SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: KAREN ALKALAY-GUT

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By Karen Alkalay-Gut:


HER STORY

I have never been able to tell her story
Sometimes it escapes me, sometimes I am not sure
It could really have happened, sometimes I read
Different accounts of her demise, or a paragraph
From some testimony jogs my memory and the terrible days
When I first heard what happened to her return.

This much is in my blood:
I was conceived on the day she died.
This much is in my blood.
She blew up trains.
The courage came from her uplifted chin
And the two infants she watched
Dashed against the wall of their home.
Avram twelve months old and Masha two years.
My first cousins.
They too – in my blood – all that is left.

If I can write of these babies,
I can manage the rest –
Following her path as she escaped
The prison camp with her husband
And joined the Otrianski Otriade
Lenin Brigade, Lipinskana Forest.

I can feel her mouth, her narrow lips clamped
As she bends over the delicate mines,
Solemn as in the photo when as a child
She sat for with the rest of the choir
Unsmiling amid the festive singers
Unwilling perhaps to feel poetic joy
Perhaps destined for so much more.

There are at least three accounts of her death:
The partisan Abba Kovner told me she was caught
In a mission and hung. He looked away when he spoke,
Not piercing me as always with his tragic eyes,
And I knew there was more he would not say.

Another book says she lagged behind the platoon
Escaping an attack, perhaps pregnant,
And was imprisoned in Zhedtl.
The jail was ignited, perhaps by accident,
And she was just one of the victims.

When mother first told me the story
She had just heard at the hairdresser’s,
I must have been fifteen, and outraged
That she was weeping, tears
Rolling down her face. She knew
All I cared for was my own life,
And her latest discovery
Of the fate of her youngest sister
A disruption.
But who else could she tell?

The loft in the barn, she said,
They were hiding there – three women,
Her husband and her. They came
And set the barn afire. He helped
The women first, and his wife came last
But didn’t come, was burnt alive.

Malcah Malcah who saved all our lives
Malcah who was waiting for them
When the ship brought them back to Danzig
After they were barred from the Holy Land,
Who found them the agricultural visas to England
And saw them off the night that Hitler invaded.
But there is no real story.
All that remains is a faded snapshot
A few sentences in unread memorial tomes,
And me, who cannot tell any story for sure.


Today’s poem was originally published in Prairie Schooner and appears here with permission from the poet.


Karen Alkalay-Gut is now easing out of a fifty-year academic career at Tel Aviv University and beginning to concentrate on writing. Born in London during World War II, she was raised in Rochester, New York and moved to Israel in 1972. She has published almost 30 books in English, and Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian translation, and has collaborated on half a dozen music CDs.

Editor’s Note: Is it possible to read today’s poem without being moved to tears? To wax poetic (this is the place for that, after all), when I read today’s poem the first words that come to mind are “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” No, really. Let me.

1) Parallelism, as both an incantatory device and as a conversation between the poem and biblical poetry. “This much is in my blood: / I was conceived on the day she died. / This much is in my blood.” “Malcah Malcah who saved all our lives / Malcah who was waiting for them.” This parallelism is working on more levels than we might imagine. To echo the Bible in this way is a tradition that dates back to the earliest World War II and Holocaust poetry. But, in fact, it dates back to long before the Holocaust, finding rich roots among the varied history of all Jews in exile, and particularly those in Spain’s Golden Age and the time of the expulsion.

2) Vivid imagery that does not let us forget the many tragedies of “her story.” “[T]he two infants she watched / Dashed against the wall of their home,” “I can feel her mouth, her narrow lips clamped / As she bends over the delicate mines,” “He helped / The women first, and his wife came last / But didn’t come, was burnt alive.” This poem is rife with what Aristotle termed Pathos, the emotional connection to the audience. This is not a poem that you can read without feeling, deeply.

3) The poet herself shines through as a character, real and flawed and human. We know her struggles and her failings, and we experience them with her. “If I can write of these babies, / I can manage the rest,” “When mother first told me the story… I must have been fifteen, and outraged / That she was weeping… She knew / All I cared for was my own life, / And her latest discovery / Of the fate of her youngest sister / A disruption.”

4) Malcah, on the other hand, is made a hero through raw nostalgia. Malcah means “queen,” and while the poet did not invent her lost aunt’s name, bringing her name into the poem elevates the heroine to near-godly proportions. “She blew up trains. / The courage came from her uplifted chin,” “Malcah who saved all our lives / Malcah who was waiting for them / When the ship brought them back to Danzig / After they were barred from the Holy Land, / Who found them the agricultural visas to England / And saw them off the night that Hitler invaded.” Malcah the martyr, who did not die before first ensuring that the poet and her family would live.

5) “Her Story.” It is no secret that I am a big fan of herstory. I created a project to revive and celebrate it. But herstory, as today’s poem makes clear, is multi-faceted. It is women’s history, it is one woman’s history, it is women’s stories, and it is one woman’s story. But in today’s poem it is also the admission that there is no one story. (An idea I am incredibly interested in, as I spent the fall of 2013 researching my own family’s history through the lens of varying versions of the same story, much as today’s poem does.) In today’s poem we are given every known version of Malcah’s story, but the poet twins the telling of “her story” with the idea that “there is no real story” to tell. This is as true to an accurate historical retelling as anyone can come.

Want more from Karen Alkalay-Gut?
Karen Alkalay-Gut’s Official Website
Interview in The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism
Tel Aviv Radio
Buy The Encantadas: Evolution and Emotion from Amazon
The Bridge at Raqqa (eBook)
Youtube

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE GLAD HAND OF GOD POINTS BACKWARDS

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From THE GLAD HAND OF GOD POINTS BACKWARDS
By Rachel Mennies:


HOW GRANDMOTHER PAID HER PASSAGE TO NEW YORK

One by one her mother sold her silver spoons
and heirloom bracelets; goodbye, porcelain bear,
silk blouses, patent-leather Mary Janes, the scarves
and stud earrings for newly pierced ears, the red wool coat
spotted walking on another tiny body’s shoulders
down Wittenbergplatz. Goodbye, books bound
in leather, bone china, even the hangers, the goblets
and cabinets; goodbye to the Torah buried in the backyard,

the neighbors, the schoolmates, the mothers dressed so well
at services, the men with businesses who stayed behind
one week, two weeks more. What stylish
objects they became: the coins from fillings
and wedding rings, the soap, the wigs, lamp
after lamp to light a thousand decorated homes.


PHILADELPHIA WOMAN

The old sisters spoke with the wild gestures of trapped birds, snared or
cooped, their wings working toward an impossible escape. They stood
on street corners in Germantown and gesticulated the full span of their
arms. They argued over coffee, over books, over the dinner table, food
chilled to the temperature of the air. They hewed their beliefs for the
sake of debate. Soft-handed and pale-skinned, they lived mostly inside.

They took the trolley to Center City when they were in their twenties,
living in Logan with the rest of the refugee Jews. They told wild stories
of their childhoods, never explored or questioned. They worked as
bookkeepers, secretaries. They went to Girls’ High School, classrooms
filled with young women speaking foreign tongues, caught and released,
caught and released each day, back when men and women were kept
separately until marriage, fine china and daily dishware.

The oldest of the three married a soldier (never explored) who loved her
dearly (never questioned). When he died his mouth made words that
opened her chest like shrapnel. Tell them whatever you want, he said,
but I need you to know. I need you to know. Her hands stayed slack at her
side. Her name was. It was. She left his bedside and paced a block of Old
York Road, north and south, east and west, as if a cage around her kept
her close.


YAHRZEIT

Here the eye of God opens, unblinking,
at the throats of our grandmothers. The small pale
candle flickers on the windowsill, making
constellations of all our deaths.

How long a wick, how short a year. And here,
the family site, the only real estate
that’s mine—how clever, the way earth
makes us into mud—how heavy

the feet of our commemorators, how white
the knuckles that clasp their books of prayer.


Today’s poems are from The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, published by Texas Tech University Press, copyright © 2014 by Rachel Mennies, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards: In her first poetry collection, Rachel Mennies chronicles a young woman’s relationship with a complicated God, crafting a nuanced world that reckons with its past as much as it yearns for a new and different future. These poems celebrate ritual, love, and female sexuality; they bear witness to a dark history, and introduce us to “our God, the / collector of stories / and bodies,” a force somehow responsible for both death and liberation. Here, Mennies examines survival, assimilation, and intermarriage, subjects bound together by complex, if sometimes compromised, ties to the speaker’s Judaism. Through wit and careful prosody, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards lays bare the struggles and triumphs experienced through a teenage girl’s coming of age, showing the reader what it means to become—and remain—a Jewish woman in America. —TTUP


Rachel Mennies is the author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry (Texas Tech University Press, 2014), and the chapbook No Silence in the Fields (Blue Hour Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, The Journal, and elsewhere, and have been reprinted at Poetry Daily. She teaches in the First-Year Writing Program at Carnegie Mellon University.


Editor’s Note: The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards is an absolutely stunning collection. It is that rare breed of poetry book that you cannot help but read cover to cover, knowing all the while that you will return to it again and again. There is magic in this work. Ritual. Tradition. Its stories rise from the page in painstaking detail—vivid, emotive, and all too real. History is both honored and excavated; bones and memories are buried in the backyard. Time is not linear, but fifth dimensional; the past, present, and future unfold more like a snowflake than a line. The soundscape is rich and evocative, the themes resonant and deeply lyric, the entirety layered and striking.

And then there are these moments. These perfect, brilliant, heartbreaking moments. Reveals like the volta in “How Grandmother Paid Her Passage to New York,” when we discover what became of “the men with businesses who stayed behind / one week, two weeks more.” Lines like “When he died his mouth made words that / opened her chest like shrapnel.” Like every freakin’ moment of “Yahrzeit.”

Easy to invest in, the rewards of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards are “as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.”


Want to see more from Rachel Mennies?
Rachel Mennies – Official Website
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Texas Tech University Press
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Amazon
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Thrush Poetry Journal

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SALLY BLIUMIS-DUNN

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By Sally Bliumis-Dunn:


THEIR NAMES

Like a rain I feel but cannot see,
the names of the dead, falling.
Silences I hear between
first names, middle, last

are slivers of empty air between
lines of rain. I want
to be in these tiny silences
that cannot hold their deaths

but join them to all silence ––
rests in a piece of music,

the quiet beneath a rock,
the feather on a crow,
beak closed, wings
perfectly still.


THE VIETNAM MEMORIAL

I was reading the names,
carved in the black marble
as rows that rose
like a strange city’s skyline.

The columns of their names,
tall, skeletal
buildings with no walls,

rows of letters standing
like scaffolding in the stony

night of the black marble.

I walked along the path;
the grayish-white of my body

floated beside me ––
reflected on the wall,
sliding over their names
like a veil or ghost.

The wall grew taller,
burying me, it seemed,
in the bright noontime air.

I could feel the joining:
the alive and
the not alive.


Today’s poems were previously published in Talking Underwater (Wind Publications, 2007) and appear here with permission from the poet.


Sally Bliumis-Dunn’s poems have appeared in The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-day series, Bellevue Literary Review, From the Fishouse, The Paris Review, PBS NewsHour, PLUME, Poetry London, the NYT, Terrain.org, and The Writer’s Almanac, among others. In 2002, she was a finalist for the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize. Her two books, Talking Underwater and Second Skin, were published by Wind Publications in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

Editor’s Note: Poetic meditations on death are an ancient art. In today’s pieces Sally Bliumis-Dunn contemplates the micro and the macro, “the dead” representing lost individuals and the masses alike. Her poems mirror the Vietnam Memorial of which she writes, etching into the lyrical landscape an act of remembrance and mourning. These poems are beautiful, heartbreaking, and reflect the longing of those left behind: “I want / to be in these tiny silences / that cannot hold their deaths.”

Want more from Sally Bliumis-Dunn?
Plume
Rattle
Academy of American Poets
Buy Talking Underwater from Barnes & Noble

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JACINTA V. WHITE

JVW by John H. White

STANDING IN COURAGE
By Jacinta V. White

Dangerous, wanted
Endangered, hunted
             Majestic
Beauty protected
Enraged
             You, young
                          Black man
Stand in courage
             In love
             In honor
                          Resurrected
             In glory
Forget put upon shame
Young man stand
             In beauty
             In strength
             In dignity
Stripped and threatened
Generations down
                                       Hands down
Young black man
             Brother, father, husband, son
Stand in your weariness
Stand in your strength
             In your courage
             In your truth
             In your faith
Stand knee high in the depths of your passion
                          Take your crown, young black man
             Wear your crown
Young black man



“Standing in Courage” was originally published by New Verse News and appears here today with permission from the poet.



Jacinta V. White is a NC Arts Council Teaching Artist and the founder of The Word Project. Her chapbook, broken ritual, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2012. Most recently, she has had poems published in Typoetic.us, Prime Number Magazine, and What Matters, an anthology published by Jacar Press.

Editor’s Note: “A wild patience has taken me this far…and when freedom is the question it is always time to begin.” So says Adrienne Rich, and your faithful editor agrees. It is time to begin. Speaking up. Speaking out. For freedom, and against injustice.

There is a rich history of poetry in social justice. Of outcries from the poetic heart of humanity for human rights. Since time immemorial poets have used their words to demand equality, whether based on race or class or gender, and from time to time they have even been heard.

Today’s poem takes part in this critical tradition, demanding the world pay attention and that the world order be reversed. It cries out for the oppressed to rise up, not in violent retribution, but in glory. It requires us to admit and to remember, while allowing us our outrage, our grief, and a new hope alike.

Want more from Jacinta V. White?
Jacinta White’s Official Website
Typoetic.us
Prime Numbers Magazine
The Word Project
Jacinta White on Facebook

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DIANE LOCKWARD

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By Diane Lockward:


SERVICE FOR THE MURDERED BOY

                           In Tibet they lay their dead
                           on the side of a mountain.

All night I dream of the murdered boy
decomposing in the Himalayas,
laid out under a Banyan tree.
No monsoon of grief in this unarable land,
only mountains rumbling
with footsteps of tigers, snow leopards,
and moon bears. A hundred vultures fill the sky.
All circle in, nuzzle the boy with snouts and beaks,
and devour him until nothing’s left but bones
and a skull, resting on stones hard as fists.

I dream a mission of monks, roaming
the desert, spinning prayer wheels,
and searching peasant villages for the right
boy, the one birthed at the exact moment
of death. They lift the born-again buddha
and carry him home.

But my dream lasts only as long as the night.
Morning brings echoes of Ave Maria.

The father’s wearing a red jacket
with white leather sleeves, the kind
boys wear when they make the varsity team.
He leans into the mic and says,
“I don’t want to talk about the future,
or games that won’t get played,
or the boy who shot him. I want to talk
about songs that were sung.”
Then he breaks down, turns to his son
still smiling in the blown up photograph.

I don’t want church music, soft and mournful.
I want hard rock, heavy metal,
music all bass and treble, cranked up full blast,
the kind that blares out windows of cars
driven by boys, the kind that rocks
the ground and trembles the earth with their songs.


A MURMURATION OF STARLINGS

                     It was raining dead birds.
                              —Mayor Brian Levine, The Star-Ledger, 1/27/09

Starlings dropped from the sky,
mid-flight, like balloons suddenly deflated.

No time to spread their wings and glide on air,
and, synchronized, to soar and dive.

No time to close their wings, to wrap
themselves in shrouds of feathers, and sleep.

They fell like water balloons tossed blindly
from dormitory windows.

They fell like rocks dumped from the unlatched
rear end of a construction truck.

They fell like bombs, like stars, like fallen angels,
they fell like dead starlings.

Hundreds plummeted from the sky
on cars, porches, and snow-covered lawns.

They’d taken the poisoned bait
and, headfirst, dreamed one last time of England.

Birds who’d once disturbed a king’s sleep
with cries of Mortimer, Mortimer.

Memento mori, forcing us to contemplate
unexpected death.

Do we not already think of the fallen,
earth’s fields littered with corpses?

Dark vision made real,
their glistening bodies, silent now and still.

Birds who’d sung their own song
and wooed their mates with lavender and thistle.



“Service for the Murdered Boy” is from the collection Eve’s Red Dress (Wind Publication, 2003) and “A Murmuration of Starlings” is from the collection Temptation by Water (Wind Publications, 2010). These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.



Diane Lockward is the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013) and three poetry books, most recently Temptation by Water. Her previous books are What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve’s Red Dress. Her poems have been included in such anthologies as Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times, and in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Gwarlingo, and The Writer’s Almanac.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poems are, sadly, incredibly timely. I was originally drawn to “Service for the Murdered Boy” with thoughts of Michael Brown, but now both poems cry out in response to yesterday’s school shooting in Washington. Written years ago, the mourning and meditations of these poems are heartbreakingly timeless. There is a still and quiet beauty in their language and imagery, a slowing down of time that enables us to grieve. These mindful pieces reflect upon both today’s atrocities and the mourning songs that are as ancient as poetry itself. So, too, do these poems turn in upon themselves, questioning the very act of contemplating death: “Do we not already think of the fallen, / earth’s fields littered with corpses? // Dark vision made real, / their glistening bodies, silent now and still.” And they speak in chorus with those who have lost their children, to those who seek only to remember: “I don’t want to talk about the future, / or games that won’t get played, or the boy who shot him. I want to talk / about songs that were sung.”

Want more from Diane Lockward?
Buy The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop from Amazon
Diane Lockward’s Official Website
Diane Lockward’s Blog
Sign up for the poet’s free monthly Poetry Newsletter

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: NOMI STONE

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By Nomi Stone:


WAR GAME, AMERICA

The war scenario has: [vegetables stalls], [roaming animals],
and [people] in it. The people speak

the language of the country we
are trying to make into a kinder country.
Some of the people over there are good
others evil others circumstantially

bad some only want cash some
just want their family to not
die. The game says figure

out which
are which.


WHAT IS GROWING IN THESE WOODS

Green in here, gleaming like
being inside a fable but with
stalls of fruit you can’t eat.
To go home, leave crumbs.
When the wood circles you
back here instead, let the lost
and the impossible ripen in
you, ripen and go.


US AND THEM

“I would make love to one of our

whores before I
would fuck one of their
bourgeoisie.” There was a proverb,

like this: Don’t trust a         if
he becomes a         even though
he remains a       for

forty years. And the sister opposite
proverb: Don’t trust a       even
though he has been in the grave

for forty years. It was a difficult day,
a bomb had spun open
a bus, and children

had been crushed down by
a machine. Each wondered if he was born
too soon, if later would have been better, if 40

+ 40 + 40 + 40



War Game, America” and “What is Growing in these Woods” previously appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, and “Us and Them” previously appeared via The Poetry Foundation. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.



Nomi Stone is the author of the poetry collection Stranger’s Notebook (TriQuarterly, 2008), a PhD Candidate in Cultural Anthropology at Columbia University, and an MFA Candidate in Poetry at Warren Wilson. She previously earned a Masters in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford and was a Creative Writing Fulbright scholar in Tunisia. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Memorious, The Painted Bride Quarterly, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Poetry, at The Poetry Foundation, and elsewhere. She is currently researching and writing a book of poetry as well as a book of non-fiction about combat simulations in mock Middle Eastern villages erected by the US military across America.

Editor’s Note: Nomi Stone’s poetry is a veritable minefield of experience. Politics, war, violence, history, proverbs, culture, peoplehood, nationality, borders, mythology, folklore, fairy tales, and biblical referentiality lie in wait for the keen and unsuspecting reader alike. The unsaid is as present and powerful as what is written, so that her poetry echoes the Bible’s black fire written on white fire. This is a poetry rich and blooming. Thick with the sights and smells of Near Eastern markets, yet heavy with human tragedy. Herein lies the old world. Herein lies the Levant. Herein lies the wild woods of our imagination set against the all-too-real world of war. If you cannot find your way out, “let the lost / and the impossible ripen in / you, ripen and go.”

Want more from Nomi Stone?
“Many Scientists Convert to Islam”
“Trapped on Djerba, Island of the Lotus Eaters”
“Purim, Spring Festival: How to Escape Massacres”
Interview with Nomi Stone with poems: “The Notionally Dead” and “War Game America”
An interview about Nomi Stone’s research on war games

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LAURA E. DAVIS

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By Laura E. Davis:


ATTITUDES TOWARD SEX

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THE BOYS ARE ALWAYS TALKING

about their cocks, naming
names—Rebecca, Elizabeth,
Ashley—we see these girls
all lined up, waiting to admire

the boys’ cocks. And the boys
talk about size of their cocks,
seven inches becomes ten, then
thirteen. They tell us how

they measured their cocks
after their first wet dream: they
woke up sweaty, quick-covered,
got their cocks hard again, pulled

out the ruler. Boys and cocks
everywhere. A boy shows his
cock to a girl on the playground.
Another boy watches girls from

a parked car while he touches
his cock. On the subway, boys
unzip their pants, put cocks
on display. Baby boys discover

their tiny cocks during every
diaper change. I didn’t see
my own clit was until I was
twenty-three. I had to hold

a mirror just to see it rise
like slow-motion stalagmite.
Had to hold back my own skin
just to show it to myself.



WOMAN AS HUMAN BEING

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“Attitudes Toward Sex” was originally published in iARTistas. “The Boys Are Always Talking” was originally published in Muzzle. “Woman as Human Being” was originally published in Toad Journal. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


Laura E. Davis is the author of Braiding the Storm (Finishing Line, 2012), founding editor of Weave Magazine, and founder of Submission Bombers. Her poems are featured or forthcoming in Toad, Stirring, Corium Magazine, So to Speak, Muzzle, and others. Laura teaches for Poetry Inside Out, a K-12 a bilingual poetry program in San Francisco, where she lives with her partner, Sal.

Editor’s Note: This week I had the honor of working with an artist to create an artistic response to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. I have already written an editorial response to the ruling, but I wanted to speak out against this injustice in many ways, through many voices.

Today’s poems speak for womankind. They speak for our bodies, for our vantage point within a man’s world. When read together today, they are meant to be a shout from the rooftops. That no one exercises control over our bodies but ourselves. That we are human beings whose rights are superior to the rights of corporations. Yes, that we are human beings. Beautiful, complex, powerful human beings who are as capable of a battle cry as we are of “a vigorous and radiant sigh.”

Want to read more by Laura E. Davis?
Dear Outer Space – Laura E. Davis’ Blog
“Quiet Lightning” on Youtube
Buy Braiding the Storm from Finishing Line Press
“Relics” in Sundress
“Vessels” and “Red Storm” in The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SPLIT

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from SPLIT
By Cathy Linh Che:


THE FUTURE THERAPIST ASKS ABOUT RAPE

This morning, I watched a woman shatter
the thin ice on the pavement. I made the bed,
tucked in the sheets, and in the window,
I saw reflected my mother’s face.

Men in my life walked in and out of the rooms,
tramping snow. My mother shushed me,
and my father with his powder keg hands
pulled up a pair of clean black socks.

It isn’t what you think.
My father was a soldier.
He taught me nothing about men.

They are an empty barrel.
You’re not supposed to look into
a gun you dismantle

to try and see its parts.



HOME VIDEO

There are flowers on this bed, an elbow planted by an ear.
No, you cannot touch this breast. No darkness, no shatter,
and no, no pendulum. The past is a blood clot lodged inside
your lung.

                                                  *

In the living room, shapes move against the wall. You are
wearing a thin dress. You watch Beetlejuice while he moves
his fingers over your white underwear. You watch the screen
and see his fingers. Your brothers are in the room, but they
never seem to notice.

                                                  *

Behind the lens is the father. Mother offstage calls, Con gai
nay
. On the phone, Con gai thuoi, which means, This girl. This
girl’s rotten. This girl like swollen fruit. She cuts off the
bruises. She teaches me to cut.

                                                  *

He rises to the surf. It detonates with a sheering crash.
Inside each wave is a barrel. In each barrel is a vacuum that can suck
you in, spin you round, snap your bones if you tumble the
wrong way.

                                                  *

If I say, I have been touched. If I say, by my cousin, then, a
neighbor boy and then another. If I say no, I didn’t want it
from my first boyfriend. There was blood and membrane
and he didn’t believe me. If my body can be a box. If I can
close it up. If it has to be open. Who will touch me again?



POMEGRANATE

I open my chest and birds flock out.
In my mother’s garden, the roses flare
toward the sun, but I am an arrow

pointing back.
I am Persephone,
a virgin abducted.

In the Underworld,
I starve a season
while the world wilts

into the ghost
of a summer backyard.
My hunger open and raw.

I lay next to a man
who did not love me—
my body a performance,

his body a single eye,
a director watching an actress,
commanding her

to scintillate.

I was the clumsy acrobat.
When he came, I cracked open
like a pomegranate

and ate six ruddy seeds.

I was the whipping boy.
I was thorny, barbed wire
wound around a muscular heart.



Today’s poems are from Split, published by Alice James Books, copyright © 2014 by Cathy Linh Che, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


SPLIT: “Che effectively weaves the trauma of the Vietnam War into her own personal trauma, making herself a war victim—only her war is not against enemy combatants, but against her past.” —The Philadelphia Review of Books

“Cathy Linh Che’s first collection, Split, is a brave, delicate, and terrifying account of what we do to each other. Here’s a voice that has to speak. Split crosses borders, exposing truths and dreams, violations of body and mind, aligning them until the deep push-pull of silence and song become a bridge. And here we cross over into a landscape where beauty interrogates, and we encounter a voice that refuses to let us off the hook.” —Yusef Komunyakaa


Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James, 2014), winner of the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from Poets & Writers, Poets House, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace Residency, and the Jerome Foundation.


Editor’s Note: Words—my words—seem ineffective here. But I was deeply moved by this poet, by this book, and so I will try. Split is a sacrifice; raw and unrelenting. It is blood and memory and gasoline. It is the truth no one wants to hear, that we all need to hear. But it is more than the phoenix choking on ash, thrashing to be free. It is lineage and heritage, truth offered up in the name of a history, a family, a self. This is a stunning book by a bold and dedicated poet, a book that dares us to look, listen, and speak up.


Want to see more from Cathy Linh Che?
Official Website
Buy Split from Alice James Books
Fireside: A Kundiman Blog
Hyphen
Poets.org

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JENNA LE

Jenna Le photo

By Jenna Le:


MOM’S COCKS

Mom grew up beside the Perfume River in Vietnam,
in a brick house overrun by chickens.
Those horny-footed fowl were always
rubbing their feather-padded genitals
against sofa legs and children’s shoes
as if they were fit to burst. Mom laughs

as she tells me how they ground
their pelvises against her leather sandal,
stuporous with misdirected lust—
How strange that she
is talking to me about sex
in this casual way. She’s returning to her roots

as a child who lived among
unmannered beasts. And I, through hearing her words,
am returning there with her: I
am the aggressive rooster; I’m the hens
cowering behind the outhouse; I’m the much-abased,
much-abraded, Size Four shoe.


THREE SHORT POEMS ON A COMMON THEME

1.

Staring at you across the room, my body seemed composed
of nothing but eyes.

Even my mouth
watered, like an eye.

2.

I couldn’t sleep a wink all night: my brain agitated its solitude
like a washing machine

filled with copies
of your immaculate white shirt.

3.

In the morning, I went out and bought a book of your poems.
It’s a poor substitute for a straightedge, it’s true,

but you won’t
sell me your curves for any price.



Today’s poems are from Six Rivers, published by NYQ Books, copyright © 2011 by Jenna Le, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Jenna Le was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a daughter of two Vietnam War refugees. She received a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard University and an M.D. from Columbia University. She has worked as a physician in Flushing, New York, and the Bronx, New York. Her full-length poetry collection, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), was a Small Press Distribution Poetry Bestseller. Her poetry, fiction, essays, book criticism, and translations of French poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as AGNI Online, Barrow Street, Bellevue Literary Review, Massachusetts Review, Measure, Pleiades, and 32 Poems.

Editor’s Note: Lyric, narrative, accessible, and unafraid, Jenna Le’s Six Rivers opens along the banks of the Perfume River, in a scene that pairs mother with sex and “horny-footed fowl.” The relationships—between mother and daughter, between ‘here’ and ‘there’—are rich and complex, with the poet embodying her mother’s past, her roots, and the “much-abased, much-abraded, Size Four shoe.” Throughout the book love and sex, personal, familial, and cultural history, healing and death are all explored as we travel with the poet along the six rivers of her life. Le allows herself to be vulnerable and imperfect, and so we relate to her, root for her, are drawn into her vivid world. A keen seer and a captivating reporter, it is no wonder that, at times, the poet feels she is “composed of nothing but eyes.” Hungry for life, hungry for love, it is no wonder that “Even [her] mouth watered, like an eye.”

Want to read more by and about Jenna Le?
NYQ Poets
Mascara Literary Review
The Nervous Breakdown
The Toronto Quarterly
Sycamore Review

A Review of Seth Brady Tucker’s Mormon Boy

Seth Brady Tucker Mormon Boy Cover

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A Review of Seth Brady Tucker’s Mormon Boy

By Karen Craigo

 

I’ve always felt drawn to work of poets from the Great War. Writers like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon brought home to their readers the terrors of war, and while it is difficult to take their words in, it is essential to consider their powerful poems of witness.

A fragment from Sassoon’s “Aftermath” demonstrates how poetry can be a deterrent to war:

Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line
trench—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”

Nearly all of Sassoon’s poems capture a glimpse of the hell we call war, and for me, they hold more of the feeling of armed conflict than any history book could attempt to depict.

For years, I have been looking for the Wilfred Owen of our wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, and I have come up empty. I have found something far superior, though, in the poetry of combat veteran Seth Brady Tucker—superior because he is not a copy of those war poets who have come before him, but instead is an utterly unique and powerful voice in his own right, and a bold and unflinching witness to the wars we own today.

Mormon Boy, Brady’s debut poetry collection, covers a lot of ground—love, coming of age, even the perfection of his wife’s hiney in soccer shorts—but for me, war eclipses everything else in the book, and this is exactly as it should be.

Tucker’s first section, “Falling in Love During Wartime,” introduces the topic of his service, and the placement of these poems—coming before some poems that deal with Tucker’s pre-service life, so that the book is not chronologically ordered—has a profound effect on the way a reader receives the other work in the book. I actually suspect that I will read all of Tucker’s subsequent releases with the tinge of his military service shading my understanding of them. It’s unavoidable. War, after all, changes a person.

Tucker’s poetry is informed by plenty of sensory imagery—more, I think, than I see in the work of the Great War poets I mentioned. Tucker’s poem “Whirligig,” for instance, talks frankly about the mingling smells of his friend Erik’s blood and his own overheated weapon. It also presents a grisly picture of Erik’s severed foot, which “existed still tied / into its boot—how it felt to pick up that foot and place it in a pile of other things that /were Erik’s.” The understatement makes the idea of that pile all the more ghastly.

This section of “Whirligig” about Erik introduces the idea of getting past the war, and it concludes, “[S]omehow, one night, he will know five minutes / of peace—just five minutes of life, as it should have been.” But the title of the second section, “Those Stains Will Never Come Out,” seems tragically to reveal the futility of such thinking.

Still, it is intriguing to imagine other parts of Tucker’s life that are even more rarified than combat service. We have about 1.3 million active-duty troops in all branches of the military, but Tucker’s home state of Wyoming has only half a million souls. One of my favorite poems in his collection was “Where to Find Work in Natrona, Wyoming,” which the poem announces has a population of five. “This / should say it all,” Tucker writes. He continues:

Natrona mocks you,

with a population exactly
one thousandth its elevation.
Here, dust floats like a fog
over everything, but ultimately
obscures only the fact that there

is nothing to see but horizon.

The poem concludes with the incredibly bored speaker studying a veterinary guide and imagining he can probably handle some of the procedures described inside. That boredom is probably as far from your boredom as the Earth is from the sun.

One is thankful that Tucker the soldier went to Afghanistan armed not only with a rifle but also with some of the distracting memories from a time before his service that this book recalls. I think the poem “Making Out in Cars with Bucket Seats and Other Tales of Woe” resonates with every small-town person (although my own Gallipolis, Ohio may as well have been Beijing in comparison to Natrona). Imagine being approached while parking (in the sexy sense of the term) by an “incredible blue dick of a cop,” who asks probing questions about last night’s escapades while you are attempting to enjoy your night with a whole different date, whom Tucker identifies as “Red”:

Red, being no dope,
opens my car door and starts sprinting away into the night, her silhouette

flashing purple and black in the swirl of ruby and sapphire lights, long hair swinging like a middle finger, and then I am running too, my dark
silhouette
a bull’s-eye, a giant target, a free pass for a cop busting his first-kill cherry
[…].

The poem ends with Tucker berating himself for not buying American and lamenting bucket seats instead of the “wide / bench seats of a Nova.”

Tucker’s collection covers a lot of ground, the way it seems first collections used to do before everyone entered programs and started writing books instead of poems. I like the variety in theme and form, and I found Mormon Boy to be a promising introduction to a talented poet.

Seth Brady Tucker, Mormon Boy, Elixir Press, 2012: $17.

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Karen Craigo teaches English to international students at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Her chapbook, Someone Could Build Something Here, was just published by Winged City Chapbook Press, and her previous chapbook, Stone for an Eye, is part of the Wick Poetry Series. Her work has appeared in the journals Atticus Review, Poetry, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, The MacGuffin, and others.

Read her poem “Death by Water,” included in our Saturday Poetry Series, here.