Laura Moriarty

from rapt glass (detail)

Which Walk 0

re:assemblance

“Take a walk”
—Yoko Ono, WALK PIECE

and look out
as the broken world

breaks again
drawn to bits (I am)

deranged           iota              jot

flakes                 of fixed

whatnot

mechanisms meant
to broach when and where

to find or feel
a finite set with infinite

limitations as when
feast, fetish, or metonymic

gesture connects a personal
system with reference

to civic locality as
streets’ vocal

versions of themselves,
when what is heard

is seen, gleaned,
recollected, and erected,

luck, self-
defined, becomes us,

bent into position feeling to find

beads           balls           brass           steel

nailed                      screwed

scaled up                          run out

resurrected, inwardly

directed to
arrange and play
as we (rapt)
are carried off,

untroubled by resemblance,
guiding principle, or epistemic

framework, though having those,
while making these directed

acts of storage strutted,
glutted, taken up, as I/we

reaching back
to owned devices,

feel free, imaginary,
and tactile as the shudder

of daily acquisition,
domestic, timebound,

vexed by practitioners,
whose practice

like ours,
a consummation,

is thrown up and out
as the poison

presence of each entrance
of nonlife into life

twists            loops                  moves

circles         spits         and splits

giving                                       into

walking while

compromised by things
aging in place

as matter hardened to its
constituents is what

we find when we amass and
detach the past of an object
from its fate creating
an elegy for each fact,

used or not, whose provenance,
always one of loss,

rejection, and subsequent
stooping to find (oneself) with

items grounded by chance, labor
or the erasure of same

becomes stuff subject
to words like reality

adding up
to what we want:

an engine of past time,
creation, and abstraction

whose apparatus
reflects the precision of

wrapped          glass

collapsed         threading         through

the fastness

of everything as everything
found or findable

resolves into action

 

from rapt glass

 

Which Walk 5

the maid real

“Old Woman, your eye searches the field like a scythe!”
—Robert Duncan, “The Structure of Rime VI”

like a sigh, permitted or not,
these visits to Mira Vista

Field            fair            farm            (or look see

place)            which            with

walking               later

renounces            renunciation

the better to incantate as
phrase after praise betrays
the visible day to the visible

night today singing what can you say,
moment by movement, or see

worried, wise, amazed—
heard, herded, heralded, crazed

by this old epithet, rule, and designation

of hags for which read old
women whose presence
absent to some,

purely physical to others, despite being where
and what they/I, are required to be, go, say,

and know            noting            how

dreamed of            mental            meeting

protocols in the form of songs and knowledge
combine the known with the read, said,
intoned, and suggested,

along with the berries there, also
red, thorns with which to be bled,
leave one stepping out attired

with gown, crown, and scythe
clearing what has died into

what is born by the poem of the mind
including words not me but mine

while I, menaced by remembered threats,
summon my ways and those of my actual

mother, Mae Belle Reynolds,
to push in and back out while
hatted, masked, cloaked, fraught

being with her (withered) wrought

where            belief            relief

knowing            & going            are brought

along with these steps at the feet of which lay

we, reconfigured into us, who
write what is read, said, and

displayed, resolving the “made place”
into the made real day

 

from rapt glass (sketch)

Which Walk 6

problem of reversible time

“. . . which am I?”
—Rumi, The Essential Rumi

who (exigene)
portends to redeem

exigencies of a woman
and man in a van when

our names meant light, knight, air, and ones who fly (are flown) when you,
Sufi, carpenter, botanist, and me, writer, waitress, artist of cards and
fortunes, later lose our clothes on the way to losing our minds and hearts
(mine) in a known place where written as played

a woman much withered, a maid
a maiden with a wand a handsome
maid, a white wand with a peacock of
solid gold on its tip

(we) submit
to the reversible fortunes

of muscle memory and the
illusive person in the poem

including types of knowing as when

The Land That Time Forgot
or trip into symbolic space

whose            trace            discloses

beauty            at intervals            as            (not)

lucid            eyes

of mind remain blind to the
inevitable arrangement’s

transformation of attitude,
and altitude calculable only from

the surface or search image
of a specific person

whose comparative anatomy
comes into play when the algorithm

leads us farther into the past—
but if this is the solution

please explain the bones
in the ghost story of the other
lover or the card games there.

Bring in Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale

and other extinction events.
It was crazy for anyone to try

to cross the Sierras in October.
What happens next as we

decohere among the hominins (despite
the abstraction, attraction, and object lessons)

is anybody’s guess.

 

untitled

Which Walk 7

what and who

A dark day finds
heart’s head hatted

and masked with crime
being read into its head

as descent into the local hell

means taking in the ashy
remains of everything with

each breath a reckoning, each step
the mistake of not sheltering in place

while            elsewhere            breath

taken            fills

the same head with fresh despair
of the deadly situation where seconds

become minutes then
centuries where the dead lay
with vast fires closing in

but not here or not yet as
trying for a semblance

of thought            as active            leveraged

expression            of fair

weather’s            familiar

talk while reassembling the same
everything in head’s heart

of later air clear for now

though nothing is better
except if it is when

kinds of crime rhyme
what is wrong (but present)

with what (and who) are gone

 

untitled

symmetry
  

Are there two lines because there are two feet, hands, eyes? Maybe. This walking and making is a process, a procession. When she called an earlier book Symmetry she meant to dismantle this concept with each gesture. Is this that? she wonders, but suspects it is not—as, falling endlessly forward, she moves through space like a sound or a bird. A need for trust occurs. Balance. Emptiness. You can’t think about every step, but you should, she worries. Situational awareness. A military term. A thing is exact. Or exactly not. Intentional. Intended. Once her project was something like courtly love but now she feels betrothed to her work.

The woman stares at herself in the mirror. She makes self-portraits less because of an interest in self than because she is her only model. She enjoys drawing her wrinkles because they add texture. Me and not me, she is simply a thoughtful arrangement of phrases, lines, and planes—scribbled hair.

—from Which Walks

Laura Moriarty was born in St. Paul, MN, and grew up in Cape Cod and Northern California. She attended the University of California at Berkeley. She was the Director of the American Poetry Archives at the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University for many years. She has taught at Naropa University and Mills College. She was Deputy Director of Small Press Distribution for two decades. She won the Poetry Center Book Award in 1983, a Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation Award in Poetry in 1992, a New Langton Arts Award in Literature in 1998, and a Fund for Poetry grant in 2007. Her most recent book is Personal Volcano from Nightboat. Which Walks is forthcoming from Nightboat. She lives in Richmond, CA.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 32)

 

Welcome to Posit 32! Depth and moral courage inform the formal and substantive genius of the poetry, fiction, painting, sculpture, and collage gathered here. This is art and literature that grapples with the current state of our selves and our world: the countless ways our possibilities for living are impacted by the pandemic and the abuses we wreak upon the planet and each other — while also exploring timeless human preoccupations such as beauty and desire, aging and loss: the “inevitable / And irresistant. Ubiquitous and sacred” (Andrew Levy, “Nicked”). Here is art that “renounces renunciation” (Laura Moriarty, “Which Walks 5”) to demonstrate the “embracing // moveableness in holding on still” (Rahana K. Ismail, “Burn on my Mother’s Forearm”) — shaped with a passion for the stuff of its own making, including “words . . . like plums in the mouth—plums spirit will never share” (Dennis Hinrichsen, “[readymade] [With iPhone in It and Two or Three Plums]”).

With their elaborate agglomerations of shape, color, and texture, Ron Baron’s vases fashion beauty and vitality from sorrow and loss. Assembling remnants of discarded household objects into vessels whose curvaceous contours and expressive handles strongly suggest the human figure, Baron celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. Standing tall and proud with their ‘hands’ on their hips, these figures are survivors, emerging from adversity to confront the future. At once exuberant and touching, these works speak to the potential of damage to generate the forward-looking self. These unities assembled from mementos of individual loss are also testaments to collective perseverance, with special resonance for our atomized isolation in the early days of the pandemic, when the series was conceived.

Michael Brosnan returns to Posit with a suite of elegantly crafted poems confronting the challenge of meaning-making when “[y]ou and I, we are here for a spell. / And we need to speak honestly” – and, to be honest, “our story is in tatters.” As cleverly structured as they are direct and plain-spoken, these poems deftly and probingly enact what they address, applying a disciplined practice of attention to the humble stuff of dailiness, “seeking new possibilities / in a small illusion with unambiguous lines” in order to come to terms with the fact that “we sip from words that sound like glory, / then rest on eternity’s pouty lip.”

C Culbertson’s poems create a magical space where body and intellect, emotion and abstraction commingle and sing. Culbertson’s enigmatic, sonorous formulations are as haunting as they are elusive. This gifted poet’s “thrown fragments, gathering what lush silences” manage to be at once rich and spare in an “attempt at articulating the attempt, not so much in discontinuities but // startling constants, infinite // palpable bitter its indulgent // sighs but still brackish, & / tender / heat.” “Inclined to embrace the sensuous agonies of the world,” Culbertson’s intrepid verses “trace an intensity” whose “reverberations of affect echo” in the heart and mind of the reader.

Elisabeth Adwin Edwards perfectly observes and renders the extraordinary/ordinary moments we all experience, and the questions and realizations they engender. Roaming in CVS for the obligatory 15 minutes after a Covid vaccination, she notes all the reminders of how we are limited by our capitalist consumption and its personal cost: “How many / gradations of gray / eyeliner all // the shades / of a depression,“ as well as the cost for our planet: “You say Someone //could build a raft /from these pallets/ of bottled water // if they drank the bottles first.” Then, in the face of personal loss, the stray bits of knowledge that we come across take on new meaning. We “learn that the tissues of ankles are the softest part of a body. How fragile the seams holding us together, how easily we come apart.” Even when mourning, the body reminds us, or we remind the body, that we still live: “At home I masturbate using those shorn and throbbing fingertips, the ones on my left hand, because coming means I’m alive. I’m doing everything I can to stay in this body.”

Sean Ennis’s almost-hopeful, witty but painful story of a narrator trying to cope with his partner’s mental health and his own insecurities works on several levels. In a conversation ostensibly about movies, “Grace and I talked about the type of story we’d like to see told.” Since “[t]here are, of course, multiple frameworks available to choose from,” the reader is treated to a story about the characters, but also about the act of writing itself. Everything in the marvelously unpredictable movement of this narration is tentative: the flowers that were not planted, the narrator’s struggle to make a living (“I’m becoming more non-profit”), the not-so-good meals he cooks, the “tiptoes on a sticky floor.” Ennis cleverly uses language to both shape the story and to show how language changes us as we think it, as well as how it could change us, if we’d let it: “It was a new day, but fragile!”

In poems that juggle and encompass magical shifts of time and perception, Peter Gurnis weaves the history of a place and time into the here and now, even as his narrator claims to tell time by the living detail: “I pay attention to lilacs, and such-like native fruit. / I pay attention to the birds.” In these poems grounded in a seemingly mundane domestic life, going to the post office, sitting at home, and even a simple walk engender questions of marvelous transformation. “What if you could only think of the name for a river by going on a walk? What if you could only think about a river by falling into sleep?” Gurnis’s narrator becomes absorbed into the language and events of the past, invoking Henry (Thoreau?) and further back, Increase Mather. He recounts memories and dark events: “a handful of feathers coming out of a loving mouth,” a child who “coughed up a handful of soot,” as well as “Invisible Furies” like “the Capitalist . . . or an indefatigable lynx,” but “This is but a speculation.” Yet, what happens in the brain also happens, doesn’t it? “For example, once / I saw a tanager being eaten by a hawk. And in the evening, he nailed /on the wall: / a landscape of greenish yellow, dark blues and black. / While his wife watched from a chair. / And the cat slept.”

Sue Havens’s ceramic sculptures have an almost icon-like presence. These are shapes that stay in the memory, in rich and various patterns and colors reminiscent of beautiful sea creatures like the nudibranch or different species of coral. Finding inspiration in such sources as thrift-store finds, miniature golf architecture, kilim rugs and tree bark, to name a few, Havens creates sculpted and drawn environments that incorporate layering, tactility, and the accidental. Havens is seduced by the world in its myriad forms and textures and her work offers the viewer a kaleidoscopic record of this world, so that, as she says, “content might be remembered, discovered, and felt.”

Dennis Hindrichsen’s pure honesty and explicit eye detail the brutality of loneliness and growing older, as well as our sure knowledge that we are destroying the planet, “besieged by end times // a toxic forever chemical feeling” in which “I am sarcophagus // but I don’t worry the half-life because they are better than plutonium and Jesus—the fluoropolymers—they do not break down // I ingest by pan (dearest Teflon™) // by clothing and pizza box” while exploiting people: “shirt Sri Lankan—pants Vietnamese—//the one or two women/from among the millions toiling on my behalf//muttering names under their/breath—harsh//names—mine again—their sweat and tears/falling into the fabrics (I love buying shirts).” We may say we love the planet, although it doesn’t seem to stop us from our shallow pursuits. Yet these poems also celebrate desire, “the substrate vector—why / deny it,” and the moments when love strips away our façade, as, for instance, for “a friend I love—he is failing— /death is in him like a leaf—or paddle into a river—/one heron angling crosswise. //He saw this once—shallows to deeper shallows— /and was moved by it—//and so I will pause here now (hearing voices) (reliving joy)—/obliterating all my coolness.”

In language heady with compassion and love, Rahana K. Ismail’s lyrical visual images of daily life and the natural world speak to the profound connection of the physical and metaphysical. In “Burns on My Mother’s Forearm,” “[a] moth alights on the clabbered cloudlet skin. / Brown sleep sprawled on wings, an embracing //movableness in holding on still, a cotton-woolled /confession smudging the edges…” And in “Crochet,” a troubled girl is set a frustrating task: “Having the amaranth yarn make the first hole is to open another hole another /hole another hole,” which becomes a moving meditation on loss and the learning of it. “Carrying loss is to open loss like a package: a snarl of yarn or a window you climb over/ when the bars fall away, the room you hear the ill /-oiled swing of a sewing machine, / the foot treadle groaning a rust-ridden elegy. To be unable to search for my sea-glass / quietude in the red-oxide drone.”

Jean Kane’s prose poems consider the limitations and possibilities of autonomy under existential threat. Cryptic and compressed to the point of codification, Kane’s potent, razor-sharp prose is reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’s virtuosic linguistic and conceptual puzzles. Evoking the emotional complexity of a father’s transition to death and a “Skewed History” of abortifacients as instruments of free will, these dense works are bookended by a meditation on the anxious vulnerability of being the “Unmasked” prey of human and virus alike, and a fantasy of what it might mean to “Unclench” and “soothe [the] knots” of the constraints of personal identity itself. Like two sides of the same coin, “Unclench” and “Unmasked Hours” evoke self-exposure’s potential for anxiety or liberation – to suffer “pit panic” or to “float walking under a bank of air,” “open and open without expulsion into the blue over bare trees.”

Francesco Levato’s fascinating combination of glitch technique and erasure strikingly portrays the social isolation of our attempts to cope with Covid and the disruption of the psyche the pandemic has caused. Words selected from pages of Jack London’s novel The Scarlet Plague reiterate our fear of death, while the distorted objects themselves, as well as the fractured movement in the glitching process, symbolize a reality that has undergone a profound change with chilling effects. Levato’s titles, too, lend weight to the seriousness of this societal earthquake and its repercussions. “Barcode, Notepad, Hospital Bracelet” evokes the dangerous and deadly consequences of the pandemic; and the allusion of “In Flag on Pole, Inert” is followed by text that suggests a society unprepared: “the way to kill it / went no / farther. /they /were /unable to move /and / years in discovering how.”

Andrew Levy invites the reader into the process of his brilliant and multiplicious thinking, which ranges (and sometimes rages) from postulating other strange and wonderful modes of being (“Nonhuman / intellectual property? //The other side of an opposable thumb”) to work that sharply makes plain the bitterness and absurdity of our inescapably political existence: “I gave a check for ten million to my friend who has been without any means of existence. // My own spirit observes the indifferent, the debris of a good atrocity.” Like a dark film, devastating and elemental, Levy’s language surprises us into a truth: “Gunmen break open / An alien distance,” as his elegant imagination leads the reader to an altered perspective: “And yet, from his writing desk, / Disenchantment inhabits the subject. Its rigorous /architectural elastic symptom.”

In this selection of poems and related artworks, Laura Moriarty heeds the exhortation of Yoko Ono’s Walk Piece to “look out / as the broken world // breaks again” in order to contemplate the variety of ways in which both world and artist are “drawn to bits.” The active reader has much to unpack in these formidable intellectual and prosodically dazzling excursions, richly conceptual and studded as they are with word play, double entendre, rhyme, and rhythmic riffs. The works of an artist “inwardly // directed to / arrange and play / as we (rapt) / are carried off,” these poems and multimedia creations emerge from a practice of “daily acquisition” not only of “beads… balls . . . brass. . . [and] steel” but of observation, insight, and recollection. Moriarty creates incantatory assemblages capable of managing “what we want: // an engine of past time, / creation, and abstraction // whose apparatus / reflects the precision of // wrapped glass / collapsed threading through / the fastness // of everything as everything / found or findable // resolves into action.” By “resolving the ‘made place” / into the made real day,” Moriarty is committed to bending art to the monumental and necessary task of changing reality itself.

Begun at the outset of the pandemic, the collages in Jill Moser’s Nude Palette reveal both shifts from, and continuities with a body of work dedicated, in her own words, to the “teasing of form and gesture each insisting on the other.” In these collages, initially assembled from fragments of past work in collaboration with poet Anna Maria Hong, Moser’s dense, vividly chromatic biomorphic forms evoke poured and pooling fluids, gels, bubbles, cells, and bodily organs layered over and contained by geometric structures in a saturated matte palette that glows with vitality. Any departures from Moser’s earlier work are in keeping with the circumstances of their conception in the early days of quarantine — from gesture to form; from line to solid; from dynamic to static (or at least contained); from a contemplation of signification (often in a tonal palette) to being (in the vital tones of Spring). But perhaps the seeming shift from gesture to form is better understood as an evolution of focus — since form, as Moser has remarked, is simply gesture suspended. And in fact, many of the ovoid, stacked shapes in these works are familiar from earlier series like Syntax, Topographies, and Naming Game. In some ways, these biomorphic forms appear as isolated and confined within their shelters as we all were during lockdown. But just as collaboration was their origin and animating impulse, these collages enact the collaborative interdependence of form and color – thereby celebrating deeper, if quieter, dimensions of connection. Texturally rich and dense as buds, these lovely works salve the anxiety of trying times by reminding us of the beauteous “thereness” of what is, ripe with the potential of what will be.

Julie Marie Wade’s Jeopardy poems contain multitudes. Playful, sly, carefully constructed verbal puzzles, they are also sophisticated meditations on the academicization of insight (“this phenomenon is college, where the lexicon begins to bloat at prodigious rates”), as well as frank considerations of desire and its elusions. This is the work of a writer who has “been studying Beauty all this time—assaying so as to essay? probing so as to poem?” – where the beauties in question are sexual, intellectual, and linguistic, as this excerpt from an extended abecedarian demonstrates. Noting the “little irony of our language that vexes as it woos” and musing about the nature and intensity of paradigm shifts in which “it’s your old version of reality that’s fading now, losing consciousness,” Wade notes that “sometimes a shift is a harsh slip. Sometimes a dig is a cruel joke. Sometimes what I actually know amounts to a weird log cabin made of used Popsicle sticks…”

Thank you for being here!

With love and gratitude,

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann