Stephen Massimilla

faint-lit photo-thought

but so many little masks (marks, tasks)
make a life. so infinite. she was living
to leave some work, instead of (pell-mell) organizing nothings,
despite a delicate body, floating
in plasma—she didn’t know
if she could do another year of falseness
while missing him (so vain, so masochistic)
not at all, just the idea
of him (sickness in the coolness),
so much. the split came between what she felt
and what she thought she needed to believe,
like real things don’t hurt,
just having a mind
to come down from the lightfastness
of this insomnia high, to do away with
(neatness and simplicity) herself
as neatly and simply as possible. think
you were feeling this because it’s not possible?
think again
(she thought). think
what you were
thinking when
you thought that.

Miracle Fruits

—after Rilke

Where, in what always watered and beatific garden, on what
trees, from which tenderly stripped, leafless blossom-cups
do the strange fruits of Solace ripen? These exquisite
globes: maybe you’ll find one in the trampled meadows

of your desolation. Once, many times over,
you marvel at the great size of the fruit,
at its wholesomeness, at the supple luster of the skin,
and that the recklessness of the bird or jealousy of the worm didn’t

get there first. Are there trees, then, flocking with seraphs?
And so strangely nurtured by slow, concealed gardeners
that they bear fruits that were never even meant for us?

Have we ever been able, we shadows, we grotesques,
through our actions—too rashly ripened and suddenly withered—
to disturb the impassable equanimity of that summer?

Far North of You


You were like a faith
I could turn to in a city stuck

in its own Dark Age.

Black doves rippled
through pinnacles riddled

with church bells over tracks
where charred faces
pressed in from the sides.

With no hunger,
no danger to turn from, I dream
of leaving.


What does it mean, like a faith?
Your eyes burned white
in their centers, like those
in the calcified face
of the sphinx. From my window
I made out your paws
in foothills,

your mane in a cloud,
a halo. I squinted
to be sure
not to be too sure.


One day I followed a couple
to a murmurous niche
in a church, where a Virgin’s skin peeled
in waves of gold. Oil
had streamed
from her eyes, leaving tracks

in the onion-green boards. The incident later
found a place
in the local paper,
though the article
was tread-marked.

Oil Flew Into the Sea

and some of it was on fire,
as were the men ejected into the air by their own depth charges.

It takes a hundred pounds of high-octane gas to announce this end.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The dead silent Icelandic charter, The Snow,
out in the North Atlantic for forty-six days

in the air gap south of Greenland.
Long way from grandmother’s flannel.

In my night trance, I’m the man beyond the reach of waking:
Hidden in the dreamed sailor’s sinking pocket, a minute atlas
with a tiny map

of New York in it; in his faraway locker, a yellow postcard
of a prismatic woman with a scorpion cross
pinned to each hand.

His closest shipmate doesn’t love her,
doesn’t even know her in person.

Nor what to make of my longed-for light, sliver-moon
of her torso bulleted with diamonds

against the high-pitched banners
of red sirens, an unreachable city riddled with desire.

I’d better have laid a pink rubber mat on the bed
before wishing and shaking so much
that I wake up in a pool of water.

Of the people I thought I loved,
I see two paddling on a strafed ocean as vast as God’s hand.

They clasp, and I drift away, my face sunk in my burst-open fists.

Stephen Massimilla’s (co-authored) volume, Cooking with the Muse: A Sumptuous Gathering of Seasonal Recipes, Culinary Poetry, and Literary Fare is just out from Tupelo Press. Acclaim for his other books includes an SFASU Press Prize for The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat; the Bordighera/CUNY Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday; the Grolier Prize for Later on Aiaia; a Van Renssalaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch; and other honors. His poems have appeared in hundreds of publications from AGNI to Verse Daily. Massimilla holds an MFA and a PhD from Columbia University and teaches at Columbia and the New School. (For more info:

Editors’ Notes (Posit 11)


Welcome to September, and to Posit 11!

It is a special thrill to introduce the masterful poetry and prose Bernd and I have gathered for this issue. Not only has another summer come and gone, but we are in the last stages (if not throes) of an American election cycle in which the complacency of most notions of “normalcy” have been shattered, giving rise to an appropriately pervasive anxiety about the depth and scope of the humanly possible. In its own provocative and evocative ways, the work in this issue addresses that anxiety, and even musters some degree of optimism. For tragedy rendered inseparable from the beauty of its vehicle, consider the stark profundity of new work by Michael Palmer and Fady Joudah; the disturbing resonance of two parables by Marvin Shackelford and Eric Wilson; or the tender melancholy of verse by Jeffrey Jullich, Stephen Massimilla, and Simon Perchik. For an inspiring balance of critique and optimism, take a look at Sharon Mesmer’s tragic yet emancipatory tributes to undervalued women poets, Sheila Murphy’s inimitable and ineffable pull-no-punches constructs, Sharon Dolin’s disciplined frolics, ambitiously braiding tribute and lampoon, or Anne Gorrick’s high-octane mash-ups of web-commerce parlance examined and re-examined to reveal rich veins of resonance. And on the brighter side, bask in Felino Soriano’s linguistically untethered odes to transformation.

Whether you are absorbed by the anxiety of our historical moment or weary of its seep, I hope you’ll take some moments to explore:

the tightly packed wit and wisdom of Sharon Dolin’s allusive riffs on Conceptismo, W. C. Williams’ So Much Depends, Niedecker’s ‘condensery,’ and the fraudulence of linguistic obscurantism;

the looping logic of Anne Gorrick’s expansive assemblages, artistic antidotes to our day-to-day “doses of forgetting” the “fine tunings built into” these rocking, rollicking litanies in which “invisible empires of products, fireflies and songs add to the beauty;”

Fady Joudah’s profound and miraculous condensations, with their masterfully chiseled, spare, and haunting visions of oppression and its internalization (“Election Year Dream”) sanctuary in the face of damage (“Monastery”) and the devastation of love (“Coda: A Fragment”);

Jeffrey Jullich’s grimly beautiful constructs, evoking the hazard, sorrow, and insignificance of existence as revealed by the “metamorphosis of seraphim,” “Nostradamus contradictions,” and “a cloud/hung between my life—and life itself” in which “intelligence is only – a fraction – a niche for omniscience;”

the mystery and beauty of Stephen Massimilla’s chiseled lyrics, gesturing towards the elusive and tragic lightness of love, loss, and existence itself, in which “so many little masks (marks, tasks) / make a life” until one is reluctant “to come down from the lightfastness / of this insomnia high;”

Sharon Mesmer’s lyrical tributes to women poets of the Americas which, by “beating all sorrows/into beauty” themselves fulfill the determination to be “no mere witness/to inertia” by evoking, among other notions of liberation, the freedom of radical departure — in what her fans will recognize as a masterful departure from the pyrotechnical virtuosity of her signature Flarfian poetics;

Sheila E. Murphy’s confidently quiet, powerfully enigmatic new works evoking the intimacies of existence anchored by “the palpable act of witness, witnessing” in which “pounce marks levitate a posse / of connect points” in our appreciation of her bracing linguistic montage;

the incomparable music of Michael Palmer’s austere and profound masterpieces of compression, sternly confronting us with the tragedy and horror of a world — our world — in which a child is “set afire / before blindered eyes / a world’s eyes” and authors “lost at sea / in a storm of words” stand idly by as their “books consume . . . the fire”;

Simon Perchik’s moving lyrics of love, loss, and memory, gently guiding us to “listen / the way all marble is crushed” and witness how “inside each embrace // the first thunderclap and shrug / no longer dries”;

Marvin Shackelford’s haunting parable of shipwreck, survival, and friendship, with its “reversed exploration” of the great parable, Before the Law, replacing Kafka’s eternally-withheld judgment with rescue, but, gratifyingly, perhaps not redemption;

Felino Soriano’s “relocated” lyrics, as musical as they are disjunctive, enacting the generative power of the transformations of which they sing; “alters” “of improvised becoming” in which the day is “a dangle of marbled light, an / algebra of sun” for the reader to gratefully absorb;

and the disturbingly resonant infinite regress powering Eric G. Wilson’s “Bowl,” ruled by the labyrinthine, archetypal, Escher-esque logic of nightmares.

Thank you, as always, for reading!

Susan Lewis


Welcome to the visual art of Posit 11!

Christopher Adams’ background in biology and science informs these environmental installations of ceramic sculpture. He creates small universes of hundreds of individual elements reminiscent of creatures from the biological world, as filtered through Adams’ imagination. Installed on walls painted in brilliant, deeply saturated colors, they seem to vibrate with energy, transporting us into another dimension.

Yura Adams works in a diverse vocabulary of forms united by her nuanced and thoughtful vision of the world. Based on both scientific and intuitive observation of the natural world, this work encompasses a lovely tension between loose drawing and complex patterning. Her use of rich and beautiful color reinforces this dynamic.

Kate Brown’s solidly painted compositions address one of the basic constructs of painting – the push and pull between positive and negative space. Using a carefully controlled palette of color, she has created an exploration of figure and ground that transcends the academic idea and emerges as glorious paintings. Big gestures are offset by architectural spaces. These works are luscious and bursting with energy.

In John Hundt’s hilarious and odd collage pieces, we see a world of biology and evolution gone strangely awry. Unlikely combinations of creatures are meticulously constructed from Hundt’s trove of imagery. Building upon the grand tradition of Surrealist collage, he has created a world of creatures found (hopefully) only in dreams.

With intricate and delicate etched lines, Renee Robbins explores the biology of the ocean. Her etchings, all based on actual creatures, evoke the undersea world caught in mid-motion. Her images are simultaneously scientific and dreamily ethereal. Rendered in softly psychedelic tones, they are like specimens on view through Robbins’ artistic microscope.

I hope you enjoy!

Melissa Stern