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naropa university The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics Copyright © 2013 The Naropa Press All rights revert to individual authors upon publication

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BomBay Gin


Vol. 39, no. 2

Editorial board and staff

J’lyn Chapman


miChael malpiedi

Associate Editor, GraduateAssistant for Publications

april Joseph

Associate Editor

eriC FisChman

Associate Editor

Brenna lee

Art and Layout Editor

sally smith

Marketing Editor

June luCarotti

Marketing Editor

Chris shuGrue

Web-Content Editor

Jade lasCelles

Book Review Editor

anne Waldman

Contributing Editor, Naropa Audio Archives

BomBay Gin 39:2


Letter from the Editor

april Joseph


Offer a line that could cry


Brent armendinGer

A Devotion to Spheres


Our Bodies in Reverse


elyse BroWnell



hr heGnauer

from When the Bird is Not a Human


Caity lee

from Se Retrouver

laura mCallister

portFolio 1


portFolio 2

traVis maCdonald, J/J hastain, miChelle taransky, and Joseph Cooper

from 4Play


traCie morris with april Joseph

grateful sounds: the body


harryette mullen

from Tanka Diary


akilah oliVer

Sacred and Profane Paths in African American Literature


akilah oliVer, raChel leVitsky, and tisa Bryant

six engagements


shannon onGaro

Akilah Oliver and the Poetics of Grief

Jh phrydas




niCole peyraFitte

Hòu! Hòu! Hòu! Hemna d’ Oò / Oò! Oò! Oò! Women of Oò

Celle qui cherchea / She who seeks has


andrea rexilius

from New Organism


Joanna ruoCCo

Bronze Knobs

They Wait for Carriage Pins



The Skepper


Hollow Strakes


Two Trees


Small Beer


ariella ruth

from remnants


aliCia salVadeo

Err to Narrow


eleni sikelianos


Christina VeGa-WesthoFF

& The Time Between History


Falling Eagle or Vulture



anne Waldman




Matching Half


Akilah Walks


Lament Our One


Reading through Akilah Oliver’s “Tressles of Hair, She Said”

indiGo Weller

Elision 13.5


Book reVieWs

JenniFer Firestone, Flashes

Reviewed by Charlotte Annie


laura Walker, FolloW–hasWed

Reviewed by Sarah Richards Graba


dorothea lasky, thunderBird

Reviewed by Sally Smith



min JunG oh, Body in a hydrophiliC Frame

Reviewed by Ariella Ruth




letter From the editor

In an interview with Coco Fusco, Akilah Oliver (1961-2011) said, “There is a sacredness in the profane, a spirit in the material and they intermarry.” This marriage is present in Oliver’s earlier work, a(A)ugust, The Putterer’s Notebook, and the she said dialogues: flesh memory, as a logic, an aesthetic, a political choice that makes audible the contradictory and the unstable. In Oliver’s more recent book, A Toast in the House of Friends, this binary of sacred and profane arises as a dialectic of mourning and violence, as in the lines from the poem “murdering,” “if I am to engage antiviolence work then by necessity I enter into contract with violence, / no shy slipperies here.” Yet, the richness given over by the marriage of the sacred and profane is also troubled in these poems as they explore the simultaneity, for instance, of cardamom and radiation, pasteurized milk and captured tribes. But the questions remain: how do we interpret these contradictions? what do we do with grief? how can one love the world and not kill it? One way to read the ghosts that haunt the poems are as responses (not answers) to these questions. The speaker suggests that the dead are released from the logics of this world as when she writes, “Perhaps no one escapes this latched binary except the unattached, the dubious lucky.” But also we have lost historical perspective, we are unconscious of the horror of destruction and need a recognition of ghosts, as Horkheimer and Adorno argued in response to the atrocities of WWII. Oliver addresses this very issue in her meditation on graffiti. She writes, “I recognized in it an ugly ecstatic, a dialectics of violence, a distortion of limbs, a hieroglyph. It was only later when I read the names of the dead that I then saw the path of ghosts charted there; its narrative of


loss for the visible unseen whose place in history has been fictionalized and rendered unseen under the totalizing glare of history.” To feel the ghost is to attend to that which hovers over dichotomy as well as to live alongside, in proximity with the absent. In February, we asked you to submit work that explored “flesh memory,” a concept the late Akilah defines in her introduction to the she said dialogues. Grounded in dance and performance art, flesh memory becomes an embodied practice, an expression of culture and ancestral memory, as when Akilah writes, “This text is situated in the on-going work I’ve been doing in performance with the concept of flesh memory as it relates to a critical interrogation of the African American literary/ performative tradition.” Your breathtaking responses indicate that our friend and teacher’s presence changed the flesh of this world. I have asked Associate Editor april joseph, whose MFA critical thesis was focused on Akilah, to introduce flesh memory in the following pages. For now, let me draw your attention to work by Akilah’s former students, friends, and colleagues, such as Shannon Ongaro’s essay, “Akilah Oliver and the Poetics of Grief,” and Travis Macdonald , j/j hastain, Michelle Taransky, and Joseph Cooper’s selections from their collaborative project, 4Play. We include work by Eleni Sikelianos and HR Hegnauer, as well as remembrances and a lament from Anne Waldman. Rachel Levitsky and Tisa Bryant “engage discursively and poetically with excerpts from an unfinished and unsanctioned draft of an unpublished work by Akilah Oliver,” as they say. In conversation, april joseph and Tracie Morris take up ancestral trauma, the othering of the self, and performance. We’ve also included a talk Akilah gave in 2000 for the Religious Studies Department. I want to thank Bobby Taylor for transcribing the talk and for working with me to retain the lilt and cadence of Akilah’s voice. In this talk, soon available through Naropa’s Audio Archives, Akilah invites her audience to “open up and let Blackness into your heart, the energy of Black, if it can enter you.” Akilah recalls her childhood and then asks her audience to relate their experience with Blackness, “to deny nothing because in that matrix of Blackness there’s a lot of complexities, and there’s pain, and there’s anger, and there’s fear, and there’s shame.” Akilah’s response is one of compassion and grace. We are also excited about the work that comes directly out of the Jack Kerouac School and the work from beyond this community, such


as Alicia Salvadeo’s “Err to Narrow,” the title of which is an anagram of “War on Terror.” I want to draw special attention to Indigo Weller’s “Elision I3.5,” which “documents” the plane crash of Iberia Airlines flight 062 in 1967 in the garden of his childhood. Weller describes his work this way: “The piece explores insubstantial memory: body: abscission:

memorialization: archive as erasure: to feel: to touch what grows what mutates what is left behind.” The mix of the bucolic and nostalgic resonates with our art portfolios’ striking interpretations of “flesh memory.” Caity Lee’s images of the human body and Laura McAllister’s photographic documentation of a hog kill in Dayton, Ohio draw an uncanny proximity to the human and animal body, the body we live in and the body we consume. As Akilah writes, “no shy slipperies here.” This is also the last issue in which I serve on the board of Bombay Gin. Three years ago, I began as the Book Review Editor then was invited to act as Editor-in-Chief in 2011. It has been an honor and satisfaction to work with each student board and to bring this lovely and thoughtful creative work into the world. The labor of publishing is vital to an arts community, which it builds, archives, and promotes. This labor is also equally inspiring and exhausting, and it is for this reason that I welcome rest and personal time so that I may contribute to this community with my own makings. I am so thankful for the support of my community and especially the students for whom I have so much admiration.


—J’Lyn Chapman

april JosEph

“oFFer a line that Could Cry” 1

—akilah oliVer

I arrived at Naropa University shortly after Akilah Oliver passed away on February 20, 2011. She, a black lesbian woman, radical performer poet instructor, came from the hood—LA—and became an integral part of Naropa University. Since death and somatic and ancestral memory consume my work— my father, Robert Edwin Joseph, died on March 9, 2009, and my grandmother, Mary Louise Rodriguez (Gram), who raised me and then slowly developed Alzheimer’s, died on February 15, 2011—I was instructed (by Bhanu Kapil and J’Lyn Chapman) to read Akilah’s the she

said dialogues: flesh memory. 2 Akilah’s theory of “flesh memory” and the notion of ancestral trauma began to come to light (life). This is what

I read: “Flesh memory is the body’s truths and realities… everything

that we’ve ever experienced or known, whether we know it directly or through some type of genetic memory, osmosis or environment.” Oliver’s “flesh memory” creates a path toward healing ancestral wounds. In this way, awareness of the “language activated in the body’s memory” can translate into the truths of our ancestors, somatic hieroglyphs that

1 The line is taken from Akilah Oliver’s MFA lecture: “Rapture and Rupture” at Naropa University, 7 July 2008, during the Summer Writing Program, week four: “Performance, Community, Politics of the USA and in the Larger World.”

2 The spelling of the title, the she said dialogues: flesh memory, and Akilah’s name is lowercase as well as the “i” in the text—perhaps to indicate a re-writing, re-imagining of the self. This could be representative of Oliver’s feminist approach: how to re-write the language of the father or how to challenge this patriarchal language.


we perform in song, mourning dialogues that Akilah Oliver writes into the pages of flesh memory. Oliver also discusses flesh memory in an interview (1995) with Coco Fusco:

Our body holds its own truth and its own reality that may or may not correspond directly with what actually transpired in any given situation. We are trying to tap into the multiplicity of languages and realities that our flesh holds. Flesh memory is more than just memory, it’s the way we re-invent scenarios and worlds and languages and images to transcribe what we see, what we feel, what we think. It’s a language that’s activated in our bodies. Flesh memory holds actual experiences, it holds imaginary experiences, it holds memory that may or may not be a direct result of what we’ve lived.

The question I want to bring to bear upon Oliver’s “flesh memory” is an inquiry into the inherited, transgenerational memory, the ways in which ancestral traumatic memories are embedded in the living and can sometimes function as repetition and replacement compulsions— disorders—hysteria. 3 Furthermore, the notion of possession can be taken up: the ways in which we make the dead alive again or feel what the dead felt when alive. Thus, Oliver’s “flesh memory” sparks the

3 From Bessel A. van der Kolk’s “The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma: Re-enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism.” Charcot, Janet, and Freud all noted that fragmented memories of traumatic events dominated the mental life of many of their patients and so built their theories about the nature and treatment of psychopathology on this recognition. Janet thought that traumatic memories of traumatic events persist as unassimilated fixed ideas that act as foci for the development of alternate states of consciousness, including dissociative phenomena, such as fugue states, amnesias, and chronic states of helplessness and depression. Unbidden memories of the trauma may return as physical sensations, horrific images or nightmares, behavioral reenactments, or a combination of these. Janet showed how traumatized individuals become fixated on the trauma and show difficulties in assimilating subsequent experiences. He writes, it is “as if their personality development has stopped at a

certain point and cannot expand anymore by the addition or assimilation of new elements.” Freud independently came to similar conclusions. Initially, he thought all hysterical symptoms were caused by childhood sexual “seduction” of which unconscious memories were activated when, during adolescence, a person was exposed to situations reminiscent of the original trauma. The trauma permanently disturbed the capacity to deal with other challenges, and the victim who did not integrate the trauma was doomed to “repeat the repressed material as a

remembering it as something belonging to the past.”

contemporary experience instead or


investigation of ancestral trauma—“the ghosts in your genes” 4 and the power of ululation. I write in my notebook, “is this—writing—taking up, tracing ancestral memory an effort to heal the dead, the living; is this the way to speak to and remember the dead?” Is flesh memory a reminder to create mourning songs to let the dead die?

what do i want. so many more winters. what do i want. so many more winters. what do i want. you in so many more winters. …how the sun worships the lovely ones. who goes into the frozen river alone to search the ice for friends. it is the time of a new letting go. 5

Is this new letting go a way for a writer to work with deep memory and what it means to be a sentient being—suffering—seeking a way to be a benefit, to see the way out of the loop and take the next steps toward liberation, a bodhisattva, a da - kini—forever? 6 As a writer opening to the work of another writer who has recently died, a writer who herself took up these themes in her own work—is this then what it means to settle the unfinished, to complete the fragmented sentence, forever?

4 Refer to the documentary The Ghosts in Your Genes.

5 Excerpt from the she said dialogues: flesh memory, “she said, treasure it” (Oliver 75).

6 From Rupert Gethin’s The Foundations of Buddhism, “…the bodhisattva—the being intent on awakening—dwells awaiting the appropriate time to take a human birth and become a buddha” (18).


works cited

Edou, Jerome. Machig Labron and the Foundations of Chod. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1996. Print.

Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: University Press,

1998. Print.

Oliver, Akilah. the she said dialogues: flesh memory. Boulder: Smokeproof.

1999. Print.

—, et al. “Sacred Naked Nature Girls.” Interview with Coco Fusco. Bomb 52 (1995): n. pag. 30 Oct. 2008. Web.

—. Rapture and Rupture.” Naropa University, Summer Writing Program. 7 July 2008. Audio archive lecture.

van der Kolk, Bessel A. “The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma:

Re-enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America. Vol. 12, No. 2. June 1989. 389-411. <>


brEnt armEndingEr

a deVotion to spheres

The book before the book was a round desire. It was honeycomb inside the hollows—all sound is plucked from how a person lost their way. It spins between our time and time is carved by softest teeth. A bee sees more colors than the human eye can bear. It chews the field so it be paper, a house that turns. A nest becomes the author of its hive, a language of wings.

What is an invention? According to some sources, the first piece of paper was made by Cai Lun 1900 years ago. He was fond of bees, and in my mind he tried to live among them, surrounding his naked body with scraps he had cut from mulberry, bark, and fishnets. He was a Eunuch, and so could serve the Emperor without suspicion. What is a net without a fish inside it? This is the rule of paper. Every creature is multiplied by the ghost it leaves behind. The sugar in which a word might resonate, the shelter.

Before Cai Lun, some documents were written on bone, which made them difficult to transport. I like to think of bone as a kind of language, the body’s poem. Only death can read it.

Belonging flows in only one direction, ink rising out from paper. I try to claim that color as my own, attach my name, as if I had given birth to it. An outer thing, I crook its neck to face me, beloved. I sew buttons where its eyes should be. Let’s take a walk and have a look. That’s me over there, clinging to the roof, climbing up and down the idea, unable to open the door.


It goes on and on this way, my almost way of touching you. I walk on stilts to reach the beginning of what you said. Someone lost their way. I guide my hands forward by telephone wire. Each word gives off too much heat, burning up the someone that precedes it. The feeling in my fingers. The distance doubles at precisely the moment I apprehend it. I make it creature, holding it close against my hollow. How it continues, long after the death of speaking, just like an artery.


our Bodies in reVerse

Now the men are returning inside the fatal air to shed the gap between the people and returning the experience from its worst procedure.

This fall of others but also made of self as the wounded that once stood from which the vowed did not— at least the people— the vowed did not return.

The years gather behind the longtime evening. It approaches widely, fast into the gulf of hunger behind its early birthday for which almost was an island.

Essentially a people:

as a way to discontinue, as a way to shed the killing, to press for others more than several, to spill the songs into the several for which the vowed had vowed not to contain.


The tiny patches of human light in our trouble

The tall grasses made visible by their swaying

The catch of color so near the flaking

of which (erased) the hesitant by the multiplying dark

As if my slowly so near the hole in memory

is dark as interrupting paper, the ink

with which antennae to light the human in the rock

inside our middles so crept upon and swaying


ElysE brownEll


After a black hole is formed…



am standing in the kitchen next to the sink reading the news. A man was

swallowed by a sinkhole somewhere in Florida. 1 Sinkholes form when acidic rainwater dissolves rock beneath soil. Acidic rainwater leaves a void. The large void collapses when it is no longer able to support the weight of what rests above.

The sink near me is a hole used to hold water. Inside this hole is another hole. Inside that hole are four small gaps used as a filter. Water cannot be trapped when there are holes. A Canadian tourist’s body was found in

a water tank at a Los Angeles hotel. 2 The decomposing body was found

after 19 days floating in one of the hotel’s water cisterns. The hotel guests brushed their teeth. The cells separated from the body, from skin, from bone, combing through their hair. She was only discovered after the water pressure stopped to trickles.

The one bed-room efficiency is at ground-level. When the neighbors upstairs run water it trickles down the pipes behind the walls. I feel this house was built on a lake. The floorboards rise as the water gushes through the pipes. When I touch the floor my hand leaves an imprint. Within moments it is gone leaving only droplets in the sink. I look for her in my sink. What disappears is quality more than fact. 3 One hotel

1 “A Man Was Swallowed by a Sinkhole” CNN, February 28, 2013

2 “How Did Woman’s Body Come to be in L.A. Water Tank?” CNN, February 26, 2013.

3 Taussig, Michael. Fieldwork Notebooks, 2011


guest said the water was salty, dry, unlike anything she had tasted before.

Another hotel guest to normal again.

stated the shower spit black water before turning

“Black water” is a phenomenon found in rivers when dry vegetation in waterholes breaks down, releasing tannin and reducing oxygen levels in the water. 4 Tannin is what causes the dry and puckery feeling in the mouth after consuming unripened fruit. The hotel guests began to complain about the taste of the water.

It started in the bedroom. It took the floor of the bedroom and he on his bed. Now, he is somewhere underneath the house. His brother tries to convince himself that he hears his voice, but there is only silence and darkness. I want to see lightness, but the void swallows my vision. A week later another sinkhole opened up in Bethlehem Township. 5 The family was forced to evacuate the premises. I hear the gushing of water miles away. I want to move away from it, but there are no rats to follow. The ground is warm, a heat that is damp and suffocating. He is a hole inside of a hole, a life still breathing beneath the ground. He is presumed dead. He is a missing person.

4 “River Flows Help Flush Out ‘Black Water’” ABC News , March 7, 2013

5 “Family Evacuates Home After Giant Sinkhole Forms” The Express Times, March 10, 2013



missing person is a person who has disappeared. A person whose status


alive or dead cannot be confirmed as their location is not known. Life


a sinkhole: a lost object: a memory deformed by its own presence. A

missing person’s assets can never be claimed. A person’s missing assets can never be found. Before the rainwater comes I am starving. Acidic water eats away at rock. One hole acts like a vacuum while the other starves. There are pictures of the demolished house in Florida. One of the pictures shows the removal of a table from the debris. I make black water with the coffee grounds in the morning. Officials are unsure whether the man in Florida will survive the hole. His brother says there is too much dirt. He envisions there is an air pocket for his brother to stay alive underground. When the Canadian tourist’s body was found in the water tank, she was floating near the bottom. The hotel guests complained of black water in their showers. After the body was removed, the water tank left a hole from her water. The hotel continued with their normal operations. Most guests were unaware of the body even after it was removed.

The man hopes for an air pocket in the hole where his brother’s body resides. He is presumed dead. When Sister gave birth they opened up her stomach. A caesarean section is a surgical procedure performed when a fetus, alive or dead, must be removed. The black hole was removed from Sister after it had formed in her body two weeks prior to the incision. Cracks appearing in the walls of a home are a sign that a sinkhole is forming.


Oxygen and hydrogen form to make water molecules. Lungs filled with oxygen operate with fluidity. Lungs filled with water prevent the body from receiving oxygen. Covering a hole with a cup creates suction. When suction occurs, the air beneath the cup is pushed out and creates a vacuum. This vacuum will only last until the pressure on the outside of the cup becomes lower than the pressure on the inside of the cup.

There are holes in the walls attached to wires. The gender of a connector is determined by the presence of one or more recessed holes. When a connector is disconnected or removed, the electrical conductors are not directly exposed. When bodies lose a connection to an external object, such as a journal, they are unable to accidently touch or be touched by its presence again. A door that does not open or close properly is another sign that a sinkhole is forming.

The house in Florida was demolished shortly after the earth yawned- opened. The man’s body has not been found. Officials indicated they were waiting for the hole to stabilize. When memory and trauma intersect, the body becomes unstable. When all that is left is bone: a memory lives in limbo: in the air pockets beneath the ground. A dead woman’s journal was pulled from the remains after the sinking.


After a sinkhole is filled with concrete gout, sinkhole. In order to prevent this from ground to install steel piers:

Florida has not been located. lives is not worth the risk

a new sinkhole can still form over the old happening, a hole must be drilled into the

a house on stilts.

Officials have said that the risk of many

The man’s body in

of one life.

The Canadian tourist was last seen on the elevator security camera. She was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and pushed the number 4. She was peering through the windows of the elevator looking for something or someone. I peer through the hole in my stomach and find black water. I locate an empty space in my body that I will never fill. If an image touches the margin, it will bleed when the page is trimmed. If a memory touches another memory the frame will shake. My body holds more than organs.

Lies form bridges over the gaps in our memories.

I trace the outline of the hole in my stomach remember her. She is breathing underneath

pocket. I pull facts from this body because I can rely on them. I pull lies from this body

A sinkhole is scientific proof of I cannot argue with science. I touch facts:

and remember mother how I want to the ground beneath my memory in an air

and turn them into facts. A sinkhole is a fact. what happens when acidic rainwater and rock meet. the sinkhole in my stomach to reach for the


fact: The Canadian tourist’s body is decomposing somewhere in Canada. fact: The hotel now has a waiver for the hotel guests to sign, which states: “You do so at your own risk and peril.” fact: A man’s body resides in a sinkhole. It is unknown whether he is dead or alive. fact: A missing person is a person whose status as alive or dead cannot be confirmed as their location is not known.

I stitch up the hole in my stomach and toss the memories into


(black water).

Mother gave birth to a hole. She held it close to her breast. The hole wouldn’t stop screaming for 36 hours. A missing persons report can only be filed if the person has been missing for over 48 hours. She covered the hole with a blanket to keep it warm. She left an air pocket open so the hole could breathe. After the sinkhole opened up and took the man, his brother jumped in after and tried to dig him out. The hole kept growing. He said he could hear his brother



Sister gave birth to two holes. One was a black hole. The black hole was floating inside her for two weeks. Black holes form at the end of a collapsing star’s life cycle.

Sister knew the day one of the holes turned black. She felt a shift inside her and then nothing; an echo of thunder to a mute sky; a light emitted from beyond the horizon. I held the black hole and kissed the layer of skin around it. The black hole has a pair of pupils filled with black water; the erosion of rock beneath soil. The hole that lives covers the black hole. When sister touches the hole in her stomach, she lives in the memory of the black hole. The ground beneath the man in Florida opened-up. The ground of the past is full of air pockets where memories reside.

The black hole’s name was Lona.


…it can continue to grow by absorbing its surroundings.


hr hEgnauEr

from When the Bird is not a human

the White-CroWned sparroW

“To look at a thing is quite different from seeing a thing.”

—oscar wilde

I looked—didn’t I


look, look— Yes. This is what I did.

Dear bird, dear fluttering one at my window,

I wanted to see you, but you have flocked.

And so I ask— but of no one in particular— is there providence in the fall of the sparrow? Yes, yes of course there is, says no one in particular. And so, ss I am all of wanting, here is my call to the hamlet:

While you’re gone, I will navigate my human limbs along all the crevices of this house and along the eaves of this attic, and I will search out your nest.

Dear sparrow,

I cannot see you, and so I’ve placed my body

Between where the mountains meet the grasslands, and I listen for your thin, sweet whistle.


The phenomenon of dialect is the focus of my attention. What does a two-second song pattern sound like? It sounds like fluctuations. It sounds like a striped crown— like all of the syllables I cannot say, this is what it sounds like to see a thing.

“The White-Crowned Sparrow” was first published in A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park (Wolverine Farm Publishing, 2013).


the stairWell

To spill wooden sounds into the morning like this place

is the most accurate stair

and that place

is just full of lung space until this stair follows that stair.

They’ve always been like this:

these stairs. One stepping upon another. This is how we built them.

And this is how we’ll weather them:

I’ll touch this lip until it’s smoothed itself over in an oiled way. You’ll touch the next lip just the same, and when we compare the weather, I will close my eyes.


the BaBy

After the last time we made love, I gave birth to a still-born boy. A dream in the bed of failure. The dark-haired man is dead.

the dark-haired man

I don’t see him as dead as I see him as a shape-shifter. That’s what the thought looked like from the brown chair once the thought had been accurately revisited. It looked like a dark flash. That is to say, it did not look like a path, but it looked like a destination, and somehow the thought knew that it could hold this contradiction, and somehow it did.


the BaBy, reVisited

After the first time we made love,

I dreamt I was reading a story,

and in the middle of the reading,

I gave birth to a blonde-haired boy.

I had never seen his face before this night. His vivid eyes. He spoke to me the way feathers speak— in wisps. Trust me, for I cannot translate this.


portFolio 1

Caity lEE

from se retrouVer

portFolio 1 Caity lEE from se retrouVer 31








portFolio 2

laura m c allistEr

untitled series

artist’s note: I believe that if people are willing to eat meat, they should be willing to take part in the process and understand where their meat is from and how it is being cared for. These photographs were taken at a farm in Dayton, Ohio. The pigs were raised in an 8-acre woodlot, free to roam and forage naturally. Taking part in the butchering process was difficult for me, so I used my camera as a sort of shield and coping mechanism.










travis maCdonald, J/J hastain, miChEllE taransky, and JosEph CoopEr

from 4play


Saying over to himself a song written on the back of a stripclub coaster.

I remember xir most from the backside of Ships that go for miles


past the capsized horizon to unravel them then to map the undone.

I had been doing that all along

but had somehow forgotten (between the click and the clit, between the hilt and the tip, the swollen sway,

the hierophant, the humped, the impenetrable without a seam the skirt may not speak:

) that

I no longer have the courage to answer your questions or ask you any of my own. Oracles, regrets, restrictions and an apple held over the head—shot through—like an idea.



Tiny, tender tandems excavate your quantum singularity width further. Unpleasantness in the multiplication tables.

And if my anger in the beginning makes you too angry to go on from there, well

I never needed you anyway. Dear reader: don’t go

I mean, having already gone, please: come back. I care about you, but not your tenderness

when weighed against each edit’s contextual demands. When I die, don’t come at my funeral, promise not to be sad. Say the kaddish like Ginsberg said it

Like Ginsberg wanted to. Say it. Denote for me more than the rituals of mourning, the shouting and the crying out, the genderless agenda of fear.



Thinking any line could be bird or a boat. This works to free the edges of a scene. Regardless of the cue, the endless originality of human loss gathers loosely in the threadbare hem of breadth.

Come to the secret of that form. Come with your skin off and your hard on.

I will not acknowledge that

not every vessel or curve is an arc/k, but every bird is

a noir memory of when we were a stark initial. Choked circuit Names are changing, here:

supposing a structure emerged like Walt Whitman from the Camden fog like the contradictions he is claiming will take us all home.


traCiE morris

with april JosEph

GrateFul sounds: the Body

During the Summer Writing Program at Naropa University, July 2012, Tracie Morris and Anne Waldman performed a memorial for Akilah Oliver, former professor and community member of Naropa University, who passed away on February 20, 2011. Anne and Tracie brought Akilah Oliver’s presence into the room using sound poetics/song/chanting techniques, and we were reminded of Akilah’s legacy: “What are the limits of the body?”

Prior to meeting and witnessing Tracie Morris and Anne Waldman’s performance, I listened to Morris’ “Africa” in preparation to take her workshop. “Africa” inspired my enquiry of the possibilities of healing embodied ancestral trauma (in Morris’ work: enslavement, tracing the past through the present) and channeling the dead (inside the living body) with sound poetics.

On January 3 rd , 2013, I contacted Tracie via email to ask her questions about sound poetics, as well as her connection to Akilah Oliver and her consideration of “flesh memory,” which Akilah Oliver defines in the she said dialogues:

flesh memory as “the body’s truths and realities… everything that we’ve ever experienced or known, whether we know it directly or through some type of genetic memory, osmosis or environment.”

april Joseph: In her MFA lecture, “Rapture and Rupture,” during the Summer Writing Program 2008, Akilah Oliver says, “By body I mean language and by language I mean poetry…and by poetry I mean all writing…I am my own other. We are always our own other; each of us is someone else’s other.”


Can you expand on this notion of “I am my own other”—is this an extension of an internalization of “otherness” that is imposed upon us by patriarchy?

traCie morris: I guess you could say so, and I see this another way too. The ruptured/disrupted body, the body in trauma, as the site of trauma, disassociates. We shift our memory’s perspective of where we are when we recall it. We become “out of body.” Like the many recounts of near-death experiences, the traumatized body feels “petit morts” as a constant hum. I do mean that in a gendered, sexualized way too. The disrupted, caught-up breath implies a body in a “stressed” state. The mind, I think, literally is beside itself. That’s how I also see one’s own other. The question that raises though is, who owns this other?

a. J . I’m curious about your thoughts on ancestral trauma that is passed down—inherited memories—which are carried in the body, in the earth, which can be expressed in sound poetics or performance. Do you find an ability to express and heal from ancestral trauma through sound poetics? Your performance of “Chain Gain” at SWP in 2012 embodies this trauma, and also serves as a piece of truth that reflects on the memory of this modern life—portrayal of racism and other cultural wounds. I also wonder how it feels to perform these works? What inspires you to perform and create these works?

t .m . Hmmm. That’s a whole buncha questions that are and aren’t directly related. One by one then:

1. Do you find an ability to express and heal from ancestral trauma through sound poetics? I guess I’d say that I’m searching for, rather than finding, this ability. I’m trying to intuit these memories that aren’t directly mine. That’s why the sound poems are live- based and improvisational. I’m feeling them out every time I’m performing them. Healing… I don’t know. Catharsis is a double-edged sword, isn’t it? I don’t think it’s my catharsis, by the way. It’s more like I’m being the spokesperson, the rep, if you will, of it.


2. I also wonder how it feels to perform these works. Well, I don’t know. Sorry to be evasive. I mean, to be superficial about it, I feel just fine. It’s a workout though. I think the work is my energy/ frustration of trying to get at these sounds, these articulations. Sometimes the emotions bubble up, but they’re not my emotions. I don’t feel sad myself, I express sadness though. I also am jarred by the energy of the audience, the energy that I receive from them. I reconstitute that too and so it’s like a double-duty workout of my viscera. It’s the innards for sure. I guess I’m not personally as emotional for myself because I have a job to do: to expel, to show. I have to be alert to do that. Not drowning in a sea of my own feeling, making.

3. What inspires you to perform and create these works? They show up.

In my mind a little thought’ll sneak in and I’ll just wait and wait for it to get to the front of my head. I try to catch it, accept it, by sounding it out. I don’t try to determine it. Those poems have minds of their own. The biggest job is to accept the “assignment” and cultivating the shoot of the poem so it can fully flower.

a.J . This also ties to Akilah’s Summer Writing Program lecture in 2010, “Eros and Ethos,” which focuses on activism and the BP oil

spill. Akilah mentions: “The past as an extended duration

continuous moment, the present is a part of

that moment.” Akilah asks, which I also wonder in regards to ancestral trauma, “How do we enter into history—as artists—performers— activists?” Do you consider your work as a form of activism?

contrary companion




t . m . That’s a great question. I think it lets me off the hook too easily to say it’s a form of activism, so no. It’s a form of activity. Saying the unsaid, the unspeakable (as words) is helpful but there’s always more that can be done that’s not based on me patting myself on the back because I make art. As an artist, I feel my job is to get out of the way and let the poem fully make itself, irrespective of subject matter. I guess I say that I accept history. The history that I know. You’re making


me think of something else though: I think part of my job is to read, to keep up with the present, to make connections. One of the effects of the deluge of information is, to create an awkward term, the hyper- atomization, decontextualization of significance. I think I have to keep up with what’s going on in the present to make connections with that enduring past moment you attributed to Akilah.

a. J . Extending on the past—our concern with history—as well as the sense that (according to Akilah) “our coming was expected on earth,” or “the past has expected us,” what does this mean in terms of a “claim” to power or empowerment of past generations’ connection with the present—a secret agreement—ethics—a duty to investigate why we perform, compose—the purpose of our work?

t.m. Well this is intriguing. I think I have to address this comment in reverse order. It gives me the opportunity to talk about something

I don’t think I’ve discussed in print quite clearly, and that is the

advantage of growing up and growing into adulthood as a thinker, influenced by the Black studies, Black Arts/Black power, civil rights, labor and feminist movements (and later Queer activism even as a non-Queer person). These movements helped me to understand my own placement and saved me from an individualist, nihilist

viewpoint. To know that you’re a part of some community gives you

a sense of how that works, what it means. When I became part of

various artistic, social, cultural, activist movements (either through active seeking or, as with the Language poets, by adoption), I had a feeling what that meant because of this grounding I had as a child that carried on into adulthood. The expectation part is one that bewilders me. As I mentioned in one of my poems, I was born a very sick baby and was touch-and-go for many years of my early life. I’m so grateful for this experience looking back because I think a few times I had a choice about my own living rather than just bumbling along. I won’t pull out the tiny violin by telling you the whole story, but I was

really ill. I guess the idea of presence, of being on earth is something

I had to think about as I wavered. I don’t know if I was expected or

welcomed but I’m glad to be here. I do think about being here rather


than just assuming I will be. I think part of my comment on the body and disassociation is based upon that. I’m so grateful to inhabit a body. This one of mine. All its imperfections and its vibrancy makes me grateful for it. And on the rare occasions that I get sick now, I resent that state, but it’s so easy to put it in perspective. In sickness and in health, I appreciate the body. The precious precariousness of life and death, of living, that Akilah addresses so elegantly, that state of wonder, is a form of stasis, of expectation. We expect for the best on earth. We wait.

The notion of ancestry, and African American ancestry, is this hopefulness of our past honor but also our future hope. That hope of living, success—and rebellion. Hoping that the one who comes next has a fighting spirit. That the weight of oppression doesn’t crush that child. Ellison, Killens, and many other authors have talked about this in fiction. The tension between “raging against the dying of the light” and living a full, happy life. During slavery and segregationist times, I think this was the hope of our ancestors: that those who come can strike this balance and find joy. As a mother, I’m sure Akilah felt this. She said that her son was standing when he died. This meant a great deal to her.

a.J . Akilah also mentions the idea of mourning (from the “Eros and Ethos” lecture: “Has the earth always mourned?”). Akilah asks, (which again, I struggle with this question myself): “How not to get lost in grief and mourning?”

t . m . It’s tough. I guess that’s why I answered one of the previous questions as I did—about how I deal with my own sound poems. I can’t get lost. It’s like falling down on the job. It’s almost like being part of the rhythm section…You know one time, briefly, I played an instrument. A cowbell for a college-based group of the great Frisner Augustine’s “La Troupe Makandal.” Seriously? I was there for like, two minutes. I was completely out of my depth! Mr. Augustine was a likeable, friendly teacher. He recently passed away. He was a giant in traditional percussion, particularly Haitian percussion…



was playing cowbell and two things happened: my skinny little

arms got tired and the drummers were so good, I wanted to groove with them. Long story short, I got off the cowbell beat and started some other kind of beat. Now Troupe Makandal had all kinds of huge beautiful drums including congas and djembes, if memory serves, and other percussive instruments. We’re rehearsing this big tune and Frisner stops and looks at me. A tiny voice in this thing. He said: “Oh you can’t stop! You have to hold the beat for the whole band!” (Not too much pressure!) I thought he gave me the bell because it was small like me. Well, maybe, but my role was to keep that beat. I wasn’t there to play around. That’s how I feel about not getting lost in the poems. It’s irresponsible to my job as an artist. The audience can get

lost, sure. I have to be grounded. I do that by, I guess, getting my own maudlin emotions out of the way. To keep the channels clear, open.

I remember hearing Jane Fonda, in an interview, describing acting

in this way, and that’s exactly right. (Funnily enough though, when I actually act and perform other people’s dramatic texts, I don’t feel as

if my job is to “channel.”)

Has the earth always mourned? I wouldn’t presume to say, and I won’t presume to know Akilah’s framing. I can chime in with my own idea that the earth has always accepted, taken in. I think the Dogon spiritualists and Ana Mendieta would agree about this point. To say the earth has always mourned is to say the earth is reacting. I think the earth accepts, and rejects.

a. J . Can you expand on Akilah’s notion of “reconciliation—who and what is to be forgiven?” and “What is unforgivable? Some things are not irretrievable.” Do you consider your work, or what you consider to be, to have poetical-ethos?

t . m . Hm. This is one of my primary meditations. I do hold grudges. I have to work on that. I guess I think of them as something the body/ my body holds on to. Holding grudges is a form of sentimentalism, truth be told. I’m way too romantic. I also feel that we, as women, have so often been taught to “let things slide” that it often ends up being disempowering in a world where that choice is seen as “weak.”



learned so much from the South African Truth and Reconciliation

commission. How knowledge trumps anger/emotions/righteous indignation.Truth=power.Idon’tknowifwealwaysneedtoforgive. We more often than not, though, do need to “let go” by however means. I think my go-to for not forgiving are crimes of injustice—but whatever the rationale, the lynchpin to holding resentment needs to be investigated, reframed, and probably rejected. I’m working on it. Unconditional love is hard as hell. It’s good to work on though, it’s healthy. Incorporating righteous indignation into the body can kill you.

a.J . Do you believe that composition/performance can help one not get lost in grief/mourning? A way of “holy forgiveness”?

t . m . To me those are apples and oranges. The not getting lost thing I’ve already addressed. Can one let go/release that energy through a performance? Oh, absolutely. When I’m present in my performance,

I manage to solve a lot of internal problems through this alchemical interchange. It’s yogic, that stretching.

a.J . Canyoushareapiecefromyourlatestwork,RhymeScheme,something that reflects sound poetics and “flesh memory,” or “what are the limits of the body?” I believe your work continues Akilah Oliver’s legacy as you continue to work as translator of the body and transform the notion of “flesh memory.”

t . m . Rhyme Scheme is out and available via Small Press Distribution. It has

a CD of sound poems as well as text.

Here’s one of the poems I referenced in my answer to one of the questions. This is about my being a sick baby. In fact, it’s the first poem in the book, so that gives you a sense of how attached I am to it.


preemie: BaBy Girl morris, 2 lBs., 0 oz.

Born to death, to prayer. Angels, egun, mother Huddled-over glass box

rubber sealing circles, plastic hands smooth comfort, wither-skin

I prissily eat this air Coating, color of artificial sun, bored with repetitious day,

asks me: What’s night like? We need to be reminded,

brief was our stay. Recall warm, though. Deep brown, Aerodynamic gas, white light blazing through

glaze of unready lids, rays’ promises of multi-hues, shapes, shade.

Who is who here? teeny tubes tie me to:

fists, little nails extend/curl.

Globes, pustules, bubbles, sphere here. All convections of heaven.


harryEttE mullEn

from tanka diary

What do we call this chimerical creature possessing hair of a dog, rabbit foot, shark fin, elephant tusk, and rhino horn?

Remember summers loafing in a hammock between two trees while a citronella coil burns itself into an ashen snake?

Favorite sandals, constantly worn, that remembered the shape of my feet— lost in a whirlpool as I crossed the roiling water.

Even in this landscaped paradise people buy fresh-cut flowers, considered more aesthetic than the ones growing in the yard.

Upside-down reflection on the pond’s clear surface that I saw before noticing the deer itself, camouflaged in muffled woods.

Climbers on Everest, so fixed on reaching their goal they press on beyond fatigue, passing their predecessors, the frozen dead.

One thing after another: a tired old tree topples over in the yard, turning on the water faucet and flooding the lawn.


Neglected, lapsed in memory, declined, dilapidated, fallen into decay, crumbled into dust, returned to nature.

You could survive to antiquity and die alone like hundred-year-old tortoise just passed away on Galapagos Island.

After official autopsy, carefully preserved remains of Lonesome George are bubble wrapped, duct taped, and stored in a freezer.

Guys in white robes with pointy hats, picking up litter beside the road? Has the Invisible Empire adopted a highway?

As you have forgotten, so one day might you remember how to be wild and bewildered, to be wilder and be wilderness?


akilah olivEr

saCred and proFane paths in aFriCan ameriCan literature

Lecture given during the Religious Studies Department series, Sacred and the Profane: Celebrating Paths of the Spirit, April, 19, 2000

So, welcome to this circle. What I’d like to do today is talk about, is not talk about—I’d just like to read you some poems. I’d like to read you some poems from the 1900’s up to about 1979, a couple of poems here and there. And, I was thinking about this lecture (participatory circle session)—the title is “Sacred and Profane Paths in African American Literature” or something approximating that—and what I started to think about is that dichotomy is so false, that dichotomy between the secular and the sacred, the sacred and the profane, and that in fact it’s a matrix that entwines and dances in and out of itself at any given time in any given context. And the matrix that I’m interested in is the matrix in the signifier called Blackness in this particular session. Blackness meaning: a definition that’s open to your input; definitely Blackness is signifying culture or race since we’re dealing with literature of a specific people, African American people; Blackness as it signifies memories, associations, how you touch upon that, how you weave in and out of that sense of Blackness. So, what I’d like to do today is open up that definition to everybody’s input. And one of the reasons I’d love to do that is because when I think about Black literature—and I’m going to use that term instead of African American literature, I don’t even know why I said “African American literature,” I guess I got caught up in the political dictum— I’m much more interested instead in the specificity of what we call African


American literature, in Black, in Blackness, because I think that opens up so many more possibilities and so many other realms of ascending, senses of essentialist definitions of Blackness or African American as a culture. And [I want to] really begin to open that up, even as it was used some time ago and maybe still is in parts of England as more of a political signifier so that Blackness became a term that was adapted or adopted by many peoples to signify more than simply an ethnicity or a race or an association but to signify a sense of struggle, ascension, and unity. So, today what I want you to do is open up and let Blackness into your heart, the energy of Black, if it can enter you. To me Blackness and what that signifies is intricately related to language and specifically poetry and jazz. Those are primary matrixes for me. My first language I always say was jazz music: John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Ella Fitzgerald, some Billie Holiday, lots and lots of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington. These were my associations of blackness as a very kind of physical, visceral thing. We lived in a little house in Los Angeles on Normandy and 81st street. And it was a little yellow bungalow on the corner, and it didn’t get a lot of light, and so the house always seemed as if it were full of shadows because it was. Everything was very shadowy. It was very, that kind of texture where you almost feel like you can touch a ghost or something in the room because of the texture and the balance or the absence of light. So, as a very little kid I remember my first associations, or identity with how I’m embodying myself on the earth, was very much shadowy and there was this incredible sense of light and lightness in that shadowiness. As well, there was this heaviness within the confines of the room and the absence of light. And throughout the time that I remember this house—and I was very little probably, from whatever state, I was in a crib from about four or five years old—we didn’t have a lot of language it seemed because my father was the babysitter for us during the day, and the man did not talk. I mean, to the day he died, if you went out to dinner with him, it would be really difficult for him to probably sustain conversation more than about five, ten minutes, and that was it. So our language in that house was music. It was constantly on. So we had music and the textures of Coltrane, and the textures of Miles Davis. Charles Mingus was constantly filling the room. So, my first sense of


language was jazz, was music, or tonalities and rhythms, and the voices of instruments coming in and out and that language became my primary association with the sense of identity, the sense of the world, the sense of Blackness, signifying these multiple positions as music does, as well as later what would become my introduction to poetry, which was an extension for me of that kind of texture of the shadows, of the layered blackness that I came to associate. And that’s what I always thought of literature as being, as this kind of multi-faceted language that weaves in and out of itself, that comes to complete itself, touches upon something and realizes it’s not there, and then moves to something else, some other sense of rhythm and language. So, the first thing I want to start by doing is playing John Coltrane throughout the rest of this talk and lecture so that Coltrane will be accompanying us in the background. And this is from the CD album A Love Supreme. So, we’ll just let it keep going throughout the whole thing and let the texture of this move as we move. So this is what I first heard. This was my first sense of literature and Black language. So this would play in the shadows of the house that was shrouded in this kind of texture that you can almost feel but couldn’t quite pick up and grasp, but yet I guess I did. This was the first language. Take a minute to write for yourself: what signified Blackness for you? What were your first signifiers of Blackness, first associations of Black? So we had this house, a bungalow, where this kind of pure energy and sacred music played in the daily midst of our rather mundane and sacrilegious lives on a daily basis. The second association for me with Black literature, and this again was the language that kind of permeated me and stayed with me, was church and church spirituals and music. We went to church every once in a while and then a little bit more regularly, every Sunday. My mother became pretty religious after a while. But church was a big part of my experience growing up, whether I was in St. Louis visiting relatives or in Los Angeles; and we went to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is really not quite as lively as a Black Baptist church, a little bit more restrained, the choir is a little bit more, I don’t know, rehearsed maybe. There was no falling out in the aisles and talking in tongues and that kind of thing, but yet there was this intense presence of language, whether it was how the preacher, the minister, articulated and the kind of way the voice would kind of rise and fall and


the kind of trembling that would happen inside of the voice, and you know the gesturing, and all of this became language that was a live, fluid kind of thing. The old women with their church hats on—you know these weird kind of plumes and feathers, and the little velvet hats, or these white straw things, and stiff white stiff dresses—there would be the church mothers in the first three rows and they always had these very stiff white dresses, starched dresses on and white shoes, and white stockings, and their job was to be the “church mothers” because in spite of the fact that the preacher was not going to fall out, somebody was in the church at some point. Somebody would get the Spirit. It would overtake them, and they would fall out, and it was usually during song or Psalm. And so spirituals became the first sense of language and poetry. And the first sense of that sacred sense of language is having language—this force that moves people beyond themselves and beyond their bodies—and outside of that, language as being this collective, unifying energy that takes us beyond ourselves. And I want to read a spiritual, one of the early spirituals that I heard as a child, and I never associated it as being a spiritual before. And when I talk about that sacred-profane dichotomy— to me it was just a bedtime story that my mother told us. And I didn’t know it was actually considered a spiritual song, and it’s called “This Little Light of Mine.”

Oh, this little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine Let it shine, shine, let it shine

All in my home I’m gonna let it shine All in my home I’m gonna let it shine All in my home I’m gonna let it shine Let it shine, shine, shine Let it shine


God, give it to me I’m gonna let it shine God, give it to me I’m gonna let it shine God, give it to me I’m gonna let it shine Let it shine, shine Let it shine

This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine Let it shine, shine, shine, let it shine

Everywhere I go I’m gonna let it shine Everywhere I go I’m gonna let it shine Everywhere I go I’m gonna let it shine Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

And the church people would start, you know, clappin’ their hands. And there was another verse that went with it like:

All in my home I’m gonna let it shine

You know people’d get to shakin’ their heads and stuff, and that was one of the primary senses of literature. Then there was another one. And this one I remember not so much from the church that I went to but more from the churches that I used to visit, the Baptist churches:

“Oh freedom.” So that often there was this sense of the signifier letting a light shine as being. When you think of the mythic northern star that led the slaves


from southern plantations to the North, to freedom—so these songs were couched in, since they came out of slavery, they were couched in these coded meanings, and the songs often had meanings about the Lord and God but also about the human spirit and about accessing that spirit. And there was always this sense of freedom imbedded in the songs as freedom being not just an ethereal kind of thing like when I die and go to heaven, but also freedom as being something worth struggling for or worth dying for. So even within the spirituals, there was never a real kind of distinction between the everyday, or the sense of struggle, or how one asserted oneself in relationship to mastery, or relationship to power. It wasn’t really that separate from the sense of the spirit because the spirit came out of one’s sense of its relationship to oppression in so many ways; or the spirit had to negotiate its very real physical bondage so that the sense of the sacred and the sense out of the ordinary were very much tied together. And here’s another spiritual:

Oh Freedom

Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom over me And before I be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave And go home to my lord and be free No more moanin’, No more moanin’, No more moanin’ over me And before I be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave And go home to my lord and be free No more weepin’, No more weepin’, No more weepin’ over me And before I be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave And go home to my lord and be free They’ll be singin’, They’ll be singin’, They’ll be singin’ over me And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave

And go home to my lord and be free They’ll be shoutin’, They’ll be shoutin’, They’ll be shoutin’ over me And before I’d be a slave I’d be buried in my grave And go home to my lord and be free They’ll be prayin’, They’ll be prayin’, They’ll be prayin’ over me


And before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave And go home to my lord and be free

So those were my first influences of literature: spirituals, and John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, which is interesting because there was often this dichotomy between church folks in the old days and blues and jazz folks. Those blues and jazz people were out there sinnin’ and doin’ these kind of, you know, bad stuff. Then later, by the time John Coltrane got to this stuff, it was like, almost, even not understandable and rejected even by traditional jazz circles. So there was always this sense of this dichotomy that began to assert itself in a weird kind of, to me, an always kind of not quite—I don’t why—there became this real dichotomy later between what is sacred and what is sacrilegious, or what is “street,” or what is, oh, worldly is a better word. What’s worldly, and what is…what’s godly, and what is sanctified. But, of course, we knew that those same people in church were sanctified and falling out on Sundays, praying and very holy and sacrilegious. You know we’d see them around the corner on the block, you know, little bottle of gin or something or there’d be this little gossip about who was sleepin’ with whose husband and that kind of thing, so, of course, the dichotomy was always false. But it began to be asserted at some point. I began to read poetry at a really young age, and one day sometime later we were no longer in the little yellow bungalow, and the shadows were different in a different house. And my mother one day decided to walk myself and my three, two sisters and brother, to the local library, which we did. So we walked our thirteen-and-a-half blocks up to the library, and we got a library card which was to me like the most wondrous thing. It’s like I had this little passport and I was filled with, I was, I entered this world where there were these rooms. It was a very small library, so it was more like a big room sectioned off with shelves, and there was the smell of books. I mean, I can’t even begin to explain just what the aroma of books was like at that point. It was, you know, very intoxicating, and it felt as if I were being given this gift, you know, into this other world. We got that little thing called the library card, and we were told, “you can check out up to twelve books,” which was just amazing, like twelve


books at one time, and so we did. And for some reason both my sisters and myself, both of my two sisters and myself, besides other stuff we checked out, you know, Are You My Mother (the little ducky is one of my favorite books still), we begin to check out a lot of poetry, and I still don’t know why, but we did. We began to just check out a lot of books of poems, and we would sit around in the kitchen, and for some reason the kitchen was a gathering place. I don’t know why. The kitchen has all these signifiers for Black women, especially in the days when we used to—and for many people, these still are the days—I guess I’m just not in that day because hair was such a ritual; and the cleaning of the hair and shampooing of the hair would take an entire day, especially if there were three girls in a family, because then you had to— I’ll just tell you this little process because this gets to how we got to the kitchen and why we were reading poetry there. So the process of doing hair, called “doing hair,” for three girls would be: one, you have to take out whatever was in, the little pony tails and the rubber bands. And then you have to comb it out so the hair is straight already, it’s pressed. And then you have to go through the process of putting it under the kitchen sink ‘cause that’s where we got our hair washed, under the kitchen sink. And, of course, the hair would then kink up so it become something like this. Then there would be the process, if you’re shampooing it. But you then had to get these really big combs, and, you know, you can probably still find them in Wal-Mart and stuff, these big black combs, they were always black—I don’t know why. It was always the “big black comb.” “Go get the big black comb.” So, you go get the big black comb, and you would go get the Ultra Sheen, which is one of my favorite hair oils (I still use it today), and then you’d go back and then there’d be the process of combing through the hair. So this would take, you know, if you’re tender headed, it would be a little bit of a trial. So you’re sitting there combing through the hair, and then the hair would be oiled—not yet, I’m getting ahead of myself. Then you would have to, then if you comb through the hair, it’s, you know, it’s hard, it hurt, and then you would have to braid the hair into all of these little sections, and the purpose of that was so it would dry. And then you’d walk around in braids for a couple of hours and maybe you’d get under the hair dryer for a little bit, and then your hair would dry. So this would be, like I said, an all-day process with three girls.


Then the next process would be to take the braids out again so that you can then do the pressing process which always took place in the

kitchen by necessity. The hot comb—which is an iron, a hot comb, like

a regular comb, like the big black comb except it’s made of heavy iron,

and it’s put on the stove, and there has to be a flame. So, you’d have these flames going. You’d have the pressing comb, and it’s getting hot, and it’s very hot—it’s gotta be, I don’t know, it’s gotta be over seventy, eighty degrees in order for it then to go through the process of getting

your hair nappy in order to clean it. Now you’re gonna reverse it again, so the next process will then be to take the hot comb or the “hot comb” and then to take it section by section and to press through it so that it’s then straight again. So, that itself would be about an hour’s process, to do the pressing process, and then of course you’d have to do something with the straightened hair once again. That’s when the Ultra Sheen came in. Then you would do the parting of the hair and oiling of the scalp, and then you could put it in rollers and make Shirley Temple curls. So it was quite a weird kind of process. We had to have something to do during this time, so one of the things that we did was read poetry, read quite a bit of poetry. So then again we have this very odd process of, you know, straightening of the hair, denappifying the hair, or taking

it out of its original state, putting it into a social code, you know, a state, and then, what are you gonna do with ourselves all that time. So, during

this ritual of the hair, because it was a ritual every other week, we would make a ritual of language and a ritual of poetry and, of course, there was already a ritual of language going on with the women talking and all of that; so on top of that you’ve got women in the kitchen, you’ve got all this talk, you’ve got the smell of burnt hair, which can be quite endearing sometimes, and then you had stuff like, “If We Must Die,” which was written by Claude McKay, one of the Harlem Renaissance poets, so this is one of the poems we used to sit around and read to each other, recite:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot.


If we must die, O let us nobly die

We used to clutch our breast at that point,

If we must die, O let us nobly die

And very dramatic about the whole thing:

So that our precious blood may not be shed In vain; then even the monsters we defy Shall be constrained to honor us though dead! Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe; Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave, And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! What though before us lies the open grave? Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

And that used to really arouse our passions and we used to have these little contests about who could remember it line for line, and especially the part at the end, “like men pressed to the wall, dying but fighting back,” that used to always somehow excite us. Another one we read was Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”:

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.


I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Or another favorite of ours “Mother to Son”:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor— Bare. But all the time I’se been a-climbin’ on, And reachin’ landin’s, And turnin’ corners, And sometimes goin’ in the dark Where there ain’t been no light. So boy, don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps ’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard. Don’t you fall now— For I’se still goin’, honey, I’se still climbin’, And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes was a big favorite, maybe because he’s so accessible in so many different ways? At least he was for us as kids. But, I’ll stop with Langston Hughes. Another one was a poet that’s not as well-known from the Harlem Renaissance period, named Countee Cullen, “Yet Do I Marvel”:

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind, And did He stoop to quibble could tell why The little buried mole continues blind,


Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die, Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus To struggle up a never-ending stair. Inscrutable His ways are, and immune To catechism by a mind too strewn With petty cares to slightly understand What awful brain compels His awful hand. Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:

To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

That’s one of those poems where we had no idea what they were talkin’ about, but there was something about the rhythm of the language that we liked very much, that we could take with us from us Countee Cullen. Here’s another one that was more accessible in some kind of ways, “Incident”:

Once riding in old Baltimore, Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,

I saw a Baltimorean Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small, And he was no whit bigger,

And so I smiled, but he poked out His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore From May until December; Of all the things that happened there That’s all that I remember.

Sometime later, we moved yet again to the last house, and we then discovered the poems of what was then called The Black Arts Movement,


which was contemporary to our times at that point. So, as all this amazing amount of literature, and plays, and poetry that began to come out from probably 1964 to about 1974 or so, I would kind of ear-mark that as the Black Arts Movement, and, of course, a lot of it was built upon the reassertion of Blackness. Nappy was back. We had afros by then. So the rituals of the kitchen and the pressing sadly (or happily) ended. We had a new kind of ritual with the afro comb and, you know, “Watu Wazuri use Afro Sheen” was a song that used to come on the radio: “Beautiful people use Afro Sheen.” So it’s kind of interesting to know that Johnson and Johnson, a black-owned company of the hair oil that we used, was one of the first to use black signifiers in a commoditized way to promote products. So, there was this whole sense of a return to Africanism, and Africa, and that period, and we began to read poets like Nikki Giovanni. Nikki Giovanni. “Nikki-Rosa” was one of the poems that was our favorite:

childhood remembrances are always a drag if you’re Black you always remember things like living in Woodlawn with no inside toilet and if you become famous or something they never talk about how happy you were to have your mother all to yourself and how good the water felt when you got your bath from one of those big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in and somehow when you talk about home it never gets across how much you understood their feelings as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale and even though you remember your biographers never understand your father’s pain as he sells his stock and another dream goes And though you’re poor it isn’t poverty that concerns you


and though they fought a lot it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference but only that everybody is together and you and your sister have happy birthdays and very good Christmases and I really hope no white person ever has cause to write about me because they never understand Black love is Black wealth and they’ll probably talk about my hard childhood and never understand that all the while I was quite happy

And there’s lots and lots of other poems from that time period: LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka who I think we’re probably most familiar with at the Naropa school etcetera, and we were very enchanted by that period of Black Arts, and the parks, and the Black festivals in Black, and Angela Davis, and “Free Angela” and all of that, and we were just little kids and not really able to participate on a real level outside of sitting on the back fence and dreaming about running away to the revolution as we often did, but that passed, and we just ran away into ourselves, eventually, I guess to new revolutions that we keep inventing. But all that reminds me of, or brings me back to, is what signifies Blackness? What are the signifiers of Blackness? For me it’s the hot comb, the iron hot comb that was black, the big black comb. To me it was the frying of the hair, it was the shadows, it was the texture, it was John Coltrane, it was spirituals, it was traveling with my hippie father quite a bit, reading Henry Miller in Acapulco. It was all of these complex things, going to Kiev and Russia and studying Marxism when I was fourteen. It was Janis Joplin. By ‘74, Coltrane in the Pantheon of the jazz musicians had been joined with Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull, and Jimi Hendrix, and Joni Mitchell. So it was all of these complexities that made up these identities and associations. First time we drove through Colorado—and how you could see all the stars and how black it was at night here—and some song coming on the radio about a girl named “Oh Kimmy Sue,” which is my little sister’s name and me saying, “I’m gonna go back to


that land one day. I like it here. I’m gonna live there.” It was all these complexities of shadows and people and a grandmother and the feel of her hands and the arthritic gnarled hands and how that felt touching my skin. It was the energy of the exchange of one of my first girlfriends and feeling the energy of white on black, sexuality, and what does that excite? And what does that bring out? It was all of these complexities. It was a little kid reading books and any reference to black or darkness was always associated with evil. It’s the dark side. It’s the light side. It’s all these different complexities. And I think that the literature of Blackness is always being written in this country. I think it’s always going to be incomplete as long as it’s always written from the position of an essentialist definition of identity, i.e., Blackness equals a particular or only. Because it does equal a particular, and I don’t want to take its source from itself. It does mean Negro and Afro American and nigger and it means African American and all those kinds of essentialist definitions, but I think that it also means something so much bigger than that in our culture, and until there’s a way we can all enter the Blackness and add to the written literature of what is Black, it will always be a position of opposition to something nebulously called White. So, what I’d like us to end with is opening that up, and one way to open that up is to read what you wrote, or not, or just go burn it and talk about something else. One way to open that up is to deny nothing because in that matrix of Blackness there’s a lot of complexities, and there’s pain, and there’s anger, and there’s fear, and there’s shame. For the Black Arts Movement was a great period, but there’s something that just didn’t quite carry us through 2000 with simplistic slogans like “Black is Beautiful.” Though Black is more than just beautiful, it’s dangerous, it’s scary, it’s fear, it’s beautiful, and it can be all of these things at one time. So, I’m just going to be quiet for a moment and what I’d like to do to end is to open the circle, and anyone who wants to say anything or go from your little notes: what are your signifiers of Blackness? What would you add to this literature that we’re making up cause that to me is the most exciting part about Black literature right now—that we’re still writing it, and unlike the poem, “Nikki-Rosa” by Nikki Giovanni, I think white people have to start writing about Blackness in order for us to transcend our dichotomies and simple positions that we can lapse into at


any given time when it comes to identity—darkness/light, black/white, master/slave—because of so many ways they’re false dichotomies with historical truth and present day realities. So, everything I say I’m going to contradict it. So, I’ll be quiet and open it up now and I think we probably have about maybe five minutes. I know you guys have to go to class.

audien C e mem B er : The night sky was one of my first experiences of blackness and I was afraid of the dark as a little kid. I grew up in a small town in Colorado where there were very few, no Black people in town, and I rarely ever saw them. I remember one of the first times I went into the city and seeing Black people and being frightened—because I think, as you were speaking, my association with the night was fearful and they were different than me. I was fearful because of some of things my father would say, and then as I started to grow older some of my first sexual attractions were towards Black people and one of my first boyfriends was a Black man, so now it has a lot of association around sexuality and excitement for me…and music as well.

akilah : Thanks.

audien C e mem Ber: Growing up I had a younger brother who was Black. My parents had friends who lived in Harlem and the friend’s name was Jerry and we’d go into the city every few weeks to visit Jerry and I remember his apartment and the smells in there. There was always weird jazz music that I didn’t really understand in the background. He’d sit us down and talk to us about the revolution and Blackness and his wife would braid my hair. There was this liberating feeling that I got in that apartment and that’s my personal Blackness.

akilah : Cool.

audien C e mem B er : I grew up in Germany, and I was probably a teenager when I first saw a Black person. It was somebody the same age as I was. And to me it was fascinating just to meet somebody who had different skin color, and later I met a few more as I grew up. Actually, I had to come to America to experience racism and it was the reverse


racism. I was living in a community where the caretakers of the yard and

everything—they were Black and I didn’t really like that so I moved into

a Black neighborhood and I was not accepted. And that was the first time

I realized what that was, what racism actually was.

akilah : Thanks for sharing.

I just want to end just letting this [music] fill the room as it goes off.

That’s it. There’s more but that’s it. So, thank you for coming. Thank you for sharing and listening, and being a part of the circle. And I invite you guys to continue writing your own literatures of Blackness, which I think will help all of us demystify or get over our fear to talk or to enter the space of Black.

In printing this, we thank the family of Akilah Oliver.


akilah olivEr, raChEl lEvitsky, tisa bryant

six enGaGements

my repeating themes don’t seem to come out the same way thrice

—akilah oliver

By which we engage discursively and poetically with excerpts from an unfinished and unsanctioned draft of an unpublished work by Akilah Oliver, provisionally titled:

The Putterer’s Notebook: An anti-Memoir, or alternate title:

Then I Became Strange to Myself: An anti-Memoir And in so doing, we revisit the spirit of our first meeting: a conversation with and about Akilah Oliver’s flesh memory: the she said dialogues published in How2, Vol. 1. No. 3, 2000.




spitting out “prophecy” as if it were bad grammar, back in those goblin

days before T

vocabulary: decedent, aporia, Sheol, elegiac, switchblade, otiose.

spelled out in Oakland, before i had expanded my


hegemony, foal, reify, autochthonous, Manchineel, occlude. Mispro- nunciations of youth and time, first words learned from college kids chewed with scraps of pita gulped down between pauses, sounding out impossibilities, this one soothes; that, hammers. The individual. The State. No pretender to the thrown, follow shadow, mouthing litany, step behind, moving forward. Oh! She ohs. It was here you Thusly. Secreted yourself. Site. Unforeseen.


Why when I say “outside history” I mean anything I mean to reconstitute an Other.

Why when I say “belated beloved” I infer a politic, I reference a street sign on the bad side of town.


Third time looking up that word, otiose, or tenth if you count the times preceding. I don’t remember what I say or do. On good days I am reminded. What does it matter that certain strains don’t stick, all that which is said or done or thought through, throughout, poorly or well. Writer, note-take, collector of objects, delineating—so she will not fall. She


In the charlatan’s clothes I collect epigraphs to mark this form as urgent




Who reflects the dead?


Shocks and awes. We crumple over the surface, avoid mirror moments that don’t quite pass. The cat on the other hand carries her, them. I want to know who feeds them & how do we help them grow.


The desire is for sprouting semi-colons, interrogatives worming through the weedy wonder of thought, exclamations inverted, dots floating skyward pollinate the stranger’s next breath. As another emphatic tongue might trill, might lisp, might thicken, drop a vowel, come for you. All the lovers. Now words and wordless. As quoted speech set off not by fangs but by carats doubly laid aside: less than, greater than. What you said. What time allowed. We repeat.


Hearing her own echoes & text as a galaxy of signifiers


catalogued: cross-referenced as ‘-

‘again’ ‘crime’ ‘maximus’:





People commonly think of me as two. That is the job then, to sit and contrive. The making of figment.


A front porch, sweating glasses. Ours, on magnetic tape. Plainspoken.

Disavowal. Insistence. On native agency. Organic mind matter. An

erotics of

skin. It is the waiting world. Your work to do.

Lived exchange and exhortation: step into your


The figment – the figure – the fragment – walks on alone. This is not how seen and how storied. Unwritten, unfollowed because the paths divide and circle. That banality, the reason [given] to cut [she] off from desire from pleasure. All the causes of death combine. We seek theoretical advance meaning letting the cat out of the bag. Who can imagine black working class lesbian warrior Pat Parker lovemaking, the fall of her blonde lover’s hair. Make no mistake, whether we say ‘punishment’ or ‘cost’ or simply what’s exacted— exiled intellect and uncommon desire kill.



which pocket did I leave that “I”?


“I” ever a thing to miss, a personage to mourn, if the “I” still lives in the

physical body and is capable of re/articulation?




a landscape that lends itself to the sense that anything can happen, at any moment, that would allow an/other experience to emerge, then merge with the perception of the body’s feet in shoes on sidewalk,


Like a homing pigeon I end up on your street, without thinking, without meaning.

A block before, gasp. It’s coming. Is it?

Cumber. An obstruction. Obstacle. Something in the way of deliberate knowing, determined arrival: I am going to your house. It is here. The tree roots tenting concrete. Low door under stairs: red? Church. Land. A block past, look back. Was that it?


rose petals strewn beneath, a carpet of trophies randomly on DeKalb


to get to, one had to pass through a portal, not a door exactly, more like

a veil, it was duplicitous in its appearance, both sensuous and repelling, quicksand like, pleasure in the going down, the limbs indistinguishable from the souls, a man who was neither good nor evil seemed to be

the sentry


I read ‘to let go’ in place of ‘to get to.’ What is the relationship between letting go and getting to? Every dream attempts both.


Is this a one-way? Turning. So as not to be surprised by this nation of

memory looming, a fort in desperate fall, greenless winter. Cannot free,


cannot freeze imagining. Remember instead a party. The last time before the last time. Which is every time. Wander, pulled, strutting along. Over and over. Flight descends and the cage opens. Your writings, now, an open site.


who would I talk to in this old, old landscape, and which language might capture the petal’s commonness and her best clothes.




If it desires mirrors? History? Or and then narrative sensibility. If the mirror breaks one can buy another. Consume then recreate then resume an/other I.


Renee spoke of the questions so I know the questions matter and mutter. Uttered muster. Finding the question is the driving. Holding the question, driving it, in it, building it around you like a house. Gender, repair, the particular details that build you the city build you into this city, mesh your surface into its own. Poetic interrogative the version that suggests shift, surprise, unending response. If we can’t change our minds, and perhaps we can, if we can’t make our minds, and perhaps we can, if we can’t set our minds to and perhaps we can, we can aggregate. This is no landfill, it’s devotion. Questions and notes, a song.


Saucer eyes, trance and the trace of looking, never absent, ever open. To

Jen, I said, I’ll read Event Factory again. Re-reading The Putterer’s Notebook, now. Touchstones for the question, “What is it to be a Black lesbian experimental writer in a predominantly white community?” Who asks this question and really thinks about it? What is the effect of this isolation

These are my questions; may I

makeyourwordswitness?Chooseyourverb.Withwhatdoesonecounter the conceit of dominant white culture? Straight culture. Segregation is one sad response. Assimilation, and the illusion of honorary whiteness- cum-wellness-cum-normal (you should be fine, why aren’t you fine?), is another. Pokerface required. Theoretically. Continental. To still the welling. With code-switching accuracy. ‘I’ disappear. Vision becalmed. Seeing from the bottom up.

on others; whose, who’s to re



Vi. re-d


(This fragment found in red, meaning ‘notes’ to be returned to, re-addressed later.) The persona as redeemed, or heroic, or narrative midget laboring under

a banner: ‘bad teeth’, as in Frank McCourt, a recurring trope that incites sympathy


The Putterer’s Notebook is A’s (Akilah Oliver, AO) book-length work in progress that was both a poem and a theory of lamentation. In it A

theorizes both death and/or the death of the ego, the singular ‘I,’ which

if not expired, killed, allowed to pass, is an object constantly [being] put

under a process of [impossible? flawed?] redemption, of being repaired, corrected, made better. This quoted line above, about the ‘narrative midget,’ comes from Chapter 7: “Notes on Memoir and Parafunction,” in which A tackles most directly the memoir’s posture of Redemption,

defined in part as repair, return, rendition, reconstitution.

On April 3, 2013 at Pratt Institute, Deb Olin Unferth, in a presentation which could be [and was by some present] identified as anti-feminist, proposed something interesting that was placed beside Hindu notions that seem to contradict it but that perhaps do not. She said that Time = Death by which no doubt she implicitly means Body + Time = Death. Which means that Death = Time + Body. The plus sign here can also mean the conjunction ‘and’ or the preposition ‘with’. The equals sign can also mean ‘requires’ or. As in: it/body/dead body takes time to unfold. To move in all its stages, to move outward, to return again in half-familiar form, something larger or huge. Rendered, returned. A’s work-body ensconced in a computer in a storage facility in Baton Rouge. Buried. A coffin from which its juices will leak. And seep. She



Stages of being set apart. How seen, the grief not, initially caused of bodily death, but iterations of the social kind of killing. Her stare now. Taken off. Inserting itself elsewhere.


Up here, airless but tight, flying not like a bird, rather, entrapment airborne, ulterior contradictions, air below clouded cushioned, a scenery that has seen itself but likes reminiscence.


shannon ongaro

akilah oliVer and the poetiCs oF GreiF

In a 2009 interview with Susie Ford, poet Akilah Oliver said that in her book of poems, A Toast in the House of Friends, she was “trying to transcribe rapture. I mean that in the ecstatic sense of the word.” In this collection of poems, she enters and searches the tracks of grief, adoration, horror, light, suffering, and peace. There are even moments in which she manages to sustain multiple and conflicting states of mind/being. For example, from “Crossover”: “i was so unprepared for the earth’s / grace as it disintegrated before me” (Oliver, Toast 34). What is most confusing about these contradictory states—grace and disintegration— is that they are not really confusing at all; rather, in the face of deepest loss, loss and love buoy one another and occupy the same space. In transcribing rapture, Akilah enacts a bodied response to the machinations of the grief experience. Hence she establishes an interzone wherein the physical realities of living and dying meet, overlap, and converge with the sometimes watery, sometimes airy emotional responses to loss and loving. The poem is not just a text about something (i.e. tragedy, resolution, weather); it is something. It exists as a “body” with legs and arms, with intention and desire, and also with conclusion. Akilah’s flesh/text is a traversing of skin to get to heart where we may reside for a time, a temporary state. And then in the course of imagination, we get kicked out of the text and must reacquaint ourselves with our own bodies. Bliss and loss merge as if through an osmotic mechanism of the grief experience, each reaching across the divide. As critical terms, bliss and loss deserve further interrogation. Working with the subsets Body, Dream, and Death, the complexities of bliss and loss nourish the fertile


flesh/text Akilah’s poems so tenderly cultivate. I imagine a grid with bliss and loss on the x axis, and body and text on the y axis. At any given moment, I exist as a point, albeit a moving point. The divine geometry is the temporary arrival in the exact center, surely an impossibility.

Bliss: the Body

a love language, that is:

a language gasping for consonants shape the unspoken

as in: you are my first love, as in:

seeing eyes, as in: you witnessed me

i wept you

from “Crossover” in A Toast in the House of Friends

Akilah Oliver’s text, A Toast in the House of Friends, is a trellis, bound and unbound, that explores her experiences of grief and mourning. And yet there is a lightness in these poems, something uplifting and revelatory. The tragedy of losing someone loved is complicated by the non-universal and non-totalizing experience of that very “love.” Love itself slips through language and its tidy presumptions. In the tragedy of loss, the bliss of love confuses the grief process, and the experiences come to mirror each other and blur. Bliss then is an articulation of love, the cloud of experiences, daily and extraordinary, and cannot be limited to personal relationships. Bliss encompasses the entirety of a love experience, the sensations associated with loving as well as other less-tangibles like memory, hope, revelation, and imagination. In A Toast, Akilah engages the bliss of love to articulate not only her love for her son but also to uphold and explore the majesty of language, “a love language” (77). Bliss and loss must be exact experiences, the chaos of something torn away and replaced by memory or the desire for memory. Does bliss live in the memory of the present moment? Bliss in the body is the body in rapture, but rapture perplexes just as it suggests seemingly contradictory universes. To be in rapture is to be


in a fit of ecstatic delight, a transport of mind, and a mental exaltation. In the Christian tradition, the rapture is the transport of believers into heaven at the second coming of Christ. Violence and ecstasy exist, not alongside each other, sequentially, or even simultaneously; they are the same imperative. Simultaneity would imply that they are still separate creatures occupying shared time/space. Indeed, rapture is the moment of unity, oneness between violence and ecstasy. In “The Visible Unseen,” Akilah writes, “Because what is the body, if not a complex temple, an unstablesitethroughwhichtonegotiatesubjects,materiality,economies, gods, and modes of representations? The site where we are all already belated” (Toast 59). To be bound by this body, the flesh text, is to be resurrected every moment to the present state of sensory experiences and their interpretations. The negotiations always regard desire and the possible satisfactions or disappointments of those desires. And yet it would be incomplete to say that satisfaction necessarily triggers a bliss moment. There is the possibility that disappointment catalyzes a euphoria of struggle, as well. To consider the body/text as a field for sport and for battle might suggest the notion of the well-adjusted, evolved being whose self image/ esteem/confidence/et cetera is “healthy” or “appropriate.” But the body is gruesome, especially the aging or diseased body, with its humours and other extravagances. Life and its death are revolting matters, ones that are negotiated at every juncture, directly and indirectly. The bliss moment seems to mock the containment of this flesh vessel, the body. To this conundrum, Roland Barthes, in The Pleasure of the Text, contests bliss cannot be expressed in words. Perhaps that is the horror of bliss: no matter how much we strive to paint, write, perform bliss, it is only striving toward the impossible. And yet to stab at bliss, to attempt to say, “this is what bliss is/means,” is an act of gratitude, deep appreciative gratitude. Thus, the cycle of bliss continues only momentarily disrupted. This is writing. This is desire. “That is, i adore the object (my love) so i must contain it so i can derive pleasure and power from my own gaze. Because perhaps one likes the way a bird flutters around in a cage… because that’s the diverted power of the landless” (Toast 84). The bird in the cage is devastating and lovely; neither of those terms achieves a hierarchy over the other.


The erotic impulse of writing stems from the addiction to the containment of knowledge; after all, is not the power of knowledge the most persuasive of aphrodisiacs? Eroticism then is the knowledge of the body/text, its curves and vulnerabilities. Akilah plies her words at the outset of the The Putterer’s Notebook: “Burnt alterity / I’ll never leave you no matter what / when I saw you your sad/ architecture I shook / I architecture shook, a house a dangerous weave, house a dagger a dagger” (3). Here, desire moves in the direction toward self, an alternate self, which is not another way of saying shadow self. The alternate self is a mystery; she can be a fantasy or a nightmare. She is brave and vulnerable at the same time and has different memories. There can be multiple versions of her. The shadow self on the other hand is a known entity, but she lingers in darkened spaces. What makes the alternate self desirable is that she is unknown; she has not yet been contained; she is wild. She has not been confined to the text. Speaking of this alternate self, Akilah writes, “I gave away a plot a plot I as spectatorial gaze posit a stripped subject, a migratory Other to eroticize my loneliness” (Putterer’s Notebook 12). The Other is not outside herself; it is an interior Other, a mysterious self who is the object of her own gaze. Hélène Cixous calls this type of work “idealized reflection or reconstruction,” the arena where self/ alternate self swap memories; some memories fall away and some are born (12). In the act of re/creating memory, multiple selves may develop: the fantastic self, the alien self, the self who talks to ghosts. Akilah enters the arena again, “as rapturous becoming/unbecoming/ greeted with violence/ i take permission to extend this grace” (47). For example, Akilah’s performance of “Hyena (An Absolution Chant for the Beloved Community)” is especially moving. By matter of course, every performance must be unique. The angle of light and accent on phrase shifts with each incantation. Often simply called “Ashe,” this piece utilizes repetition and rhythm, like a song. And truly it is a song, one of worship, a cautionary tale, a sweeping net around neighbors and lovers. As a song, it works on the body as moon tides work on the sea, a rolling and building, a crashing onto the shore. “Ashe” pits me in collusion with an entire community of bodies, ones that love, hide, lie, want, and kill. The “you” in this poem is me and not just me. It is all of my troubles and desires, but it is also the work of my cosmic situation in which I am


always in relationship with others. Our bodies exist in proximity to one another. We are a holy mass.

Bliss: the dream

and i took the child’s hand and was led to the thirteenth dream child and the thirteenth dream child radiated light and fire and invited me on a journey, so i walked through the radiant fiery light and walked to the tears

from A Toast in the House of friends

Speaking of magic, the dream of bliss is the zone of ecstatic wisdom, outrageous compassion, porous resolve. Ecstasy carries a lighter load than rapture. Where rapture is bodied and earthen, ecstasy is weightless and fantastic, fantastic as in fantasy, fantastic in the sense of the impossible and the irrational becoming verifiable and legitimate. We enter the dream and the constraints of waking life fall away. When we enter the text, it is the same. An agreement is made wherein gravity and other absolutes become subject to interpretation. In ecstasy, the soul is “out of place.” In that sense, the soul is un-bodied, free to wander, and capable of flight. The soul and the imagination operate like a double helix, always linked but sometimes moving in opposite directions. The beauty of this arrangement is the endless possibility for transcending ordinariness, as in the section in A Toast beginning with, “the first dream child was the dreamer of dreams” (49). In this part of the longer piece, Akilah seems to move through multiple layers of not just consciousness but also layers of the imagination, as if falling through the ceilings of creative moments and visions. The “dream children” bear gifts and have diverse skills; they are bodied, tellers of tales, keepers of clouds, dream children who make memories and dream dreams. The ultimate dream child, the thirteenth dream child, is the one who invites Akilah on a journey, an invitation she accepts. All of the dream children, but especially the final one, function as guides and teachers, escorting Akilah like Dante’s Virgil and Beatrice through the circles of awareness of one’s heaven and hell.


After the thirteenth dream child, Akilah walks “through the radiant fiery light” and then to the muses and then to the enchanted lords of the clouds and continues. The dream is blissful because it rejoices even when the visions are difficult or scary. In the “forever dream,” Akilah articulates an out of body-ness by taking on another name (becoming strangetoherself)andthenbybeingrecognizedbythechildren(becoming known to herself). Her “forever dream” is a transcendent time of shifting between self and alternate self, between bliss and loss, between dream consciousness and how the dream plays out on the page. The dream on the page is poetry. The dream, however, can only become a known variable when it is put into one of language’s many forms. If the dream goes unarticulated, then it disappears or, at the very least, is relegated to the zone of thought/memory. But language has a way of maneuvering itself into all kinds of crevices, even that slippery memory zone; after all, how far is the distance from thought to language? For now, I suggest they are one and the same. Perhaps the dream is articulated to oneself, or maybe it is expressed as a poem or a painting or some other outward manifestation. Regardless of shape or form, the articulation of the dream is dependent on language for its potency. The question is: how does the dream of bliss change when it makes its way into/onto the text? It is an act of translation and surely much is lost in the process, but the vitality of the dream on the page perseveres. Barthes says that, “pleasure can be expressed in words, bliss cannot” (21). I resist this statement. I want words/language/text to perform works of art and magic. And that is what it would take to confine bliss to the page. Perhaps revisiting definitions of bliss will help to muddle the construct: perfect joy or felicity, supreme delight, the perfect joy of heaven, the beatitude of departed souls, paradise, glory. Bliss then can occupy my body, it can occupy my dreams, but how could it ever be still long enough to stay on the page? How could it possibly submit itself to language? It cannot. The dream of bliss remains out there, and it is the job of artists and poets to make stabs, to attempt to hook and steal bits of bliss, to flirt with us, we the readers and interpreters, and then to leave us wanting more. When Akilah makes an offering to me, her reader, like, “at my purest once / in response to what do you want / i said / i said i just want to know god,” I encounter an expectation for gloriousness (Toast 24). The dream of bliss is always a reaching toward, a gaining ground, but never an arrival.


Bliss: death: an interlude

i looked out the window at the baby tearful snow

i moored

i morned like a visiting rainbow

i mourned

i looked thru the window and saw the entire world on deck

i looked thru the window and saw the entire world bedecked

i looked thru the window and saw inlaid jade

from A Toast in the House of Friends

One of the central themes, if not the driving theme, of A Toast in the House of Friends is the vast and varied experience of grief: the way it moves through a body, how it exposes new aspects when confronted with language, and importantly how it can operate as a rupture, or an opening for moving deeper through an experience. In an article for The Tolerance Project: An Archive, Akilah had this to say about her work in A Toast in the House of Friends:

In approaching the subject, the death of the beloved, I enter into an investigation of the ecstatic in the dual sites of rapture and rupture. For me, an absolute rupture occurred at the time of my son’s death, so that the world broke open, in a sense, and

I decided to follow the opening wherever it led, rather than try

to patch it or close it. The opening, this rupture, this state of the world breaking open and me, being broken open, did not lead to any one rapturous state (as if rapture, or bliss, were a desirable closure), but rather led me to want to continue to go there, off, beyond the limits of language and cognition to rapture (an intense pleasure of transportation from one place to another, as in heaven). I think for many poets, at least for me, to write is a kind of difficult dance with rapture; it is a way to beckon the day as a beloved, a way to talk to the dead, a way to collapse the known world into the impossible.


loss: the Body

headless breasts. imaginary eye. object. objectify. objection. abject. abrupt. disruptive image. she opens out to a blank space

who you be woman

clean carefully between the toes. lesson number one. walk.

who you be

from “Feral Feminina”

In her important text Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag enters and analyzes the spectator’s gaze in the arena of violence. In considering how photographs offer skewed perceptions of violent acts (see: human injury, atrocity and death, war), she warns the reader, “No ‘we’ should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain” (7). So too are we readers advised to remember that “we” readers are an amorphous mass, one of mysterious tastes and memories. There are moments in A Toast in which I posit myself as viewer of tragedy, as if my readerliness forces an imagined distance between myself and the depths on these pages. But instead of imagistic horrors, like the grainy old photographs of Nazi death camps or the lynching of blacks in the South of Sontag’s essays, in these poems, I go with Akilah into the rupture, and I also go alone into the rupture, the one whose interior canals are molded by my own histories, desires, and disappointments. I do not mean to equate these postures, the photographic and the poetic; rather, I suggest an overlay or a meeting between vision/gaze and poetry/interpretation. What is the poetry of a photograph, and what is the image of the poem? Is this a sort of literary or artistic synesthesia? My body takes these leaps regardless of my conscious practice. The body is always on the verge of losing control, especially when the body and text meet and become enamored. Barthes says, “The pleasure of the text is that moment when my body pursues its own ideas—for my body does not have the same ideas I do” (17). I and my body. This formula would seem to suggest a binary or a duality at the very least. Instead, however, it speaks to the dishonesty of monolithic consciousness, as


in the presumed and specific tasks that correspond to the mind and the body. I and my body are always multiple and often contradictory. The exchange of information is so fast as to be immeasurable, but the responses will always be multi-faceted, family-like affairs, family in the sense of connected but distinct. From “In Aporia,”

I his body is disintegrating, I his body is ossification. Death my habit radius, yeah yeah.

I his body can’t refuse this summons. I can’t get out

this fucking room. Tell me something different about torture dear Trickster.

To be bodied is to be always either dying or not dying. Throughout

“In Aporia,” the first poem in A Toast, bodies are blurred. The I/his construction, like a chant, is shifty; my eyes (and other senses) do not know where to rest. Then, back to the poem, “Who is the dead person?

Is ‘I’m sorry’ real to a dead person?

person, dead person, will you partake in my persimmon feast?” (Toast 10). Here, the body is already decomposing, and because I have made the agreement to enter the text, my body too is decomposing. I and my body. It also signals a sort of madness. Maurice Blanchot in The Writing of the Disaster writes toward understanding both the damage done by writing as well as what it takes to writeabouttragedy.Theeasyassumptionistoconsiderthewritingprocess an act of building up and restoration, one that enhances and beautifies. And perhaps these notions are sufficient for certain goals. But Blanchot works on another angle: what does writing do to the thing/person/ place/event that is written about? To enact language is to cloud vision, to press one’s fingerprint, to lay a drape and mold things in particular ways. That which is written is always at the mercy of the writer. When Akilah wonders, “how do you speak of children without memorializing them or lying or praising,” she acknowledges language’s limitations, as well her own particular blurry memory making processes (Toast 96). But the disaster Blanchot speaks to is more than mere limitation. In this poem toward the end of A Toast, Akilah pulls up and sifts through select

Am I now the dead person? Dead


memories, questioning both the memories themselves as well as her own ability to remember. Blanchot offers this regarding the disaster of memory, “The disaster is related to forgetfulness—forgetfulness without memory, the motionless retreat of what has not been treated— the immemorial, perhaps. To remember forgetfully: again, the outside” (Blanchot 3). These penultimate and ultimate poems in A Toast are a poet’s way of running a hand over a lost child’s skin, wiping his tears, and hearing his footsteps in the hall. The memory of this will always be insufficient and incomparable to the lived experience of caressing a loved one. And the text that attempts to remember those moments will always be a rupture. Kristin Prevallet calls this “the speculative text,” the text that grieves. She continues, “If the body of a text has suffering at its root, then language too will take a fragmented, torn-apart form, as if it too is suffering. Poetry that seeks this kind of engagement with language is positioned to absorb the brokenness of grief” (Prevallet 50). A Toast is exactly this kind of text; while it is rich with a light that seems to transcend grief, it is still steeped in the horror of the death of the beloved.

loss: the dream

grass, canvas, walls, bodies, boxes, memories, sidewalks offer a range of possibilities for addressing subjects as i was falling downstairs I did not feel any shots

from “Green Fibs”

In Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, a collection of lectures given at the University of California Irvine in 1990, Hélène Cixous traverses the conscious and subconscious worlds in search of the text, the one that exists within and throughout. In “The School of the Dead,” “The School of Dreams,” and “The School of Roots,” she respectively engages those landscapes for considering ways of writing and how those environments influence the work. She writes, “‘My’ writers, ‘my’ sisters, ‘my’ guides, what do they have in common? They have all written by the axe’s light.


They have sought bliss in savage conflict and have found it” (Cixous 72). The poems in Akilah’s A Toast shine in the axe’s light because they occupy loss, fearlessly and creatively. Loss is. It seems ridiculous to attempt to corral loss or to suggest that it is definable, particularly a format such as this. Surely words like

rupture, fragment, aporia, grief, and disaster figure into the lexicon of loss.

A draining away, to be broken, absence, loneliness: these are some of

the ways loss sculpts experience. Still, it feels impossible to configure an acceptable and universal understanding of loss because it must necessarily be individually experienced. Loss just is. And it is the poet’s task to wrestle loss into a corner and stare it down, and there the poet or other creative worker can reckon momentarily with the wound. The dream of loss makes the conundrum even more profound because

it is in that dream zone where notions and images and their supposed

meanings become even more slippery. In “Kill,” Akilah enters the sleep, and there, transgressions, distress, dreams, sadness, and any number of ex-lovers become the soup of her sub/conscious world (Toast 91). In the dream of loss, the dreamer cannot discern real dangers or pointed insults; this unknown is the nightmare. The dream of loss is the poem. The ultimate act of translation is the dredging up of the dream and

sinking it, cementing it into language. Hence another pothole or portal

of loss: what is left behind when the dream image is transferred from

the ephemeral to the archival? Memory is fallible, and so the writer strives to contain the mysteries of the recesses. The disaster of memory and its storming, brooding sister, translation, provide the gaping mesh for containing the breath of the poem. “Kill” weaves varied influences:

reports of Peruvian miners, critical theory, fantasy, dream, and song. These are the things that remain, but where do the fragments that do not make it onto the table go? What is it to be a forgotten fragment? What if, on the other hand, one could remember everything? The fantasy of that suggests a type of creative combustion, or perhaps it is more like an implosion where all beauty and destruction become absorbed into the ether.


loss: death: a transFerenCe

in my own way there was a time when i stumbled over a tense:

says/said now, bereft, in anticipation of how night collapses into its own effluence i conjugate occasions, ask for just time, just a little time, to get love right

from “Go”

One could not be faulted for thinking that death and loss are obvious partners in the marriage of experiences. The two modes seem to complement each other: death being a mechanism of loss. I often think in equations, the result of parochial education throughout the eighties and nineties. Armed with well-flexed math skills, the wave of thought regularly seeks the orderly currents for excavating and coming to some kind of understanding of the world; hence, the geometric structure of this essay, which was also inspired by the structure of Hélène Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. The grid, its points and axes seem so clear. I can drop a theoretical pin on the map and know exactly where I stand in relation to other pins, theoretically that is. It is a tidy mess I have created here. Still, the visual quality of the grid is helpful for observing proximity and the potential for movement. The problem with such a grid is that it is full of holes and tricks. To use a notion explored by writer Richard Froude, my grid is a Hoax. As soon as I begin to lean too heavily on a pin, it sinks and disappears, and then I have to locate another pin for my attention. And then that pin sinks and disappears. The Hoax is the moment when one observes the multiple and steps into the threshold, and lingers. Imagining death and loss in conflation is The Hoax. In each of the preceding sections, practice and theory have agreed to participate. Practice, that most rebellious teenager, has conceded to the game theory offers. Surely it could dive in any direction at any given moment, but it has temporarily behaved. But now, practice and theory have turned


to oil and water thus refusing to get along. This is perhaps my favorite moment, when the text before me slips on the track, a hiccup. Akilah’s experience of the death of her son is the passageway for approaching the rupture. In the interview with Susie DeFord on Bombsite, Akilah talks about the emotional states (grief and others) that surround grappling with death. About grief, as an interpretive term, she says, “Maybe it isn’t so much that the term fails to encompass a range of emotional states, but I think also death itself, as an event, as a limit, as a field of investigation, is too many things at once. It’s solid and it’s slippery.” In “In Aporia,” Akilah pays homage to the influence of Jacques Derrida’s celebrated text, Aporias, an influence that is discernible in many of the poems throughout A Toast. What I find interesting here, however, are the distinct ways these two writers approach “the difficulty,” one of the commonly used definitions of aporia. For Derrida, the coarsest understanding of aporia is the limit of language to conceive, express, and foster perceptive moments. For Akilah, aporia is a zone to embody. It is the passageway that does not allow passage (etymologically, aporia can be understood as a- “without” –poria “passage”) and remains a field of investigation where Akilah surveys and digests her poetic experience. Death does not cooperate. It comes quickly or slowly, sometimes it is foretold and other times, it screeches in unannounced, takes over, and creates chaos. When Akilah talks about the solidity and slipperiness of death, she witnesses both the finality of the flesh body as well as the magnificent power of memory to transcend such “finality.” Perhaps it is because death and loss are so compatible that it becomes difficult to engage them separately. The concern is that they will become so conflated that they then lose their respective powers. As a term of inquiry, loss is the gap in consciousness, the place to enter absence, whether it is absence as loneliness or absence as emptiness. Both are vital experiences particularly in exploring grief moments. Loss can initiate Fanny Howe’s notion of a “poetics of bewilderment” by stripping away standard assumptions of one’s existence. Loss can also have an erotic impulse; like Barthes writes, “Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes?” (9). The rift exposes the skin beneath, and we cannot look away regardless of the beauty and possibly the horror that rests beneath the drape.


language is a skin memory is a skin forgetting is a skin lie is a skin fear is a skin desire is a skin tongue is a skin doubt is a skin whip is a skin absence is a skin

the seam

from Feral Femina

Body, rapture, loss, rupture, dream, love, bliss: these are the minerals in the ground Akilah has created and tended in A Toast in the House of Friends. At times, it is the wild forest of critters and flesh-eating plants; one must tread with awareness and caution. Other times, it is a manicured botanical feast. One strolls the flowerbeds lazily, admiring all the regular blooms. It is a sweet and peaceful time. Throughout this work, bliss and loss only appear to be ends of the spectrum of experience. I would argue they are the same experience. Is it mere oversimplification to suggest their implosion? In order to arrive at this juncture, I must wrangle some clarity by distinguishing these states independently. For example, I suggest that bliss looks a certain way in the body and in dreams, and that loss follows its own separate trajectories. The process is sufficient for animating nuance, focusing light, and otherwise organizing my thoughts around grief as well as my interest in Akilah’s work. Identifying bliss and loss separately is a way to examine their particular vocabularies, yet I do not wish to create an impossible duality in which the zones of bliss and loss miss each other. I too have been in the dark spaces of grief, and like Akilah, I have seen majesty in those very darkened spaces. The shock of death is the solidity Akilah speaks of, but memory, imagination, and fantasy shake


that foundation. Thankfully, there is a poet’s vision for undermining the division of bliss and loss. Akilah:

What comes to mind with the idea of artist as warrior is that the artist shape-shifts, that the artist is able to occupy multiple sites, not necessarily simultaneously, but able to occupy multiple sites… The artist can shape-shift in many different ways, so that there’s a graciousness to warrior spirit, instead of an absolute space of power that only challenges or disrupts other spaces of power, that is only alive in conflict. That the space of artist-as-warrior is an open space of power. And in that space there’s community. (“Hold the Space”)

To think about the artist as a shape-shifter means that the artist has the power to reconfigure, unveil, and rebuild ways of remembering. We walk courageously into the rupture of loving and leaving behind, for the potency of grief dissipates if we do not wrestle with and succumb to the magnitude of love.


works cited

Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. New York: Hill and Wang,

1975. Print.

Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of the Disaster. Lincoln, Nebraska: New Bison Book Edition, 1995. Print.

Cixous, Hélène. Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. Print.

DeFord, Susie. “Akilah Oliver: Good Grief.” Bomblog, 26 Aug 2009.

Derrida, Jacques. Aporias. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993. Print.

Howe, Fanny. The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life. Berkeley, California: U of California P, 2003. Print.

Oliver, Akilah. A Toast in the House of Friends. Minneapolis: Coffee House,

2009. Print.

—. The Putterer’s Notebook. Brooklyn: Belladonna Books,

2006. Print.

—. the she said dialogues: flesh memory. Smokeproof Press, 1999. Print.

—. “Hold the Space: The Poetics of Anne Waldman.” Jacket Magazine Online Journal.

— and Tyler Burba. “Ashe Ashe.” Solas Bar, 6 Feb 2009. Video recording.

Prevallet, Kristin. I, Afterlife: Essays in Mourning Time. Athens, Ohio:

Essay Press, 2007. Print.

Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador, 2003. Print.


Jh phrydas


bodies separate in a space of law. rooms designate mirrors of the phenomenal world, gravity their main structural component. if rooms resist bodies float and collide. instead, they must shift, masking each other’s subtle movements.

our body reacts. cantilevering aggressive thrusts: heavy shifting. we leave the body, dream of sitting in a mother’s lung. walls breathe. still. no windows. permeation occurs interiorly, a closed system of events. in darkness words seek warmth. sites to slow down.


two bodies in a room: a structure of organization. in speaking they break down what they mean, although they haven’t spoken yet.

when one body breathes the other exhales, sentences gain attention when surrounded by soft threads. sentences were invented in breath. air patterns change. a shirt heaves, or else the hair, the skin. under the floorboards, the body is not a heart——


until the moment of touch: two bodies remain lit merely for affect. instead, recreation occurs. revelatory structures written into the wet of it.

what can one body do that, in doing, shifts status like a push? in thinking of you membranes separate, allow air to enter, particles contract against an unarmed advance. secretion occurs. the cozy nuzzle of two distinct bodies, one made of flesh, the other: air.


is body always presence, a thrust in void? in certain rooms, voice carries the body further than its limit. in the yard, among heaps of sweet-grass, enunciation forms something else, arising like anthills. we cannot see this as real, not admitting other logics.

in residual casting sequence becomes paramount to this lamp here and a wall, once, there. to speak of anarchic tides, the way rock tends to find the lowest elevation, make it float in reversal – why believe in causation one can never invert? suspended, absence is felt on the skin in waves.


floors words form transmit more than techne. these walls hem in sound. there, an expanse leads at every break to the horizon. how a step matters depends on its footprint, whether it will last. others sit, silently discussing other contexts.

structures leave marks on bodies carried for years. we call this – when – the space – where – inside and outside of topos: meet.


niColE pEyrafittE

hòu! hòu! hòu! hemna d’ oò

ua inCantaCion Via e per alem surre-GarCia

Hòu! Hòu! Hòu! Hemna d’ Oò Hòu! Hòu! Hòu! Hemna d’ Oò Hemna al serp Hemna ante diluviana Hemna pirenenca Hòu! Hòu! Hòu! Hemna d’ Oò Hòu! Hòu! Hòu! Hemna d’ Oò L’an volguda hemna d’eth pecat L’an volguda hemna de luxuria L’an encadenada als capitels romanics Hòu! Hòu! Hòu! Hemna d’ Oò Hòu! Hòu! Hòu! Hemna d’ Oò Peira viva Peira de movement Peira de car Hòu! Hòu! Hòu! Hemna d’ Oò Hòu! Hòu! Hòu! Hemna d’ Oò Peira hitta!




oô ! Woman oF oô

an inCantation Via & For alem surre-GarCia

Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! Woman of Oô Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! Woman of Oô Snake woman Ante diluvian woman Pyrenean woman Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! Woman of Oô Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! Woman of Oô They made her woman of sins They made her woman of lust They chained her to the romanesque capitals Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! Woman of Oô Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! Woman of Oô Live stone Moving stone Flesh stone Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! Woman of Oô Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! Woman of Oô Raised stone Peira hittta!


Celle qui CherChe a

Au risque de me perdre avant de me trouver je me spécule

sans assurance

sans grater je pénètre mes ténèbres ma forme propre ma lumière naturelle ma vision de nuit

sans logique

sans scruter

vers l’imagination pélagique ma béance élégante ma bouche sevrée


she Who seeks has

At the risk of losing myself before finding me

I speculate my moi

no assurance

no logic

no scratching

no scrutinizing

I enter my darkness my own shape my natural light my night vision

towards pelagic imagination my weaned mouth my elegant gap


andrEa rExilius

from neW orGanism

Grief sensations touch the body the way light reverberates across water. It is on it, but one cannot grasp. The night of the ordeal of the grief one remembers the moon. Not the, the moon. Was yellow. The moon. Tendrils. Clouds brushing the face. The sky not black, but navy. The moon, elongated. Harsh. Gloriously alive. The moon not the, the moon. Hot, sharp air against the face. The sky pressing the face. Thinking there is no difference, between what air is and what I am, except the pressure I put on it. The form I form around it. A critical theory of form. To breathe the word, “air.” To sculpt it invisible against, the sky. To birth the moon from one’s mouth. To birth a dark, heavy wound and heave it toward, the sky. One born within you. One born upon you. Acted upon, your body. Acted upon, your birth your moon. If light assaults the surface of your skin. No if light, and not the skin shatters the way you face the moon in the sky.


If light shatters the way you face the moon in the sky, it is important to say the word “stone.” To feel heavy in your belly the deep, brutal stone. The gallstone. The kidney stone. The many stones the body pockets as grief. The size of footballs. The size of baseballs. The size of a tiny marble. The heat stone. The life stone. The brittle salt of the bone stone. To lick the enamel across your teeth. To bring to the surface all that magma, that marrow, of the just beneath the skin stone.


I want to think like a magi; the way stones under- water reflect grief. How images capture tone, and temperature of what is glimpsed. To glimpse why the root is made desperate by inability of its capture. Why, for instance, the word “woman” holds its own intention. One day on the street I found a fissure. I thought it was my sex. I thought it looked like the sea. An amoeba. I was not afraid to be seen. I was afraid to be dismembered. Do you see? The scene is one of red pooling into clear water. Men want to see you bleed, my mother said. Like a gutted fish, she said. Like a submerged memory. On the surface of the water I see an article. Perhaps the nuance is unintentional. Is it a verb? Is it a noun? The way female bodies surface. But I like the way a woman looks possessed, like a new organism under water.


“We must move on to the rhetoric of women, one that is anchored in the organism, in the body” (Duras). Pushed back by the flood of a veiled history. The earth. A monotonous violence. The error. For we have not learned a thing. The pulse of testimony a vow to dream the intention. The pulse of testimony no longer requires illumination. It is illuminating this polished shore to hopefulness. Witness here, and answer. What is the female body’s landscape? What is the rhetoric of her landscape? A shore. A margin. Coral reef. A rift. A fault. Yes, a faultline. Where land meets shore. A divide occurs. Where continent advances and deposits its silt. A slit in the I. The essence of an enemy felled. It is not a matter of passion. Storms, impoverishments already revealed in Scripture. It is to split the body of the body. To treat it as if it were a condition.


The act of adoration is a condition. An expanse. The water opening a window. Bottomless pain at the juncture. The act of transport a very likely condition. Retelling in every instance, what prevailed. I am unable to detail a personal history. Merely gesture toward air that circulates around the crux of it. That there was nature, murky water, dirt seems important. I do not wish to tell, but to exposé. Not to expose, but to create exposure. I take photographs of water underneath the water and the photographs are ruined. I have nothing left to say and I am saying it, now. These are the repercussions of language.


The repercussions of language taste like stones. Dream stones that have been inside the ears. Body stones that have been inside the gallbladder, the silt of the liver. To know truly what a sediment is. To know it is residue, but not of the land. Of a sentiment. An emotional field. The place where wildflowers bend in the wind. The place where perspiration becomes. I balance stones on a precipice. My body lunges and heaves pulled by the tide.


They say if you are a woman you are pulled by the tide. They call you a lunatic, hysterical because the moon, full, makes you bleed. They suggest a hysterectomy. They suggest you stop troubling yourself with a vote. There is no need for a voice when you have an animal between your legs.

“I want to think like a magi” was first published by American Academy of Poets Poem- A-Day on January 15, 2013


Joanna ruoCCo

Bronze knoBs

The girls who fell through the ice on St. Lucy’s day were buried when the weather warmed, but at midsummer they were seen in their white gowns and candle-wreaths standing among the birches on the hill. The next morning, a small boy circling the pond on hobbyhorse found candle stubs in the cups of marsh marigolds, and between the leaves, on the silt, a salamander all of wax. Before the farmer’s fields could be reaped, the miller’s wife, ten years in her grave, ran through the grain with sickles on her feet, and the grain flew into the miller’s barns. The goodwives dead in childbed climbed cold between the sleeping mothers and their babes and dangled their black teats until the babes drank lustily. The mothers woke, sons and daughters black in their arms, skins unyielding. As soon as the frost came to sweeten the apples, the babes themselves appeared in crates of fruit, tearing holes in the flesh with long teeth and nails. On Michaelmas, the gardener’s son follows his father to the church- yard. His father holds the basket of spring-blooming bulbs. Blackberry bushes grow through the fence into the churchyard, and the gardener’s son cuts them back, black juice bright on his hands. Behind him he hears the thud of his father dropping bulbs into holes.


they Wait For CarriaGe pins

There is nowhere to take the waters, and no shops. Josephine walks the vineyards then pays a visit to the pheasantry. She passes through the gates to the hill where the women dig horseradish. They draw her attention to the peculiar ticking of the beetles in the fenceposts. The sun is very hot. At the tavern, the talk is of the fowler’s daughter, and Josephine is compelled to praise the endives before retiring. The next day, Josephine postpones the silver mines and goes to tend the girl in her extremity. She dares to open the bedside window, and when the wind stirs her hair, the fowler’s daughter opens her eyes. She asks Josephine, “What is a postillion?” and “There is dancing…?” Soon she sleeps again, and Josephine rummages within the schrank chest. The netting is broken, but the feathers are among the loveliest she’s seen, large and golden. She would set them quaintly in the diamond foliage of a headdress. Sitting, Josephine reflects that, although she had imagined her vigil enlivened by a demitasse of coffee, she does not mind the dreariness. The side-slits in her gown permit the air to circulate, and she imagines a prince with his lips on her skin, sneezing. “Madame, is that horseradish…?” It is all so amusing.


the skepper

The cold has put the bees to sleep or killed them. The gardener’s son listens beside the woven hives. The night is silent, and the gardener’s son smells rime and pine and niter. He tries to remember when last he saw gold between ivies on the garden wall, or in the ditches, tipping umbels of angelica. It’s no good. This year the flowers stood empty. Inside the hives, bees crawled in spirals up and down the coiled straw. They would not come out. They built combs and filled the cells with venom. The gardener’s son removes the combs and collects the drippings, green and thin, to stir into his tea. How his kisses will sting! The girls’ lips will split around their swollen tongues.


holloW strakes

The day the daughter dies, airing, Mother finds inside the chest six dressed skins. Unrolled, the first is a child known to her. Hung on wire armature and broom, with a cabbage head and the daughter’s own hair, the child wants speech, but that recalls the daughter, often silent. Mother latches shutters. She closes chest and closet door. She descends the narrow stair and takes a slice of cold stump pie into the garden. She stands chewing near an iron bench. Last night’s fog still lingers. The damp pansies are dull as mud, but a bright eft moves slowly toward standing water in a broken pot.


tWo trees

A cotter is passing slowly on a nag, and Josephine begs a crust of bread.

“My bread is old and tough,” the cotter warns. “Eat it straight away or come to harm.” He hands Josephine a piece of rock. She rounds the bend

in the road. A girl is filling a paper basket with berries. “I will trade you

bread for berries,” says Josephine, but before the girl can answer, the bread slips from Josephine’s hands and cracks the girl’s skull. Josephine collects the scattered berries. At the fork, two trees, each with two limbs pointing, one eastward, one westward. The road is brown and bare, but beneath the trees, grass grows thick and green. There, the chicory blooms and cleavers. Josephine picks chicory. The gibbet baskets had been made of wicker and hoisted high with chains. The chains remain, large links caked with orange rust or threaded through with marigold. The bones in the grass are stained. Josephine gathers bones and goes straight home. In the pot, the rock will not soften nor the berries lose their thorns, and the bones make a din, clattering, clattering. Josephine clips off her ears and adds them to the broth. She is so hungry she spoons up every drop. Her mother’s thimble is the only thing left, silver, enameled with roses. With the thimble on her finger, Josephine takes her sewing to the window. She adds another patch to the counterpane.


small Beer

For twelve summers the girls were just alike, but then one girl dwindled in the middle, until her waist was as the narrows of an hourglass, and the other filled, until her sash was as the bilge hoop on a barrel. “Yet you are the one with a nose like a spigot,” complained the latter. Both girls ate barley sugar by the spoonful, but every morning their tongues showed coats of white foam and tasted like hop-cones. They scratched two lines into each other’s bellies with scissors from the garden shed and measured the space between with string. Would the lines grow apart or grow together? All of their dresses had bloodied. When they walked in the streets, dogs padded after, dropping their tongues through their jaws. Sometimes the girls collapsed on the cobbles and rolled over, playing dead, but their bodies were too fresh and their scents too sharp for the dogs to be fooled and gobble.


ariElla ruth

from remnants

remnants one :

BarBara allen

[i want my child to have memories] screen door falling from its alignment. wood stove holds on claw footing. pear tree fades & brightens from nearby hovering & she can’t remember how & where the hands were placed. she is light—the first word—raven hair running on wooden planks. her foot’s arch remains soft, delicate, [poet in the womb] the snow that weighs the ceiling. yard of blue moving sea & green buds swelling to vines. it is hard to leave in such good light.


through a shining lens [flitter of light flecks] a crowd of hands reaches underneath for her. moment to empty out. not a cry from her two blue saucers, eyes scream of ocean as the storm passes. waves recede below her shoulders. slowly, pull the curtain back. [slowly, slowly] pure, homogenized air. water awake held tight in back of a throat. discouraged rock, a long line of seaweed, unblinking salt. her heel dug in & turned around full circle in sand. nothing can be willed to wash away. bleed for the moons that have passed. she reaches for tiny outstretched limbs, treading water.


[hold swan song for years pacing seaside]

there is birth & death & birth again.

aliCia salvadEo

err to narroW

To err


To air

a war on

but we

are human ones


signals you

can see

the bay

from outer


Here I am

you are


to hunter

return in kind

leaves to fall toward colder full well a-day


Pink moss

full sprout

together—to slip

full snow

full hunger

Lists of names numbers gray on fingertips

run off

flying with small amounts

(the heart was)

On the embankment, arguing with year born in

moon loop born in


(the heart was)

I hear: Should turn himself in, etc.

I hear: I think I was unprepared for war

No lone wolf

O new world o new world

a January wolf moon

Either from lust

of gold

or like a girl

I’m ringing


I’m ringing

out the narrowing of






the heron

the herring

The heart was

a tidal object

bobbing in waters there it goes


a barge

the Verrazano

the longest bridge

in the world

the year

my father was born

It reached all

to the other side then

the way


ElEni sikElianos

from Cat Girl/Cure house

Rock, flint, rattlesnake, Lucite, dance. Now dance. Through millennia of rock being worn to sand. Watch the woman interpret the slow massacre, the pulverizing hand of wind. Watch her out there in the horizontal crush of the desert. She’s got her leopard suit on. Body the one thing standing up—a blackened figure, a small tornado dancing like crazy across an endless tawny line. She’s making J-tracks, like a Mojave Green, through the dust. A fire-scar, a cat-face, a tree burned out at the bottom. (That’s the body.) A good hole for hiding. Leaving every burnt rock behind her.

How do the humans keep walking out here? How do they get up, pick themselves up off the desert floor and walk away? Any lost soul needs a companion to lead them on to the next way station.

needs a companion to lead them on to the next way station. The woman had a

The woman had a mynah bird, a goat, guppies, rocks, chicks, scorpions, ghost towns, three daughters i , some tumbleweed. She didn’t get

too far. There she is, wandering the corridors, trying to walk toward something, but she keeps bumping against the soft, dark walls. Before we step past this landscape and into the middle zone, I

have something to say about it. You may think everything in the desert’s dead, but dying is not the same as dead.

Sand transported long distances by water or wind will be rounded, with abrasion patterns on the grain surface.

i Let me name them. Yvanne, Elayne, and Trina.


Every shape here is flat, and it all moves sideways, forward and back. It undulates like a sandy sheet, the whole crust of the Mojave lifted up; shake it at its corners as you would a blanket; that’s the story: the dust like agitated electrons up to no good. It may seem like a still-life, but if you look closely you’ll see that everything’s on the verge of impact. Hovering between gravel and silt, grains of rock and mineral hang in midair, about to fly off. If you’re on a train, the windows won’t shut; you’ll need a bandana to cover your mouth. Endless grit in the nose and the teeth. Blackened particles and splotches of red bleeding into sand. The shimmering aluminum trick of sun on asphalt. There is a creosote telephone pole for interruption. Black electrical lines strung up. Before the desert, there was a tin-colored frozen horizon in the heartland, a steel-hued slick of ice on which every shoe slipped. No one could stand up. They all went down on their asses, sliding across the ice, past the ramshackle dance halls. Hard to walk with a bruised tailbone, a busted ass.

Felt a brain click, a little piece of the mush on the front left lobe tick like a toy metal beetle; it was an idea; the idea was: let’s all move to California. The letters of it so pretty, like yellow hills gliding across the page, greasy butter stains humped up in sunlight.

Let’s go burn the ice right through to the middle of the earth. Push a hand into the warming dirt, like reaching into a living gut. Take an axe to the ice of the soul. But the desert doesn’t work that way. It thaws something, but then there’s a burning fist rummaging around in the pit of your liver.

That’s the story in a nutshell. And in between the folds of ice and desert, the Leopard Girl danced.

of your liver. That’s the story in a nutshell. And in between the folds of ice


Christina vEga-wEsthoff

& the time BetWeen history

as a radical shift and the time of its cyclical return and the insistent signs—night blooming cereus—that there is something other than horizontal or vertical at play here and we are opening outside of ourselves I call to you from a night that will return—another lover tears the heartbeat’s promise

I call to you as I swing from the night’s great organ—unraveling in my hands—hold my body in half—night sky—I will turn from you to turn towards you and play at death like a young monkey wrapped around a tree branch the people tell the origin story one time it seems, and everything after is hearsay—out of my own hands, a cradle to rest the self beckon me back to my own empty womb. The umbilical chord’s gentle stretch—the sky woven in my hands. This is how it feels sometimes to fly a wooden bar between my hands, between my legs as well—like a giant watershed, the body’s release, making room to carry. How the sky told the men in boats. Death aboard. A tapestry over my parent’s brick.

A silent canoe ride with bodies craving spines, feathers, carved as if to

carry them. Looking into the hands, my body’s mirror. Not a bit of tracery. We become a star, a constellation, a traversing body. Some sharp descent when death would reign. We try to hold the space for you, mother. Ever fearful of nothing woken. As the arcing tree, we bend down to earth and return to it. So holy fire sprung from the sky lighting our house—this light of devastation or creation envelops the rows of limes/lines. The prayer in the closet counting. The bodies erupting to death and life in the same instance.


And still there is some sacrifice—there must be something that you give, the artist, the lover believes this too, but goes so far as to say to give must be to suffer—assigns a yes or a no or platitude.



If I call the woman a country

and I call the country a tree and the tree is laid out flat across the creek and I am holding the ankles and the trunk suspends horizontally

If children in the pasture, her own overtake her Drops of her daylit clothing Layers of padding in three milks A list of nouns now firing Morning Holes Feet Lights left on, windows rolled down

(.38 under the bus seat)


FallinG eaGle or Vulture,

so that one is FaCinG in another direCtion

Bated chordless dangle of song, caught then sent off tasseled by loss canopied; Medea the dancer in white. Children near, slapping her red with paint.

after goethe

Chord caught dangling, Medea slaps her children with red


Grandpa lands poolside —bated breathless armful—

anxious one

lose everything;


annE waldman

inaugurating a politics of modernity she wonders origins of gender


how or where and what might be loved suppliant with purple silk sandal next to the plinth cool Aeolian breeze we might walk into

and a bare life cyborgian centuries hence


next to the plinth cool Aeolian breeze we might walk into and a bare life cyborgian


for akilah

matChinG halF

matChinG halF 131


akilah Walks

akilah Walks 132 132
akilah Walks 132 132
akilah Walks 132 132

132 132

lament our one

after the Tsumshian Indian / February 24, 2011, NYC

In which pocket did I leave that “I”? Is “I” ever anything to miss, a personage to mourn…


and now the words and now the words

I am grieving all by myself

all by myself and then with others she’s alone on the bed, dead in her clench without all warning

I am grieving and now the words Yee Ayee

A keeee kee kee kee La La La

A kee kee kee keel La La La

keel, even keel, keel over and on to ballast

a great homegoing

a great homecalling without all warning

what’s the meaning of what I’m saying

what in the world hears the death of a poet who in the world hears the death of a poet because poets never die that’s what they say up in heaven

& below in hell, poets never die


I’ll force the river to run upstream I’ll force the sun to go out stars will shatter & fall from their spheres

then we will know a poet never dies true true a poet never dies

me sick at heart & the others crying on their sleeves everything bright in her bardo on her bardo sleeves where she moves keep it moving inside all hearts, heart of us crying on each other, crying on the time time stops and there’s a clench without warning on her time to do what I can’t do can’t undo can’t do undo

A kee kee kee La La a

can’t do can’t undo

take her back, take back her time reset her time to sooth, and then we would laugh to sooth to sooth and then we would laugh

little woman at the corner of the sky all lit up with life for nothing, but laugh like a girl

little child in the sky waiting I’m way down like the rest of you

why talk now? to think of talk, it’s nothing

the child is waiting will come will come home now to its mother


A kee kee kee La La La

A kee kee kee La La La

to make her spirit dance I’ll pound this lament I’ll shriek in lament what does it cost to lament a poet she is inestimable

nothing to equal her spirit

& all poets teach how to lament

a whole life away from you watching it grow cut short watching it grow this song of moaning of mourning sing your name Akilah she was a one she was a one she as a one she as a one she was a one she was our one

and now the words and now the words

and now the seed syllables

A kee kee kee La La La

she was a one she as a one she is our one she is our own


readinG throuGh akilah oliVer’s “tressles oF hair, she said”

[Middle English tresse, from Old French, perhaps from Vulgar Latin *trichia, tricia, rope, braid, from Greek trikhia - , rope, from thrix, trikh-, hair.]

[A trestle (sometimes tressel) is a rigid frame used as a support, especially referring to a bridge composed of a number of short spans supported by such frames]

write this down or the past may forget its part in the current, Akilah said

a double consciousness is a braid is a consciousness is a hunger is food is a chorus is a query where that god be at is a bridge is a transgression is a trace is a valley is what’s allowed and what’s forbidden is the love that bridges not its name but the girl writing speaks its new name for now she is come to the warm time that speaks not a name in tresses but she said she said this is a tressle of hair. it carries it supports it

covers ground she said clap and so she did. clap. as in a performance. and twist of an appropriation for the white slave bitch who speaks another name she says she says and leave that body right here to be sucked and fucked and it screams for the dialogue of she says she says in the valley unharmed yea yea twist of the air as it torques down relative space in naming her desire that is not a name that is speaking but in a car she rides the rope the trick rope the braid the road the support of desire to say this and know it as the singing hair knows its name will be evidence as she does when she does all the naming all the characters in the fairy tales will not hold back their desire behind eyes. but

hold rupture in writing for girls who seek a double name in a valley that is a soul place. clap. as in this performance that writes its way out to refashion the tongue. American.


and in her African that is American identity. tress that is a stress. that is a span for this

new naming. what is the racial gain what is the terminology of relationship in a white tee shirt or fairy tales with animals in them what is a base desire what is a performance. clap, she says. in a polaroid picture frame. snap. the hair between the legs. girlword.

how do they feel what is not permissible to feel and that is the tress that is the tressle is the vessel is the crux to cross this girl in her writing of first same desire and cross that color barrier for desire. tressles. that makes a way like girlword like a double conscious word-world that stops mind in a matrix of hot mortality in a language necessary to voice alive alive o: tressles of hair.


indigo wEllEr



indigo wEllEr elision:13.5 1:1 fig. 1 the hill 138



the hill


There are a series of aerial photographs. Each denotes a survey of land,

a twelve-acre garden that slopes and tapers. A monochrome schematic

of a container and the garden in which it is located: its moss-covered underpinnings, the flat-roofed out-house, the green-brown lawn, the glass-green-house, the fig tree, the oil-tank, the neighbor’s cottage, the neighbor’s walled garden, the gravel-drive, and the adjacent wood-shed. All pre-extension. Pre-childhood. Post-occurrence. Post-tragedy. Post- post-crash. Trying to articulate. The unfamiliar perspective provides a certain distance: 1000ft reduces to a series of lines surrounded by leafy provocations: a chip-blue filing cabinet sometimes visited. The space of trying to write about a garden in which most of a childhood happened

the garden is an assortment of grass-mud conduits that funnel to swell, funnel to a rust-fence boundary. The whinecrumble gate marks the border. There is a constant presence of water: boggy streams, tarp-

lined pools and a heart-shaped pond all channeling silt licked-water in

a downward direction that never arrives: the pervasive trickle: the all-

over bulge of shrubs and forest: the windblown ferns: the cold petals on bare feet

there is a hesitation toward re-knowing a hesitation of the body




At the A3 Hin


h just

ex, Blackdown Hill.

d cross roads. The radio burst into life

quoted Blackdown, near Woking

the location sounded more like south of Haslemere. und our way to the scene from the fire glow in the


advised control room low-worms fuel. Short orn off as t

officers. They had many the cra



a small flame infolding snap twigs and stump grind chips convulses wilt to erect flickers between Laughs are shared All huddled the clammed- burn of stiff knees and close-fitting quads It is building Dusk makes colors brighter a spectrum of blue to white the emergent sibilance of damp floor The flame explores a neighboring pile Cigarette cherries circle and cross It is building Medium flares bite adjacent cut branches and leafy bulge The sky deepening to a purpled-blue


[L/S section of fuselage laying amongst bushes]


un-felled trees licks

a bonfire in-gargantua singes darkened greens scented


A collective run

scramble of wheelbarrows

buckets and wine glasses

bloody idiots A line of plunge and retrieve Dowsing dowsing dousing un-quenched flash orange rapeseed yellow drums and blaze * emptyfull the pond line reseeding a trail of water root and weeds


Wet denim Rubbing seams [C/U shoes laying amongst leaves and twigs]

A soggy pile

cross and weaved cross and weaved slight melting of soles cling to ash [angle shot ditto]

an ultrastructure of brittle-black **


after-day embers the gum and tack

* in an unkempt corner of the garden next to the rust fence boundary he and his friends lit a small fire at the edge of a bonedry pile with lighter and bleach-lined paper the flame took to the wood chips with ease ** Productivity: one effect of fire on plants that sprout after being burned appears to be increased vigor and growth rate. This phenomenon is well known in grasslands, to the extent that there is a general belief that regular burning is required to maintain grass in a healthy condition. Observations of increased productivity also extend to forest trees where there are reports of increased girth increments after some fires.



1:3 fig. 2 the discard of the zone metal cuts a wide cutting through the wound

fig. 2 the discard of the zone

metal cuts a wide cutting through the wound Fractures propagate along several paths for short distances Flanks shards rivet aluminum sever mar cuts that keep cutting through jet fur burn Bonfires cut heavy fog choke sirens cut valleynight silence a Sibilance of char branch fuselage body cut the canopy green turned to hiss brown cut to black the forest cut to clearing charcoal of wood organ cloth bone mast cutting communication wall spat gashcut to roof scoop gravel sting cut sharp short breath rumblecutting a raze

all map of cuts linger to pulsate


A metal opening of supple world

the abscission


left all


CcccccccccccUuuuuuuuuuuttttttttttttT: the number of bodies




had been

Haslemere an

firework. He made his way to the top of the hill at He had no personal radio. The battery in his torc

sheep. He then walked into something tha paraffin. He stood under a tree while he t dripped on. This turned out to be body fl probably better left in the past. An air line the passengers crew. Surrey and S Cemetery. Nobody had reco ion fuel gave him flash-ba


as no unit availa


door opens to a tumbled lump diaphragm flub into tightened throat

hovering [L/S dead sheep laying in field]


running to collapsed scream rapt in linen and towel

heat sealed folds of ear and eyelid

a pointing arm ring

[Repoter - Caravelle Jetliner came to earth]

door left open

a starched body

its going to be ok you are home now gaze fixed in Frosty darkness the door left ajar



cycled-close melody

holed textile covering the stiffened bod repeat knee drop to address the double lock


sage a cyclic entice

the patio table distressed white a smudge of shell and

seeping a codex

the stretch of marbled-brown whites


the spiraling of close-line flecked blue-lino-floor the litter of detergent sinks deep-sunk buckets of bleach fabric

The round door is cracked open

cotton fur

scratched bucket wets a partial cineration

[C/U a half-buried wheel]

the box aflame

steamcloud of

likens to burnt toast

a reveal of skin and scorch *

the flurry patting of palm to torso

repeat the undoing scream the tumble door part open the yecchy tang

of heavy the fixed glare of heat-birthed cataract

buried next to a boggy stream on the right-side of the garden the gardener dug the hole deep enough to deny a scavenging



dug the hole deep enough to deny a scavenging re-boxed 1:5 fig. 3 the alphabet of

fig. 3 the alphabet of a body

* the truth was revealed a year later by a passing comment it was originally told that it got hit by a car on the road behind the house she still cries when it’s mentioned he still remembers the smell the body aflame the short-breath-shock how time meant that we all could laugh


Foxtrot Lima Uniform India Delta Sierra

Rub * forefinger middle and thumb rub bring to nose to smell novel rub to remove rub trousers to delete rub fact to forget report rubbing Body

rub sweat clench rubbing sleep to rub night palms crack suspend rub tree rubbing belief rub fingers to grip cyclic rub repeat rubbing to pebble exact to rub back rubbing flash




bodies to litmus





Delta Romeo India Papa Papa Papa Papa Papa Papa Sierra Sierra Sierra Sierra Sierra See Air Rah Sierr Sier Sie Si S S S S s s s s s




biology to bodyless **

the blackbox tracks an object through a space: the blackbox does not record body memory

* The environment in which a body lies is critical to the rate at which it will decompose. The climate and soil conditions play a part in how quickly decomposition will occur. Decomposition is not necessarily a uniform process and may be quite asymmetric. For example, decomposition will occur more rapidly in areas of injuries. If a body is struck on the head and the skin is torn in that area, decomposition may be much more advanced on the head than the remainder of the body. ** the first officer to the scene had an accident in a police van soon after followed by what was thought to be a nervous breakdown he was off sick for a period and on his return was given the job of Crown Court officer at Guildford nobody associated his mental problems with the air crash





The air Watching traffic at the A3 Control room quoted Bla Said to Colin that the locatio as wrong). We found ou hicle on scene. We advise at looked like large glow-wor on light by the aviation fuel. S The wings had been torn of

Speak to the local officers. They had With him. He pointed out many features



e remains of the

tress J

quebec uniform india echo tango

whispered rush of brilliant

torch scanning half-circle to periphery and back

Avoid mutter to evade the lumen shard tip-toe thin trees guttering

silver-black * veiled

on bare feet ** a squint of pliable soles navigate earth cheek to rough cheek to rough

embody a desert rat

feel of cold petals

* climbing within the brittle canopy he found a metal shard what looked like a piece of cockpit window the branches had enveloped its sharp edges once cut and retrieved he left it on the step the next day it had gone he was told to forget what he had found that some things are unexplained the only remnants were the tiny cuts on his fingers the one on the side of his fore-finger remained ** The response of skin to sheer forces can be measured by applying a torsional stimulus. A typical twisting device has a central disk within a thin annulus. These are stuck to the skin and the inner disk of skin is twisted through a few degrees (usually 10” or less) while the torque required to achieve and maintain this rotation is monitored (or a set torque is applied and the angular displacement monitored).


Patch of dead holly

the ensuing freeze

spotlight the shivery imminence

awaiting to be called

full belly relief

body we inch forward

[Reporter - Rescue workers searched throughout the night and following days for the black box]

parting the all-over

bulge of rhododendrons pink white milk blue swivet a distant velociraptor cry

hugging the serrated edge of bush and grass

increasing pass of torch then dark

[C/U dead rabbit]

backdrop of living room fire TV reflect flickers body lit up eyes-shut—

the cavernous wicker basket of dried wood

almost evade detection

moss-covered step






1:7 fig. 4 the abscission zone the clearing awaited: a reassertion: the garden resumed: the zone:

fig. 4 the abscission zone

the clearing awaited: a reassertion: the garden resumed: the zone: the flight-recorder: an object through a space: the abscission wound revis- ited: the blackbox of thirteen minutes: and a half: the garden opened:

absence of body: the clearing: a new sign: the flight recorder: catatonic memory: the garden is a wake of the unnamed: the zone: an insistence:

the blackbox: no answers:

of 37 bodies only 19 were remembered

knitting a burn

that memorialization of an unfamiliar body does not take place

the absence of a social identity means


each body still born foiled and crumpled infolding jet fuel and glow-worm strimmer radio bursts skin as vista pleating spaces between phalanges to tibia press the density of the stand

only a body vectors from wholebreath the phenomenon of being garden the limits of sinew foxglove and blue-bell nervous system no intercellular spaces a wake of unnamed messaging front to back woody to vascular lave rendering life lived

the coppiced clearing implies a returning



at home. Fire ontrol Room at HQ to say that a very ould he go on his motorcycle to investigate? He se

ill at Fernhurst (less than a mile into Sussex) and parked his mo torch faded. He tripped over something that on feeling around fou at turned out to be a large wheel. He had noticed a smell of wha

tried to work out in which direction he had l



y fluids from bodies lodged in the tr liner had crashed on top of the h


Sussex officers eventuall d




big toes pressing skirt board arms reach tap turns

armpits sense the pressing lip temperature now in between






tumble left over right

fingers slip

roll turn and lace

upward creeping shadow a fierce short burn noise

look up

a basket under a balloon of red yellow


zig-zag stripes


slow moving

near grazes roof


hands washed

pat and rub

roaming down to end of garden burner burning orange into yellow


lifting over rhododendrons pines silver birches *




boundary [C/U tattered airman’s jacket on ground]


dew drops rising up

trouser lee mah echo golf

crunchtickle of twigs

shoots toward the balloon


the whine of gate huddled tight around its hinges **


tip-toe over cattle grid

leaves cross to new

rustle gusts of wind

balloon lands in neighboring field toward [C/U wreckage]

damp fingers running over

the bumpy edges of wicker basket

blast valve quiet weighed down

picnic bubbles do not disturb a fierce short burn noise to lift sun


sand bags

under the moving shadow reclaims

* an old man and his wife were living in the house as the plane struck dedicated his whole life to his garden dug small ponds and streams planted a surface of shrubs trees and flowers along with his grandchildren’s log cabin where he stored his whiskey after promising his wife sobriety ** after many years the gate was replaced the cattle grid painted racing green the rust fence boundary reinstated there were plans to create a winding driveway through the garden the idea was soon abandoned the pile of gravel was all that pointed to what could have been



[Flight Magazine - Evidence against the possibility of a simple misreading of this sort is the message from the aircraft ATC reporting passing FL145 indicating that at this time the crew knew that the crew knew that they were below 16,000ft]

blackbox transcription of thirteen and a half minutes:




decline to clearing

the abscission

liquid all


[but it does not dispose of the possibility that the crew subsequently suffered a mental loss of sequence and transposed themselves in time and space back to some back to some altitude above 16,000ft]




worms running about in a field

Short while later Sussex units arrived and he whole scene was too bi fuselage slid further into the wood

at the

We ca

ak tr

opped. He s

e were lo




grill charcoals


black to white-grey lawn

oranges in between

amassing on

pulse skin of drum awaiting


fashioning of paper slit glasses



darkening observance

winding the switch-backs Blackdown Hill *

Tennyson’s temple of winds **

dialing four directions

[Reporter - But the grim task of recovering personal belongings had to continue]

* Crash forces often cause local crushing of the fuselage at the point of contact with the ground. The aircraft structure needs to provide an intact shell around the passengers for a survivable impact. Larger planes are safer because of the larger crushable volume. ** he was once told that Tennyson wrote his poetry overlooking the downs when the sun dial was eventually replaced we carved our initials on each side underneath the lip of the stone slab there is a semi-circle stone bench where we each would gather to catch our breaths after the steep root-laden climb the cold surface on the backs of swinging knees the unending view a textile of fields trees and a dusty satellite dish on a clear day the expanse reveals the beginnings of the sea


seat carved stump envelopes *

fern greens

Vista dips


Kicking dust a silver-black **


shadow total

ray swoop reseeding

golf al fah see air rah pah pah

to resume

* Impact velocity = square root [(64.4ft/sec 2 ) x (drop height)]

** he was told his father collapsed on the hill and had to crawl down elbows and hands to get help it wasn’t until dark that he returned



10.02 p.m. on Saturday, 4th November

travelling in a north-easterly direction Sud Aviation Caravelle SE210, named Jesus Gurudi

7.30 p.m. it left Malaga


p.m. estimated time of arrival at Heathrow Airport


piloted by Captain Harnando Maura 37 years, an experienced Pilot

he dreamt of being a chef cooked every possible meal an assemblage of world spice vegetable herb and a filet of a once lived thing served in front of the tele all garnish and piping


misty with intermittent drizzle it appeared to be flying along its correct path but at a significantly lower altitude

he navigated the school playground wore a black hoody in summer an empty table feared words from unfamiliar faces walked deep into the garden crossing the rope swing bridge swept leaves out the log cabin liked the shock of electric fences got snagged on barbwire in the field at the end of rust fence boundary

this Hill at its highest point is 902 ft. above sea level a total complement of 30 passengers and 7 crew


the altitude changes everything

debris from the aircraft was scattered over the whole of the 355 yards of its passage



there is a memorial stone in Brookwood Cemetery the all-spanish crew, and the passengers comprising 25 British, mostly returning from holiday in Spain, two americans, two spaniards two australians

of the 37 who died only 19 British bodies were remembered

the abscission




of the 37 who died only 19 British bodies were remembered the abscission wound all-void looking

fig. 5

the absence



to remember is to calcify

repeat to synthesize is to negate this text can- not avoid cutting the garden re-landscaped the house demolished only the mulberry tree remains the grass border denotes an absence repeat to document is to leave behind the plot awaits a reassertion this text has left out the wall knocked down remembrance is forgetting the bodies still unnamed to archive is to erase repeat the rope bridge crumbled the come and goes of bluebells and foxgloves

to remember is to restructure to make is to discard repeat the text is to remember is to calcify repeat to synthesize is to negate this texture can- not avoid cutting the garden re-landscaped the house demolished only the murmur tree remains the grass border denotes an repeat to docu- ment is to leave behind the plot a reassertion this text has left out the wall knocked down remembrance is forgetting the bodies still unnamed to archive is to echo romeo alpha sierra echo repeat the rope bridge crumbled the come and goes of bluebells and fractions to remember is to restructure to make is to remembering is to discomfort repeat the think- ing is to repeat to combine is to negate this text cannot avoid cutting the graze re-landscaped the house demolished only the museum tree remains the grass border denotes an repeat to document is to leave behind the plot awaits a reassertion this text has left out the wallow knocked down remembrance is forgetting the borders still unnamed to article is to erase repeat the rose bridge crumbled the come and goes of bods and foxgloves to remember is to resubject to make is to disclosure repeat the thought is to remember is to calcify repeat to synthesize is to negate this text cannot avoid cutting the gash re-landscaped the housetop demolished only the murmur tang go row me oh eck oh eck oh remains the grave borough denotes repeat to doorway is to leave behind the pock a reassertion this text has left out the wall knocked down reminiscence is forgetting the bodies still unnamed to archive is to associ- ate repeat the rumor bridge crumbled the come and goes of blueprints


and fragments to remember is to restutter to make is to discard repeat the texture is to remember is to clot repeat to join is to negate this text cannot avoid cutting the garden re-landscaped the house only the remains the grid boundary denotes an repeat to document is to leave behind the plot a reassertion this thing cannot avoid darkness the wall knocked down knocked dream is forgetting the bodies still unnamed to archive is to erase repeat the rove bridge crumbled the come and goes of bluebells and fringes to remember is to restrum to make is to discard repeat the text is to remember is to repeat to is to negate this text cannot avoid dancing the garden re-landscaped the house demol- ished only the mulberry tree remains the grass border denotes an absence repeat to document is to leave behind the plot awaits a reassertion this text has left out the wall knocked down remembrance is forgetting the bodies still unnamed to archive is to erase repeat the rope ek ho ro me oh alp ha see eh rah you nee form ro me hoh ek hoh remains the grass border denotes an repeat to document is to leave behind the plot awaits a reassertion this text has left out the


Book reVieWs

JenniFer Firestone


shearsman Books, 2013

Review by CharlottE anniE

We are on the couch without clothes, and we have a right to show our bodies to the light. We fly up the food chain. We bait bleeding minnows. This is the abstract world Jennifer Firestone invites us into in Flashes. Still, it is with refreshing clarity that she touches down—grounding us again and again in reality. We are at once in an abstract world, but we are never left without a guide to the realities of this place. We are simultaneously the girl wrapped in plastic, and the woman who is so aware of the burning flesh from the war surrounding her, she must conceal her eyes. It is uncommon to experience a work that is genuinely frank, yet often intangible; however, this is precisely what we find in Firestone’s writing. She takes us into a world where trees are infrastructures, buildings block buildings,andwindowsneveropen—aworldreminiscentoftheconcrete trees and cement cities in Renee Gladman’s Ravicka series. Like Ravicka, Firestone’s city is in conflict. It is a place where architecture parallels language, a place where public and private space is distinguishable. And as we navigate these spaces, our guides remain nameless as they walk among ghosts. Firestone’s text reads as a single poem. Only blank pages signal thematic divisions; and while these themes appear in the abstract, they convey real social issues. The first section considers American culture in the twenty-first century and how, in the era of late capitalism, culture and economy are indistinguishable. The second, the geographical pivot of the book, takes stock of city life in a time of change. Next, Firestone uses the concept of screens to critique the media as a mouthpiece for our political and cultural establishment. Then, America’s aggressive foreign


policy is compared to changes in our domestic life. She describes the reinforcement of Western values at home and in the world. Finally, in her coda, Firestone synthesizes the previous sections. On culture, Firestone notes the intersection of the economy and everyday life. In capitalism, there is no productive slippage: “When production’s down / the idea of slowing is preposterous.” Thus, “we are late for employment” and struggle to “meet our deadlines.” What connects us, of course, is technology. And our technological connections form a kind of ecological network:

We flip silver communicators open our compacts press our tiny palms we’re linked in one huge network migrating gray upon gray.

Firestone moves quickly between nature, technology, and the city. She does not identify this city. In refusing to do so, readers can think of any city in a state of change. Amidst rich details of urban life, class divisions shine through. The gap between bourgeois and proletarian well-being can be seen “by where you grill your food.” For those less well-off, “you are in a lot with cans, cats and alcoholic beverages. / You are plastering the tar with frankfurters and forks.” The next section introduces the motif of screens that reappears throughout the rest of the text. Firestone uses them in two ways. There are window screens that let in air from the outside world, even though we sometimes prefer the artificial over the real:

The windows never open some are without screens and we can’t find some that fit or we did and it cost too much and we’d rather have generated air.

There are also television and computer screens that deliver news. These purportedly portray the real world, but Firestone personifies them to show that they are but an interpretation of the world.


In her descriptions, “the screen is perverse” and reflects elite representations of events. For its part, the screen cares more about aesthetics than content: “Every channel doing its job every haircut placed among features.” For our part, we trust the screen: “The screen said do you and I said I do.” Still, there are limits to our trust. In her final section, Firestone expresses our ability to talk back: “Are you listening screen / this is about you and me living.” Sometimes, the screen must be surprised that we believe its message. Firestone’s simultaneous discussion of foreign affairs and domestic life is held together by the screen’s attitude of cultural superiority: “Barbarians, thieves, uneducated, uncivil / why should a pact be held for such sects.” The screen reproduces Western values in the name of universalism. We consume this like any other product. In a passage reminiscent of 9/11 rhetoric, we are reminded of our commonalities in the face of tragedy:

Unpoured like animals from the ark we became friendly like old days, we offered each other liquid put away green bills, undid our jackets clustered.

This is what chaos looks like. This is the unforeseen. This is the amalgamation of the disparate—a coming together. The unexpected ease of an unfamiliar glance. Implied in Firestone’s words is the sociological principle that, in the face of calamity, societies come together to confront an external threat. It can manifest by cruelties abroad, as in the apparent reference to Abu Ghraib: “Masterful plan of medieval torture / I watch the bowed men kneeling.” Yet, this abuse also comes with a domestic purge. In the midst of flights and foreign policy, Firestone calls attention back to class and gender inequalities at home. It is a reminder that labor fares poorly at large- scale retailers: “He made a dollar more than her / in a store that saves us bucks.” Not only do lower classes receive fewer economic rewards, but women in particular are shortchanged even further. Firestone’s pairing is thus similar to Silvia Federici’s claim that the “rise of capitalism was coeval with a war against women.”


Moving through Flashes, the reader goes through stages of grief. To confront terrorism and inequality, we must experience such psychological reactions: anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Firestone’s concluding sense of hope leads readers to think that, perhaps, a more equal world is imaginable. In addition to the political message and cultural verdict, Flashes is a pleasure to read. Amongst the chaos of postmodernity, there is something delightfully quiet in Firestone’s language. This sense of unexpected composure is somehow infectious. It is authentic, a language careful and sharp. We have our noses against the wall. This is how close we are. We live in the very world Firestone writes about; however, we enter as if we are outsiders. We are somehow protected by the language; we are at once at a distance, but also so close we can feel the heat of the screen. Like Gladman, Firestone’s work is poignant and smart. As we read the text, we experience events in sequence. At the same time, however, we intuit visible gaps—spaces between pages, between silences. These gaps allow for a more individualized explication. As we travel into a world filled with paranoid people and derailed passengers, where “flowers are people flying on bikes” and the “air is boxes lived in,” we conceal our eyes to the sadness that “sits on curves of letters.” This is the world she has created. This is Firestone’s world, but it is also ours. It is a place where birds are so desperate they scratch tree branches—a world where nothing is happening, yet everything repeats. It is a world where people simultaneously attach themselves to chairs on sidewalks and rev up their bodies to lift into space. It is a place of chaos and destruction. It is also a place where trees indicate light, where people construct a language consistent with architecture. As she weaves us through these worlds, Firestone speaks with a raw, authentic voice both poetic and witty. Her gift is this gesture—an attempt at recognizing the shark within us, so that we too might bait the hook.


laura Walker


apoGee press, 2012

Review by sarah riChards graba

In a world of woods and ghosts, of ocean and war, Laura Walker spins a book of poems concerned with absence. Her formal constraint is her use of the OED volume that gives this book its title. In her author’s note at the start of the book, she warns her reader:

These are collaged poems: each poem is composed of fragments

of a single entry from Volume VI of the Oxford English Dictionary,


indicate a jump within the OED text.

are the entry words. Line breaks


Thus, Walker’s poems are simultaneously concerned and not

concerned with definitions. She uses a dictionary for fodder but, through erasure, fractures the entries until a new definition remains. While a single entry for an OED definition can range from a few paragraphs to a few pages, Walker reduces these entries to wiry, lean poems, taking only

a few select words from the original entry. There is a gesture toward narrative in the poems: there are settings, characters, actions. Early in the work, we meet a few characters (a woman and Christ) in a storm on the sea. We follow the woman to meet

a soldier, and we learn of war. There are fish and birds, knees and faces, forests and farms. Christ appears and disappears throughout the text, sometimes accompanied by loaves, “fishes,” or Mary. Other times, we encounter the counterparts: goblins, devils, and demons. And between all of these, space. Walker’s lines do not extend beyond the page but perhaps dip into it; we see only the surface of the iceberg


below. Some poems are only one or two lines long, while others, though they continue for five or ten pages, employ only three or four lines per page. The scarceness of the words in this text is in sharp contrast to the copious words of its lineage, the OED. The words that remain in these new, poetic forms are the few genes that have been passed down from the parent text. Though this leaves the book sparsely populated with actual words, it is rich with images. Walker and the characters/speakers in the poems are preoccupied with steering a ship, with battling, with flying or digging holes. But arising like a bubbling wave out of each story is absence. Walker writes in “furlough,” the third poem in the book:



give leave

and leave

There is always someone or something leaving in these poems, poems that are so full of space and breath. Birds trying to escape. A maid waiting for a lover to return. Bees “reddy to flye.” A river. There is silence when someone leaves. These poems, in their sparseness, reflect that silence in the few words left behind. Walker insists on this absence—to hold a space for it, to consider it— and she does so in many ways. While characters often take their leave, so do the words, through Walker’s use of erasure. The erasure of words in each OED entry creates space, but also occasionally breath, pause, or release. On some pages, the space indicates an intake of breath; on another, an exhale. In some lines of erasure, we might see the ghost of the words that are now missing, while in other lines it is as if they never existed. All of these are absence, but the nature of this absence fluctuates with each passing poem, each page, each scarce line. While concerning herself with absence, Walker also finds a subject in boundary. When there is space, what is the boundary of that space? Where does the space end? In her pieces set on the sea, we think of the boundary as a container. When she sets us down a path in the woods,


we think of the boundary as the tree line. The war pieces provide clear boundaries, yes, but when she writes of evil, what side of the boundary are we on? She writes:

in the silence of the night we expect evil the firmest minds

keep it or at variance

Is evil always the other, then—that which is not us? In Walker’s poems, evil varies, even for “the firmest minds.” These spaces, these gaps, between what we think we know going into the book and what we come out with on the other side, are where Walker’s poems play. In this world, the world created by these poems, the boundaries are shifting, mutable, or intangible; perhaps this is true not only in the world of the poems, but also in the world of definitions from which these poems spring. In playing with boundary and gap, Walker puts the question to the dictionary, a symbol of concrete, unquestionable knowledge: Where are your boundaries? Are they shifting and mutable as well? Walker even forces gaps toward how one must approach the book. Most readers might think, after reading about her constraint, that this is a book of poems whose titles span from “follow” to “haswed.” However, the entries are scattered, out of order, and sometimes repeated as separate poems. Walker ruptures not only the individual definitions of these words, but the definition of a dictionary. Look up the word “go,” and you will find seven entries, each with a different story to tell—a different definition—of varying lengths and concerns. They are not listed one after another; you must come to them with gaps in between, with other entries and other stories to follow, before you can arrive. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Follow–Haswed is the second word in the title. “Haswed” is a word that Google will not recognize. It will only bring up Walker’s book and Vol. VI of the OED. If you search for the definition of this word in Walker’s book, you will find the following:



or got


fer a-wei

or got



marked with


The stuttering stop-start of this entry, which reaches for the words but does not find them, is perhaps a microcosm of what Walker’s book is all about: absence, most notably the absence of words. Even with one of the most sophisticated dictionaries in the world, with enough definitions, histories, quotations, and etymologies to fill an entire volume with just 36 English words between “follow” and “haswed,” we still are unable to find words. The absence in this book is the leaving of these words. The words that leave us, constantly. And we, in their absence, in the silence that follows, can do nothing but wait.


dorothea lasky


WaVe Books, 2012

Review by sally smith

Thunderbird, the latest collection from poet Dorothea Lasky, is an exploration of flight: the poems inhabit air. With this work, Lasky dives deeper into the questions of embodiment, language, and meaning that she encountered in her previous collections, Awe and Black Life. The voice emanating from the pages is at once epic and casual, dramatic and witty. Such sustained contradiction allows the text to balance between the spaces of confession and philosophy. Through precise diction and vivid imagery, Lasky weaves a text of interrogation, deconstructing the animal body, death, and language. Lasky’s questions are straightforward, her tone direct, bold, and urgent. Her innovation isn’t in form; the poems read as traditional free verse. Rather, Lasky is a poet whose voice no one can hear and forget; she demands attention. The verse form does function as the perfect crystal goblet, allowing Lasky’s unique voice to ring through with bold clarity. Her sharp enjambment and deft breaks serve to amplify the poetic voice, transcribing breath. This sense of a clear container is echoed in Lasky’s almost total omission of punctuation at the line’s end. However, Thunderbird is a work of cerebral experimentation. The boundaries transgressed by the text are in the content—what poetry can ask and what poetry can answer. The contradictions sustained in this collection are illuminating. Lasky balances images of death and birds, immortality and flight. The title references the Native American legend of the thunderbird: a creature so powerful, the beating of its wings is the cause of thunder, the flashing of its eyes the origin of lightning. The bird has the ability to affect weather and inspire awe, demanding a


revision from beyond a symbol of freedom and openness to one of epic and magical power. For Lasky, the thunderbird is also the airplane. In the poem, “Plane Crash of the Thunderbird,” Lasky explores the power of the airplane as she shapes an allegory of plane as living monster. With the image of the haunting hybrid swallowing innocent passengers, Lasky shoves the normalized activity of air travel into a realm of foreignness and horror. Addressing the beast directly, the speaker of the poem says, “you flatten / time and space,” calling the reader’s attention to a plane as an encapsulation, as a means to transgress the limitations of human physics, as a form of time travel. The airplane enables the passenger to

transgress human limitations, and the reader is reminded that this is also the function and purpose of a text. In this same way, many of the pieces in this book explore human and animal embodiment; however, “Zombies” and “What if I Lost All Those Things?” both explore the body through the consequences of disembodiment. If disembodiment is the self devoid of the body, zombification is the body devoid of the self. In the poem, “Zombies,” Lasky’s speaker explores an animated animal body devoid of the human mind. The speaker asserts, “some people are zombies.” This particular poem dramatizes the horror of disconnection with one’s body by discussing what it’s like to live with, to be, to relate to, a zombie: one who seems to be devoid of self or spirit, one who acts without feeling. In “What if I Lost All Those Things,” the speaker asks, “what if I were just a corpse…would you still love me?” In splitting the speaker into

a body and a self, she is asking a lover where loyalties lie. With this poem, Lasky begins to explore the idea of reduction to the body as a

form of objectification, creating a correlation between the undead and the objectified female body. Interacting with the female body as just

a body is equivocated with interacting with a zombie, with a corpse.

This poem paints an environment of “dark night” and anticipation for

a timeless sun, taking residence in the speaker’s grave. It interrogates

the reader with the second person, omitting the question mark, asking “what if the sun were gone / would you hold my body in the dead of night.” Lasky further pushes the reader’s conceptual boundaries of objectification and abjection, asks how far patriarchal society is willing


to push the objectification of the female body. If society is willing to push the female body into the space of objectification, is it willing to sink to necromancy, to embrace the corpse? Through the use of grotesque hyperbole and questioning, Lasky exposes how the final limit of objectification is the corpse. In addition to the zombie’s function as an image of embodiment and disembodiment, it also powerfully enacts what it means to be undead: an animated dead, a dead that walks. Many of the poems in this collection tease the edges of death. “I Want to Be Dead,” ends with the two lines “I am already dead / I am already fucking words.” The final line could be read as linguistic coitus, a sexual connection with words, but also as emphatic expletive. Either way, death is equated with language, with the ultimate union of the body and language, be it final or climactic. Lasky traces death over language, explaining that the speaker of that line is dead, the line itself is dead, the book is dead. The person we are as we write evolves past our dead, static works. The act of reading a (dead) text is like the reanimation necessary to create a zombie: the reader puts a spell on the (dead) text, allowing it to perform, to break out of the page, to communicate. Through her earnest communication, Lasky dismantles the fourth wall and invites the reader to examine the function and purpose of literature. In “How I Started Off,” the speaker explains an evolution of literary perspective: from “loving the thing more than the people” to now, when “I love the people /more than the thing.” Here, Lasky exposes the futility of interacting with the text as an