Once Poemas, Septiembre 1973
By Juan Garrido Salgado
Translated by Stuart Cooke
Warners Bay, 2007
Order Copies from www.picaropress.com
Reviewed by HEATHER TAYLOR JOHNSON
Once Poemas, Septiembre 1973 (Eleven Poems, September 1973) reads like a narrative of collected single poems. Though not a verse novel, it tells the inside story of a Superpower’s super power over a democratic nation. It is not a cozy read and does not induce smiles. But it is a well written vision of a time the author does not wish us to forget and in that, it is important and it is passionate and that is enough.
It was all terror in September,
no peace in the cemeteries.
The resistance became the shadows
and the light against a war never declared.
(7) “Made in the USA”
For most people, September 11 is a date that brings to mind New York City, terrorist attacks in the form of hijacked airplanes crashing into buildings, people jumping from those buildings as they burned to the ground. Lesser known in history, it is also the date of the Chilean coup d-etat.
With the assistance of the United States of America, Augusto Pinochet’s military killed then President Salvador Allende and created a more ‘democratic’ Chile, one in which over a hundred thousand suspected leftist dissidents would be arrested and an estimated 3,000 would ‘disappear’ or be murdered. Torture was commonplace and censorship became a way of life. Poet Juan Garrido Salgado was one of those dissidents who not only succumbed to the censoring of his poetry, but also to imprisonment and torture. His latest collection is a reminder to his readers that September 11 was a dreadful date long before 2001.
The collection begins with a poem entitled ‘Made in the USA’:
Our fiesta for socialism
awoke a child of fear in the North.
Chile, after all, is a long, narrow playground
where the transnationals can frolic freely
in the free market.
The collection comes full circle as it closes with a poem simply titled ‘September 11, 1973’, in which the words ‘Made in the USA’ stand alone between each stanza, the repetition a lamentable refrain:
Santiago, September 11, 1973,
was a dark spring
of terror, flames and fumes.
flew like the evil wings of death.
Made in the USA.
Soldiers in the streets formed part
of a scaffold of violence from the sky,
rivers of blood ran through our mouths.
Made in the USA.
I remember hearing Salgado read both of those poems only months after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and I remember feeling appalled with his timing (though I had been in Australia for two years, I am a native to America and in many ways felt emotionally raw and quick to defend my country after the 9-11-01 attacks). In hindsight, I see that the timing could not have been more ideal for Salgado. His emotions, after twenty-eight years, were also raw and his need to defend his country was not up for debate. I particularly remember the fervor with which Salgado read the refrain ‘Made in the USA’, as if he could spit and cry all at once.
What lies between the pages of those two poems are nine other poems depicting the public history of Chile’s darkest days, told by a voice who claims the misery as only one personally affected can. There are instances of hope among the painful shadows, though these glimpses are often hidden and undervalued as the lingering effect is ultimately horrific. In such cases common metaphors of flight, for instance, are confused between violence and freedom, as birds take on the form of heavy airplanes and the ethereal howls of tortured men, while at the same time signifying the dreams of those who struggle against the regime. More straightforward is a second image of fire, and there is no uncertainty here. The consequences of fire are a reliable evil: the burning of humans, books, beds, souls; the burning of verses of poems, photographs of the living, the guitar of famous folk singer Victor Jara just before his death; the burning of socialism; the burning of spring; coals in the heart; coals on the skin. And in each written memory ablaze, it is impossible to disassociate Salgado from the anguish. We become his witnesses and his pupils, though he never begs our pity.
Everything was pain in September,
the leaves condemned to cruelty
with the words of the dictator:
'Not a single leaf moves in this country if I do not move it.'
(11) "The Dictator's Autumn"
To add to the authenticity of the collection, the left pages contain the original poem, written in Spanish, while the right holds the English version, translated by Stuart Cooke. Salgado is himself a translator (he translated MTC Cronin’s Talking to Neruda’s Questions for Chile’s Safo Press), though the difficulty in translating one’s own life perhaps could have been a bit overwhelming. To the eyes of a reviewer who is fairly competent with the basics of Spanish, the English verse does not compare with its Spanish companion; though that is not a problem with the translation but more so with the flow of the Spanish language and the choppiness of the English. However, even if one cannot read Spanish, it is important to have the two poems side by side. Translation here can be seen to be as much about the validity of the emotion (as a poet who has not only lost his country but his language and refuses to let go of its substance) as it is about the vernacular. What jumps out for me with the side-by-side juxtaposition of the single poem in two languages is the substantiation of an identity lost.
soy todo el hombre
en llamas por quién sabe quién.
Secundos preciosos para este poema
(22) "Soy todo el hombre el hombre herido por quién sabe quién"
then the companion piece…
I am every man,
burning for who knows who.
Precious seconds for this poem I'm writing.
(23) "I am every man, the man wounded by who knows who"
This is Salgado’s fourth collection of poetry and it is no surprise that the subject matter has not veered too far from centre. If writers tend to work out their demons through words, then I expect this will not be the last reference made to political imprisonment by the poet. The strength of Once Poemas is found in the delicate mixture of the factual and the imagistic – which readers will recognise as true fodder for verse. Emotion melds together with the concrete and Salgado has managed to create a very political, very personal collection that is neither irate nor sentimental. Its directness is alarming; its use of metaphor soothing. I say it is an ardent collection, a significant work of great historical weight. Buy it, read it, place it in your bookshelf for all to see and when friends and family come around, pass it onto them. Let others know of the struggle and the pain of an earlier September 11 and of the exquisiteness of a once silenced writer set free to sing.
Michael Sharkey has worked in publishing and editing, and has taught literature and cultural studies at several universities in Australian and elsewhere. He currently teaches writing, rhetorical analysis and American literature at the University of New England at Armidale, New South Wales. He has published essays, articles and reviews as well as several collections of poetry, the most recent of which is The Sweeping Plain (Melbourne, Five Islands Press, 2007).
The Demagogue Writes His Program
Nothing in writing so hard as the start
unless everything else in the work.
All of that countryside: where to begin?
In the forests he walked as a child
when the first buds appeared and the slow rivers surged
to the sea? Recollect bourgeois rubbing their eyes
at the unlikely sight of the sun, when the clearings were bright
as cathedral naves lit by the saints?
Later things: wandering lonely in crowds
to free libraries, galleries, parks;
all of those flophouse proprietors waiting
for cash that was never in hand?
Lyric fluidity won in the end
and he sang like a magpie in spring.
He watched the movies in his head
and wrote what the actors should have said;
the headlines’ chatter went in, too,
while cameras clicked and the tourists queued
at the door of his room: a modern mystic in his cell
reciting cures and casting spells,
a secretary taking dictation as fast
as a cobbler hammers a boot on the last.
He thought of the world to come, and smiled:
the final chapter would drive the fans wild.
Nothing To It
This is the place where nothing you’d think of occurs,
Visitors go down the stairs
to the valley alone:
there is no space for side-by-side travel
and no place to pause
till they get to the floor of the gorge.
Then they do not go far.
From the floor they cannot see the top.
From the top they could not see the place they are standing in now.
Now they can look at the lichen, the moss,
And the ferns.
Maidenhair’s perfectly still.
There is no breeze down here.
Bush-lawyer, past all those visitors:
gorse, angel’s trumpets, lantana, they met on the path.
Then the climb to the top. Till their legs start to ache.
And they say they saw nothing of note,
And they’ll never come back.
The Plaza of Hoon
The hoon is Australia’s gift to the world:
it was spawned at the nation’s creation;
barbecue sites and trolley-strewn malls
are its haunt; it is free of mentation.
Cowboy of cul-de-sacs, clearways and crescents,
it grazes on petrol and chrome;
it disguises itself as a slab of cold beer
that litters the place it calls home.
It travels in groups like a troop of baboons
giving tongue in the language of apes:
it eats and it roots and it shoots and it leaves,
and it comes in all genders and shapes.
Its ancestor spirits are convicts and oafs
from each class and each trade and profession;
it mates with a creature resembling itself,
and so it ensures its succession,
and having done that, it subsides with a grunt
to observe the career of its clone,
a dysfunctional loud simulacrum
without an idea of its own.
It’s a do-it-yourself sheltered workshop
where bigotry’s watered and fed
by talkback noises of overgrown boys
whose morals and ethics are dead.
So think of the people you cannot abide
when the time for gift-giving draws near,
and wrap up a hoon in the national flag
and send it away from here.
Ross Clark teaches part-time at two universities in Brisbane, Australia. Seven volumes of his poetry have been published (Salt Flung into the Sky, Ginninderra, 2007), and two chapbooks of haiku. He has toured his work as writer, performer and workshopper to city and rural Australia, to Japan, and through central Texas. He is currently working on a teenage verse novel trilogy and a DVD of himself in performance (with The Mongreltown Allstars). www.crowsongs.com
they have gone off, they will not lay me eggs. three chooks, and not a single egg produced. i need a china egg to encourage them by fooling them, but all i have is my shaker, my percussion egg, filled with seeds and painted gold, so that will have to do.
in the morning, they have laid their clutch of warm eggs; all of them brown, but i can celebrate my brilliant husbandry, golden as a percussionist’s egg, with a little jig, unaccompanied and careful, up the stairs to the kitchen.
from childhood practice, back when we sold eggs direct from our farm, we still date them all by hand, the phone-message pencil just right for the four or so our chooks produce each day. we give them to neighbours, visitors, eat plenty ourselves, always from the earliest date. whenever and however i cook them, i will be eating yesterday, swallowing the past, enjoying.
For the Next Seven Days …
i want to write a poem
so tough that
it hurls Uluru back into space
and dives down into the crater
i want to write a poem
so revelatory that
God weeps with shock
i want to write a poem
so complete that
dictionaries illustrate every word
with a quotation from it
i want to write a poem
so minimalist that
when i open the page
to read it aloud (but
before i say anything)
everybody thinks of you
i want to write a poem
so lyrical that
the Amazon the Nile
and the Murray-Darling
will flow symphony after symphony
i want to write a poem
so soft that
when i read it aloud
my breath shivers on your nipples
i want to write a poem
Shirley Geok-lin Lim’s first collection of poems, Crossing the Peninsula (1980), received the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. She has published five other volumes of poetry: No Man’s Grove (1985); Modern Secrets (1989); Monsoon History (1994), a retrospective selection of her work; What the Fortune Teller Didn’t Say (1998); and Listening to the Singer (2007), a collection of poems out of Malaysia. Bill Moyers featured Lim for a PBS special on American poetry, “Fooling with Words.” She is also the author of three books of short stories; a memoir, Among the White Moon Faces (1997 American Book Award for non-fiction); two novels, Joss and Gold (2001) and Sister Swing (2006); and a children’s novel, Princess Shawl (2008). Herfirst novel was welcomed by Rey Chow as an “elegantly crafted tale [that] places Lim among the most imaginative and dexterous storytellers writing in the English language today.” Lim’s co-edited anthology The Forbidden Stitch: An Asian American Women’s Anthology received the 1990 American Book Award. She has published critical studiesandedited/co-edited many volumes and special issues of journals, including recently Transnational Asia Pacific; Power, Race and Gender in Academe; Asian American Literature: An Anthology; Tilting the Continent: An Anthology of South-east Asian American Writing, and special issues of Ariel, Tulsa Studies, Studies in the Literary Imagination, and Concentric. Her work has appeared in journals such as New Literary History, Feminist Studies, Signs, MELUS, ARIEL, New Literatures Review, World Englishes, and American Studies International. Among her honors, Lim received the UCSB Faculty Research Lecture Award (2002), the Chair Professorship of English at the University of Hong Kong (1999 to 2001), University of Western Australia Distinguished Lecturer award, Fulbright Distinguished Lecturer award, and the J.T. Stewart Hedgebrook award. She has served as chair of Women’s Studies and is currently professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
(For Kerrie Coles and Brian Joyce)
At 6 a.m. I set off for the Pacific,
her heaving bosom stretched between
rival lovers gazing from opposite beaches.
Silicate, shell and stone roil beneath her touch,
back and forth, groaning, while she slips
away and toward, teases sun rising
and setting, and the surfer men come daily.
I also adore her, threaded to her fine
eyebrow horizons, changeful swells that raise
my thirst no matter how much I swallow.
I can never be a woman like her,
forever wet, incipiently
violent even when calmed. In Newcastle
young boys and older throw their bodies
passionately at her each morning,
naked male skin carried toward dark rock
and cars. By sides of streets they strip,
wriggle into work clothes, as day
collapses into schools, offices, coal-mines
and their women’s arms, awake and sullen
in the world of dry air. They are mermen,
stolen away from their mothers’ hips.
And I? Drawn early down to Bogie Hole,
treading the slippery convict-shattered
stone steps, descend to the maddened
slamming of her spittle against tumbled
boulders, gulp the white and yellow sprays
that break, withdraw and break, in digital
seconds never returning. Like our men
moving on to other bodies, while the Ocean
Woman breathes in, breathes out, breathes in,
cradling her surfers past danger and drowning.
Before that old crone curse, arthritis,
comes down on me, I walk up Newcastle
Beach to Bogie Hole, where the governor
had a pool carved out of ancient basalt
by Irish convicts. Surf smashes on the rough
hewn blocks thrice every minute
it seems–and white foam sprays in ceaseless
upsurges of power. What power, I ask,
as I peer over the handrails, studying
sea-moss slime-slippery steps cut
into cliff face steep down to Bogie Hole,
studying as if a curious text
the heart skips over, falling in love
with falling, before backing off
from the savor of salt fatalism.
Not yet, my feet say, stepping away.
Today, for the first time I see
dolphins jumping above the surf line,
black fins racing over the Pacific
natural as my feet walking
in sunshine along Bathers’ Way.
What has brought me to Newcastle
no one knows, least of all me.
Blue skies and Pacific air the same
as home, leaving home is mere
practice for leaving all, all
the leavings learned again and again,
until goodbye becomes
addictive, the last look
behind, the first look forward,
what you carry everywhere
and everyday. Temporary living
is what childhood taught me.
Packing up, sleeping on others’
mattresses, and always hungry
for the new morning, and night
to be endured, supperless,
sharp as a paring knife peeling
another brown spot.
Writing a Poem
(At the Lock Up)
as if they were the sweet nectar of day,
which they are. It is impossible
to think or write. Its buzz takes away
feelings, takes over ears, is drilling a hole
in a loose tooth as you sit in history’s
dental chair, frantic and still, the drill
hammering gums until only
spit oozes, dribbles, spills over, fills
cavities you didn’t know you had,
only the drill lives in your head,
only the sharp dull dizz-dizz-dizz.
This is how the poem ends, dizz-dizz. . . .
(At the Hunter Street Mall)
I went on another date with my writing today. We’ve been dating for a long time. I don’t know why we keep meeting. It never ends in sex, although sometimes it’s led to my reading a book in bed. Often he does not bother to appear. I wait and wait, throat burning in dread, my tight chest overflowing with aches and burrs of anxiety, until I cannot bear the humiliation, even if no one is there, no one’s watching, and I don’t care, I finally leave, abject and alone, for something else, a nut muffin, or worse, a plate of limp over-salted French fries. I never get really angry. I wish I would, and then maybe I’d say goodbye.
But when he does turn up, I’m fascinated by his blather, it can throw a surprise like an amateur hitting an underhanded blow. Yet I’ve heard most of his stories so many times I can end his lines for him. You could say I find him a bore, so I don’t know why I keep listening.
He’s capable of mumbling. Between duhs and ums he may say something I like, and I carry it back in my mouth, imagining it’s a bit of worm a magpie crams into the hungry crop of its chick, and I take it out when I am alone, greedy, before I actually swallow it.
We’ve been dating like this since I was nine. I wouldn’t call him a pedophile but he’s not a big brother either. No, it’s not a healthy relationship, although it isn’t exactly sick. And, yes, he’s created problems, particularly with girlfriends who get jealous because of his attentions. They don’t see how long-suffering I’ve been. My husband doesn’t care. He understands first love comes first. Besides, he’s my last love, and they don’t offer the same fruit, apples to bananas. I get fed up, today, feeling my age, and want to sit in the shade instead, eavesdropping on busy hummingbirds pillaging fuschias and lilies. They’re attractive even if empty-headed. Still, every April, they lay their eggs, and at least one fledging sticks around till summer ends.
I’ve seen him hobble on one long strong leg,
the other a dangling stump, third a crutch,
in swimming shorts and tee, and sit by Nobby’s Beach,
on the wood-slatted bench near the hot parking lot
and sucking surf tucked distant meters away.
He said this sandy stretch, the boast of Newcastle,
appears like acres of salt tears he hadn’t shed
when they’d lifted him out of Shark Alley
winters ago, after the juvenile gray snagged
the limb from him, harder to cross with hobble
and crutch and one good leg than he’d first imagined.
Most afternoons between lunch and sunset crowds
he sits watching the black-suited amphibian
boys hurry with bee-waxed boards into the waves.
Yes, they do look like elegant seals in and out
of ocean. Ignore his gaze that says nothing
except wonder where among the particles
of the Pacific his flesh and blood now surge
with the spindrift and its tide, sensation
of thigh and calf and foot and toes clasping
like that bite threshing its fish head still
in the surf most afternoons on Nobby’s Beach.
Ouyang Yu is a poet, novelist and critic, whose fiction, non-fiction, poetry and translation has been published in both English and Chinese. His latest collection of poetry is The Kingsbury Tales: a novel, published by Brandl & Schlesinger (2008). Please refer to his website http://www.ouyangyu.com.au/
I am a poet
There are many times I hit the rock bottom
& I write about it
There are many times I hit the roof of heaven
& I write about it
I am a poet
I’m not anyone’s poet
Not a working class poet
Nor people’s poet
I am the one doomed
To poetry doomed
To a future
A fleeting thought at one of the books short-listed in a shop window
Perhaps I’m sick
The world is sick
As the cities become more obese
Than obesity: o b city
I am sicker
When I decide never to read it for the rest of my rest
After it won something
And goes on to win more
I strike you dead, English
Language of the enemy
Even when you abuse me with one of your gentlest words
Calling me not good not good enough or very
hongmaohua, red-haired speech
You think you are the Language
You think you are the Language
I stopped there only because something else happened
Something infinitely better than English
Happened five or six hours ago
And now I don’t want to write another word in this poem
Let the dead die the death
I embrace the living with the ease of a living
“I want to die forgotten”
In the Blockbuster City
you are seeing yourself off
your car in the long-distance car park
when you arrive
you meet yourself
in the mirror
and take a digital photo of yourself
camera in hand
you couldn’t meet your dad
you couldn’t meet your mom
you couldn’t meet these other living
people you know
you’d listen to a voice or voice message: I’m busy could you…
moneyloose for the end of financial year
eyeloose for a city on heels
fingerloose on the pulse of p-
the blockbuster city is
one that quotes differently for the same thing
one in which people run vehicles stalk stall accents e/merge
one that can be booked for a few nights
one with galleries victoria where one doesn’t even see a work of art
one where you decide to retire early
to a hotel sleep
the city grows more blockbusterly each person
creative zen crashes
ipod records no voices hears no fm except for a fee, no, for 2
cowon a2 available at bondi junction
the city takes all without distinction
a city literally
of no original faces
an ariel view: a building behind another building
a close-up: someone wanking
a restaurant sign: thai to remember
a city into itself
By excluding us
They become them
By excluding them
They become us
You in me
And me in you
Francesca Haig’s poetry has appeared in Blue Dog, Overland and Famous Reporter and has been featured on Radio National’s Poetica. Her first collection of poetry, Bodies of Water (FIP, 2006) was highly commended in the 2007 Ann Elder Award. She has read her work at the Melbourne Writers Festival and Tasmanian Living Writers Week. She lectures in Creative Writing at The University of Chester, UK.
Dating a poet: a relationship in six stanzas
In making love
we unmake words.
Later, you take out your journal
and reconstruct language
under the strict tuition of your pen,
while I make out the graffiti of your chest hair.
The naked page.
How the sound of your pen on paper
is more intimate than any of the noises
we made last night.
You are a virtuoso:
who knew so much could be
done with syllables?
Your daredevil tongue.
You write only in free verse
but, at night, the perfect pentameter
of your sleeping breath.
I scour your words
as I have read other men’s faces, hands.
In all your poems, as with photos,
I seek myself out first
to see how I look.
I know your mouth
is a fortune cookie.
After three weeks I crack it open:
on that slip of paper, your tongue,
is her name.
Back in Texas, he understood perfectly
the logic of soil.
No good with letters or numbers,
by nineteen he was fluent in the tangible language of dirt:
planting time, the heavy satisfaction of
a good rain. The places
where clay makes the ground stubborn.
Knots in the earth, snagging the plough’s comb.
In Baghdad it’s the soil that confounds him:
how, west of the Green Zone, you could dig all day
and never strike wet.
How lightly the Tigris carries its silt load,
while the sandstorms make the horizon
sway like a cornfield.
Mud in the water,
sand in the air.
Over here, he’s betrayed by dirt,
and what it grows:
the sudden bloom of an explosion.
The reliable crop of car bodies.
Behind the burnt-out police van
that row of heads,
coming up like pumpkins.
David Gilbey is Senior Lecturer in English at Charles Sturt University (where he teaches Australian Literature, Children’s Literature and Creative Writing) and President of Wagga Wagga Writers Writers. His new collection of poems is Death and the Motorway, (Interactive Press, 2008). In September 2008 David is writer-in-residence at Bundanon. He is currently editing fourW nineteen, to be published in November 2008.
My former students take me downtown
for Japanese food and drink
through postmodern fashions of Kokubuncho,
the entertainment district.
Hisae is suffering a post-Hawaii virus
after her sister’s wedding.
Bikini flu? I ask, after the swimsuit photos –
then I have to explain the joke.
Chiharu shows phone pics of her new budgie.
Call him Red, I say,
you know how Australians like opposite nicknames –
It’s because they live upside-down. Antipodeans.
I can’t stop being the English teacher,
even after eleven years.
Akane comes late, orders beer and hoya,
daring me to try this Sendai specialty: ‘sea pineapple’
a soft shellfish whose orange flesh
you eat with vinegar, a dash of soy and ginger to taste.
‘Sea mango’ would be better: more accurate for size
and flesh colour, more palatably oxymoronic.
I want sashimi and order tarakiku,
the soft, whitish, brain-textured convolvulus
of the male codfish genitals. Oishi.
Yuko settles for maguro – burgundy tuna –
with aromatic shiso leaves, and only pretends to choke
when I hail it as ‘marijuana tempura’
Akane asks me for some words for this month’s
food ‘n fashion mag’s slogan ‘Exeo’ –
Japanese latin wanting a youthful urgency.
I suggest ‘break out’.
I write in my shadow
a fool in nature.
Curves flatten to lines.
What’s a good word?
She’d climbed a eucalyptus fork
over a dead stump,
stretched her arms along the ghost gum’s
half a world away
from the snows of Japan.
That was summer –
dryer, browner, greyer.
Now, in winter’s nervous sunlight
a single green blade splits a crack
in the lichened rock.
We stand on the hill
like silent haiku: strange
birds in dead branches.
Writing Class Sonnet
One day I was watching TV
suddenly I saw a illustration of a biscuits.
I married a rich man. And my friend won a billion yen in the lottery.
So I plan to go to Australia.
And I am without passport. So I need to obtain it.
The hotel there was more beautiful than our imagination.
At the lunch I eat crocodile and lasagne.
I go to sea and swim enough with a shoal of fishes.
We saw many famous animals.
If I have a driver’s licence I drive Ayers Rock,
Great Barrier Reef, desert, and so on.
Finally I would like to play the star watching.
Of course I buy souvenirs for my family and friends.
Maybe one day I become English teacher.
Sean Singer’s first book Discography won the 2001 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, selected by W.S. Merwin, and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. He is also the recipient of a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“There is no solitude greater than a samurai’s, unless it is that
of a tiger in the jungle…perhaps.”–Bushido
She shines like wheels
In the orange overcast.
Alone within and the walls
Hover like fronds.
Pulsing with emerald self-mastery
A door slides open.
She’s alone without language
As a blade…
A paper lantern and a
Lighter’s ornamental pearl.
She’s passing and flying
Like a submarine
But the white heaven belly
Means someday baby you’ll commune
With daylight’s milk.
What do you want me to do?
Encircle the pillow of grass–
Doughy fist in the human grasp.
Stacks of fields preaching lines
like balls of sheet music singing cusps
of snow, atavistic & keening.
Within each ivory pecan is a faded blond kazoo.
Storefront evangelists gasping proper
& faithful–sock swooping,
seeing the dead end of time:
The field was a lady young and fair
And died just groaning in despair.
Austere zither shadow-paints the mighty & meek,
in a jagged barrel up to the neck in salt.
Let the rains come down hard as a rail.
in their strict declamatory beams.
Let the cotton glomp together as a consolidation
Snow launched for eleven fat ensembles.
A floating bridge dying like jasper & sugar.
Lukewarm night and morning appetite.
Radiant, unoccupied, & raspy the field was heard.
The tambourine rattles like a cloven hoof:
Your mother and father, fare you well,
Your wicked daughter is doomed to hell.
Within each white bulb is a white balloon:
sizzling filament clinches a fist of white.
A plant’s imprimatur as the pages unfold their map.
Within each ivory pecan is a faded blond kazoo.
We must love / we must love for the field
to care for us. In the field / in the field
we ought to trust.
The Devil’s headlamp stalks the red cells
in a mouse miles from itself—the yellow lens
is resinous, fat, dense as pearl firming-up
& renders its beam heavy with currents.
Into a dustbowl of annihilation the rotating head
seizes its empire of blood; a storm collapses each
mouse bone as the threnody of rain crushes the air.
Their music is a quiet submitted to order by darkness.
To translate their invisible wind is to sculpt a gastronomy
of the eye. They hang with their backs to the cave’s engine.
Each ungodly contralto splits the radio-beam into a blister.
Sucking a berry from its root, they are a single purple wing.
Do not tread in the sweeping arc where this puffing locomotive
swallows the engineered airstream. It is a silent calypso.
They unfurl their jerseys from Mexico to Miami
in an anatomic miasma darkening their bunker.
They are darts of themselves, swallowing the porchlight
melting in the melon punch & fists of downpour.
Their stuffy plunking ignites a redline to the stucco ceiling.
Curling clockwise like a coaxing faucet
their fronds dust a car horn in a polyp concerto.
The healthy flee from the ill,
but the ill also flee from the healthy,
like a wasp dying from the cardboard house,
and this explains perfectly
the tunnel entrance, dripping
with water into the seeping floor.
Hold onto your possessions
with your teeth, said the prophet,
and death with its cherry blossom
and insomnia, will move on.
What is it like to be burned?
Do you simply move toward
pain or cling, with fever,
to your right not to live?
The mayor of Peoria
moaned like a pink cocoon,
the bed did creak,
and the candle’s nude tangoed on the walls.
The fire’s black wings and the yellow
bodies flutter above the filth
and I desire and look no one
in the eye, when I enter.
At the moment one’s torture begins,
with other human beings is lost forever.
Put On All the Lights
Three of the R&B singers took refuge in the darkest plush of Bamako nightclub. A sound erupted between them. Here the velveteen memory grows weak, so I don’t know if it was a fight or a wakeup call. But I can still see one of the women they had abandoned, standing by the bar, with its ochre padding and brass pins, yelping like a ragga, her hair thrust out like a pool, fighting for supremacy. Her ping-like crystal yells proclaimed above the fizzling light…Was she a victim? I have no idea. The gods of noise—her sisters—had condemned her to the backwoods of AM; but the chandelier above her head, hailed its beams like dust upon her head.
Zenobia Frost is a creative writing adventurer at Queensland University of Technology whose work has appeared in Going Down Swinging, The Definite Article and LOTL magazine. In 2007, she collaborated with musician Timothy Tate at the Queensland Poetry Festival as Colouring by Numbers. She keeps a photograph of Oscar Wilde beside her bed and takes particular interest in children’s literature.
A Poem Finds its Twin
~ for JH ~
Perhaps they were conceived
in one sanguine swell of thought,
and were somehow later
drawn apart, adopted out,
such that the words
took on different meanings,
wore different haircuts
They met years later, hanging about
at a reading in clusters of old poems,
printed and permanent,
freckled with commas but
still alive with shifting intonations.
There was confusion
but also calm.
It was as though one’s reflection
had reached out from the mirror
to take the other’s hand
and say, “I know, brother; I know,”
and nothing more.
with thanks to mr cummings
Not even the rain has such small hands as I.
These wrists might snap as soon as bend,
with batwing bones extending to the fingers.
A dainty hand that cannot open jars,
a girlish hand, with soft pink fingerprints
and wrists that might just snap as soon as bend.
But fingernails bitten to the quick:
a ragged end to all that charm,
that girlish hand, with soft pink fingertips.
Chaos-lined palms: what fate lies there?
A heart-on-sleeve adventure or perhaps
a ragged end to all that charm.
I hope it is the former they shall weave:
these hands brimful of curiosity.
A heart-on-sleeve adventure would be grand.
Yes, I think they were designed for impishness;
not even the rain has such small hands as I,
nor so restless, compelled by curiosity,
with batwing bones extending to the fingers.
My mouth is burning
You kissed me
with raw chillies
on your lips. You knew
revenge was best served
directly – forget plates
and forks and all that
coy formality. Just
feed it to me; I deserve
to eat my words.
1. Cicada escapes her shell.
How does she undress herself?
Dried upon my hand her castoffs seem
an armoured corset, and that zipper
down the back doesn’t really give.
She must squeeze out like a newborn,
skin moistened with morning dew.
2. Cicada courts the night.
He is but a shell already –
no former self to speak of:
a resonance chamber whose quest
has become him. When he calls to her,
he must deafen himself, so as
not to hear his loneliness.
Note: The male cicada disables his tympana (membranous structures used to detect sounds) when calling so that he does not damage them.
Indran Amirthanayagam is a poet, essayist and translator in English, Spanish and French. His first book The Elephants of Reckoning won the 1994 Paterson Prize in the United States. His poem “Juarez” won the Juegos Florales of Guaymas, Mexico in 2006. Amirthanayagam has written five books thus far: The Splintered Face Tsunami Poems (Hanging Loose Press, March 2008), Ceylon R.I.P. (The International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2001), El Hombre Que Recoge Nidos (Resistencia/CONARTE, Mexico, 2005) El Infierno de los Pajaros (Resistencia, Mexico, 2001), The Elephants of Reckoning (Hanging Loose Press, 1993).
Amirthanayagam’s essays and poems have appeared in The Hindu, The New York Times, El Norte, Reforma, New York/Newsday, The Daily News, The Island, The Daily Mirror, Groundviews (Sri Lanka). Amirthanayagam is a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow and a past recipient of an award from the US/Mexico Fund for Culture for his translations of Mexican poet Manuel Ulacia. Amirthanayagam is working currently on a translation of poet Jose Eugenio Sanchez.
After the Party
— in Memoriam: Anura Bandaranaike
I remember an evening
flavored by my mother’s
two smart patriots
together, to speak
not yet realized,
what makes sense
seeing the island
from afar, the only
two dear friends
who met then
for the first time.
Now, one is laid
to rest, and
the other engages
to think afresh
about slow or fast
cynical tongues, how
to bring more than
twenty five years
of war to an end
before all our parties
break up and families
gather, with shot-gun
shells and confetti
to scatter, at weddings
held on holy ground
where fathers and
and sisters are buried.
We walk across railroad tracks.
It’s late, the moon full, waves
roaring on the other side
of coconut trees. There
aren’t any goons asking
for id’s. It’s 1980 or some
such year before current
flapping of metal wings, birds
alloyed everywhere dropping
pellets right on our foreheads.
Aiyo, we say, how the hell,
machan, don’t buggers
know how to shoot, and
these poisons flowing
in our blood.
What’s become of older
weapons of war, when
knife pricked or bomb
blew off the head but
left the next man alive
to attend to his family
and the fight? Now
his cells and we should
not walk across railroad
tracks or down on
the beach off Galle Face,
which today’s children
know as a high security zone,
and their older siblings
as no-man’s land, lovers’
folly, but we protest
too much, surely
we can carry passports
in our bathing trunks?
(Berries and Chicken)
There’s a rub in these black
berries on bread with a glass
of milk on a Saturday morning
when rain trickles down
through mist and fitful
cold ‘though not to complain
about weather, this is no
long john winter,
and across the Pacific
an old friend rides bullet
trains and types into his
Blackberry about once
and rain water evenings
we ate steamed chicken
outside the library
at Chatham Square
in Chinatown; meanwhile
the poem will not insist
on personal memories,
wishes to barter in
chinatowns, capture hearts
in Frisco or Vancouver,
or even in the birthing
or Shanghai, or some
Cho Fu Sa, or far northern
village; I have to study
the map and ask the reader
to travel with me into the heart
of this ginger and hot rice
beside a white chicken.
Nice to walk
to that first
time, spade –
thin, I gathered
while a girl,
came up to me
I held her hand
and felt her
to wear sandals
yet I admit
I did not
to do with
that hand –
now– not just
for kiri bath
or poll sambol,
or a salt slick
on the beach
and a tumble
in the hammock.
the planet means
if you don’t
return for the party
your parents glad.
now – though
does not fit.
left to keep
for another son,
up the road,
or the island
once called Ceylon,
of the family tree
of some half-
all the loaves
in the basket,
lost at sea,