February 2016 Poetry Feature

Please join us in greeting new contributors Dolores Hayden and Zack Strait—and a big welcome back to Robin Chapman and Alex Cigale.

 

 

DOLORES HAYDEN

 

Chajnator

1.
Egyptians named a thousand stars, Greeks
sketched constellations on the night,
people in the Andes saw so many
stars, dark became the figure—
llamas running on a field
of light—until Edison’s carbon filament
diminished sky and all the stories
of earthly shapes and sustenance
strung from star to star
high above incandescent grids.

 

2.
Chajnantor plateau sits at the edge
of atmosphere, its thin air
almost uninhabitable, the dry earth
of Chile’s Atacama desert
not unlike soil on Mars,
not unlike soil on the moon.
Chajnantor, place of departure,
here Incas said souls
began the journey to eternity
on the river of our galaxy,
here at the portal,
desire meets wonder,
earth to sky,
sky to earth.

 

3.
Provision yourself, travel
up through sand,
salt lakes, and felsic lava flows
to reach Chajnantor’s array
of dish antennas, a ten-mile
banquet of bowls
capturing distant stars’
red and blue light.
A bit south lies
Cerro Paranal,
the sorcerer’s hill
of lenses and mirrors:
Antu, Kueyen,
Melipal, Yepun
cut the smear of atmosphere,
astronomers see four billion
times more than

Ptolemy’s eyes.
Dolores Hayden is the author of two poetry collections, American Yard and Nymph, Dun, and Spinner.

 

 

 

Divorce

It’s early still. We squeeze into our rental car, my mom, two brothers, stepdad, and me, and pull the doors shut. I stare out the back window as we edge away, my dad stationary as a king in check beneath the motel portico. He doesn’t have a sword, but he will be strong in the endgame. Everyone wave goodbye, my mom says, and we lift our arms, like we too are about to be nailed down to our crosses. My dad adds his handprint to the air, and I watch until he becomes another vanishing point, long parallels of shadow stabbing at his velcro sneakers. I’m really going to miss him, Nicholas says, his little fists opening and closing like flowers.

Zack Strait is pursuing his PhD at Florida State University. His work has recently appeared in Poetry and is forthcoming in Ploughshares, West Branch, and Slice.

 

Three Variations for Nicanor Parra

 

I.

 

Everyone is out
                          only for themselves,
to get ahead, get
                          laid, good things to eat.
The two-car garage
                                 two-child family,
what can I build them
                                  but another outhouse?
I’m a grease monkey,
                                  a grimy working stiff.
I work like no one,
                            harder than your mother.
I have calluses,
                       bruises to prove it,
rough pads on my palms,
                                                ten mangled fingers.
What can I say about my fellow man?
We are as dumb beasts,
                                  each his own burden.
Faith in us is frayed,
                                  our basic instinct,
before you can save
                                  others, save yourself.

 

II.

 

Urban wilderness.

I was born an ass
                           and a naysayer
to wander the desert.
                                  I knew I was right.
Perhaps thirty six
                           per generation
to slow the world down.
Glass city, illusion of activity.
Just as nature abhors a vacuum
the city’s passport is complicity.
Must we reconcile ourselves to busyness?

 

To make a name
                          for yourself, currency.
To trade in ideas,
                           all else miserly.
I would make my mark
                                    on the world. I will
I have decided
                leave the world unchanged.

 

III.

 

Every generation created its own
paradigm; ours was
                                  the Virtual World.
Alternative lives.
                  Why did we so crave
unreality?  Sense
                      was overwhelmed.
Garbage! I refused
                           to participate.
I would neither teach
                            nor do anything
that wasn’t beautiful,
                            continue to dream.
And the world was saved,
                                 was safe for commerce.
Desire bred the manufacture of consent.
History was dead.
                     Long live history.
Live long and prosper,
                         happy, warm, well-fed.
We need even that
                     which we do not need.

 

Florida and the Poem of the Mind

1
Forlorn land of abandoned caravans
where wandering carnivals and circus freaks
came to winter and retire, the big tents wilt.
Where the world-famous gag was invented,
all those clowns piling out of a tiny car,
first and foremost there remains show business.
Who is the world’s most perfect giantess?
Who is the happiest fat lady dwarf?
Gawk at the man with the revolving head.
It’s our bread and butter; take a look-see.
Behold the man who can stand on one finger,
the amazing boy who can eat anything.
Fascination with interstices and interspecies,
strange half-breed off-spring human-animal,
armless wonder signs photos with her toes.
The senior citizens of our empire agree:
we won “The Best Sand in the World Award.”
Alligators patrol during poodle-walking hours.

 

2
Under no circumstances is it ever
anything anywhere near a beach.
Walker Evans, on Photography
A gator-like creature lashed and tethered
in back of pendulous round headlights on a 40s
Ford like some sort of hick hood ornament.
Southern Gothic: hand-carved gaudy trailers,
rococo occupants of the Redneck Riviera;
for Evans Art was all warts and only warts.
One can almost detect his malignant gloating,
a terse hostility toward the grass and swamps
at sunset, a contrast we can understand,
the changing color of water, earth, and sky
something Walker wasn’t much interested in
who did not fall victim to nature’s charms.
No wonder Ansel Adams hated his work;
the only natural thing he liked was driftwood,
something he could collect and possess.

 

3
The show stopper of the 1942 season,
the Circus Polka, music commissioned
especially from Igor Stravinsky,
choreography by George Balanchine
with costumes designed by Norman Geddus.
Imagine a distraught Balanchine chasing
a herd of stampeding dancing elephants
spooked in incident during rehearsal
all clad in pink tutus and heading south
and you’ll understand what makes us special.
Gunther Wallenda teaches history
at Sarasota High. Olympia Zucchini,
daughter of the first woman shot out of
a cannon, a local artist, the only Ringling
left, the town paper’s gossip columnist,
aerial artists from all over Europe,
the grand old families of the circus, more
ex-Munchkins than anywhere in the world.

 

4
If as Stevens says money were a kind
of poetry then what kind would it be?
FLA short not for Florida but Flagler,
hotels modeled after Ponce de Leon,
walls that were meant never to fall down,
his railroad to last for all time to come.
Wallace forbidden wisp of poetry at home
searched out dark isolated parts of his house
to compose, a habit that frightened his child.
Frost’s dream “To get the whole thing started in
London… do the rest from a New England farm.”
But Key West was the real deal: doing nothing.
Wealth’s registrar, redeemer of deeds, myth-
maker, symbol and pabulum, shriver, sower
of song, will’s arbitrer, the papyrus
metaphysician dancing in the dark,
rocking forward, backward in place, shaping
the space of a poem emerging in the mind.
5
Evans’ friend, Hart Crane, great poet of the 20s,
worked on one poem, “The Bridge,” seven years,
a binge-drinker and sailor-chaser, ran off
with Malcolm Cowley’s wife (they moved-in with
Katherine Anne Porter in Mexico,)
jumped ship, the Orizaba, north of Havana;
his bloated empty-stare no-to-resignation
banging of his head that the mind may yield,
eternal youth never to be attained.
But his friend James Agee was even stranger;
young like Crane when dead of a heart attack
in a taxi cab, admittedly a “problem smoker,”
who had turned his mind outward, to film,
writing the screenplay for African Queen,
working with Evans on Praise Famous Men:
to tell the truth about oneself, to die,
to fail in the attempt a living death,
the poem at the end of the mind all heart.

 

6
Consulting the sorcerer trunk contorted
Declare war by stabbing arrows in the earth
The stark employments of the hermaphrodites
The dismemberments of the slain enemies
Heads held up by long forelocks the brains
Boiled inside the skulls over the campfires
And so we burned the boxes with their bodies
And so we packed and left the Bay of Horses
They said there was much gold in Apalachee
Starving we slaughtered and ate our horses
Melting their stirrups spurs and horseshoes
Fashioned a bellows from deer-hide to forge
Nails to cobble together rafts to sail on
Swallowed at the mouth of a mighty river
Survivors wrecked upon the Isle of Doom
For years we wondered entirely naked
Children of the sun guided by the spirit
Beasts of burden odious but common
Alex Cigale’s poems have appeared in ColoradoGreen Mountains, North American, Tampa, and The Literary Reviews, and elsewhere.

 

 

Immortality at the Memorial Union
Under the oaks beside the lake,
sparrows busy underfoot,
the topic is how it might
be possible—immortality:
biological engineering
of our telomeres, replacement
of body parts, or virtual life?
Most of the old guys vote
to be downloaded onto
computer chips and continue
indefinitely, pure thought,
bodiless, worldless, checking in
periodically that, yes, indeed,
this is still the self. Just
another big data task.
Others ask more—some
novelty, like a cruise ship’s
robotic offerings, a day trip
to a foreign shore or
a simulated smorgasbord.
As for me, it’s the living
world I want,  the sparrows
and the breeze, and friends
talking under an oak
far older than me.

 

Blood Orange

 

fits in the palm, heavy, its sweet interior
red as its name, some mutation that doubles
its anthocyanin. Once it happened in Sicily,
a century that Muslims and Christians
lived in peace—Inquisition come and gone
already; once it happened in California,
just before the first war of that century;
it might happen again, this beautiful chance
increasing the sweetness of life; I mean
this to be a gift held out in my hand to you—
this descendant of a seldom-repeated event
threading its weight through our days:

its juice blameless and dripping in our hands.
Robin Chapman’s newest book, Six True Things, about growing up in the Manhattan Project town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is forthcoming this year from Tebot Bach.

February 2016 Poetry Feature

Related Posts

Image of dental floss on red background

September 2020 Poetry Feature

BRUCE BOND
What you have heard is half true, half forgotten. / It’s what we have, a rubric written in old / blood whose spirit of inclusion admits / the occasional invention, the apocryphal / goat at midnight, for one, who has broken / down the gate again, and wandered through...

The book cover for Ricardo Maldonado's "The Life Assignment"

Poems From The Life Assignment

RICARDO ALBERTO MALDONADO
I feel from dignity and calm. I, / anxiety grabbed me // with sciatica, although I recited poems / at a stone’s throw, inside the machine // elevator. The clattering of the empire / its capital / an arsenal of pain, it made for a rough // odor. Now can you see the monument?

Golden Eagle Michael Eastman

Ghost Town

SALLY BALL & MICHAEL EASTMAN 
St. Louis is the center of this series: middle-class (or once middle-class) St. Louis, and the layers of depletion and reinvigoration and depletion-again-anyway-despite that are visible in the facades boarded over, or enlivened (once) with murals, or not painted going on 30-40 years.