July 2016 Poetry Feature

Please join us as we welcome newcomers to our pages, Cassie Pruyn and Henk Rossouw, and welcome back contributor Kevin O’Connor.

CASSIE PRUYN

 

Closeted in Dutchess County

Back then she drove a car 
red as a dragon.

We bombed along the back roads to Rhinebeck,
my fingers at her crotch.

She took me out to see the birch-skirted
lake Joni Mitchell sings about.

We’d gallivant around Woodstock
sipping hard cider from the farmer’s market,

sit kissing on the overlook at sunset,
cruise the Taconic with the windows wide.

Once, at the edge of a field near campus,
I glimpsed a flash of white.

I made Lena pull over, dashed across
to where the vine-tangled forest began.

Lodged in the trunk of a larch, hunched
in the hollow, radiant

beneath leaf muck and rain stains,
a statue of a woman.

In the distance, a car horn called;
the wind whispered shuhh-shuhh

through the branch-stitched dome.
A pine needle floated down and caught

in a fold of her robes.
If she was a saint, I didn’t know her.

 

Cassie Pruyn is a New Orleans-based writer born and raised in Portland, Maine. Her poems and reviews have appeared in AGNI Online, The Normal School, 32 Poems, The Los Angeles Review, Poet Lore, The Adroit Journal and others.

Her poems and reviews have appeared in AGNI Online, The Normal School, 32 Poems, The Los Angeles Review, Poet Lore, The Adroit Journal and others.

HENK ROSSOUW, from Camissa: Rearrival

 

part one

The loops of telephone wire on creosote poles 

copy—in dusk-lit

sine waves—the arcade
flight pattern of the city

starlings. Red-winged, shadow-bodied, the birds 

cloud the stone courtyard        of the Slave Lodge, 

and parking garages, and eaves. This is 

civil twilight. I have been absent for seven years.

Murmuration—
collective noun for the cloudburst of starlings in the early winter sky,

my brother says. Other starlings on the telephone wires line the foothill streets of Walmer Estate. Our roadside perception of the houses and warehouses and lots, sloping toward the harbor below, has been anchored momentarily among

the crowd on the footbridge,
once segregated (BLANK-
ES/NIE-BLANKES) with legislative
sheet metal, and now

           a suspended desire line 

above Rohlilala Boulevard   —renamed for the president

imprisoned

            on the island often

visible from here.

The tarmac with his name contours against the table-shaped mountain as it bisects the city.

Cape Town, the city in the brochure, little more than

             ‘a summer dress, all air, colour and light, cast off onto’

the indigenous peninsula—like a beautiful wet bag over the mouth of.

Hoerikwaggo means, in the ex-language, mountain in the sea.

The Standard Bank sign on the foreshore

—cement land reclaimed from the sea and the descendants of slaves, who had launched slender fishing boats there, from the shoreline now buried under rubble—

flickers on blue against the close of day.

Camissa, the city at nightfall double-lit,

                                                                         by the artificial and the fleeting.

Electric sunset. The early

sodium-vapor street lamps echo the burnt orange.

*

Domestic servants leaving Walmer Estate
cross the footbridge

in their nightly katabasis downhill,

                                                              Shoprite bags in hand or balanced

on their heads—wages tithed to get 

to Lavender Hill, Mitchell’s Plain, Lost City, Khayelitsha, Langa, Gugulethu

outside the city gates—
as the touts in the white
minibus taxis

echo the muezzin:
Vredehoek, Vredehoek, Vred’hoek, W-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-lmer.

 

part two 

From the bridge, my brother and I look at the city

in silence. Daylight has not yet left

the avocado-green facade
of Ghazala Food & Kaffie
on the corner,              the corner of,                          and day-glo

vies with the flourescent-lit                           shelves—

soap                 matches                  pilchards,

stacked behind Mr. Ahmed, the shopkeeper in the doorway, marking time until
the tidal            hiss of the 102 bus. Some cross the city for his cumin samosas.

On the roads below,
Melbourne and Roodebloem,
narrowing downhill
the stoeps on either side

darken first.

You must be hungry, my brother says. I have aged
without him.

He lives near the abutment
of the bridge,             starlings in his attic,

and the dock cranes, new since
democracy, frame the sea as if

to lower the sun, a starboard-red
container, beyond the coastal shelf.

The shipping line of sunlight              leaving for—

part three 

the city     ‘begin 

and begin again’—

sleep’s graffiti

I recur in the city song-lit

in the tidal city
outpost       and ulcer—

now a landscape, now a room

now the Cape, now Camissa

‘place of sweet waters’ plural
for the sake of its springs

incipient on the mountainside

artesian and running

under the city        asleep

the city

separate as the sleep of another

If one were scattered at the end        from a cardboard urn

after the flood,                 with a view of the sward descending
to the bights and the coves,          the sea-bitten coast,

one was born far from,          one’s beginning
forgotten—          a handful of South African ash—
even the ash would echo names of water,

immigrant water: The Whaleback Ledge           lighthouse
across the Piscataqua,            whose origins beyond
the harbor and the tidal mouth           split into Salmon Falls

and the Cocheco, ‘rapid foaming water,’          fed by the Ela,
the Mad, and the Isinglass—          rivers striated
by glacial ice            and rising from the Nubble and the Coldrain,

ponds, replacements? For Camissa, place of

Originally from Cape Town, Henk Rossouw now lives in Houston, where he serves as a poetry editor for Gulf Coast.

 

KEVIN O’CONNOR

 

The Gift 

I refuse to move the vase you molded and baked in the kiln 
as a gift and which now rests in the middle of my dining table;

not because it is beautiful—it is—or because the beauty was accidental,
a result from leaving the pot in too long after glazing so that the colors

blended together, leaving a burnished hue of bruised maroon-blue,
impossible to plan for or duplicate, beyond what you knew;

nor because it evokes any specific memory, some voice or touch—
for the cooling off, then ice and silence, effaced every sentiment.

Neither is it like keeping an urn of ashes where I eat,
since the vase is empty of ash or any flowered story.

No, I just like the way it stands alone, holds its mystery
beyond explanation or complaint, finished and incomplete.

Passing by sometimes, I wonder at its making: I want
the form of burnished color and frozen molding to keep me

for just a moment, teasing me into and out of thought
as does the present that remains after the work is done.

Memory of My Father in Indiana with Basketball 

We mocked my father’s crouched two-hand set shot
whenever his nostalgic shtick broke up our driveway play.

He would fondle the ball like some lost erotic fetish—
work tie and coat still on— and name the game,

“Jeffersonville, ‘33” before awkward shot
caromed off the rim and add, “We lost.”

Funny how memory’s matrix is physical, carried
by synapse to stored neurons, deepened by repetition,

like shooting a ball or this scene’s ritual
variations over the years.  It was easy then

to be Icarus flying beyond the rude invention
of my father’s first generation game,

weighed down in gravity’s maze, imagination
cut short by fears of depression and war.

They ran careful patterns, passing patiently
to teammates as if the ball were a baby or bomb,

better to hold or stall out the clock
than risk hurtling loved ones to hell.

Later he watched from the stands wanting
his past redone as my present,

when I would pump-fake off the cross dribble
and juke air-born jump-shots practiced

until spontaneous habit, improvisations
set free by baby boom rock and the pill.

But we lost too: sons disappointing fathers,
fathers sons, is itself a ritual scene,

the historical script we reinvent and play off
for memories we feed on the rest of our lives.

Having played became the common thread, the afterlife
of action we wove like the intimate lore of initiates.

Watching high school tournament games on all-day tickets,
we learned to speak as punctuation and witness.

“That was nice” after skillful shot or pass,
“No way” after a referee’s mistake—

or sometimes just a wordless smile
when we perceived a subtle move at the same time.

Now feeling the grooved and roughened surface of the ball,
I resist the pull into the shadowed world of loss,

let the past, accrued in the cocked arm of reflex,
surge forward through my fingertips, ready to release

and enlarge my self beyond the moment
in a shot which cannot be savored fully

until we nod  in the agreement of memory,
the unspoken love of some future present.

Kevin O’Connor is an editor of One on a Side: An Evening with Seamus Heaney and Robert Frost, and his poems and reviews have appeared in The Notre Dame Review, The Harvard Review Online, and other publications.

 

Julia PikeJuly 2016 Poetry Feature

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