11 June 2006

Featured Poet: Ela Kotkowska

threadbare song

As I fall asleep, I draw the lake over my shoulders. My hips sink into the silt. The lake slips. Pluck at it, half aware. My clothes now hang on wood poles. A loose yarn threads morning suns climbing across the sea dust.

I can’t swim, so I just wear these beads.


the crisis temporarily swept to the margin

The lake disowns the bed. Forgets my left foot as the right one falls.

Into such deep slumber where birds weave traps and the wind sells clocks.

A sequence of images with pomegranate seeds and blooming battlefields.

Lethal rivers desiccate the plain. Archeologists uncover the fossils of Eden.

Anger still awaits to be personified.

Already putting out cigarette butts. I won’t look back to follow the legacy

Of footprints to an unsuspected landing. News and salt pillars resemble one

Another. A shortage of tears. Contradictory revelations keep tomorrow

At bay.


The sand the snow, sifting the grains the flakes, my fingers are cold, and that’s enough.

high low tide slow

verb: each word

has its rounds

Winter harvests. Snow pellets dimple the landscape.

Bury them in the visible.

The sparse weft undoes the canvas. A brush smoothes the scalp.

The field is rippled with spasms of laughter.

Feel the echoes come.

Moss crop yields frost.

Words anaesthetized. As blunt weapons under water.


In my sleep I compare the chinks in the ice cover with the veins on my neck. Dark blue tributaries in the liquid night.

We conspire against the government. He storms the city hall I steal glass from the windows. He flurries speech I filch pronouns. He spoils groundworks I nip traffic lights.

Our labor often goes unnoticed.

Books open but no one comes.

Water flows into the unremarkable, into the dumb, into blind passages, into arid zones.

Speakers ooze replayed speeches. A child laughs into the mouth of chaos, and, somewhere, a lame calf submits to sacrifice.

The eloquence of animals continues to astonish vagabonds.

“Sleep is better on the other side.”


unremembered song

When I fall asleep, seasons change. Lake sounds fill the lung and water slabs hang by a wind pipe.

One ear under water the other against the cloud, I hear with my mouth:

Leathery fronds brush schools of drum, wet leaves rot lisping in the firth of my knee.

Waves ripen and break.

How long have I lain here?


walking on water is no longer in fashion

You often confuse the lake with a blue patch on the map.

It is not just a question of scale.

To have crossed it would have been a joke.

Among the definitions, this one I dislike the most: border between Canada and the United States.

Neither baptismal nor amniotic.

With a strong undercurrent.

Multiplying on its own terms.

Intricate tales of forgetting.

You are wrong to refuse the credibility of its sources just because the lake is a ventriloquist


song of sorts

I fall asleep as through the weakest seam. The lake outlines the night, dislocating glances, and incites particles to revolt against the placement of harbors, so that waking is like landing in a mirror dream.

In fact, waking and falling, here, are one. A fine geometry.


The poem rehearses its lines even as I wake

Robert Duncan

You always store pebbles under your tongue. There is no difference between root and cheek. Sublime collector without an archive, please forget the taste of milkweed and my face in the morning.

In the dream, we dance off tempo. The chorus of gulls spits abject syllables and we pick up pearls.

You have anaesthetized numbers and defied heavenly calculus. Divine excrements forge new generations. Arctic lamp nourished by gale, don’t judge the bone by the weight of flesh.

We spin sand into thunder. Birds of prey alight on its branches.

You teach contempt to those who have ears and cruel caress to those who have skin. Before you, blind alleys grope for the threshold. Alpha and Charybdis, release the words trapped in mass graves.

The dream takes place entirely under water. I stitch the shores with your best yarn like a doublet.

Your hands turn letters into islands and books into lost ships. Fresh prophets augur old wars from gutted starfish. Babel of laughter, disperse my fears over the hundred and ten stories.

We fashion new rituals with our fingers. Trammellers catch in this mesh bowfin and perch.

You skim sleep from the dream and peel the skin from the mirror. Your frown is worth the empire. Boundless well, give me back the salt of my tears.

Now the dance is played in slow motion. We thieve in the interval.

Your surge meets the fall and your whirl foretells winter. Those who lend their garments to the wind enter the secret. Garden of lights, let not their last word be a scream.

We trade places on the fish market. The scales have been calibrated for the minimum of air.

You stamped your face against the sky and carved your thoughts into the ground. Pool of misery, please forget the smell of hyssop and the shape of my belly.


Minuscule icicles punctuate the horizon when I lift my eyelids.

I run out of breath before the phrase ends. Yet I navigate the air well with my elbows.

My sleep complicates at the edges.


solvent spells

Again, the waves curb backwards. Water recedes into the premonition of disasters. Nothing swims there but blank fear. Those who stay on the shore are already abandoned.

Luggage wrecks on the sandbank. Laughable calamities attract seagulls. Slapstick on ice: the birds picking locks with their beaks. Stone coffins piled into bulwarks. Survival is not a virtue.

The head of state has a cleft forehead. Into the undeniable. Because of blood.

Watch out. The enemy hides behind the lines of verses.

The dead always inspire more trust than the living.

A new pen traces a declaration of peace in the shape of a prison.

Birds disregard walls and chapter headings.

Refer to the list of deleted entries.

Automatically, the mouth issues an order to shoot anyone crossing the bridge. Both ends are flooded and no one remembers how he got here. A standstill.

To aid our children, we have simplified world history.



The lake pelts the shore with pebbles. Amateurs nestled in sandbanks like swallows, shield their faces. See stones skip across their foreheads. It’s time to go. Blood drips onto the beach and the bicycle chain is rusty.


for the unhoped-for generosity of snow. Falling on our knowledge of the city on the El tracks where sparks riot without anger.

for the hesitation of streets and friendly advances of sand. Towards the parapets and barbecue smoke of next summers.

for time passing like any other dog. After thoughts of hydrants and long-legged palisades of shore fowl.

for blue light bulbs burning and dying in narrow windows. Without roofs or walls shivering as souvenirs of heavier elements.

for Albion because here accumulate dream spoils and lakeweed. Here white grains of thunder and truce forecasts.

for Farwell because we must learn the art of departure. As mercury and ash, not to mention parenthesis and metaphor.

for the wind which covers rabbit tracks with diligent care. The same with which it dispenses invective and praise.

for the corner Metropolis and its redolent embellishments. The only interior where fog is always welcome.

for stacks of notebooks sheltered from fire by a woman hauling a Dominick’s shopping cart. Under a mound of curses and blankets.

for white columns of the viaduct even though water passes elsewhere. Because they mark the entry to transitory temples.

for the tortured tree facing the Granville platform, neighbor of back-alley interdicts. Its writhing of urban seismography.

for paper and ink and the rain of leaflets from clouded rooftops, for pocketed fists and folded spring knives.




on the tip of

your tongue

lies the port

of transfer



the portrait

in yellow



the likeness


the exile


to the letter



The lake is male and female.

If you are a man reading this a woman is this reading a man if you are a woman.

Eloquent in obsolescence, a liquid testament of far vocabularies.

Man and woman bathe in the poem, child follows a dog off page.

When the night falls, light settles on the bottom. Street lamps always lie.

If you’re a man sleeping a woman is dreaming inside your head unless a woman.

A girl and a boy are both a lake. Surely

They will rebel against red ribbons and copper balls.


a dialogue for two cell phones

“White horror lines the dream. I cannot feel my legs.”

“Rough cotton crop fringes the rope.”

“No room between the sheets. I speak smoke.”

“Underline my lips with crayon. As an aid to memory.”

“Blank lingo sallies forth, solidified gloss.”

“A pale sedative finally dawns.”

“Flocks of scholars pick apart the alphabet.”

“The blade was a misunderstanding but the wing hurts.”

“A distant movement numbs my hands.”

“This dream haunts the wharf: shattered fog.”

“Silence forces me to rename the elements.”

“Only a slim coast without land.”

“The relation is reversed. Letters elongate at dusk.”

“There is nothing to be said, no parts to form speech.”

“Something slid under the cloth and lurks buried.”

“Slight hints of another language.”

“This is a table. You seem to be certain.”

“Some words should not be set apart in the dictionary.”

“Terrifying succession of horizons, only one of which is false.”

“I can’t hear your voice although the lips move.”


a migrant song

When I come here, I come home. I do not come from here and, as I leave, it is not from here that I go. Here, I am at large. I wed the lineage of its etymologies. I translate.

The natatory fringe. My native tongue. My tactile noun. My ligament: jęzor like jezioro, the lake I speak.

I smack my lips and lick off the pronoun. Now, not own. Rather, unlatched. Entirely here.

Swallowed. Fluent lung. Listen. Slow down. Exhale the land. I belong to the unbound. Always less. Liquidated. As Algonquin or Illinois. Quicksand sails. I come second.

Paint me a name. Unlock the articulations of the tribe. Mishigami migrant. Large gift. Long for the flood. Big water spells.

Here come the hands. Utterly speechless. New blood obliterates blood spilled. Polished graves.

Clad in stripes, star-eyed slaves. Crave the soil where to plant muscles and cod. Look, child, the water is raked with larch twigs.

Proclaim this surface a clean slate. Each crumb sinks to the mudflat. Calm water breaks the bank.

I deposit my notes in the sand. The wind pots dry leaves. Do we differ in our desires?

I come home each time I come here. I conform my path to your thirst and my thighs shape your current. Glacial ancestors.


at lake

Let’s play hide & seek. A rock in water. Find me. A stray root. Hair over face. You are sand. A swift mist against the wave. A day star in the dark. Blindfold wish. In the hollow of a vortex. Count till I disappear. Spinning. Thrill. A moist circle round the sun. Slit robe. Mend your lips. Call my name and I will melt. Craftier than a shadow. Now. Look.

Copyright 2006 Ela Kotkowska

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