Pearl Button

From postcards to the past


Ms. V. von Willendorf der Gravettian
Naturhistorisches Museum
Burgring 7,
1010 Wien
(Vienna) Austria


When I walk? Mostly it is a rushing of sky. After that day moving across the flax field with you, still tasting pears, brie in my teeth—there was a moment a few weeks after I returned home. My knees became soft levers emitting a contralto hum; hips lilac rockers, arms, golden clock hands on silicate wheels, spinning Mingus’ goodbye pork pie hat. I happened to be walking downhill toward the nearby river. I could hear it singing, like sometimes I can the sky. There was a badger friend just down the soft slope grumbling as she dug. Last year’s locust pods, sentient and attentive. The wet in the air friable. It felt like I imagine a windstorm does to a mountain, wondrous and ephemeral. I cannot stay there, but I am learning to visit. Is this walking for you?


Ms. V. von Willendorf der Gravettian
Naturhistorisches Museum
Burgring 7,
1010 Wien
(Vienna) Austria


I’m sorry to have assumed upon your origins in my last postcard. It’s a peculiar failing, this assumption that where found, where from. The idea that you were on a trading mission when you came across the oolitic limestone that you used to carve your gift to me had not penetrated my ideas about our past. The idea that you worked the stone while pregnant and walking, eyes to the ground, makes such resounding sense now that you’ve said it. In a time (for me and my current human kind) where mirrors at a distance generate the rulership of the eye, your sense of multi-focal tactile perspective has all but been lost, except, of course, in some of our more experimental painters and sculptors. You can refrain from further chastisement: I can hear you laughing despite our 25 or so thousand years distance. Yes. We have learnt a few new things and we are not as primitive as we might seem to you. I hold to this. It gives me hope.


Mr. B. Spinoza
c/o Svalbard globale frøhvelv
Longyerbyen, øya Spitsbergen


Gentle Benedictus, I am glad you have found your work with seed so restorative, but what do you do in a “black box” site? I understand your personal lab on the mainland, but the sense I have at the frøhvelv, of apocalyptic expectation, wars with the roiling beauty of the archipelago. Do you still wander out to follow Rangifer taradus, or was that report for my benefit alone? I must admit that I do continue to play with the elastic that is our friendship. The wonder of your conception of the relative nature of morality, snaps against the absence of chance in your necessity. I am no abstainer from reason, but can’t you see that compassion, yes even certainty, are feelings, and we only inhabit reason as one does a cottage in the summer? What good a set of rights ordered by the state if they are reasoned through the lens of a peculiar compassionate certainty without even the barest acknowledgement that their certainty is limited to their circumstance? What can any lens specific to any human being be but peculiar? We are all the fragrant breath of our time and place. Oh, but enough. Do not disturb your luncheon with this old disputation. I will see you at mid-summer next. We can talk more of necessity’s definition.


Mr. I. Newton
Woolsthorpe Manor,
Water Lane
Woolsthorpe by Colsterworth
Grantham, Lincolnshire


Well, we’ll have to disagree. My preference for peaches remains undiminished despite, your admittedly brilliant, discourse on fluxions, their relationship to the limits of the plague sickness, and the benefit of apple orchards upon the vital essence of the human body. I admire the dedication your friend, Major Dawson, shows to you by planting an arbour of that “holy fruit”. It made me smile, as I know was your intent, to hear you speak of Adam’s fruit in that way. This “wanton Eve” makes do with the soft fuzz of the yellow fruit made dear to us in our most recent visit to the East. Still, you know I’m unlikely to come over to the dark of fluxions when individual infinitesimals are so luxuriously fertile and bright in their immeasurability. You remain a mathematician, dear. Do obsess over fluxions and fluents. I’ll stay a poet of very small numbers. Looking forward to our next trip. I wonder what Iceland will have to offer us in the way of profitable disagreement? See you there come spring, gravity willing.


Major W. Dawson
The Apple Arbour
Langcliffe Hall, nr Settle
Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire


Dear Isaac! And you, William, how kind to tell me of his visit with you, those days under the apples! Friendship is a rare thing for him, I think. Such a mind is hard to countenance with envy being such a strong thread in the human weave—and we two, friends of his, but so far from his brilliance. And, still, not servants. How have we managed? This is our peculiar brilliance, which is something, respect him as I do, to which he cannot hope to aspire. Your village of Giggleswick is well named, I think, both for its contemporary connotations of delight; and for those of a Viking who came, saw, conquered, then farmed. Our mutual companion of furious curiosity certainly managed up to and including the conquering bit. Not at all good at farming, but hey, he has you to come to for orchard perambulations of foot and mind! Do keep me posted on any new inventions and I’ll send you a report of our upcoming Icelandic trip.


Ms. Saartjie Baartman-Khoikhoi
South Arm of the Gamtoos River
Upper Gamtoos Valley,
nr. Willowmore
South Africa


I was glad to hear that you moved home after those disastrous decades in the Museum of Man. Yes, I know you laughed about it. Even George’s flagrantly stupid remarks about your “appetites”, could make no headway against your feet-to-ground refusal to countenance their “opinions”. I know I’ve said this before Saartjie, but I am so glad we met in London. I’ve learnt much about my own “distinctions” (such a kind way of you to describe my madness!) by watching you. Those first steps you took coming down from the ship! Your startling beauty! You knew this, but I had to learn it. Thank you dear heart. Perhaps when I am again near your river home, we can return to our favourite game. This time, I’ll imagine a world where you are what counts as normal, and you can imagine a world built for someone like me.

Process Statement
Process Statement

By the time I’d settled into puberty, my “episodes” (later to be diagnosed as epilepsy) had taken on a new form. I called them “fast spells.” They would start with a change in texture that I could (at the outset of an episode) feel with my tongue and felt faintly like malt – the air became a little rough, bumpy. Then time split, and I experienced more than one stream concurrently. My head, lips, tongue, nose moved fast. My knees and thighs were in the slow-stream. It wasn’t difficult, moving in multiple time-streams. I could walk quite normally, think, chop veggies, dodge cars and bikes when crossing the street. These events would come, and then go.

I never did correlate fast-spells to anything environmental; I stopped having them by the time I was in my late teens. New forms of events came in their stead. Tell the truth, I kind of miss them, even though now I can slip pretty close, to what a friend calls their event-horizon. There I can talk to the still-living-through-their-words-and-human-impact. We exchange postcards.

The part of me that lives further away – into the universe’s gravity-calm regions called normalcy – loves math, philosophy, raw moments in deep cultural and human change (often studied through anthropology). Those in history that are the whirlwinds of change – people like Spinoza, Leibniz, Newton, FirstBird, Lucy Australopithecus Afarensis, Egeria the Nun, the woman who carved the Venus of Willendorf, Saartjie Baartman – they function like charging stations, and simultaneously, temporal platforms from which I participate in the system’s emergent properties.

Time-itself and time-as-we-experience-it are distinct. The second is an emergent property of the interaction between mass and time-itself; this is how I explain my fast-spells.

Matter in its relationships creates many property states. The body-form as it moves through its evolution has a teleology, that is, the body “wishes” (has a set of properties and resulting behaviours that causes it) to continue as a recognizable system. Teleology, in itself, is an emergent property; the feeling of “wishing” is another. The “platforms” (formerly known as historical figures), both remembered and not, act as jump points for system exploration. Think of them as StarGates, if you are a fan of the sci-fi franchise. But instead of new worlds, what you get to explore are nodes in the actual system, that is, temporality and materiality operating in tandem.

What do I want to do with this series?

Explore the vibrant and ongoing set of resonances that exist between my place in the greater system, and theirs. I do it mostly for myself, I suppose, and for the system itself. I suspect that like tendons, twanging the “chords” that connect me and those who are normally known as historical personages, thickens them, reinforcing their existence. Like good habits, the more you do them, the deeper they are gouged into your neurology.

I don’t mind the idea that others, readers, viewers, co-observationists and postcard writers, might also share in my temporal anomalies. Fast-spells for everyone! I can’t really share my “events”, but through art I can create another platform from which the system, simultaneously ephemeral and everlasting, can be experienced. Would more of we-who-live-at-the-moment experience the continuance of the past. But I suppose that’s selfish too. So maybe all I really want to do with my art is to explore and think things through. But that doesn’t stop others from coming along if they want.

Pearl Button lives in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People. She is published or forthcoming in a variety of journals including SurVision Magazine, Agapanthus Collective, filling Station, Impspired, Peculiar Mormyrid, New Note Poetry, and Drunk Monkeys.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 30)


Welcome to our (gulp) 30th issue! Although (to paraphrase David Byrne) we’re not quite sure how we got here, we’re thrilled that we have, thanks to the vivid and continuing engagement of our growing family of contributors and readers. For this milestone issue, we have once again gathered the work of distinguished artists and writers (both acclaimed and emerging) that is as resonant and relevant as it is aesthetically exciting.

Here you will find poetry and prose by Isaac Akanmu, Tyrone Williams, and Pearl Button that confronts the historical and contemporary poison of racism and colonial appropriation, alongside work by Julie Choffel, Erika Eckart, Vi Khi Nao & Jessica Alexander, Jo O’Lone Hahn, Sam Wein, and Nancy White exploring gender repression and violence – as well as its persistent, sometimes even exuberant defiance “swinging ourselves to wonderment” (Sam Wein, Season of Fanny Packs). The innovative poetics of Kristi Maxwell, Benjamin Landry, and Dennis James Sweeney speak to the state of the planet and even the dubious nature of the future itself, while the visual art of Andrea Burgay, Taraneh Mosadegh and Ana Rendich grapples in a different idiom with the existential challenge of living as moral and emotional beings in a threatened and threatening world.

In this abused and abuse-riddled world, the need for art that speaks to the struggle between fury, despair, and hope is as great as the necessity for wonder and delight. Defying the temptation to let “your horror here . . . be unheard” (Tyrone Williams, History, History, All is History) these works confront the way our “sense . . . of apocalyptic expectation, wars with the roiling beauty” of existence (Pearl Button, to Mr. B. Spinoza). That our species is blighted and blessed is inescapable. This very duality is addressed by these works, even as their virtuosity offers proof of the latter.

Isaac Akanmu’s inventive prose texts with lyric counterpoint begin in first person at a cookout that turns into a shooting, move to the descriptive third of a “teenage alien who searches for rest in [the] tired song” of the national anthem, and finally pan to a prison ballgame. Each poem exposes the experience of America’s promises violently broken. The protection promised by the mythicized “rockets’ red glare” is no match for the “red glare, blue glare, then red glare . . . of cop cars.” And at Pelican Bay prison, “uncle sam has them under duress. clamped. shackled. locked up. the defensive player of the year. unanimous. four hundred years running.” But as a coda, in spite of all this, a sweet, sad lyric keeps singing of the persistence of life as resistance in itself: “perhaps red blue glare, then red glare again is proof / through the night that he too still lives.”

By preserving the shapes and structures of the books whose covers and pages she deconstructs for her sculptural collages, Andrea Burgay reorders and builds upon their ruins to reconstruct new artifacts of singular energy and intensity. Mysterious, disturbing, and ultimately inspiring, the works in this series comment upon and take flight from our literary legacy – from anonymous vintage paperbacks to Dante’s Purgatorio and Shakespeare’s plays – to engage the limitations and potential of verbal narrative. Peeling open and exploding the problematics of the past — the very “rhetoric and false decoration” identified by T.S. Eliot and incorporated into the title of one of these works — these complex and probing artifacts uncover and create fragmented and elusive glimpses of the multitude of futures our problematic past might seed.

Pearl Button’s delightful and poetic postcards are full of the erudite and charming personality of the sender, whose name and essence we never know, and who is an intimate friend of Spinoza and Newton, the Venus Hottentot and the Venus of Willendorf. The postcards effortlessly shift from witty to lyric and back. She seems equally at ease admonishing Spinoza: “The wonder of your conception of the relative nature of morality, snaps against the absence of chance in your necessity. I am no abstainer from reason, but can’t you see that . . . we only inhabit reason as one does a cottage in the summer?” as she is evoking her own physicality to a 30,000 year old statue: “When I walk? Mostly it is a rushing of sky. . . My knees became soft levers emitting a contralto hum; hips lilac rockers, arms, golden clock hands on silicate wheels, spinning Mingus’ goodbye pork pie hat.” These excursions of intellect and imagination are a celebration of the cerebral and the poetic. Button also captures our yearning for connection and our hope for the future in a redressing of our cruel and colonialist past, imagining “a world where you [Saartjie Baartman-Khoikho] are what counts as normal, and you can imagine a world built for someone like me.”

Julie Choffel’s poetry grapples boldly and bluntly with fundamental questions of living and parenting, like how to “find. . . beauty in the terrible world” and “see abundance in the wreck,” or how to teach our children anything of value beyond the plea that they “pretend I DID THIS DIFFERENTLY.” These darkly witty verses challenge the value of human industry and its fundamental egotism, exposing the mess we humans have made with the very impact whose value we so grossly overestimate. The radical alternative proposed by this brave and brilliant “conscientious objector of /the whole way” is a “not-lesson / not wealth accumulation / not permanent structures / not award ceremonies.” These poems offer an ambitiously unambitious inaction plan, modeled on the modest efficiency of gleaners, grounded in the admirably ego-less goal of making “nothing but room / for something else.”

In Erika Eckart’s brilliant and moving short fiction, women desperately struggle with the consuming worry of being a parent despite the societal forces stacked against them. In Sight, the pain of a parasite in one eye creates an alternate, desired vision of an alcoholic daughter’s life, in which she is “sober, happy, apple-cheeked, riding a fucking horse, lisa-frank style” although “[i]n the other open, still-operational eye, the daughter is running up a hill mostly naked, it is cold out, she is warning the neighbors about hallucinated phantoms.” In Prepper, a woman so used to trying to keep her children fed through a lifetime of poverty that she “for dinner once prepared a box of Jiffy muffin mix with nothing but water and split the rubbery yield among 5,” continues to hoard stale food after the kids are grown, despite the fact that “[m]uch of it was boxes of dust,” because “[w]hen reconstituted with water it transforms to the equivalent of stacking all the furniture against the door.” In the pull of the water, a mother struggles to keep her small boy from climbing a fence to get to the swirling creek below because “[h]e needs to throw himself in, to be the thing dragged by the current and pulled under, to dance against the rocks.” Eckart’s answer to the question posed by a passing stranger, “What are you going to do when he’s too big for you?” brings light and a wry kind of comfort.

Benjamin Landry’s penetrating and resonant engagements with The Arcades Project build on, and take off from, Walter Benjamin’s contemplation of the aesthetic and societal significance of Paris’ Galeries de Bois. With meticulous economy, Landry’s spare and musical verses consider aspects of the “[f]eatureless desert of now” such as the problematics of closure (“you’d / never guess completion’s sickness,”) the “dissolute gravitas” of grandeur in contrast with “the wet white teeth / of modesty,” the dehumanization of war, with its capacity to convert us into “regiment[s] of brute-faced / animals” by suppressing the “crucial information” that “everyone / has a mother,” and the soulless ease of mercantile capitalism so effectively served by the Galeries de Bois to offer a seductive “place out of the weather where the remains / of the world are brushed clean, cataloged, / reconstructed, finally understood.”

Kristi Maxwell’s extinction poems delight the ear, the tongue and the intellect, while reminding us that language used inventively can uncover, through humor and surprise, a deeper and sadder truth. “Chromosomes form self’s reef—we reek of luck” begins extinction (Giant Panda), calling into question our human tendency to believe we somehow deserve a superior place on the planet; no matter how much we value ourselves, we too, are subject to extinction: “Messy crumb of us crumbles more. We’re else.” We are also the means of extinction for many species, and likely our planet itself; we’re “da bomb’s damp wick.” But maybe there is yet a way for us to “unbecome to become.” After all, “[w]e’re our souls’ humus, yes?”

Taraneh Mosadegh’s reverse-glass paintings depict abstracted organic forms in translucent, jewel-toned layers that explore the interconnectedness of existence. These works feature reiterated motifs recontextualized to reveal the porous nature of conventional distinctions between sky and sea, animal and vegetal, animate and inanimate, and micro and macro, by way of images resembling plankton, flowers, and stars; cells as well as eggs; and human heads as well as planets. Layered over Mosadegh’s generous engagement with the unbounded and un-boundaried plentitude of the natural world is her engagement with human culture and social justice. The land of her birth is invoked in The Wind Will Carry Us, which is named for either Kiarostami’s film, the poem by Forough Farrokhzad for which that was named, or both. Her depiction of Mount Damavand, the iconic “roof of Iran,” recalls Cezanne’s studies of Mont Sainte-Victoire. Other works take their titles from the poetry of Bashō and Celan (including an image, in the latter, reminiscent of a hooded Guantanamo prisoner). Mosadegh’s use of a Venetian technique not used in Iran until the late 19th and early 20th centuries further enacts the syncretic inclusivity of this artist’s vision.

In A Dead Cave Called Sleep, Vi Khi Nao and Jess Alexander’s intense color exposures of a train station mirror the bold and surreal text made up of both actual and internal journeys of the narrators/lovers. Changes in color and font within the text heighten the emotional impact of every element, from recalling newspaper accounts of a tennis star’s abuse to observing an abusive interaction in real time: the outer observation and the inner pain mingle. In a frighteningly familiar scenario, “[t]he door opened and the angle of their bodies was so covert and revelatory, you felt as though you’d crawled into a stranger’s bed and you apologized and let the doors close on them again and took the steps up to the pedestrian bridge. And when you arrived she was stepping out of the elevator and he was gripping the back of her neck and telling her they’d work it out. They’d work it out.” These almost-daily assaults on women’s psyches are one of the sources of pain for the narrator and color these lovers’ relationship as intensely as the photos, preventing, perhaps, the intimacy that would heal it: “You wished I had a pain free life. That’s called death, I said, and you disagreed. Death isn’t life you said and repeated yourself, knocking each word out – like a mallet sounding out the hollowness of a wall.” Or, perhaps, like this powerful piece, sounding out its resonance.

Jo O’Lone-Hahn’s stark and artful cycle of interconnected poems confront a young woman’s struggle with the ever-present threat of violence. In these powerful poems, the toxicity of objectification embodied in a trophy of feminine desirability, a County fair princess sash, is exposed for what it is by a refrain which evokes the dread “draped across your breast” by the menacing reality of the stalker’s ‘admiration.’ In a brutal world defined by power, where “eating is always / death & equally / so for / all things / eaten” and “scientists / often choose / to save only / creatures that / eat smaller / creatures,” a preyed-upon young woman is driven to contemplate suicide in order to “decide between // sacrifice or triage” in her desperation to regain control of her own fate.

Ana Rendich’s masterful variations of intensity and translucence in color in both painting and sculpture, and her innovative use of materials such as resin, paper, and old tools, combine to make powerful, startling statements about the emotional nature of our lives. Rendich says, “Hope in the light of loss and displacement is my primary subject,” and indeed, joy (surely a form of hope) is invoked in the viewer in pieces like littlegiant, a delightful assemblage of machine, resin and paper; while on the other hand, we feel the loss in the tattered grey of the moving Rescued pieces, and Mourning and Hope (a response to the artist’s research into personal letters from World War II). These works remind us that although we experience fear and loss, art is a form of reparation and healing.

Dennis James Sweeney’s singing poems alternate between the communal “we” and the personal “I” while operating on both the immediate and figurative levels. One can imagine a community of beings who express themselves in images rather than narrative, viewing history and its most problematic elements through a more purely lyrical lens. In Sweeney’s complex formulations, imagistic and idiomatic implications build meaning in layers: a “moon as blue as gold / the chosen pockmarked in it” draws a parallel between the rarity of gold metal and a ‘blue moon’ while evoking their glowing colors scarred by damage. Sweeney’s resonant neologisms recall Celan’s, and add to the sense that this work creates its own idiom to address the puzzle and paradox of existence: the body’s “box- / house of organs,” the “already-said” “rightlanguage” to which “[w]e gave the years,” the “rest-road” that “does not flake / but hollows / with throat talk.” In the almost neo-Imagist poem, “I built a subtle,” emotion (gasp) is embodied in startling metaphor: “I slept like an egg through the ungulate night: I clenched like hard bread, gray in back of blue.”

Sam Wein vividly details the pivotal moments in a closeted childhood when the wide-open future could suddenly be envisioned, in spite of the social mores of the time. Although the narrator had a loving and perceptive grandmother who he wants “to think . . . knew about all my boyfriends like I knew a handful of treats would be waiting” whenever he visited her, it was the discovery of the magic of defiance as a self-defining experience that was pivotal to his self-realization: learning “how to talk my way under the water slide /over the sledding hill, up the chimney / where I grow glittery wings / Wings made/of lies.” He recognizes the delight and necessity of pushing against the expected when he sees “a queer, 70s themed dance troop from/ the Valley with packs at their waists” and thinks, “I need / to be that. I need to be them. The judges told them I want / to see the fellas dance like fellas and they didn’t—they didn’t listen.” The reader applauds, and is inspired by, his exuberant breakthrough: “I’ll have style at my waist, like you. I won’t listen to anybody.”

Nancy White’s poems consider the sorrows and joys of life and death with serenity and tact. If entire poems can be onomatopoetic, these gems of craft and compression are just that. Deftly enacting what it depicts, Spell rings with an incantatory music that is as compelling as it is hypnotic, casting a spell designed to ease one’s passage from weight to weightlessness (“Instead of stalking, flutter. Swap pound / for patter and shank for shim”) and life to death (“Soften, offer, / drift. Oh, weep. Waft, puff, / settle. Widen. Stop.”) And Traveler, like its eponymous narrator going home to a land of “homes drastic and identical” to visit parents who “were not [her] people,” hints at the wrenching pain of her dislocation — and the more drastic measures we surmise she later needed to take in order to fully chart her own course, as well as the victory of that liberation — with delicate subtlety, aware that the “correct way” the family “embraced at formal events” might “corrode” “[s]hould the sight of [her] uncovered throat” or “the smell of joy provoke.”

The spare, objective imagism of Tyrone Williams’ A Little Coffee In A Saucer recalls William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow and purple plums — haunted by the ghosts of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, and the countless other victims, past and present, of racist violence. Tyrone Williams’ musical prosodics elegantly ‘rhyme’ with the visual effect of his one- and two-word lines to keep the stanzas flowing in a long, thin, liquid stream. But the spilled brown coffee that “cools / as it pools” over the (white?) “faux / porcelain” chillingly recalls the unchecked stream of cooling Black blood still being met by “brown // lips” with a “black shiver.” History, framed by a haunting quote from a documentary about Lebanon’s home-grown 1960s space program, laments the endless cycle of colonization and appropriation, from concealment (“In the lawn around an island of sycamores the roots are beginning to show”) to denial (“Throw a few bags of denial on ‘em”) to the complicity of difference and distance that lets us “slip into the trance of another life, needing your horror here to be unheard.” Not only, the poem reminds us, are such differences and distances illusory, especially when a “patch of Yankee know-how updates the trick,” but we have no choice but to “resign . . . ourselves to one another” since the cycle will go on “indefinitely.”

Thank you for helping us celebrate this milestone by honoring their incredible work!

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann