Vol. 5: Autumn 2009
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, founded in 1787,
is the oldest professional medical organization in the country.
Walking the stone steps, you trip the way you have in sleep, a jolt
that wakes you up. Are these the steps you have been dreaming
and falling up all your life? You turn around to look
for the car that brought you, your husband’s face
warm behind the windshield wipers, but he is gone.
You’ve been left at the door.
They’re hawking postcards of this inferno
or is it heaven’s lobby, selling calendars
of eternity, above the dates, full color photos of things behind
the doors ahead? It’s a zoo of anomaly, an aquarium that won’t hold anything
back. You walk through breath’s tunnel, looking
under the skin, not just of a body but beauty, base and lively, the conditions
that twist and scrape what’s human into art. You’ve heard
that some are more interested in the process than the finished piece.
You’ve seen this when your child draws, when he smears paint
over his body like a second skin. And here
are smears and lumps of pigment floating
in specimen jars, extra ears, piled sores, gangrene, the Siamese twin
of birth and wonder. Your breath measures, measures, and you are
suddenly aware of it. Aware of yourself standing
in this crowd. There are children here. They are laughing. And it is
funny, all this variation, all this decrescendo, crash, lift
again, the jars glowing from their display cases, not like jewels but the nerve
of jewels, the projection and meaning they take on
during a funeral. You stand at the grave. There is a flash
in your eye, syncope, desire to fall in a fit at the incongruity.
One dresses for funerals. But you’re not dressed for this.
Your pen won’t write and you keep shaking
the ink down toward the tip, as if that would help. But this isn’t anyone’s
funeral, this is not grief’s moment
but its expansion, when life and death
and much laughing roll up into one headless body,
roll up into a baby you’ve been staring at like an angel
fish in a tank, gilled, an infant without
form, just a fetching mass of skin, whorled,
with only one perfect foot to edge it from dream.
A Case of Inner Ears
The internal ear is the essential part of the organ of
hearing, receiving the ultimate distribution of the
auditory nerve. It is called the labyrinth, from the
complexity of its shape…
— Gray’s Anatomy
In a glass box,
hearing’s pivot and swivel,
a case of
labyrinths. Row upon row
of slight, white depths
throb and hum.
In the first row
: a silver spoon stirring sugar
into the ear’s cup,
spoon of conduction,
coiled and eager, prenatal divining
rod quivering with dark, underwater
bloodbeats, muffled uterine voice start of loud out
to fluorescent thrum, the warming table, carol
over an aching fontanel.
Second row the labyrinths grow and recede
: orangutan, flying dog from Madagascar,
pale implements, still holding in their hoop
the rustle of rain in grass, the sand
along the plummeting third
: spanned gymnura, trichechus,
the chiming sea, its peal, bell of itself and deeper
to the prehistoric bear, hyena, echo into the cave.
Fifth and sixth row
: rodents, curled like hibernation itself, tail spiral,
scratch, skitter, trill, and coil, writhe of a pink fingerling
pianissimo against the large pachydermal sweep, ivorial and tusking,
seventh row, the hoof of the eighth.
The last labyrinths
: shift to bird, light, light, the case can’t hold them. They hover
on the tips of the velvet lining, a golden string,
the very origin of inquiry.
by Charles Baudelaire
Translated from the French by Charles Bernstein
Be always drunk. That’s all: that’s the only question.
So not to feel the horrific heaviness of Time weighing on
your shoulders, crushing you to ground, you must be drunken
But on what? On wine, on poetry or on virtue, in your
fashion. But drunken be.
And if sometime, on palace steps, on the green grass by an
abyss, in mournful solitude in your room, if sometime you
awake, drunkenness dimmed or done, ask of the wind, of the
wave, of the star, of the bird, of the clock, of all that
flees, of all that wails, of all that roils, of all that
sings, of all that speaks, ask what hour it is and the
wind, the wave, the bird, and the clock will answer: “It is
the hour to get drunk! So not to be the slavish martyr of
Time, be drunken; be drunken without stopping! On wine, on
poetry or on virtue, in your fashion.”
Enivrez-vous (Paris Spleen, 1864)
Il faut être toujours ivre. Tout est là: c’est l’unique
question. Pour ne pas sentir l’horrible fardeau du Temps
qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut
vous enivrer sans trêve.
Mais de quoi? De vin, de poésie ou de vertu, à votre guise.
Et si quelquefois, sur les marches d’un palais, sur l’herbe
verte d’un fossé, dans la solitude morne de votre chambre,
vous vous réveillez, l’ivresse déjà diminuée ou disparue,
demandez au vent, à la vague, à l’étoile, à l’oiseau, à
l’horloge, à tout ce qui fuit, à tout ce qui gémit, à tout
ce qui roule, à tout ce qui chante, à tout ce qui parle,
demandez quelle heure il est et le vent, la vague,
l’étoile, l’oiseau, l’horloge, vous répondront: ”Il est
l’heure de s’enivrer! Pour n’être pas les esclaves
martyrisés du Temps, enivrez-vous; enivrez-vous sans c
by Helen Conkling
The war in Europe is over.
Russians met Americans
on the bridge across the Elbe
and it is over.
I have seen pictures in LIFE
of bodies burned at Gardelegen.
I have read about captured girls my age
that Nazis kept in brothels.
The Mona Lisa will return to the Louvre.
My father in his chair
beside the lamp reads the news.
Now children who asked, ”Will bombs fall on us?”
can look at the sky without fear.
Stretched on the floor, I am reading PERSUASION.
Mother has put a cake in the oven, chocolate.
She’ll call us to come taste it.
The globe of the world my father found
in a second-hand store has been installed, a glass globe
with a light inside and only one flaw,
a crack running from the North Pole to Madagascar.
Crickets are singing under the open windows.
A warm evening with dusk slowly falling.
The globe shines in the dark beside the bookcase.
by Jo McDougall
I want the ring of its iron steps,
ten or eight of them, under my feet—
the paint banished,
the banister not quite secure,
the city stuttering around me
like a homeless wind.
I want to hurry up those steps again,
through the double oak dark doors
tall and heavy as God,
want to enter the rooms greeting me like strangers—
aloof, always on the verge of leaving,
shrugging into their polite coats.
by Aleš Debeljak
translated from Slovenian by Andrew Zawacki and the author
Like lover’s juice spat
by a woman for hire, they’re driven by
desperate, radiant light, far away
down the deserted plains,
to columns of people traveling, tired,
past the ruins of town hall
and the cathedral, past walls
that barely differ from the stones themselves
covered by moss, past the meadows
where trespass is not allowed.
Crossing the former trenches,
the weakest among them
had seen the towers of smoke rising
from camp fires under the forest line.
Their translucent eyes reflect
only shadows of clouds gliding over
the narrow trails they’re walking
down, they conjure pastures
and fertile valleys, moments of sheer delight,
they dream of large estates, expertly manicured.
Water sources camouflaged by the coarse
facade of rocks, they stand at the edge
of a steep ravine that flats their echo out,
like a blasé god with slack fists,
and dazed. Keep their eyes closed,
on a fragile crag they slough their jackets,
patched together of rough flax, and lie down
on their backs, in comfort, vests slither
over their heads, their trousers over their ankles
drop to a quivering pile. Naked
under familiar gray, in the narrow
funnel of mountains they see it,
for the last time: these drugged women
and children, with faces of stillborn
animals, the big moon above, a small
village below, and me—we all need to know why.
The Sun Stands Still
Who what where when why
in the dark dark dark dark dark broken-boiler
night would I suddenly start up
thinking of you, happiness?
Equestrian frost-shapes send your empty-handed mute messengers
riding straight at the glass.
obvious fake snow, spray-on snow, Styrofoam.
Lacy soft unlatched fish scales and cabbage-white wings nostalgically
settle on gargoyles outside.
Three dimensions, including happiness, glitter under
One less tenant,
white onion-dome cage, one caught soul flown. Rained on
funeral rituals (humming, nettles brushing shoulders) give gravediggers
crud to shovel.
drift through room with faint shit-like odor of cigar smoke.
So the widower experiences parthenogenesis:
Blue-green faces/faces/faces in facing mirrors-with-bells: motionless, mute colony.
I replace what the Thief steals every several seasons,
flickers, bubbles, dew.
Children christen newest body-double “Cherry Blossom.”
Cherry Blossom stiffens near
everyone adheres to his/her twig, biding time, wondering—
edible, loveable, lethal?
Autumn leaves, these fly-by-night loves.
You Know Who—
You Know Who wh—!
No more fire-opal October light.
twist-tied to neglected dollar store
cobwebs—slow-decomposing leaf hammocks,
cradles of plastic skulls long ago
graves of fairy lights, paper hearts, sparklers, solstice-markers
now unglittery, lately unelectric—
one misfit roof tile acting alone might tear all decorations down
and toneless skeleton-tree operettas hound again.
Even in struck dumb snout and dusty ears cocked
Tell me again, how came we to live with candelabra antlers,
glass eyed mortuary beauty spellbinding
We never understood clocks,
so hung a head where the clock belonged.
Mama, did you deaden that deer? Distraction did, dear—
he crashed through the wall and just sleeps there. Till real suns rise
and shine him up come spring.
by Anne Haines
I need more light now
than when I was young,
holding books at that middle distance
to let bifocals do their work.
As a result I find myself,
when I look up from the page,
gazing unfocused into something
I can’t quite see the name for.
It takes a moment, now, to make the shift
from close detail, from the word,
to whatever’s out the window.
Summer at the beach, I am rapt
with distance, book on the sand
beside me while I stare and stare
not at the lace of waves or shells
that wash in and drift back out
a few times before depositing themselves
quietly below the tideline,
but at the blue on blue horizon
line, the faint haze
that obscures the farthest ships,
the Boston skyline I saw once
on the clearest afternoon,
or thought I did. I stare
at nothing with a form,
at a whisper, at a fade
from blue to gray to duller
blue then blue again.
I don’t know what it is I think
I see but there is plenty of it,
this light, every light, the long
blue afternoon, my eyes at rest
past the struggle of the middle
distance, past the insect words
that quiver on the page, past
everything but light and light
itself, beyond the blurred horizon
and all the visible names of things.
I found Jebby Eldon drowning
and fished him out crazy like sand
scuffed into wood. A year later
he plays music at Midkiff’s Bar,
plays jazz that scrambles pale smoke
into some wild, clanky riffs.
Sometimes he helps me load the barge
or takes his old mutt hound hunting
grouse on his daddy’s farm, where birds
fly out like pine needles in a devil breeze,
and blue lizards rustle across a rock bluff
like fossils chiseled from midair.
Jebby shoots nothing, just laughs
along the lake fence where he should be dead.
He tells me a young albino owl has pulled
its wings from a pine knot, has fringed
all its howling into another man’s life.
Jebby says I shoulda left him water-logged.
The Capehill Barge
I float some cars to the island.
Jebby says they’ll be the last
ridden across Capehill’s
flat crater pig path, moonlight
frizzing into snow and pumice.
The barge stays cold tonight
and its shaky steel has flowered
against Old Moody’s Landing
like a rusty package swapped
for some stars and music.
But Jebby sings his money
and I sing some crablegs and brew,
a sour breezy comfort with our haul,
with all these trembled beach cabins
paled for another night’s Christmas.
The Prize Bull
Hobey and Jebby raced one night,
caught the slant of a roof, and flew
their dirt bikes past Ruben Coyle’s
prize bull. They yelped like fools
haunted by the deepest, coldest mud
sunk in a thaw. And the bull roughed
at them like a tank, knocked Hobey
against a fence post, bounced Jebby
two flips against a cattle guard.
I laughed three days after I patched them.
Made their eyes look like one slow twitching
burl-knot hating sunlight. They slumped
to Betty’s house, and she laughed, too—said
the air won’t breathe itself without some jokes,
and here’s two fine ones, joined in their bruises.
I hear the boys done raced again on Coyle’s land.
I hear the bull has started goring shadows.
My father’s room opened twice,
I am the Siren, father—
you, the sound.
Against stillness—wound spores.
cannot penetrate the rift-wall.
it is named,
it is named stone.
Das Gemach meines Vaters öffnete sich zweimal,
hob dann auf Flügeln ab.
Ich bin die Sirene, Vater—
Du der Schall.
Gegen die Stille—Wundsporen.
kann die Grabenwand nicht durchdringen.
er wird benannt,
er wird Stein genannt.
a notched rib,
a kneed shovel.
Your Talmud half
like an eyelid.
On the porch, your almost-mouthed,
You led me here
as hope withered.
Where else would I go?
Where else would I go?
eine gekerbte Rippe,
eine gekrümmte Schaufel.
Dein Talmud beinah
Auf der Veranda, das fast Gesagte
Du hast mich hierher geführt
als die Hoffnung dahinschwand.
Wohin wurde ich sonst gahin?
Wohin wurde ich sonst gahin?
When the shadow surfaces the snow
cover its distances,
close the gap.
How strong it is!
Wenn der Schatten den Schnee beschichtet
verschleire die Entfurnungen,
schließ die Lücke.
Wenn der Vogel sich im Dezember schüttelt,
Wie stark er ist!
by Elizabeth Onusko
Push aside the screen door and see
strata upon strata of snow.
Notice the elemental shifts in light,
a palette of backlit whites
lined with blue-gray
where each snowfall stopped
and the next started,
a dutiful record of its own making.
It is the laying on of snow upon sleep,
upon bulbs put there by hands,
upon tunnels through soil
and the breathing fur within them.
Snow laying itself down upon sleeping you,
a sleep not solved by light.
You through whom light fell
onto me. That was how
it happened once.
Light fell through you,
and I came awake.
Jason With Me at the Zoo
The summer night is radiantly cool. You’d have liked it.
You’d have loved the chili-pepper of the rose,
white daisies at the zoo, the shell’s roseate innards,
the orangey scarlet ibis picking his lit way along the wood-chip path
and penguins flittering through the pond like bats.
“Flying is a kind of swimming,” someone wrote;
but swimming is a kind of flying, too,
and you were a mighty swimmer, but
now you hold so still where you lie nailed to the ground,
your eyes up against the pine, your beautiful jaw uptilted
like a man who can’t get enough of gazing at the stars
spangled across the summer sky
so that he tightly shuts his lids and will not open them again.
God’s leash is on me.
The last time I touched you it seemed
you were already more than halfway his.
I did not believe
you would outlast the night.
You said goodbye in the hospital corridor,
as if you might still, somehow, shake off the holy collar
like a priest laying down his robe.
You stumbled at the door
as full of running sores as Job.
Perhaps you were on your way somewhere
you wanted to be
when G-d said heel and dragged you to shore.
by Maureen Seaton and Neil de la Flor
In the mosh pit even the unluckiest get a chance to dance akimbo. They bring their hands to each other and loofah.
In the mosh pit it’s a burning of our previous body, the one that taught us how to dance in synchronicity.
Hierarchies bicker with lowerarchies. Everything flies by. Everything feels like a boulder on the cheek.
Alignment and spacing are frivolous.
Look! someone says from the fractal edge of the mosh pit which has undergone thousands of iterations and now resembles Bette Davis. Oh, look!
She throws her body into our midst and is divided among us like a steak.
With vengeance she swings softballs into space.
Aimed where the blue cloak folds away,
revealing a white brow set in carmine,
gliding along stippled lines—It arrives.
You can ordain nothing, forbid nothing.
Your hands, folded, complete an oval, red
as the draped bed in the room behind you,
door ajar to one you cannot name.
You do not see God’s ardent bird.
Each time, a blazing angel hushes you.
(for my son)
Winter light pours in
over my inward face, my hand at rest,
enormity of my belly, sprigged with flannel buds.
It is three days past your due date.
Your father snaps the photo. What else to do?
Grown so big, I am disappearing.
Dolphin-slippery, you would wake me.
I placed your father’s hand, astonished,
over moving waters; showing off at somersaults,
you had our attention; we dwelled
on you as on a waxing moon.
Now, you curl nautilus-tight, shining.
A child slips in from a red brick building
over there, takes my colored pencils.
Waking, I don’t mind. I want the sea
he’s drawing, flying fish, monsters,
sea horses rocking through salt-spume,
sun not yet fixed in the right hand corner.
Beside the window, the little painting,
your father’s. I will take it with us — greens,
blues, ochre. Body seizing, I will slip
into its disappearing mountains, carded wool clouds,
imagine taking you there.
The midwife’s kind voice will fall away.
Now, the clock’s pendulum tocks, time stopped.
The elevator’s steel cable complains in the chute.
UPS trucks rumble from the depot down the street,
brown-wrapped packages stacked and ready.
We once made a whole. We are waiting
for you now, as if listening for snowfall.
Reading The Illiad
The sons of the sons of the sons
go on fighting the sons of the sons of other sons
or even the same sons
and it is forever and it is now
in these lines with their long vowels we will only hear
in echoes in the names we learned as children
for cartoonish gods and tender parts of our own
anatomy—a rubbery tug in back of the ankle—
but still the language surviving
improbably down these thousands of years
to this early spring morning with some of its trees
slipping new leaves through light wind
and the bare locust still black and unmoving
as the Styx, as the river
of absence. And the killing surviving
within that unmoving river of language
we enter at any point
to find the filthy darkness cowling across
an almost anonymous pair of eyes, the bronze armor
leadening to earth as though death
entered us first as speech, as though it were given
to us at birth with these signs
we cluster out of the air or trace so carefully
over ruled lines. So that it lives in us
as a precision or practice, with the clouded
exactness of memory,
and we grow toward it
as if the river should flow to its source,
or as when a tree, some giant fir, falls
on a mountainside after a blizzard has fastened
over its branches—the wind grinds it
until the great roots start to shiver—and the snow
once weighting the branches resurrects in a cloud
that seconds the storm, that bodies the air.
The edges filling in
like a city that’s sinking,
a city that’s been lost
to its own element
and has found another,
less hospitable but not
out of the question. And when
the doctor shone the spectrum
directly into my eye
I could see
the capillaries forking lightning
about the retina,
shredding up the blood sky.
For days the images
reversing themselves back there
had been puckering away
from the center
like spacetime sinkholing
near a massive planet. Afterwards,
walking through Koreatown,
dodging in the shadows
because all light pained,
in a language of keyholes,
places for dumplings and
little bowls of sea-tasting cabbage—
you put it in your mouth
because any wave runs till it breaks.
by Vincent Spina
Subtract the Panamerican heading North
and South, the cobble stone streets leading
from the highway to the Parque Principal
and the grotto of the Virgin,
and the Cross beyond. The Municipio
and Beto’s tienda who sells good wines and fine cheese;
subtract them too. Quiten la iglesia of sorrows
eternos, the Mormon center and store front
Evangelicos strumming guitar passage to Jesus,
the bust of Rumiñauhui, and the legends
of those last Incas.
Take away the loud speakers in the Plaza de Ponchos,
the almuerzos left so the dead loved ones
may eat in the Campo Santo —the Holy Ground.
Take the tourists back to their busses
and the busses back to Quito. Let old mestizos
halt the ancient handball game, played
each dusk at one end of the plaza
in homage to the setting sun. And
the Runakunata anchuchichik with their lives
of looms and corn and dreams of SUV’s.
The simple streams and stones lying in the streams
defining East and West. The rivers who
find rivers who find bays and oceans.
Let the mountains move,
Let the silence of mountains
that the voice of a woman
—as she gathers the words and the names
of a new song into her basket—
“I don’t want to alarm you, but . . . . ”
strikes the eardrum first. And then
trailing its wake of silence.
Tonight you have been detained
in the holding tank of gel and electrodes
where a stylus monitors your quaking.
Again you are made
to repeat your name.
In the hush and babble of the ER
the whitecoats hover and confer.
Lucky you! Not a single positive
You may go home
to that other life with its soothing clatter,
the required emotions.
Once again you have passed the test
for the wrong disaster.
Last Friday a man was struck by lightning.
He lives to tell it:
“My friends heard it strike,
saw smoke rising from my body.
My shoes flew off!”
In the front page photo he looks abashed.
Heat gathers drop by drop till the cloud
cannot contain it. Lightning
sizzles across in a burst of ozone
and the whole sky blanches.
I love the wild brilliance that will not last.
My grandma was afraid of lightning:
“If you feel a storm coming, cover your head
and pray.” Her house in the old country
had a roof of straw.
I don’t believe in the god of lightning
anymore. My house is stucco and wood.
I’m afraid of safety.
When the lights go out
I’m awake at the window,
watching that live wire ignite
the fire of water and air
that can turn us to ash.