09 November 2011

Featured Poet: Kass Fleisher


Years later in school, Pookie heard the story of the man who flew too close to the sun. Excitedly, she raised her hand; this was one of the few times anything in school had seemed familiar to her.
            —Miss Taylor! Miss Taylor! Pookie said, frantically waving her arm.
            —Yes, what is it, Shawntelle?
            Pookie hated her full name but Miss Taylor said nicknames were disrespectful and refused to use them. School and teachers just didn’t make any sense, most of the time.
            —I saw him, Miss Taylor, I saw him.
            —Saw who, Shawntelle?
            —The flying man, Ickuss, I saw him.
            —Now, Shawntelle, what have I told you about making up stories? His name is pronounced Ic-AR-us, and you couldn’t have seen him because he never really existed. It’s just a story, a myth.
            —But I did, Miss Taylor. He never wore any clothes and lived right across the street from me in the big TV building and one day he flew out his window. . .
            —Shawntelle! Miss Taylor said sternly.
            — . . . all naked and flapping . . .
            —Shawntelle! Stop this nonsense this instant or I’ll send you to the principal’s office again!
            —But that was him, Miss Taylor, I know it was. Mama told me he was just some crazy white boy and Aunt Sarah said he was probably drunk but . . .
            —Shawntelle! That will be enough. March yourself down to the office right now.
            —But, Miss Taylor . . .
            —Yes, ma’am.

            As she walked slowly down the hall, Pookie remembered the day she first saw the naked white man. She had been on the tiny balcony of her family’s apartment looking at the large apartment building that sat on a hill across the street. To Pookie, it was like having a nine-story multi-screened TV to watch. As the youngest, Pookie didn’t have much say in what appeared on the family TV, so she preferred to go out on the balcony and see what was happening on the other side of the sliding glass patio doors (that also doubled as the living room windows) of the apartments of her big TV building. Sometimes it was pretty boring, like when the curtains were drawn, but no one could make her change the channel.
            On that particular summer afternoon, soon after her fourth birthday, Pookie had been at her usual post, standing at the balcony railing watching the sun set and the rush hour traffic crawl by. Every so often, she surveyed the ninth-story windows of the apartment building. It was hard to see
anything that high up, but the curtains were hardly ever closed on that floor so Pookie always gave them close attention.
            Then she saw him. His glass doors were wide open: only a screen and railing stood between him and the open air. He was leaning on the railing, smoking a cigar, and he didn’t have any clothes on at all. Pookie had seen her brothers nude many times, so she knew the man was naked, even if he was white.
            —What’cha lookin’ at, Pookie dear? Aunt Sarah asked her, as she came out onto the balcony to smoke a cigarette.
            —At the naked white man.
            —What? Where?
            —Up there.
            Aunt Sarah followed Pookie’s finger up to the ninth floor, leaned forward to get a better look, then began laughing and pointing.
            —Hey, Ruth, take a look. There’s a white boy flashing the whole neighborhood!
            Pookie’s mama stepped out on the balcony, took one look, snorted in disgust and grabbed Pookie’s arm.
            —C’mon, that isn’t for you.
            —But mama, Pookie protested, I want to stay outside.
            —I won’t have you staring at naked strangers. He may be stupid, but it just isn’t polite.
            Pookie turned to take one more look before she went inside, but by then the naked white man was no longer there.

            Pookie saw the man several times after that, though he was never naked again until the day she saw him fly. It was rush hour again and Pookie was at her usual spot taking in the world. Her eyes methodically checked each window and then she saw him again, naked like the first time. It was difficult to tell, but this time the screen was apparently open, and the man appeared to be standing outside the railing, hanging on with his hands behind his back. Pookie looked around, but her mama and Aunt Sarah weren’t nearby and Pookie wasn’t going to say anything to change that. She turned back just in time to see the naked man stretch out his arms and dive in a slow graceful arc. At first, he seemed to drop straight down, but just before he fell out of sight, he swooped into view again and began a series of wide loops over the parking garage that sat just below the apartment building. Pookie was so excited she began to clap her hands and squeal with delight. Somehow the man heard her over the traffic noise. He looked her way and smiled. Pookie waved to the man and he waved back. Which was a mistake. His swoop began to fail and the man began beating his arms, but it was no use. He fell headfirst onto the roof of the parking garage.
            Pookie screamed and her mama came running. Her mama didn’t believe her story, of course, even after the ambulance came and the fire department arrived with their ladders to take the body off the roof. But Pookie kept insisting until her mama finally sent her to her room, telling Pookie she would never be allowed out on the balcony ever, ever again.

            Sitting in the principal’s office, Pookie resolved never to tell adults anything they hadn’t said first.
            What’s the use, she thought. If they can’t fly, they think nobody can.
            Pookie closed her eyes. She remembered the naked white man’s smile just before he fell, how the light from the setting sun made his skin shimmer like gold, how he hadn’t seemed all that upset about falling.
            Pookie opened her eyes and looked around the office. The secretary was bent over a filing cabinet, so Pookie slipped out the door and headed outside. This would be a good time, she thought, to go looking for the sun.

27 March 2011

Featured Poets: Eric Elshtain and Greg Fraser

I’ve Been Called Worse by Better

The Bourgeois Thrill of Receiving a Fax

The army but a livid red
beside the girl the night’s censure
obscures. The freedom around the country
laces a dialogue ’twixt strictures

the population bills. A Nixon plan
approached the cottage a lot
in Haiti when the man in Fort Defiance
thus was fitted into the fires

that destroy the pride and few
occasions on the island. Spies
her lips were smiling to attempt
the standard works, a proclamation

made the same June two tweens disappeared
from Hotel Abyss. Then the war began,
surrounding them in a new divine affect,
the crows flying and upholding

the market and the movement,
a wracked condition akin to declining.
What lies beneath the saddest lists?
Empire versions of ourselves.


Sink Ships

The summer America changed its name
to Hotel Abyss, the girl and you, in you,
followed the arc of night’s censure
to a cottage, it seemed, on a freedom shore.

Your dialogue, laced with Nixon, war,
and population bills, were standard works,
while innocents got fitted into fires
by sartorial troops, and spies surrounded lips.

Those rotten empire versions of yourselves,
those proclamations and saddest lists—
to what red island did they disappear?
What became of livid occasions, few

as they might have been? Now the crows’
flight seems akin to weak declension,
and conditionals flaunt themselves as new
divines. If the girl, then you, then she would,

if you were. That was the plan, at least.
The June plan. Before she shot back East.


untitled lyric

Little river, clouds in the door,
who else went walking down
the day? Not socialites who sneer
at the baggage grunt, not
dustmen or the landlord sore.

Each to each in a brown cafe . . .
Such words make a little dwelling,
for I have heard long sighs,
and had to drown the sage.
Still, with time the giant senses

direct. If I trust my warden, all
afternoon in silver fields, then asters
in lieu of home, and later a host
of stars. I would shout against
a lesser bone, sing the hostess red.

In the background, garnished
platters, London fused to glass.
The sentences keep growing,
the full weight of the unforgotten.
Impossible to measure on demand.


Political Speech                                         

Little River, clouds at the door,
Who else got
Today? No better society, “virtual
Anke on luggage,” not
Garbage collection or the landlord wound.

Each cafe each heat. . .
These things make a small apartment,
For I heard many sighs,
And had to sink the statement.”
But over time a huge sense

Directed. If I rely on my manager, all
Afternoon Money Boxes, then Asseatarym
Place at home, and then host
Stars. I was writing about
Bones less singing, red hostess.

Background, cut
Sheets melted, London on the glass.
Rates continue to grow,
The full weight of forgetfulness.
Be measured on demand.

(ee:  composed using Google translator, first English to German, then German to Hebrew, then Hebrew to English, then given minor revisions)

Nothing’s Ever and Anachronism

I'll have half a mind for the whole thing
if only someone'd make me look like 30 cents
& do my dirty house with bad wire & glue.

“Gotta get off the schneid,” says the Padre,
“Keep yr hands in yr pants
& yr gold in the air, my son,

where the ducat crew can't reach.”
Got my melting pot in the cellar
& enough paper clips

to model my car after you, sugar—
name it something Greek
paint it the color of tea

drive it 'til the wheels burn,
maybe California
where the cabbage is orange.

I got yr stereotype all set:
brunette & all that that implies.
My logging-camp scrip

will get us in the commissary, baby,
if we can stomach the flood
& weather the tolls. Is there a farm

in your purse, mama? They got grants for those.
I found brown seeds in my wallet—let's see what grows.


To an Untranslatable Poem by Eric Elshtain

I have lowered a shoulder and bulled my way in.
I have stripped you down, bulked you up. Tinkered,
toyed, toiled. I have wakened early with best intents,

ignored the brandished fist of the noonday sun,
watched dusk zip the city up in sequins.
And I am left to translate, Poem, my failure.

I have failed just like the sea, trying madly to climb ashore.
Like gray moths batting the porch lamp, seeking rapture.
I am acutely aware of ashes, the cast-off dreams of fire.

Like an only child of four or five,
I have curled inside a blanket
and ridden in the back alone . . .

Is it because the prairies seen from airplanes
are sullen de Stiles? Because high wheat serves biscuits
without a hairnet, & a pigeon dropped its business,

just this morning, on my just-bought navy blazer?
If only the elders hadn’t slaved for epochs inside their truths, Poem,
if only my brother’s hands weren’t clawed from birth.

Poem, with your thoughts like a jagged coastline,
your fly’s-eye vision, your radiant, untouchable privacy,
like sunlight trapped in trees, you have left me to curse

the Rec. Room, Chicago, early October, to wear my hair
like a screwball. You have covered my mind with semi-hard plastic
like the cowling of a boat motor, or a junior-high football helmet.

Have I sneered too long at revelation?
Have I fallen deaf to whispers from the grave?
I have fingered your blood like paint, and made a living will,

choosing to pay the earthworm not of the mortician.
And what little, Poem, I have to show: barges of fog afloat
on a river at dawn; monkeypod wood so perfect for salad bowls . . .

The spider instead achieves her work, connecting this to that
to capture passersby with the practically unseen.
And to think: just twelve days ago, you appeared

as a welcome surprise, like a box of doughnuts opened
in a small-town bank—free with coffee to holders of accounts.
Coffee. Doughnuts. Jesus, it’s half past noon,

and I’ve had no breakfast. Perhaps if I’d had some breakfast.
You know breakfast, right Poem?
Goddamned most important meal of the day.