Issue 8.2

Falling Out of Context

By Jen Sharda

In the gallery, the artist’s

smallest painting holds

at its center a perky black splatter

on the side of the boy’s

white-shirted chest.

 

He’s falling in profile

loosely jackknifing assward

as if off a mountain

into the swale of blue sky.

Paintings nearby are dotted

 

yellow for sunlight,

red to have fun, white

calling all’s safe. Different

from that inky kiss

planted deep mid-chest

 

by the splash and sloosh

of a good mud puddle.

Like my mother’s death,

dreaded a lifetime, her eyes

intent, her mouth moving

 

over and over past breath

till I saw it was words

and returned them, Oh…

Mom! I love you too.

Saw her let go

 

with deep smile and gaze

as if her sharp and dark

were absorbed forever

into the cheerful blots

exploding between us.

Dreams in Crow-Fukase

By Brian J. Helt

Hwebe’s out here. I know it. I can see the thrushes just over the peak of the mountain that stands over me, flying in that giant halo. During the winter, their nests are typically found at lower elevations, but regardless of season, their behavior is unlike anything I’ve seen.

I’m lying here in the snow under that great Alaskan summer twilight that lingers always, and I know that today is the day that I die. I imagine my insides finally popping out, too swollen now.

It would’ve been another two years anyways, just like they said, and things had only gotten worse since we found out. My ankles had swelled and I could feel my insides shifting since before the news, not the way they do when you roll over in bed, or take a jog, but the slow glacial shift, crunching and catastrophic.

I think back on everything I left in Illinois and try to squash out the guilt. Rachel had been so mad even before I decided to leave. I still don’t think the doctors could’ve helped.

*   *   *

“What do you mean, you’re not going?” she had said. I remember the way she leaned towards me, head tilted in the most annoyed of ways.

“There’s not much point to it, Rachel.”

“No point. No point! Are you blind or just stupid? You’ll be dead before sixty.”

I had looked at her without saying a word, and she must’ve known what I was thinking right then. Her face relaxed the way it always did when a certain nerve had been struck.

“Don’t give me that bullshit, Henrik. You know damn well that isn’t true.”

The dishes she had been doing sunk back to the bottom of the sink, filled with water clouded and soapy. Suds scattered in clusters across its surface. She turned back and resumed hand washing the dishes from that night’s dinner.

“He didn’t guarantee anything,” I remember having said with her back turned to me.

“Exactly! Which is why stopping is a ridiculous idea. It’s stupid.”

And I knew right then that she wouldn’t understand, or that I didn’t have it in me to get her to understand about the time, about the little orange and black birds, about what they were saying was up there in the woods. Phillip Lacroix.

*   *   *

My insides feel the tightest they have ever felt and I know that both my liver and my spleen will explode and it won’t be a swift death, but painful and enduring. I’m unsure if it’s the cold that is cutting down the feeling in my arms and legs, but I had started without much sensation and the worry that I have been walking on fractured legs and feet without knowing it makes its way into my heart easily.

I try to catch my breath, try to find the strength from within to lift myself and stay on track to find him. Somewhere between worrying about my bones and grasping my chest in pain, I stand up and trudge on through the powdery snow, knee high, that bursts and spreads with each clumsy step like salt from a shaker that scatters across the table.

*   *   *

You could hear wild accusations while making your way to the changing room at work. In the months before I left, I heard them call him a pederast, a lunatic and every other name in the book.

“Did you hear the last report on Lacroix?” someone would ask.

“No, what’s it now?”

“Apparently he’s living with Kodiak bears, you know like that grizzly guy who got all eaten and shit. Apparently he can talk to them, or tame them or something.”

People would go through the usual gamut of theories for weeks on end. Cultism, Satanism, sacrifices, crimes, drugs, cartels. You name it and someone seemed to have a theory for it. When none of the major news corporations released a story about him being arrested for any of it, they seemed to fizzle away like soda foam. So I started researching him.

I can remember one image from one late night, about three months after Rachel and I had fought in the kitchen and my symptoms started getting worse. My skin started tightening and hair began showing up in strange places. One photojournalist tried tracking him in the northern Alaskan woods. All he got was one picture. I remember looking with amazement at the image. It looked like a tornado but short and wide, like a halo and not fully fleshed out, rough at the edges. When I expanded the photo, I could see what must’ve amazed the photojournalist before he collapsed from what would later be determined as hypothermia. It was a mass of birds flying in a circle just over a mountain peak. I knew it was the thrushes, the small orange and brown birds that gathered above that summit. And why?

*   *   *

My steps are getting heavier every moment and I can lift my legs less with each step. I trip over myself landing on my hands and as my elbows bend, I can feel the skin so tight it could snap open. I am shrink wrapped in leather. With a guttural hack and a wretch I spit up blood that pools and melts the top snow before cooling and freezing on the speckled texture of the porous mound. My insides feel more shredded, almost like breakfast hash. An eerie type of cold licks at my neck and I know it isn’t the cold of temperature or frost, but the icy debt sent years ago.

I crawl towards a pine tree and grasp the stubs of branches to bring myself upright and brace myself by leaning against it. So weary and weak now, and I can barely hold myself upright, I begin to consider the very real possibility that I will never find Lacroix, see the thrushes and whatever it is that’s up there on the mountain, and I will have left Rachel so horribly for nothing.

“Press on you poor, dumb bastard,” I say to myself because I know deep in my heart that there has been nothing harder than this trek, that there is no return from this. I remind myself of those things, before I came to these woods and set my car on fire to die in oblivion, when I donated almost everything I had, when in the weeks before I left we began sleeping in different rooms.

*   *   *

She called me a coward first, then a sociopath. I forgot the names in between, but she finished on “complete fucking idiot.” I had given all my shoes and clothes to shelters, my belongings to churches and thrift stores that would take them. Anything else that I couldn’t find anyone to take, I just threw away at the local dump. Our lives had been separated and were imbalanced and the apartment was the evidence. All that remained were Rachel’s things, her books that leaned vacantly on the shelves, her clothes that barely filled the dresser. I had told her to keep the furniture, but I don’t think she heard it.

Rachel refused to acknowledge that I was leaving, and yet managed to bring up my irresponsibility every chance she had. Meals shared became tense, distanced and impersonal. The pained remembrance of how it all ended would become the sharp reminder that a good woman had been cast aside. I was teaching myself what dying meant before I even left for Alaska. I was trying to find out what it meant to lose everything and learn how to let it go. I don’t want to be that man on his death bed, white knuckled to the last vestiges of his life.

The drive took a full week. I tried not to stop for meals longer than half an hour each, and even then I tried to eat on the road as much as possible. The trip was haunted by the last sight of Rachel when I glanced into my rearview mirror. She was in the front window in her bathrobe, nose and eyes red from crying hard. I hadn’t slept the previous night either for more reasons than I can say. Every town I stopped in I considered calling her and knew she would pick up the phone and in some ways I wish I had, for one last chance to tell her “I love you.” To not be mad, to know that I had to do this, to be as mad as she wanted, that I deserve her worst, that “I love you.” There’s never enough time.

*   *   *

The forest breaks up and the dense pattern of trees quickly dissolves into a clearing. My lungs are raw and cut and bloody from the icy air, how can anyone breathe up here? I grasp a branch from one of the last trees before the clearing and feel nothing. My head spins so viciously that it seems to sweep across the frozen land and I can almost feel my stomach tighten and cramp before I wretch. An immense paleness bleeds all of the sky and the trees of any vibrancy and I can feel my consciousness letting go in a brief moment, almost an evaporating second of clarity, of knowing what is happening in the mind before I collapse. I imagine the snow feels cool against my skin. The polyneuropathy has killed too much human in me.

Through the pallid expanse I see the mountain peak that no one else can see, and a sweeping cylinder, like a desert thunder cloud spinning in a draining tub. I can see the thrushes and their beacon to the world telling us where to find it.

I am not Henrik, in the last years of his fifties. I am not dying, but already dead and eternal. As I stand, I spread my arms out and feel them reach out like wings of the universe and all of my feathers are the dreams. They feel infinite, these arms or wings-I don’t know anymore, and I cannot seem to get a grasp on the stillness of an earthly consciousness.

In this dream, everything is moving ever, and I cannot be still and glide through the vestibule of the afterlife. I know what the thrushes are guarding, and what is on the mountain. I can see it in this dream.

*   *   *

The branches, spiny and sharp, slip across from under the sky and I watch them, gliding on my back. I can hear the grating sound of packed snow being broken under a sled and realize I’ve been put on one. I’m being pulled. Death never felt as close as it does in this very moment. I can feel my very consciousness wavering. I tilt my head back in an effort to see who or what is pulling this sled, and all I see is something that walks upright, covered in a thick fur. For a split second I think to myself that this is obviously where Bigfoot would’ve run to.

When I open my eyes again is when I realize that I slipped back into a dreamless sleep. We’ve reached a clearing and I can see the twilight sky above me. Still the snow is grating under the sled. The beast in front still pulls it with the strength of what I imagine a bear would have, and I envy it, barely able to lift my arm to rub my numbed nose.

The final time I open my weary eyes, there he is. He sits by the campfire, bundled in animal furs and he still looks like a bear that wears a human’s face. I roll off the sled, barely able to pull my leg up to my chest, let alone stand. I crawl to the fire which is not so far away and that is when I first hear his voice, low and gentle and smoothed at the edges, like dark polished oak, classic.

“Get close to the fire,” he says without lifting his eyes from the pot that gurgles with its lid heavy placed on top of it.

“Where?” I ask breathlessly. The words are heavier than my legs and I know if I speak too much I will pass out again.

“About hundred feet from the summit.”

This is Phillip Lacroix, bearded face of hard carved lines from seeing too much of something. I want to ask him so many things about the thrushes, where he goes, what he sees and knows. Have you died before? What does God have to say about us? Is there truly a life like this waiting for us on the other side? But I can’t, it’s all too much for me and I can feel my body letting go. I notice my breathing is heavy and labored only when he gives me a knowing glance, like he’s seen and done this all before.

“Lacroix?” I ask.

He nods with a blink. I let out a deep breath as the exhaustion from crawling over leaves me.

“What’ve you found up here?” I ask

He takes a deep breath as he stokes the coals of the fire with a stick he must’ve found earlier.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“Henrik.”

“It’s killing you, inside and out, isn’t it?”

I take my time to reply, somewhat taken aback by how he knows. “Yes.”

“What’d you come from, Henrik?”

“Illinois.”

“No. I want to know what you’re running from, who did you leave behind?”

Rachel leaps into my mind. Everything stings for her. I try talking through it, hoping the pain bores.

“Had a girlfriend, Rachel. Job at a grocery store.”

“You left it all.”

I nod.

“For nothing,” he continues, “and were you prepared to die out here?”

“Thought I was, not sure I’ll ever be ready for it.”

He looks at me with eyes that have seen beyond the earth, or at least it seems. Has he heard this before?

“It’s Crow-Fukase syndrome.”

“Call it what you want, it’s called dyin’,” he cuts me off.

“Fine. I’ve been dying for the past three years.”

“So you needed to the find the answer.”

“Just about.”

“When will it finally kill you?” he asks.

“Pretty sure today’s the day.”

He nods.

“And you thought I had the answers? Up on this mountain, where they photographed the halo?”

“I don’t know. I hoped. There were rumors, people would say—”

“People say a lot of things.”

“What did you find, Phillip?”

“Not until I know you’re right for it.”

“I’m dying.”

“Doesn’t mean anything, death. It’s just the next step, the great equalizer. Everything in life dies, and nothing in the wild feels sorry for itself, or entitled to anything. Why did you come here, Henrik?”

I cannot speak, knowing right now that I have used my condition to escape everything I was afraid of. I had lost myself in its excuse, thinking that somehow it made me special, made me different from a bird that falls dead from a bow, never feeling sorry for itself. And still, Rachel finds her way into my thoughts and I wish I could crush them.

“I want the answer.”

“To what?”

“I don’t know,” I say, searching for something inside me that I cannot define or describe.

“I can’t show you anything that’ll give you what you’re looking for if you can’t even tell me what it is yourself.”

I know it in me to be true, and I can feel the words bubbling up like volcanic ash that spews out of the mouth of a dormant and colossal mountain top. At once it is releasing and terrifying.

“I’m afraid of dying,” I say and feel it shoot up from the bottom pit of my stomach, through my heart and out from my throat. There is solace in knowing what cannot be undone or unsaid. Phillip simply nods with what I suspect is the faint edge of a smile.

“You think I can save you,” he says.

I want to say no, but don’t because I know that I really hope he can.

“I just need to know if there’s life after death,” I say as a tear rolls down my cheek and I realize I hadn’t even known my eyes were watering. Still he gazes at the fire, deep in contemplation, stirring the white coals with the stick, tip smoldering. He breaks the silence between us.

“Let me show you something.”

He stands up, strong and steady and lifts me gently by the arm, draping it across the axis of his shoulders. We walk like this together, clumsily through the trees and for the first time since I woke up I take in our surroundings under the barely dark, barely lit sky. I have no way of knowing our elevation, but as I look out, the mountain peaks are not as looming and god-like as before, and I can hear it and see it. The flustered flutter of what sounds like a million hands swathed in fabrics gently slapping one another. As I look up I can see the thrushes, so close now, their song sounds like the waves of a stormy coastline as they thunder against the rocks of a cliff side. They are a churning, swirling mass of brown, almost black because there are so many. More birds than I have ever seen in my life and I cannot catch my breath.

“Easy, Henrik. Deep breath. It’s just a little farther,” Phillip says as we make our way through a treeless, rocky mountainside where a dirt path has been built. I see a cave in the not so distant peak and I wonder if I’ll make it, if I’ll collapse here with my body letting go before I let go.

“What’s in there?” I ask breathlessly but Phillip says nothing, only brings me closer to the cave. We’re at the mouth of the cave now and I fall to my hands and knees, coughing and wheezing. I bring my hand to my mouth to catch my cough, and when I look down I see the blood again, covering it. It’s now, there is no time left and my heart races in a panic. I’ll die now, I know. I will leave my body shortly and slip into oblivion and I fear it, like a child fears the bottom of a pool, or the ocean that he or she cannot see.

Phillip takes a knee next to me and I feel his breath in my ear.

“Everything you’re afraid of losing, all the answers you could not find are waiting for you in there. You don’t have any time left, Henrik and I can’t take you there myself. Go. Now!”

With what I know to be the last ounce of life in me, and while every fiber, every cell of my body resists, wanting the slip into the eternal dormancy, I push. Everything aches, is fatigued, my insides are shredded, my lungs feel filled with blood. I wonder if my skin will crack open and I will bleed out on this mountain top before I even see what it is in here that I left everything I ever needed for. I stumble wearily into the cave, where a low humming, an almost subsonic oscillation fills everything. It passes through my body and my mind and everything about my body blurs, is it that dark in here?

I stand before it, I know it. It is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined, and how could it be anything else? The secret to what Phillip Lacroix found up here, and guards, and protects. A door, or rather, a steel vault left ajar. I can no longer feel my insides, my lungs, my feet that have undoubtedly blistered. I pull the vault open and peer through before looking back at the cave’s mouth where Phillip stands. He waves to me gently. How can I thank you, Phillip? I wave back before turning to the vault door and step through.

___

Brian J. Helt is a recent graduate from San Francisco State University, majoring in creative writing.  His previous publications include work featured in literary journals such as Ray’s Road Review, the Blue Moon Literary and Arts Review, Crack the Spine, the California Quarterly, Lilliput Review, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal and more.

Forge Interview with Simon Perchik

By Tim McLafferty

Welcome to the third Forge Interview: our series of interviews with makers on making. Conceptually cast as craft interviews, we offer time and space to invited writers, the goal of which is manifold: to get to know the artist better by trying to understand how they make a thing, to better understand the thing itself, and hopefully, to provide a lasting utility.

Our guest is Simon Perchik. Published in little magazines since the 1950s, Simon’s first book, I Counted Only April, appeared in 1964 on the illustrious Elizabeth Press, where he was published by James Weil alongside poets such as William Bronk, Cid Corman, Theodore Enslin, and Frank Samperi. Since that time, Simon has released over 20 volumes of poetry, and continues to write and grow on a daily basis. Our many thanks to Si for his generosity and ongoing support of Forge.

 

*   *   *

 

TM: Let’s start with your method

 

SP: I think if I could patent it, or copyright it, I would do that, I could make a fortune—it’s infallible, it works all the time.

 

TM:  I think you’ve solved the problem of subject. Some poets may get a good idea twice a year, but you get a good idea each day.

 

SP: Yeah, but I don’t have an idea when I begin.

Okay, here’s how it works: the method I use is exactly the process that lawyers earn their living with: a client comes to a lawyer and says, I got this problem, and another client will go to another lawyer and say, I got this problem, and the two clients are opposed to each other, they have an issue that they can’t reconcile, they can’t agree on, they don’t know what to do, each one wants their lawyer to resolve this conflict. Okay? That’s exactly what a metaphor does for a living: you take two opposing, contradictory, irreconcilable situations, and you resolve ‘em. And that’s exactly what I do.

So I take a photograph, and I write down what’s in the photograph: “this is a horse; this is a cow; this is this,” and then I read a book on mythology or science, biology, mathematics, whatever I’m reading, (I read The Beginning of Time by Hawking, and I’m probably the only one that ever read that, best seller, but I read it through to see what I could steal); and then I say, what does this thing that I just looked at in the photograph got to do with this concept of time, this concept in biology, and I’m writing these down just as the words I’m saying to you now, and then three of four pages later, it gets a little hook, and maybe ten or twenty pages later, it does have something to do with each other, and in a couple of more pages, it has everything to do with each other. And in a way, that’s exactly what a metaphor does: it takes “a cloud is like a camel” and you get the idea a camel shaped like a cloud, and then you’ll say, well, that’s the job of a metaphor, to use that connection, so the reader sees when they look at a cloud, maybe they’ll see a camel. That’s not a good example, but you get the idea.

A metaphor resolves contradictory issues, and that’s what lawyers do. I make the problem that I resolve. I create a problem by facing what I image in the photograph with the idea that I get from science or mythology, and resolving ‘em. In that process, you get a poem. And you get an idea that you never had before.

It’s best to start with nothing because you start with nothing. Usually if you start with something, it’s a bad idea, because if you came to that something to write about just by thinking about it, it’s usually pretty much been thought about by others, it’s almost certain to be a cliché; whereas if you get a new idea, which is forced out of you by resolving this image with this idea, it’ll be a new image ‘cause there’s nobody thought on those terms on resolving those conflicts. So your chances of not getting a cliché are greater.

Tim, let me tell you, it’s a brutal way of working. Brutal. And even if after 30 or 40 pages of trying to get a resolution here, you can’t, something will ignite. You literally, like when an epileptic has a fit, it’s because the brain is overloaded, the neurons just can’t handle it all, and the brain shuts down. And the guy that has the fit is either gonna kill somebody, or write a symphony; but he has no control over that. But you can force a fit, in a way, by jamming the brain with a photograph and an idea that have nothing to do with each other, and you’re forcing the brain to resolve that, which is very difficult.

 

TM: Let me try to understand: it doesn’t take you more than a couple of pages or a page to describe the photograph.

 

SP: That’s right.

 

TM: And then it doesn’t take very long to get the mythology on a page, right?

 

SP: Not quite. When you read the mythology and you like the idea, then you say, okay, that takes care of the mythology, like a child born from two mothers, now that’s a great idea, how can you have two mothers? That’s wild, I love that. So, you say I got two mothers here, now I have a woman who is a migrant’s wife, let’s take the Walker Evans photograph: a migrant’s wife, no teeth, could have been good looking. Now what has that got to do with being born of two mothers? Now that’s not so obvious there, that may take 60 pages to resolve. And it may not be resolved, but it will, in this jamming of the brain, this brain-storm that you’re creating, shutting down the brain, it may create another idea, or another idea, and another idea, that might connect, in this lightning storm that’s going on in your brain.

 

TM: So, when do you stop looking at the picture?

 

SP: Once I finish writing.

 

TM: So then it’s all in your mind.

 

SP: That’s right, and it’s amazing how the picture stays in your mind.

 

TM: You’re moving away from staring at the image…

 

SP: Correct.

 

TM: …and you’ve got also the mythology in your mind.

 

SP: That’s correct, and I put the book aside.

 

TM: So now you’re going 20 or 30 pages just trying to resolve it.

 

SP: I create a storm in my brain, and out of that storm, the lightning, hopefully, will ignite some concept, say ah, this is it.

 

TM: And when does the verse start? When do you start writing lines of poetry?

 

SP: Well usually that comes pretty much after I crystallize what I’ve got.

 

TM: When you read through your notes, do you think, “I gotta grab that little phrase,” do elements start to pop out of your notes when your read back?

 

SP: That will happen just in the process of writing down what this has to do with that. In that process will come ideas that may have nothing to do with the photograph, or nothing to do with the mythology. The poem may have nothing to do with a child born of two mothers, nothing to do with the migrant’s wife, be something entirely different, but you have a hook. Once you have the hook, then you can take a deep breath.

 

TM: What is the hook?

 

SP: The hook is like when you make yogurt, you gotta have a little culture, something to start it, that would be the hook. The hook, let me give you an example of the one that I wrote today, which I already forgot….

Okay, I was  hoping that this would show some relationship to the photograph and to the text that I use now, which is Science News, it’s a magazine that works very well for me. Science News, it’s a monthly, and it’s little excepts on science, biology, math, each one is perfect for me, and I’m looking at it now [his pages of notes] and I can’t remember what the science was or what the photograph was.

That’s the point. The point is that if you have nothing to write about, which is the best way to go, ‘cause if you have something to write about somebody else has already written about it and it’s bound to be a cliché. So, the best way is to start with nothing in your head: you start with an image, and you look for an idea. The image is in a photograph. If you have a good photograph, to the better. But then you go—you get an idea from science. And then you start the two. In that process, the chances are, most of the times, the image falls away, and the idea falls away, but something comes, something comes of that process of resolving those two contradictory, disparate, irreconcilable issues.

 

TM: Okay, but it’s not easy, right? It takes time. You’re talking about 20 or 40 pages…

 

SP: It’s brutal.

 

TM: It’s not like you wake up and you write a poem.

 

SP: No, you wake up and you’re faced with an image, a picture, and a text, and you struggle.

 

TM: You had told me that it takes you about a week to complete a poem, so, about how many days are you writing notes, do you think, before you start to write your first lines of the poem?

 

SP: Maybe three, four…

 

TM: So you’re patient…

 

SP: …before I get the hook—

 

TM: …you know it’ll come.

 

SP: Oh, that’s the beauty: it always comes. And I’m never sure. It’s insane. It’s like the monsoons: they always come, but you’re never sure. I oughta patent this system. It never fails. The value of this system is that it eliminates clichés: you’re gonna come up with something that nobody else has.

 

TM: And nobody has to write like you…

 

SP: No, they’re not gonna write like me, they’re gonna write like they write.

 

TM: They’re just gonna end up writing.

 

SP: Yeah. The value of doing it this way, it’s like a scientist works the same way: he goes into the lab, and he’s looking for an idea, and he doesn’t know what the result is going to be at the end, he has no idea, but he’s going to test this, he wants to see if mice will run faster if there’s a treadmill or a cage, a circular cage, now, he doesn’t know, and what’s the difference if they run faster? He doesn’t even know the importance of it, but he does this, and then he may find out that maybe there is an importance between whether people walk on a horizontal or walk, maybe rolling along, or some god damned thing that he never thought of before, who would think of walking around, instead of on a bicycle pedaling, going from one place to another inside a, like mice do, on a circular…? So, the trick is to start out with the unknown. If you already know, it’s gonna be garbage. And there’s no excitement for you either, as the writer, ‘cause when you finish, the first thing you ask yourself is, where did that come from?

 

TM: Now you’re 40 pages into the notes, I’m curious where the process goes next. You start to write your poem, right?

 

SP: Yeah, the poem, yeah. Once you got a good hook, that may be the first line, and once you get the first line, the rest will follow.

 

TM: You have a strong sense of rhythm in your work and language, where does that come from?

 

SP: Well it’s same as you, you have a technique, you have a voice, call it voice, so you could ask any writer where it came from, and they’d probably have no idea.

 

TM: You must have an aesthetic though: things that you like to hear. You definitely like it to sound like conversational English, and you don’t go for the big words…

 

SP: Oh yes, I want the vernacular. The vernacular came to me early, it seemed artificial when you were using poetic language, and I didn’t want that, I just wanted to talk to people, and then my material was different than most—most do not write personal poems, most write for the Universe, they want to be looked at as something that’s not involved with the poet or the reader, nothing that concerns somebody else, and I didn’t want that distance, I want to be a conversation between me and the reader without the bullshit. But to do it in a way that’s a little exciting and turns the reader on a little bit by making relationships that they never thought of.

 

TM: Okay. Your poetry is lean and distilled; you’re going from 40 pages of notes to 12 line poems…

 

SP: Well most of those pages are looking for the hook. Once I get the hook, it trims down, the end comes quick. The end comes quick, and with doing this for a while you can learn not to go down the blind alleys, and learn to cut off when you’re going to narrative, ‘cause I make a point not to be too narrative, and let the reader go off on a narrative, let the reader go where they wanna go. So the actual, well, let’s look at this particular one here: this one here was very short. This one here is only 8 pages, and I think it’s finished. It begins: desk and office, two desks, showroom over supply store, clouds held, each in a mirror, window, wallpaper, lamp on one desk (can’t even read my own handwriting), so then it goes on and on, here’s where I left the photograph: no people, just space to be filled by people. Now I go to the Science News: can’t predict that drug effect from mathematics—they were tying to get a survey to find out different drug uses, particular drug using a mathematical formula, and come up with a formula, “since side-effects not treating, know before the drug test,” so mathematics don’t do it, you need a drug-test, and that goes on, then dirt is fertile because of rotting plants, crops, trees, bushes, how will climate affect soil? The soil doesn’t get its nutrition from falling leaves but from roots that gave off nutrition.

Now, there comes something exciting: that the soil is enriched not from the leaves at the top, but from beneath: the roots; so already roots has got something cooking in my brain, soil deeper than one foot on top, oh, the soil that’s for inspection, it doesn’t just go down six inches, soil has nutrients going deeper. And this goes on and on… so now, page 4 [of the notes] starts to take hold. Oh, then the Science News goes into forgetfulness: how people remember things, and some are better at memory than others. And so I read that article, and then I come with an idea: from now there is only one kind of memory. That’s the hook. Out of all that shit, that has nothing to do with office space and office furniture, that fell by the wayside, and now comes up: memory, that’s the hook. Now let’s see if the hook would up in the final poem: this one, it wound up in the final poem. And let’s hope it stays there.

I must tell you that I worked with the photographs in The Family of Man, which has 482 photographs, and I wrote to every one, and that took almost ten years, and out of that 482, there’s only one photograph that survived in the text of a poem; that’s how they disappear, that’s why I’m surprised this stayed, but it’s there now and it might not be there when it’s finished.

The good part of that story of The Family of Man, where none of the photographs survived the text, is that my son knows the widow of the guy who was the photographer who died and the widow invited my son to the memorial and then my son tole me he was going to a memorial for a photographer and he had a photograph in The Family of Man, so I asked what his name was, I can’t even remember his name now, ‘cause I never remembered the names, I didn’t pay attention to them, so I had marked the book Family of Man, one, two, three, four, up to 482 poems, so I went back to The Family of Man, and sure enough, I saw his picture, and it was a photograph of a woman in an insane asylum, lunatic asylum, and she’s sitting on a park bench, and it’s the most scary picture, most powerful picture you can imagine: that’s the only photograph that survived, and the whole poem is about a woman in an insane asylum sitting on a bench. That’s the only one.

I mention all this because, in that process we are talking about, which I hope others will benefit from, that process: don’t expect the photograph to survive, and don’t expect your text, whether it’s mythology or science or whatever, to survive. Just get them to ignite: something will happen. You didn’t have an idea to start, but by using this, going back and forth, you’re doing something, like when you want to start an engine, sometimes you have to prime it with a little gas, or a well with a pump, you have to put some water in the well the get it going: that’s the primer. This process of jamming the brain with two conflicting issues and trying to resolve them, which maybe can’t be resolved, but in that process, something will come out of that.

 

TM: Do you keep a file of all these notes for your poems?

 

SP: Yes, they’re all in the Beinecke library. But I have to say something about Beinecke, so you don’t think I’m important, ‘cause Beinecke houses a lot of important people, but, I got a free-ride: I was published by Jim Weil, who published Elizabeth, and Bronk, and he had a stable of about 20 poets that the Beinecke was interested in, but they were interested in Weil as the publisher of this stable, and the magazine Elizabeth, ‘cause in those days there weren’t that many magazines, this is the early ‘60s, so they asked him for his archive, his papers on his whole venture with the publishing and the magazine called Elizabeth, and so he said, okay, and then get the people that are with it, and so I got a free-ride not because it’s me, but because I was part of Elizabeth Press. So, I just want to make it known that it’s not like they came to me: Perchik, we want your stuff.

 

TM: Well, Weil wasn’t publishing crap.

 

SP: I’d like to think not, he had Bronk and Cid Corman. He should get a medal for dealing with Cid Corman.

 

TM: Lately, like you’ve said, your poems seem to be once sentence…

 

SP: Yeah, well, I like tension.

 

TM: So let’s talk about tension. How do you make tension?

 

SP: You have it in your music. You can’t do without tension. You keep the tension there, you don’t go off on… if you start to tell a narrative, the chances are that you’re going to lose the tension a little bit, so you keep it going where the reader is on hook all the time and never sure where the writer is going and where he’s gonna wind up, and just like you’re thrown into a cement mixer, and you’re never sure you’re gonna come out.

 

TM: And so technically some things you’re doing, like you’re using enjambment, right?

 

SP: Yeah, the enjambment I use, I figure where the line should break, I see some poets breaking the line where it seems stilted, it seems artificial, it’s not a natural pause in the thought and it just breaks, it’s odd, it just doesn’t sit right, and so I try to make it like a breath, like when I’m finished taking [inhales] —gasping a breath, or where I feel it ends in a word that will make the reader want to go to the next word, it’s really like I want to keep the customer happy, interested, and there, and not to bore them to death…

 

TM: You don’t use commas at the ends of lines and when we get to the next line, we’re really not sure if the thought ended at the end of the line or if we’re starting again…

 

SP: That’s alright.

 

TM: … no, it’s great because we don’t really understand and we slow down…

 

SP: And then, as you know, words are like people: they’re all good looking, but some are better looking than others.  It doesn’t hurt to spend a little time thinking about maybe getting a better word where you’re getting near the end of it, when you’re getting near the end.

 

TM: Do you use any reference books?

 

SP: Oh, I’m so glad you mentioned that. In addition to my method being of help to somebody, I have another way of doing things that may help others, including yourself: in my search for using/finding better words, ‘cause when you read, you like to read good words, so in the search of looking for better words you can get an idea if you use a good thesaurus, now some thesauruses, like people and like words, are better than others, and I have a thesaurus, let me give it to you now because this thesaurus is out of print but it may be around on a secondary market.

Okay, as we said, some words are better than others and you try to get a good word that excites the reader, in that process, looking up the thesaurus, you’ll find a word that may make the poem take a 90 degree turn. Because you get an idea. That word also ignites another idea, it may change the whole nature of the poem. The brain, you know, works in a screwy way, so there will be another word and you say, oh, I just thought of something else, ‘cause in the meantime you’re thinking of what you are looking up and your whole poem that you’re looking at, so the thesaurus not only gives you a better word, but it may give you a word that’s different from the word you really want, and that difference is where you want to go. So that word that you see, that doesn’t exactly suit what you are looking for, may be what you want, and take you in another direction that you like better. So it could be a source of inspiration, not just getting a better word.

 

TM: So this thesaurus, it goes everywhere with you?

 

SP: Everywhere.

 

TM: What is it?

 

SP: The Saint Martin’s Roget Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, New Edition, Completely Revised and Modernized by Robert A. Dutch, OBE, St. Martin’s Press. The book is out of print, so you have to look hard to find it, but don’t take a substitute. Why they don’t keep it in print, I don’t know; it’s a hundred times better than all the others. It’s a great source of ideas because the synonyms that you have, being just a little different, is enough to start you off at an angle, and that’s what you want.

 

TM: So we’re going over tension…
SP: Oh, the tension has something to do with enjambment too: when you break a line, make sure that the reader wants to go to the next line, and make the ending as if they gotta go to the next line.

 

TM: What about the length of your stanzas, is that part of it also?

 

SP: That’s something that I have no reason, I have to go to a psychiatrist to figure. I used to write poems, maybe 20 lines in a row, now I’ve got three line stanzas and I don’t know where that came from, but I’m comfortable with it. I have no conscious explanation of how that developed, but for the last maybe 5 or 10 years, all three lines.

 

TM: You’ve been surrounded by and are very interested in the visual arts—even though the poem is not a painting, it definitely has an appearance on the page.

 

SP: Visual, yes. In fact, I know some very, very good poets who will stretch a line halfway across a page, the next line is four words, but for me, I would like to have it more visual.

But along that line, I am influenced by the abstract painters—Rothko and de Kooning and those guys. There’s a guy named Herman Cherry. I did know de Kooning, but Herman Cherry was a friend, very nice guy, and a good painter, abstract. I always felt that there was more power. I don’t know why I like power, but there’s more power in an abstract painting than in a cow and a barn and a tree, you know, or a portrait, no matter how good the painter is. So, you can stand in front of a Rothko and you can cry, you can do that. There’s, I thought, more power, so that’s why I headed more and more to the abstract. I don’t know if I’m getting away with it, a lot of rejections come in: we don’t understand this, you know, and I felt like writing back: there’s nothing to understand.

 

TM: I think that your poems are very honest. I’ve heard you say in another interview, that your poems have the potential to touch people—you’ve said that you’re lighting up fields of reference.

 

SP: I’m depending on what some guy calls the collectivesubconscious, a universe where my subconscious is the same as yours; and if I’m dealing with my own subconscious, I’m dealing with yours, so that would be the connection. If mine was unique, then I’d be talking to myself. But if I’m talking about my subconscious and it connects with yours, then I’m good because I’m connecting with your subconscious, I’m not lecturing you, I’m not telling you anything, and the guy who’s reading the poems says, you know, I thought about something this writer never thought of, but I thought of it, and so on. And that would make me feel good, that the readers came to the idea all by themselves, so that, if you’re sad, or you have some kind of an emotion, and cannot point to anywhere on the page where that came from, then I did my job. It’s like you’re reading a poem and you start to cry, and there’s nothing on the page that you can point to that you could say makes you sad. If I tell you your mother died and you start to cry, you say why are you crying, and you say, well you just told me my mother died; that makes sense. But if you’re listening to Mahler, or you’re reading somebody else, and you start to cry, that’s spooky.

 

TM: You are in all these poems—they’re very much you. You’ve told me that you have a hard time reading them because of how personal they are.

 

SP: To be honest, I have no doubt that I’m trying to write my way out of my demons. Some people do it different ways—comedians: I have a feeling that comedians are joking their way out, and I would like to feel that the reader has a problem too, and maybe that’s the reason they go to poetry. Like at a funeral: they read Donne, they read a poem by John Donne: no man is an island—they don’t read Dostoyevsky. The poet, he has that power of doing that, and it’s nice to know that people are benefitting from it. You never know because it’s a strange world out there, you never get feedback, it’s like a radio announcer: he’s talking. You don’t get fan letters.

The average person picks up a book of poetry, well, the average person won’t pick up a book of poetry, but if they pick up a book of poetry, they may be already distressed and they are looking to see if maybe that will help them; and usually it does, a good poem will help a person.

 

TM: Off the top of your head, what is a poem?

 

SP: Oh, my definition, I hope it takes hold. I have a definition—poem: words that inform the reader of that which cannot be articulated. That’s just like a modern painting, or music—you cannot articulate what you heard or saw, there’s nothing you can say you saw, just colors, but those colors, like this guy Herman Cherry, he paints in a lot of dark purples, dark blues, and Rothko paints in these oranges and reds, they do something to you that you can’t say what it does, and that’s where the power is.

 

TM: When you first started reading poetry, who were the poets that you feel really influenced you?

 

SP: In college were reading a lot of rhyming and I hung out with the guys that were writing on the literary magazine, and Paul Blackburn was in that group, and he said to me, I still remember, well, you know, you don’t have to rhyme. Okay, and then, I felt liberated, ‘cause then I could talk, and talk in a language that wasn’t prose, but it implied things, you know, I didn’t want to tell things. So everything was allusion and implication, and off somewhere, and let the reader… but I could do it without rhyming. By having the rhyme, the rhyme-scheme was telling me what the hell to write; this way I could do what I want to do. So, Paul Blackburn was a big influence on that beginning.

 

TM: Who do you like to read, who do you still like to read?

 

SP: Neruda, Vincente Aleixandre, and there’s Ingeborg Bachmann, she’s very good, German. I liked Reznikoff—I’ll tell you, if you want to get into heaven, champion Reznikoff. Timothy Corsellis.

 

TM: What about words that you use a lot, like stone?

 

SP: I’m conscious of the word stone, but I’m very comfortable with stone, and I stay with that, I don’t care. I dropped hands, I don’t use hands so much. Wood, wood and rot. I’m the junkyard poet, I like whatever’s broken, rusted, rotted, decaying—that’s my territory.

 

TM: How about the way you use the word you? The word slides back and forth in your poetry, I don’t know if you mean you, the writer, you, the reader, or all of us…

 

SP: Good question, because I don’t know. That you sometimes is me, and sometimes it’s the reader, and sometimes it’s a third person in the same poem. It’s weird—it shifts. So I really don’t know who the you is most of the time. But again, I’m comfortable with the you. I originally used I, and that seemed a little pretentious so I dropped that.

 

TM: It’s hard for me to use we in a poem because I don’t feel like I’m an authority on anyone else, but Bronk, he uses we all the time, and it feels great—it’s absolutely perfect.

 

SP: Well that’s exactly how to look at it: if you don’t feel comfortable with it, you drop it; and if you do feel comfortable with it, what do you care who cares? You stay with it. Like the word stone, every time I show new poems to Ed Butscher he says, what are you doing with so many stones? Get rid of the stones! I say, I’m comfortable with it, that’s it.

The poem that was in The New Yorker was also about a stone, I forget what the image was for that, but I remember the science that was involved: in that book on science that I was reading, it said that a stone emits radiation—any stone emits radiation—and then the thought occurred to me as I was writing all this down that radiation is a form of defense, it’s like a snake has a venom, a plant has a toxic thing, and people have defenses, and even a stone has a defense, so something as old a stone still wants to live, and that was the concept for the poem. That took hold in the beginning and then God knows what the hell the rest of the poem went, but those are the ideas that come, and stone is great—to me it has a lot of aspects to it: you can make it human, you can do a lot with stone.

A lot of things like stanza length are unconscious. In the craft, when I use craft, I use it mostly to get better words, or in looking for better words to get newer ideas, but I don’t have an idea of structure in that sense—like the three lines that I’m using now: that’s not planned, it worked out that way and I don’t even know how.

Trust me, a lot of this is subconscious, and it’s not like I’m a zombie or anything like that, I’m aware of the words and everything like that, but the phrasing, the locutions, a lot of this comes subconsciously, and when it comes, if I like it, it stays, if I don’t like it, it goes. But I don’t dwell on this and that and the other thing; one of the advantages of writing as much as I do is that I forget immediately what I do.

 

TM: Let’s talk about the way you use a colon immediately in front of a word: I’ve heard it said that it’s your way of telling the reader that a metaphor is coming. A poem from your recent book, Almost Rain, reads:

 

*

In those four corners formed

by the wailing and the dead

—we are turned to each other

 

to the grief in a stone

unable to tell one hand from another

—I stroke your name to reshape

 

the gray light boxing in

—all four seasons calling out forever

for decay :your name now face to face

 

with weeds that know only Fall

only those nights that will mourn

at right angles to the world

 

and all that’s left from the sun

is this headstone, everywhere

and the long way home.

 

SP: The displaced colon is like flying the flag upside down, it’s telling people there’s something there, just stop a minute, and I don’t want to say that decay is your name that’s following. I don’t want to say there’s a relationship between decay and your name, like all things are transient and nothing lasts: that’s prose; and the metaphor, by definition, is a prose statement. If I say that your name will not last forever, that’s a statement, that’s a prose statement, I’m telling you that your name won’t last forever. But if I put your name next to decay, I let the reader say, you know, maybe my name won’t last forever, and the reader will think of that instead of being told that your name will not last forever. It could be the next word after the colon, or a little further down, but just be aware that there’s a relationship between decay and what follows.

And this eliminates the prose statement that a metaphor does, a metaphor is all prose, so you stay in the poetic idiom, you don’t have to tell the reader anything, don’t tell ‘em nothing, let the reader figure it out, him or herself. And, they may not come to what you think they would, but that’s alright too, what’s wrong with that?

 

TM: When you write a line, do you try to sound it out? Do you look at a line and say it’s saying what I want, but I think it could be better?

 

SP: Well, usually I get to a point where I think it’s the best I can do, if I say it could be better, then I just stay with it and try to make it better. There comes a time when I feel it’s not economical anymore to deal with this, and everything can be improved, Beethoven’s 9th can probably be improved, but there’s a point where there’s economics involved: you’re not gonna spend your lifetime on one poem, you got your concept, you did the best you could, that’s it. Once you feel that you’re done with it, that’s the end of it, but before you say you’re done with it, you make a real effort to get the best for it, to get what you want—then you say it’s done.

 

TM: Is it a kind of music to you?

 

SP: Yeah, I like the sounds.

 

TM: Do you ever look and say, that doesn’t sound right, I have to find a way to make it sound better?
SP: All the time. All the time. Yes, and whether you say it or you hear it, the sound is going in your head somewhere, and so when you use a word, you know what that sounds like, like I mentioned Beethoven: he’s deaf but he knows what it sounds like, you don’t have to have ears to know what a word sounds like.

 

TM: So you’re not just making artifacts on paper, you want them to exist as sound.

 

SP: Yeah, of course. Well, music. You want the reader to feel good about reading this stuff. Otherwise it’s dry prose, you know—you want it very exciting, that’s why you want good words, ‘cause they usually sound better. When I say, look for a better word, usually the word sounds better too. But don’t let the people that are reading this interview go away with the idea that this is the way they have to write. Everybody has their own way of doing things, and just take this with one of the many and then go your own way. Like with any teacher you have, you listen and you think maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not, and you listen, and then you go on and get maybe another teacher, or get another view, and another view, and another view, and then come up with your own view. So you never follow anybody’s advice, but one thing I’m sure of is the way to write a poem that always works, and if you have no idea, and you have the need to write a poem, you know, I can understand because I often have the need to write a poem, and if you have the need and have no idea, my way is gospel, I’m telling you it works. It’s brutal, but it’s worth it.

I don’t know how this will come out when people read it, they may get the impression that one word follows another, and I know what I’m talking about, but I have a lot of doubts. I’m not that sure, except for my system, I’m not that sure that I’m doing it the right way: that you can go and trust the reader’s subconscious that much—I’m not that sure of that, but it’s the only way I know.

I just want people to know that when they listen to what I’m saying that I’m not that sure that I know what I’m talking about. It’s not modesty, it’s part of my legal training: I don’t want to mislead anybody.

The poet’s job is to make the reader feel better, like to heal, it’s your duty that when you finish a poem, the reader should feel strengthened, enriched, somehow changed. If you’re just writing, you feel bad, and you feel this, without making the connection with the reader, then you haven’t done your job. It’s not only not a good poem, but the job wasn’t done. The poem has to do to the reader something that makes them feel better, or stronger, or somehow able to survive a little better: something to help. The reader has to really be involved in this, and when you’re writing, you would seem to say, to ask the reader to join in this venture that you’re into, and be a part of it.

When you write, have the reader join you to find a way out. It’s almost as if you’re writing, and maybe even subconsciously asking the reader to help you find your way out. And the reader is now some abstract entity that’s not even in your room, there’s no such thing as a reader ‘cause you don’t even know if there will be a reader, but you’re writing to a reader that you expect, and so you may be looking for help not only in the process of writing your poem, so you can get out and get rid of your demons, you’re asking the reader to join you, and suck in the reader, to help you get out, and so maybe that’s the you we’re talking about: it’s the reader that you want to be part of this thing, that you can’t make it alone, and you have to bring in the reader. It’s not an entertainment that they’re involved with, it’s not something that’s a toy—it’s something that they need a help with, and that they need to be part of this process for both of you to get out.

Like the mourning at a funeral, these rituals, maybe the reading of the poem is a ritual, just like there’s rituals to help people get through it, like the burial, so maybe reading a poem is one of those rituals that helps you, helps the reader. The writing of the poem, obviously is for the benefit of the writer, that’s obvious. The reader may find in that moment of reading the poem, a temporary release, enough to get out and go on with their life. The writer will never get out, that’s why he’s writing.

 

*Almost Rain, Simon Perchik, River Otter: St Paul, MN 2013

Mary’s House—Ephesus

By Jeanine Stevens

There are places which although we did
not stay long . . . call us back like a sacrament.
—Dana Gioia

 

Far from the ocean and trade routes

we climb the hill to seclusion.

 

Vines and local shrubs green the landscape.

A safe haven where the apostle John took Mary

to live a life removed from danger.

 

In the small chapel, a few Muslims have arrived

before us, and lie prostrate before Mary’s shrine.

They honor the mother of Jesus as they honor

mothers of all prophets.

 

I think about my own devotion

and spotty church attendance.

 

I press through crowds to taste holy water

place my request note in a chink of the wall.

 

Touristy, yes. But there I feel the memory

of hospitality, a dwelling within.

 

I did not find her bed of stone.

 

___

Jeanine Stevens studied poetry at U.C. Davis, and has an M.A. in Anthropology. Winner of the MacGuffin Poet Hunt and one of two finalists for the William Stafford Prize. Author of Sailing on Milkweed, her latest chapbook is “Needle in the Sea,” from Tiger’s Eye Press. Poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Evansville Review, Pearl, North Dakota Review, Perfume River, Alehouse and Quercus Review.

Gremlin

By Jeanine Stevens

n. blamed for the disruption                                                         
of any procedure.

 

Working on our dissertations,

it is the only rental car we can afford.

But we splurge at Gepetto’s,

order the “Monstro Special,” a platter

of shellfish, every shade

of crimson and blue swimming

in golden butter. An afternoon off,

we head to the Everglades in steamy

overcast.  I expect romance,

something to write about later.

We drive deep in foliage, mosquitoes

thick on the glass, dull grey hissing

things, gallon sippers wanting us.

The A/C fails, the romance goes,

not because of the Everglades,

or the battered red Gremlin, or Florida—

but because I want a hot dog from the 7-11.

You won’t stop for water or a snack,

say “you are a grown woman,

it will spoil your dinner.”

Low blood sugar makes me

thoughtful. I notice your jaw set

long ago in that tenement in Chicago,

roaches clicking on the wall

dropping on your crib—left alone

with a hunger I can never fill.

 

___

Jeanine Stevens studied poetry at U.C. Davis, and has an M.A. in Anthropology. Winner of the MacGuffin Poet Hunt and one of two finalists for the William Stafford Prize. Author of Sailing on Milkweed, her latest chapbook is “Needle in the Sea,” from Tiger’s Eye Press. Poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Evansville Review, Pearl, North Dakota Review, Perfume River, Alehouse and Quercus Review.

12 Poems

By Simon Perchik

*

 

From now on every rain

will be left in the open

as the same rain

 

and though your hands are dry

you still try to remember

by lowering one arm

 

as if you are planting a heart

in your own, in a soft rain

unwilling to silence it

 

repeating out loud

the only word for a long, long love

now at the end.

 

 

 

*

 

Though the spill is shallow

you don’t think twice, become a navy

as if every rag smells from salt

 

and shells –half this table

is covered with songs about land

that melts under your tongue

 

as shoreline –you pour the morning

a drink and in muddy shoes

let it rot, give up everything.

 

 

 

*

 

What comes through no longer moves

is lowered between this hillside

and the way each evening makes room

 

lets these dead tell time

by counting the shadows

when all the gravestones open

 

as love that hardened

became these pebbles, sleepless

night after night –you expect this darkness

 

to be the season when they

grow flowers and one times one

is still both their arms, naked

 

as if the promise was too late

nothing is going to happen

no one simply gathers stones.

 

 

 

*

 

Every love note counts on it, the winter

racing some creek till it melts

becomes airborne, carries off the Earth

 

the way every word you write

presses one hand closer to the other

–it’s an ancient gesture, learned

 

by turning the pen into the light

as if every fire owes something to the sun

covers the page with on the way up

 

making small corrections, commas

asking for forgiveness as waterfalls

burning to the ground.

 

 

 

*

 

It had an echo –this rock

lost its hold, waits on the ground

as the need for pieces

 

knows all about what’s left

when the Earth is hollowed out

for the sound a gravestone makes

 

struck by the days, months

returning as winter :the same chorus

these dead are gathered to hear

 

be roused from that ancient lament

it sings as far as it can

word for word to find them.

 

 

 

*

 

Though it’s smoke that’s falling

you open the umbrella

the way a magician reaches down

 

pulls out the missing dove

then waves and who knows what

the warm breeze is coming for

 

–it’s a trick mourners learn

by wearing a hat, filling it

with flowers gathered up

 

from the paths waiting to unfold

from deep in the Earth

as some still missing gust

 

swooping past the way each grave

is dug by the stone standing over it

in a white smock, still in charge

 

pressing your lips against it

and fairy-like you whisper the name

lifted whole from inside.

 

 

 

*

 

To remind you how long before white

becomes invisible –you fold this dish cloth

over and over as if each splash

 

is wiped with a cry making room

the way an old love song turns the world

still from inside, lowers it into this sink

 

though you reach down for the arm

that was everything –it’s a ritual

where after every meal you become a hermit

 

heard only as the voice that’s missing

was waiting under the faucet

while you blow each word out

 

could hear its light weaken, disappear

though you sit in a small room

with a hole in it, stripping a cup naked

 

pressing it closer, louder and louder

already gone which means a sea

boiling your hands in its ashes.

 

 

 

*

 

You learned to spill by breathing out

make room for the warm marrow

that gives this pot its power

 

lures you closer, has you sit

looking inside, see how water

begins and ends in darkness

 

as the thirst that’s used to wood

and longing –spoon after spoon

you stir the way each night now

 

overflows with your mouth open

and no one to sit around this table

no one to tell what you lost.

 

 

 

*

 

And though this dress never dries

it must sense the clothesline knows

there’s a change in the lighting

 

–it’s your usual rope, lit

by some long ago moon coming back

as a sea, mouth open, smells from salt

 

from a dress with no hem, no sleeves

no lips where here thighs would be

floating the way each wash fills your arms

 

with something small made from wood

is holding her night after night and you

breathing what air was left in the water.

 

 

 

*

 

And though the sun was chosen

it’s your lips heating the ground

the way this startled mid-summer fire

 

spits from its belly the smoke it needs

to teach its young to fly alongside

as charred wood from a spot

 

being lowered for the afternoon

–you can tell by its weight

where the light comes from –a room

 

a table, a mouth spreading around

something damp that is not her lips

stays with her the way each night

 

longs for the sea to cover the sun

after it dies on this beach as the word

for an emptiness that sorts the ashes.

 

 

 

*

 

You knock as if her headstone

knows forever already ended

though where there was a dress

 

a flower with nothing in it

presses against your lips

connects to everything else

 

that’s falling through the Earth

as shards from that last tap

where a door should be

 

would open and these pebbles

barter like they once did

as the one breath more, gently

 

softly –a mouth for a mouth

is how it sounds :an avalanche

on its way back up, taking you along.

 

 

 

*

 

Everything on this wall clouds over

at first, a window then opens

swallowing the sky mid-air

 

though here you are, hammering

–this picture frame was already too heavy

is pressing against the glass

 

as the unbearable sorrow when its likeness

can only be found in wood

where you no longer hear your fingers tighten

 

from soaking in the sweat that clings to a nail

bent and bleeding then hidden in back, holds on

to what it remembers falling from the sky

 

as one after another, yet there it is

in drops –don’t you hear them telling you

to step back from her photograph.

___

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Poetry, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press (2013).  For more information, please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

# 45

By Anselm Parlatore

…there is in nature a superfluidity, an excess of
texture
—Anthony Hecht  “On the Methods and Ambitions of Poetry”

 

1.

 

The embedded carbonaceous, cytoplasmic flows,

steelhead finning up this shimmering river,

a warp in the dark gilt of all the vacuoles

& quasiparticles as they slowly dissipate

into vanishing hierarchies, ensembles

 

you walking along a windy trail above a precipice

or on your deserted, high logging road

where you always go when hurt or angered,

your shawl tightly wrapped around your shoulders,

an avalanche amplified deep in these mountains,

or often a black sail past a looming headland in the mist

a promontory under which all your amulets

& talismanic mementos are to be buried.

 

2.

 

So be it: there will be precursors in the phials,

the Immaculata of the groined & dark basilica

awaiting us, catalytic triads along each & every

metabolic pathway, a variegated half-life

of palladium & other discrete pathogenicities

for us to share, fear in the lucid altitudes

of our everlasting courtship, marriage, after it all.

 

____

Anselm Parlatore studied creative writing @ Cornell & Dartmouth & edited Granite & Bluefish magazines. He has taught in “Poetry in the Schools Program” in NH & in NY. He has published over a dozen volumes of poetry & has published work in many magazines. He lives in Washington.

# 35

By Anselm Parlatore

As from oracle to tabernacle
So to remove, so to embrace their Love
—Geoffrey Hill  “Oraclau 23”
 
Whereof we are begotten, made
Of such grace patron or parent even;
Love our bespoken accolade;
Geoffrey Hill  “Oraclau 25”

 

 

1.

 

It’s what remains, a refined sediment

glistening this snow silently accumulating

heft & weave of searching, signing on

archeologically never to be discovered

your newly designed necklaces attenuated, wisps

of our former elegance, shimmering ruins

silvery their perfect clasps, our language,

my poems beneath all our remembrances.

 

2.

 

Such exhilirants concealing any grace

still unmutilated & free, fringed

these snow-laden cedars bending

a supplication at the mere suggestion

of myth, bird, spider-less: dream.

so Elizabethan, paeans to neither Zero

or Emily’s Phosphorous, our glaciers approaching.

 

3.

 

& the austere Pities their plumage

immaculate, the tissue of their wings

veiled griefs hovering, the wounding

light filtered through choicest rafts

of still moist bones, extruded into the emptied

husks of the dead: only the pastoral’s survivors

still wandering, searching for their loved ones.

 

____

Anselm Parlatore studied creative writing @ Cornell & Dartmouth & edited Granite & Bluefish magazines. He has taught in “Poetry in the Schools Program” in NH & in NY. He has published over a dozen volumes of poetry & has published work in many magazines. He lives in Washington.

# 19

By Anselm Parlatore

There are necessary poisons and there are very
subtle ones made up of ingredients of the soul,
herbs gathered in the corners of ruined dreams,
black poppies found near tombs…
Fernando Pessoa  “The Book of Disquiet”

 

1.

 

Severed claws of celestial scorpions

the night sky, stars confounded

by our grief, dark bands extending

far into space mingled with dust motes

clefts in the channels, arrangements

of solitude, oddly all the small interiors

your shoes neatly lined up in the closet

a neurasthenia of emptiness, a long

& slow somber disquiet in the quietude.

 

2.

 

& then your huge sunflowers

all along the garden’s fence

their soft radial & yellow petals

astonished, shocked by the center

black, blank, perfectly round, staring

past your rose trellis

a framed embroidery

the sub-angström crystallography

of all the twisting hydrocarbons

& polymer networks tunneling through

the dreams, their warped shear forces

leaving faint pink imprints

of elastic & straps on your skin

as you slowly remove my tie

Saturn sliding across this night sky

a grain moon, a green corn moon

the curving body of a scorpion.

 

____

Anselm Parlatore studied creative writing @ Cornell & Dartmouth & edited Granite & Bluefish magazines. He has taught in “Poetry in the Schools Program” in NH & in NY. He has published over a dozen volumes of poetry & has published work in many magazines. He lives in Washington.

# 9

By Anselm Parlatore

Perhaps, when we are old, we will be permitted

to spread ourselves out and empty into a delta…

Rilke in a letter to Lou Andreas-Salomé  08/08/1903

 

 

1.

 

River’s broad swollenness a longing

has led us on along solemn

& calm, mellifluous nuances

where the radiance began

all the selfless gestures

leading into many forgotten

faded bowers, to the dark poets.

 

 

2.

 

I spoke of you. I named you.

The lunettes of the high trellises

you quietly climbed now a torrent

of memory that time has rolled over

 

a densely woven swatch of river

that is our happiness, our life.

 

 

3.

 

You wove a garland, a thin black braid

a terrifying velvet mourning brocade

that the scavenging crows picked at

 

silver threads of the inconceivable, miraculous.

 

& then your tent on the river bank

a pavilion with cords of twisted gold

your retinue glistening in moonlight.

 

 

4.

 

So, we continue in our abandonments

our precautions gradually becoming glances

obligations tainted by grace

clean bones in the hollow of a reliquary.

 

Your old, still beautiful dresses

deep in our cedar trunk. With the diaries. Gloves.

 

____

Anselm Parlatore studied creative writing @ Cornell & Dartmouth & edited Granite & Bluefish magazines. He has taught in “Poetry in the Schools Program” in NH & in NY. He has published over a dozen volumes of poetry & has published work in many magazines. He lives in Washington.