ALCIDES PEREIRA DOS SANTOS Varig, 1999 Acrylic on canvas, 34.25 x 75.98 inches (87 x 193 cm), Andrew Edlin Gallery

ALCIDES PEREIRA DOS SANTOS Varig, 1999 Acrylic on canvas, 34.25 x 75.98 inches (87 x 193 cm), Andrew Edlin Gallery

EDITOR’S NOTE

Readers: Welcome to Plume Issue # 49 —

 

July: And at last – it seems so long – we put our farewells behinds us and turn to happier subjects. For instance, a look over our – Plume’s – shoulder, where we find among other things, an uncanny antecedent, thanks to the remarkable-in-all-ways Ron Slate*, who founded and served as editor of The Chowder Review from 1973-1988. That longevity alone would merit more praise than I think Ron could withstand; he is as humble as he is gifted.  (I know, Ron: cringe.) But, should Plume manage such a run, believe me… Yet not only its life-span is to be noted, but the quality of the work in its pages: eclectic, far-seeing, meticulously curated – all those qualities I had hoped for when the notion of our own little effort first took real shape. As I write this, the copies Ron sent (dredged from boxes in his basement, I think) are beside me.

Some pertinent information:

Ron Slate, Editor

Floyd Skloot, Associate Editor

David Clewell (this months Featured Selection poet), Michael Heffernan, and Leonard Nathan, Contributing editors

Published twice annually, individual copies could be had for the sum of two dollars and fifty cents.

At one time, I think Ron told me, CR was on the shelves of periodical rooms on over 80 libraries. Aside from poetry, The Chowder Review ran reviews and commentary, something Plume is considering, I might add.

But, about that poetry: as I scan the pages of the issues I received, I find — often as regular contributors — such luminaries as Stephen Dunn, Mark Halperin, Mark Jarman, Kelly Cherry, Carol Frost, Albert Goldbarth, Robert Pack, Brendan Galvin, Laura Jensen, Linda Bierds, Christopher Buckley, Arthur Vogelsang, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Baxter: and so many others, names that readers of contemporary poetry will recognize instantly, and whose work Plume had been fortunate to publish as well, many of them.

So, it is with much gratitude that I pay tribute to this forbear, whose existence was unknown to me when it was in publication but in whose long shadow our own efforts have proceeded, halting and paltry as they seem in comparison.  Though out of print for over a quarter of a decade, The Chowder Review feels as fresh and dynamic as was in its heyday, and if I feel a subtle kinship with it, I hope this does not displease Ron.

 

And what better way to conclude this encomium than to pull from its pages our “secret poem” –actually two – this month — “Night Air” and “Plans For A House In Latvia” from Kelly Cherry – who soon will be appearing with new work in our own journal.

 

 

NIGHT AIR

 

A Pavane

 

These are the nights of being inner-isolated,

dangerous nights when the bed

closes up like a rose, dark red

 

under the star light and still moon

air.  Nights when no one

can breathe.  The cold horn

 

spills its notes across the sky,

flings them ruthlessly

to the ground, saying:  Someone someone knows is going to die.

 

Oh yes, the moist air clings to the cave of the throat

like a bat,

and won’t fly.  Last night, tonight,

 

a cloud dimmed the eye of God,

like a cataract.  The bed,

too, the bed is becoming blind,

 

is closing,

cradling

satan’s seed, the iris-corroding devil’s drop, dew, is becoming

 

forgotten and heart-

sick, set apart,

 

is becoming you.

 

 

PLANS FOR A HOUSE IN LATVIA

 

In a basket on the sideboard,

pile ripe apples;

when the sun reaches them through the open door,

we’ll have fire for food.

 

In fine weather, you write music out back –

or steal off.

“Good fishing among birches and pines!”

 

In the winter, we skate

on the lake in the field,

and come in late,

blowing on our hands.

 

Silence falls on the little house,

sticking like snow all around,

the only sound your voice,

startling and mysterious

as the shadow of a blue spruce

cast across cold ground.

 

At night, Princess leaps from the wood floor

to the chair where she sleeps,

while we share the big bed.

 

Your warm body covers mine like a blanket.

 

Dear heart,

a final note about the kitchen.

Keep the teacups Peteris painted

on a safe shelf:

one is for love,

one is for faith’s long-enduring self.

 

 

* The Incentive of the Maggot, his first book of poems, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2005. The collection was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle poetry prize and the Lenore Marshall Prize of the Academy of American Poets. The collection won the Bakeless Poetry Prize (Breadloaf Writers Conference) and the Larry Levis Reading Prize of Virginia Commonwealth University.

 

 

Other matters?

To contributors, let me remind you that Plume is setting up readings for the fall (mid-September through late November) in support of The Plume Anthology of Poetry 3. Many of you, I know, are on summer hiatus, but should you feel so inclined – and some of you already have asked to be included – please, email me at plumepoetry@gmail.com and let me know if you would like to read, and where. NYC, Boston/ Cambridge, and New Orleans definitely are on the schedule, as are London and Paris; venues will be announced in the not too distant future.  Our readings have been, well, successful, in the past, with rosters of poets that constituted a sort of dream team in each of those cities. I remain open, of course, to suggestions for other sites – Asheville, Chicago, Providence…the West Coast.

 

Also (see the PR below), I think many of you are instructors in some fashion – colleges, universities, low-res programs. Can I suggest that Plume would make – god, I do dislike this business-y part – an ideal text for your creative writing classes?  Several of you already have indicated that you will be using The Plume Anthology of Poetry 3 as such in the fall.  And although I am aware that text-ordering deadlines might have passed for some, perhaps this is not the case for all. Should this interest you in the slightest, you can order copies directly from MadHat Press at a discounted rate. Contact Marc Vincenz at that site.

Penultimately, Plume in conjunction with Bob Devin Jones at Studio@620  http://www.thestudioat620.org/ will be organizing a monthly, or even twice-monthly, series of poetry readings in Saint Petersburg, Florida. The Studio is a wonderful site, near downtown (suddenly hip, if you can believe it), and the readings I have been to there in the past have been well-received. Should any area poets, or poets touring in our vicinity, be on the lookout for a venue, please keep us in mind, and contact me at plumepoetry@gmail.com to get on the calendar.

As promised last Note, a number of intriguing Featured Selections will come to fruition in the upcoming months. Among their subjects are — and this is by no means a complete lists – we have been busy! – are  Native poets, curated by Allison Hedge Coke and including
Cedar Sigo, Leanne Howe, Trevino Brings Plenty, Crisosto Apache
and Sara Marie Ortiz;  David Clewell;  Kelle Groom; a look at British Poets Under 40 and another at Contemporary Australian Poets; new translations of work by Robert Walser and Hermann Hesse, and a  long poem, “Sibylline” by Marc Vincenz.

Remember, if you would like to be considered for a Featured Selection in Plume, or simply have an idea for one, please contact me at plumepoetry@gmail.com

 

And, this, as promised — threatened – above: The Plume Anthology of Poetry V 3 is available for purchase now, at Madhat Press, a bargain at $21.95, I think, given the very high quality of the work, the poets, its eclectic range, and sheer size – 323 pages.  (Soon available at other venues, as well – Amazon, B & N, etc.)  Some very nice people have said some very nice things about our little endeavor. Below, just a few of the comments Plume V 3 has received:

Plume’s apparent lack of a narrow editorial policy (except a fondness for interesting poems) makes for lots of strange bedfellows, but when was the last time that was a bad idea?”  ~Billy Collins
“Of all the things that might claim one’s attention, and they are in the multitudes! Plume is well worth making time for since it isn’t just another magazine. Its difference? Wonderful work, on the edge, room for play and dash, new forms, a great discerning editor in Danny
Lawless!”   ~ Tess Gallagher
Plume is one of the most exciting, eclectic gatherings of writers on the web. Editor Daniel Lawless has a knack for putting together voices that create surprising neighborhoods of words, related in complex ways that only gradually reveal themselves. It’s one of very few webzines that I always read.”   ~ Chase Twichell
Plume is rapidly becoming one of the best places in America to read poetry, online and in print, thanks to the untiring efforts of Danny Lawless. It’s where to find dazzling work by new and established writers, and, thanks to the new technology, it is available instantly to readers by the millions. Plume proves once more that poetry is essential to our lives, and that ‘Men die every day for want of what is found in it.’”  ~ Grace Schulman
Plume continues to publish amazing poets in beautiful formats—both online and in-print. The magazine has an exciting vision, embracing a broad gamut of poetries, including collaborations. The work has a consistently intriguing quality about the joys and unsettling aspects of being alive.”   ~ Denise Duhamel

plume v3 front dark blue style 2 (1)

 

Our covert art this month comes from Alcides Pereira dos Santos. Born 1932, in Bahia, he moved to Mato Grosso in 1950, where he settled down. Before becoming a painter, Alcides tried his hand in various occupations, ranging from shoemaker to barber to stonemason. When he was 19 years old, Alcides, acccording to Aline Figueiredo, “achieved the greatest revelations in his life: religion and painting.” He was evangelical and believed that art is a gift from God. His painting, consequently, is meant to highlight God’s ‘divine gifts’ of the land, particularly nature’s life-giving properties. However, Alcides’ symbolic representations are not restricted to scenes of nature. Without any indication of proselytism or explicit depictions of the supernatural, Alcides also takes on religious subject matter through everyday scenes of technology and city life.

Much of Alcides’ work from the seventies and eighties is comprised of these subtly religious landscapes, which are known for their serenity. However, Alcides is also known to have painted more explicitly religious scenes, such as his series of works depicting the creation of the world in seven days and other biblical narratives. His landscapes are often accentuated by geometric forms and small graphic details such as human figures – a feature that appears most often in his works from the seventies. These small figures, however, are never large enough to be considered the central focus. For Alcides, the emphasis is placed on the entire landscape as a kind of ‘macrocreation’.

Alcides has taken part in numerous exhibitions in Brazil; the most recent one, entitled Arte popular, Mostra do Redescobrimento, 500 anos took place at the São Paulo Biennial Foundation in 2000. His work can also be seen in the collection of the Popular Art Museum of São Francisco Cultural Center, in João Pessoa. He died in 2007, São Paulo, Brazil.

 

Finally, New Work Received this month includes pieces from Daniel Tobin, Carrie Etter, Annette Barnes, Nin Andrews, Dore Kiesselbach, Arthur Vogelsang, Charles Harper Webb, Marilyn Kallet, Liela Ortiz, Marianne Boruch, Abraham Sutzkever (tr Maia Evrona), Kelly Cherry, Laura McCullough, and Patricia Clark.

 

As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!

 

Daniel Lawless

Editor, PLUME

SOLILOQUY OF A TORNADO IN THE DISTANCE

Bruce Bond

Soliloquy of a Tornado in the Distance

I knew a girl once
who threw her breakables
at the dorm room wall
and cursed her redhead
lover in a strange tongue,
and all my friends at college
said, hell, she is Greek,
and he Irish, which meant
we understood nothing
of the glasswork that is
a human heart, the way
it glistens like the spit
in the screams of yes
that sexed the night to come.

And yes, it made us
envious, if bemused,
and no less sympathetic
with dread, to hear them
pound their affirmations
all the way in and then,
to spite us, farther in.
Attached at the places
they rubbed raw, they felt
the grip of something
which had as little to do
with each other, and us,
as wind with its sirens,
hammer with its nail.

Last night I dreamed of girls
in chairs at the dark edge
of the dance floor, and their
shyness made me shy,
a stranger in my skin,
and I turned from them
to the apple blossoms
in the window, the street-
walker scent of April
rising. And in the distance,
more lovely still, more
fierce in its skirt of trash:
a great tornado, dark arms
flailing, drawn this way.

So this is how a monk feels
on the mountain path
in a Japanese print,
only the parchment is on
fire. And terror the new
sublimity that scales you
down. The supplicant
becomes one small part
of the scene. The rest
the you that is not you,
just as disaster is not
a dream for the dreamer.
I was a new girl once
I never knew at all.

I sat in my dark chair
as the winds blew our windows
out, like candles, all
at once, and the blouses
shuddered. I see you,
said the wind in the strange
tongue of broken things,
the only tongue it knows.
I came before you
and so continue. And so
I understand nothing
of sacrifice and rage
and wicks that understand
nothing of the flame.

Hard to be sentimental
about a wind and be
the one you are. Why else
do you wake disheveled.
I knew a girl once
whose tirades got me off
and then, well, they got
a little boring. Move,
said the wind, and the hearts
of the wilderness seized,
listening. And then they heard
nothing. Only stillness.
And then they beat a little
faster. And faster still.


 

Bruce Bond is the author of fifteen books including, most recently, For the Lost Cathedral (LSU Press, 2015) and The Other Sky (Etruscan Press, 2015).  Four of his books are forthcoming: Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (University of Michigan Press), Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize, University of Tampa Press), Gold Bee (Crab Orchard Open Competition Award, Southern Illinois University Press), and Sacrum (Four Way Books).  Presently he is Regents Professor at University of North Texas and Poetry Editor for American Literary Review.

TWO POEMS

Christopher Crawford

My Father Taught Me To Fish

 

Why did we have to kill you.

No, that’s not it.

How come I didn’t care
 or was even excited, exhilarated

by your death.
 When we pulled you from the sea

and onto the boat, your eyes round with surprise like a man’s

when he’s falling from his chair, you must have known

you’d had it.
 Something inside

the free and wild

always knows, but who knows

how a cod’s heart works. If it works like mine

then I think I must have heard it—
or at least something wet,

I remember this,

drummed itself to death 
on the deck of our little boat.

 

Hmmmmm

 

I was to teach his whole family English.
            It wasn‘t so bad
being shut up in the Finnish countryside
            since he lent me
a four-wheel off-road motorcycle
            for roaring down
to his private lakeside beach
            to wash up
and still my heavy morning-self
            in the sauna there.
I would tell him, I‘m going to the bar tonight,
            the Finnish girls
are so pretty, so open for fun. Hmm,
            he would say,
hmmmm, hmmmmmmmmm.
            Once he told me
I just made enough money on the stock
            market to buy
3 new Volvos, I wanted to say
            hmmmmmm
but held myself back. The old man was rich
            but his wife
owned it all—the houses, cars, the bus
            company. One
afternoon his family came round
            and drank up all my
whisky, they asked how I liked Finland,
            I told them
the Finnish girls are great, so open, so fun.
            Hmmmmm,
they said, hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
            After a month
the old man said I wasn‘t needed any more,
            that I could go.
I went. It’s taken me fifteen years to understand
            exactly what he thought
of me. Him with his wife’s money
            and his wife’s
bus company and his pocket-change for Volvos.
            I guess he’s dead
by now – and the only sweet thing: I may know
            what he thought
about me but he’ll never find out what I thought
            about him.
But I’m pretty sure you can guess what it is,
            hmmmmm?

 


 

Christopher Crawford’s poems, essays and translations have appeared in magazines like The Rumpus, Puerto del Sol, Clinic, Rattle, The Collagist, The Cortland Review, Agenda and elsewhere. He lives in Prague where he edits the literary journal, B O D Y (bodyliterature.com)

 

 

 

 

 

IN PROFILE

Sylva Fischerová trans. by Joshua Mensch and A.J. Hauner

IN PROFILE

—translated by the author, Joshua Mensch and A. J. Hauner

 

Words hung into silence
like a child’s legs
over the edge of a garden wall:
they couldn’t be finished
only cut off

A word
is a figurine
made of time
made for time
so that it’s time
now on display:
stiff Egyptian women
on tomb walls
chisel themselves
into time: the eternal
infinite
profile –
they left their other half
here on earth
Time’s always
in profile
it is a profile

Behind this wardrobe
there is no wall
but

 

V PROFILU

 

Slova visela do ticha
jak nohy děcka
na zídce do zahrady
nedala se dokončit
jen useknout

Slovo
figurína z času, udělaná
pro čas
co sám sebe staví na odiv:
znehybnělé Egypťanky
na zdech hrobek
tesají do času
samy sebe, věčný
nekonečný
profil;
svou druhou půlku
nechaly tady na zemi
Čas je vždycky
v profilu
je profil

Za touhle skříní není zeď,
ale

 

Sylva Fischerová (born 1963) is one of the most formidable Czech poets of her generation. A distinguished classicist who teaches at Charles University in Prague, she has published nine volumes of poetry in Czech, and her poetry has been translated and published in numerous languages. An earlier selection of her poems, The Tremor of Racehorses, was published by Bloodaxe in 1990. She recently began to write prose, and books of her stories Zázrak /Miracle/ and Pasáž /Passage/ appeared in the last few years, as well as two books for children and a “fictitious travelogue” Evropa je jako židle Thonet, America je pravý úhel /Europe is like a Thonet Chair, America is a Right Angle. The Swing in the Middle of Chaos: Selected Poems, co-translated with Stuart Friebert, was published by Bloodaxe in 2010. Stomach of the Soul, a new collection of her poems in translation, translated by the author with Stuart Friebert and Andrew J. Hauner, was published by Calypso Editions, USA, in September 2014.

 

Joshua Mensch grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada. His poems have appeared most recently in Brick, The Collagist, The Economy, and Smartish Pace. He lives in Prague, Czech Republic. He is a founding editor of B O D Y.

 A.J. Hauner assisted in the translation of Sylva Fischerová’s The Stomach of the Soul.

Enchanted Egg #2

Beckian Fritz Goldberg

Enchanted Egg #2

 

When you look inside through the tiny porthole the lake looks back without blinking.
A little girl has fallen from the raft floating away like a blue rooftop.  She stands under water in clouds of silt and glitter.  In the distance the undulant dark bed recedes till it is only horizon, the murky green light, the giant shape of father sleeping on the couch.

Great translucent rooms wander through one another. Even as her throat begins to burn, even as she is squeezed by a weight she can’t see, brained-shaped shadows cruise the floor.  Things are distorted; when she looks down at her foot it has magnified to the size of a pale blue potato stuck in the silky earth.

This is the world the day she doesn’t die. Though it would be so simple. She’s formed no ties, she can’t read a clock.  She might easily return to the oblivion she came from not so long ago.

At the end of the lake cupped on the white shore fathers and mothers are grilling meat. The sky is a dome as you always suspected.

It is a wonder that a lake can exist in so delicate a shell.  The blue rooftop is skirting the shore.  Below, the giant father rolls over on the couch, a fish flits by like a face, the water is absinthe, cat’s iris, the lucid world, the breathless, even as a pair of legs comes toward her, it is solitaire, even as an aunt’s arm reaches down, it is the moment she wants to look more than she wants to live and is cruelly rescued.

 


 

Beckian Fritz Goldberg received her M.F.A. in 1985 from Vermont College and is the author of seven volumes of poetry, Body Betrayer (Cleveland State University Press, l99l,) In the Badlands of  Desire (Cleveland State University, l993,) Never Be the Horse, winner of the University of Akron Poetry Prize (University of Akron Press, l999), Twentieth Century Children, a limited edition chapbook, winner of the Indiana Review chapbook prize (Graphic Design Press, Indiana University, l999), Lie Awake Lake, winner of the 2004 Field Poetry Prize (Oberlin College Press, 2005, ) The Book of Accident (University of Akron Press, 2006,)  Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems (New Issues Press, 2010) and Egypt From Space (Oberlin, 2013.)  Goldberg has been awarded the Theodore Roethke Poetry Prize from Poetry Northwest, The Gettysburg Review Annual Poetry Prize, two Arizona Commission on the Arts Poetry Fellowships (1993, 2001) and two Pushcart Prizes.  Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies such as New American Poets of the 90’s, Best American Poetry 1995, American Alphabets:25 Contemporary Poets, Best American Poetry 2011,Best American Poetry 2013 and in journals, including The American Poetry Review, Field, The Gettysburg Review, Harper’s, The Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, and many others.  She currently lives in Arizona.

Two Fat Braids Crossed at the Crown

Arielle Greenberg

Two Fat Braids Crossed ­­­at the Crown

 

            Mishearing you holding out the gadget plug,
I joke Discord?

            Yes, I’d like a little more in general
though not in the delicious sinkhole of our seven-year marriage.

            I’m talking about a counterculture.

            I’m nearly forty.
I’ve only recently figured out how to fix my hair
(two fat braids crossed at the crown)
and with what (coconut oil melted in its glass jar on the radiator,
rosemary or apricot oil if the ends are really thirsty).

            In my 20s my 45-year-old boyfriend told me stories about the 60s,
his lover who wore Victorian camisoles and cars screeched to a halt as she crossed the street.
You could get Victorian whites in the thrift stores then;
it was like 50s overcoats to us now, stodgy furs yearning
to become bohemian on some rosy shoulders.
He also told me about sleeping in French graveyards and wearing a velvet blazer
to the Fillmore East: those were things you could do then, things I missed.

            Once married and nearly forty and the mother of people,
how much time can you devote to subversion?  Or to porn?

            I can hear you in the bathroom with the _______________

            We are pets.

            I want to be foxier, a white buffalo child-woman like the old hippie named me
when I was working in the food co-op during grad school.
All those lushly empty hours spent dunking heads of lettuce in ice water in steel sinks,
or running up and down hills in the snow fantasizing about childbirth,
or hitting the snooze button for hours while listening to the BBC World Service.

            I am trying to be friendly.

            I am trying to be more connected than correcting.

            I am trying to remember to kiss you at least once a day in a surprising manner
but it’s surprisingly hard.
Really, any manner would be surprising, because mostly I kiss the baby,
who was born ugly—purple and hairless and skinny—
but has lured me by now into a wholly irrational devotion,
a kind of mesmer.  I say awful things to him—
who loves you so much?  pretty pretty pretty?—
and he holds me by my braids,
wants me to rub him across the face with my hair.

            This is my affair with your son, who looks quite like the best of your father sometimes,
who died this time of year when I was pregnant with this baby,
and the police called you from Ohio and I brought the phone to where you were
breaking down boxes in the basement of our newly rented house overlooking the sea,
and then you had to go and be kin.

            My whole life I have wanted to wear history on my body
and politics and books on my face.
Soon my face will be too old to be blank enough to carry any other message than its own.

 


 

Arielle Greenberg is the author of the poetry collections SliceMy Kafka Century and Given, the creative nonfiction book Locally Made Panties, and the transgenre chapbooks Shake Her andFa(r)ther Down. She is co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic, and co-editor of three anthologies: most recently, with Lara Glenum and Becca Klaver, Electric Gurlesque. Arielle’s poems and essays have been featured in anthologies including the Best American Poetry, Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers and The Racial Imaginary. She writes a column on contemporary poetics for the American Poetry Review, and edits a series of essays called (K)ink: Writing While Deviant for The Rumpus. A former tenured professor in poetry at Columbia College Chicago, she lives in Maine and teaches in the community and in Oregon State University-Cascades’ MFA.

TWO POEMS

Kelle Groom

THE LOST MUSEUM

 

All my life stars falling on cars, the laundry
on the line, stars in my hair, open mouth,
and in my chest a massive celestial body.
How is it possible to feel you inside? The Lost
Museum is full of buildings. Some still stand –
it’s not their nonexistence that makes them lost,
but their state of ruin. Naked men are reconstructed.
Sometimes you can find the lost on a coin.
You won’t find anyone inside your house,
the postmistress said. Georges de La Tour,
who lived quietly at home, kept painting
the Magdalen, and two engravings, though only one
survives: at a table in long hair, nightdress,
dark mesh on her hands like gloves, veiling
her neck and mouth, skull where she rests
her fingertips. It is so quiet in her room, smoke signals
from a candle – nothing in the mirror except reflected
bone. She has that kind of sleek thin horse’s hair
I’ve always loved – strand by smooth strand pulled
back from her face to rest on her shoulder. Swing
when she moves. What can we do but love who
we love even if you won’t find them in our houses? If
someone must remove my head, saw open
my chest I want all this light to be what spills out.

 

 

GOODBYE TO A

 

Someone has to blue metal
for the gunmaker. Blue the gown

worn by those imprisoned,
licensed to beg. Goodbye

to Abdicate, to Abode, chunky heels
crossing wood floors at 3 a.m., door

slam hard behind a woman
who wants a cigarette, goodbye cigarette

smoke rising through heating
vents to coat my bed. Goodbye

Abroad, fear of anyone traveling,
planes. Goodbye Absence, withholding

myself from you; bye to Abstention, my sugared
hair sticky with coconut and jojoba, angel

food cake. Goodbye angel food cake,
which is my second favorite, cake of Cape

Cod, the special pan, of five years old,
bumpy browned top soft white inside still

strangely cool, cake my mother made though
she taught first grade every day. Goodbye

Acarus, blue spider-like mite. Goodbye
Acetate of Halloween costumes and flammable

dresses of no give and cardboard shine. Aker,
the current in the sea, how can I say goodbye to you?

The only way around is through. The drunk forget
they’re tired until they drop, talking

without pause. Their constant low
TV in the background

makes me feel hospitalized.
Start with Adawn, which after all

contains my middle name,
almost my first, my father’s

choice: Aurora. He said, If you want
to see yourself, just watch

the sun come up.  How could
such a thing still be

true?  But maybe imagine
her, a girl unnamed. Emerald

of fairy tales, and violets.
Another sky.

 


 

Kelle Groom’s poetry collections include Five Kingdoms and Luckily (both from Anhinga Press) and Underwater City, selected for the University Press of Florida Contemporary Poetry Series. Her memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster) is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice selection, a Library Journal Best Memoir, Oprah O Magazine selection, and Oxford American Editor’s Pick. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, New York Times, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Her awards include a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Prose, State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs grant, and two Florida Book Awards. Groom was the Black Mountain Institute Fellow atUniversity of Nevada-Las Vegas and the Library of Congress and was Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe, where she is now on the faculty of the low-residency MFA Program. Last year, she was the James Merrill House Fellow and a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Fellow. Groom recently completed her fourth collection of poems, SPILL, and her second memoir manuscript, HOW TO CURE A FRIGHT. She is the Director of the Summer Program Workshops at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

TWO POEMS

Karl Kirchwey

The Tiger

In a tourist magazine about the amusements of Rome,
            I saw a photograph of a tiger in the zoo,
            head-on, glaring, as tigers are said to do,
and last night, just before waking, I had a dream:

the tiger-headed god of poetry came to me
            as I lay prone, almost afraid to look;
            but I knew him from somewhere, I knew him from a book,
my book, and he smiled, he behaved gently,

a gentleman, in fact, in a dark suit,
            surrounded by the adepts any god has,
            this rippling, fire-colored prince in evening clothes,
by the other lounging felines of his cohort,

not like the tiger I once had from my brother,
            figured in a carpet he sent from India:
            when I unrolled it, after three  years away,
it was infested with moths and webbed over,

the luxurious and vibrant dorsal sprawl
            that once had seemed almost to burn underfoot
            now swarming with worms, become something corrupt
that crumbled in my fingers to an unclean rubble;

but last night I flushed with sudden love, as has happened
            when I truly understand, out of submission
            or mastery or something in between,
and I rose to dance with that gorgeous thing in my mind,

its savage murmur in the throat, its restless weave
            and switching tail, its constant streaming pace,
            violence contained and strength in such excess,
by which I know I am truly alive.

 

Friendship

 

A last Roman dawn
glazes the windows,
like the isinglass
of his incomprehension.
Never to know someone,
in spite of many tries—

The cool odor
before the morning’s heat,
of crushed herbs, mint,
dust and water;
the fountain’s clatter
not awakened yet;

the new day
a faint blush in the east:
these things I know at least,
and how profoundly
the Palazzo Farnese
and its triple arch are lost

in darkness still,
while the towers of Trinità dei Monti,
are lit, slender and gray,
on the Pincian Hill,
and in the middle
distance, the Chiesa Nuova

offers its massive pediment
—like a geometer’s proof
of how he stood aloof,
always, from my intent,
protecting the integument
of a vulnerable self,

a sacred perimeter, really,
he would let no one cross,
behind which his ideas
kept him always company,
a golden empery,
a beautiful fastness.

I waited so long with
that leopard-colored gaze,
and carefully parsed replies
from that smiling mouth,
as if the slightest breath
intended more or less.

The Messaggero sign
glowed blue all night,
and yet I never got
the message, if there was one.
I waited alone,
and now it is too late.

The lantern on the dome
of Sant’Andrea will gather
light in its vessel of alabaster:
come, morning come.
It is time for me to go home.
Lead, heavenly light of my failure.


 

Karl Kirchwey is the author of six books of poems, most recently Mount Lebanon (Marian Wood/Putnam, 2011), as well as a translation of Paul Verlaine’s first book titled Poems Under Saturn (Princeton University Press, 2011). His new manuscript is Stumbling Blocks: Roman Poems, and he is working on translations of contemporary Italian poet Giovanni Giudici. He is Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Boston University, and from 2010-13 served as Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome.

 

TENEBRAE

Frannie Lindsay

Tenebrae

 

As grief begins taking up residence
I look to my greyhound’s whitened face;

to her deft, anatomical tongue
swooping my cheek as if nothing
has changed;

to her headlong
patience; her flanks no longer
huntress-muscled;

nails like the chipped keys
of a saloon piano;

and to the old, old
sun preparing the hallowed square
of her winter-day sleep.

 


 

Frannie Lindsay‘s fourth volume of poetry, Our Vanishing, has been awarded the 2012 Benjamin Saltman Award by Red Hen Press . It is forthcoming in March of 2014. Her other books are Mayweed (2009 Washington Prize, The Word Works); Lamb (Perugia Prize, Perugia 2006); and Where She Always Was (May Swenson Award, Utah State University Press, 2004). She is the 2008 winner in poetry of The Missouri Review Prize. Her work has appeared in The Antioch Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Field, Poetry International, The Harvard Review, Shenandoah, The Tampa Review, and many other journals.

Flour, Eggs, Milk, Baking Powder, Salt and God

Suzanne Lummis

Flour, Eggs, Milk, Baking Powder, Salt and God

O Best Beloved, tell me, if you know, why—
the world over—when that woman bending
toward the griddle, toward heat pushing through
the a.m. chill, turns up a soft brown impression
of an unshaven face surrounded by loose hair,  why
does she always think it’s Jesus?

And her proud, abruptly ennobled husband agrees,
and her chattering neighbors—It’s him!
A miracle!—
as if they’d know that face anywhere.
Beloved, take this instruction: don’t believe all you hear.
It could be Juan Ponce de Leon looking much
as he did when he surveyed the fresh-growing land

he’d name Pascua Florida, pointing—according
to legend—his sharp little beard toward the Waters
of Bimini, the “Fountain of Youth,” searching
not finding, but even his beard hard at work.  Or—

it could be his fellow Spaniard and relation,
Rodrigo Ponce de Leon, the Marquez of Cadiz!

But if the outline of gently singed batter describes
a head with luxurious gypsy curls and the artfully
shaped beard and moustache of a man so careful
with his looks he can afford to be careless with women,
oh that’s Lindsey Buckingham! You know,
lead singer for Fleetwood Mac, just as he looked

that madcap summer in L.A. when everyone
was sleeping with everyone and getting divorced,
and all of them, John and Christine McVie,
Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, inhaling, breathing
cocaine, until it drifted from their garments
like the sprinklings of Disney fairies.

Damn, he was a handsome man.
Those pancakes don’t do him justice.

But can we blame them, the folks who trudge home
each Sunday from the market lugging bags of onions,
potatoes, slabs of meat, flour—enough for one week—
eggs. They want Mystery, who doesn’t? Sanctity.
A visitation.  They want it for breakfast.

This morning, Beloved, while you lay still
asleep, the batter dreamed against the deep
cast iron griddle, against the bluing flames.
I cooked a flat cake, then a second, a third, and,
no, it was not the first one I prized, the one
with the secretive smile, nor the one after that,

whose eyes followed me around the room
as I searched for the tub of butter whip.
I enjoyed most that one on the bottom, the last
and the least, unleavened, the truly mysterious
pancake, the faceless one, with no expression at all.


 

Suzanne Lummis’ most recent book, Open 24 Hours, received the 2013 Blue Lynx Poetry Prize.  She’s a longtime teacher for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, co-founder of The Los Angeles Poetry Festival, which produced the citywide series Night and the City: L.A. Noiin Poetry, Fiction and Film, and the 2015 recipient of Beyond Baroque’s George Drury Smith Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award.  Her poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Hudson Review, The New Ohio Review, Ploughshares and The New Yorker.  She edited the new anthology Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (Pacific Coast Poetry Series/Beyond Baroque Books).  And she’s a member of the serio-comic performance trio Nearly Fatal Women.

NIGHT COMMUNION

Tara Skurtu

NIGHT COMMUNION

We met at the revolving hotel door. You’d shaved
three weeks of growth while I had three glasses
of wine in the lounge—I was too early, I’d gone
and come back. You’re late, you said.

I touched your cheek, your neck, your Adam’s apple
beading from a slip of the blade. Chanting lured us
diagonally across the street to the Orthodox
evening service. Asters spiraled the pillars.

We stood on the steps behind the crowd. A grievous
a cappella glow, a special ceremony. Men right
beside the women tonight. Maybe Mary, you said.
Or a marriage. I thought Jude—

These be they who separate themselves, sensual,
having not the Spirit. You tapped my shoulder,
made a quick sign of the cross, and we turned
and ducked away. A shoeless gypsy

baby threw her bottle at your feet. You set it
upright beside her mother, walked on ahead
of me toward an oak growing out of and thick
as the sidewalk. I took a blurry photograph

of you approaching this trunk, and behind you
the painted white arrow on the asphalt pointed
back to where I stood. You’d just walked over it.
Tomorrow I’d be leaving. It wasn’t yet late—

I was beginning to dream in your language. You, already
too good at mine, afraid of falling. We arrived at a comedy
club without a comedy act. The cognac, too sweet. We sat
upstairs. I faced the mirror. Tell me a story, you said.

 


 

Tara Skurtu teaches incarcerated college students through Boston University’s Prison Education Program. She is the recipient of a 2015-16 Fulbright, a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, and two Academy of American Poets prizes. Her poems have been translated into Romanian and Hungarian, and her recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Kenyon ReviewPoetry Review, Poetry Wales, Memorious, The Common, and Tahoma Literary Review.

THREE POEMS

Bruce Smith

THREE POEMS

Bruce Smith

I hitchhiked through Harrisburg once: night and some light dislocating,
deranging the river and a highway which was a country road or an artifact
of a market or a Cornell box and I got picked up between sobs and the wish
for a self to be conveyed and to be contingent [and I was white] and the trip
was windows filled and filled again with flight begun in rain, then begun again.

 

A self beyond herself singed by the stars, fundamentally
firmamentally hazy, muzzy, unreadable, stylishly doing the same as
everybody, stylishly self-justifying the stroke, the smoke, the childish
itch to outscratch the family, as if that story could account for
anything [gold, wind, water, fire] in its desire to be unforgettable.

 

Not the violent deaths that follow you around [if you were black] but the slow
white deaths, the time-released deaths like insulin or atoms released in slow
explosions like microscopic pollen, planets of spiked bother, a ball tethered to a pole
swung by no one: no one is a smooth eye-ball, an aperture in the camera, that sees
things reversed, or sees the edited footage, or doesn’t see

[the body cut from the tree]

 


 

Bruce Smith is the author of six books of poems, The Common WagesSilver and Information(National Poetry Series, selected by Hayden Carruth), Mercy SeatThe Other Lover (University of Chicago), which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Songs for Two Voices, and most recently Devotions, a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the LA Times Book Prize.  He received the 2012 William Carlos Williams Award.  His work has appeared in The New YorkerThe NationThe New RepublicThe Paris ReviewThe Partisan ReviewPoetryThe American Poetry Review, and many others. New essays of his appear in The Los Angeles Review of Books and Five Points.  He teaches at Syracuse University.

REMEMBERING RAY – AUG. 2,1998 – FOR TESS

Jim Somers

REMEMBERING RAY – AUG. 2,1998 – FOR TESS

The invitation reads:
“Please come together with
friends of Raymond Carver
and Tess Gallagher for
a graveside remembrance
marking the tenth anniversary
of his death.”

He calls to say he cannot come.
Soon enough, his decision, and
his million mile “Carver Car,”
are in Reverse, then in Drive:
500 actual miles to go, even so.
One more Carver story heading
north. A Vietnam story Ray did
not write. Dead broke, burning oil,
blowing through Carver country.

Timber country. Middle-class.
Working-class. Working-poor.
Friends and family rode hard,
put away drunk, deconstructed.
Asleep in one world, slapped awake
too late in another. Too many
overpacked for the wrong trip.
You learn to laugh, knowing
you don’t get the whole joke: like,
sure you can get to a better place,
but if I were you, I wouldn’t start
from here. Love, braced or not,
on the leading edge of disaster.
Folks trapped with no answers
to all the wrong questions.

Ray wrote their stories as he lived
his own, gave them full, unexpected
dignity without ever letting them
off the hook: “negative epiphanies.”
He drives afternoon into evening
into Portland. He drives before
and after a clear quarter moon,
bypasses Seattle, up Hood Canal.
He keeps checking the time until
he sees that it’s nearly ten thousand
years since great cataclysmic events
have ended, after glacial ice, after
exploding mountains, lava floods,
draining seas, his last new car. He
edges up the Olympic Peninsula, heads
west, past Port Townsend. Past tired.

Past New York and London
and Paris news. This day they will
remember Ray: America’s Chekhov.
He remembers Ray when Ray was
one more Carver story. He lived
with Ray before Ray was anyone’s
Chekhov. And he loved Ray, even so.

He is past living under love’s false
light, its dry lighting, its underpaid,
overworked glory, debunked daily,
story by story. Ray, who would echo
Chekhov: “Peasant blood flows in
my veins, you cannot astound me
with virtues of the peasantry.”

When he arrives in Port Angeles
he reads: Ocean View Cemetery
open Sunrise to Sunset. It is after
Sunset. Before Sunrise. His car
inches forward. Crunch of gravel.
Beams of light. He brakes near
enough to the sheer cliff edge.
Victoria’s lights bridge miles of
night-swallowed sea. He listens.
The Strait of Juan De Fuca alive.
Always awake. A flow of black ink.

Behind him a field of graves.
Monolithic, familiar, so many
stand no higher than new cut
grass. He has been here before.
With praying hands he bows to
whatever remains, says to all,
“You know I mean no harm.”
He knows you should not lie
to the dead, that the dead
almost never get it wrong.

He walks fifteen paces toward
the black granite bench beside
the black granite bed below
its Buddhist chimes. He stands
silent as smoke floating through
chill of night. Immense enough
and clear. He almost smiles and
says, “It’s good to be here, Ray.”
Then, somehow – don’t ask him
how – one chime sounds.

He lights the new white candle
inside round red glass as sticks
of incense burn in foil-covered
potted soil under Safeway flowers.
His blanket between bench and bed,
between a rock and a hard place.
In pale rose light he reads:

RAYMOND CARVER
May 25, 1938  –  Aug. 2, 1988
Poet, Short Story Writer, Essayist

Engraved below is Ray’s last poem:
LATE FRAGMENT. The poet calls
himself beloved, feels himself
beloved on the earth, even so.

He reads one more “last” poem: Gravy.
It begins, “No other word will do.
For that’s what it was. Gravy.”
And later, “Don’t weep for me….
I’m a lucky man. I’ve had ten years longer
than I or anyone expected. Pure gravy.
And don’t forget it.”

Tess was Ray’s rock before the granite,
His luck and his love. Tess lives, will live
and rest with Ray, in peace, which is ALL
in the end, and all that will remain.

Later, under wide arch of coal-blue
sky, he reads his own say:
FOR RAY – AUG. 2, 1998
“Loved these ten years out into galaxies,
and spoken unto death on earth: your going,
like trapping a scent with empty hands,
a going so clear it will take us longer
to realize, being something harder
to say than candlelight is fire. Our
own silences deepen as you deepened,
slowly, into that intimacy of unlearning,
toward these ten years past long
forgotten roads we came by.”

He lies down to sleep, and now knows
there are no roads, and he has been
on every one. No roads. Only rhythms.
Not a place. A dance. And he is late.
And he knows how timing counts.

He drifts into a fog beyond war.
Soon enough, sunrise coming up
over the strait, sunrise coming up
over granite. Awakened by sunrise.
And it’s a good one. Even so.

 


 

Jim Somers was a finalist for the James Fellowship For Novel In Progress sponsored by the Echo Press (actually the novel was complete). He received the Southern Oregon Poetry Prize.  He  is the author of two chapbooks: Portrait; and Kindly Stop The War Stories. “Dark Days,” his letter to Tess Gallagher, appears in Remembering Ray: a composite biography of Raymond Carver, published by Capra Press. He lived with Ray in Cupertino, California, in 1974.  He now resides with his wife, Pamala, in Oregon’s Wine Country, south of Portland, just down the road from a Trappist Abbey to which he was drawn by the writings of Thomas Merton.

 

FEATURED SELECTION

David Clewell

This month’s Featured Selection marks a return to our usual format of selected poems, this time from the remarkable David Clewell, with an introduction from Associate Editor for Special Projects, Nancy Mitchell.  After that lollapalooza of an interview, there are the poems themselves and some biographical material.

 

Introduction  

 

As both our schedules had been whipped into a froth by a wicked spring semester’s tail end, and as poet David Clewell’s window of internet access was limited, rather than the volley of e-mails typical of my Special Feature interviews, we had an “old skool” real-time phone conversation!   And I’m so happy we did, as otherwise I would have missed the warm richness, the cadences of his lovely voice, and his wonderful, spontaneous laugh.

 

Below, as an introduction to the selection BETWEEN THE SIXTIES AND THE SAUCERS AND THE WILLY-NILLY GODS–LET ALONE THE VAGARIES OF ORDINARY MORTALS–IT’S HARD TO KNOW WHO NEEDS BELIEVING MOST, is our free associative exchange of an hour or more, which is not unlike the narrative arc of this delightful and provocative Special Feature.

 

NM:     David, I was mesmerized and dizzy as I read this moving-at-the-speed-light narrative which begins at the slippery junction of 1967 and 1968. I held on for dear life as the extravagantly incongruous events chronologized in iii Disturbances in the 1967 Space-Time Continuum streamed into one raging river, plunging toward inevitable, dangerous falls.  You articulate the schizoid zeitgeist, the collective chaos, without sacrificing precision, or distinction so well; I see a psychedelic Picasso’s “Guernica” studded with portraits of the “Heavies.”

 

And, oh, the delicious irony in the only “rocks” however slippery, that we can cling to as the waters swirl menacingly around us are the main characters, the space aliens who have  landed at the  State Junction 6 and 63 in Ashland Nebraska, and the 22 year-old night watchman Herbert Schrimer who has witnessed them!

You’ve subverted the usual Hollywood version as aliens as a vastly superior intelligence; your aliens, for all their supposed know-how, have landed in Ashland, Nebraska!

 

DC:     Yes, they, perhaps, are wiser than humans, but are equally hapless.

 

NM:     It seems your narrator is nonjudgmental, detached, almost like the space aliens?  So, you’re saying Schrimer’s belief system, just doing his job, prevents him from assimilating another perspective, so much that he sublimates the experience so deeply it can only be retrieved under hypnosis almost a year later, is not under judgment?

 

DC:     What interests me, in some ways touches me, is how much people need to believe in something greater than themselves.  This need keeps people locked in their belief systems, even when presented with evidence to the contrary…it’s the faith itself I’m interested in…how “faith” dictates behavior, actions in accordance with that faith.  It isn’t so much what one believes in, but rather the degree of faith one has in that belief that determines…

 

NM:     One’s fate?

 

DC:     Well, yes; in Schrimer’s case, his belief system of just doing his job justifies, no, determines, his detachment from experience, an experience which could change his belief system and therefore his life.

 

NM:     His Colgate shield, so to speak?

 

DC:    Yes, and in the case of the aliens, their interest is, at first, benign, but kindly—they hope they can do some good for our world by what they observe, by connecting…

 

NM: …“at first”?  Because at first the aliens “believe” that humans will evolve out of stasis if they accept the existence of aliens via experience?  And when they realize that Schrimer’s belief system is impervious, their own belief system is therefore challenged?

 

DC:     Yes, and they realize that if their existence becomes a belief system, it, like other systems, will close the door to possibilities of assimilating other experiences. Therefore:

We want you to believe in us—but not too much.

                        –alien’s final words to Schrimer, “recovered” in 1968.

 

NM:     Ok, so we’re doomed?!!

 

DC:     Not really; it’s these beliefs, this faith that keep us humans alive, moving from one day to the next.

 

NM: that as long as we keep going, we’re not gone?

 

DC:     You got it!

 

NM:     Ah, and thus the double-entendre-ing of the title by the omission of an “IN” between BELIEVING and MORE?

 

DC:     Yep.

 

NM:     Genius!  So is it just me, or is anyone else dizzy? 

David, before we strap your readers in for this wild, exhilarating ride, I want to say thank you for an amazing conversation!

 

—Late May, 2014

David Clewell Photo Featured Selction  (1)

 

 

BETWEEN THE ’60s AND THE SAUCERS AND THE WILLY-NILLY GODS—LET ALONE THE VAGARIES OF ORDINARY MORTALS—IT’S HARD TO KNOW WHO NEEDS BELIEVING MOST

i.  All He Knew to Say

Saw a flying saucer at State Junction 6 and 63. Believe it or not.

 —Ashland, Nebraska patrolman Herbert Schirmer’s log-out

entry for December 3, 1967 (3:00 a.m.)

 

Because he was twenty-two years old, naturally he thought he knew
everything, had already seen whatever there was to see,
and near the end of his shift, 2:20 a.m., it was just his luck
that the blinking red lights of a disabled truck at the roadside
would mean a slightly longer night than he was looking for.
But in his cruiser’s high-beams was something else completely:
a metallic craft with illuminated portholes and some kind of crazy
catwalk around it, hovering soundlessly a few feet off the ground.
He watched it slowly rising in the crisp Nebraska air, passing
directly over his car, lighting up the sky before it disappeared
like just another shot in the dark.

Back at the station to log out

before heading home, where he’d try hard to close his wide-open eyes,

he discovered that his routine, ten-minute final swing through town
had taken an extra half-hour. He wrote down his fourteen words
to prove he wasn’t quite speechless. Because he was an officer of the law,
he knew by heart the Miranda right-to-remain-silent bit, but he was also
twenty-two, and no way on Earth would he leave it at that for long—
believe the-rest-of-what-happened-or-not-out-there. Or not.

ii.  A Little Too Quick to Respond

Are you the watchman of this place?    

—alien’s first words to Schirmer, part of the lost half-hour “recovered”

during hypnosis sessions in 1968

And because he was a twenty-two-year-old officer of the law, he simply answered
Sure without asking any questions of his own, such as what
they could possibly mean by this place, more or less, if anything at all
beyond this immediate intersection of small-town country roads. Probably
he wasn’t thinking even as big as Ashland, let alone Nebraska or the rest
of the unsuspecting country—and especially not the whole precariously
lightheaded planet, where somehow they suddenly found themselves at that odd
interrogative moment spinning into the slippery junction of 1967 and 1968.
And what a watchman is supposed to do, exactly, in such a situation
is anybody’s guess. It’s a thankless job, so surely anyone would be grateful
at least for a freshly starched uniform, name tag, working two-way radio,
hot coffee, and maybe some semblance of a gun, no matter how underloaded.

And before Schirmer’s aliens actually arrived—when they were still traveling
mightily through stretches of empty interstellar space, only to wind up,
for all their cosmic know-how, in  ASHLAND, NEBRASKA: POP. 2000—
there was so much genuine commotion already in the 1967 air
that watchman Herbert Schirmer couldn’t see any cause for alarm:

iii.  Disturbances in the 1967 Space-Time Continuum

B-movie Republican Reagan is sworn in as California’s governor
one day before the Doors let loose with Light My Fire, and without even trying,
there will be many days for swearing in and nights to set on fire this year.

In NASA’s burning hurry to the Moon, the harried crew of Apollo 1 goes up
in launchpad flames three weeks away from liftoff. Sealed in for numbing hours
of routine system-checks, they were looking for trouble. But they never asked for any
so suddenly enormous that they couldn’t get out of it somehow alive.
And in the name of U.S. rocket science, it’s back to the Space Race drawing board.

Over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the Moon’s so much closer
and more peaceful to the Human Be-In throng, where alternative-wavelength DJs
Ginsberg and Leary exhort thousands of un-Republicans to Turn on,
tune in, drop out. It’s a countdown to anti-ignition, a send-up in smoke
of the cartoon American Dream, the ultimate warm-up act for the tenuous

Summer of Love ahead, complete with tourists bus-tripping through the Haight
to See Real-Life Hippies! That’s what small-time Charlie Manson—
just released from jail again—is doing, armed with a guitar, his ingratiating
smile, and dreams about a family he’d one day more than own up to.
Hendrix is setting fire to another Stratocaster down in Monterey,

and it’s a different kind of scorcher altogether, this Summer of anti-Love
in Newark, Cleveland, Memphis, Detroit: fires there’ll be no putting out completely.
When heavyweight Ali says No to the Army, No to the war in Vietnam, and
I’m so pretty to anyone who’ll listen, he’s stripped of the crown he otherwise wasn’t
about to lose, and once more the country is torn between sheer outrage
and outright inflammatory cheering. And this stubborn split-decision fever

isn’t breaking anytime soon: it’s the big-screen year of Cool Hand Luke—or the year
of Bonnie and Clyde. Either Elvis, singing his still viable heart out on How Great
Thou Art—or the Beatles, getting by with a little help from their friends.
Consider the Patterson Bigfoot film just in from Bluff Creek, California:
when that creature slows down to look directly back at the camera,
it’s proof of an unabashed animal’s native curiosity—or
a man in a costume who’s checking to see if Patterson’s still shooting.

In the same discombobulated October week of the off-Broadway
dawning of Hair, with its promise of New Age relief on the way, astrologically
speaking—Aquarius ad nauseam—reaction to the escalating war
is heating up here at home: recruiters from Dow Chemical on campus
in Madison, Wisconsin—selling in so many words the future of napalm—
are confronted by hundreds of infuriated students. When police arrive
in their otherworldly riot gear, it’s obvious that no one’s had nearly
enough time to prepare for this outrageous midterm exam.

A thousand miles away, 100,000 protestors gather at the Lincoln Memorial—
the first-ever national anti-war demonstration. Some in that crowd
can’t wait to attempt the decidedly radical, non-metaphorical
levitation of the Pentagon itself—one handbill’s madcap version of a call-to-arms—
by chanting or singing or telekinesis or whatever passes these days for prayer.
Or even some literal heavy lifting, if that’s what finally has to be done
to exorcize the evil spirits of war. To let the sun shine in.
But the Pentagon ends up so easily holding its shadowy, dark ground.

And on the same day the saucer shows up at last and begins its descent
in the middle of watchman Schirmer’s particular nowhere—yet another
unfortunate they-never-land-on-the-White-House-lawn situation—
the first human heart is successfully transplanted half a world away,
and finally there’s a little good news this late in what’s been one
exceedingly strenuous year. This heartsick planet surely could use

some kind of lift about now, so let it be this groundbreaking surgery, or
a message of hope from alien beings who’ve gone so far out of their way again
to deliver it—if that’s what it turns out they’re here for.
In either case, may there be a few auspicious days on the bright side
before the complications unavoidably set in: the body, threatening
to reject the new heart it sorely needs, or the brain so close to shutting down,
unwilling to graciously entertain the idea of such unexpected visitors.

The heart patient won’t make it to Christmas, and Schirmer’s in no position yet
to get the celestial message. It will be next year before he remembers too much
of anything that’s happened. And as for those intrepid aliens themselves,
who either hurtled through so many light-years to reach us or otherwise managed
to wormhole their way into exactly the right galactic neighborhood—
it’s hard to believe they’re already leaving, almost as if
they were never really here, saving their very best advice for last:

iv.  Running Down the Gods

We want you to believe in us—but not too much.

 —alien’s final words to Schirmer, “recovered” in 1968

What a welcome change of pace on the part of assuredly superior beings
who must have known they wouldn’t always be there for Herbert Schirmer
or anyone else, for that matter. Because too often the faithful, whatever the faith,
believe until it hurts. Just think of the demanding Old Testament God, or
the Wizard of Oz, if you must. They’re working behind the scenes
in their respective jurisdictions, bent over improvised control boards—
pushing this, pulling that, frantically turning some other thing—
and throwing their weighty voices around. Go ask Abraham and Isaac, or Job
and his fed-up wife. Or Lot’s wife: for looking back over her shoulder toward home,
she was summarily iodized. At least the Wizard said he’d settle for a broom,
never honestly believing that Dorothy could deliver, and what else can he do
but sputter and play for a little more time? Those wayward Greek and Roman gods
weren’t any better—capricious, petty, quick to anger at any slight, real
or imagined—famously insisting on blind faith in their unruly powers.

And down here at the mortal level, it only gets worse: people who believe in
themselves too much, always asking much the same of others—their excessive trust
and understanding, yes, and even more distressingly, undying admiration.
It’s a patchwork of abstracted virtue sure to wear thin in this era of too many
prime ministers and presidents, attorneys and investment bankers, military
officers and corporate CEOs, preachers and physicians, artists and writers
and radio talk-show hosts and TV weather-people who expect us to believe
they can predict, a full week in advance, the daily highs and lows we’re in for.

v.  Too Much 1968

No one could have forecast 1968, an unrivalled year of too much
believing, bleeding, and dying. And no nightwatchman anywhere on patrol
could so much as hope to slow its approach, so here it comes:

Walter Cronkite will return from reporting on Vietnam’s deadly Tet Offensive
to his anchor desk at CBS News, where this Most Trusted Man in America
stymies the Johnson administration by pronouncing the war unwinnable.
Then the massacre at My Lai, although details of those three lost hours
won’t be uncovered for another year: Lieutenant Calley’s I was just following
orders, his men in turn following his, and 500 women and children wiped out
for no military reason. When war-torn LBJ goes on television to announce
there’s no way he’ll run again, Martin Luther King can’t believe what he’s seeing,

can’t help his out-loud Amen. It’s a week before he’ll go down himself, for good,
on a Memphis motel balcony, and soon enough hard-running Democrat
Bobby Kennedy too, on a restaurant-kitchen floor in Ronald Reagan’s California—
too much and too much—and people who’d put their faith in them will try again
to sift through the sadness and anger for anything still left standing
if the cities ever stop burning again. And there might not be much.
Surely it can’t be Richard Nixon—inexplicably back from the dead

and calling himself The New Nixon until it’s all a bit much, tricked out
with those morally ambiguous Nixon’s the One bumper stickers—yet somehow
his Peace with Honor campaign catches fire at Miami’s Republican Convention.
Chicago’s Mayor Daley unofficially will host the bloody Democratic Convention,
offering his own butchered peacemaker’s pledge: The policeman’s not there
to create disorder; the policeman’s there to preserve disorder. And stumbling
out of this confusion will be Hubert Humphrey, too much the LBJ lap dog
to start pissing with the big dogs now. And believe it or not, it’s actually Nixon
promising, if elected, to end the war. He’ll keep referring to his secret plan
like something cooked up after spending too much time with Spanky and Alfalfa
in the Little Rascals clubhouse. But Nixon in the White House is a different story.
His new rough-and-tumble gang’s hijinks will be no laughing matter.

Before the year’s gone, Charles Manson also will remake himself with a vengeance—
more of a Family man than ever. He’ll pass long days in his homemade bunker
working up his own much-too-secret plan to launch a new, helter-skelter war.
He’ll listen too much to the White Album, finding messages he truly believes
were intended for him alone, already dreaming his way down the road
to his wild-eyed historical moment—a bare-bones production of Armageddon
and Bethlehem together, live in concert, high in the fabled Los Angeles hills.

The year cinematically ushered in by Kubrick’s expansive, luminous 2001
will go out with the Apollo 8 astronauts’ more immediate space odyssey:
clearing a flight-path for 1969, the much ballyhooed Moon landing still ahead.
They’ll take that lucky-shot “Earthrise” photo from lunar orbit—instantly
a Christmas-card classic presenting a beautiful, overwrought planet
in this far-more-flattering-than-usual light. Peace on Earth, then, as if
that could happen. And with honor, whatever that means. Back here at the movies,

a world away from the Moon’s breathtaking heights, this year will finally trail off
in low-budget black and white: Romero’s claustrophobic, unrelenting Night
of the Living Dead. And ready or not, when the lights come on again
it will be a new year where, when it comes to steering clear of zombies
or the landlord or even Richard Nixon in the flesh or in theory, at last
we might like our chances—if that’s not, just this once, too much to ask

vi.  What Comes Back

We’ve been watching the human race for a long time, the space beings say
in too many preachy 1950s science fiction movies and in those slaphappy
pamphlets and books by people who’d trafficked, however briefly, with real-life
Space Brothers and Sisters. With apostolic fervor, they were forever talking up
the unearthly wisdom first imparted just to them—most often, oddly bland
concerns and admonitions about Earth’s new Atomic Age. But at least
in those glory days of flying saucers, before the darker UFO abduction ruckus—
forbidding Greys, invasive implants, human/alien hybrid babies on display—
a person could simply walk right onto a spaceship and straightaway get taken
for a ride: an exclusive, invitation-only adventure. And every one of them
remembered it completely, not a single minute mysteriously gone missing.
No hypnosis required. The experience was all theirs, anytime they wanted,
and always their decidedly unmitigated pleasure to relive.

Herbert Schirmer’s close encounter split the historical difference. Apparently
he’d held up his end of the wee-hours conversation, small-talking his way
inside the craft. But that was nowhere in his waking recollection.
He used to listen time and again to recordings where the aliens themselves,
unmenacing, came back to him in lengthy hypnotic regressions. Even then
he never quite got off the ground before everyone had somewhere else to be.
They made him a high-flown promise they’d return—Watchman, one day
you’ll see the universe!—and although he willingly believed they might have had
nothing but mostly good intentions, he didn’t get far when it came to thinking
it could really happen. That would have meant a little too much
hoping against hope—more than he could hold out for the rest of his life.
As if he’d ever have that luxury, that kind of time again.

vii.  Where the Rest of Us Get Off

And when it comes to where the rest of us on Earth put our faith,
history tells us repeatedly that we have to watch ourselves.
We’d never knowingly get onboard with a bad idea, but it appears
that’s more than occasionally where we’ve been, right in the middle of
the wrong crowd again, and any lost time we can’t account for later
gets a little harder to make up. We really don’t remember being told
in no uncertain terms what to believe—let alone what for, and
how wholeheartedly—by someone plainly asking so many for so much.
The next time we get that carried away, let’s try not giving up too much
for no good reason.

In earlier, more optimistic days, we shook hands

on anything. Freely gave our solemn word. Made what we considered
sacrifices. Sizable donations. We signed petitions, paid most of our taxes,
and shook our heads when we got wise to another war we’d been sold.
We bought smaller cars and still recalled next to nothing when we woke up
to find ourselves as usual out of gas, muttering in the breakdown lane again
with no idea how we got there. We’d only wanted to go home.

This could be our final good-faith offer, when enough at last will have to be
enough. Then we make our move toward the door, where we get off
saying take it or leave it, no questions asked, believe it
or not, before heading back to anywhere we might have come from once—
palatial estate or cold-water flat, lover or leftover casserole, long-ago
hometown or faraway-planet-of-the-so-inclined—somewhere almost
always beyond belief from here. Back to those lives we’ve led ourselves
to believe in just enough: that as long as we keep going, we’re not gone.

 


 

David Clewell has published eight collections of poems–most recently, Taken Somehow by Surprise (Four Lakes Poetry Prize)–and two book-length poems (The Conspiracy Quartet and Jack Ruby’s America). His work has appeared regularly in a wide variety of magazines, including Harper’s, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Georgia Review, Ontario Review, New Letters, andYankee. His poetry is represented in five-dozen anthologies. He’s been the recipient of the Pollak Poetry Prize (for Now We’re Getting Somewhere) and the Lavan Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His Blessings in Disguise was a winner in the National Poetry Series. He directs the Creative Writing program and coordinates the attendant Visiting Writer Series, which he started in 1986. He was the Poet Laureate of Missouri from 2010-2012.

 

Nancy Mitchell, a Pushcart Prize 2012 recipient, 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.