Dangerous Things This is the island. It is small and vulnerable, it is a woman, calling. You love her until you are a part of her and then, just like that you make her less than she was before—the space that you take up is a space where she cannot exist It is something in her history that does this Don’t mind her name The island is a woman Therefore, dangerous things live below Beautiful things, also—which can be the most dangerous. True, we will never be beyond our histories. And so I am the island. And so this is a warning.
Mark Doty From What Is the Grass Poetry tends toward the unsayable as a compass needle loves the north; the poem wants to give words to longing, to desolation, to the persistence of hope. It wants to enter into the awareness of animals and of small children, and of the dead; it wants to strip away false appearances, and to address the divine, and light up the unseen movements of those forces which turn the seasons and move forward life. A beautiful Robert Louis Stevenson poem, written for children, begins Who has seen the wind, neither you nor I, but when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.” Poetry is a wind we shape; it lights up our mortal dimensions and the deep strangeness of things by showing us the evidence of invisibles, by showing us, as clearly as it can, the beautiful supplication of the trees, which have no choice but to yield. _____________ When you love a great poet’s work, it can become a center to which all of experience may be referred, a locus of meaning that can spill out into many dimensions of a life. Indeed, I have had to check myself a bit in referring in conversation to Walt Whitman. “A bit eccentric” is a reputation I can readily accept, but I’ve seen that look on friend’s faces when they think I’ve once again dragged someone from another century into a conversation where he doesn’t belong. I know better; when it comes to a grand and encyclopedic poet, there really are no unrelated conversations. I don’t always say so. And of course there’s that thing that lovers do, mentally addressing the other when the beloved is absent. If I’ve seen something I think would interest Alex when I’m traveling alone, I may tell him about it in my head, and imagine his response; it’s a way of feeling connected, of spending time in relation to him. I’m writing now in early September, in the small square studio I love behind our place in the country. The door’s open, and at the bottom of the view Ned – my golden shadow – is sleeping on the diamonds of slate tiles, and at the top of the doorway I can see a slice of the pale blue portico Alex has just primed and painted for me, the color you’d get if you could dilute a morning glory with milk. He’s somewhere in the garden now, half-mending and half-creating a gate. He makes things with the focus and intensity I bring to this, and though I only see him moving from one part of the garden to another now and then, or hear the occasional burr of a power tool or a bit of that private muttering that goes along with seeking a solution to a puzzle, his presence is a part of this work. When I’m away, that relation is less constant, but it does go on. When you’re away, how many times a day do you think of the person you live with? It’s the same with the poets whose words and presence I have internalized, the ones most near to me. They seem to stand up and come forward when something that resonates with my sense of them occurs. In Key West last winter for a seminar, how could I not keep company with Elizabeth Bishop,…
Baptism by Gilmarie Brioso It’s cold in this box of dark, carved wood. The incense guides my breathing, and I focus as each breath peppers my throat. Spiced air flows through my body and calms the trembles that run along my arms. Confessionals are always cold. “They’re kept this way for the confessor; it keeps him alert. The dimmed lights let him look into his soul, directly at his sins.” Sister Cera told me this as we walked through the empty nave one evening. Accustomed to her thin, pale lips in a straight line, I noticed a quirk then, as if she were amused with the idea. The cold is fierce and prickles at my skin, but I know it’s not the sole reason for the shivers that take over. I search my mind for any sins left unsaid. Look through every mistake— the pointless lies I told just because I could. God’s name, spoken in vain. That time I stole chalk from my elementary school to play with back home. When I cursed Doña Blanca for gossiping about Mamá. I was 12 then, but I’ve felt agony over it since, even more after la Doña’s death, as if I were the cause. Then there was the time I saw Don Antonio have sex with Emily, his 19-year-old cleaning lady, and enjoyed the thrill of the scene. I had watched from the kitchen window as I washed the day’s first dishes. The white cotton curtain moved gently with the morning breeze, but did not do much to obstruct the view—el Don’s knuckles pressing against his back, Emily’s knees kneading the floor. My hands did not stop scrubbing. I have revealed every evil thought: the exact way I wanted to hurt Papá for leaving Mamá. My hatred for Mamá after he left. I hated her weakness. I can still see her, clinging to Papá’s feet as he left for the last time. Hearing her choking cries, I could only think, You stupid, stupid woman. I vowed to never let a man have control over me. And then there was the day I brought a razor blade to the right side of my face, drove a clean incision to cup my cheek. The scar never faded; it rests gently across my face. My brown blunder, rosy and rounded. It was what Sister Cera first asked about. “A carnal sin,” she said, nodding her head, eyes closed. “That must be confessed before you continue.” But Sister Cera never asked me why I had done it. Would I have said it was for Sofia? Would I have shared the way Sofia whispered my name, with all the air in the room? “Marina,” she said as she touched my spoil. The hair on my arms rose up with my name, as if they were tiny feelers tuned to Sofia’s voice, capturing her sound, pulling her to me, making my heart pump faster. “You did it,” she said. “I did,” I told her, begging her to believe me since, just a day before, she wanted to end us. “You’ll leave me,” Sofia had explained. “Flacita and beautiful, you’ll leave me for some rich old man. I know it.” So I carved away at my own flesh, took the beautiful from it, and felt the warm blood on my hands. I had expected a flood, but when I looked down only three small pools had dripped to the floor.…
PHOTOS BY SALLY COHN, COURTESY OF THE YARD, 2016
Refugee The brother I do not have is walking into the forest. I follow. Watch his half-hitch gait, the slipknot of his shoulders. Always, at the path’s end, a woman, not our mother, waits. Between us a matchstick and the damp tinder. Always this brother wastes the afternoon foraging, slipping his long fingers along the rough of fallen trees. Do you remember the song our mother sang? he says. He pockets frills of lichen, drops wet bark into my hand. Felled. There is something else. I unremember. When it gets dark, he tells me I loved best the song’s refrain. And later, the woman, not our mother, empties his pockets. There is never enough. Never to feed all the children. Careless Love I am chaise-longued and slipcovered. Lacquered, distracted, give me my grosgrain, my trim. Oh, to be scalloped, braided, blue silk valance and a tassled drape. A sash tied back, a faux anything thrown. Wall to wall, Persianed, hardly. Needle-pointed or shagged, what do you dream? I am fancy and apricot, Chinoisery and something stark. Phillipe–ghost chaired, illumined– –are you ready for my modernity? I can Louis it up, quatorze or otherwise, our excess, excessive, pounded, gold leafingly handled. Queerly we love a sofa, but enough sectional, what about feet stretched on an ottoman? There’s molding to consider. Eggshell? Gloss? Nothing overhead. How dire is the chandelier? And oh, you look lovely. The effect in certain light. Love me, oh, love me. I’ve been consigned. From The Dye Merchant The Apprentice of Blue …throw out the water and keep the blue. From Libri Colorum , 15th century (Delemare &Guineau) The last of the alum. The last of woad and logwood. Dutch smalt. Such blue. Like every band of ocean all at once. Minded the smell of hands but, oh, the blue of my own hands, stained, stinker hands, the dyer’s mark. Woke up blue. Hands bluer than paper. It’s almost my second winter at the papermill. Hauled my share of cow blood added as forbidden filler Metal in the steam rises from copper vats, I beat the rags harder with the beating stick. Time enough in long hours, the awful retting of pulp, to walk my crooked self back through the door of memory Turned out I’d been traded, a final coin in some deal, A man’s chunk of Persian Blue. Not much to remember. I no longer look like anyone’s daughter. It isn’t bad to be a boy, a cap angled on my head. I’ve shaped my mind to the business of keeping fingers from lifting a thing too lightly. I’d lived for two years in Venice, if this swamp can be called Venice. No ostrich plumes out here, no cabuchon of lapis-lazuli veined with gold. Among these slapped-up strung buildings it’s glass blowers and paper mills; the wool shop next door, a burned tatter of a building. In the sticky heat of the swamp, in the boil of the works, ten fired cauldrons, the men strip down, cloth wrapped for bloomers. I wear my pants short, keep them knotted about my waist. I sleep in a reeking shack. Slip out mornings While the others twist closer to their dreams Though it’s begun,…
H.O.W. Journal contributor and board member David Gates has recently published a short story collection, A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me. Pick up a copy!
“This year, I love a man with a hole in his plan.”
“We made it to New York. That’s how we put it when we talk about it with each other, even though it means something different to each of us, and even though we’re both pretty used to it by now. I came straight from school, worked some crap jobs, then landed a decent one. It’s at a hedge fund and I hate it, at least theoretically.”
This makes me think of a writer who runs. He can have ideas only when he runs. However he has a problem remembering the ideas until the end of the run so he decides to run with a dictation machine. It’s not a dictation machine, it’s a tiny tape recorder, it’s not a tape recorder, it’s one of those electric sticks that records the sounds on nothing. In digital no-space. He runs with it once and he records each idea in panting running speech. When he gets home he is excited, but when he presses play the machine has failed him, nothing has been retained. He does not resolve to discover how to properly work the machine. He just takes this as a bad sign and places the machine on the mantel, among his other signifiers. It joins a rotten orange, a flower, a bottled ship, a train ticket, an eye patch, and the universe on the mantel.
“Wilson Willowdell shaved his face. He was naked at the mirror and his mustache kit lay open in front of him. Strapped inside were two black brushes and a pair of small, sharp scissors. He worked the scissors to his thin, dark mustache, taking off just a shade. When he was finished it was even and good. You could not have drawn it on any straighter than he cut it. It was Sunday, the only day that Wilson cooked for himself alone. On other days he attended the ancient skillet at the diner. He cooked slowly but not many complained. His French toast saved him from any real criticism. The toast was fluffy and light as new snow.”