Cal Freeman

Trumpeter Pen, Mean Black Eye

—for Kevin Cantwell

You find a Paper Mate with a chewed
cap on a scarred classroom desk
and think of how in “Epistle”

Kevin Cantwell tells the story
of taking a drive through Peach County
with Larry Levis and discussing

the mystical properties of the ink pen—
how it knows the right from the left hand;
how the poem is in the pen &

the pen is the tongue of the hand…
Which gets you thinking
about these latest remediations,

how nobody would say that the poem
is in the touchscreen and the cursor
is the tongue of the hand. How if the pen

swan swimming in dirty river water
turns its obsidian mask toward you
and your dog on your walk tonight, it is

neither curse nor blessing. If the pen
is a trumpeter, the clogged-spit-
valve honk means something akin to,

“Don’t fuck with me.”
If you see yourself as you are
in an avian creature’s dark eye—

bent pale neck, slouching walk,
leashed terrier doing the work
of scent and sense beyond your scant

abilities, you with your crooked nose
and ever-ringing ears—
and see a swan’s mask in black ink

on vellum, you might call it poetry,
realizing the terrible affront and tacit
threat your presence constitutes

for every seen and unseen creature
in this poisoned watershed.
Then you might be tempted

as the thicket mutes before you
and the rookery of starlings lifts off
to call the eye the leashed dog

of the mind, the pen the throat
of the village reprobate, your words
the troubled footfalls of the cursor.

My Father’s Namesakes

I ask my father why
he named his cat Boccaccio.
An owl perches on a five-story

gantry crane, and the island
belches holographic fire.
He speaks of interference

and diffraction. My father
speaks of the river’s black,
the black river like a bowling

ball with scratches of halogen,
moon, and starlight, and not
a river, he argues,

but a dredged-out creek
that pours into a river.
A willow’s hair floats

atop the current. My father
says my bitterness is a hologram
without a reference beam.

I tell him it’s a wonder
anyone Downriver speaks
given how much is only

partly answered, how little
is confessed, and how few
have the agency to hear

confessions. Boccaccio
scratches out a canto
on an impervious pane

of glass. My father reads
the interference pattern and
paws his snowy head.


I keep asking my father
if his cat Boccaccio is dead.
Even living cats have stone ears

that turn inward when they hunt.
The willow’s hair floats
atop the current, opaque,

brown water, I keep asking
my father if his cat Boccaccio
will paw at the water as it flows.

Refractions trouble deep
blanks in the riverbed.

I ask my father

why he named me for his father.
Boccaccio made the canto
out of dust and wind,

but it’s only an approximation
of our breaths. No one knows
what to measure or how;

a cat is its own prosodic lesson.
I ask my father
why he named me for his father.

It was an obvious name
for the scruffy little beast.

I ask my father why

he named me for his father.
Human it is to have compassion
on the unhappy,
he finally says.

Cal Freeman is the author of the book, Brother Of Leaving (Marick Press) and the pamphlet, Heard Among The Windbreak (Eyewear Publishing). His writing has appeared in many journals including New Orleans Review, Passages North, The Journal, Commonweal, Drunken Boat, and The Poetry Review. His second collection of poems, Fight Songs, is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing in Fall, 2017. He currently lives in Dearborn, MI and teaches at Oakland University.

Editor’s Notes (Posit 15)


It is a bittersweet pleasure to introduce this magnificent fifteenth issue of Posit, coming as it does in the wake of what feels like an avalanche of national and global upheaval — both natural and human-made, toxically entangled as those categories are. But also: coming out on the heels of such a great loss for anyone interested in contemporary poetry. I’m referring, of course, to the death of John Ashbery, one of the greatest and most beloved poets of the past half-century. Although his loss hits hard, I find consolation in detecting his influence on so much of the poetry I love — and publish.

This issue is a perfect case in point, notable as it is for the singularity and variety of the voices it assembles — an aesthetic capaciousness which owes no small thanks to Ashbery’s paradigm-shifting work, which demonstrated by contagious example the extent of what is possible. Which ranges, in this issue, from the sizzling imaginative fertility of Will Alexander’s monumental monologue to the analytic calm of Robert Okaji’s meditations; from the poignant crises of Louis Bourgeois’ beautifully drawn protagonists to the understated humor of David Lehman’s and Stephen Paul Miller’s riffs on Frank O’Hara’s famous Lana Turner poem; from John Beer’s tidal flow of verbal riches to Charles Borkhuis’ razor-sharp yet deadly serious wit; from Patty Seyburn’s evocative experimentalism to Aliesa Zoecklein’s equally evocative lyric odes to love and loss.

To quote Mr. Ashbery, all of the work in this issue offers “what we need now:” these “unlikely / Challenger[s] pounding on the gates of an amazed / Castle” (“Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”). So I hope you’ll honor his passing by reading, or re-reading, his work — and theirs:

the revolutionary heat and devastating light of this fragment from Will Alexander’s tome, The Ganges, the “supreme toil” of its “treasonous instruction” in the voice of an Untouchable, that “remnant outside a palace of hoaxes” banned “to exclusion voiced through tainted opinion,” with its grim echoes of the meanness and menace in our contemporary political landscape;

the rhythmic fluidity of John Beer’s “The Fictive Hour,” “split[ting] the feast of [its] intentions” in wave after melodic wave, enacting the sensitive pursuit of meaning embedded in the quiddity of the moment becoming “the mother of itself;”

Charles Borkhuis’ grave yet bemused invitations to puzzle over “the truth . . . which withdraws from the slightest observation,” deploying the insights of meta-and particle physics in his signature precise yet playful demotic idiom to “thread the eye through an ear / and . . . wing it outward on a word;”

the tragicomedy of Louis Bourgeois’ Salingeresque tale of the clash of integrity with pragmatism under the pressure of social reality and, especially, of time;

Lauren Camp’s evocative lyrics lifting off from the springboard of the personal to touch the universal, rising from the “rant in my inbox” which “is many / fresh-fallen failures /masquerading as failures” to the desert clouds over a party which “plump / then conjugate / all the pleasure for hours;”

Robert Farrell’s aphoristic, incantatory meditations delving, like “a vehicle into a vehicle,” into works by Anscombe, Aristotle, Zosimus, and Hala Mohammed to propose that “[a]ll / things hang together even lives that meet their natural / ends;”

the sensitivity of Cal Freeman’s meditations on literary and personal heritage in which “no one knows / what to measure or how” in light of “the terrible affront and tacit / threat [our] presence constitutes / for every seen and unseen creature;”

David Lehman’s tribute to Stephen Paul Miller’s variation on Frank O’Hara’s “Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed!]” — each as wryly gentle in their counsel as the charming original — Miller’s version literally raising the stakes on O’Hara’s by virtue of the weight of what’s at stake (“oh Hillary Clinton you’re going to lose get up!”)— while Lehman’s version hovers with understated complexity between empathetic optimism and doubt of a candidate who might or might not share the social ease of the kind of gregarious narrator who “want[s] to meet you / whoever you are;”

The contemplative focus of Robert Okaji’s koan-like meditations on perception filtered through the metaphorical and philosophical implications of abstraction, in which “[t]he images consume no space but the effect is of distance;”

Patty Seyburn’s richly elliptical and compelling investigations into the vulnerability of the human body and the mythography of swans, entailing “something about anomaly” and “mimesis overload;”

Devon Wootten’s delicious excerpt from Gimme the Pretty, enlisting the reader to partner its probing of the nature and value of its own endeavor (yes, poetry, but not only), achieving any number of “truly epic volta[s]” as it delivers “what [we] came for— / realer done right,”

and Aliesa Zoecklein’s elegant explorations of the grief and hazard embedded in the paraphernalia of the ordinary: the sequin dress of a former lover, the sustenance of a grieving survivor, the “convincing curve” of a swimming pool beyond which “there’s a gate-latch moment when the stranger arrives.”

Thank you for honoring these artists with your time and attention.

Susan Lewis


Welcome to the visual art of Posit 15!

Jodi Colella uses traditional needlework skills to create artworks that are referential to the great traditions she is working within while also building a commentary on her travels throughout the world. Her work speaks to the evolving roles of women in Western and Non-Western cultures as well her experiences of the natural world.

Brandon Graving, a master printmaker, uses paper in interesting and innovative ways. She casts it, creating three-dimensional sculptures that seem to defy gravity. Her mastery of printmaking technique enables her to push the medium past its known limits until the results defy categorization.

There is a palpable visual rhythm and rhyme in the graphic work of Francis Pavy. His visual interpretations of the music of his native Louisiana dance and jump off the page. His ties to Southern American folklore and culture are deep, and he expresses them in a distinctly contemporary way.

The complex sculptures of Lina Puerta present a delicate and beautifully crafted view of the confluence of the natural and manmade worlds. Her great sensitivity to the found objects she often uses and her skills in combining them creates a universe that is simultaneously natural and artificial—as well as beautiful to look at.

Umar Rashid has created a new history of the American Empire. Through his brilliant and subversive series of faux-historical painting and writings he imagines a national history quite different from that taught in school. His pictorial style riffs on many historic sources and the result is something completely original. A self-taught artist, Rashid has combined his keen intellect with a sly sense of humor and political outrage.

Melissa Stern

Cal Freeman

Note-Taking while Reading Gravity and Grace

To imagine nothing, place
baubles in the liar’s teeth.

The present is a flowering shrub.
The present is a woman’s face
in the screen’s glow.

Drink barium to illuminate
your insides prior to
extracting the troubled
organs of the self.

For ligatures to holiness,
expiate a fund. For returns,
cough on more dry air
until the dust becomes

as tasteless as the water.
To honor the dead, forget them.

To put a blank in brackets
for memory,
ape the many stones
the universe has scattered

at your door but do not learn
their names. One can never
be what one can accurately

Leave the innumerable planets
to gravity’s devices.

The future is a desiccated organ,
the present a salt barrel
where the butchered meat’s

Instructions for Shedding Your Name

For each pseudonym, set aside a crow.
Send the bird out into the winter
with a length of tattered string and a bald cry.
Say, “Two birds in the hand.”
Say, “If the good Lord’s willing.”
When writing in the spring,
do not speak of winter. Know that
the inverse rule does not apply.
For each silence, set aside an inoperable clock.
For each face of time, an emblem.
“When does a keeper of time
become an emblem of time?” ask.
For each forlorn straggler, set aside
a still green creek. Some will not speak
when spoken to; they will leave
the prattle to the crows. For each rookery,
set aside a blighted elm. For avian chatter,
a straggler’s sob story.

Epistle to the Innocent

But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.                                    — James Baldwin

Dear happy tenant, as the yellow house across the road
recedes into the night, their killing outpaces your intentions.
Dear Joy, Elation, Mirth, your dog carries a shadow in its teeth,
and your euphemisms do not recuse you. This light isn’t peculiar.
At no hour can the light be called “peculiar,” though we have
peculiar words for light: crepuscular, prismatic, refulgent.
Your shadow stands before them like a square mouth.
A throat clears, a sensor light goes off, radiating a blank
in your sight. Grace is the shape of light that isn’t cast,
a cloak the dead will never wear, so stop moving your feet, stop
localizing sin, especially in the hands. You can only reach
for what is in your reach. Your figure elongates into obscenity as you call
the animal back, ignoring its news about the dark. Go forth:
enumerate the bodies. Count your habits before the glowing wreath.

Cal Freeman was born and raised in Detroit. His writing has appeared in many journals including RHINO, Drunken Boat, New Orleans Review, The Journal, and Hippocampus. His firt book, Brother of Leaaving, was published by Marick Press. His chapbook, Heard Among the Windbreak, is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing (London). He currently lives in Dearborn, MI and teaches at Oakland University.

Editor’s Notes (Posit 10)

Welcome to summer, and with it, to our 10th issue!

While not what is most often referred to as “summer reading,” this issue’s poetry and prose is energetic, surprising, pleasurable, and above all, various. From Martine Bellen’s Delphic utterances to James Capozzi’s lush expansiveness; from Joe Pan’s virtuosic fecundity to the compressed insightfulness of Alec Hershman, Call Freeman, and Becka Mara McKay, the work aggregated in these pages gives rise to its own poetic chiarascuro, an emphatic energy of contrasts fed as well by the moving micro-fiction of Anthony Schneider, Randee Silv’s suggestive “wordslabs,” an excerpt from a new collaboration by Thomas Cook and Tyler Flynn Dorholt, and the accomplished poetics of TJ Beitelman, Brett Salsbury, and Patrick Williams. So here’s to the delights of summer, and of Posit 10:

T.J. Beitelman’s probings of the intersection of truth and creation, vanity and desire, futility and hope, exploring “the real imagined” and the “imagined real” in which “none of this is holy. This is only art”;

Martine Bellen’s spare and exquisite excerpt from , inspired by Brazilian jujitsu, invoking “the efficacious arc of hatching” the insight that “delusions are inexhaustible”;

the expansive richness of James Capozzi’s verses, grappling with the psychic implications of “film that is a litany of artifacts ragged behind the rest of our evolution” as well as the elusive notion of “our majesty” which “blows the petals that form us” whether it resides in “maps of the coast the length of the coast” or “the life and the sub-life”;

Thomas Cook’s and Tyler Flynn Dorholt’s masterful collaborative meditation on time, identity, and language, which “keep[s] breaking perfectly with commas into slight unknowns” in order to remind us that “no matter what, what is always the thing mattering,” which “is not news nor is news not us”;

Cal Freeman’s sure-footed gems of energy, imagination, and insight, in which, as the author tells “The Innocent” in the epistle addressed to her, “grace is the shape of light that isn’t cast”;

the range yet compression of Alec Hershman’s lyrics, which convey meditative melancholy, wry humor, and philosophical rumination by tapping a well of surprise in which “the megaphone’s a dunce-cap; the helicopter lands with a limp”;

Becka Mara McKay’s lyrical yet gently wry investigations of relationship and faith, in which the “heart is/a dropped bottle,” “sorrow sags,” and “God leaves unlatched//the shore of sleep”;

Joe Pan’s virtuosically individuated monologues on one love which is wistfully “awash in what [she] cannot keep/or keep private,” while another struggles with her own “humble fidelity to [her] infidel’s lovely bits & bargaining chips” such as the beloved’s “ol’ stigmata’d-mouth-by-unforgiving-knuckles exploitation show”;

The wry melancholy and deadpan humor of Brett Salsbury’s pitch-perfect timing, reminding us “how your dreams rearrange the day” until “eventually gravity takes its whole toll”;

Anthony Schneider’s poignant fiction about personal constriction as coping mechanism and abuse, ringing with the potency of what is left unsaid;

Randee Silv’s ‘wordslabs’ constructed from resonant declaratives colliding productively like “circuits of cascading autumn clouds,” their “inward attentions inexhaustible”;

and Patrick Williams’ elegies to memory and mortality, in which “the lake is dead as a dream” although “we are too unfixed” and “someone is calling, but really/who picks up the phone anymore?”

Thank you for reading!

Susan Lewis and Bernd Sauermann


And welcome to the visual art of Posit 10!

Alex Bunn’s photographs bedazzle and confound the viewer. Through his meticulous studio arrangements he creates temporary universes that leave us wondering at exactly what we are looking at. They are both delicious and decidedly creepy at the same time.

In Cynthia Carlson’s recent body of paintings, “Beyond the Rectangle,” we see a group of rigorously constructed, geometric compositions. Each painting is made of up many smaller canvases, combining to make compositions that inhabit the walls with architectural presence. The paintings are deeply and lushly painted: Carlson uses color to both harmonize and connect the compositions. Like jazz, they are syncopated and alive with energy.

Mary DeVincentis presents us with a world where darkness, both physical and psychological, is ever present. Beneath the cheerful colors and vigorous brushwork we see hints of the troubled life inside.

Carl Heyward creates mixed media works that are elegant and lyrical. With graceful gesture he mixes found and fabricated imagery to suggest visual short stories. Each work provides us with a bit of the narrative, leaving it up to the viewer to complete the story.

And Matt Nolen’s ceramic sculptures are richly layered with color, texture and meaning. Like surrealist narratives, they lead us along a dreamlike path where all interpretations are the rights ones.


Melissa Stern