Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Terezin by Taije Silverman

—a transfer camp in the Czech Republic

We rode the bus out, past fields of sunflowers
that sloped for miles, hill after hill of them blooming.

The bus was filled with old people.
On their laps women held loaves of freshly baked bread.
Men slept in their seats wearing work clothes.

You stared out the window beside me. Your eyes
were so hard that you might have been watching the glass.

Fields and fields of sunflowers.

Arriving we slowed on the cobblestone walkway.
Graves looked like boxes, or houses from high up.

On a bench teenage lovers slouched in toward each other.
Their backs formed a shape like a seashell.
You didn't want to go inside.

But the rooms sang. Song like breath, blown
through spaces in skin.

The beds were wide boards stacked up high on the walls.
The glass on the door to the toilet was broken.
I imagined nothing.

You wore your black sweater and those dark sunglasses.
You didn't look at me.

The rooms were empty, and the courtyard was empty,
and the sunlight on cobblestone could have been water,
and I think even when we are here we are not here.

The courtyard was flooded with absence.
The tunnel was crowded with light.
Like a throat. Like a—

In a book I read how at its mouth they played music,
some last piece by Wagner or Mozart or Strauss.

I don't know why. I don't know
who walked through the tunnel or who played or what finally
they could have wanted. I don't know where the soul goes.

Your hair looked like wheat. It was gleaming.

Nearby on the hillside a gallows leaned slightly.
What has time asked of it? Nights. Windstorms.

Your hair looked like fire, or honey.
You didn't look at me.

Grass twisted up wild, lit gold all around us.
We could have been lost somewhere, in those funny hills.

And the ride back—I don't remember.
Why was I alone? It was night, then. It was still morning.

But the fields were filled with dead sunflowers.
Blooms darkened to brown, the stalks bowed.
And the tips dried to husks that for miles kept reaching.
Those dreamless sloped fields of traveling husks.

Monday, April 20, 2009

miss rosie by Lucille Clifton

when I watch you
wrapped up like garbage
sitting, surrounded by the smell
of too old potato peels
when I watch you
in your old man's shoes
with the little toe cut out
sitting, waiting for your mind
like next week's grocery
I say
when I watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman
who used to be the best looking gal in Georgia
used to be called the Georgia Rose
I stand up
through your destruction
I stand up

Reprinted from Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980, BOA Editions, Ltd., 260 East Ave., Rochester, NY 14604.
From poets.org. Click on title above.

Friday, April 17, 2009

"In the desert" from The Black Riders by Stephen Crane

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: “Is it good, friend,”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shaindel Beers: A Brief History of Time

Recently I interviewed Shaindel Beers about her new book of poetry, A Brief History of Time, published by Salt Publishing in 2009.

1. Several of your poems use long lines. What is their appeal to you and what other contemporary poets and/or poems of the long line do you admire?

I love the rush and the feeling of breathlessness when you get to the end of the line, whether you’re reading aloud or silently. A lot of beginning poets think that the short line makes a poem move more quickly, but each line break stops you for about the same duration as a comma as your eyes make their way over to the left margin. I hadn’t really thought of a lot of contemporary poets who use long lines; I guess, I always think of Whitman automatically when I hear “long line,” or Ginsberg, since he was so influenced by Whitman. I just looked up some poets I really admire who I think might use long lines and realized a lot of them do who I hadn’t thought of—Richard Jackson, Charles Harper Webb, Mary Ruefle, and Bruce Weigl to name a few.

2. I noticed one prose poem in your collection, “Stretching out that fifteen minutes.” What do you like about the form? Dislike?

Prose poems are tricky to even talk about. Is it a prose poem? Is it a short-short story? Is there a difference between these two things? I really think a prose poem is a poem that throws one of the basic elements of poetry out the window—the basic unit of poetry is the line—but keeps all the rest of them. I especially tried to make this one land on the poetic side of the spectrum by phonetically spelling out the way the boy’s name would sound depending on the direction of the wind. But it definitely depends on strong narrative like a short-short story.

The things I don’t like about the form are when people try to definitely label something as a prose poem versus short-short fiction and get huffy in their defense. The other thing is when people write prose poems that could be traditional poems, but they are writing it that way because they are too lazy to decide where line breaks should go. If you can do it with appropriate line breaks, it doesn’t need to be a prose poem.

3. Given your undergraduate major was in English, to what extent are you influenced by classical Western writers?

My good friend and former colleague, Larry Starzec, used to say, “Writers read with larceny in their hearts.” As a writer, you read, and if something is breathtaking, you think, “How can I steal that?” As an English major, you are steeped in the Western tradition, so I think that there’s no way around admitting that that is my main influence. My main focus, even through my first graduate degree, was British literature. I’d never really read American literature until I was teaching it at the community college level, and I’d read almost no contemporary literature until my MFA program (my second graduate program). I would say the Western influence, until relatively recently, was even more focused than most people’s—pretty exclusively 19th Century and British.

Hosting my radio show, Translated By, has gotten me reading at least one non-English language book a week, and I’ve become really intrigued with a particular Japanese writer, Yoko Ogawa, so I’m definitely trying to expand my horizons, but the U.S. really is pretty insular as far as literature goes, and you really have to look for what’s been translated into English.

4. Being a Californian I can’t resist the film question. If you could turn one of your poems into a film, which one would you choose and why? Any idea of whom you’d cast in the key roles?

I think that “HA!” would be one of the best poems to turn into a film. It seems to have a lot of “scenes” without needing different settings—it would all basically take place in a Dollar General store, and it has an interesting cast of characters. I had never thought about casting it before, but I think Susan Sarandon would make a good Ann. Is it fair to put someone as glamorous as Susan Sarandon in a Dollar General? I think Steve would be played by Milo Ventimiglia (Jess from Gilmore Girls). The real Steve (yes, I didn’t change the names for this poem) actually looked just like Ventimiglia. Maybe the addict cashier would be Brittany Murphy, and I don’t know who the nice cashier would be. Probably someone pretty nondescript.

Click on the above title to find more about Salt Publishing & Shaindel Beers

Interviewer: Chella Courington
Santa Barbara, CA
March 2009

Monday, April 06, 2009

Lynette’s War by Chella Courington

My cousin Lynette says she’s tired from cleaning
East Main houses of rich bitches. They don’t even shit
like us, got toilet seats that float to the bowl,
never make a sound, & she hands me the baby
over the front seat. Days off Merry Maids
we like to drive her ’97 Trans Am to Atlanta—
kd lang over eight speakers.
I’m tired too, tired of being the babysitter.
Leah grabbing my earrings, covers me in crumbs.
She bites off the heads of animal crackers.
Only eats heads. Go figure. Lynette runs
into the outlet mall for Juicy jeans.

Don’t know why I hang with her.
She’s like the girl who cut my hair at Cinderella’s
saying I had the ugliest strands she’d ever seen.
I kept going back for more till Lynette blurted
you don’t need to pay for that kind of shit.
Yeah, well, Lynette’s one to tell me outright
she’s sexy & I’m not. We both know it.
Junior high she called me a mutant. Boobs
like raisins on a fifteen-year old’s wrong.
Mama took me to the doctor & he shook his head,
maybe you’ve done something God didn’t like
so He’s punishing you. Could be
God just didn’t like me cause I sure
didn’t think much of Him & still don’t.

At least Lynette is a good mother.
When the kid has fever, Lynette won’t go
to work. I’d rather lose my job
than leave a sick baby at daycare.
Guess that’s why I hang with her.
She might call me names, but let somebody else do it,
she’d scratch their eyes out. At the Sonic,
some boy from Crossville leaned in the window,
drop the fat chick & let’s go driving.
She clawed his left cheek & screeched away,
tray still on the car, cokes & fries flying.
Son of a bitch thinks he can dump on you and have
a good time with me. Stupid bastard.

I thought Lynette would always be the one to leave.
Good looking. Smart. She never let anybody
walk on her, or me, though she did
what Cochran girls do after getting their
driver’s license. She got knocked up.
Wouldn’t tell a soul who the father was.
We all thought it was Sonny Cruz.
He went to Iraq in August & emailed Lynette every day.
Like they were junk, she’d hit delete.
He started writing letters she stacked on her dresser—
unopened. Keeping in touch with soldiers
is talking to the dead. Sonny could come back,
I say. Lots of boys make it. Lynette turned away
he might, but he won’t be the Sonny I knew.

After homecoming she carries his letters out to the grill.
They catch on the third match.
Every last word.