April 2024 Poetry Feature: New Metamorphoses

By ALAN BAER, CARLIE HOFFMAN, CAMPBELL MCGRATH, and FARAH PETERSON.

Table of Contents:

  • Campbell McGrath, “Hendrixiana”
  • Carlie Hoffman, “A Condo for Sale Overlooking the Cemetery in Kearny, NJ” and “Reading Virginia Woolf in a Women in Literature Class at Bergen County Community College”
  • Farah Peterson, “Daedalus in Exile” and “Pasiphaë’s Grief”
  • Alan Baer, “Orpheus”

 

Hendrixiana
By Campbell McGrath

Small wonder so many itch to melt their ore
in his crucible, it’s the utterly American
way in which he vanquishes said instrument,
insouciant ardor transmuted to the electric
and hence into our veins, quotidian idiom
railed against by a gypsy flag and then he’s lit
the thing aflame to worship its complexity,
axed its elegance to wood and tangled wire.

And the way he smiles then, beyond oracular,
matter of fact and digging it and amply
backed by countervailing rhythms,
not Gilgamesh but Enkidu, not Orpheus
charming the beasts of the field with his lyre
but beasts run wild, every field on fire.

 

A Condo for Sale Overlooking the Cemetery in Kearny, NJ
By Carlie Hoffman

You must imagine Eurydice
     happy, that hell, too,
is an industrious world: round

dining table alive
     with breadcrumbs, rabbits
handed off one morning

on someone’s
     front porch, an Eastern sun
bleating down across

blunted ax lines
     blurred like letters
on an optometrist’s screen. You need

to consider what she gave
     to herself, if you move
through this world again, caught

between the rainbowed bridge traffic
     of delivery trucks—staggered fish
headed north for winter.

This is where you leave
     the dishes in the sink
of an apartment where

the rent’s gone
     too high and, still wanting
to stay a while, you believe

in this glimmer of land
     among the car repair shops,
the sewage plant, overlooking

the parking lot and graveyard’s
     fertile grass. This is where,
finally, so much life

on your hands,
     you will sleep: Eurydice knew
where she was going—

her white gown
     blown downward, her music
bleeding from the inside, out.

A blushed snow fox
     descending the farm’s
technology. She didn’t

leave the light
     but swallowed it,
demanding a better song.

 

Reading Virginia Woolf in a Women in Literature Class at Bergen County Community College
By Carlie Hoffman

I know it’s October because I wear
shoes without socks. The air is good
to me & I sweat less through my shirts.
Entire days of trees on campus, of stray geese
crowding the grass near the traffic
circle like groupies, as if
the honking cars were a rock band.
It’s October & Keith, my high school
crush, waves from the back
of the classroom. I have no idea why
he’s here, the radiator hissing
at his back, except the cliché of boys
who always return from where they’ve
left, like Odysseus but less
plagued by spring & the sea, the mis-
understanding of his nature but I never
asked him & now something inside
me shifts off balance even though
my stomach’s been twisted
for hours but I’m too hopped up
on coffee & Midol that I have no point
of view & the afternoon becomes a mood
tilting toward Keith like shifting weight
from one foot to the other, he is
obnoxiously here & he fucked
my older sister, I am just now
remembering, though this was a few
years ago & long after the day I’d
tagged along to go apple picking,
dirt from the groves still
in my nails late at night
when my sister asked if I’d ever
kissed anyone. I was just beginning
freshman year, working to get my time
down for swim team where I’d spent summer
ditching birthdays & the ice cream
truck’s persuasive tune to practice
the butterfly & freestyle & learning to dive
less crooked, which was going as well
as expected until Andrew
sat next to me on the bus
ride home from the pool during tryouts,
his chlorine-dried hand on my shoulder
a little too long without asking when he asked
my name & he has a crush on you
said my friend Becca while faking
a gagging sound in her throat. I said yes
even though I hadn’t kissed anyone & maybe
this was my first true poem, lying
to my sister in support of love, stealing imagery
from the books I’d read in the library
to avoid the cafeteria: A girl at camp
gets fingered in the lake. A girl goes
missing & is happy being
gone, a little grateful, even. Even before
Shakespeare & Lavinia, Ovid & Philomela,
I believed dead girls
lived eternally as trees & on bad-
weather nights their leaves flew into
the gutters, choking the rain pipes:
fishing-boats against the moon,
wrote Woolf on grief;
giant artichokes towered among the roses.
The world can be the saddest fish tank.
In the orchard my sister throws an apple
at me then flirts with Keith.
In class his arm means
nothing as I study
admiration, glancing at the girl
three desks ahead, I had seen her
at parties, the kind where all the boys
wear V-necks with tight jeans & play music
in bands, smoke weed in the kitchen, controlling
the music, yelling lyrics into a kind
of oblivion, spilling beer on whoever
they’ve grabbed to dance while I watch
her from my spot against the fridge
as she lights a cigarette, she is effort-
lessly cool in her black tuxedo vest, taking
a break from University but keeping up
on credits. She gets invited
to the Stone Pony in Asbury Park
on weeknights to listen
to the boys play their out-of-tune
guitars & she already
read The Bell Jar, she tells our professor
who adjusts the volume
for the projector & I am writing
in my notebook: read The Bell Jar.
We have just finished
a unit on poetry & are moving on
to prose. The professor shuts the lights
& a woman stands dead-
center on a spot-lit stage without
an audience because it would have been
impossible, she says, for a woman to have
written the plays of Shakespeare
in the age Shakespeare
had written. I write
this down in my notebook
because Judith could not & the girl
from the party who has already read
The Bell Jar is staring
out the window while Keith
rests his head in the warmth
of his palm & Andrew rides the bus
to the swim meet where I didn’t
make the cut & Becca
has just found out I had sex
before her & she’s calling
me a slut & my sister sinks
her teeth into the apple
while the geese applaud
from the lawn & six days before
Woolf marries she finishes
this novel & in October
she will read this over &
decide whether it is
to go straight into Hell.

 

Daedalus in Exile
By Farah Peterson

Single fatherhood
is hard

I made Icarus
a true child
instead of my ideal
but later I regretted this
inventors’ pride
because the boy
stacked blocks
badly, later
remembered only enough astronomy
to put into bad verse, which he sang
badly
He was, granted, pretty
but he was otherwise
merely alive

Not just at the end but that whole time
drawing him sine curves and triangles
his little brown hand
negating them,
covering them, striking them out
felt like we were trapped
in a room together
I didn’t know I loved him

When a bird pushes its young
out of the nest it
knows the
likely result
So did I

All I can think is
this is the price the gods extracted
Take Arachne—she
risked nothing with her boast
To be a better weaver is
no hardship though you
narrow yourself to a point

But the skill of creation is
essentially cruelty

 

Pasiphaë’s Grief
By Farah Peterson

Eventually he asked
don’t you think you’re

overdoing it

a little
Because after all
the job
is to birth live babies
Not to mourn the ones who died
unborn
or to hate
unduly
the man who does not mourn them

And so
knowing the god of the sea does not
answer only male prayers but
being of the sea must also share her nature I
accepted the bull knuckling up on the wet sand
encumbered by a frilled and weedy caul
as the instrument, however bizarre
of my own desire and

Though some rites gain power through repetition
others are potent just
because we need them I

made myself into Io, who became a moon
and
I, Oh—

I made myself something to hold it all, and

They later said what I made
could only eat human flesh but that’s
a lie because I made it
strong enough to eat men
with my own milk

Two wet commas snuffling against my breast
and it grew
two sharp moons

So I could sit on my throne and smile
while it gored and impaled

And this would go on, as was fitting until
someone bothered to spell it all out
The red cursive nonsense
of blood looping in porcelain bowls
unspooling across the labyrinth

And if Ariadne helped that’s ok as
I guess it is only from
a daughter
that I could have accepted
a stop-work order

 

Orpheus
By Alan Baer

When I wore the jacket, nobody thought of punks
or a movie star playing strong and iconoclastic.
I dropped tartar sauce from late-night fish and chips
on it, and the oval dark spot never came out.
Karin helped me select it. She was midway
between friend and girlfriend, and less far along
toward wife, ex-wife, woman turning away
after glimpsing me picking out cereal at Albertsons.
All the nights that year had garish, hulking moons.
I concluded that after you die, your skin isn’t yours
anymore, though you call after it faintly, without words.
The new wearer, if he’s sensitive, may try querying
into the dark behind him for permission. I last saw
the jacket draped over the back of a park bench
in Santa Cruz. Evening got foggy. I went back
to look for it, but it wasn’t there. I’d never seen a bench
so wide and empty, like hands letting a bird go free.

 

Alan Baer lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He works to bring digital techniques to progressive political candidates. He studied Physics at U.C. Davis and Literature at Trinity College, Dublin. His poems have appeared in Guesthouse and have been nominated for a Best of the Net award. He’s an alum of the Sewanee Review and Kenyon Review Summer workshops, and is currently pursuing an MFA at the Warren Wilson low-residency MFA Program for Writers.

Carlie Hoffman is the author of When There Was Light (Four Way Books, 2023), winner of the National Jewish Book Award and This Alaska (Four Way Books, 2021), winner of the Northern California Publishers & Authors Gold Award in poetry and a finalist for the Foreword Indies Book of the Year Award. She is the translator of White Shadows: Anneliese Hager and the Camera-less Photograph (Atelier Éditions, 2023) and Selma Meerbaum Eisinger’s Blütenlese (forthcoming with Hanging Loose Press). Her honors include a 92Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize, a Poets & Writers Amy Award, and the Loose Translation Prize and her work has been published in POETRY Magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, Kenyon Review, Jewish Currents, The Slowdown, Columbia Journal, New England Review, and elsewhere. Carlie is the founding editor and Editor in Chief of Small Orange Journal.

Campbell McGrath is the author of twelve books of poetry, including XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century, Nouns & Verbs: New and Selected Poems, and Fever of Unknown Origin (Knopf, 2023). He has received numerous literary prizes for his work, including the Kingsley Tufts Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship, a USA Knight Fellowship, and a Witter-Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress. His poetry appears regularly in the New Yorker, APR, Poetry and Paris Review, and has been published in Harper’s, The Atlantic and on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Born in Chicago, he lives in Miami Beach and teaches at Florida International University, where he is the Philip and Patricia Frost Professor of Creative Writing and a Distinguished University Professor of English.

Farah Peterson’s work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Atlantic, The Florida Review,Ploughshares,The Threepenny Reviewand elsewhere. She is a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago.

April 2024 Poetry Feature: New Metamorphoses

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