About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis (susanlewis.net) is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit (positjournal.com) and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.

Soledad Salamé

—click on any image to enlarge—

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—images courtesy of Goya Contemporary and the artist—

Artist’s Statement

 

My art is a conceptual and visual exploration of the intersection of science, technology, and social justice issues defining the age in which we live. Engaged with the political implications of environmental issues, my recent work maps vulnerable marginalized communities suffering the greatest consequences of natural disasters.

Working in glass, silk, and paper effectively extended my visual vocabulary, incorporating textual relief elements to underscore collective negligence regarding climate change, including rapid melting of glaciers and polar ice caps. Climate change has triggered people’s migration from areas affected by rising water and unstable weather. In the USA, Border security policies intensify the social impact of migration, exacerbating unsustainable environmental practices.

Our world is in a constant flux and transformation. The way we communicate our actions’ consequences has been transformed. We once created a tactile object – a newspaper — providing a richly physical interaction made from plant-based paper; today, with the slow death of print media, we interact with world news through digital reporting, easily distorted or manipulated.

I wish to record this change as a call to action to protect both the earth’s precious natural resources and its people, while pointing to the fragile beauty surrounding us. By magnifying the pleasures inherent in natural materials — paper, textiles, and even sand-based glass – my work seeks to remind us of the magnificence and splendor that may be lost if we do not protect the environment.

Soledad Salamé, American, was born in Santiago, Chile in 1954. She currently lives and works
in Baltimore, Maryland, where she directs Sol Print Studio, an experimental space for artists to develop and refine their printmaking skills.

 

From 1973 to 1983 Salamé lived and studied in Venezuela. During this time she was exposed to the rainforest, a pivotal experience in her artistic development. As an interdisciplinary artist, Salamé creates work that originates from extensive research of specific environmental and human rights topics. In the pursuit of new ideas, she has conducted intensive field research in the Americas, and Antarctica.

Her work has been presented at multiple venues, Baltimore Museum of Art, Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, MD. Milwaukee Art Museum, WI; Denver Museum of Art, CO; Miami Art Museum, FL; El Museo Del Barrio, NY; The Women Museum, Washington DC; and the Museo de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile.

Salamé’s work is represented in private and public collections internationally, including The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, The Baltimore Museum of Art. Her work is included in The Contemporary Museum, 20 Years, by Irene Hoffman, Latin American Women Artists of the United States, by Robert Henkes and Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century, by Edward J. Sullivan.

Ben Miller

from Make

SPREAD 17 (LEARN TO LIVE / WITH THE MIND YOU HAVE / LEARN TO LIVE)
SPREAD 18 (FORGET THE MELODY / REMEMBER THE HARMONY)
SPREAD 19 (THE DECAF COFFEE IS WORKING)
SPREAD 20 (STATUE HONORING / THE STANZA / YET TO BE WRITTEN)

SELECTED NOTES ON MAKE

While the preceding poetic territory relies on the insistent enigma of the writing process as a source of music, I offer these notes to readers interested in delving further into the minutiae of the text. Generally excluded are identifications of historical figures, place names, and other entities that might be located via obvious Internet keyword searches unless there is a detail to add not readily available to the public and which I deem of importance to understanding what is happening.

SPREAD 17 (LEARN TO LIVE WITH…)

FEAR OF VIOLENCE

A terror that has disrupted my relationship with America—and my family—since I was a child listening to a mother tell bedtime stories based on details of famous mass murders she had learned about from paperbacks carried in her huge purse.

the tide

For me, always, the tide is the gray-green current off Montauk, Long Island.

art that puts hair on my chest

Ref. to tiny snippets of paper found on my shirt during the composing of this poem.

COME BACK AFRICA

Ref. to the black-and-white film Come Back, Africa (1959) directed by Lionel Rogosin (1924-2000) and starring the mesmerizing Mariam Makeba (1932-2008); notable for its frank depiction of the Apartheid Era in South Africa.

have a good obey

Ref. to the once ubiquitous t-shirt (created by the artist Shephard Fairey: 1970-) featuring OBEY above an image of French wrestler Andre the Giant (1946-1993).

EMPTION

Emotion lacking full emotional content—a feeling preempted by inner obstacles.

SPREAD 18 (FORGET THE MELODY…)

gallows rope, good wood ruined, peeling sill paint, roach brother ETC

Stray details of the house I grew up in.

RRE

When a yard in an energetic city resembles an abandoned rural property.

THE TIMES GUT

Ref. to my father’s habit of tossing aside sections of the Sunday newspaper that collected around his recliner like the inky offal of a disemboweled continuum.

Whyam

Homage to the curious joy I always experience when reading the name Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), one of the founders of the art movement known as Vorticism.

SPREAD 19 (THE DECAF COFFEE…)

w b web

Ref. to prophetic lines spun by poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).

swan lake

My great grandfather, Frank Miller, an immigrant from Scotland and a mechanic for the Milwaukee Road rail line, built a cottage on this Wisconsin lake. The place was magic to me. It made me want to run outside instead of hide from a difficult world: cool sandy soil, wildflowers, green lake smell, the whip-poor-will calling from pines.

bow-tie kind

Ref. to the courtly next door neighbor Mr. Hickey who always let pre-teen me in when I knocked on his door upset about events at home or on the playground.

lonnie’s lessons

Tree-climbing 18-year-old red-haired son of the Baptist minister who moved in across the street when I was ten and taught me how to tie a fisherman’s knot.

RAGBRAI

Ref. to the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, a summer event sponsored by the state’s largest newspaper that I participated in after I sold my comic book collection to raise funds to purchase a 10-speed Fuji bicycle.

meeting anna

The pink-hat-wearing writer I met in September of 1986 at 19 University Place in New York City, and married on December 9, 1989, in downtown Brooklyn.

Big Nick Nicholas

Saxophone player George Walker Nicholas (1922-1997)—nickname “Deedle dum”—was famous for hosting after hours jams in the 1950s at Harlem’s Paradise Club. I heard him play at St . Peter’s church in Manhattan in the 1990s.

bologna cut in squares and fried

Childhood meal staple I irrationally found more palatable if cut into different shapes before being fried in margarine.

sister dead at 44

For decades my talented sister Marianna Rose Miller (1967-2011) struggled with alcoholism and the effects of sexual abuse that occurred when she was a child.

michael dead at 31

Michael Current (1961-1992), high school classmate and visionary political activist whose work was responsible for the introduction of a gay rights bill in the Iowa Legislature in the late 1980s; he died of a diabetic crisis in Des Moines, the capital.

jack dead at 19

Jack Seier (1964-1983), president of my high school class and songwriter I supplied with lyrics; he drowned in the Mississippi River.

GUTHRIE HOOKER TATUM

Ref. to three musicians who taught me more about history than any book: Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), John Lee Hooker (1917-2001), Art Tatum (1909-1956).

duck creek, mississippi river…

Bodies of water—Iowa to Paris—that have lectured to me on many subjects.

lawless lawyers

Ref. to my parents, attorneys presiding over a home where no laws existed.

SPREAD 20 (STATUE HONORING THE STANZA…)

22nc

The 22nd draft not cooperating either.

thq

Thanks expressed in a questioning tone to a lovely image that interrupts a text.

lawk

When one embarks on a harmless lark that ends up preying on them like a hawk.

don’t forget hair

As with the hair of a corpse, I find that a draft filed deep in a cabinet still continues to grow in a fashion, new lines occurring to me at odd intervals.

L.R.

Initials of the pianist and composer Leon Russell (1942-2016) whose 1971 album Stranger in a Strange Land is on my Top Ten Supernal Albums list.

Ben Miller’s writing has appeared in Best American Experimental Writing, Best American Essays, Raritan, Salmagundi, AGNI, New England Review, Southern Review, Fiction International, and elsewhere. His awards include fellowships from the NEA and the Radcliffe Institute, as well as grants from the South Dakota Arts Council and the Schlesinger Library. He is the author of River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll Amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa.

Donna McCullough

 

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Artist’s Statement

 

Fashion is well known as a reliable reflection of cultural trends and historical events. On a personal level, it has become my creative vehicle for exploring and recording life events—my three dimensional diary.

My inspiration arose from contemplating the dichotomy between the perception of women as fragile, delicate creatures, and the reality that most women are defined by resiliency and steely resolve. My work is about women and culture – women throughout history and women in my life. I employ a juxtaposition of extremes such as lightness and gravity, suppleness and intransigence, to convey feminine sensibilities.

Crafted of steel and embellished with flourishes of wire mesh, screening, cut-outs and bits of found objects, the dresses are at once both elegant and imposing. I use steel and various found metals including tin cans and vintage oil cans. Nearly all of the materials I use are recycled. I like the duplicitous nature of steel which can be manipulated to appear feminine and soft while actually maintaining its strength and rigidity—an expression in contrasts and complements. Through the dresses, I am combining opposites to activate harmonious and ethereal beauty.

Donna M. McCullough was born and currently lives in Maryland. Beginning her career as a painter and print maker, McCullough switched to sculpture in 1996. Working mostly in steel and found objects, she has also ventured into other media including stone and wood. She has exhibited at the Corcoran Museum of Art, the Art Museum of the Americas, the Hickory Museum of Art, the International Museum of the Horse, the Grounds for Sculpture, and the United States Botanic Garden. Her work is in collections nationally and internationally.

Justin Lacour

Sonnet (April song)

So often, I’m in line at MO FOR LESS
TOBACCO, wearing one of the t-shirts I
got for free at the blood center, & think it’d
be nicer to be in your arms, drinking stout &
listening to Vic Chesnutt. I’ve felt like crying
all damn morning. It’s just me & the leaf blower
guys on the street. This day will disappear &
I won’t get to talk to you. It makes for a panic
on top of the panic of simply being honest while
still trying to be funny. (But if I wanted you to feel sorry
for me, I’d say I’m reading novels alone in the sarcastic
afternoon.) When you speak it’s like an animal breathing
deep inside an ice sculpture of the same animal. Even the
way you shake your umbrella is completely arthouse.

Sonnet (Tiny steps)

The woman at the discount grocery,
the one with the neck brace & the
YOGA IS NOT CHURCH t-shirt,
has probably forgotten more than I know
about passion in sad rooms, but I
want to surprise you w/a serrated
valentine I hammered together, surprise
you w/a story of how a bird swooped down
& swallowed a venus flytrap, but the flytrap
gnawed a hole in the bird’s belly midair till
they both crashed by the orthodontics place.
You may say “That’s not even how it works,” but don’t
worry. This story is just for you. You love tenacious
venus flytraps & this is how we build our culture.

Sonnet (Sonnet beginning w/my neighbor Kenny)

Kenny says he’s rewatched The Blair Witch
Project
w/fresh eyes. He sees a heretofore
unthinkable love triangle. I nod politely.
I wish the three beers I drank would wash
me back to you, even just to catch a bad movie.
Do you remember my dad when Blair Witch
came out? “Boy, go grab the camcorder &
make your father thirty million dollars.”
We shrugged & drove out into a night that
seemed to never end. That was then. Now, I
struggle to just keep our conversation going.
I could replace birds w/mechanical birds;
only you would notice. The wind’s turned
caustic; light still filters through the trees.
The light still tries, but now it has to try harder.

Justin Lacour lives in New Orleans and edits Trampoline: A Journal of Poetry. He is the author of three chapbooks, including My Heart is Shaped Like a Bed: 46 Sonnets (Fjords Books 2022) and This Fire forthcoming from Ursus Americanus Press.

Peter Grandbois

It’s not that I’m lost

like the mouse
decaying

somewhere in the basement

the one I can smell but can’t
find

I wake into clothes without
a body

walk through the labyrinth
of days

the skin grows all sorts of things
when you die

flies buzzing in ears that no longer
hear

the weeping inside

each step no more than
a biography

a calling to each other

like the sickly-sweet scent
of the mouse

that must be somewhere
in the basement

if only I could find it

I could give you my newborn
name

bind you to me with a pearl
in your mouth

stack bones against your feet

in a dream like that I could tell you
about the little bloom

of its eyes

its throat of charred
dusk

in a dream like that I could find
that mouse

lay the story of its body
down

bury it in the long arm
of leaves

fallen

like a solstice

like a simple breath

upon the earth

This blind dream

You remember
yesterday

how you said
you’d take flight

from this blind
dream

How you’d never sit
counting drips
from the faucet

never open the aviary
of your doorless body
again

only to find
a stranger

There is no mistaking
this haunted sky
for a field

where you might dig free
of this chosen
silence—

snow-covered
hemlocks

snow-covered
pines

longer than the splinter
in your eye

split from your last brief
revelation

Often, I return

to a dog-eared page
and wonder why

or stare at an antique photo
of a loved one

as if it’s a window
open to rain

I wander this still life
of a city

through the slow wash
of days framed

by the pain in the mouth
of a passerby—

a foreigner depending
on the safe lies of memory

while life hums with almost
blossoms

and drunk ghosts stumbling
along boulevards

mutter vague curses
of what might have been

Because the sparrows in the trees
whistle carefree and loud

Because the coyote calls
her whelps yipping from lack

Because you keep asking
how deep the snow

I walk through the soughing wind
into the dimming light

Faith, after all, was easy then
before the road turned

back, then back, again

Peter Grandbois is the author of thirteen books. His work has appeared in over one hundred and fifty journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is poetry editor at Boulevard and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. You can find him at petergrandbois.com.

Elaine Equi

Interiors

You can always recede further,
tunnel deeper.

Darkness is relative
where backlit screens abound.

Today everyone is inside
the cold.

We say, “What are you watching?”

We’re bingeing a show about
a living doll that replaces a dead child.

They’re bingeing a show about
vampires and witches.

All afternoon, the episodes
accumulate like supernatural snow.

Replacement Parts

Riding in a taxi on a grey day.

It seems everything is under construction
behind a mesh veil of soot and scaffolds.

A new city is emerging so gradually
no one will notice, the way they say
a body replaces all its cells every seven years.

It will feel as if nothing has changed,
and yet none of this – not a bit of us –
will remain.

A different woman will be riding
in a different taxi on a cold but sunny day.

Tragic Sweater

In the moths
that followed

the ________,

she found
herself slowly
unraveling.

Spider Soup and Magic Rocks

I did it —

drained the shallow
bowl of sweet, sharp
spider’s liqueur,

then pocketed
the magic rocks
from the scholar’s library.

Stole his dusty memories,
replacing them with ordinary
stones from the yard.

Didn’t hesitate.
Didn’t stop to think.
Didn’t think I had it in me.

But I did.

Everyone into the Pyramid

Grab your pets and your iPads,

your altars, your avatars
and alter egos.

I drink the last light.

I am the hours that fly.

Take your sex toys and your almonds
dusted with pink Himalayan salt.

Don’t forget the Book of Passwords.

Everyone into the pyramid now.

Elaine Equi’s latest book is The Intangibles from Coffee House Press. Her other books include Ripple Effect: New & Selected Poems, Click and Clone, and Sentences and Rain. She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at The New School.

DPNY

Black Glove: Androgynoire

Testimony I

antechamber

Black Glove: Androgynoire

This piece is about reaching through the body to initiate androgynoire, a conjured Black genderqueer identity. It is about coming into personal power, awakening Voice during a time of transformation. In Androgynoire: Black Glove, “No!” is a complete expression which functions on multiple levels. It is an emotional experience of confusion, fear, and faith. It is in resistance to an old myth about the self, “No, no!”

Androgynoire is a performance interacting with an unreal body that has yet to catch up with the transformation of the spirit and psyche. This work recognizes that there are layers of change, palimpsests of the self. All of which we hope to speak in one resounding voice, but which harbor newly examined, newly released or newly noticed selves in times of transformation.

An experience of iterative clarification, this work is about reaching beyond the rigidity of complete self-knowledge in awakenings to gendered selves. The character tests the reality, receptivity and malleability of their body even as they lean into faith “en route” to the “No!” of self-assertion. “No” and “Faith” are boundaried refrains, even as the character surrenders to the open-endedness of their layer-by-layer transformation.

Testimony 1

This is an expository piece done in partnership with JEI (Justice & Empowerment Initiative), part of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation. Elders of the Otodo Gbame, an indigenous community of Lagos, share the harrowing experience of being violently displaced from their land, severed from their generations-long ways of life and livelihood. The Otodo Gbame through this violence have been separated from their children, and forced to live in inhumane conditions in the slums of Lagos. Their displacement is due to aggression from a monied, ethnic royal family, the Elegushi, and the wider political and economic context of an aspirational Lagos. This Lagos yearns to command international attention and investments as the economic and cultural destination of West Africa. This Lagos disperses the indigenous poor, commandeering their land to construct sprawling developments – symbols of the city’s efforts to be seen among the international set of glittering metropoles.

‘Testimony’ is defined as ‘a formal written or spoken statement saying what you know to be true, usually in court.’ The Otodo Gbame are survivors speaking their truth in the court of human conscience, calling on international bystanders, like myself, to act.

Testimonies from the lips of the Otodo endure the process of a once- and twice- related story, morphing and changing. While this work aims to retain the potency of the testimonies, the video highlights the piecemeal nature of spoken truth pushed through the sieve of translation: collaged images, sound, and layered text, all elements which introduce distance between the original storyteller/testifier and the artist/audience. The entire work is a translation, acquiring its own poetics and thickening the film of understanding.

Antechamber

My mind had been consumed with the implications of current technological development which, under various guises, can be lacking humanity, sensitivity, and insight. As we engineer high-tech tools, perhaps, too, we engineer (dehumanize, weaponize) ourselves. I hoped to contain a quiet duality in the builder: engaged in manual craft work, sharing a certain understanding of tools (technology). The builder embodies humanity, from time immemorial and into a not-yet-rendered future, as fashioner and fashioned.

Sometimes, “humans don’t make good tools”, sometimes we’re “not thinking.” We are still in the age of human as capital, begun with the transatlantic slave trade, and continuing in the version of capitalism we live in today. Perhaps the global environmental and socioeconomic consequences of modern capitalism are indicative of how we aren’t “thinking” (reasoning, sensing, being wise) while making tools of people. Acknowledging the violent belief that Black feminine sexuality is something to be shaped and possessed, joyous, embodied dancers also exist in flagrant juxtaposition to the transformation of people into anthropomorphic objects (tools).

Tools and technologies need empathetic human touch to be effectively useful for non-harmful human ends. If social systems are technologies which produce tools, we proved capable of making tools of ourselves and each other on spectra of harm and agency. What kinds of tools are high-harm, high-agency and what are their purposes? Does a tool exist that is low-harm, low-agency, and what is its purpose?

This quasi-didactic flipbook masticates on the depth of our lack. A lack that persists despite the seeming value or “bountiful” prospects of humanity’s creations. I roll between teeth and gums how observable violence is fed by the less visible background of ignorant intention. Sense and sensitivity are accomplices and essential elements of any good tool/technology. Together “the crumb and the meal.”

DPNY is trained as an urban planner and spends their time creating DIY-style video and sonic performances made with open-source software. They employ an autobiographical approach to investigating friction between internal and collective selves, and social and political pathologies. Their work circles the poetics of psychological survival and the tight spaces of self-scrutiny and transformation in response to these universal experiences.

TJ Beitelman

Broken Hymn for Babel

– 1 –       There was a pink paper I remember when
– 2 –       One man I know read the library
– 3 –       Words are terrible. Music is terrible. Minds
– 4 –       Instead of school—no—my mother’s warm

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       I made these, folded in half, lengthwise:
– 2 –       Book by book until it broke up
– 3 –       Jumble in them. I was the boy
– 4 –       Hatchback (where are you going, son?)—

___________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       A transcription in something like an order—
– 2 –       His mind or marriage or bank account—
– 3 –       Following the ants to the woods—
– 4 –       Black line of beings. Strung together. Indecipherable.

Broken Hymn for the Better Part of Valor

– 1 –       The Gnostics kept mum about it, everything.
– 2 –       (Who on earth is he talking to?)
– 3 –       I tried to learn everything yesterday but that—
– 4 –       That promise to compensate us in perpetuity…

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       It was their religion. This freighted silence.
– 2 –       (Who on earth am I writing for?)
– 3 –       Was a terrible failure because I didn’t—
– 4 –       I shouldn’t have said anything at all.

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       How often we must ask for forgiveness.
– 2 –       (Who would ask such terribly stupid questions?)
– 3 –       Have the vocabulary to jujitsu my way
– 4 –       I should have left well enough alone.

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       The bishop says, “I’m a priest too.”
– 2 –       Are they really lies, these hidden answers—
– 3 –       To new understandings, or revelatory medicinal toxins
– 4 –       No one needs to know the truth.

Broken Hymn that is a Eulogy

– 1 –       Annie Due Loveless packed up in her
– 2 –       Out: what you doing you got family
– 3 –       And purple-flowered weeds in a green
– 4 –       Not do more than write our lines

__________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       Tomb in this the city’s oldest cemetery
– 2 –       buried up in this place? We do
– 3 –       clover patch. A storm of dust kicked
– 4 –       And step where we should not step.

___________________________________________________________________________

– 1 –       One woman a full round Venus shouts
– 2 –       Not. The ground is baked hard. Anthills
– 3 –       Up by the caretaker’s mower. We do
– 4 –       And tell our lies. Homeless. Loveless. Due.

Broken Sonnet as Epitaph for Straight Talk

(A) Here lies topography plate tectonics free market / (B) Graveyard. This graveyard killed children six times // (C) The ranking member of this or that / (D) The fourth estate (to suit the truth // (E) Up. It never happened. It never happened. / (A)- Capitalism magic and epiphany and the coffee // (B) Sixty times. We are children. Seen better / (C) Congressional committee this or that working group— // (D) Of fiction). Here lies the sun, sky, / (E) I said: Here: Lies (It never happened.) // (A) Magnate. Six children kill time in our / (B) Days. Here lies wind shear. Here lies // (C) The fourth estate is dead. Here lies / (D) All the other stars. We made them

 

Broken Abecedarian on the Occasion of an Impromptu Middle-School Field Trip to Kelly-Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama, C. 2019

All together we traipse into the monumental park
Zero sum game. Zenith of what’s lost.

Built for reconciliation for shame for this
Year after year without fanfare, without fail:

City’s hard-earned blues. Young activists play
X marks where the bomb went off.

Dodgeball in the grass on lunch break.
Wreaths placed down at the blast place.

Every atom in the high sky: blue.
Vesuvius of hate on a Sunday morning.

Filament of breeze, and one man dances:
Ultraviolet. History of ultraviolence one block over.

Grace in a tattered red cowboy hat
The city answers this with sunsoaked springtime,

His impossibly baggy jeans, red cape.
Sent me home to count my money.

Impossible. Red. He sings, moves. He is
Right after the doctor stitched my wounds

Just—justice—what the doctor ordered today.
Quarrelsome: my mother would sue, she says,

Kick like a showgirl my cowboy! Improvise
Possibly understand because she is so joyful,

Lyrics for what’s left of joy, exuberance:
Or else she says something I can’t

No, says Mya, I’d be horribly injured
Melany says No, Mya! You’d be dead.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid

The man says she should shoot him now, shoot him “right in the fucking head.” The man says go ahead. There is a pattern. Blood sprays in a pattern. A wall is a wall. It can be wiped clean. Painted fresh. Life goes on: portraits of young children frozen in time; protein film unseen in real sunlight later glows electric, and always. Piece it together. Explain it away. Aftermath is still life. (9 mm.) (.30-06.) (Cancerous organ.) (Ignorance.) (Excess.) (Sentiment.) (Earthquake.) (Pilot error.) (Phillips head.) The man says it again. (Tongue, teeth. Tire iron.) (God.) (Fear of God, fear of fear.) (Car bomb, shrapnel.) He should be shot in the fucking head or anything or anything (Hammer, claw.) (Sick blood.) as long as she can bring herself (Boot heel, hands.) to do it now, to do it right this very second.
TJ Beitelman is the author of three poetry collections, most recently This Is the Story of His Life from Black Lawrence Press. He can be found online at tjbman.me.

nicole v basta

where to begin or what are you bringing

three blocks from here / steps on a house lead only to a window
a suggestion of what is now gone / or simply some stupid hope
is there a sky if you have no one to point at it with / of course

is it my blood or the story of it / found a dull knife left at the park
a paper bag drifted past a duck / and my hands now grow blue
rivers / old enough to pocket the sugar packets / the coffee is still

fifty cents here / and the color of moth wings / because more milk
keeps us full longer / on the donut shop television / the weatherman
says there is still a chance of a soldier / the newsman says it is possible

to remain tethered to only what is alive / but all that widens in me
is the curtain of hands bruising our hips / my thighs cling to this
vinyl booth / almost like how the only way i’ve ever made meaning

is to pile it all together / like how the shoulder of the culm bank
hillside still blocks the morning sun / how when they tried to bring in
those plants that can grow anywhere / the people here refused them

and i’d like to think it was to keep the memory of coal alive / but really
we are what we’re used to/ and maybe our memorials are a little curious
but i still climb on through that window / and so what are you bringing

who’s with you at the end of the world                and are they alive

dear eva,

on the mantle of the television: saint anthony, ashtray, talking christmas tree.

in america, instead of tenderness, we use plastic as the counterweight to all the violence. leaning on a cart at the dollar store as a child, i slip and cut open my toe. consolation prizes are all around me.

back on joseph lane, when lollipop joe wouldn’t answer the door, little me would bite her cheeks as she descended the stairs to the cellar. alfreda was most likely in the garden or on the back porch with a kool on her lips. this close to the earth, i am tucked inside the cold hands of our longest shadows. but i don’t know it, really.

it is just a feeling until the truth is told— a ceiling so low and a tool box tipped. don’t you worry, i am mostly insulated, the proper blindfolds have been rested over my eyes. i am picking up wrenches now and making a lovely clanking sound.

later, in the bathtub, i may slip into darkwater, my lungs might shrink into a straw. the sound i make may frighten my mother. she might wonder what is wrong with me. she may have hope while she prays the rosary.

or she may feel no hope knowing, deep down, we are all the product of the same familiar thieves.

what is it they say about forgetting?
it is on the top of my throat, it is standing on a chair, this forgiveness.

always,
n

nicole v basta’s recent poems have found homes in Ploughshares, Waxwing, Willow Springs, RHINO, Plume, The Cortland Review, etc. She is the author of the chapbook V, the winner of The New School’s Annual Contest and the chapbook the next field over, out now from Tolsun Books. Find more here: nicolevbasta.com

Editors’ Notes (Posit 31)

 

Welcome to Posit 31! We’re excited to offer another selection of poetry, video, visual art, and text + image that is as aesthetically innovative as it is emotionally resonant. The works in this issue deal with matters of the gravest collective hazard: war, climate change, injustice and inequality, as well as the personal suffering caused by loss, loneliness, aging, and mortality. They also explore the tenderness and exuberance of love, hope, and the joy of being alive. Formally, these works engage a particularly exciting range of original and experimental approaches to the realities of memory and experience.

As TJ Beitelman’s “Broken Sonnet as Epitaph for Straight Talk” declares and enacts, the art in this issue offers a much-needed alternative to linear approaches which do not suffice when “topography plate tectonics free market . . . killed children six times” and “the fourth estate is dead.” Since sometimes “the only way I’ve ever made meaning // is to pile it all together” (nicole v basta, “where to begin or what are you bringing”) these works eschew the temptation “to cover the hole over” (Ben Miller, “Re: Writing”) at the heart of our messy lives. In place of any such flimsy and misleading patches, these works offer a fascinating and insightful range of approaches to its irreducible topography.

nicole v basta’s poems wrestle with the necessity and problematics of hope in a society in which materialism is more cause than salve for the misery and alienation at its core. These poems confront an “america, [where] instead of tenderness, we use plastic as the counterweight to all the violence” and a child anticipates dollar store “consolation prizes” from a mother who “prays the rosary” without hope, “knowing, deep down, we are the product of the same familiar thieves.” Aspiring to a forgiveness which may be just out of emotional reach (“on the top of my throat . . . standing on a chair”) these poems manage to grasp a wise kind of hope uncoupled from illusion and find the courage to ask “where to begin and what are you bringing” – all the way to “the end of the world.”

TJ Beitleman’s innovative “broken” works free the reader by departing from the familiar forms of hymnbook lyrics, sonnets and abecedarians to suggest new ways to interpret and perceive the text. In the “Broken Hymn” series, Beitelman offers, and scrambles, lyrics one might see in a hymn book, suggesting that the poem be read both traditionally and as a mirror image that has slipped like a fault line off its axis. All of the poems are “broken” in form as well as content, concerned with fragments of regret, broken minds and broken marriages: “Words are terrible. Music is terrible. Minds jumble in them.” With its combination of science and politics, history and geology, “Broken Sonnet as Epitaph for Straight Talk” tries to make sense of our fragmentary knowledge: “(A) Here lies topography plate tectonics free market / (B) Graveyard. This graveyard killed children six times // (C) The ranking member of this or that / (D) The fourth estate (to suit the truth // (E) Up. It never happened. It never happened.” In Beitleman’s (and our) world with its unrelenting violence, these startling juxtapositions of form and content give us a choice to either “Piece it together” or “Explain it away” in light of the fact that “Aftermath is still life.”

In DPNY’s innovative and piercing short films, the concerns of the I are shown to be inextricable from the concerns of community. In recounting personal challenges, collective experiences of war, and what it means to be human, both now and for our future, DPNY explores the visual of the body, collaged with written and spoken word, recorded interview, and innovative cuts of images meaningful to the artist’s history. In “Androgynoire,” images of the artist and their voice show us a person “fully splintered,” honoring the strength of the word “No” to reiterate “I regulate myself now.” In “Testimony 1,” a visual map of Lagos and collaged written words accompany the spoken testimony of refugees from a civil war, recalling the violence and death. We are confronted with the physical and emotional devastation of ordinary people who “used to do well” but “will never have the capacity to do it again.” As DPNY says, “The Otodo Gbame are survivors speaking their truth in the court of human conscience, calling on international bystanders, like myself, to act.”

With her signature insight and wit, Elaine Equi’s tightly crafted new poems consider how we live now with a bemused empathy that brings out the tragic humor of the human condition. These pieces center on time — “the hours that fly” and “drink the last light,” in the context of a planet reeling from a pandemic and facing the prospect of environmental doom. Yet despite their observations on isolation, decline, immorality, and death (“sweet, sharp / spider’s liqueur”), these poems are as funny as we are, teetering on the brink of our self-inflicted demise. As Equi dryly observes: “Darkness is relative / where backlit screens abound.” But the distraction of our backlit screens cannot undo the mess we have made IRL, so the time has come for “Everyone [to get] into the Pyramid,” bringing not only our “altars . . . avatars / and alter egos” but our “iPads . . . sex toys and . . . almonds/ dusted with pink Himalayan salt.”

Peter Grandbois’ bleakly beautiful verses confront the challenge of continuing to “walk through the labyrinth of days” after the loss of a loved one. Unlike someone “depending / on the safe lies of memory” the bereaved narrator cannot forget “how you said / you’d take flight / from this blind dream” rather than “sit / counting drips / from the faucet.” Eschewing the comforts of faith or illusion, these poems express a pain as palpable as the truth at its core: “There is no mistaking / this haunted sky / for a field // where you might dig free / of this chosen / silence.” Nonetheless, the narrator chooses to “walk through the soughing wind / into the dimming light” because “life hums with almost / blossoms” – thereby offering the hope of hope, if not yet the thing itself.

In another kind of sonnet, Justin La Cour writes detailed and fantastic stories for his lover’s delectation with the ease of intimacy, to “surprise / you w/a story of how a bird swooped down / & swallowed a venus flytrap, but the flytrap / gnawed a hole in the bird’s belly midair til /they both crashed by the orthodontics place.” These sonnets contemplate day to day incidents with the pathos of loneliness: “This day will disappear & / I won’t get to talk to you. /… (But if I wanted you to feel sorry /for me, I’d say I’m reading novels alone in the sarcastic/afternoon.)” Then, in an original and moving compliment to the loved one, “When you speak it’s like an animal breathing /deep inside an ice sculpture of the same animal. Even the / way you shake your umbrella is completely arthouse.”

Donna McCullough works with steel, bronze, wire, and mesh to reimagine iconic forms of feminine adornment such as ball gowns and tutus. As lovely and beguiling as they are bold and witty, McCullough’s armored bodices sculpted from vintage motor oil cans and skirts of metal mesh handily upend female stereotypes of helplessness and fragility. In their stead, these sculptures decisively enact an alternative physical and psychological narrative of fortitude and capability in which feminine strength and practicality is part and parcel of its grace and beauty.

Like maps of thought itself, Ben Miller’s graffiti-like gestures and faux-naïve doodles wander through a cornucupia of textual meditations on life, memory, and art-making. Branching and winding, traveling backwards and upside-down, Miller’s combination of abstract and representational images, sensorial memory fragments, and essayistic cogitations create a world in which Keith Haring meets James Joyce. These works explore the artist’s choice to “walk . . . out on the constructions of the page” in order “to allow the piece to have shoots like a plant” rather than “cover the hole over and hope it stayed covered.” The sheer profusion and intricacy of marks and text presented in such deliberate and exuberant defiance of conventional directionality enact Miller’s commitment to “remain enmeshed in the intent to get fully lost / in the trusted atmosphere of being,” richly rewarding the reader/viewer willing to surrender to their riches.

Soledad Salamé has created a wide-ranging body of work honoring the beauty of the natural world and the radiance of its life-giving elements while warning us of its vulnerability to our abuse— as well as our own vulnerability to the increasingly catastrophic consequences of our recklessness. The depth and scope of her investigations into our impact on our environment encompasses drawing, painting, photography, print-making, stage design, and life-sized installation, featuring dynamic, living elements such as water and plants. Salamé’s explorations of light, water, and time are as meticulously researched and executed as they are wide-ranging and inventive, featuring painstaking re-creations of natural phenomena like ice, water, and resin-interred life forms, as well as technological elements like barcodes. Salamé’s precision-crafted worlds mirror and comment upon our own with a balance, and serenity made all the more disturbing by their implications.

Mara Adamitz Scrupe finds the core connection of human spirit in the procreation and decay of nature and the beauty in the commingling of animal and vegetable as well as the human passion to be the thing, as well as admire it: “& here I am /an enterprise flawed & wounded in amalgamates /of shame & hubris / ambition & my own private /hungers / something creamed off as in /scoop the topmost richest layer as in /smash the glass door to get inside.” Scrupe’s ornate imagery binds the feminine to the life of plants: “do not think I don’t know the important /element of any fabric /landscape / wild ginger on the precipice the down /slope the true side soft /pubescent & tender.” And in “Rope,” another kind of human passion possesses a modern Leda in the hubris of youth: “I was / I know I thought I knew / enough to let go of the rope.”

In Ashley Somwaru’s brilliant poems, the speaker interrogates her own fear and shame as a witness to her mother’s life. In “Eh Gyal,Yuh Nah Get Shame” the first shocking line (“You /want / to be bludgeoned /don’t you?”) plunges the reader into a depiction of a terrible beating and the speaker’s fear and shame projected as disdain of the victim. The vivid imagery of despair and the language of remembered childhood show the inevitability of this abuse: “Spine arched /like the leather belt used for beatings. / Slicked with soap and Black / Label. Pata stink. / Your body /as boulders breaking / sea waves.” The poem-as-interview “Dear Little One” speaks with a wrenching honesty that both blames and tries to understand a child’s abandonment of, and distancing from, her mother’s failure to resist brutality. “You didn’t understand before your mother became who she was, she was a motorcycle rider, a woman who could hold her head under water long enough to show you what breathing means. You should’ve said, Mother, I’ll stop feeding off your arms. Mother, I’ll let you stop slipping yourself into the pot.”

Barbara Tomash’s sensuous imagery and serious questioning are lyrically and intellectually bonded in a modern and fantastical philosopher’s treatise, a little sacred and a little profane. The form of the poems, reminiscent of incunabula, enshrines beauty in the natural and spiritual worlds: “isn’t it better to err on the side of / the invisible than the visible a / fine film of capillaries gathered / into veins leads back to my heart / on the far shore the growling of / other animals intensifies.” But the poems are also a history of the deadliness of our human attempts at science, and our mixed prayers to be defended from our own experiments: “yes we poured vinegar / and pepper into the mouth / applied red hot pokers to the feet /let it not come near me but cells / that have been starved for more / than five minutes die not from / lack of oxygen but when their / oxygen supply resumes let it not fold round or over me.” What if this poetic history of humanity is the foundation of a new way to think about the world? “What if I told you there is a peg in my center secured to the ground and yet I am freely spinning.”

In John Walser’s lyrical descriptions of music, an afternoon, or a word, each further search he makes deepens the feel of the described object, which also turns out not to be the subject of the poem, but rather the unnamable feeling behind that object: “But then something lets loose just a little /some shell, some husk, some bark /some pod, some rind, some hull /some skin, some chaff, some crust /some peel, some case, some carapace /Joe Williams’s voice /is candle wax / swallow snuffing /another flame / into loose smoke.” And in as beautiful a love poem as ever we’ve read, the word slough is defined, refined, and redefined into another word for love: “I love the word slough: always have: /its dryness: the way in my throat: /a chrysalis: it gets left behind /like a jacket on a bench…”

In considering the process of aging, Don Zirilli’s poems are both witty (“Imagine how cool I look lying on landscaping bricks, wondering when the ants will reach me, / considering I might be in a Tai Chi position called Unable to Get Up”) and disorienting, as poetry itself is disorienting and yet centers us in truth: “I have a warning / about the poems I sent you. They’re not done. The poems that you asked for / are not quite written. Whatever you saw in them is not entirely out of me.” Some realizations can only come later, as the poet remembers his childhood numbness in the face of a grandmother’s death: “but I believe I heard her long ago forgiving me /already for today /for the wintry / blankness of my head / the dull abandoned / fireplace of my heart / in a house burned down /that she would answer /to whom I would not speak.”

In Martha Zweig’s compressed poetics, wordplay and prosody are not ornaments or highlights but the very stuff of the poem’s construction. There are as many levels of irony and pathos in these lines as there are layers of assonance, alliteration, and internal rhyme, all delivered in snappy staccato rhythms underscoring the sharpness of the poet’s vision. Zweig’s punchy, high-friction linking of ending and beginning, creation and destruction, and ultimately, life and death throw off sparks of insight at gleeful risk of bursting into flame – not, perhaps, an altogether unappealing outcome for the narrator of “Gloaming” who prefers to “take another flirt at the world” rather than let herself get “suckered & sapped” by the “bluedevil dirty earth” with its “gory locks of lice / & beggary, strategy, calculus, scrapheap / scrubbed & pricked to glitter.”

Thank you so much for being here.

With love and gratitude,

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann