Poetry

October 2021 Poetry Feature: Sasha Stiles

By SASHA STILES

This month we welcome back contributor Sasha Stiles, whose TECHNELEGY is coming soon in hardcover from Black Springs Press Group. 


Completion: Are You Ready for The Future?

            An ars poetica cybernetica*

Are you ready for the future?
If you are, today is your day. And when tomorrow hits you like a ton of bricks, you’ll appreciate today even more. Because in reality, tomorrow is a line you walk towards, and now is a line you never see. But you just didn’t see it yet. Reflect. Now the anticipation is here. Finally.

Are you ready for the future?
That depends on how you define ready.

October 2021 Poetry Feature: Sasha Stiles
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Poems from the Arabian Gulf: Natasha Burge, Danabelle Gutierrez, and Hera Naguib

The Common’s fall issue, out October 25, includes a portfolio of writing from the Arabian Gulf countries. The poets in this feature—NATASHA BURGE, DANABELLE GUTIERREZ, and HERA NAGUIB—all have poems in that portfolio. 

Table of Contents

Hera Naguib | “The Sentence”

Danabelle Gutierrez | “Self-Portrait”

Natasha Burge | “Baqala”

 

THE SENTENCE
By Hera Naguib

I brood over the sedated limbs of men  
         that twine like drenched wheatgrass 
over the prison floor. Mostly innocent, 

without trial for years, the whistleblower  
         on T.V. reveals. Behind him, prisoners 
dangle from wilted ankles & shriek 

like dragged hooks. His voice, incognito, 
         robotic, he explains: “in this country, 
everyone fears imprisonment.” 

Here, where I steam rice & almonds, 
         his caution—a dark wing that eyes me
—climbs corners, combs awake memory: 

the fiction we, too, marauded for safety. 
         Accidental, we mumbled, my family 
and I, of the mark on father’s forehead. 

O curdle of shame. O hilt of anger: 
         what is the price of silence, this secret 
I spurn across continents: the gun 

harrowed to father’s head, the order to leave 
          that country, mum as a tool? Bound 
away, I unwived entire snow plains 

riding out of the Toronto airport;
          each psychedelic truck that blared 
past me on Lahore’s highway. I haven’t 

witnessed the exact baton of exile, 
          though still, I spew revolt, like Loujain, 
who hurls up and drives to the Saudi 

border, her gaze steadied at the penumbral 
          freedom spread onto the night that canopies 
over the lit causeway. I thought I would

disappear, she smiles sideways at the camera, 
          I was silent for so long. She peels 
her brocade scarf, its swaying tip,

from the dissident wind. While the two  
          of us brace for what brims beyond 
the last turnpike & those roadsides

always chokered in gold lights.

 

SELF-PORTRAIT
(In a constantly changing landscape)
By Danabelle Gutierrez

I
Pink bathing suit and barefoot, collects sigay,
shells, in Puerto Azul’s gunmetal sand. Collects
bottles nestled in the overgrown talahib in
the vacant lot, across. Green plaid skirt,
matching tie, white blouse, and pigtails,
Protestant girl in a Catholic school, signs the cross.

II
Sequined T-shirts and shorts, collects jasmine
flowers in the courtyard. Eats gambari sandwiches,
tahina, peeled pink shrimp enveloped in flatbread—
baladi, halved. Memorizes zayak, w ismak e, w e dah?
w doesn’t hesitate when asked fin el bayt? Where is home?
Has memorized sharaa miteen khamsa w siteen. Folds
paper airplanes, lets them fly from a balcony in Zamalek.

III
Babydoll dresses and army boots, collects Polaroids
developed in the pocket of a designer fur coat fished
out from the dumpster. The still unperfected Arabic
mouth, tastes Deutsch. Learns umlaut, learns Österreich,
ist ein Ausländer aus Philippinen, no papers, hides
under blonde hair, red hair, sagging jeans, learns singkil,
dances in the daylight at Stephansplatz, avoids getting caught
in the kawayan opening and closing to a beat, a rhythm.
Learns misdirection, says look, look at my golden fans, twirling.

IV
Naked, standing in front of the air conditioner, collects
alienation. Hesitates when asked saan ka sa’tin?
Sa atin? Ours? Yours, surely. Mine, question mark.
Spends hours in the ocean, forgets the language
of the sea, the rate of exchange, rough sand on skin.
Soles, tar-stained in Qurum, learns Tagalog
in the Philippine School, Viennese accent chews,
tries to swallow Arabic, can’t digest it well enough.

V
Anything that won’t cling to sticky skin in the tropical heat,
collects bottles from the corner store, goes to the University
of Ginebra San Miguel, major in Bilog and Kwatro Kanto,
minor in Tanduay lapad rum. Speaks Tagalog, but doesn’t
fully understand. Speaks Filipino, but is misunderstood.
Collects hearts from long-night stands with curious curious boys.

VI
Clothed in the love of the ex-boyfriend-current-
boyfriend-fiancé, collects letters, pictures, debt,
carries, miscarries, carries this loneliness of transience
like a knife, like a spoon, dull and will scrape the bottom
of an empty tub of ice cream, learns first loves can’t be
last loves, learns can’t marry your father, learns this is not
where I want to be, learns I am not who I want to be.

VII
Clothed, but naked, open, writes poetry, collects moments,
fridge magnets, keychains, designer bags, carries memories,
cradles transience like a child, chuckles at conversations,
overheard and understood. Has remembered the joy
of barefoot in Jumeirah abalone sand. Has learned to
say mashallah and puera usog in the same breath, to say
danke, shukran, salamat, thank you for this fragmented
existence. Knows not to hesitate when asked where are you
from? Has learned to say, Philippines, but—

 

Baqala

By Natasha Burge

 

Vimto Vimto Fizzy Vimto Fizzy Remix Watermelon Chips Oman Beebee Battle chewing gum red tea cardamom apples covered in wax orca floatie giraffe floatie pony floatie Teletubby floatie jareesh sumac drumsticks cumin nonalcoholic beer mango chutney carrot chutney mango carrot hot chili achar chutney Eagle rulan cake Nestomalt high energy drink Thai Rose long grain rice Bahar Dettol purple pickled garlic Fair & Lovely soap Virginity Restore soap purple cauliflower local calling card international calling card Nido powdered milk 100 year old eggs red lentils yellow lentils rose halwa with pumpkin seeds and saffron jasmine perfume oud perfume Rani Float Haleem mix Anchor powdered milk Partner kitchen scissors Primo soap Omo detergent Lux abaya wash Rulo Nut biryani mix curry mix tamarind dab sauce Choki stick karak tea haleeb tea red tea shalky shalky dress miswaq stick cut and uncut India Kings Insignia Inspiro Intro Turkish labneh Saudi labneh Cypriot halloumi Indian ghee Maggi juicy chicken za’atar meat masala Madras curry National mutton biryani Eastern rasam powder bitter gourd sweetcorn chow chow koosa snake gourd ash gourd tender coconut longan fruit India chickoo lychee fruit packet with syrup sweet tamarind with sugar physalis kaka fruit Lulu Pinoy sugar palm fruit Datu Puti native vinegar Lady’s Choice sandwich spread Mother’s Best banana ketchup Jufran hot banana sauce Bagoong barrio fiesta shrimp paste Doux frozen chicken 7 Days swiss roll Dac disinfectant Persil abaya shampoo Panda earbuds Private Clip Night Private ultra miss teen Sunova hand soap Sadia chicken griller Rana tomato paste Noor sunflower oil Shams sunflower oil Sumdum mutton sambusa Anlene low fat cream powder Goody pineapple slices Garameesh rusk whole wheat Bugles corn snack Royal beef kebab Majdi laurel leaves Nahool mini raisin cake Al Safi long life milk Deemah maamoul tea biscuit Americana hamburger with Arabic spices Americana frozen vegetables mix Mars bar Chocola’s Telephone Sella Mazza rice Pringles Pot Crisps original Pringles Pot Crisps hot and spicy Baity milk powder Brossard brownie chocolat pépites Al Kabeer Arabic kofta Galaxy Jewels Hershey’s Syrup Victoria Garden hommos tahina Syrian eggplant Halwani Brothers halwa plain Marami potato chips Lamb Weston twister potatoes Baidar tomato ketchup Borgat jubnah crackers Al Shifa honey Al Joud macaroni Perfetto fischioni rigati Gandour yamama Loacker wafer quadratini Foster Clark’s baking powder Sunbulah kubee Coopoliva green pitted olives Freshly natural sliced mushroom Kiri al jarra Teashop Taib cracker Majdi cardamom finest Danette flan chocolat Pampers Active Baby large Nunu baby shampoo 

Natasha Burge is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer from the Arabian Gulf. Her work can be found, or is forthcoming, in The Smart Set, SOFTBLOW, Hobart, Syntax & Salt, and The Forge Literary Magazine, among others.

Danabelle Gutierrez is a writer, actress, and photographer. She is the author of poetry books I Long to Be the River and & Until the Dreams Come and chapbooks Eventually, The River Surrender, and Softer. Born in Las Piñas and raised in Cairo, Vienna, and Muscat, Danabelle is currently in Dubai, where she lives, loves, and writes.

Hera Naguib is a Pakistani writer who was raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Toronto, Canada. She is a PhD candidate at Florida State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the American Academy of Poets’ Poem-A-Day, The Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, and World Literature Today, among other publications. Her website is HeraNaguib.com.

Poems from the Arabian Gulf: Natasha Burge, Danabelle Gutierrez, and Hera Naguib
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September 2021 Poetry Feature: David Lehman’s The Morning Line

Please join us in welcoming back contributor DAVID LEHMAN. This is the title poem of his new collection, The Morning Line.

The Morning Line

— May 22, 2020

1.

You can pick horses on the basis of their names
and gloat when Justify wins racing’s Triple Crown 
or when, in 1975, crowd favorite Ruffian, “queen 
of the century,” goes undefeated until she breaks down 
in a match race with Derby winner Foolish Pleasure. 
Who could root against Ruffian? 
Did patriotic Englishmen cheer 
when Sir Winston won the Belmont last year? 

I rejoiced when Monarchos, a ten to one bet, became 
the second horse ever to break the two-minute mark 
at the Kentucky Derby. Why did I pick it? I liked the name.
Those two minutes in May 2001 and the giddy hours after 
now seem a little like a garden party in England in July 1914 
as the nineteenth century approached the finish line 
and collapsed.

Today you might buy 50 shares of Qualcom at 78.11, 
or 500 shares of Sirius at 5.15, 
because you like the sound of their names, 
and you may make these trades even without knowing 
a thing about what the companies produce or do. 
As luck would have it, under current market conditions, 
a portfolio consisting of these two stocks plus Alphabet, 
Amazon, and Apple would satisfy our poetry criterion 
and stand a decent chance of outperforming the market, 
as would a portfolio consisting of attractive stock symbols 
like ACES, CAT, KO, NICE, QQQ, SPY, TAN, and TOKE.

“Under current market conditions.” There’s the rub. 
If current, market, and conditions are variables,
chance determines the outcome, as in abstract art. 
There will be an epidemic, an earthquake, a hurricane; 
these will take place, but you can’t say where or when, 
and the same goes for a cyber-attack crippling the electric grid, 
a terrorist outrage in a tunnel or bridge, the meltdown 
of a nuclear power plant, or even a rebellion of angry birds 
menacing the human population of a northern California town.  
What if the stars should take a powder? Can’t happen? 
You never know. “If the Sun and Moon should ever doubt, 
they’d immediately go out,” wrote William Blake. 
The if is even more important than the doubt.
If you can conceive it, it can be done. Scoff all you like. 
If history has taught us anything, it’s that you can kill anyone, 
and Ladbroke’s of London will lay the odds. 

Acts of God (if you’re a traditionalist) 
or black swan events (if you’re a secular humanist) 
cannot be predicted. The blather of experts
will do you little good, because 
the unknowns are in flux, and the gulf 
is sometimes wide between the odds 
set by the handicapper for the morning line
and the betting public at the track
when the horses reach the starting gate.  

Nevertheless, though playing the ponies has declined
as a pastime, though market crashes 
have spooked retail investors, and though 
everyone knows the odds are stacked 
in favor of the house, people will continue to bet,
and bet big, on races and contests, cards and dice,
games and turns of the wheel, stocks and bonds, 
options, rates of exchange, orange juice futures, 
elections, murders per capita, jobless claims ,
the number of crates of disinfecting wipes 
Clorox has shipped since March 15, 2020 
or the number of current ad campaigns 
in which part of the pitch is “we’re in this together.”

At the moment I have a side bet on “never bet 
against America,” a phrase that has caught on 
since Warren Buffett used it at Berkshire Hathaway’s 
virtual annual meeting. The phrase frames the crisis 
of the day  as a wager about who will prevail when 
Affirmed and Alydar go head to head for a fourth showdown 
or when the Celtics of Larry Bird square off one more time 
against the Lakers of Magic Johnson.

The Derby and Preakness won’t be run until the fall this year, 
and they won’t be playing the NBA finals in June. 
People will miss the games, but they will bet on much else
with cash, or play money, or just in that realm 
of the imagination that prefigures the things we do.

2.

Gambling is a natural human instinct, because life 
is a gamble in which you will lose your shirt 
or draw a third ace to fill a full house 
on days equally rare. “Life,” Baudelaire wrote, 
“has but one true charm: the charm 
of gambling.” All beliefs are bets, 
though a bet is not necessarily a gamble. 
If the lockdown goes into a third month, 
and we get a heat wave, and beaches are closed, 
and there’s no sports betting, it’s a safe bet 
there will be rioting in the cities 
and a big spike in day trading. You can also bet 
on the persistence of prejudice, political bickering, 
fakery, hypocrisy, bureaucracy, and the power of the lie, 
but no one will take the bet, and it’s not a gamble.  
You need a degree of recklessness to be a gambler. 

Religion is risky, a big gamble, 
though not in the way Pascal proposed 
and Voltaire refuted. Pascal’s wager is not, 
as he tries to sell it, a real gamble. 
He would subject a belief in God 
to a cost / benefit analysis. 
If you bet on God and God exists you win; 
if you bet against and you lose, you lose big.
The argument is seductive, but the proposition 
has lost all conviction. The risk has been drained from it. 
If only self-interest could furnish the grounds for belief! 
You might also say that the ends (divinity) stand 
in diametric opposition to the means (logic) 
in Pascal’s equation, which remains, despite 
its flaws, a fascinating subject of contemplation, 
like the bust of Homer in Aristotle’s hands.

“God is a scandal – a scandal which pays,” 
Baudelaire wrote in his “squibs” (trans. Christopher Isherwood).  
“God is the sole being who has no need to exist in order to reign.”
Gambling requires faith, not assurance or certitude 
but something finer, rarer: faith, a near rhyme 
of truth and death that sounds like fate, 
which is how Willem de Kooning pronounced the word. 
And what is faith but the opposite of doubt – a force 
to press back against the dismal news of the day, 
the doubt that arises in the mind of the prophet 
beholding the wickedness of the people?

Religion requires risk, like the risk you feel 
when you are so deeply involved with another person 
that you cannot imagine living your life without her. 
The inevitability of loss, a much-misunderstood aspect 
of gambling, is not a deterrent but an attraction. 

The experience of loss is as potent a stimulant 
as the experience of jumping from a low-flying plane 
trusting your parachute will work. 

3.

A compulsive gambler’s habit is as hard to break 
as smoking or drinking, maybe harder. The gambler 
believes in the god of chance, which is the wrong god 
to believe in. Gamblers act on superstition just as athletes do: 
wear a shirt with red in it every Sunday; on a winning streak, 
use the same bat, do not shave, eat the same breakfast 
every day; change your stance in a slump, though you know 
nothing will help in a slump. Skillful poker players 
put a game face on a nasty turn of events, 
but they do that when the cards favor them, too.

Skill or luck: “People think mastering the skill 
is the hard part, but they’re wrong. The trick to poker 
is mastering the luck” (James McManus). 

To the writer, all is raw material, bad luck or good. 
A novelist friend developed a system of winning at roulette, 
but it did him more good as the backdrop for a story  
than in practice in Monte Carlo.

The philosophical gambler takes the path 
of the melancholy pickpocket in a 1950s French movie.
To him, if I may speak of myself this way, luck is a muse, 
and Frank Loesser’s song “Luck, Be a Lady”
communicates the risk taker’s situation. The phrases 
he likes have two or even three separate meanings, which
he must conjoin, so that Stendhal’s The Red and the Black
is read in the context of the red and black boxes 
on a roulette-wheel carpet – or the red and black squares 
of the chess board in a match pitting the Russian grandmaster 
against the American upstart – and the morning line signifies 
not only the bookmaker’s calculations, but also
a verse to speak when the bell tolls for thee.

 

David Lehman‘s recent books are One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir (Cornell University Press, 2019) and Playlist: A Poem (Pittsburgh). He is the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry and series editor of The Best American Poetry. He has written nonfiction books about the New York School of poets, classic American popular songs, Frank Sinatra, and mystery novels, among other subjects.

September 2021 Poetry Feature: David Lehman’s The Morning Line
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Translation: Poems by María Paz Guerrero

Poems by MARÍA PAZ GUERRERO

Translated from the Spanish by STEPHANIE MALAK

Poems appear in both Spanish and English below.

 

Translator’s Note

María’s poems from Los analfabetas are gut punches. But tender ones. Questions of identity, colonialist practices and education, and the body in its many forms interpolate delicacies of syntax and form. She writes the trammels of Colombia by digging at the splinters of humanity’s illiteracy.

Both poems “India weaves necklaces” and “She heads out to the forest to unearth roots” clip along with a degree of ease perhaps counter to their themes. They conclude in moments of spiritual praxis: the poetic voice subsumes the complexity of the body (and its wounds) and with it some resolution. Finding that same crispness of language between short verse and proximate observation of the human condition made for rich exercise. 

—Stephanie Malak

Translation: Poems by María Paz Guerrero
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August 2021 Poetry Feature

Enjoy these new poems by our contributors.

 

Table of Contents:

            Tina Cane

                        –Essay on States

                        –Regime

            Benjamin S. Grossberg           

                        –Worshipping the Ancestors

            Iain Twiddy

                        –Crack Willow

August 2021 Poetry Feature
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July 2021 Poetry Feature: Burlin Barr

By BURLIN BARR

 

Table of Contents:

  • Repairing Holes in Concrete Walls
  • Eruptive debris of very small size 
  • Wolf Tree

 

Repairing Holes in Concrete Walls 

The furnace always was 

too hot, having been 

converted from one mode of operation 

to something else entirely; 

its source of power mysterious, improvisatory; 

changing: it looked like a tree 

July 2021 Poetry Feature: Burlin Barr
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Translation: Poems by Lara Solórzano Damasceno


Poems by LARA SOLÓRZANO DAMASCENO
Translated from the Spanish by IGNACIO CARVAJAL

Poems appear in both Spanish and English.

Recife, Brazil

Translator’s Note

Lara Solórzano’s poetry is a contestation, a reprieve from fear. Her work exhibits a precise aesthetic and a fundamental grounding in urgency. Historical memory characterizes every figure and spirit in the verses that name societal constraints faced by women. Along with that naming of violences—and ultimately more important than it—the poems ring with an unequivocal rejection of them. It honors me to offer these translations from the collection El bestiario de las falenas.
—Ignacio Carvajal


Translation: Poems by Lara Solórzano Damasceno
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64-West & KY State Fair

By D.S. WALDMAN

Kentucky, United States

64-West
After Calvino

When you ride a long time in the private
night of your pickup cab
                                 you enter eventually 
into a desire you cannot name    a greater dark
that wants only what 

64-West & KY State Fair
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Translation: Hong Kong Poet Chung Kwok-keung

Poems by CHUNG KWOK-KEUNG 鍾國強

Translated from the Chinese by MAY HUANG 黃鴻霙

Poems appear in both Chinese and English.

 

Translator’s Note

Cha chaan tengs, local diners that serve comfort food all day, are a cornerstone of Hong Kong culture. At a cha chaan teng, you can order beef satay noodles for breakfast, a cup of milk tea stronger than any Starbucks coffee, lo mai gai (glutinous rice and chicken wrapped in a lotus leaf), and more. To many Hongkongers, cha chaan tengs evoke a sense of familiarity and nostalgia. Indeed, it was precisely these feelings that drew me, a Hongkonger living in America, to translate Chung Kwok-keung’s remarkable poems.

Chung wrote “The Cha Chaan Teng on Fortune Street” in 1996 about a Cha Chaan Teng he visited in Sham Shui Po while running an errand. He no longer remembers what the errand was for, he writes in a blog post, but “words have helped [him] remember concrete details of that cha chaan teng.” At the same time, he also wonders whether there is something about a place that is lost forever once it no longer exists, no matter what we write down. As evocative as the details in this poem are, from the “soft clink” of utensils to the “grease-soaked hair” of a waiter, the poem ends on a note of uncertainty, unsure of whether words can safeguard memory. 

Translation: Hong Kong Poet Chung Kwok-keung
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