Welcome to Issue # 36 of Plume.
Last month, we had the occasion to mourn the passing of two remarkable poets: Nina Cassian and Russell Edson.
Which leads me to this month’s theme: life. Though I’ll never be mistaken for an optimist, one takes one’s pleasures as one finds them, celebrates what bears celebrating. And so I turn for our poÃ¨mes cachés to four poets who, in varying residencies of senescence, remain with us, not always writing with the vigor of their youth, perhaps, yet certainly deserving of our attention and gratitude.
Fear and Fame
Half an hour to dress, wide rubber hip boots,
gauntlets to the elbow, a plastic helmet
like a knight’s but with a little glass window
that kept steaming over, and a respirator
to save my smoke-stained lungs. I would descend
step by slow step into the dim world
of the pickling tank and there prepare
the new solutions from the great carboys
of acids lowered to me on ropes – all from a recipe
I shared with nobody and learned from Frank O’Mera
before he went off to the bars on Vernor Highway
to drink himself to death. A gallon of hydrochloric
steaming from the wide glass mouth, a dash
of pale nitric to bubble up, sulphuric to calm,
metals for sweeteners, cleansers for salts,
until I knew the burning stew was done.
Then to climb back, step by stately step, the adventurer
returned to the ordinary blinking lights
of the swingshift at Feinberg and Breslin’s
First-Rate Plumbing and Plating with a message
from the kingdom of fire. Oddly enough
no one welcomed me back, and I’d stand
fully armored as the downpour of cold water
rained down on me and the smoking traces puddled
at my feet like so much milk and melting snow.
Then to disrobe down to my work pants and shirt,
my black street shoes and white cotton socks,
to reassume my nickname, strap on my Bulova,
screw back my wedding ring, and with tap water
gargle away the bitterness as best I could.
For fifteen minutes or more I’d sit quietly
off to the side of the world as the women
polished the tubes and fixtures to a burnished purity
hung like Christmas ornaments on the racks
pulled steadily toward the tanks I’d cooked.
Ahead lay the second cigarette, held in a shaking hand,
as I took into myself the sickening heat to quell heat,
a lunch of two Genoa salami sandwiches and Swiss cheese
on heavy peasant bread baked by my Aunt Tsipie,
and a third cigarette to kill the taste of the others.
Then to arise and dress again in the costume
of my trade for the second time that night, stiffened
by the knowledge that to descend and rise up
from the other world merely once in eight hours is half
what it takes to be known among women and men.
– from “What Work Is,” by Philip Levine (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991).
LITTLE FRENCH ILLUSTRATED DICTIONARY
We called him that with great affection
After all he wasn’t very tall
The truth is that he knew more than all of us put together
Including the very same Jorge Millas
In spite of being the youngest of the group
Which included besides
The impressionist painter Carlos Pedraza
Dr. Hermann Niemeyer
Engineer RaÃºl Montecinos
Specialist in Subterreanean Waters
Who became Secretary General
Of this University if I’ m not mistaken
& one or two other peripheral electrons
Not to mention Jorge CÃ¡ceres
Who slit his veins in the bathtub
– from I Haven’t Come Prepared, translated from the Spanish by Dave Oliphant
But it’s really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself
you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep
buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought
and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you
asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window
traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there–
you brag to friends you won’t mind death only dying
what a liar you are–
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,
they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room
– from The Book of Seventy by Alicia Ostriker.
Late Summer insights
In the late August night
the eye of Taurus reddens
as if he wants to inseminate the earth.
He knows, soon or late, for him
it’s the abattoir–no compliant cow grazing
in his corner of the sky.
Escaped from what furnace
When my thoughts burn
I know why.
Tonight an icy wind
whips the stars–
and yet I think too
they burn more fiercely.
Could there be
even for them
Clouds sit like gods in majesty–
only towards nightfall
hemmed in purple.
alive as running water
gone as quickly as
a quick glance
a cool kiss.
All these creatures
seen or unseen
are to entice a voice
out of the Silence.
‘This summer too many stars, great Sir,
too many friends struck down,
too many puzzles.
‘I find myself more and more
out of joint with the times–
a madman lost among brambles.
‘Explain yourself, great evasive Sir.’
His reply lines the woodland paths–
groundsel, hogweed, endive.
– Translated from the French by C.K. Stead
Now: the years rise before us, elongated, pale yellow, the mind round and ripe.
But, per usual, to business at hand:
The PLUME Reading New Orleans with Peter Cooley, Carrie Causey, Ben Lowenkron, Chris Shipman, and Brad Richard was by all accounts a great success. Jonathan Penton shot video, is editing it now, and we should have it up next issue. Many thanks to all!
Upcoming, still: Paris, with Jeffrey Greene, Marilyn Hacker, Molly Lou Freeman, and others, too, perhaps. Fall, The American University of Paris.
Also, Asheville and Los Angeles, the latter with, for now, Mark Irwin, Arthur Vogelsang, and Marci Vogel.
Watch this space.
Also: as I mention in the Editor’s Note, several poets who teach creative writing have taken to using the Plume Anthology of Poetry 2014 in their classes — thank you, Ron Smith and Peter Cooley, the latest adopters — and more will do so in the fall. If this interests you in the slightest, you can purchase a copy at our STORE on the PLUME Website or through our publishers at http://madhat-press.com/ or online at Amazon (where there is an extensive Look Inside feature, and many other sites, as well.
Next up, after this issue’s Featured Selection from Brian Swann, look for work from James Richardson, with Nin Andrews, another collaboration from Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda, Christopher Kennedy, and Linda Pastan on tap — and if things work out, a special surprise. (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 email@example.com )
For a list of new work received this month, please see our Editor’s Note.
For a list of summer reading from a diverse crowd of writers and poets, including Mona Simpson, Pierre Joris, Gail Mazur, Jamaal May, Shane McCrae, and Lisa Russ Spaar (and, um, me) take a look at the iteration of Ron Slate’s Seawall.
As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!