Maureen Owen

Distortions

—for lg & cs

vast white ruffles of cloud
bustling         dense         whipped
froth

rich fuzz of tawny         & slipping green
banks as tho herds of seals
sprawled         soft & slopping hills

dying her long black hair         black

I dyed my mother’s hair. I was 9 or 10 and we were too poor for her to frequent a salon. My mother had beautiful long black Irish hair, but she had gone white suddenly in her late 20’s. I would pin my own fuzzy, reddish hair back from my face, don big Playtex yellow gloves, and put on an apron. My mother would mix the magical Lady Clairol formula that smelled of hydrogen peroxide, put the same black-spattered blue towel over her shoulders, and hand me the bulbous squeeze bottle and her comb. We’d set up in the bathroom, fashioning a bright commercial, aluminum-capped hanging bulb. I had a special washcloth to wipe off quickly any black splotches I squirted on her forehead or ear tips or on my own arms. I would part a section of her hair, lay a careful line of the black dye to the roots of the part then comb it in and up and down the long strands. After we’d let it set in for an instructed length of time. Then, with me still wearing the oversized gloves and she still in her blue towel, we’d go to the larger kitchen sink and I would kneel on a chair and give her a sudsy shampoo and rinse out all the extra dye. Bending over her shoulders and neck I could see the black strands flow apart and the white of her scalp emerge in tiny winding rivers.

 

she could put on her left ear hearing aid
but not         her right         & sometimes
she could not put on her left either

back then
she would swing me up behind the saddle of the smokey mustang
go full gallop up the cow pasture til the very end fencing
my skinny arms wound around her waist for dear life         bounced
and flung          my sides pinching & aching
then         turn and gallop back through the cows         leap up the ditch         trotting
the gravel driveway        back ino the yard

 

I’d hire a cook
mince a scallion
boil a whale’s tooth

gusts bunt the pine tops
flat fir boughs whirl         float back
carve         a circle         sway
in place

sloppy sails (low slung)
A tad too oversized
flirting

braces
hymns

this roof is hers

 

Scarf Washing Day
nightly

At bedtime I mix in a Japanese sake cup a few drops of lavender with a small amount of olive oil and massage it into the bottoms of her feet, up and around each toe, and over the instep arch, paying special attention to the heel’s rough sides.

On her frail shoulders and curved back I gently rub Sarna crème and down over her bow bent ribcage and into the soft tissue at the nape of her neck. Sarna with its soothing creaminess and ability to lightly numb the skin against itchiness in the night.

 

that same train
ironically
later         that same day         robbed
by         different robbers

crisis night
ate at 7 — too late
open windows
close windows
too hot         too cold
get up         sit down
get up         sit down
wars with the pillows
needs ice in her water
leg rubs back rubs
needs shades raised
then lowered
bottoms of feet rubs
can’t breathe
get gum         get 7-up
needs more ice
bring in standing fan          and set up
Shut off standing fan         too chilly
more pillow fluffing         positioning
layers of pillows that won’t behave
some nights          we die several times         a night
some nights

Maureen Owen, former editor in chief of Telephone Magazine and Telephone Books, is the author of Erosion’s Pull from Coffee House Press, a finalist for the Colorado Book Award and the Balcones Poetry Prize. Her title American Rush: Selected Poems was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and her work AE (Amelia Earhart) was a recipient of the Before Columbus American Book Award. She has taught at Naropa University on campus and in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing Program, and in Naropa’s Summer Writing Program, and edited Naropa’s on-line zine not enough night through 19 issues. Her newest title Edges of Water is available from Chax PressChax Press. She has most recently had work in Dispatches, Positive Magnets, The Denver Quarterly, Vanitas #7, Bombay Gin’s Anselm Hollo Issue and New American Writing. She can be found reading her work on the PennSound website.

Jeffrey Hecker

from Ark Aft

Boar & Cow

Boar notices Noah’s wife’s name varies depending on source text. Haikal
introduced herself to me as Percoba, says Cow, yet Vesta to Boar. You
think Emzara’s trying not to be identified? You think Norea doesn’t know
who Tytea is? asks Boar. Both ideas can be true, says Cow, I believe she’s
twenty names deep so we remember her husband, who never talks to us.

Ferret & Hamster

Ferret posts I feel everything I ever fancy or require within reach.
Ferret’s alcoholism perturbs me, posts Hamster. I clench apexes,
zeniths, vertexes, apogees, pinnacles, Ferret re-posts. Hamster
re-posts Ferret intakes so much Stolichnaya vodka, her eyelids
Alice blue, after a gown Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter danced once.

Hedgehog & Horse

Hedgehog wakes ready for a four-hour day of listening and smelling.
Horse wakes not quite ready for a twenty-two hour day of monitoring.
Hedgehog is lactose intolerant. Horse cannot vomit. Hedgehog road-
fatality is highest in Ireland. Ancient Egypt and Late Middle Ages ate
Hedgehog. Horse subtracts and adds up to four. Horse hates violin.

Hyena & Kangaroo

Male nipples aren’t broken doorbells, chimes Hyena. Kangaroo
contrasts more to evolutionarily defunct switches, perhaps once
allowing the chest cavity to unfasten or lock. Was the body too
open, and needed shut? Hyena says surgeons removed mine.
After non-profit research, I firmly reckon they were sand dollars.

Tiger & Lion

Tiger asks Lion what type fire should we be, if we die wise?
Lion answers the class D metal kind. Rain upon us, we just
accelerate. Lion asks Tiger what type water should we be if
we die dim? Tiger answers I want us triple filtered, reverse
osmosis, sprayed, Delta Maidenhead ferns convert us to air.

Mouse & Skunk

Mouse accuses Skunk of eating the whole honeybee population
in Brattleboro, Vermont. Skunk’s burrow is busted. Millions
of bee wings coat the inner walls like high-quality Muscovite
windows. The tubular house smells embalmed. Mouse cracks
a few wings for ventilation. Fertile clay sand silt buries us all.

Jeffrey Hecker is the author of Rumble Seat (San Francisco Bay Press, 2011) and the chapbooks Hornbook (Horse Less Press, 2012), Instructions for the Orgy (Sunnyoutside Press, 2013), and Before He Let Them Guide Sleigh (ShirtPocket Press, 2013). Recent work has appeared in La Fovea, LEVELER, decomP, Entropy, BOAAT, Dream Pop Journal, and DELUGE. He holds a degree from Old Dominion University. He’s a fourth-generation Hawaiian American and he currently resides in Norfolk, Virginia, where he teaches at The Muse Writers Center.

Paula Cisewski

The Becoming Game

A loon I can see calls to more loons
I can’t. I dip my toe in the water.
I do not walk on the water.

I do not walk away from the shore.
Everywhere, something ecstatic
seems to be beginning, just a bright

feeling in the air I’m not sure I am
invited to. Usually I’m in a city. I mean
usually I’m in a house in a city writing

the poems of an inside person who
frequents the insides of schools and museums,
a little pet-like it now seems to me. Where

the forest meets the shore, some mushrooms
have muscled their way up into being
part of the understory overnight.

Maybe it’s not crucial you know this
about me but when I was a kid who
couldn’t sleep, I played this game called

“becoming.” Panther, egret, rhino, shrew:
I shifted my bones around, growing new
ones where necessary, sprouting feathers

or hooves, whiskers or tusks. Are there people
who don’t need to know how it feels to be every
living thing? When you’re a woman, people will

say things to you like “Lean in!” or “Think more
like a dude!” and it reminds me I never once
as a child in the dark attempted to “become”

a financially secure grown human being.
This luna moth caterpillar inches its way
along the path I’ll follow home. It’s fat, nearly

translucent, which means it’s ready
to crawl up in a tree and chrysalis. Exactly
the kind of small thrill I won’t usually

seek. My instinct is to take it off this beach
which I don’t. The patient water all around
and somehow the loon I could see is gone. No

loons and no hoot and no wail and no yodel
and no tremolo. They found each other, I’m
going to assume the silence means.

I will begin by mentioning the word “Surrender”

I arrived at John Berryman’s
grave: a stranger

paying homage. But to a man’s words
or to a man? His marker in the grass

hard to find and unremarkable.
Consider Berryman’s verses

versus Berryman’s broken
ego slurring Henry this Henry that

in grayscale on YouTube. Oh yes.
I’ve had to give up somewhat here

wrote the man. Metamorphosed,
no song dreaming. I knelt, and on

large paper, made a charcoal
rubbing of the poet’s stone.

Since every live thing hungers
for a possessed beauty, my share

of which I never want to spill, I once
stitched cups to my sleeves. Nothing

clever to say about that. Then graveside,
these next things happened: A coyote

emerged from the hedgerow and loped
across the graveyard at the very moment

a bluebird lighted in a branch above
my head. Once, I read a fairy story

by this young girl who opened with
the phrase, Once a pond of time.

Once a pond of time! I watched
the coyote leave and listened to the bird

sing, and as much as I suddenly knew,
and how part of the fabric I felt,

it still took me two more years
to quit drinking completely.

Esprit D’escalier is the term for
when the perfect thing you

should have said occurs to you
moments too late, once you’ve left

the person whom your wit
would’ve shriveled. What’s

a term for the perfect thing you
should have said to yourself? What

a perfectly dead souvenir. Still,
that girl’s perfectly mistaken

phrase exists, and so, inside it
I am nearly reborn with joy.

Notes toward Homecoming

What does lost mean in this context? The displaced past of a less-so world?
Or when I won’t write at a sentence I don’t want said, groping around
In the dry of a dark spell and woops get turned around to meet the gaze

of The Griever? O nostalgia, my half-finished manual of style.
Felt a kindness bubbling up for someone (myself) who’d belittle it, guaranteed.

“Projections change the world into the replica of one’s unknown face,”
said Carl Jung. Fine, Carl Jung! The Griever’s eyes are something like mine soon.
I finally wrote my unspoken sentence, looked at it, looked at it

longer, burned it, looked at it burning, smelled the overdue smoke of its
going from me, and it’s gone, hushing me: a fled burrow, finally.

Paula Cisewski’s fourth poetry collection, Quitter, won the Diode Editions Book Prize. She is also the author of The Threatened Everything, Ghost Fargo (Nightboat Poetry Prize winner, selected by Franz Wright), Upon Arrival, and several chapbooks, including the lyric prose Misplaced Sinister. She lives in Minneapolis, where she teaches, collaborates with fellow artists and activists, and serves on the editorial staff of Conduit.

Stephanie Anderson

With Love and Baths and Rage and Love,

I go grasping
with language &
my plush
body unravels.

January, shitting
blood in a Georgia
beach house,
five months

since last I wrote.
A shutdown
is not poetic.
Did you leave

to jot down
a line, you ask.
No, I went
to take my

blood pressure.
I write on
WeChat,
hoping the bath

is not too
hot because I can’t
Google a
good source on water

temp. & pregnancy.
Fluid facts,
willful walls.
I have applied to 48

jobs. We’ll flip
a coin, you say, to see
whose basement
you’ll live in.

A freight train, a plane.
I should be
applying
to a job right now.

I hover over
an article titled
How to Rekindle
a Friendship.

PPD felt like
the personality
dissociation
of strong Salvia.

It’s not repetition,
I say. We keep
looking for a way
to want to stay.

I imagine
you as a tiny
auger
shell. What gets

unraveled
isn’t form,
it’s a form
of supplication.

With Love and Summer and Rage and Love,

the statuary headlines pivot apart
because of hurricanes and pardons
   in North America     you all looked

up     here only particles blotted
the sun     we wanted hope in the form
of ambition     it was like staring

into a well trying to outline limbs
   what wave is this feeling     we can hear
a clarinet and a hammer

   self-preserving punctuation
   we wanted to wander in rooms
full of musical instruments

   it’s selfish     the air has been
good for three days     a dash
to get to the station     an elevator

to the terraces     taps of fat
raindrops on the train windows
   in the Netherlands the bat houses

are shaped like bats     our body
doesn’t feel like this     do you know
how many slugs are in the world

   discarding verbs     we wanted
to need no ends     but the only truth
of that is anagram     we get good

and butthurt     the way underbrush
gets illuminated in grey     there is space
in this car for bikes     old bodies

   pregnant bodies     we collect places
in Instagram     we pass an hour with
calendars and panic     it’s a kind

of construction project     you say
the hay bales look like public art
   he tells the former president’s daughter

about conception in her country     the track
edges are dotted with pink     we spend
40 hours in the future     storks in a chimney

are good luck     what kind of stability are
we after     tonight we’ll see a movie
I knew the star when

With Love and Irritation and Rage and Love,

We make a pact not to look
at Facebook for the week. I only cheat twice.

We walk into the thick air
for wolf dinosaurs.

I never was a good loser.
I keep saying that we should see our work with humor.

There is no voicemail in China.
We run the filters on high.

This week I try I do this
because I keep collapsing
into a tedium of lists.

We walk into the thick air
for a second story called Heaven.

The holiday letter drama returns.
A tedium of flushing.

I try not to say Ask your students
and believe them.

I gesture heart sparkles at you.

Can I Taobao one of these clever pivot stoppers for my brain.

In Heaven, the fish is so orange
the camera can’t pixelate it.

We can’t tell from the headlines
what people are talking about.
A tedium of forecasting.

They’re so afraid they
keep feeding the oligarchs.

It’s unpresidented.
All the humor changes key.
It’s serious.

I can’t hook the present and we can’t get up.
The humor is monstrous and should be.

With Love and Grief and Rage and Love,

We must disenthrall ourselves. Where
we live the ground is lava or it’s a play.
We undertake to call and call. The canker
sore medicine is bitter and blackens

my mouth. Age made it seem like the sudden
hadn’t crested the peak yet. Poise
is a performance I keep trying to
repeat, but for me the costs are low.

On Facebook the police are posting fake
news: protesters block an ambulance.
The curtain’s up on crowd control. Repeating
lines become we hope that you will hear

us out. Hearing the right redshift between
stepping up and getting out of the way.

Stephanie Anderson is the author of three books of poetry, most recently If You Love Error So Love Zero (Trembling Pillow Press), as well as several chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Bone Bouquet, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Guernica, Lana Turner, nonsite.org, and elsewhere. She co-edits the micropress Projective Industries and currently lives in Singapore.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 23)

 

Hello, and welcome to Issue 23 of Posit!

Like most literature, the work collected here engages the poetic ramifications of relation: of “us” to “them” (Ryan Clark); of the artist to the art form (Ryan Mihaly); of one species to another (Jeffrey Hecker); and of the self to its own becoming (Paula Cisewski). Some approach romantic relation, at its beginning (Fortunato Salazar) and its end (Cassandra Moss, Katherine Fallon). Others focus on the relation of mother and child, at the beginning of that journey (Stephanie Anderson, Gail Di Maggio) and its end (Maureen Owen). And then there’s the relation, via gender, of the self to the self — and to the cosmos itself (Maureen Seaton and Denise Duhamel).

However, perhaps what unifies this poetry and prose most fundamentally is courage. Although these works emerge from a range of voices representing a breadth of aesthetic visions, all grapple with their demons and dance with their angels whole-heartedly. More than anything else, this writing is all in.

Now more than ever, we hope the integrity and commitment of this writing gives you the encouragement and inspiration we have so gratefully taken from them.

In her poems of Love and Rage and Love, Stephanie Anderson evokes the challenge to identity of new motherhood in all of its specificity as well as universality. These verses “go grasping / with language” even as the narrator’s “plush / body unravels.” Not to be silenced, the poet manages to nonetheless craft these powerful meditations on the challenge of motherhood, especially when piled onto the already full plate of a poet, job-seeking academic, expat, and life partner. The reader is reminded of the courage it takes to grapple not only with Baths and Summer and Irritation and Grief (not to mention with Love and Rage and Love), but with the “fluid facts” and “willful walls” of reality itself, until “what gets // unraveled / isn’t form, / it’s a form / of supplication.”

Paula Cisewscki’s brilliant observations on writing and its intimate life connections are also the confessions of “an inside person who frequents the insides of schools and museums, a little pet-like it now seems to me.” As children do, in the game of “becoming,” the narrator “shifted my bones around, sprouting feathers or hooves, whiskers or tusks.” She asks, “Are there people who don’t need to know how it feels to be every living thing?” Now, in a different becoming, “the loon I could see is gone. No loons and no hoot and no wail and no yodel and no tremolo. They found each other, I’m going to assume the silence means.” Remembering her (and our) own earlier silences, “What’s a term for the perfect thing you should have said to yourself?” But then, “Once I read a fairy story by this young girl who opened with the phrase, Once a pond of time.” Thankfully, “that girl’s perfectly mistaken phrase exists, and so, inside it I am reborn with joy.”

Like swords into ploughshares, Ryan Clark’s unique form of homophonic translation transforms an Arizona anti-immigration bill into a thing of beauty. His lyrical lines are interlineated with their source text to reveal just how they operate to rewrite and rebut the xenophobia and fear such bills codify. As antidotes to “our reality” in which “fear here is / a signature” and “our / view is fences . . . stately terror fences,” Clark’s lines have the grace and fluidity of “a river” in which “we flow where / carried,” like a “word signed as a wand,” “a sun on a / flag a story of living,” or a “note soaring for the need to soar.”

Many of Katherine Fallon’s sensuous and surprising works are love poems with fangs. In a possibly fading relationship, “we’ve still got some light left and a place to go to, go around, to harness. Think fainting goat, unshod.” And in a sinister desire for preservation: “Breastbone most visible, most wanted and so most likely to split open onto white meat, and really, the handsomest of purple hearts. I’d salt it to keep it safe, I would.” Here too, is “Hand on the gear shift, soft-centered truffle, oyster-splayed like a crime scene.” But in a turn from the “crime” we are offered this tender admission: “Always, a woman’s spirited breath the hot air of an oven, yeast risen against me.”

In Jeffrey Hecker’s dark and witty Ark Aft series, animals we may not have registered in the original biblical text speak, post on social media, and generally act in oddly recognizable ways. Retaining the charm and “moral” point of view of fables, these humorous and delightful animals also propound scholarly sentiments: “Boar notices Noah’s wife’s name varies depending on source text” (Boar & Cow), and personal concerns: “Ferret posts I feel everything I ever fancy or require within reach. Ferret’s alcoholism perturbs me, posts Hamster. I clench apexes, zeniths, vertexes, apogees, pinnacles, Ferret reposts” (Ferret & Hamster). And in Tiger & Lion, Tiger asks Lion questions not out of place for our time: “What type fire should we be, if we die wise? What type water should we be if we die dim?”

Gail di Maggio’s poems lead us into the worlds of dream and memory as the forges of identity. These verses paint deft and subtle portraits of a loving, restless mother who is full of life and unfulfilled desire, “begging the wind to to ripple her, / to make her . . . / over.” They are told from the point of view of an attached and dependent “girl-child” who is as inspired (“un-posed, / irresistible”) as she is frightened by her mother’s appetites, even as she must hide her own — notwithstanding the last of the “yellow blossoms like dragon faces . . . / still in [her] mouth.”

Ryan Mihaly uses text + visuals in these inspired three-part inventions based on clarinet fingering charts to enquire into the transcendent element of music “which unlike the saints . . . leaves no relics behind.” In these pieces, Mihaly transcribes the effects of music, its ekphrastic and emotional impacts upon us, like “rain suddenly stopping, daylight looking like someone who has just finished crying, identity torn away, face replaced by the look of revelation.” At the same time, he is mindful of the uses to which music has been put, “world eye closing or opening depending on what flags unfurl at the command to play.” Ultimately, though, and thankfully, “It costs nothing to play. The body is governed in the same way: the veins do not charge the heart for blood.”

The prose of Cassandra Moss combines the dispassionate analysis of scholarship and formal logic with the narrative immediacy of memoir to penetrate the volatile ambiguities of intimate relation. In these poems, as in life, “the weight of expectation swings wildly . . . from total ontological confirmation to complete withdrawal of mutuality.” Reading of the questing aftermath of a divorce, the reader is reminded, with the narrator, “not to think in terms of old and new” — especially when “the conclusions [she] hoped would be ready-made aren’t reachable.”

Maureen Owens’s spare and tender poems visit the universal ordeal of parental aging – of having once been tended, and now tending. As a child dyeing her mother’s hair, she “could see the black strands flow apart and the white of her scalp emerge in tiny winding rivers,” a child experiencing the parent as her entire landscape. The mother in memory who could “go full gallop up the cow pasture til the very end fencing,” is now the particulars of a declining person. In Owens’s characteristic titles, which work in counterpoint with the poems they open: “she could put on her left ear hearing aid / but not     her right       & sometimes / she could not put on her left either.” And in the poem “that same train / ironically / later that same day     robbed / by     different robbers,” “layers of pillows that won’t behave” belie the truth: “some nights we die several times a night.”

V.S. Ramstack’s elliptical and unpredictable images hum with an immediacy as powerful as they are challenging. Like a “silly scissor mouth,” they capture the reader’s attention and pique our interest with an intensity that is as impossible to pin down as a “soft wheel and brunt.” Treating us to one vividly startling image after another, such as the smell of hair on fire, “a death with / honeyed scythe,” these bold and beautiful poems remind us that we all “have a leash to neglect and this may be / the very time to do it.”

Fortunato Salazar, in these deeply perceptive anacreontic(s) scrawled in dior addict fuchsia pink on fair skin in alice, tx, touches on the oppositional juxtapositions of our outer and inner lives. Salazar queries the language and substance of argument: “I debate circumcised guy, he wrings out verse,” but the debate is really internal: “What am I in this proof”? “I’m mute and I barter at the door.” In this internality, “I’m untouchable like a distant diamond sky, I’m not insubordinate in the service of the enemies of bigotry and narrowness.” There’s maybe a good intent when “We restrain ourselves from each encroaching on the other” but “it’s like poison to me not to triumph in debate or even to leave the wrangling incomplete.” Too, the nature of god is queried: what if “God popped into your Master and spun birth certificate and $100 U.S. currency and water?” “God manned a tower for just such flutter.”

And, in a brand-new installment from poetry icons and long-time collaborators Maureen Seaton and Denise Duhamel, we are proud to feature two of their exuberant and life-affirming 12 Lines about Gender. These joyous romps into the expansive and expanding universe of gender unbound open their inclusive arms to embrace the genderfluidity of clouds, UFOs, manatees (like “androgynous / goddess[es] of rising sea and sinking city”), and mangroves (“their agenda agender”). Also celebrated are the “Two-Spirit / brackishness” of the Everglades; that “agender ex-planet, Pluto” and their genderqueer moons; and of course, the gloriously uncontainable cosmos itself.

Thank you so much for honoring these wonderful writers with your time and attention!

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann

positInkSpash131210.small

Welcome to the visual art of Posit 23!

The insanely intricate and detailed universe depicted by Alexis Duque could only come from his rich and multidimensional imagination. Using both conventional and original tricks of perspective and technical drawing, he creates drawings that pulse with an almost psychedelic energy. His work is tightly organized and precise, but because of its imagistic density sometimes borders on a delicious hysteria. The eye wanders through his drawings searching for a beginning, middle and end. They are always there; the logic that lies beneath these mad worlds is always impeccable.

The birds in Teresa James’s drawn and collaged constructions often sprout winged hands — an apt metaphor for the artist herself, whose work over the years continues to remind us of the power of her hands. Whether working as a master printmaker/collaborator in her print shop in Chicago, or through her poetic and lyrical personal work, James always displays a mastery of her field. The birds in this body of work sing out to us with songs of love and melancholy.

Cheryl Molnar’s work is a virtuosic combination of concept and technique. Her intricately constructed collage pieces on wood are a marvel of paper and paint engineering. Working with both found and fabricated images, Molnar’s work depicts landscapes, both real and imagined. Her locales are vaguely familiar – encouraging us to will them to evoke a memory of “place.” Her work is imbued with an ineffable spirit of nostalgia, all the while delighting the eye with their intricate plays on time and space.

Matthew Schommer’s extraordinary drawings sometimes feel like film stills. They often capture an image in the split second in which they occur. Time stops and the drawn is lit, as if by a flash illuminating a fleeting moment. The skill with which Schommer seizes an image, using only pencil and his keen eye, is remarkable. They are often slightly blurry, as if pulled from memory, or retrieved from an archive of vintage film.

And Viviane Rombaldi Seppey’s work is conceptually complex and fascinating. Her work with vintage and contemporary maps ponders the notions of being lost and finding one’s way through the world. Seppy describes the work as autobiographical insofar as they reflect her own global wanderings — a life spent living in many countries, and the complexities of language and culture that she has experienced. The objects she makes beg to be touched and searched for keys to their meaning. As mysterious as they are immediate, their beauty is made richer by the depth of their layers of meaning.

Enjoy!
Melissa Stern

Alison Lowry

Artist’s Statement

I am interested in textiles, especially clothing. Fabric preserves the essence of its maker; traces of the wearer become entwined with the warp and weft, allowing physical objects to become containers for memory.

This interest in fabric and embroidery started with some family heirlooms: a collection of beautiful and intricate Irish white work hand made by female relations. More recently, an embroidered christening robe that has been in my family for over hundred years inspired a major body of work. Through this work I examined my family links and ties to the past. I examined how delicate life is, and how the states of birth and death can be similar in their fragility and vulnerability. This body of work grew and developed to encompass many other thoughts and feelings, and I realized that these ‘little dresses’ could be interpreted in a variety of ways by both the viewer and maker.

The universal themes of birth and death are still woven through my work, yet I am increasingly starting to explore how clothing acts like a second skin, and how these items are inexplicably interlaced with narrative. ‘Empty’ dresses hang like skeletons in our closets, bound with the memories the (absent) body still holds inside.

Glass, for me, is the perfect medium to encapsulate these transient notions. Glass offers endless sculptural possibilities and is full of contradictions- a mirror of life itself. The process of making is intrinsic to my practice and I am fascinated by the interface created when glass is used in conjunction with other processes and techniques, for example photography, printmaking and textiles.

Alison Lowry is a glass artist who works out of her studio, ‘Schoolhouse Glass’ in Northern Ireland. Originally from a textile background, in 2008 she started working with glass and fell in love with it as an endlessly expressive, yet challenging material. She has won numerous awards including the Silver medal at the Royal Ulster Academy in 2010, the glass category at the Royal Dublin Show in 2009 and 2015, and the Warm Glass Prize in 2010 and 2011. She is the only Irish glass artist to have been selected for a residency at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York State and in 2016 she was selected to exhibit at ‘Emerge’- an international competition for emerging glass artists- and picked up the Bronze award. Currently her solo show ‘(A)Dressing Our Hidden Truths’ is being exhibited the National Museum of Ireland, Decorative Arts and History in Dublin until May 2020.

Michael Tod Edgerton

It Closing In It Whispers

1.

Francis Bacon at the Met: hours
with the paintings
leering
at every one of them
(and glancing here and there
at hot boys who pass
too quickly by)
shifting
circling
an un-kind lust
mingling
the surface      the space      inside
the frame
tremulous.

Then deflated
with the absence
of Two Men on a Bed, one of his most erotic.
(Brutal, you would add.)
Tender, I think. And no
Man at Curtain no Study of the Human
Body
I dream of having
on a book, no ice-gray glow of Two Figures
at a Window
in an eclipsed rock-blue room.

But then: Head I, one of the earliest paintings, the earliest Head, early 1948.
I stare at it at length, head flapping in the frame
to extract my small face from its glass, convinced:

it’s some substrate struggling for form, some unminded storm of forces half-
dispersed, desiring at
being One while wanting for want, substanceless
muck without world:

whatever it is
it is not I: Head
half on, ill-
shaped: flesh mottled gray
matter: eyes swollen
shut or glazed over: embryonic: face
all mouth round mouth four
fangs angling each other:
mouth a clot of blood
inside, muscling
toward a moan: staring
at me staring
at the painting trying still
to shut out my face your face
behind the glaring wall placed between us
to protect us, one from the other, my head still bobbing for an opening
I can slip through: cracked open
I almost break down:
hold back in fear hold back don’t
smear don’t bleed
the bruising pigment
flash of wine-splash
from a smacked mouth: still
a small almost-sob escapes, a sigh,
a quick-intake and—
repudiation of breath: eruption of               something
the glass has no will or way to stave
takes leave.

2.

Lunch to replenish some sense
of space between
myself and Bacon.

Then back in the museum with the hope
of recomposing
myself in a Rothko (or who knows, with luck,
maybe in one of those quickly-zipping men), so I go
seeking to float out into what currents
I can and I

turn the corner stop:      dead in a start:            the shark
scraping against the glazed skin of the seen to get at me,
this shark I didn’t know was in the States, let alone here
here               heaves
forward
toward
the shark-
mouth gape-
eyed and
leering at me leering:               (its prey)

glass cannot protect me from
the gaze:               the mouth               that mouth
that blazes
black
             sun
this
shark’s
dead eyes
defer to,
full-throated
void, it calls
and closer.

It could only be
this shark, this
second carcass, a shark
just like it, but not the original.
Only this museum, the Metropolitan, or a museum
laid out the same. Like so fallen a heaven
as The Physical
Impossibility of
Paradise,
the imperceptible Death
in the Mind
of the insensible perceptions of Someone
Living
(originally executed in 1991
shark replaced in 2006
now white clouds its expressions)
expressed gases floating
above it
a few rays behind
those reflections within reflections
the glass tank swims off into
the glass walls
of that side
of this gallery
in the Met:
shark head replicating
infinity in miniature over
5th Avenue. So peaceful
this
mouth-
like Bacon scream
hovering in its sea-blue
tankful of formaldehyde. Surprisingly
beautiful (what beautiful means)
to be stricken to be
taken. Thought from
the first it was pure
hoax. Seeing photos of it
differently installed (or was that the first
fish, the closed-mouthed?), reading about the piece, about Hirst’s other works,
the bifurcated
sheep and cows—I thought it must be
the inert sort of conceptual gesture that fails
to penetrate, to interpellate: to call out to call into
being:
my breathing, my movements
of expansion and response, calling me into its own—until I saw it, there,

installed to eternally return in the glass wall
of that particular room in the Met. Display lights scoring the symphonic depths
it soars
unswimming in, engorged and gorgeously eerie
glow. That crowned hole,
its pillowed palate itching to swallow in its entirety
my slight frame, every enfleshed soul in this museum—our sense
of sight itself
—every single thing and that thing’s inside-outwarding into

the world.

I sit with it

for a long time.

I sit with it very near

absolute stasis.

Sit with its ellipses
in the window over the car-barking street,
the window-pocked buildings
glaring back
their annoyance, that light-struck cloud
let to blue.

Circle around it and around. Sit. Flesh flecking off
even still: this form can’t hold, formaldehyde or not: art and science aside,
muscle and cartilage, even teeth
break down: the hide frays: none of us can stay.

And out of nowhere
out of nothing
— The museum is —


— closing in —
measured time
is shutting down
this last moment.
The museum
closing in on
the Physical
Impossibility.

The mouth the eyes
too will go.
The guards having
disappeared,
I take something
of it with me.
(Something other
than the photos
I never look at now.)

— fifteen minutes —

Is that how long,
not fame, not fortune,
but anything kin,
in the 21st century,
to transcendence
lasts?
(Look at them now,
so wanting.)

3.

On the slow walk out, I pass back through
the howling Bacons, the last
of the crowd (no longer even half-looking
for a mere hook-up)
no longer exactly hungry but wholly sated, sated and still
whetted for more, for the summer-humid air, for all the faces perched on the front
steps of the Met, along the bannisters, mapping their way to dinner (and okay, yes,
the sideways slide of that man’s tongue up my bent neck does flash over)
mouth
by mouth, room
by room to the exit, the front stairs, the early evening streets extending into
this calm exhilaration—this circulation of the substanceless
substances that compose and decompose us
recompose through us throw us
through the gullet of it into the world-rivering a bit further down now the teeth
in my back your chest the snaring marks the bracketing scare
quotes lighter now around the world around us
more real this illusion and only exhalation of the remains of:

the never-shaken unknown:          unknowable:                       —heaves—

What else
does beautiful mean
but unnerving or
innervating
or vacating:
Mere pleasure binds us
together the same,
Barthes (that lovely loner)
whispers behind us. And listen to us again, I thought
I heard, but no:
And bliss
undoes us
again.

Land’s End

—for Kate Schapira
 
It’s because of their mortality that things exist.
—Etel Adnan, Night

Walking unintentional miles
along the Pacific: Land’s End to China

Beach and back, in view
of Marshall’s (but not

close enough to see
any nude men

lingering along one another on the wet sand),

wondering if we were anywhere
near where you had been when

a whale back
arched above

the tremulous
sun-

reflexive surface foaming over rocks, gliding in

and out as quickly
lost to you as you

turned to leave turned round to see:
hence memory, so sight.

So this absenting
presence, this existence: Oceanic:

from our finite shores, some notion of something more: magical

thinking. What else do we have? What else
could we do, even knowing

it was futile, but back-track all our day’s
steps to try to find what was

inadvertently tossed aside
or slyly lifted from my little black bag—

designer shoes from Rodeo, a trip to Rio for Carnival, a Mercedes convertible, maybe even

a chateau on the coast
of every sun-drenched droplet of a newly-acquired summer-home archipelago—

an electric trail of charges posting stills of a whole life I’ll never know
but might have halfway wanted myself—someone else’s

bucket list pocketed by the fistful
from my fiscal ipseity—

eyes in the bushes behind rocks but thoughts roaming now like children lost

hunting the hidden and finding—I imagine a plump
and graying woman holding out

a cracked hand full
of endless slices

of cake and reams of paper to capture
our attention.

When we put a sheet over her face

to trace its contours, our gazes no longer meet
its lines. We must rely

on the two-step dance
of memory and perception

(the beat won’t stop even
when your feet go missing)

like a daydream out of which we’ll never snap but know

will end, as this record heat
submits, and so

when the moment comes we look out
over the Pacific

with its ever-redder set piece sun—going going
about and around—look look

out and out for any glimmer of twilight

blue leather along the crepuscular ground,
futile even by cell-flash at dusk’s end

retracing a path already taken
again and again, and then giving up, nothing left

but to hop on call after call to call in,
rep after rep, my current status:

disabused of symbolic currency.

Only one last place to check
against hope:

the dollhouse, where the men therein protest
all clothing and sexual dissonance,

where I had stopped to snatch quick shots of the signs
gleaming dreamily in their disco window-splayed resistance

on the way out. On the way there

the front door callbox rings up my phone
on Geary, the cops finally come for me

to inform me my wallet
was returned,

seemingly as found, to the station on Fillmore,
just off Geary—

my ID, every single card, a grocery list on the back of a Blackbird bar receipt—everything,

even an easily swiped bill—
present and accounted for—

turned in by a worker at the VA near the Coastal Trail
who didn’t leave a name so all we can do is go home

as thankful as surprised, as anxious-buzzed as exhausted, with the hope of waking

renewed in the morning,
of keeping something

of the sound of the waves
inside of us to aid us,

to anchor us,
as chorus to score,

here

in this world’s
body this

body’s world
(sail

and chain),
that that might fortify us

to press through the night into another day,

to rave with the sea to change,
to rage like the sea

that it may recede again
that that may make it

(though the waves thrash
they sing)

easier to drift off.

Michael Tod Edgerton is the author of Vitreous Hide (Lavender Ink, 2013). His poems have appeared previously as the winner of the Boston Review and Five Fingers Review contests, and in Coconut, Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, EOAGH, New American Writing, New Orleans Review, Sonora Review, and Word For/Word, among other journals. He holds an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University and a PhD in English from the University of Georgia. He lives with his husband, Greg, in San Francisco. You can check out Tod’s ongoing participatory text and sound project, “What Most Vividly,” at WhatMostVividly.com.

Peter Leight

Needlework

Embroidery is a form of needlework,

leaning over the needle pretty much the way you hold a kitten against your body with your shoulders rounded

and kitty disguised as needlework

on top of the foundation fabric,

overlaid, like a gift you give yourself when you don’t have anything else to give.

Pulling out where you push in —

personally I think it’s often better to say yes to yourself

in order to avoid disappointing yourself.

Sewing on the cross stitches and stars like asterisks reminding you there’s another point that needs to be considered,

somebody pointed this out,

I think she has a point,

believe me,

there’s a stitch in every glitch,

I don’t know what your problem is.

It’s not the kind of accident where help is on the way —

sometimes you disguise yourself as kitty

with a wet nose and sweet sweet face,

a smile applied to kitty’s face using a technique of application and removal, as when you cut along the edge

and lift out the whole pane.

I have a blue box of Q-tips and some Kleenex in case there’s an orifice that needs to be swabbed,

I’m checking in with myself,

how do you feel,

fine,

what does it feel like now,

it’s a species of the larger problem how to make it happen

sometimes I think it is one of those elements that takes forever to heat up but when it’s really hot starts to burn,

giving off a lot of heat,

I didn’t even notice this until somebody pointed it out to me,

I think she has a point.

I’m not saying I’m asymptomatic,

not at the moment,

staying on top of the fabric

as promised,

it’s starting to move the needle,

I think I’m turning the corner, as when you face forward in order to see yourself in front of you disguised as kitty,

it’s hard to remove a disguise

you’re not even wearing.

Wall

It is a great wall, extending from one end to the other and in all the places in between—it could be anywhere. We’re not thinking it’s somewhere else. Not wrapped up or blending in, uncovered or unshaded like a book that is open to every page—compared to this everything is a secret. A wall without corners, without meeting other walls, not joining others—you can’t move in or enter into the wall, or use the wall to create an interior. Left to right and right to left, the same both ways. A great wall, without a single gap—all the same the wall is worrying: is it enough? Is it really helping? Or is it an episode that ends when everybody knows what’s going to happen? A loyal wall, keeping the others out, putting some on this side and some on that side, some in and others out—sometimes I think it is better to be defenseless, the danger is you fill yourself up with the resistance you develop. We often stand near the wall thinking about what it is like on the other side, separated from us, unable to touch the other side of the wall. Not budging, not even a small amount, there’s no need to change—all the same the wall is worrying, is this the only way? Will it always be like this? Or is this an episode that ends when everybody stops watching?

Peter Leight lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. He has previously published poems in Paris Review, AGNI, Antioch Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, FIELD, and other magazines.

Jennifer Fossenbell

Preface to the Obvious

In the beginning there was hope and in the next beginning there was the vast metallic plain. Then nothing but vicious constellations with brilliant teeth.
Canis major, stalker Orion.
Dear Hunter, the impossible
distance between names and lights. Johnny the Apostle said an open mouth is what started it all. So jot it down. “Unmanifest” he might have said could he have signified.
Dear Broken Column, the people
laced up their brightly-colored shoes and into these have placed their embalmed intentions. Missing posters hung themselves from the disgrace of it all.
The mouths of the animals opened under neon,
swallowed every node of the Dog Star and shat pixilated tide charts. Sharp crudities gouged into soft furry surfaces.
This is where the goddess came in.
Dear Sir or Madam Firebrand, in the beginning was
the dayglow mythbird. She invited the Major to break her tether, and together they gagged and snuffed Orion the rapist, him begging a certain famous ambiguity.
She taped it, uploaded, counted slick
towers of hits. She harnessed scorpions to her flaming chariot, and they glowed under blacklight.
Dear History, I am one of them.
Waved a stinging organ that stands for exactly what you think it does. I sparked, in other words. Signified.
We travelled into everything,
arrived perfectly but in pieces, and dripping. This, she said, calls for a ritual, a cerebration!
Dear Shorn Beast, the animals are asking what it
all means.
Said she, let’s just come right out and say it.

Preface to Salivation

Mild      unction
or extreme mortality can manifest fangs. I vampirize myself in flatscreen with these boorish milk teeth. Eye teeth. I seethe burningly, trundle flat-backed and inbred out from under my heritage.
Obedience      climbs
my elbow, hooks onto my architecture from a twist of its straight-legged splits. Never spit-fire, less oil rig than spigot, less derrick than divine human pet, tended and groomed by one good book or other. Armature unhinges along the spine and gnaws at its joints with a terrific jaw.
Preacher       said       six
wings there were: two and two and two, and this was called a sermon. This was hard-backed petitioning for new eyes (with teeth), the better my dear to bless you with, to piece you with two wings over your eyelets, pinking shears jabbering on along your selvage.
I’m      leaning      in
closer to hear what you’re hymning about, cocking my good ear, shaking my tags to wake the jangling chorus in your wreck. The wear of wings is a ratty paper cutting, a torn skin.
The      original      toothless      horror
show, blue-blooded smutty as ancient clans of butchers and weavers, soaked through from wet centuries’ counting of bones and boiling of shrouds and biting of hands. Coming and coming unto us, omg.

Jennifer Fossenbell currently lives in Beijing, where she works as a freelance writer and as the Managing Editor of the Beijing Youth Literary Review. Her poems, reviews, and translations have appeared in exhibits, poetry festivals, and publications in China, the U.S., and Vietnam, most recently Spittoon Literary Journal, Yes Poetry, and Ajar Hanoi.

Alexa Doran

Stretch Marks

[based on the gestures of the body are a Dada collage by Ryan Swanson]

I offer you a shishkabob. Water-
logged squash, swollen zucchini.
Morning crumples against the bay
window. Is this what they mean
by obliterated? The smashed swan

of your mouth indecipherable
in the yellow blue gristle of light.
Blonde before you were beautiful,
your hair risen to the rung of excess,
another surface for death.

It’s true every woman’s dreams jot across her torso,
a trellis of opal skin. The gentle hashing out, the violet
tally of children. Color more than life is a siphoning.

The hours lynched from you. No longer the pale glove
of winter beckoning, the gorgeous hoopla unfastening.
There is all this time between your bent knees, and like
any worn trail or womb you taste of cotton and undying.

In Which Ghost is a Hue

As I court my son through his tenth month
our ship rollicking
half party, half sustained injury,
I halt at the cueing of ‘court’ —

I am one of those mothers.

Oh plushiest one, how I want to canopy your world.

Every morning is both cake and calla lillies
with you. We giggle against the pillow
but there is no joke,
just the tinkering turned to booming
in a mind that yields to hope.

Ask and you shall receive
ok, so I over-dote.

I mean I am absolutely at the rim
of every dose. Your bottle runneth over

and over, darling. I want to castrate you
save you from the pubic pull that ate me alive,
to wash away the role that rape plays,
to prevent you from the onus to divide.
But I don’t.

You love the goopy, and I want to love it too.

You choose a snowball pumpkin on a church afternoon
and frankly death has more color than this fruit
but you own it. Mine you say, fingering the ghost

hue. So I bend beside the Bloody Effigy of Christ
(you ask poked? And I answer poked through)
to admit

that life is sort of like city traffic,
and we the pedestrians.

What do I mean?

Your death nudges me,
a Buick at the back of my knees.

My son just started saying mom

to something beside the sofa
and it is hitting me harder
than the bong rip I took last night.

You know the kind that leaves you
in a limbo, half hazy half max
clarity, and I think this smoky
state fits perfectly, because damn

if he hasn’t spent the past ten months
not really knowing me. I was okay
being Lady with the Lavender Scented
Butt Wipes and Lady That Rocks
Against Me in the Night. Those slipped
on like Cinderella’s slipper. But now

the stakes have changed — someone’s foot
will not configure his fate. How to teach him
to trade shoe size for being kind? To love
regardless — glass or burlap hide? Honestly
it’s only a matter of hours before he pins me
for a phony, sees I’ve signed up for something
I only wish to be.

I don’t want to be the one who separates
fairy tale from fact or begs you to let me
meet Whitney or Lindsay or Jack or whoever
is your idea of a living dream at sixteen.

I want to Whitman across the world
with you. Two spouts, no, two fountains,
gushing because the grass, the lobster,
the alive alive alive, because the moon-groped

shore is an umbilical cord between us, because
we just started gathering the lilacs and they are
there and there and here.

Alexa Doran is a mother, a lyrical gangster, and a PhD student at FSU. She’s recently been featured or is forthcoming in CALYX, The Pinch, Guernica, The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Juked and Posit literary magazines. Her poem “Emmy Hennings: Access is Excess” won first place in the 2016 Sidney Lanier Poetry competition, and her poem “Directions to My Body for the Uninitiated” was recently a finalist in the 6th Annual Gigantic Sequins Poetry Contest.