Please enjoy these new poems by five new contributors to The Common.
The Frowning Beast
A man convinced some women of his need to be taken care of, for he thought his genius was too significant for certain of life’s details. Years were women. Each woman was smart and capable. He was neither. Each woman used her resources to help him to further his ambitions – putting her own second. Each woman woke up one day with wallet thinner and pussy emptier. Each woman showed him the door, a door that he saw as leading him to the fact of another woman. One day the man walked out of a door and instead of seeing a woman through it he saw a mirror and in the mirror was a frowning beast with white hair growing out of its nostrils, wearing a lovely shirt and vest, holding a suitcase with stickers displaying his wide travels. That’s not a woman, he seemed to say but did not—not out loud. He lit a candle and walked onward. There’s always somebody who can see the light around a shadow.
Amy Lawless is the author of two books of poems, most recently My Dead.
Over North Esk
Let me learn the layout, factor and
figure into this place. The rain accosts
the crags as shifting mist, blurring, then
ballooning the skeletal vista. Let spattered
facets on the windowpane bring clarity.
Where is the weakness in this request?
The need itself. I need to learn the names
of the trees to know if their swaying is pain
or release. Can the wind be tinted like veins
flooded with dye, so as to see each clot
and pinch, to read the chart engraved daily
on these crumbling walls? There is so much
still to read—the library above, the brown
river below frothing ivory over moss-topped
stones. What is it to allow this kind of
proximity? To allow something to cover
over your crown? This place has stood
longer than all our lives combined, yet
has agreed to house us—hide us—for
nothing. Let me work here as the rain
returns, sun sears its brand in alternating
events. The wind sings differently now
that the leaves have come; a new narration.
It keeps me up.
Nathaniel Bellows is the author of the poetry collection WHY SPEAK? and the novels ON THIS DAY and NAN.
A Trace Of Doubt
Earliest morning, before pre-dawn pale light,
darkness lit up by stars and the diffuse
glow of towns miles away—like false
dawns, the light fading instead of spreading,
as when hope turns out to be fear
and sinks into its own night or season
of dismay. Stars, then, and a wisp of star
cloud still visible, a galaxy of galaxies.
The planets are the brightest, and the nearest,
like sentinels, all attention.
The stars, skittish, turn away when
you look at them directly. Better to
notice sidelong when they come into
themselves, as do some people when they
think no one is watching them. The light
of the eye puts out the stars, when seeing
is truant to looking, the eye no longer
a receptacle. Just now, a streaking,
a white-hot wire half glimpsed, then gone—
a shooting star, a fallen angel, a flash
in the eye—who’s to know? It happens or it
doesn’t, and only assent makes it real,
a trace of light streaming across the mind.
Long shadows early
morning soften the landscape—
though that’s not a word
the land embraces—call it
the lightscape, and recall how
last night as evening
darkened the long shadows to
black, the house shook, creaked
in wind like a keening crone,
and conversation turned then
to other shadows
that fall upon lives—our lives—
bringing to light what always
stands behind: a source of light.
No light, no shadow.
What do we expect? we ask,
as windows become
mirrors: we make the world from
bits and pieces and call it
whole. But it is whole
beyond us, including us,
and not the shadow
of another world beyond,
not the early mist rising.
I cannot see
for the sun in my eyes, hear
instead, the heartbeat
pulsing in the inner ear:
rise, rise, you are the morning.
Paul Kane has published five collections of poems, including Work Life, as well as eight other books.
Only a DPW rookie would still be back and
forthing it, in the town’s industrial
sweeper, disk-brushes tornadoing, 6:00 a.m.,
pistons rattatooing, crescendoing,
diminuendoing, again, the refrain —
the bleeping beeping back-up coda
what the hell! — still in bed, you in diagonal half-
sleep, me alert in my “I spy” psychosis:
Father dead five months, a ghost
imbedded, windless, locked —
see him sucked like a sail at his eyes,
nose of papyrus, mouth rounding
oy — amorphous mistakes, his
libretto of morphined encores —
(forgive for what?) — the
contralto rattlebox, resounding
now in the town vacuum; now spritz-
moaning the macadam scrub-song
of past precipitations, of sparing
nextness from previousness, breath
from the nosh — he halts, idles and, 6:20,
climbs down in his nice cap, begins to
shovel by hand a berm of sticks, leaves,
bent-up bees, scooping and chucking
the unsuckable, his body arcing birchlike
for every extant littered mite,
flying it to the front-loading
trough before hopping like wind
to his high, flashing cab —
where he thrusts once more into the clear
gust of his mission. So of course
by now I’m up with coffee, and
maybe it’s just a boy’s soft-throated Mike
Mulligan birling to Highland Avenue’s
far end — bless them as they finally
caress new cuts of granite curbing and take
the far corner, leaving behind
heaven, a burnished quiet that
bounces through window screen,
and along our loved-up old
library table from which the Times
casts back toasted crumbs
of cognition. But not so fast,
meine liebe fraints, allies listening:
Hear it? — that ghost-
bleating, reversal pulse, a mechanized
plaint swimming the sea of green and
paled backyards — back, the steady
measuring out of more
morning — back, the gods
of to-do’s and undoables, the gods of
rain and phoning Mother,
of what-to-wear, to eat — Back,
the complicated indelibility
of unknowable driven men.
Sara London is the author of The Tyranny of Milk. She has taught at Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Amherst College.
i.m. Teresa Forshaw née Caslin, 1922-2011
In Transylvania when I got that call
– had been that day to Sigisoara, drawn
to that famous undead batman’s place of birth.
Think: the Saxon cemetery high up the hill.
Carved gothically upon one stone, I’d seen
Ruhen in fremder Erde! Written it down.
Lie still in foreign soil – but you never can:
(stone blunts, moss overwrites your name)
the earth remains cold and strange.
As do you. Whoever you were, laid low
in the lie of the land, you are now (whatever now might mean)
your own remains – Just let the world, its weather,
drain right through your tongue, your ribs,
whatever stubbornly persists of you.
Up here, we are all overwritten with rain.
Names blunt. Down there bones do too,
as they acquaint themselves with fault and aquifer,
maybe to discover they’ve finally found their level,
worked on darkly in the water table,
worn and wearing through those other scribbles
written in the water’s cursives,
its accommodations with gravity, geology,
the terrain’s almighty sloth. Post humus:
they’ve gone beyond mere ground. Now who could tell
just what is rain and what it is that comes to rest
at that watershed where land and weather shift?
Between headstones and puddles – what will you later find
in that shimmering absence where sun now burns off mist?
We’ve all been sieved by weather, land,
but now it seems one’s bones might pan
for flecks of something bright to stick
between the breastbone and the floating rib.
Count yourself lucky, can you, through the zero
of this ground? Be less than the gravedigger’s distant grunt?
Just something seeping, molecule by molecule,
ghost-borne through lime, past worm, through strange soil,
through walls tabled into water, a name glossed
across the mahogany of a dull séance. Grund.
Ground. And the mills of God grind exceeding small.
The old grind that did for you. (Now you’re hallowed,
hollowed out, just like the ground.) And that’ll do.
Will do for me what did for you. Will do for all.
We’re born between piss and shit,
or so St Augustine once said.
Live long enough and the likelihood now is
that’s how you’ll end up dead.
I took some bleach and scrubbed until I’d turned
bathroom porcelain, tile and throne, to bone.
I thought about St Augustine,
then sat on her living room floor,
ignoring the odd ring from the phone.
With nothing very much to say anymore,
I thought I could be a bit like her
– to take it off the hook would give too much away –
thought I could be and yet not be here.
Inter urines et faeces nascimur.
“Psychokiller, qu’est ce que c’est?” Talking Heads
Psychopompos, qu’est ce que c’est?
This talking head’s the talking dead.
Those Tibetan, Egyptian and, of course, the guy
who wrote that Dade County Book of the Dead
can’t help you now, your eyes too dim to hook
the print. Is there no help-line you can call?
Mary Baker Eddy had a phone installed
in her coffin: a Bakelite communication cord,
for those who’d lived, passed on, in fear
of Locked-In Syndrome. Buried alive?
You’ll be lucky to wake up dead. The dead live on
in speedial, shine from memory cards, cell-phones.
You forget. Today you caught yourself picking up
the land-line to tell your mother that she’s dead.
After The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein
When atoms dance who knows what’s left?
Fat loosens, shivers, shimmers, runs, gets off
on smoke. What’s not elsewhere now’s just grit,
stuff you clung to, or what clung to you.
The dead squat on in living rooms, hunker down
on the mantelpiece, squared into that wooden box
whose perspectives decide the longer thing is mocked.
Below the gilded mirror, in pride of place,
these heirlooms take their obliquer angle,
the tacit footnote to each passing face.
Skill paints the skull both clandestine and thin,
then the artist slips it, blade-like, in.
Dry bones or leaves, let vision wither as it blooms:
time-lapse phantoms; the ashplant in every room.
After John Donne: “and when the whirlewind hath blown the dust of the Churchyard into the Church…”
What we believed for years, it’s not quite true:
this household dust’s not just flaked skin,
dead cells you’ve sloughed, the little bits of you
that persist to cloud your reflection on the glass.
When he preached, John Donne still dwelt on bodies
(the ladies in St Paul’s all hats, tight bodices,
hips and swelling décolletage, so soon unstuck).
He saw how you, your neighbour’s skin, might fly
– those motes now caught upon a beam of sun –
into another’s mouth, or lung, or eye.
Forget motes. Your skin and sweat are meat and drink.
Your bed’s a megalopolis of mites. Think
shower, sink: drains clogged. Black mushrooms. Hair.
That’s you. That’s all your family, down there.
That desperate last clinch, crouched in ash;
the silence writhing in the plaster cast;
the burning babe in its pyroclastic womb;
the prisoners chained to the wall as cell turns tomb;
the dog at the end of its tether, frenzied forever.
Anti-bodies, post-human holes filled in white:
a Rachel Whiteread space, a house now ghost;
dark matter highlighted, the bright solidity of dust;
what got lost in translation, the word as unmade flesh.
While all that is solid melts into air,
the peep-shows of the bandaged dead go on:
quirks, freaks, (fakes?), the stolen and/or pickled organs.
Elsewhere, in municipal freezers, stalactites
drip from fingers, feet grow toenails of ice.
Sometimes I worry about my innards, think
of glistening bags, throbbing mucoid things,
fat-frilled glands, those meaty ghosts just hanging out;
reflect on endocrines, the reptile brain, the seep
of deep glandular time, the caecum’s cul-de-sac:
all the blind turns where this body bumps up
against itself, ebbs on cue from its silts and dreck.
Sometimes I try to reckon the damage done:
how short the breath, how far the liver’s wrecked;
the memory’s loss – now where was I? – how far it’s gone:
thinning hair, muddy hearing, blunted sight.
Can’t find your specs; must buy that special reading light.
You trombone to focus on what the small-print said.
Don’t remember signing up for this.
Terms and Conditions apply. This is the deal,
the one that terminates with you dead.
Calculate the years you fell behind,
penalty clauses, the payments now due for real.
Day of the Dead again;
last night loosed little devils,
bloodied dwarfs, some larger fiends
who tricked and treated
their way along my street,
while inside in the dark
the last few widows
fearing egg-snotted windows
kept worrying at wrappers,
fingers too cold
to melt the chocolate
[sniggers, door knockers]
from mini-Mars, Milky Ways,
rasp the crinkly fishtail of a Snickers.
Day of the Dead
La Flaca, La Huesuda, La Pelona:
some twiggy, the skinny, the bony, the one and only
truly chic bald lady. Thin? She’s lean,
lankier than any catwalk slinky; hips mean
as a hinge, and dressed so sharp (skirt slashed
by flanks like pinking shears) it’s hard to tell
elbow from her scrawny arse.
Who could flog rags to this dead clothes-horse?
She prods your shoulder with a finger
harder than any granny’s dimpled thimble;
measures you up for a tux, reserves a box.
You’re so last year. But odd is always à la mode.
And now you’re well stitched up, your seamstress
seems to have slipped into another dress;
La Catrina the gracious Hostess
has had your name embossed across the stiffie.
No need to RSVP.
Le tout Enfer est invité.
Cliff Forshaw lives in Hull, England, where he teaches at the university. His collections include Trans and, most recently, Vandemonian.