Ozone, deplete of thought and intention, only sits with a blanket over a lap of wiring. He scratches once more, a secondary thing, and covers himself with another blanket he’d found being pulled into one of the great compactors out in Warrendale, before he’d come here, been pushed here,in the Cart of Dreams.
—Cart of Dreams can hold two-hundred pounds of man muscle or machine.
—Cart of Dreams, the scream of the century.
Nobody sleeps in the Cart of Dreams.
One of the three is a fact. Number one of the three. Two is something he’ll tell fast-moving passerbys—most everyone, given that he hangs on Old Washington, which is a sublane frontage tube to New Buren and 1004th, which heads right to Loftbridge and the bulk of the outer financial districts.
Some of those passerbys are pizza boys and couriers who at least acknowledge his screaming.
The third is a lie: Ozone sleeps in the Cart of Dreams almost every night.
He scratches his head again and some white dander falls down across his blanket. Not tonight.
—Nobody’s sleeping tonight, said the punks who came by earlier, drunk.
—A hootin’ night.
—A night for Reckoning!
Ozone could hear them deifying the word. They hadn’t noticed him.
—Yeah, especially Martha, cause I’m gonna be so deep up in her wiring.
—Martha! Together, clinking bottles of dark liquor.
They’d walked on.
He scratched, sipped from his canteen, and busied at what remained of his face.
Thinking it sun was foolish. A swaying light and then more splashes of water.
Thinking of rafts and rivers and times gone, Ozone blinked one eye and eyed the oncoming stranger, who was no stranger.
—Roland! Roland you ass-eared oaf.
The short-legged man smiled at Ozone and held up his hatched lantern, casting ugly light on the pavement and rubbish heap.
—Marianas said you’d be here. Said I should find you and bring you in.
—I’m perfectly happy. Ozone waved his hand about at the rubbish. Can’t you see. Cast that light down, will you. He scratched at his head and made suppressing gestures. Roland visored the eye and the two were just shadows.
—What are you doing out here?
—I’m just fine.
They let the rain drip quiet.
—You’ve got water and oil?
Ozone had only water.
—How about your face?
—It’s in a rough place, but I wouldn’t afford to be fixing it regardless, so no real difference, right?
—Marianas wants me to bring you in regardless.
—Rega– well– isn’t that just like Marianas. Always looking out for Ozone, said Ozone.
Roland grunted and sat down in the rubbish, a clack and a bump in the dark.
—How long did it take you to get here? Ozone turned in his cart.
—Some parade of punks and skitz down thataway held me up and ID-screened me. Roland coughed. Couple hours, maybe. Took my phone.
Silence, blackness. A car skidded by. The frontage didn’t have tracks like the New tubes. The car’s tires splashed and rumbled through potholes.
—How’s it out here? asked Roland. He wobbled his lantern back and forth, sliding the visor open here and there. Insects had begun to crawl at its seam, eager for the false warmth.
—Not so bad.
—You get to movin’ at all in that thing?
—Oh sure, said Ozone. Sure. Move, get moved but–
—You want to go somewhere? asked Roland.
—No, figure I’ll tell Marianas you ran out of oil, ended up at the scrappers.
—Well, where then?
Roland didn’t answer, hung his lantern on the Cart, and pushed Ozone out from underneath the bridge, towards the parade.
A thick-grey blue sky clung to the building as an acrobat might. Fire blazoned from small chapels and pyres, around which danced a legion of chop-haired punks, spotted skin, leather; rips of laughter and yelling that, even in its jubilant form, carried a pounding anger.
Roland pushed Ozone past the drums.
A float sat amidst the throng, shaking, seeming a nest. Spoyders, mutli-legged robots without faces, pumped their metallic claws to the thrum of percussion.
—They’ve been reprogrammed, said Ozone idly.
—The whoresons, said Roland.
Ozone looked back at Roland who was staring off. He noticed Ozone.
—The Kims– he gestured at something Ozone couldn’t see– a gaggle of men-women in the throes of a white-robed dance atop the next float. They’ve been rough with four or five passengers since you’ve left. Demanding rides, robbing.
Roland shook his jowls.
—You want guns, huh.
Several humans walked by, drinking.
—Know what all this is for?
Roland shook his head.
—Drinking. Drunks. The wasted.
—Sure. What else’ve they got.
Ozone stared down at the blanket on his lap.
They hung around the edges, walking in the lick of shade at the edge of the buildings.
The snake of the parade seemed headless and neither moved nor stayed, just gyrating in time to the drums. Men played at sport, robots ran oil on the backs of dog and fleshless birds were flung into pits to snap and thrash against each other until one collapsed, blooded; then cash traded hands, men touching card sparks, the losers drifting into the same lick of shade, the winners barraged by a stream of other men, women, dancers. A great fleshless bird dressed as a Native bucked and cawed in its cage atop one of the floats. Tiny mouse creatures ran in the thousands through plastic tubes, hollow things like serpents between floats.
A man with the arm of a sledge, thrashed a gong and the waves of sound toggled the tribe into a tentative silence.
He sat, and a wolf-hooded woman rose and said in a whisper that echoed through speakers implanted in the crowd.
She waved her arms softly at the buildings and from the windows weapons stuffed with paper and rags fired, littering the sky in a long fluttering.
--This seasons fades. Change with, she made a circle with one hand, change without.
The gong. The parade thrashed in new fervor. The smell of liquor or sweat, dispersed fluid, overrode all.
Someone stumbled into the Cart of Dreams and a man-woman sneered down onto Ozone before being told away by Roland.
They flung their white cloak high, covering their face, flashing away as though trying to fly.
—Witch, said Roland.
—Police, said Ozone to Roland. Look at them run. A behemoth galley had swung around the elbow of the parade grounds’ main street, a weighted scimitar of steel suspended longly in the sky, twice as tall as any of the tenements. Tiny compartments at the main deck pulled inward, closing in case some incendiary was tossed from nearby, but the fury of the city-lit masses split apart like dogs to their corners.
Roland pushed Ozone into a side street, headed back into that darkness.
—Where are y–
—Can’t. Can’t be here.
—What do you mean, the fun’s just about to get started!
—Roland! Roland! ROLAND! Let’s go back. I want to watch those punks get stormed.
There was no consideration of stopping on Roland’s part. Whatever ship listed inside of him had made him queasy, but his push did slow the more distant the two got from the parade grounds, turning corner after corner until an elevator.
—Gas the light, will you?
A tiny swarm of nano spun in helix, trapped behind a small laser wall at elevator side, serving as lift operator.
—Up, yeah. Ogretown.
—You’re taking me to Marianas’?
—All that no oil stuff…
—Was true. You are out of oil, and without it those ruts in your circuits’ll dry and you’ll end up where I said you would.
Ozone fingered his sacral wire beneath the blanket.
—Take it up with Marianas. She wants you back in the driver’s seat.
Ozone pulled the smoke of one of his coils and set it to the plate.The steel doors rattled open.
The elevator shot them skyward through the branched cortex of the city, following track to track, the horizontal changes registering only slightly, the two men in the quiet of small betrayal.
The doors gassed open and Roland apologized.
Ozone silently figured his face. Ogretown was a low-rent district, mostly lots. remembered dragging himself off the elevators days prior. It made his head itch, so he let Roland push him into the dockyard in silence.
Marianas was up to her knees in robotics, a soldering gun in left hand, a vid-screen forecasting some repair, remote ear buds in place.
She unplugged and stood on her two metal legs.
—Driver 4, returned. She wasn’t smiling or gloating, simple information. Your new ride? She handled the Cart of Dreams roughly, pulled up the blanket on Ozone’s lap, exposing the alternate cords and fibers.
—Jeminy, she said, You’re days of work, huh.
—I’d rather not be interred again, Mari.
—You’ve made that clear, runaway.
—I’m sorry if it seemed abrupt, I’d just– I thought it’d be easier.
Marianas scowled, she gestured to Roland and they went through the machine shop to Taxi 4. It was covered in dried ichor, dented heavily from the outside. Marianas sparked the passlock and the door swung open.
His old seat. The spill of wires spread up from the hole from which he’d severed himself from the car.
—Took Roland days to get into where you bailed, Driver 4.
Roland grunted. He took his lantern from the cart.
—By then, there were so many bugs sapping at the gone-heat, he had to come out and ask for a gun. Marianas wiped at some of the crusted gore. All cost? More than you make me in a month. She looks at Ozone, doing math visibly. You aren’t worth the reinstall.
—Then why’d you bring me back.
She got up close this face and dug a finger through the gap in his cheek and pulled at the cables running up his jaw.
—Your wires, Driver.
The Demotion of Pluto: Poems and Plays by Deborah Meadows (Released by BlazeVOX Books, 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Poetry capable of elevating the reader into new ways of thinking about language often runs the risk of isolating and ostracizing the reader through challenge and difficulty in the breakage of paradigms. At the same time, buffering the reader and easing them into a difficult work often requires a diffusion of ideas through an accessibility of experimentation and transparent conceptualization. Doing so often risks compromising works that are intellectually evolved and wall themselves up. In Deborah Meadows’s latest collection of writing, The Demotion of Pluto: Poems and Plays, these fine lines are approached and often transcended through the poet’s consistent use of external influences and forces. Her book here, like many of her previous works, erupts through lineages, borrowing tokens from other authors and thinkers contemporary, historical, and ancient. This meshing and mixing produces positive results that transform The Demotion into far more than a “difficult book,” allowing for rewards simply for sitting through the turbulence of the reading experience.
Buck Euro: Some of that ugly, the stink, that trauma: it really makes me sick. That’s why we need a story. We get involved, forget our woes, feel transport.
(from “The Demotion of Pluto” on page 54)
As identified and fortified in her previous book of 2013, Translation—the bass accompaniment: Selected Poems, Meadows harkens on an explosive set of influences to inform her work, similar to the recent “handholding” work of Tracie Morris, to name one example. Rather than list all of her previous influencers and collaborators here, I will simply list the cast of characters in the 47-page title play of The Demotion: Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Odysseus, Ghost of Fox, Anonymous Endangered Fisher, Cosmonaut Sergei Rikalev, HAM operator Margaret Laquinto, Lorine Niedecker, Louis Zukofsky, Buck Euro, Dark Imagebase, and Leo and Hercules (two chimpanzees). As one might assume through the literary nature of these characters, Meadows pulls direct allusions and greater, loftier symbolic meaning through contemporary interpretations. Like the best drama, characters represent more than themselves, and Meadows sufficiently explores representation as both denotation (historical) and connotation (adaptive) in her own context. Bordering on themes of entertainment, absurdity, and critical inquiry, Meadows’s play, like her other dramatic works, is not quite content in any single space of poetic intention.
The play is like the book, as a whole, which demonstrates the blending and breaking of particularities and satisfactions. In the context of the artist and the artist’s creations there is a defying of genre. In “The Demotion” there is often verse, most likely functioning with an element of grandiose subtext, embedded into otherwise cryptic but casual, prosaic dialogue and monologue—think Shakespeare, to name the biggest example. As a connector to the reader, moments like this, moments of creeping beauty, are what Meadows’s does best—that is, the works in this book are filled with surprise and delight amidst sometimes-confusing narrative and context that goes beyond the borders of reader expectation and normalcy.
Keeping the story from appearing straightforward and the context from becoming identified is what arouses a degree of mystery within The Demotion. In a later dramatic piece, the very-much-meta “The Obstacle Plays,” Meadows provides a sequence of scenes of two sisters, Kinsan-G and Fetch, along with an otherly old man named Clamp. Philosophical and situational, each scene is like a new experiment or proposed idea framed in exclusive dialogue. Clamp as the other allows for subtle and direct levels of feminism to be cast outward with his sense of existing as a target, and while the exact commentary in these situations remains humble or covert, Meadows’s at the least provides a platform for inquiry. Reading “The Obstacle Plays” resulted in me thinking of Meadows working through her own mind as she wrote the play out—there was a breakage from complete immersion here, as with most of her works.
The book contains one additional play, “Nothing to Do,” which reads like a sitcom or a sketch—two characters, Jay and Adelaine, speak over the course of several pages in a setting “neither domestic nor institutional,” and though not canon-shattering, the work is potent and pronounced, memorable yet unexaggerated. I am reminded of American Splendor, or Coffee and Cigarettes. One might wonder how such a piece would translate into a stage performance, or a video form. And of course, it would be in error to not mention Meadows’s previously-established commitments to collaboration, adaptation, and evolution of her works into other spaces with other artists, thus representing a dynamic multidirectional trail of influence.
all of us are here: same space, same decay
(from “when body is earth yet to cover” on page 58)
In some of the poems that Meadows’s provides in The Demotion, the larger philosophies and part of that grandiose subtext previously mentioned, which I can’t help but describe as a humanistic drive, leak out like secrets being exposed. As I made note again and again, the poems here are very inquisitive, and give off tones of active, not reactive, searching. The larger motifs that cross works here, binding them together a la “the book,” include the meaning behind authenticity, integrity, functionality, and responsibility. From the displacement of the characters in her plays to her own multitude of voices, to even the final sequence of poems in the book that decay out of their selves, Meadows provides blunt statements, often nihilistic, often existential, on why we are who we are and what we are supposed to realize and then give back to the world. Not quite depressing but certainly uncomfortable, these notions of existence and purpose in Meadows’s most poetic moments are in many cases the most straightforward moments in otherwise mysterious works.
adhere (smoke to wet paint)
routine (to glass pane)
("modesty” on page 122)
Still, it is a challenge to define Meadows’s work in The Demotion in any singular way, which is partly why this book shines so brightly. In some of the later poems, there is a quality that is less static and direct, with subconscious, sub-present explorations of reactions to world events (political, environmental) and an almost spontaneous sense of poetic existence. “Medium Logic Machines” reads like a cross between William Burroughs and Joanne Kyger. “Slang of Regime Deferral” reads like Michael Gizzi. There is a sense of play here, and it is rooted in an intensity that much of contemporary poetry lacks. Said playful intensity reminds me of Keats’s negative capability, and reminds me of Stein’s exceptional linguistic topsy-turvy directives.
Would this book benefit from having greater explanations about each of the works? Probably. But would something be lost through a closer and more explicit explanation? Definitely. Meadows’s work before The Demotion and through The Demotion maintains Ezra Pound’s “make it new” in 2017 better than most other writers I’ve read, and yet in an age where more and more content is accessible and more and more content is designed to flow “correctly” and succinctly, the idea of “newness” both within literary art and beyond feels counterintuitive. That said, these works by Meadows certainly have their own place, their own spirit, and in so respond to Meadows’s fascinating commentary on the certainty of functionality and responsibility in society—by being certainly functional and responsible and yet not completely definable.
It's darth. Happy March. almost. February is still here. February has moved out of range of federal signal blockers, in order to be able to transmit a livestream assessment of the position it currently holds, after mass arrests and federally backed corporate takeovers sought to violate February's right to exist as a sovereign month, as part of a larger collective body which makes up what we used to refer to as our seasons. Our seasons are missing in action. White supremacist gangs with fossil-fuel corporate holdings have attained critical seats of power in the federal government, in a little white house behind a big fence, and they continue to order troops of soldiers to enforce removal of the seasons, including little months like February, on the grounds that these months are too colorful, and represent, through their suffering and violation due to pollution of their elements by corporate and federal fossil-fuel interests, too much of a reference to what the currently dismantled Environmental Protection Agency would have referred to as "Climate Change--" were that phrase "Climate Change" still to be considered legal to say. Gag orders on phrases such as "season," and "Climate Change" have been in effect since the beginning of February, the little month which has just lost its status as part of our calendar. Says one Republican press agent at the white house: "February has so traditionally been part of the cosmology referring to seasons, or has been known to...refer to a transitional phase from one of Mother Nature's states to another...this little month has its roots in a season, in pagan traditions, it represents heathen ideology. As such, February's status was as a place-marker in a now defunct calendar/climate system which is being phased out." In order to replace the term "seasons," the White House behind the big fence has issued a statement indicating that the use of the terms "sweater weather," "shorts weather," or "closed-toe shoe weather, with...maybe a scarf" can legally be used. These newly approved phrases can now be heard on Brightbart News, broadcasted as part of what is still being called "The Weather Report." Federally approved news source Brightbart News Channel will soon be phasing out The Weather Report...meanwhile, another February fugitive, the groundhog, long-time purveyor of the season of Spring, is being held in a detention center fifty miles outside of Cannonball, North Dakota, in a cage with some confiscated medical supplies, said to have belonged to a Lakota medic named Red Fawn. Red Fawn in being held in jail, due to the fact that she bears an animal name. Brightbart News Channel issued an alert on Friday, warning that any more humans found to have animal names will need to report immediately to the Bureau Of Non-Animal Name Affairs (formerly known as the Bureau Of Indian Affairs), which has begun working in collaboration with Exxon-Mobil, and Energy Transfer Partners--Sun Company, Inc./Sunoco, to enforce the new Non-Animal Name Order. Under this order, all those not bearing state-approved approved first, or last names must relinquish their personal data to a newly approved “Climate-Believer/Mother Nature Lover/Pagan/Muslim/Heathen Registry," to which all citizens who are not registered as white supremacists/fossil-fuel stock-holders must add their names. Any link between the fossil-fuel industry and the white supremacists which was previously denied has now been proudly admitted to, by the current administration. Non-white supremacist groundhogs, numbering in the millions, have not been excluded from the federal mandate to give over their personal data to the heathen registry, although this last is proving difficult to enforce, as few, if any federal employees speak groundhog. Animals in general, should they show any indication of behavior which alludes to Climate Change (delayed hibernation, refusal to copulate in predicted patters, or tardiness in leaving for annual migrations), are subject to arrest and detention as well, pending further notice. One tree was arrested in Pennsylvania last Thursday, for blooming early, on charges of colluding with a conspiracy to leak information concerning an early Spring. The tree's lawyers are working pro-bono, 24/7, to ensure their client's right to a fair trial.
That's the news. Check out February's live feed, coming to you live in your sanctuary cities. Let your love give you courage to speak its name in all seasons, for all seasons, to resist fear and hatred. Or, in the words of Kahlil Gibran, if you like:
But if in your fear you would seek only
love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing floor,
Into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
Except for gathering clouds,
nothing stirs now in the valley.
A thousand years ago,
a dozen tribes flourished--
the Lune, the Ari, the Kizona,
others. But then one night,
consistent with prediction,
the men felt a malaise in
their village: blood commenced
to harden. A limping ibex
fell at winter’s end; the flaccid
wind folded in on itself.
Earth got used to the silence.
To harden a limping ibex,
the men felt a malaise in-
consistent with prediction.
The Lune, the Ari, the Kizona,
fell at winter’s end. The flaccid
earth got used to the silence,
their village blood. Commenced,
a dozen tribes flourished
others. But then one night,
a thousand years ago,
wind folded in on itself.
Nothing stirs now in the valley,
except for gathering clouds.
Jason Barry's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Cortland Review, Angle (UK), Noble / Gas Qtrly, The Citron Review, and other journals. He currently lives in Xi'an, China, where he works as a Lecturer in English at Jiaotong University.
Invocation by Jennifer S. Cheng (Released by New Michigan Press, 2010)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
"So that afterward in the darkness as I am riding home, I am looking out the window, thinking of octopi on the ocean floor and what they see at night." (from page 7)
Jennifer S. Cheng's Invocation is the early precursor and prelude to her award-winning, mind-dropping House A from 2016. This proclaimed essay, a kite of kaleidoscopes rustling in the wind, a hum of radiant and indefatigable mystery, is genre bending and genre defying, splicing autobiographical narrative with prose poem with image cluster. At 37 pages with 23 images, this work is at least as image-based as textual, yet the work is not wholly anything specific: because it is a work of full emptiness. But it does have a foundation, and that foundation is Cheng’s uncanny and fascinating voice.
As an exploration of what it means to be vocal and what it means to be voiceless, Invocation searches Cheng’s own history. It is a short book that navigates through the density of life as part of a family and the resulting smothering. Cheng’s world is one that is fluid (see: the fully-realized presence of water in House A) and yet it is a world of core disconnection. Here we have what it is to not speak, and to thus learn the action of speech.
Ideas of noise and sound form here, in this literary uplifting, this essay of invocation. The path of one’s voice, as a proper extension of identity, is sought here. The traditions of the reserved woman in a space of domesticity and domicile history are challenged here. The weight of silence within is accommodated by the weight of silence without, and that unity is reconciled here. Cheng wastes no time or energy through her text and visuals to unravel her history and her thorough struggles and beautiful courage in such an unraveling. And yet this essay does not seek to provide significant resolutions. Instead it is a preview, an opening of a throat on the verge of a song.
Metaphorically, Cheng’s Invocation is the step forward into her own voice, the poet finding the poetics, the individual learning their limits, authority, authenticity, integrity. Cheng’s invocation has long-since found its validation, and magically, Cheng’s voice is greater, fuller, more present in 2017 than ever before. Or so it seems, while the wind howls before the silence only moments away.
for the thing that came before.
for the hours of palms, spent leaf fronds, the scatter of coconut oil on the back
of a shower wall.
for a restful night in a trench, and for a crust of sawdust around the
thorax of a beetle
for beetles, the living crust around the earth's core.
for magma. for Christ's sake.
for the thing that drifts down at sunset with a big sign telling everyone - go inside, the Christians are coming,
there's work to be done in the bedroom.
for all ten dreams that flashed faster and faster, one an etch a sketch, the next an earthquake,
for so on, and so forth
for passing lanes, blow up dolls, and iron. For rust, ruin, dashed hopes,
damp cloths, wet naps, rough seas - for the porpoise
for the wrong title on the last poem
for fences, and guidelines, spritzer in a glass, for the bubbles, for her, for her smile, for her miscarriage
for fresh faces, for the soft cloth of a bib and for burping
for last Wednesday, last summer, a classy laugh - for frenzy and guardians and expenditures, and for small people who can't hope to reach the top floor
for the world's sky, for another sour lime and a rush hour drive and for auburn: the color, the beautiful woman, the school, the time of day
for all phrases of moon, and for the dirt that crumbles, sadly again, in a clenched fist
for gravity, sanity, for the placid and the place, for a series of hyphens that are close, but ultimately a waste of time
for the line, and the French, their coffee, their moustaches
for the unmowed grass under a father's corpse, for midafternoon, dandelions, for trowels, ticks, and the taste of toothpaste
for a legacy, for the lake, that summer in Alaska, for mosquitoes and olive oil, toast, sand, rough skin, and for the pleasure of breathing
for pace, power, portents, p's and crimps, skin, sashes, trash, bends in the road, the hem of a skirt, the lash of a whip, the breast, the dish, the banter, the crush - for senses, tense thoughts, a loose leash
for the worst heat in years
for the day before today, and the one before that
for a range, so vast, and a hat, just resting, on the saddle of a porch
for boulders, fields of them, for sign language and the right time to say the last thing anyone ever dreamed would be said so loud,
for that, yes
and for hands, a moment
for veins and vultures, and the slap of a splayed wave, for memory and blue balls, and hernias, for fasting and juice, for ridiculous, for high school sports
for pulp, black leather, thin lenses, and that split in the base of an oak tree that is wide and coated in sap
for Hershey, Pennsylvania, for the Beatles
for the beat of a harbor, heart attacks, and for drowning - for seals, for barking and fish, for flops and blood and more, always for more
for rest breaks, rest stops, sun blots, spotted leopards, jungles in general,
for landings, stairwells, for basements, for fresh snow
for eating fresh snow
for eating snow
for eating fresh
for belts, and buckles, for chin straps and zippers, Andrew and his attitude, and spinsters, troubadours, and for words without a w or an a or an r in them
for lawyers, for thwarted, for worn down, born agains, for the hardest mother fuckers in the South
for friends underground, impounded, over seas, aloof, underfoot, for dogs, both small and sinister - for crystals and cackling, for the portion of time spent rationing food on the last day
for avocados. for the greenest butter the earth can poop
for the rush of standards, for grids, gaps in teeth, for character and plot and for the cast of Lost
for sounds like oh, ee, stay, plush, spunk, lunge, dagger, scratch, thirst, whore, lackey, cornhusk, split a sun, send, curse, fast, spat, lap, gunk, gulp and sin
for single, for Jove, for bisexuals and liberty, libraries, candy and the last slug of whiskey
for finals week, for periods, again, for full moons and blowjobs and thunder and spin cycles and dirges and the Greeks
for the Black Keys, for rock, for lightsabers and penny mags and sick tricks and glasses and tight jeans and smocks and blazers and bull cuts
for hearts, the queen of spades, her lovers, all lovers,
for Maggie's and harpies, for a gloss of sweat on her lips
for the hole that's dug and the pie that's baked
for indulgence, for the mind
for the last minute, the thought that comes as you're standing in line.
for a bean, and a plant, and a place in the sky
for the trees and the sex, and for the rest, the rise in a chest,
for culled, sorting, the lash and a pulse of pepper in eggs. for breakfast, oh -
for Ellsworth and Ignatius, for language, second helpings, rats, for water in the mouth and the span of time Spain ruled its own country
for knots, porridge, for a hundred boys lost in a hedge. for a giant's thunder and a lee breeze and a cold shoulder and a high rise.
for serious people who have hands made of Crisco and raccoons on their feet
for the patience it takes and
for ten lines, two hundred syllables, for a mouthful of garbage and the last ride ever made by Jesse James, for his necklace and hat, and the men he loved
for the eraser, the taser, the chaser, the booze, the bitch, the bender, the morning after - for the French, again, there in the light, but not in the dark
for fastidious, for edits, for the couch, the slump - for the proud brow, the storm, the lip, for upper and dinner, and the day that goes by where everything is the way it shouldn't have been
for acceptance and rollicking, words like cowlick, paltry, unbendable, sporty, knick knack, space cadet,
for sound and rumpus and brouhaha
for a dream that means more than blue
for a face, sunny trails, for cacti and catfish, novice and acolyte, for amateur, for hurdles and patience, once more
for Microsoft, and VPN and MSN and sent texts and melted wax and a life of fingertips and the dirt on the ridges of a glass, and the jagged but unanswered cry of mourn,
for four, forlorn and a bridge, from my world to yours
I love you! It's darth. I have been sitting on the largest clock tower I can find, dropping daffodils on people. daffodils don't hurt when they hit you from far up. Newton's Law Of Daffodils would be an absurd premise, just don't go there. happy valentine's day! this would be an excellent time to get married. we could wear yellow. ducklings would mob us, that's how cute we'd be! the main thing is, I'm going about this proposal posthumously, so get ready to be widowed, right out the gate. or to be a widower (to use another gender-specific term), if we added a few letters to the word "widower," we'd get the word "wildflower." just saying. wait-- I hear music at our wedding! it is the sound of a hundred thousand conceptions of babies on american soil, conceived of immigrant families. a conservative electorate from the Goldman Sachs investment firm is singing "happy birthday" in the wings, to these tiny zygotes, granting them citizenship in the united states. long live conception, the moment of life, and long may the conceived hold citizenship in any country where their parents may, or may not have copulated. at our wedding, if we are surrounded by thousands of immigrants who are copulating upon arrival across our borders, let's have enough champagne for them. do you mind marrying someone who's dead? this is the best time to be married, here, in the worst political climate. our honeymoon will be one continuous protest against every evil we can confront. we'll support each other. we will not let refugee boats start sinking a hundred miles from Greece, we'll be there. we'll snorkel beneath everyone, carry them on our backs through the streets of Greece into new clothes, hot dinners, jobs, housing, we'll pay for doctor visits when needed. we'll hang out in alleys in every city's night, confront rape before it gets the chance to even start to talk smack. we'll stop rape, you and me. we'll launch an offensive against circumcision, against all non-consensual genital mutilation--all of this we'll do, in advance of our first anniversary. make t-shirts with me. they could say: "if the bible told you to whack your baby's penis off when he was born, you wouldn't go and do it...right?" we'll take all of it seriously. we'd have to save the world together a little each day. in order to let you know I'm in earnest, I'll write you a limerick:
a nice person called you there once was, who got married to me just because, when they said it was foolish as christmas is yule-ish, you told them "be Stills, Nash, and Cros!"
hear this: I promise I'll always wear my helmet. I'll never take you by force. I'll throw my cape down in a puddle, to protect you from getting soggy. if I rust in the rain, just keep me as a hood-ornament for your viking funeral pyre.
it's never too late for love's crazy black glove, thrust into the lightning of redemption.
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Run the Red Lights by Ed Skoog (Released by Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
I write about the West and the South and home,
their tenderness and trouble and the weird spirits
breaking the best days. Still I find myself down
by the river at twilight.
from “Run the Red Lights” (page 24)
Ed Skoog’s third book is far from a masterpiece but continues to reflect upon the poet’s range of voice and expressed interest in the self and the other as directly observed through the callings of everyday life. Following behind the now-ethereal releases Mister Skylight (2009) and Rough Day (2013), which turned Skoog outward into the world as a poet worth knowing, Run the Red Lights continues the narrative without sacrificing legitimacy or bending to the status quo of 21st century American poetry. Fortified integrity allows Skoog’s greatest strengths and most visible struggles to be established in plain sight.
At 73 pages and 32 poems, Run the Red Lights is a temporal kaleidoscope of musings, reflections, and considerations brought forth by a poet whose time appears to be predominantly occupied by parenthood and familial responsibilities and respects. A combination of retrospection on the locales, family members, and otherwise symbolic figures and moments Skoog encountered in his life, the poems in this small book are densely woven yarns. They are stories filled with concrete details and abstract realities. The full life Skoog has lived and continues to live is one of clarity and is indeed admirable, though often such fullness, as seen in the poems themselves, tends to sprawl across the page, twist and warp and ironically strike out as limitation or constraint of the poems and their core subject matter.
[. . .] Stepping
into the shower at night, I am a howl
disembodied in the steam, concealing
what it might show. While they prepare
my body I hope a similar mood
assembles in the room, which I imagine
is steel and tile, with a drain.
from “Showering at Night” (page 31)
Despite the unpredictability and (perhaps) uncontrollable spines of these poems and how they carry themselves, their themes range greatly and are exciting, exquisite, tantalizing. Isn’t that always the case with Skoog’s poetry? The book is divided into three major sections (with an opening poem erupting straight out of Topeka, Kansas, where Skoog was once born and returns to timelessly, time and time again). Each of these three sections carries a slew of subjects, and is codified under banners of greater, and more wide-reaching themes. Part one includes poems about theater and acting, the act of nakedness, the Grateful Dead, houses lived within, the act of driving, the act of playing banjo, and the act of karaoke, to name a few. Skoog explores family, the nature and nurture of the physical body, and approaches the many qualities of awareness toward location and space and history.
The second section in Run the Red Lights explores parenthood, domesticity, the behaviors of the home, and, as Skoog is so well known to do, dives right into the cause and effect of the self. In the context of being a parent, Skoog’s continued voice, which arguably has not seen much dramatic change since his last release, is instead evolved through his new role as raising someone other than himself and taking care of a little version of himself. There is true magic of reflection occurring here in this book, and when it comes to an evolution of the eyes of a poet, the evolution is occurring through this new displacement a la responsibility.
Skoog tackles the minute details: the baby playing with the mirror, the microcosm of the combing of hair, the witnessing of protection from motel room spiders, and so on. More enduringly, Skoog also presses into traumatic and epic life circumstances that bring a greater sense of mortality and worth to the role of the parent as a protector in the context of the child’s presence. Episodes as such include the 2012 shooting at Seattle’s Café Racer, close to Skoog’s home at the time, and the Katrina flooding of the New Orleans Museum of Art. These scenarios, life experiences, are just two of the beautiful memoir mementos that bring out Skoog’s finest observations and most visceral sensibilities.
[. . .] The dismissal. A few days later
my son had his pertussis shots
and we strollered to the café sidewalk,
windows blue-tarped from inside, and on
the concrete, a thickness of candles
melted down, photos in baggies, laminated
testimonies, a potted sunflower,
a thousand secret objects.
from “Café Racer” (page 38)
Finally, the third section, which gave me the most trouble. Opened with arguably the best poem in the book, a short, lyrical piece poignant and humble in its appreciation toward a hot shower, the last sequence is harder to define, and may be emblematic of the challenges of focus and concentration in the life of the author. Skoog describes scheduling, fatherhood, and development of the built landscape, to name a few themes. Subjects include chaotic (though neutrally so) environments and objects, including a playground, a construction site, a radio, and the act of rock climbers climbing—all sets of images that are difficult to set into focus. Unfortunately, these realms of disjointed and staggered imagery are trying when printed on the page, and pull the reading experience apart, save for some of the more beautiful lines, which are always, of course, expected and received through Skoog’s lyrics. The challenge of narrative is overwhelming here, as it has been elsewhere.
As seen over the course of his personal canon, Skoog is a poet whose voice benefits from explosive lines that arrive calmly amidst poems bound to and constrained by the life story. In Run the Red Lights, we see some of Skoog’s finest language (quotes used in my response here are intentionally evocative of this idea), and yet we also see some of the major pitfalls Skoog brings with him. The enormity of an enormous life can serve as anchor but can often serve as burden, and Skoog’s work falls on the line between the two. My personal feelings toward the poems include a desire for more of the stark, more of the chiseled, more of the slow and orderly. Whether Skoog will ever take his poetics toward that space is a question that cannot be answered here. For now, it is important to look at Run the Red Lights as a wondrous book of rough beauty that showcases the transition and challenge of a poet entering a new fatherhood and thus reaching new levels of introspection.
[. . .] And smoke converting
past into future. I’m not beyond
the future’s conclusions,
future spirits seeing my intentions
wherever I hide from myself.
from “Downstream” (page 56)
Review by Judson Hamilton (@judson_hamilton)
TV in the corner
(pearly whites sparkle as our new Oral B
leftover ketchup packets
Bound. Chair. Rope.
Endless Lined "Up against the wall!"
with glitter blackened hands hours
facts of absence rendered senseless by testimonial opinion polls and
Seared white hot with
the panting of
old age and
the wet heat of breath
(there was so much ash. there was so much ash. there was so much ash. there was so much ash.)
Person 811 stood with one hand spread at the glass panel over the woman, stroking with his thumb and his ring finger the raspy spread of where her body breathed. The woman’s eyes were closed and kept on closing – innumerable lids. Her gut was stacking up at each new instant with fat in fat like pyramids. An ageless dark rouged through her shape tracing her veins. His tips ached where he could not remember before that he’d touched her, and not the other way around. Other men before him had left their mark there on the glass from the same rubbing, though the father could not smell them or defer – he could only taste the itch of it.
Yellow Rabbits will continue its minimalist paradigm into the future. And we'd love you to join us.
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