January 2016 Poetry Feature

New Work for the New Year

This month we welcome Cassandra Cleghorn to our pages, presenting poems included in her first book, Four Weathercocks, which will be published by Marick Press in March. We’re also happy to be welcoming back TC contributors David Lehman, Jonathan Moody, and Sylvie Durbec. Lehman’s new book is Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World. Jonathan Moody won the Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Prize for his collection Olympic Butter Gold, published in November 2015. The book includes five poems first published in The Common. Jean Follain Prize-winner Sylvie Durbec’s poem “Shining Red in the Torrent” is offered here in its entirety, translated by Denis Hirson. An excerpt from the poem was published in The Common Issue 10.

 

CASSANDRA CLEGHORN

To Saint Hubert, Wonderworker of the Ardennes, Patron of the Hunters and Mathematicians, Protector from Rabies 

Woozy raccoon slogs gutter
to culvert, hears my Oh! turns

Eyes molten, fish-pale, snagged up
from where the leaf mulm churns

Her eyes, what stray sickness
what stillness turned stiff

I eye the pond, lips parting
Come Saint Hubert Come
why rush why wait why

Nick me, cut this tongue’s
thin anchor, heat the nail head

red to white, brand me here and
here, why water why spit why dry

Keep me Keep me

from this bruised, this bruising
fur made to matter
***

 

At the Riverbank

the consonance, the math, the more than three
kinds of cry from each of my mouths, the quavers,
the swallowings

from the one slipping over the lip into snowmelt roil,
her whoops opening into an O of woe of worry of too
too sorry, so wet, so how? bowled over, gulping
then righted, face angled skyward while current yanks her, feet first,
frail bark, knothole mouth whisked from sight

of the vulture who humps the wind in the cleft between
her claws tucked close for lift, where I caught her,
where I lost her, how I tracked her, opening her mouth
with my tail, stroking her lips with a drop to make suck,
a ringing, a striking of beak on beak,
signs of succor, of distress tocsin, tocsin, tocsin

to the boy on the bank, unsinging his faith.
No, lips clamped, a sweetness seeping from between the brows,
No. She bobs, she floats, she needs no saving

I do the voices for my lover who straddles, who hovers
close to the curling, drawn down by the belly’s puff
and hollow, whom I beg now to please, please fill
my dreamspent mouth
***

Cassandra Cleghorn’s poems have appeared in journals including Paris ReviewYale Review, Poetry InternationalSouthwest Review, and Narrative

 

SYLVIE DURBEC

 

Shining red in the torrent 

Go to meet redness.
Reach it with all the necessary brutality.
Refuse facile images. Self-portraits. Portraits of any sort.
But go without reserve, crushing water underfoot, unyielding to the childlike pleasure of splashes against naked legs.
Go as a painter.
Roll up trouser legs, remove espadrilles and dig your will into the torrent: meet the red there, take it captive. Bury your madness in the icy water.
Without dying of this.
Without speaking of it either.
Keeping absolutely quiet, driving the whiteness of your memory into the red matter.
Later, not a single word to tell.
Most important is being able to take further the red gleaming streak, icy too and red above all else.
Take it home, wherever home is.
In the clutter of granite, sometimes a wall rises.
But from so far away, nothing of the house can be glimpsed.
Some children have a home and others, paper boat on water, have lost it. Have been hounded from it.
When they are older the door to a shed is opened for them: a workshop? A place to stay and at night soothe a while the rage of the day and its light.

 

Entrails. Blood. Arrows of children leaving school screaming. Their legs, white wings of butterflies.
And he was tearing redness from the torrent all this time.

 

Far from all snow, all mud, the piss-sodden towns, so it was that he alone had discovered the improbable treasure of the colour red: here in rock below water. Immediately he had wanted it all, to take with him.
This shining red like the grey, the green and white lines made by water from up high slipping against stones to where, feet unshod and trouser legs rolled, he had crouched down.

 

All this fluid coloured matter, to make it his.
Walking with all his weight against the rocks, he knew himself to be painting already.
This his hosts failed to understand.
Likewise all the others.
Drinking, eating, walking, always the painting worked inside him.
Went on working in him from within.
If ever this secret activity ceased, a terrible boredom felled him. Followed without fail by a mute sorrow that kept him from the world of colours. Worse, he was taken by an utter lack of interest in others and himself that would no longer release him.
And there, at his feet, the redness!
He would use this red, this green and blue to raise so many houses and trees against boredom that his painting came to life. Yet the work, this hard labour he himself had forged, must on no account be interrupted. Or hewould quickly feel sick at heart, knowing himself to be living and miserable, so abominably alone among others.
If he were able to take possession of the colour, he would soon dash to the shed, bumping against jumbled furniture, returning like a maniac to the task since he had the shining red of the torrent. This redness unlike any other.
He knew it was incomprehensible, the rage to paint, destroy and scrape, this insistence on treating the tubes of paint and canvas-bearing easels as adversaries from which must be extirpated marrow and blood, while he too was incomprehensible to others and himself, even when he spoke no one heard what he said, nor to crown it all did he understand what others tried to have him understand, phrases, he suspected, asking him to stop: painting, eating and above all drinking, crying out and belching, but he would never stop. At any price.

 

Otherwise he would die of boredom. Or death which came simply because one did nothing either to refuse or invite it. What put an end to the inner collapse was his painting – whence the small joy in meeting redness, this evening in the torrent, the torment disappearing and everything growing lighter, though he knew boredom and fear were not far off but before him, at his feet, these long wet red streaks on the rocks enchanting him, turning him from his certitude of not being as alive as he might be, since while working with colour he was sure to hold at a respectful distance death which had come close enough to attain him.
He must keep standing in the face of the empty eyes of this woman, young and grey, lying in wait for him since his childhood, image of death more perfect than the skeleton and scythe, this mother with neither child nor light in her eye, attached to him like ivy to a tree, he had known her so long he could not say when she had first appeared at his side. And there was nothing to do but brandish redness at her, standing up to her fearlessly.
In his memory, everything had the colour of canvas before being painted. A glittering emptiness.
Like the eye-sockets of the woman who followed him everywhere. He had no memory of house, parents, children around him. Yet he had had it all. A school, streets, snow and mud. But this did not add up to a childhood. Nor a country one might name for those who asked questions of you.
So this redness in the spring of 1919, above Céret, in the abundance of water, this shining red in the torrent would give new life to the gestures of painting.  Would bring it into existence. Would give it tongue. Because, when asked the question as to where he came from and what he did with his days, he replied only with an incomprehensible gesture, making a sort of bridge with his hands, and no one, not even among his friends, knew what he meant. Yet the translation was easy: an embracing of painting, right hand and left hand clasped together.
Why learn a language that meant nothing at all? He used the one taught to him by his arms and legs, all his body since he had come from his far-off childhood.

 

No one in Céret understood the language spoken by Chaim Soutine.
And he asked himself what would become of all his red paintings.
Perhaps he painted excessively, but how would he explain that he could not do otherwise, or the boredom set in, hence painting, but Z. had warned him, few prize what you do so we will show only a few canvases and see what happens, if you could only hold yourself back a bit and then canvases are dear, that’s what art dealers say and how to gainsay them except barefoot in the redness with brutality.

 

Perhaps this red would finally floor Z. and all the others, let them cease thinking of me as a madman because I share neither their language nor their kind of painting, and let me become somewhat other than myself, Chaim Soutine the painter, no longer that lean stranger who eats little and drinks a lot.

 

Drinking is sufficient to keep a skeleton upright before the easel, he would say in his language, and then there is that shining red in the torrent.
And that would be enough for them, that redness, and for him, that torrent shining red at his feet.
He could return to his shed, go back down towards Céret, resume the combat, brutally.
Alone with the shining red up in those hills.

 

Note
Léopold Zborowski (1989–1932), poet and art dealer for Chaim Soutine but also for Modigliani, Kremegne etc.
“ce rouge qui brillait dans le torrent” by Sylvie Durbec (Charpey, Atelier du Hanneton, 2011)
Sylvie Durbec’s recent publications include Marseille: éclats et quartiers (Marseille, fragments and quarters), which won the prestigious Jean Follain Prize of the City of Saint-Lô; Sanpatri (Nohomeland); and Soutine.

 

Translated from the French by Denis Hirson

 

 

Shushbye & Goodnight

 

I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death­
—Nas

 

I.

 

The dandelion between Avery’s lips
is a syringe containing Claritin.

 

Hopefully, his breathing
won’t sound like a cargo train

 

hurtling through the bedroom.
My son, who’s given

 

up on begging for
his purple drum stick,

 

taps a butterfly’s wings;
the music he creates

 

keeps him company
until the muscles

 

around our eyes grow
heavy with fatigue.

 

II.

 

That blue balloon drifting
towards the moon

 

means another plush bunny
rabbit has fallen from

 

the high chair. Avery kisses
the bunny’s ears,

 

& I fall fast through
a hole deep enough

 

to trick me into believing
I’ve slept for five hours

 

when only five
minutes has passed.

 

III.

 

The flock of sheep
I lose count of asks

 

in unison if I think Avery
will become a poet.

 

“Well, he has repetition
down pat. Perceives

 

bedroom doors as drums—
suggesting the best conveyor

 

of sound comes from an object
that blocks out noise.”

 

IV.

 

This fog in my bedroom
is so thick I feel

 

as if I’m walking
along the horizon.

 

I’m wearing
the Batman shirt

 

I donned on the day Avery
came into this world.

 

On the front, Batman clutches
an owl’s egg, & I’m afraid

 

my worst fear has hatched:
that my wife & I were murdered

 

in front of our child—
making Bruce Wayne

 

& Avery Langston
one in the same: orphans.

 

Lost. I walk through
the thick of it hoping

 

I will fall through
a hole deep enough

 

for me to encounter
a butterfly’s wing,

 

a purple drum stick,
a closed door, so the song

 

I tap will let Avery
know he’s not alone.
Jonathan Moody is a Cave Canem alum whose poetry has appeared in African American Review, Boston Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Harvard Review.

 

 

Antigone

 

Against brutal Creon,

doll establishes

fugitive greatness.

His internal

justice, knowledge,

law mean nothing,

only piety.

Questing revenge,

she triumphs,

uttering virginal

wounds extravagant,

yearning’s zenith.

 

Porn Class

 

In the advanced seminar, the group examined sexual imagery in the context of sexual and class warfare. We pondered images of the naked body, the woman’s in particular, and the nature of exchange between the mons veneris and the male gaze. We consulted philosophers and writers from Aristotle to Mary Shelley to Norman O. Brown, but they were of limited use. Only the Marquis de Sade and the pseudonymous Pauline Reage proved indispensable. In one picture, the beautiful blonde nude, with her pubis shaved, is crouching beside a bicycle that needs a minor repair on a towpath in the woods some place where civilization is either an afterthought or a pipe dream. We decided that the bicycle in the picture stands for the phallus, and the division of mankind into beautiful woman and handy tool is dramatic in the lush verdant landscape. A less typical photograph that occasioned much comment showed a brunette in a leopard-skin bikini. She is on her knees. In one hand she holds a lighted cigarette while the other grasps a hairless nice-sized cock—as if the two items were interchangeable. “I like her red nail polish and her rings,” Lucy said and began a prose poem: “First she smokes his cock then she sucks her cigarette then she smokes his cigarette and blows smoke all over the place, including up his ass if he likes it there. Some women like it there.” People applauded Lucy’s spontaneity. Then the class moved on to a short video in which five young women, adepts of theStory of O, undergo training at the hands of butch guys who expect total obedience. While we came to no glib conclusion, it was agreed that sex and beauty go together better and more reliably than love and marriage.

 

Accusers and the Accused, Crossing Paths at Columbia

False reports of rape are rare.
The accused rapist, an architecture student from Germany, said
“My mother raised me as a feminist.”
He supports equal rights for women.
Three women have accused him of “intimate partner violence.”

One accuser takes a bed with her wherever she goes
Which doubles as her senior thesis
And, in October, students at more than 100 colleges
Carried a mattress or pillow to dramatize the crisis
Of sexual assault on campus.

The man in the watch cap sits on the steps of Low Library.
Most of his friends dropped him
Last year when Ms. Sulkowicz—
Or when the Spectator published his name.
Campus hearings have a lower burden of proof
Than criminal trials and he said he was not allowed.
But she did not press criminal charges.

None of them would ever get over it.

 

Note: See Ariel Kaminer, “Accusers and the Accused Crossing Paths at Columbia,” New York Times, December 22, 2014.
David Lehman is editor of The Best American Poetry series and teaches at The New School in New York.

Julia PikeJanuary 2016 Poetry Feature

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