Michael Brosnan


from In the Meanwhile

#1

 

Hey, Sunshine,

A day in the life is rarely
A Day in the Life.

This morning, I fell out of time again,
Wrote in the daylight, the dusk, the dark.

Satiation or Satisfaction? Satisfaction
Or Settlement? Settlement or Suffusion?

I’m still looking for the gate to the wild garden.
For the sonic code that unlocks the gate.

I’m telling you it’s confusing to be the difficult child,
The misaligned, willful one.

Write with kindled care:
Tempo. Temporary. Temporal.

Write: Capillarity.
In the tremulous mind, words spill

And run in the strangest rivulets
Through the foothills of easy disarray,

The blur of uncertainty
Banking the muddy river of thought.

Contemplate: the antonym of contempt
In a world so humanly torn.

Sometimes in the day in the life
You’ll find the life in the day.

#2

 

Someone must take the dog out.
Someone makes excuses.

Someone feels the weather of sacrifice
Sliding over the salt marsh.

The dog watches and listens,
Lying in wait for command or invitation.

Someone dreams of playing the banjo.
Someone tries not to think of sugar and carbs.

Someone plays out in the mind a future moment
That will never come to pass.

Sunshine, here in the Meanwhile, time
Patiently waits for someone to hand out the agenda.

The dog watches the dog watcher,
Listens and sniffs. Ambivalence baffles.

She loves best the knotting of shoes, the quick zip of coats,
The creak of the opening door.

#3

 

And in the Meanwhile, I want us to agree
There’s genius in kindness.

A quadriplegic I know dedicates his life
To helping the discarded children bleeding
In the cultural crosshairs
Practice the stubborn art of hope.

So many who would otherwise not get through
Get through, find society,
Have what indifference tried so slyly to deny.

The quadriplegic I know can’t get himself out of bed in the morning.
He needs people to pick him up, shower and dress him,
Feed him, comb his hair, drive him to work.
He is never alone. He can never be alone.
He can never hike in the woods. He has no secrets.
He can only smile, frown, talk, spit, laugh, rub his nose with a withered
Forearm.
He’s unfailingly kind and appreciative.
He was once an able-bodied young man, unafraid.
Every day, he meditates on goodness and joy.

Sunshine, the fractured sublimity here makes me cry some nights —
Especially when I sense my own pettiness,
Especially when I’m drinking alone in a winter-wrapped house,
Eating two-day-old cake and regretting many of my choices,
Fearing emptiness.

#6

 

Sometimes hope expressed echoes back
As a kind of unintelligible blather.

Sometimes our need — voiced, carved, re-
Verberating in ink or paint — carries short of anywhere.

Sometimes the knoll feels
Like a knoll of grass and weeds and dirt and stone.

And, Sunshine, it’s fine to just stand there.
Or sit. Not say or do a thing.

#7

 

I heard them talking about relevancy.

I heard the fury.

I heard them say so much is lamentable.

I heard the fury and the love.

I heard the straining chords of evolution in their bright longing.

I heard young voices not backing down.

Sunshine, I heard you talking to children in gentle tones.

I heard despair dissipating in the quiet resistance by the Don’t Walk sign.

I heard singing from the makeshift stages and their thousand shadows.

I hear it all again, now, here in the forest, re-rephrased in the silence

After the snow stops falling and holds the land gleamingly.

#9

 

Switch and switch and switchback.

Who was the first person to connect a thin, tapered riding whip

To a change of mind or philosophy or toothbrush?

Who first named the near 180-degree turns on the mountain path?

Sunshine, today, I switch from a pen to a pencil.

Tomorrow, I’ll try again to imagine the person who first considered riding

A horse.

Soon, I’ll respectfully ask you to trade in our shared notion of progress

For one that will give future life a chance of discovering

Our bones and literature and rusted kitchen implements in the drowned

Cities.

Michael Brosnan’s collection of poems, The Sovereignty of the Accidental, was published by Harbor Mountain Press in 2018. His poetry has appeared in Rattle, Confrontation, Borderlands, Prairie Schooner, Barrow Street, New Letters, the Moth, and more. He’s also the author of Against the Current, a book on inner-city education, and serves as the senior editor for Teaching While White.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 27)

 

Happy Spring, and welcome to Posit 27!

For well over a year, the human race has lived in a state of isolation, anxiety, and loss. And although the pandemic is (hopefully) loosening its grip on some parts of the world (however limited and privileged those may be), it seems apparent that Covid-19 and many of the ways it has changed our lives are likely to be with us for the long run.

Which is only one of the reasons the prose, poetry, and visual art in this wonderful new issue is both resonant and relevant. Some of the pieces in this issue address the pandemic more or less directly (see, e.g., the poetry of Michael Brosnan, Patrick Kindig, and Peter Leight, and the art of Dee Shapiro). Others, with their focus on the paradoxes of our needs for both autonomy and connection, as well as the many kinds of damage caused by isolation and loss, speak to recognizable if less specific facets of our experience in these extraordinary times (see, e.g., the prose works of Joey Hedger and Kylie Hough, or the poetry of Zach Savich).

But all of the remarkable work in this issue demonstrates that “the practice of intention is / its own discovery” (Elizabeth Robinson, Augur) while managing to “shadow twitch with tradition” (Edwin Torres, Northern Star) — even as it manages to meet V. Joshua Adams’s strict but essential demand for “no art without passion” (Another Country [II]).

V. Joshua Adams tallies the absurdities of our present and the thin membrane that separates us from an absurd future: “They sent me to school in the great forest / planted by the timber company where each morning the chaplain / would pray to the trees.” In our consumer world, there’s both fascination and anxiety in “Clever chicken wrap, that fantastic pink,” and we know, unfortunately, that “our lawns, sirs, shall outlive us.” Adams’s clever and indelible images, like “My empire-builder chugs: pa-thump. Those dying generations don’t die quick enough” make the point that we are still, as a society, spewing an outmoded, useless, and dangerous material philosophy.

Michael Brosnan’s In the Meanwhile praises and exhorts us to the noble modesty of a daily life helping others “practice the stubborn art of hope.” Contemplating “the antonym of contempt / In a world so humanly torn,” these verses display a rare and courageous intimacy whose vulnerability (“when I’m drinking alone in a winter-wrapped house, / Eating two-day-old cake and regretting many of my choices”) makes them all the more powerful. Written “with kindled care,” and fully cognizant that “Sometimes our need . . . carries short of anywhere,” this poem “respectfully ask[s us] to trade in our shared notion of progress / For one that will give future life a chance.”

The penetrating insight of Gabe Durham’s fables is slyly embedded in the subjectivities they so deftly voice. There is a dedicated accuracy to the observations that power these morality tales, undergirding the reliability of their fabulist yet subtle whimsy. A Fox in the City voices the vigilance and hunger of all who are marginalized, “living on the fringes” – whether by virtue of their “fox tail,” skin tone, or any other indicia of exclusion. And New People probes the dissatisfaction with the self which motivates our appetite for novelty, even at the cost of morality: “I love the smell of cigars I hate the smell of wafting from the yellow lips of boldly dying new people.”

There is something profoundly reassuring about the smooth solidity of the forms anchoring Christina Haglid’s compositions. More sculptural than two-dimensional in effect, these works on paper depict shapes as concrete and convincing as they are wholly imagined. With their focus on glowing light, gleaming water, and curved matte surfaces in calm, earth-tone palettes, Haglid’s serene yet mysterious compositions open like windows on worlds that both soothe and beckon. To gaze through these windows at Haglid’s imagined realities is to partake of a solace and serenity more vital in these anxious and uncertain times than ever.

Joey Hedger’s short fictions perform magic tricks of narrative economy, exposing the psychological depths of their bereaved narrators’ angst with the barest hints at backstory. In Paper Teeth, the narrator is confronted with a Sybil-like stranger who forces him to confront the fragility he is so keen to avoid, even as he seems bent on provoking its consequences with his self-destructive choices. And in Blurry Exit Signs, the narrator, who “can only focus on the immediate to get by” “as if there is a wall up ahead that [he] will soon hit, an incomprehensible, constantly moving wall,” is triggered by a medical vulnerability to confront the ambivalence of his complicated grief.

Kylie Hough’s wry, smart and self-aware narrators insist they are inarticulate, or sometimes deliberately quiet, but the reader gets the benefit of their very precise thoughts about relationships: “I told you it works like eggs. You shrugged your shoulders, said you never knew. I thought, there are a lot of things you don’t know about eggs and guar gum and binding and being bound.” They speak in startling and unexpectedly resonant images: “Like an egg navigates the oiled sides of a wok there was this feeling I got with you.” And in a darkly humorous imagined dialogue, a particularly controlling male personage is silently served with the narrator’s imagined response: “You’re not thinking of the future, he said and she raised an eyebrow because she was always thinking of how good it would feel to disarticulate him. Can you see you’re torturing yourself? he said. Yes, she thought and took his right leg and plucked it from its socket much like she would a carrot from her vegetable garden.”

Patrick Kindig’s lyric and idiosyncratic exploration of the multiple meanings and usages of the term “corona” includes what we might wish from a perfect definition: resonance, beauty, and surprise. They cannot help but bring to mind the virus which has transformed human life on this planet even as they remind us of the bigger picture: “a sun throwing its voice,” “a shining in the night,” “crown (of light), light (of God).” Each of these short poems begins with another accepted definition. But in Kindig’s dictionary, definitions include instructions (“Get in your crate, sun, and / do as you are told”) as well as philosophical musings (“in a clean, well-lit place, / there is no need for wonder”). And yet there is wonder, too: “a sheen, / a shining in the night, the night / a cloud of air, the air a jar of lightning / unlidded . . . a gesture electric enough / to make the heart beat faster, not / strong enough to cause a spark.”

Peter Leight returns to Posit with lineated and prose poems about the paradoxes of social isolation and organization that are as penetrating as they are understated, and as timeless as they are relevant to our pandemic lives of quarantine and Zoom. In Private Time, the narrator inhabits an isolation so resolutely enclosed that he tell us “I’m leaving the keys to everything I need to open / in a drawer I’m not going to open,” until he must physically pry apart his own lips to speak, or even to offer himself the gift of his own breath. In City of Separation we get an all-too familiar glimpse of the exclusionary rationale for social cohesion, in which “we stay on our side and they stay on theirs.” And in City of Meeting, we see how the cheeriest inclusivity, in which “the same place is reserved for everybody, like a pie chart that’s undivided, without a single wedge,” is also the death of individuality.

Gina Osterloh’s riveting film of a hand grasping at fruit (Apples and Bananas) references an early film by artist Richard Serra, but with a difference. Along with Janis Butler Holm’s hilarious yet thought-provoking textual accompaniment (“their boyish tuna casserole,” “their manliest horizon line”), this film leads viewers to ponder our own gendered expectations, and laugh at their all-too consequential absurdity: “their girly-girl electro shock,” “their fruity naval exercise.” The juxtaposition of adjectives like “girly,” “manliest,” and especially “fruity” with images of literal fruit highlights the artificiality of popular gendered tropes, prodding us to think again about how we have been inculcated to divide our world into such binary absurdities.

The scarf in Elizabeth Robinson’s profound and mysterious long poem acts as an Augur that is at once evanescent yet grounded, transforming, as in a fairy tale or myth, the search for a grail that ultimately contains elements of discovery and destruction. “The promise did not promise / to be beautiful. // The promise was of labor, / not virtue.” It is this grail that “attests / to its existence, but, as always, // refuses to disclose its whereabouts.” The journey has its discoveries: “Broken / perception is a place, even // “home,” if you will,” but there is never a final achievement. The making and breaking, and the almost finding (the scarf both stops our mouths and flees as we follow) are perhaps the only grail we will ever find. But the continued search, painful as it is, “becomes its own imperative,” leading to a kind of joy with which we can make do. In this powerful poem, “Never / a map but a disemboweling, discovery // joyously fractures what it finds” – namely, that “Reciprocity // means also exit.”

Zach Savich returns to Posit with a set of poems that capture the mysterious allure of what is “over by the time you see.” Not only personal mortality, but the fleeting nature of all existence is at the heart of these wise and subtle meditations in which someone procrastinates sending a condolence note “assuming grief will wait, or still be arriving, or be something else, whenever dry becomes preserved,” and “Day mak[es] its losing speeches.” Savich’s work is as precise as it is sensitive, as sorrowful as it is grounded, reminding us that “whatever road is down the road once we’re a few roads / down” “chances are . . . [we]’ll mostly respond / like most people do,” taking our chances that we can find a way to live on with the makeshift solutions we manage to construct.

Dee Shapiro’s art integrates the symmetries and asymmetries of mathematical, architectural, and biomorphic patterns to create work whose energetic mastery encompasses a sense of interconnected complexity as various and inclusive as nature itself. These intricately patterned, brilliantly colored and immensely vibrant works apply feminist narrative to mine and re-envision historical representations of the female body as well as traditionally feminine and ‘decorative’ textile arts to generate a rich, potent, category-defying form of art. This issue features lush and exciting new pieces referencing the Covid pandemic, along with re-interpretations of canonical depictions of the female nude by masters such as Botticelli, Ingres, and Manet.

Hester Simpson’s compact, controlled canvases glow with preternatural intensity. The kinetic, almost vertiginous energy of her geometric patterns and biomorphic shapes presented in such high-octane, super-saturated, candy colors is just barely reined in by Simpson’s rigorous discipline and flawless precision. Many of the compositions are reminiscent of swatches or samples, suggesting the possibility of vast, even infinite planes where these eye-popping patterns might unfold forever. Simpson’s work offers thrilling if tantalizing glimpses of an imagined reality in which the vividness and energy of color and pattern might be freed of the dulling constraints and inhibiting limitations of what we take to be the “real.”

In Celestial Suite, Edwin Torres’s poetic compass encompasses the crossroads and crossings and endless white lines of North, East, West and South to guide our navigation of this “dispossessed globe” in the essential and elusive quest for “not an ending … but a sequence.” With Torres’s signature rhythmic musicality and nimble linguistic turns, these dense and condensed verses explore “the connective tissue of missing imperfections aligned / by the edges of our flight” to reveal “what we say / to hear what we hear.” The process carries the poet’s aphoristic brilliance in a “freefall [that] is exhilarating,” confirming that Torres’s “poetry can anything / if you let it.”

Nance Van Winckel’s witty, thought-provoking collages combine text and old-fashioned images to interrogate the slight and fleeting nature of the self against the scope of historical and even astronomic time. These one-frame marvels juxtapose text and image for an effect that is at once nostalgic, surrealistic, and cerebral. In these works we find Egyptian and early 20th century figures cheerily hailing each other from either side of history; antique diagrams of meteors whose metaphoric relevance to our own brief and tumultuous existence is highlighted by captions identifying their “spectacle of the old self” and “double nature” which “floats free;” a surrealistic building containing a stairwell filled with floating hats, a mountain lake, and a hot air balloon revealing that: “A. we came. B. we gawked. C. we lost ourselves;” and an antique map of the moon heralded by cherubim framing text evoking a self so slight it can “slip through the eye of a needle.”

Using Chinese idioms that themselves have become proverbs, Lucy Zhang skillfully crafts intricate folk fables set in a pastoral past which brilliantly illuminates more timeless meanings. Spear Against Shield explores the predatory relationship between vulnerability, commerce, and violence: “A man is trying to sell a spear and a shield. He boasts that the spear is so strong it can pierce anything. He continues to boast that the shield is so strong it cannot be pierced. When someone asks what will happen if you pierce the shield with the spear, the man falls silent.” And yet, after unsuccessfully haggling with neighbors fearful of war, he offers: “if you buy both a shield and a spear, you’ll get one additional weapon of choice free.” The “addition” abruptly catapults the reader into contemplation of yet another philosophical dilemma. And in Playing Zither for the Cow, a paradox of art-making is revealed by the way a musician’s skill is both best and least appreciated by the musician himself, who “taps and strikes and plucks to the view of the backs of his eyelids” as he “wonders how long it has been since he last listened to his music.”

Thank you for reading — and for doing your part for yourselves and each other by GETTING VACCINATED!

With gratitude and love,

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann