Elizabeth Robinson

After the Flood

 

We are walking, slipping on the ice.

 

Earlier today, someone asked me,

“What stake do you have in this?”

 

Later, I ask you

“Did the flood come through here?” and you, gesturing to the expanding field:

 

“It was a fast-moving river, all water.”

 

 

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Here’s the gap,

the place where we once knew solid ground

and now is all movement—

 

Calling over the man who was flying a sign at Arapahoe and Broadway,
I handed him the thawing, sloppy food I’d carried down the flooded hill.

Stupid with trauma. All of us.

 

The loudspeakers blaring, “Leave immediately. Seek higher ground.”

But the flood didn’t simply rise from below;
it rushed down from above.

 

 

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Later, when the man suddenly shows up at the shelter

after months gone,

I hit him with a rolled up newspaper:

 

“Where have you been? You had me worried!”

 

Then we both laughed. Then

 

he’s gone again, limping in memory.

 

My attentions are crude, raw.

 

I begin to think that all attention is a form of loss

 

because it cannot create perfect reciprocity

with its focus.

 

 

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I remembered trying to cross the street and

being unable to. That current.

 

How to explain the utility of loss and fear?

 

How to explain that the fragmentary quality of my love for

 

you
and you and
you is enough,

 

even if it is as inconsistent

 

as the comings and goings of the many who

present themselves to be loved.

 

 

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The logbook says he returned, got a bus ticket,

one day when I was out sick.

 

Exhausted with the effort of paying attention,
of making present to my awareness
the ones whose presence is fundamentally
homeless.

 

Those whose presence is fundamentally unhoused.

 

What is your stake in this?

 

We love, if we love, inside every increment of error, forgetfulness, panic.

 

 

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I stammer, “I believe—my

experience—is that

there is a Divine who loves

all of us—all of it.”

You ask, “And why would some people never

experience that?”

 

Incomprehension is not always the same as doubt:

“I don’t know.”

 

 

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Walking outside in the cold with you, I do not say that I have a dying tooth and its

dying will reassert itself as pain when I am inside again, in

the warm air.

 

The weather, captive to its own movements, may freeze the ground,

but it doesn’t tell us who we are as we fall and scramble to right ourselves.

 

It doesn’t awaken pain by its warm absence.

 

 

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This partial, this fragment, this self-as-errant

blunders on.

 

The world, we may agree, is ending badly.

 

But inside despair

 

there are ameliorating coincidences.
There are pleasures. I have a loving

 

commitment

to hearing the erotic talk of the two owls

who perch on the dark peak of the garage across the street.

 

 

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A man disabled by his stutter tells me haltingly that

on the best of days he can say this much:

—he shapes his hands to a small box in the air—

 

when there is this much

—broad gesture of arms—

in his mind.

 

I lack the whole story while

the story itself corrodes or the current

carries it

out of reach.

 

I have peace only in some part as,

in passing, it attends to me.

 

 

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Despair may always be true, with its glare.

Its greedy light
blanches the surround of all color.

 

Beside or aside it, rapture has its own kind of patience,

groping in the dark.

 

I, with my keen scent, sniff it in, but am still dim, thick not knowing whether

presence is coming or going.

 

Elizabeth Robinson is the author, most recently, of Blue Heron (Center for Literary Publishing) and Rumor (Parlor Press/Free Verse Editions). Vulnerability Index is forthcoming from Ahsahta Press in 2019. With Jennifer Phelps, Robinson co-edited the critical anthology Quo Anima: innovation and spirituality in contemporary women’s poetry, which is forthcoming from University of Akron Press.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 19)

 

Welcome to Posit 19!  If literature is a movable feast, then the prose and poetry in this issue is especially rich: rich in imagination, rich in resonance, and rich in story.

Given that, as Buzz Spector points out, “in modern America / we need a new understanding of myth” (In Modern America), we’ve brought together a variety of tales whose brevity belies the depth of their emotional register, as does the thin and potent line on which they tread — or rather, dance: between universal and specific, archetype and individual. We’re thinking not only of the powerful prose of Jefferson Navicky, Marvin Shackelford, Stephen Nelson, and Daniel Uncapher, but also (since, as Matthew Cooperman reminds us in Gaseous Ode, “we don’t have to balkanize”) the lineated verses of Elizabeth Robinson’s After the Flood, Adam Day’s ‘neighbor’ poems, David Rock’s ‘homunculus’ poems, and Tongo Eisen-Martin’s unvarnished yet rousing evocations of our shamefully culpable polis.

And stretching that thin line even further to challenge the notion of authorship itself, we include a remarkable sampling of Laurie Kolp’s centos, and Buzz Spector’s collage poems.

Here’s what you will find in this delicious issue:

In Matthew Cooperman’s diverse trio of new poems, “[p]oetry readings are pretty cool but the format’s all wrong,” although “the awkward fumbling human figure and voice . . .[is] a good messenger” due, perhaps, to the way “senses / merge in the strange O chasm of the throat.” With unpretentious erudition, sonorous fluency, and a relaxed mastery of the line, he contemplates the Mother, the “Futurity of [her] Absence, stitchery in its indigo” and asks “What is it to make same and different? / What is it to make a difference?” when “[t]he earth is hot tonight with all of its angers.” Perhaps it is to “write a poem / with everything in it — ‘a beautiful abundance’” like we find in these rich new works.

With irresistible grace and unflinching directness, Adam Day’s terse, tightly-packed verses probe the resonant physicality of nameless but entirely specific, deeply recognizable ‘neighbors.’ These poems are populated with Everywomen and men who, like our ‘real’ neighbors, “believe most fantastic statements; nothing / to do with truth but opinions // which change” in this “[w]orld bent // on splitting itself” in a time — this time — when “[h]istory / [is] deformed by facts no longer.”

Turning his powerful attention to the forgotten and the ignored in plain sight, Tongo Eisen-Martin embraces his “new existence as living graffiti” to expose how “[t]he ruling class floats baskets of swathed neighborhoods off to be adopted” according to the “terrible rituals they have around the corner. . . let[ting] their elders beg for public mercy …beg for settler polity.” In a history covered up and buried by religion, “heaven sure is secretive” despite “[t]he staircase under this slavery / And one hundred slaves.” On these streets, in this country, Eisen-Martin deeply listens, making it impossible not to hear: “please give me / spare change and your word that I won’t be missing in a year,” since, “as is the custom, two humans make a humanity.”

In these haunting poems, Jessica Goodfellow sends us postcards from insomnia and relates grief to the “paradox of Gabriel’s Horn” which “can be explained by the method of infinitesimals, by partitions so small you can never see them.” Postcards evokes the punishing wakefulness of “all night turning sinistral shells over and over in your hand. At daybreak, lobbing them back into the sea,” at times when “[t]he night sky might think of stars as scars — pinpoints where memory burns and burns” — not unlike the revived bereavement that strikes when we reconsider what we thought we knew, “stupidly forgetting” what the reader of these poems cannot, that “depthless means both shallow and unfathomably deep.”

Built entirely from the phrasings of other poets, Laurie Kolp’s centos display remarkable conceptual unity as well as seamless musicality. These poems combine lines by poets such as Neruda, Frost, Bukowski, Smith, and Voung to trace the arcs of their internal arguments with a grace which not only gives the lie to the dread anxiety of influence, but poses a fundamental challenge to our concept of the meaning — and the significance — of originality. In so doing, they broaden our idea of what constitutes poetic ‘material,’ and demonstrate the transformative impact of context.

In Matthew Kosinski’s hands, the poetic phrase beguiles and challenges in equal measure, daring us to keep up with the honed force of its clarity and paradox. Like the “savior music” they describe, these verses “accomplish transfiguration” by ranging “from a shiver to a howl” in the face of which, happily, “conventional wisdom balks.”

Jefferson Navicky’s bracingly original yet understated tales flicker between the surreal and the recognizable. The Butler’s Life depicts an unexpected and yet recognizable servitude, considering how much we will sacrifice to avoid abandoning another post. And the dark fairy tale, Moon Park, contemplates what we will do to “smell all the smells under the smells,” and “hear what’s really there.”

Stephen Nelson’s The Woods Are Mine tweaks such tropes of the 19th century novel as the train, the woods, the castle, the Duke, the convent, and the intimate narration by a mysterious stranger who “wanted people in passing trains to see [him] covered in leaves” because he “thought that might be of interest.” In Nelson’s hands, these familiar elements are subtly and intriguingly skewed, inhabiting a dream-like world in which “[t]he clouds were entertaining divas” and “[t]he leaves were sad songs the man hummed along to;” an interior world, perhaps, in which “nothing can ever be proven” and “[t]here is no political answer for loneliness.”

In After the Flood, Elizabeth Robinson ponders the uneasy state of our relationship to nature and each other. “What is your stake in this?” the narrator is asked, while volunteering at a homeless shelter. Although she offers food to a man “whose presence is fundamentally unhoused” he ends up disappearing. It occurs to her “that all attention is a form of loss because it cannot create perfect reciprocity with its focus.” Nonetheless, despite the fact that “[t]he world, we may agree, is ending badly,” “there are ameliorating coincidences. There are pleasures.” Perhaps the poet’s stake, and our own, is that “[d]espair may always be true, with its glare,” but “beside or aside it, rapture has its own kind of patience, groping in the dark.”

David Rock’s meditations on human agency borrow Descartes’ notion of the ‘homunculus’ to juxtapose and collapse the trappings of ordinary contemporary life with that of a Tibetan Monk, Odysseus, the victims of the Siege of Leningrad, and Moses, demonstrating that “[a]ll situations are life-and-death situations” in a reality, like ours, in which “the world could always end / but hasn’t” and “it would be a shame / to bail on what’s left of a pretty good party.”

Marvin Shackelford returns to Posit with two more exceptional stories, proffering their characteristically unsentimental but deeply compassionate insight into the messy interior of the human predicament. With masterful, economical, and often lyrical prose, these stories suggest what it is to “take to the world and empty your soul into it,” trying your best to get “’[f]ar as forever until now gets you.”

Even while they fashion new wholes from the found language, colors, and textures which Buzz Spector dismantles and reassembles, his collages underscore the pervasive quality of disconnection permeating literary culture “in modern America” — especially “the dangerous effects of living a lie.” What emerges from these recombined and fractionated book blurbs floating on colored paper fields are meta-texts built from meta-texts. The results not only expose but repurpose the misleading grandiosity of blurbs as a cultural convention — even, and perhaps especially, in the face of their raison d’être, as inherently secondary to the books they praise. In the process, these collages offer a clear but pixelated view — and hence, critique — of the culture from which they spring: the “hypocrisies, and desires” “that characterize our historical moment.”

And Daniel Uncapher’s Vanishing Point is a hypnotic incantation to an individual psyche (Sam) as well as to the infinite multiplicity of psyches contemplated by reincarnation (Samsara). In this rhythmic, compelling litany of sound and image, the narrator’s identity “remain[s] a mystery” even as we “[come] to terms with far more impenetrable myths.” This piece opens the reader’s mind to no less than “the defining quality of things” inherent in the beautiful truth of “meaning without mark, presence without trace . . . the suprastructure of mappable worlds.”

With our gratitude for your interest and attention,

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann

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Welcome to the visual art of Posit 19!

Gabe Brown offers a beautifully designed meditation upon the balance between the natural and man-made worlds. Her thoughtfully constructed paintings consistently evoke a gentle back and forth between naturalistic elements and a synthesized universe. They are suffused with rich and generous color which harmonizes the elements in each painting to imagine the possibility of an artistic universe free of conflict, suffused by beauty and delight.

Riffing on the form of hat known as a ‘fez,’ Camille Eskell works with complex notions of identity, cultural heritage, and religion. Her pieces tell her own family story, tracing their journey through the Middle East and India. At the same time, this work embraces a wider sense of history and storytelling, posing questions applicable to all families with rich and complex histories. Exquisitely crafted from both traditional and non- traditional materials, this body of work is deeply moving, even as it transcends genres.

Though the timeline of the work represented here is wide, this selection demonstrates Melissa Meyer’s longstanding interest in collage, and the consistent way in which she has approached it. The works from the early 70’s reveal deep connections to the pieces from 2018. Rich layers of jewel-tones carry an almost musical beat, and her forms practically dance off the page. They are joyful and vibrant, expressing a deep love of the medium, and of the act of creation.

In his current work, Joakim Ojanen creates a gentle, funny, universe full of humor and emotion. His deceptively childlike figures portray a profoundly human desire to connect with each other, and with and us. They smile at the viewer with a delicate and goofy plea to be liked. Ojanen creates a beguiling mixture of tenderness, humor, innocence, and technical sophistication. Working in clay and simple glazed colors, he captures the small moments in life that often linger in our memories.

Etty Yaniv’s densely layered assemblage and collage works make one keenly aware of the materiality of her practice. Her pieces pop off of the canvas, and then sink back into it. The fluidity with which her rich and wide array of materials are handled —from found objects to paint and paper — creates the impression that her pieces were “born” the way we find them. Although labor- and process-intensive, this work has a deep sense of grace. Each of these pieces carries us through its private narrative, enveloping us in its own story.

Enjoy!

Melissa Stern