24 June 2012


Ellen Hinsey 


It is said that we can no longer use the old words.

Either, they carry in their script the imprint of our
inhumanity: the memory of the naked bodies burned as the
classical strains played;

Or, contain their own blueprint for destruction, the way a
seed harbors in its cells its final, latent corruption.

We have become afraid of them, the old words, as if we
could escape punishment if, for once and for all, they were
forbidden utterance in the public squares.
As if we could walk out to where the river joins the deep,
where the tides plow and reap the untouchable air. There
beyond boundaries, voices.
Yet even where silence and the river Styx merge, there are
gestures which must be transcribed.
And I have listened to your voice at sundown,
breaking with grief, undone by the bludgeoning tool of the
eternal sorrows.
The way that Priam grieved, in the old words, the broken
body of his son.
And heads are still brought openly to the marketplace as if
in triumph.
The old words have blood on them.
But here, under the blackened sun, there are things, in the
trammeled, the ruined, the old words, which must still be said.

17 June 2012

Terra Nostra

the beginning of Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes

Flesh, Spheres, Gray Eyes
Beside the Seine

Incredible the first animal that dreamed of another animal.  Monstrous the first vertebrate that succeeded in standing on two feet and thus spread terror among the beasts still normally and happily crawling close to the ground through the slime of creation.  Astounding the first telephone call, the first boiling water, the first song, the first loincloth.
        About four o'clock in the morning one fourteenth of July, Pollo Phoibee, asleep in his high garret room, door and windows flung wide, dreamed these things, and prepared to answer them himself.  But then he was visited in his dream by the somber, faceless figure of a monk who spoke for Pollo, continuing in words what had been an imagistic dream: "But reason -- neither slow nor indolent -- tells us that merely with repetition the extraordinary becomes ordinary, and only  briefly abandoned, what had once passed for a common and ordinary occurrence becomes a portent: crawling, sending carrier pigeons, eating raw deer meat, abandoning one's dead on the summits of temples so that vultures as they feed might perform their cleansing functions and fulfill the natural cycle."
        Only thirty-three and a half days earlier the fact that the waters of the Seine were boiling could have been considered a calamitous miracle; now, a month later, no one even turned to look at the phenomenon.  The proprietors of the black barges, surprised at first by the sudden ebullition, slammed against the walls of the channel, had abandoned their struggle against the inevitable.  These men of the river pulled on their stocking caps, extinguished their black tobaccos, and climbed like lizards onto the quays; the skeletons of the barges had piled up beneath the ironic gaze of Henri de Navarre and there they remained, splendid ruins of charcoal, iron, and splintered wood.
        But the gargoyles of Notre-Dame, knowing events only in the abstract, embraced with black stone eyes a much vaster panorama, and twelve million Parisians understood finally why these demons of yesteryear stick out their tongues at the city in such ferociously mocking grimaces.  It was as if the motive for which they were originally sculptured was now revealed in scandalous actuality.  It was clear the patient gargoyles had waited eight centuries to open their eyes and blast twaa! twaa! with their cleft tongues.  At dawn they had seen that overnight the distant cupolas, the entire façade of Sacré-Coeur appeared to be painted black.  And that closer at hand, far below, the doll-sized Louvre had become transparent.
        After a superficial investigation, the authorities, farr off the scent, reached the conclusion that the painted façade was actually marble and the transparent Louvre had been turned to crystal.  Inside the Basilica the paintings, too, were transformed; as the building had changed color, its paintings had changed race.  And who was going to cross himself before the lustrous ebony of a Congolese Virgin, and who would expect pardon from the thick lips of a Negroid Christ?  On the other hand, the paintings and sculptures in the Museum had taken on an opacity that many decided to attribute to the contrast with the crystalline walls and floors and ceiling.  No one seemed in the least uncomfortable because the Victory of Samothrace hovered in mid-air without any visible means of support: those wings were finally justifying themselves.  But they were apprehensive when they observed, particularly considering the recently acquired density in contrast to the general lightness that the mask of Pharaoh was superimposed -- in a newly liberated perspective -- upon the features of the Giaconda, and that lady's upon David's Napoleon.  Furthermore: when the traditional frames dissolved into transparency, the resulting freeing of purely conventional space allowed them to appreciate that the Mona Lisa, still sitting with arms crossed, was not alone.  And she was smiling.
        Thirty-three and one half days had passed during which, apparently, the Arc de Triomphe turned into sand and the Eiffel Tower was converted into a zoo.  We are confining ourselves to appearances . . .

10 June 2012

Natasha Trethewey: Poet Laureate

February 1911

There are indeed all sorts of men
who visit here: those who want
nothing but to talk or hear the soft tones
of a woman's voice; others prefer
simply to gaze upon me, my face
turned from them as they touch
only themselves. And then there are those,
of course, whose desires I cannot commit
to paper

You ask me how I can do this —

In those moments I am again
a young girl, just past thirteen, seeing
for the first time, the luxurious curve
beneath my own breasts. So taken
with this view of myself, I sit too long
staring at my revlection in the bathwater,
the tin tub growing cold as I look
through myself to the gray bottom,
to nothing. Only my shivering
and the chattering of my teeth
jar me back, my skin gooseflesh,
the Braille text of my future.

Or I am back at the farm store,
the man leaning over me, pinching
the tiny buds of my new breasts,
sneering, calling me womanish
as I stare at the lines in the floor
until they blur into one smooth path
leading away from that place —

I am then nothing
but the light I see behind my shut eyelids.

Blue Book  — June 1911 

I wear my best gown for the picture — 
white silk with seed pearls and ostrich feathers — 
My hair in a loose chignon.  Behind me,
Bellocq's black scrim just covers the laundry 
Tea towels, bleached and frayed, drying on the line.
I look away from his lens to appear
demure, to attract those guests not wanting
the lewd sights of Emma Johnson's circus. 
Countess writes my description for the book — 
"Violet," a fair-skinned beauty, recites
poetry and soliloquies; nightly
she performs her tableau vivant, becomes
a living statue, an object of art — 
And I fade again into someone I'm not.

Photograph of a Bawd Drinking Raleigh Rye  E. J. Bellocq, circa 1912

The glass in her hand is the only thing moving
too fast for the camera — caught in the blur of motion.

She raises it toasting, perhaps, the viewer you become
taking her in  — your eyes starting low, at her feet,

and following those striped stockings like roads,
traveling the length of her calves and thighs.  Up then,

to the fringed scarf draping her breasts, the heart
locket, her bare should and the patch of dark hair

beneath her arm, the round innocence of her cheeks
and Gibson-girl hair.  Then over to the trinkets on the table

beside her: a clock; tiny feather-backed rocking chairs
poised to move with the slightest wind or breath;

the ebony statuette of a woman, her arms stretched abover
her head.  Even the bottle of rye is a woman's slender torso

and round hips.  On the wall behind her, the image again 
women in paintings, in photographs, and carved in relief

on an oval plane.  And there, on the surface of it all, a thumb-
print  — perhaps yours?  It's easy to see this is all about desire.

Disclosure  —January 1912

When Bellocq doesn't like a photograph
he scratches across the plate.  But I know
other ways to obscure a face — paint it
with rouge and powder, shades lighter than skin,
don a black velvet mask.  I've learned to keep
my face behind the camera, my lens aimed
at a dream of my own making.  What power
I find in transforming what is real — a room
flushed with light, calculated disarray.
Today I tried to capture a redbird
perched on the tall hedge.  As my shutter fell,
he lifted in flight, a vivid blur above
the clutter just beyond the hedge — garbage,
rats licking the insides of broken eggs.

Poems taken from Natasha Trethewey, Bellocq's Ophelia, pages 18, 34, 40, 44.

03 June 2012


 The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there, 
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady.  I should know.
What falls away is always.  And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
                                          Theodore Roethke

Voice Mail Villanelle

We're grateful that you called today
And sorry that we're occupied.
We will be with you right away.

Press one if you would like to stay,
Press two if you cannot decide.
We're grateful that you called today.

Press three to end this brief delay,
Press four if you believe we've lied.
We will be with you right away.

Press five to hear some music play,
Press six to speak with someone snide.
We're grateful that you called today.

Press seven if your hair's turned gray,
Press eight if you've already died.
We will be with you right away.

Press nine to hear recordings say
That service is our greatest pride.
We're grateful that you called today.
We will be with you right away.
                                          Dan Skwire


words & sounds that build bridges towards a
        new tongue
within the vortex of cadences, magic weaves there
a mystery, syncopating music rising from breath of
       the young,

the syllables spraying forward like some cloud or 
     mist hung
around the day, evening, under streetlamps, yeasting
     air, where
words & sounds that build bridges towards a
     new tongue

gather, lace the language like fireflies stitching the
     night's lungs,
rhythms of new speech reinventing themselves with
     a flair,
a mystery, syncopating music, rising from breath of
     the young,

where the need for invention at the tongue's edge,
at the edge of the cliff, becomes a risk-taking poet
     who shares
words & sounds that build bridges towards a
     new tongue

full of wind & sun, breath feeds poetry from art's
under a blue sea that is sky, language threatds itself
     through air
a mystery, syncopating music, rising from breath of
     the young.

is a solo snatched from the throat of pure utterance,
or wordsmiths blues-ing cadences, weaving lines
     into prayers,
words & wounds that build bridges towards a
    new tongue --
a mystery, syncopating music rising from breath of 
    the young
                              Quincy Troupe


              Selections from Villanelles, edited by Annie Finch and Marie-Elizabeth Mali, 
              Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, 2012.