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.

Kristina Marie Darling

Novel

Head-over-heels-ish I was just miserable. I could no longer speak properly, like the other girls. Pearly buttons on silk cuffs. My teeth trembling. Never read the guest list. The names just sat there, waiting to take their vows. The groom came later than I thought he would. Came with an entourage. Came with board games and stale pretzels. Came to smudge my dress with cerulean and my stockings with rust. Came after the work was already done. The wedding invitations pitched point-first at his mother. My dress hemmed at her majesty, ahem. Those stone cherubs still guarding my garter, milky eyes eyeing an open door. One returned, but most stayed missing, perched on post office windows, watching the letters as they’re slipped into their slots.

After the Miracle

White plates, white tablecloths, white ornaments for the wrists. At night the instruments, and that odd silence. We aren’t force-fed, exactly; more like compelled. The husbands so perfect they’re no longer here. Who knows when the wives’ hands will tremble and the tablecloths catch fire? We polish tomorrow’s champagne flutes. The waitress charts courses from Iceland to Finland to anxious.

Yacht

Wrapped in swansdown and silk, I was becoming smaller and smaller in your hand. You were the impossibility of a shoreline. Who can remember how many times we’d tried before? I wanted to be that cut-glass city waiting for you on the other coast. Frost-bitten, shivering, we unmoor the ship one last time. Sure we’re sailing, the sky colder than the weather, signal flares flaring into the snow.

Classy

We built a spectacle in place of the schoolhouse. Rudimentary rules scrawled across the chalk boards. The trees triaged. Substitutes shoved children into library chairs, trying to make bank tellers of all of us. In gym we could decide between tennis, cage fighting, or trivia night. Every day we tried to stitch the teacher back together, mending holes where some of the girls got grabby. The answers were still multiple choice, but everyone mouthed a different answer. Flowers sprouted out of milk cartons until the cardboard gave way. Sometimes we could see meaning leak from the tiny letters sprawled across the pages of our books. Order was a story we could no longer tell, and night, how it held us at all hours, chained to our desks.

Script

Lace skirt, cracked tooth. How she pivots in that same corridor. Untrimmed hair gathers in gold knots at her temples. There’s a mark on her wrist where the bracelet snapped. A white wainscot keeps her from waiting alone. But when the concierge calls her name in the lobby she’ll climb through the window to the Other City. Unfasten her necklace outside the pawn shop. The same girls always on the bridge thinking nothing at all, tinfoil stuffed in their wallets, cold cream for food. Before long those middle-aged men on Valium crash the family sedan into the auditorium. In each of the chairs, someone holds flowers for the lead.

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of nearly twenty books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and Scorched Altar: Selected Poems and Stories 2007-2014 (BlazeVOX Books, forthcoming). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome.