; Chris Kennedy; Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda; and Nin Andrews, with others just appearing on the horizon. (Here, too, again, let me add as always: those with projects that might be suitable for the Featured Selection please do contact us with your proposal at plumepoetry@gmail.com ).

Finally, New Work Received this month includes pieces from Chard de Niord, Mark Doty, Carol Moldaw, Emmanuel Moses (trans. by Marilyn Hacker), Pierre Joris, Deboraah Landau, Marilyn Hacker, Luljeta Lleshanaku , translated by Ani Gjinka; Keith Althaus; Kate Falvey; Rainer Marie Rilka, translated by Owen Lucas; Leslie Ullman; Annette Haggemann, translated by Anatoly Kudryavitsky and Yulia Kudryavitskaya; and a group of marvelous South African poets who will be represented in a Featured Selection (thanks to Marc Vincenz), including Mishka Hoosen, Sonwabo Meyo, Gail Dendy, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, and Harry Owen.

As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!


Daniel Lawless

Editor, PLUME

Uncle Yehuda Sharvit Between Marrakesh and Draa

Ezra Bitton trans. by Tsipi Keller

When my uncle Yehuda got drunk

he would dangle from the doors and walls of the hut

loosening his legs

warbling all the laughter and tears inside him.

I knew he pretended to be a dimwit, hiding in his drunkenness

to deliver a wisdom of wisdoms

a truth of truths

in the guise of a different I.

Today my uncle is a name on a scroll

in a corked bottle

between beams in an attic

there in the village of Mhamid

between Marrakesh and Draa.


My aunt Sarah, Sarah daughter of Dodo,

was, it can be said, a top-notch tam-tam drummer.

When she drummed she stirred a joyous apprehension

fused with the setting sun.

People would stop in the field:

“Sarah daughter of Dodo is celebrating,

Sarah daughter of Dodo is celebrating.”

Today my aunt is a name on a scroll

in a corked bottle

between beams in an attic

there in the village of Mhamid

between Marrakesh and Draa.

I who stand here and now

forge their names in silver and gold.




Erez Bitton was born in Oran, Algeria, in 1942, and emigrated to Israel in 1948. At the age of ten, he was blinded by a stray bomb he found near his home in Lod, and spent the rest of his childhood in Jerusalem’s School for the Blind. He received a B.A. in Social Work from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and an M.A. in Psychology from Bar Ilan University. He wrote a weekly column for the Israeli daily Ma’ariv and worked as a social worker and as a psychologist. His first two books, A Moroccan Gift (1976) and The Book of Na’na(1979), established him as the founding father of Sephardic poetry in Israel—the first poet to take on the conflict between North African immigrants and the Ashkenazi society, and the first to use Judeo-Arabic dialect in his poetry. He has served as chairman of the Hebrew Writers Association, and is the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Apyrion, which he founded in 1982. He is the recipient of several literary awards, including the Miriam Talpir Prize (1982), the Prime Minister’s Prize (1988) and the 2014 Yehuda Amichai Poetry Prize. His two subsequent collections, published by Hakibbutz Hamehuchad, are: Timbisert, a Moroccan Bird (2009) and Blindfolded Landscapes (2013). Bitton lives in Tel Aviv with his wife Rachel Calahorra, and is father to a son and a daughter.

Tsipi Keller was born in Prague, raised in Israel, and has been living in the U.S. since 1974. The author of nine books, she is the recipient of several literary awards, including National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowships, New York Foundation for the Arts fiction grants, and an Armand G. Erpf award from Columbia University. Her most recent translation collections are: Poets on the Edge: An Anthology of Contemporary Hebrew Poetry (SUNY Press); and The Hymns of Job & Other Poems, a Lannan Translation Selection (BOA Editions). Her selected volume of Raquel Chalfi’s poems, Reality Crumbs, will be published in 2015 (SUNY Press).





[1] Morocco’s largest river. The region of the Draa River—the Draa Valley— in southern Morocco was home to some of the oldest Jewish communities in Morocco. The author’s mother was born in the village Mhamid El Ghozlan. (Author’s note).

Two Poems

Michael Burkard

Back to Brooklyn Bridge

after Glenn Gould


tears are intuition

unless war is ravaging your




Second Skin

Who is this poet

who bought John Hawkes’

SECOND SKIN for a course

in graduate school (years before

he had bought LIME

TWIG b/c of its title but

never got to first base:

not Hawkes’ fault, not

Howard Hawkes’ either)

- but only to give

away – to sell -

like is this poet

calling himself a fraud

among the stacks of one

of the few smokey -still-

smokey cafe bookstores in

the sleepy state of Amerika

with a k, pronounced

as fraud, freud,

quiet associative steps

on the merciful stair-­

well to conclusion.



Michael Burkard is the author of more than ten collections of poetry, most recently Envelope of Night (Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1966-1990), published by Nightboat Books in 2008.  In addition, hundreds of his poems have been published in such prominent little magazines as the American Poetry Review, which gave him the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Award in 1984, 1985, and 1999, and Ploughshares, which honored him with its Denise and Mel Cohen Award in 1986.  He received the Whiting Writers’ Award from the Whiting Foundation in 1988, and his poems have been included in four of the Best American Poetry anthologies (2000, 2001, 2004, and 2005) and he won a Pushcart Prize, in 1988.

Two Poems

Cynthia Cruz


In my brown leather bag:

some underwear and a white feather

I found along the pavement

on Sunset in Silverlake

when I was eleven. Sweet

Marianne playing

on the black plastic radio

in the tremendous muck and doom.

On the train to Versailles:

three girls from Basque

and the one

painting her short boy-like nails black.



Medicine and Magazines

Glitter of leaves near the gutter

at the Museum of Natural Tragedy.


Succulents, bougainvillea, the toilet

of our history.


California salve: the plum

like hum of death’s white music.



Cynthia Cruz’s poems have been published in The New YorkerParis ReviewBoston ReviewAmerican Poetry ReviewKenyon Review and others. Her first collection of poems, RUIN, was published by Alice James Books, her second collection, The Glimmering Room, was published by Four Way Books, and her third collection,Wunderkammer, is forthcoming in fall of 2014 by Four Way Books. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony as well as a Hodder Fellowship fromPrinceton University. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn,New York.


Norman Dubie

after Nicolás Alcalá


The chair is not far from the bed

as if the bed were a table

over which the dead live

and hesitate like pods in a red tree

lifting above the mountain stream; it whispers

from the throat of the tree,

the pods like clay

rattling in snow and wind.


There’s something about the chair

being too near to the bed, both

are prodigy to the rubber sheet, a

black alluvial scree on the hospital floor

there in St. Petersburg. The woman


was the mother of the feathered priest,

she turned her head

away from the bread

with specks of limestone glistening

in her hair—

the table lifts with us

above the trees that are white now

in an alkaline field,


the bar of soap on the windowsill

is green

like the throat of the pigeon

who also sleeps in the wet vellum street…


Up in the darker loft there are life-sized dolls

made of cornhusk, it is now


that the dead cosmonaut’s mother points

with a finger in the direction of the cold

blue wash of clouds,

her memory turning adamantine,

five lustrous fat wolves

dragging a small deer along a distant treeline.




Norman Dubie is the author of twenty-four books, including most recently The Volcano (2010), The Insomniac Liar of Topo (2007), Ordinary Mornings of a Coliseum (2004), and The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (2001), all from Copper Canyon Press, as well as a collection of aphorisms, The Clouds of Magellan (Recursos de Santa Fe, 1991) and his earlier Selected and New Poems (Norton, 1983), among many other notable collections.  His writing has been translated into more than thirty languages, and he is the recipient of the Bess Hokin Award from the Modern Poetry Association, the PEN USA prize for best poetry collection in 2001, and fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  His book-length futurist work, The Spirit Tablets at Goa Lake, was published serially in three issues of Blackbird. Dubie lives in Tempe, Arizona, and is Regents’ Professor of English at Arizona State University.

Half of Life

Friedrich Hölderlin trans. by David Young

The land with yellow pears

and full of wild roses,

hangs there in the lake

behind you, lovely swans,

and you are drunk with kisses as

you dip your graceful heads

in holy sober water.


Where am I going to find

come winter, all these flowers?

And where will the sunshine be

and earth’s shade to go with it?

The walls stand there before me,

speechless and cold; the wind

rattles the weathervane.



Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget

Und voll mit wilden Rosen

Das Land in den See,

Ihr holden Schwäne,

Und trunken von Küssen

Tunkt ihr das Haupt

Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.


Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn

Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo

Den Sonnenschein,

Und Schatten der Erde?

Die Mauern stehn

Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde

Klirren die Fahnen.



Friedrich Hölderlin (1779–1843) is one of the towering figures of German literature. His work has profound influence on modern poetry and philosophy, including the writings of Nietzsche, Rilke, Heidegger, and Celan.

David Young is the translator of many poets, among them Basho, Celan and Rilke. His own poems may be found in Field of Light and Shadow (Knopf, 2010).

On the Beach at Divi Bay, St. Martin

Garrett Hongo

Was melancholy yesterday, watching slate-grey clouds

showering down while I lay in a cozy, one-man cabana.

I was inhabited by fine striations of grief, lamenting a loss,

bewildered and sorrowful at how it happened.

I thought of writing to the soul of Nazim Hikmet,

saying loving a woman was like writing a book–

you must do it every day and not forget it is love’s body

on which you write a page of kisses, turning it over

to smooth its shoulders, rubbing its crease with the blade of your hand.

Then, a sunshower hit and I saw the silvery alphabet of the sea

spell a god’s name on the frothing tail of a page of surf.



Garrett Hongo’s collections of poetry include Coral Road: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011); The River of Heaven (1988), which was the Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Yellow Light (1982). He is also the author of Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai’i (1995), and he has edited Songs My Mother Taught Me: Stories, Plays and Memoir by Wakako Yamauchi (1994) and The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America (1993). He is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Oregon at Eugene, where he directed the Program in Creative Writing from 1989 to 1993

On Friendship, Haiku, Lust, and Blame

David Lehman

Eye of hurricane,

or all-seeing bug on top

of lean apple tree,


look at me and think,

this is life this wait this day

in haiku heaven


with my friend you: why

miss writing our haikus when

we can write new ones


and live within them

as the guest hosts of a late

night talk show you hear


from the room next door

to yours in no-sleep motels

full of books, the books


we want to write, you

and I, alone together

for the first time since


the night when we walked

and solved riddling brainteasers

on Riverside Drive.


* * *


I, too, love moon sex,

dream tigers, split insights, and

spiritual puns.


Spiritual puns

are coincidences, said

G. K. Chesterton.


Can haiku do the work

of a spiritual pun?

Strangers meet on train.


One kills the other’s

wife and wants his own father

killed by the other.


Or the survivor

sleeps with the victim’s widow

after killing him.


Both Alfred Hitchcock

and Sophocles believe in

spiritual puns.


* *  *


Rhyme in haiku seems

contrary to the spirit

of the Eastern mind.


That must be why I

do it though of course you’re right

I shouldn’t. And so night


falls as it must on

us all, and to bed must I

go, to sleep, to dream,


and not to die. O

friend it pleases me to write

these haiku with you.


* * *


Blame not my blood so

hot with lust as when I was

young and in college,


studying Spenser,

“The Garden of Adonis”

in The Faerie Queene,


which had the oddest

effect on me: I went to

the library and


picked up Kathy and

took her back to her place and

later that night we went


to the West End Bar

and pretended to quarrel

over the baby


that we didn’t have

which freaked out the other

couple in the booth


so we had it all

to ourselves. Blame not my youth;

her hormones blame not.


Blame not the future

or lament that we are old.

The best is yet to


be, said Rabbi Ben

Ezra in Browning’s poem.

It’s hard to agree.


Yet blame him not, though

blame enough there is for all

the sins we have cast


upon the waters.

Blame not the bread we flung in

the Hudson River.



David Lehman has written eight full-length collections of poems: New and Selected Poems (2013), Yeshiva Boys (2009), When a Woman Loves a Man (2005), The Evening Sun (2002), The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (2000), Valentine Place (1996), Operation Memory (1990), and An Alternative to Speech (1986). He id the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry, the general editor of The Best American Poetry,and the author of several nonfiction books, including A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, which won ASCAP’s Deems Taylor Award in 2010. He teaches in the graduate writing program at the New School in New York City. 

Two Poems

Ben Mazer


To dream a world on a hunk of shade,

throw back the schedule of the maid,

and meditate in bedsheets, dim

where the morning light is slim,

studying objects that recall

the continents to a hand held ball,

tracing out rivers with calipers,

shadows in brambles the spider endures,

contemplate a bit of repartee

one brought back home from foreign stay,

and leave the rose-scented soap untouched,

receiving callers, breathless and flushed,

is only to follow the organized plan

of the modern, ecclesiastic man,

forwarding goodness by intuition,

measurement, calculus, and division,

exercising divine revision

with a maximum of precision.

Why then does this one find no words

to trace the motion of the birds,

unsettling up from the garden rose,

sipping and sampling the gardener’s hose,

and what is it, finally, that this one knows?

Only the music that is exquisite,

as ladies come calling on Sunday visit,

best in their finery like latest news,

veritable aviaries of Paris views,

shaded in quarantine, oblong, obscure,

but for all that he lacks, spanking bright demure.

It rises to tree tops and looks over steeples,

and though misanthropic of many peoples,

its harmonic strains cut with tenderness through

the shroud of his sick bed and his universe too.




The curtain rose

on one of a million shows

the lights down dim

the crowd all in

from afternoon rain

the great ceiling’s stain

spread like a grin

the chandeliers and velvet trim

lost in the dark that the eyes settled in


The picture came on

azure and sudden

like a deep sea

or a terrible sky

over the mountains


crackling with thunder

the motes of the eyes

jerky scratch of a flaw

as we waited with awe

for the drama to begin

as we forgot our skin


And then booming voices

eased us in

and the story began

and the camera began

to travel and pan

over lush settings

and characters’ plottings


over appearances

quick to endearances

lost in our trances

of Englands and Frances


or under the sea

where the octopus

scary and ravenous

frightened the hero

of our own mind’s zero

or the brutal queen

killed again and again

while the sweet princess

attracted honest princes


down some byway

or disappearing highway

into residences

like mazes

of hidden lives

with other strifes

lost on a journey

not knowing when return will be

or if gone forever

and coming back never


Then exhausted, revived

and radiant with life

as the lights came on

to the afternoon’s dawn

in the old dark theatre

life the great repeater

awoke the 400 seater

who rose in unison

and put their coats on


In the afternoon

by the cobblestones’ gloom

with the darkened alleys

and the little shops

all glass and anonymous

overcast and synonymous

with what we had seen

with where we had been

and where the world goes

the afternoon rose

like a rainy dawn

and we moved on

and we saw no one

and we were alone


and the roofs were wet

and our dreams were in bed


And perhaps our mother

was the other

to whom the Holy Ghost

had played host

Ben Mazer’s most recent collection of poems is New Poems (Pen & Anvil). He is the Editor of the Battersea Review.

Who Pays

Shane McCrae

Lord I have eaten and I don’t

Want to and have to

anyway / Sometimes because I can’t afford to eat

According to my conscience animals


Lord many times my weight

in animals     in the past     / But since I started

eating animals again it hasn’t been that much

I’m sure it hasn’t been that much


Maybe if all the meat I’ve eaten since I started

eating animals again were piled and weighed

It would weigh as much as     maybe if my leg were cut off

Below the knee the calf     the shin     the foot


Were laid in a scale opposite the meat

Maybe the scales would balance




Shane McCrae is the author of the poetry collections Forgiveness Forgiveness (Factory Hollow Press, 2014), Blood (Noemi Press, 2013), and Mule (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011). McCrae was the recipient of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award, and in 2012 his collection Mule was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award[] and a PEN Center USA Literary Award. His poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2010, American Poetry ReviewAfrican American ReviewFence, and AGNI.

Two Poems

Jason Schneiderman

The Last Widow

The last widow misses men. The last widow misses her husband

a great deal, but she also liked men in general. She refuses

all of the invitations to appear on morning news shows until

the medical bills turn out to be more than she can swing, and she

accepts the money to be interviewed. The last widow tries, this time

on air, to explain that the past wasn’t like what people think it was,

and how now that the only thing anyone knows of men are from

Victorian novels and internet pornography, people have a skewed

idea of what men were like, and no, she’s not saying that rape wasn’t

a problem, and yes, we do have more options with the wonderful

things that are being done with silicone, but really, it wasn’t just

penises that she liked, and in fact her own husband’s wasn’t at all like

the ones you see in the surviving documents, and really, no woman

she knew behaved like the women in those videos, so can’t you

understand that most of the men were different too? Some of her

friends suggest that she seek comfort with one of the young people

who have the facial hair that’s so in style now, and the last widow

wants to say, “I’m not a lesbian,” but that word doesn’t have much

meaning now, in a world without men, and it’s not really that she

wants a substitute for the husband she misses, as much as that she wishes

people understood what it is that she wants back.



The Last Mirror

The last mirror was put on trial. The last mirror was accused

of inciting vanity, of lacking originality, of encouraging vice,

of being nothing more than a parrot or an echo.

The last mirror’s defense was that Echo had shown devotion

to the man she loved, and that parrots love their pirates.

The last mirror insisted that vanity, like greed, can be good,

because really, every man should love himself. The last mirror

argued that vice is a lot of fun every now and then,

and that imitation can also be a form of love,

why even Freud, that old master, could not distinguish between

the desire to possess and the desire to be. The last mirror

lost the case. As you may have guessed, it was a show trial.

The judge said that love is not a defense, and even ejected

the viewer who laughed when the prosecutor

asked the mirror in a froth of rage and anger

“What’s love got to do with it?” entirely unaware of the song

by the same name. The judge ordered the last mirror

shattered into a hundred thousand pieces on the courtroom floor.

When the bailiff had shattered the last mirror,

each one of the pieces proclaimed that now

it was the last mirror, however small the piece might have been.

The judge held the prisoners in contempt

and called every piece a liar.



Jason Schneidermanis the author of Sublimation Point, winner of the Richard Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press, and Striking Surface, A Stahlecker Selection from Four Way Books. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including American Poetry Review, The Best American PoetryPoetry London, Grand StreetThe Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Story Quarterly, and Tin House.


Pick Me Up

Eleni Sikelianos

the words love you, friend

friend you ornament the day

you walk across

Don’t be discouraged

you are wearing the monster’s soft slippers

the leaves are loving you

as they lick the ground thinking

of you

skin, skin

of you

ground, ground

they slide around upon

your limbs are

decals across the day

don’t worry

about the future of water

the tongue

as a roughened piece of meat

my thing thing, friend friend

just as “the winds inside the earth can gather in some hollow palace

and thrust themselves forward” to make

the entire planet lean over from the force


a storm of human you comes &

goes “to

weave a texture [from]

dark to blue”



Eleni Sikelianos is the author, most recently, of The Loving Detail of the Living & the Dead (Coffee House Press, 2013), Body Clock (2008), The Book of Jon (City Lights Publishers, 2004), The California Poem (Coffee House Press, 2004), The Monster Lives of Boys & Girls (Green Integer, 2003), Earliest Worlds (Coffee House Press, 2001), The Book of Tendons (Post-Apollo Press, 1997), and To Speak While Dreaming (Selva Editions, 1993). She teaches in and directs the Creative Writing program at the University of Denver, and is on guest faculty for the Naropa Summer Writing Program.

Thomas Hardy in the Dorset County Museum

Floyd Skloot

Turned sideways in a desk chair,

elbow perched on its top rail,

the life-size cardboard Thomas Hardy

looks wary. Even when no one is here

Hardy sits tight, certain something

must take him from happy solitude.

Work is everywhere now, a poem’s

lines whirling in a figure-eight above

his head, chapter one of a novel

looming behind him, rough drafts

of letters under glass at his knee.

Apologizing, knowing he never liked

being touched, I drape my arm over

his shoulder as my wife takes our picture.

He is much younger than I am,

not the sage Hardy with wizened face,

wispy hair and waxed mustache tips.

His beard is darker, thicker, his hair

shorter, but the matching domes

of our foreheads are enough to

let me feel what I have come all

this way to feel. It is time to move on

to the place where he was born.




Floyd Skloot is a creative nonfiction writer, poet, and fiction writer whose work has received three Pushcart Prizes, a Pen USA Literary Award, two Pacific NW Book Awards, an Independent Publishers Book Award, and two Oregon Book Awards. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Poetry, American Scholar, Boulevard, Georgia Review, Hopkins Review, Sewanee Review, Southern Review, Hudson Review, Gettysburg Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, and Creative NonfictionHis eighth collection of poems,Approaching Winter, will be published by LSU Press in September 2015.


Jim Daniels

By way of introduction to this month’s Featured Selection, an interesting introductory interview with the poet, Jim Daniels, conducted by our Associate Editor for Special Projects Nancy Mitchell, followed by the work itself and some biographical material.






NM  Outside of productions dependent upon it, collaborations are rarely as seamlessly successful as the Special Feature with your poems and Charlee Brodsky’s photos.

I know you’ve collaborated with other artists.  What was your first experience?

JD I had written a series of poems based on paintings by Francis Bacon for my book Blue Jesus (his paintings scare me, and fear is always a good motivator) and had done my first screenplay for the film No Pets.

NM You know Francis Bacon is scary as hell; tell me more about “fear as a motivator”?

JD As a writer, I don’t want to feel too comfortable.  I’ve found over the years that if I push through the fear, I might end up in a new place I might not have discovered otherwise. I think the graphic quality of Bacon’s work led me into maybe some darker places that I might not have found otherwise.

NM So, writing from Bacon’s paintings was collaboration?

JD I do think it is a collaboration in some ways—not a literal one, obviously. Maybe the word is “engagement.”

NM How did you end up collaborating on the film No Pets?

JD The Pittsburgh-area filmmaker Tony Buba, best known for his docs, was interested in doing a fictional film, and I gave him my short story, “No Pets,” which he liked and asked me to adapt. I had no idea how to write a screenplay, but Tony worked with me through the process, then let me sit in on casting, filming, and editing. I found myself challenged and invigorated by the process—it got me out of my little room by myself, out of my comfort zone…

NM You know some folks would almost have to be hogtied and drug, kicking and screaming out of their comfort zone… do you remember the first time you “pushed through the fear” you mention?

JD I’m not sure I remember the first time as a particular “aha” moment, but I’m thinking it was with the Francis Bacon paintings. I’d never been compelled to write about art before, and maybe even, given my background, I thought there was something pretentious or elitist about it—art about art, art for art’s sake, or whatever—but I felt this primal connection to his work that wouldn’t let me go. It was something like, “oh, that’s what my nightmares look like.” So when I started writing these poems it was like that creature in Alien that comes out of that guy’s chest—the voice was completely strange to me, blurting out strange phrases, and I was thinking, “Whoa, what the heck is this?” But I pushed through there, trusted the odd voices to take me somewhere.

NM  Wow! How did you and Charlee Brodsky first begin collaborating?

JD Charlee and I were part of the founding of this Center for the Arts in Society at Carnegie Mellon, where we both teach, and I was looking for an opportunity to collaborate. I knew and loved her photography, particularly her work in Homestead, a mill town on the edge of Pittsburgh (which turned out to be the subject of our second big collaboration, From Milltown to Malltown).

At the time, I was playing around with these weird things I called “brick poems”—the words were in all caps and spaced out like bricks on a wall with most of the connecting words eliminated.  I showed them to Charlee, and she said she had a whole series of photos of brick walls, and they were so much better than my poems that I immediately started writing poems in response to those photos.

NM So the collaboration was an evolutionary spiral of sorts; your poems to her photos her photos to better poems?

JD Definitely. It’s a more interactive engagement. The collaboration itself becomes a responsive entity, and the work develops a relationship beyond “I’ll put your photos in my book or vice-versa?”  That whole series—the first thing we worked on together—never made it into a book, but it created a basis of trust and respect so we could move forward working together.

NM Can you talk about how this basis of trust and respect was created?

JD Balancing what Charlee thought were the best photos with what I thought were the best poems, etc. Again, it’s a slow, evolving process. Our first collaborative book, Street, came out in 2005, and we started a couple of years before that.  Now, every couple of years we seem to get started on a new project. We’re always both doing our own thing. She was chosen as Pittsburgh Artist of the Year a few years back and had a big show of her work.

NM Do you two have a plan or vision of how it will come together?

JD The vision thing is always an evolving process—that’s one of the great things about collaboration—you bounce these ideas off each other and the work slowly coalesces.  We usually start out at Charlee’s big table where she spreads out what she’s working on, and I pick up ones that pull me in, intrigue and interest me in some way, and take them home and spend some time with them. I like to just start free-associating on the photos—it’s like rubbing sticks together—sometimes I can get a little fire going, and other times I break the sticks, or get them wet, or whatever. I feed off the energy of her photos so that when things are going well, I’m not just describing what’s already there, but I’m going some place strange and different—taking a coal from her fire to start one of my own. I know my metaphors are mixed up a bit there, but it has something to do with fire.

NM That’s an amazing image of the collaborative creative process…hmmm…fire, coal, fire…anything to do with your hometown, “Steel-town?”

JD  Yeah, maybe.  We’ve been doing more electronic exchanges with pdfs, etc., but I still prefer having the physical thing in my hand.

NM Nothing like the real thing…its like there’s a layer or filter between it and you-a visual condom…better than nothing, well “nothing” is better, but you know what I mean.

JD Ha! It’s true—One thing I do use the pdfs for is to enlarge the image and/or zoom in on a particular detail that intrigues me, so that’s a plus.

NM Hmm, maybe we’ll drop the condom metaphor right now? How does writing in collaboration differ from writing alone?

JD It’s exciting and unpredictable. As a writer, one of the most exciting things for me is when these poems come out of nowhere—these strange voices start coming in that are very different from the usual voice in my poems. This work stretches me— a lot of my work—poetry and fiction—often uses first-person narratives as a guiding structure, where the collaborative work is all over the map. Or, even, for me, off the map.

NM  Speaking of off the map, the feature’s first poem, Returning to Earth, begins literally off the map!

This title is so perfectly economical; it announces the poem’s subject,  “returning”; establishes physical and psychic tone and terrain; launches the narrative trajectory created by the photos and poems of The rest of the news, and, as all the best poems do, it both informs and perplexes.

For example, we know the speaker has been away from earth, but we don’t know via what or how. Was the departure intentional, via NASA, meditation, sleep, a slug of Ayahuasca or was the speaker blasted into the stratosphere by an accidental or nefariously orchestrated, apocalyptic catastrophe?  Is the returning a conscious “re-turning” back to earth, a “fall from grace” or the irrefutable law of gravity at work?  The poem’s answers to these questions


I don’t know much

about disintegration

but I’m learning.


intimates that the speaker is losing former psychical and psychic integrity in the descent back to earth, and whatever energy authored the blast from earth, or the return to was intent upon annihilation:


Erasure has many techniques

but only one result.


I’m intrigued with how the stanzaic structure and the asterisks between create a sense of slow descent, a floating in and out of conscious, the asterisks denoting great swaths of time or lapses in consciousness.  The closer to earth, the more fully conscious the speaker becomes and struggles to make sense of the landscape below.

It’s a visceral thrill of seeing the photographs following the poems.  Together they become, are like—and I absolutely adore this, and in some way find great humor, pathos in this—an X-file of text and hard photographic evidence.


Case in point: the alien rag in


Alien rag from space

or variation on worms

or octopi or jellyfish

or bad luck.


Dried up –sea floor.

Drought of love.

And yet confetti

rises once again.


is clearly identifiable in the photo-document following the poem.  We see this consistent documentation of the subject matter under investigation (the rest of the news) at the scene of the crime (Earth) in the poems following Returning to Earth


The rest of the news

is returning to earth.


And you know, what? Dang!  …although you’ve told us that you wrote the poems from the photos, you can’t convince my mind that these photos do not document the text. Is this one of the amazing surprises of collaboration you talk about?

JD Well, when it’s working, yes. There’s some reverse double-whammies going on in terms of psychic reversals. The photos seem like inevitable manifestations of things that I’m feeling. I know that sounds a little wacky, but I don’t know how else to say it.

NM Does not sound wacky in the least! I cannot tell you how much the final poem’s text and photo document of this X-file blew me away; pure genius.  Without revealing too much, let me just say, Mission Accomplished!  It’s been a blast, Jim, many thanks!

JD Thank you!



Returning to Earth

I don’t know much

about disintegration

but I’m learning.


Erasure has many techniques

but only one result.


The color of ash—

first color

or the last?


Faded by sunlight

frayed by moonlight.


Deliberately stepped on

or avoided.


Alien rag from space

or a variation on worms

or octopi or jellyfish

or bad luck.


Dried-­‐up sea floor.

Drought of love.

And yet green confetti

rises once again.


Facts are elusive.

Ash vs. Dust?




My only fact:

a human hand once held this thing.

The rest of the news

is returning to earth.




The Shelter of Coffins

Are we drawn toward getting under, breaking

through, to bury ourselves in  the cold, moist dirt


of disappearance? What came first, the crack,

or the pieces of rubble in the crack?


In other words, did we start out playing

for the Cement Slabs, then go off on our own,


or did they kick us off the team?

Okay, out with the questions


in with the myths: Once upon a time

a great clanging was heard in the night


and when the sun arose the next day

the Four-­‐Holed Shiny Thing


was visible. It had crushed

our fearless leader, Moldy Pebble.


Some say he remains alive

in shadow, awaiting


The Great Uplifting. Others

believe he escaped into


the Large Dump Truck

and will return one day


for the rest of us. Every year

we make a pilgrimage


to the shrine of the Four-­‐Holed

Shiny Thing and pray at the altar


of  the Moldy Pebble. I don’t

know what happens if we don’t.


I haven’t gotten that far in the myth.





Have you woven

plastic strips between chain links

imagining you might make a stand

against the world, looping in and out

while neighbors watch, wary,

tossing empties against the fence

while you try to establish

some flimsy order against chaos

and the lack of choice that put them next to you?

Who can afford to move

and even the damn strips weren’t cheap

row upon row you can’t stop.


A helicopter heading to the hospital

can see it all if they’re looking down

if the patient is alive

if the world is flat if god is your

witness oh lord it all unravels

the years unspooling into grief.


Not even concrete blocks

can keep it away.




Hole in the Theory

If we disguise our flaws

with designed borders


how can we keep other

flaws from emerging


to mock our imagined

grand design?


Nature’s bunny ears

mock us, our un-­‐


tamed pets on

the loose.


They don’t come

when we call.


hole in the theory


After the Flood

When the waters rose back up

or sunk deeper

I stared at what remained

of the rest of my life

the layer of grief

coating it

with the dry cough of disintegration.


I searched for a source of nostalgia

in memories of high water

and the jangly music of the fear

I danced to. Oh, the panicked

joy of it. I took a stick and began

to scratch lies into the curled mud.


after the flood


Dinosaur Bones with Crown of Thorns

Synchronize your watches

then step on them.


Time began

when the fat lady sang


or vomited at the sight

of us.


What calendar do you use?

What calendar do you abuse?


They crucified a circus clown by

mistake, taking the orange hair

as the devil’s twisted halo.


Or so the legend goes.

Because someone wrote it down


it must be true. As this

must be true.


If you drop an angel

and a chunk of cement

at the same time, which lands first?

Which hurts

the most?


What came first

the calculator or the telephone?


If Noah sent out a dove

to see if the waters

had receded


was that bird the first UFO?


What did the other dove do?

Was it lonely?


It comes down

to being lonely


no matter how many

buttons you press.


Are you wearing your glasses

for distance or close-­‐up?


The world started a zillion years ago

when the dinosaurs discovered

the joy of killing and meat.


They decided to leave some bones behind

just to fuck us up.


Imagine the surprised dinosaur

losing its teeth in the old folks home


and being transmogrified

into a treacly children’s TV star:


“Hey,you folks seen my teeth?”

he asks the fake children

but it comes out as

“And remember, I love you.”


Then, he eats the children.

All the dinosaurs applaud.


If these remains

are what the stripper left

before exiting naked

stage right, behind the dark curtain


then what did her original outfit

look like? Scientists spent

centuries arranging the remains

into articles of clothing.


Thus, haute couture was born.

We memorialize this event

to Terre Haute, Indiana.


The crown didn’t fit.

What were they thinking?

They fired the crown maker.

A lion jumped through

the crown of thorns.


The crucified dinosaurs

tried to applaud

but their tiny arms

were nailed down.


Who ate that dove?

Where is that recipe?

Where are the ruins of the true ark?

Hasn’t that astronaut found them yet?


Are they in Little Rock, Arkansas?

In Big Rock, Illinois?

On the Big Rock Candy Mountain?


The scientists of myth

are hard at work

hand-­‐crafting new relics

for sale in the gift shop.


And then Jesus walked out

of the spaceship.


That’s how all my stories end.


dinosaur bones



Jim Daniels (Poetry) has published fourteen books of poetry. His recent collections include Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry, Carnegie Mellon University Press (winner of the Independent Publishers Book Award for Poetry) and All of the Above, Adastra Press, both published in 2011. His fourth collection of short stories, Trigger Man, was published in 2011 by Michigan State University Press, and won the Midwest Book Award for Short Fiction. His fourteenth book of poems, Birth Marks, was published in 2013 by BOA Editions.

Charlee Brodsky, a fine art documentary photographer and a professor of photography at Carnegie Mellon University, describes her work as dealing with social issues and beauty. In 2012 she was honored to be Pittsburgh’s Artist of the Year chosen by Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. A selection of her awards includes the Tillie Olsen Award with writer Jim Daniels for their book, Street; an Emmy with the film team that created the documentary, Stephanie, which is based on her friend’s life with breast cancer; the Pearl of Hope award given by Sojourner House for her work with her students in the Pittsburgh community; and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowships. She continues her documentary projects but also has a body of work that uses her little white dog, Max, to voice words by great thinkers. This work is a series of artist books and prints and can be viewed at: www.thespotpress.com.

Nancy Mitchell is the author of two volumes of poetry, The Near Surround (Four Way Books, 2002) and Grief Hut (Cervena Barva Press, 2009), and her poems have appeared in Agni, Poetry Daily, Salt Hill Journal, Great River Review, and are anthologized in Last Call by Sarabande Books, 1997.  Her reviews have appeared in Poet Lore and Marlboro Review, and poems and a teaching exercise on Sound are anthologized in The Working Poet, Autumn House Press, 2009. A 2011 Pushcart Prize recipient, she resides in Salisbury, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, with her husband John Ebert, a filmmaker.