Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#141: "Winchester .351 High-Power Self-Loading Rifle" by Alexandra Teague


~This poem was previously published in 32 Poems (2012).



Winchester .351 High-Power Self-Loading Rifle
                    from an ad in The American Field, 1909

It was the love which the hunter has for living things,
and which he can only express by aiming his gun at them.
                                                Italo Calvino


Who doesn’t dream of a heart with all sights
attached, all moving parts enclosed? A love
that can shoot through steel? See how the cougar eyes
the bold word Winchester—its jagged rush

his body, whisker-close against the cliff, unflinching.
Already he’s prey:  his muscled legs like roots
too deep for springing; a pendulum stilling
for the chime of fate. Who wouldn’t lose

this skin for an instant of lightning—one
flash from the lightest, strongest, handsomest
repeater ever made? Who hasn’t gone
to a ledge like this and waited? The scent

on the wind that draws them:  lover or devil,
the heart reloading even as it recoils.



*****

Monday, September 8, 2014

#140: Three Poems by Ravi Shankar

 

~This poem first appeared in Gulf Coast (1998).

Before Sunrise, San Francisco  


Bruno’s by sallow candlelight,
The jacketed barkeep counting
Tips from a jam jar and horseshoe
Booths burnished a bit too bright,

Yet the stained mahogany walls
And the lazy lament of Spanish
Horns from speakers huddled
In the corner speak a different

Language altogether, one that rolls
Effortlessly off the tongue and fills
The room like myrrh, a promise sent
That four walls can indeed keep out

The world, that when horns wail
For percussion and those walls
Are elegantly attired, why there
Is no need to ponder the gristle

In the Mission outside, no need
To wonder why that one left you
Or why you are always too
Late. The weight of your existence

Roughly equals the martini glass
In front of you, the thick mass
Of the past collapses into brightness
As well-lit as the dripping star

At the center of your table.
Nod. Snap your fingers. Order
Another drink. Let horns grieve,
Let the wristwatch think on sheep

Before you leave. Tonight,
The only eyes on you are two
Pimentos stuffed into olives
Bloated with vermouth and gin.

*****

Sunday, August 31, 2014

#139: "Once Again to Zelda" by Kirk Curnutt



~This essay originally appeared in The Southern Review (2013).



In the seventies, my mother began storing paperbacks in an oval drum table kept in our basement. As an only child, I had long claimed our downstairs as my sovereignty, and I took great objection to this adult incursion into the kingdom of my toys, especially after I was issued explicit orders not to go anywhere near her books. At ten or eleven I already suffered from boring bouts of insomnia, so on nights I could neither sleep nor relax, I would sneak out of my adjoining bedroom to rifle this forbidden stack. I was curious to know what knowledge I, the son of a teacher, could possibly be prohibited from learning.
The question wasn’t long in the answering. Among the titles in my mother’s collection was Coffee, Tea, or Me?, a steamy pulp featuring swinging stewardesses; a self-help manual called The Sensuous Woman by someone so salacious she could only publish under the pseudonym “J”; and a memoir whose title deeply perplexed me because it was the exact nickname my father gave me whenever I tried to shoot baskets, one-handed, over his head: The Happy Hooker. Needless to say, I found these books equal parts enthralling and confusing.
The one that would have the greatest impact on me wasn’t read until much later. I can remember flipping through its pictures, however, because one specific image gave me nightmares. I’ve since come across that photo countless times in my research, and never without experiencing the same shock of recoil. The photograph is of a slightly stooped woman with cadaverous cheeks bundled in a fur coat staring listlessly at the camera. Her expression is forlorn and faltering, self-protectively irresolute, as if by submitting to a pose she was relinquishing something of herself she would never get back. I would need a poetry class or two to find a phrase to describe that face: ’tis the distance on the look of death.
The picture wasn’t of Emily Dickinson but of Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s not an especially famous photo, but a telling one, taken in February 1930 during a vacation to the Constantine gorge in Algeria only a few months before the breakdown that would land her in a Swiss sanitarium and thereafter render her one of the more enduring cautionary tales in American literary history. The book itself was Nancy Milford’s biography, simply titled Zelda. It recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary, and though not as controversial today as it was in 1970, it still possesses the power to polarize. In Telling Women’s Lives: The New Biography, Linda Wagner-Martin summarizes its legacy: “What struck readers in 1970 was that Milford’s story of Zelda’s life with F. Scott Fitzgerald had so often been told inaccurately. By most accounts, Zelda’s drinking and bothering of her writer husband had led to his drinking and his inability to get work done.” In contrast, “Milford enabled readers to find in her protagonist a woman that nearly everyone could identify with. Zelda’s story became its own drama,” a story of “rebelling at the prescribed roles beautiful women were made to play.”
For other scholars, however, Zelda is the source of the most pernicious canard to haunt Fitzgerald’s work—namely, that he “plagiarized” her very essence in creating the iconic character of the flapper, often stripping her letters and diaries of specific, enchanting passages. Every so often I’m invited by a reading club or academic group to dilate on this debate, and so I iron my tie and fire up the PowerPoint and do my best to be balanced. I’ve also spent many a literary conference adjudicating the argument, often unwillingly over dinner tables and bar tops where, honestly, I’d rather be exploring topics that didn’t leave me wondering if I have a life outside of work. In recent years I’ve actually grown less interested in the biography’s influence on literary studies, and more intrigued by its sway on everyday readers who sent it spiraling onto the bestseller lists.
Readers, in other words, like my mother.

Monday, August 18, 2014

#138: "To Do in the New Year" by Anna Lena Phillips

~This poem first appeared in International Poetry Review (2011).



Be ribbon. Be bone.
Be lace. Be stone.
Make a bow of yourself—no,
make of yourself a bear.
Furl fur, steer windward.
Make of yourself
a byre. Shimmer. Ray,
then bow: ends
unravel, ravel,
unfurl. Make of yourself
a curl, a funnel. Bay.
Whine. Say
soon, daffodils
will, miracle
gone before we know.
And that is how time.
And that is how.
Be still. Steal in. Stare.
Make of yourself
a string unwinding
forever, fire,
make of yourself
a halo of obstacles, make
inroads, make a solution
of sunshine, be seed.             
Cede. Be siloed.
Cease for a while, be
quilted; in creases,
fall seaward. From hulls,
rise, riled up, increase, raise up
sounds of your name
in water, make yourself
golden, yield.





*****

Monday, August 4, 2014

#137: "Thong Panties" by Wendy Reed

~This story previously appeared in Analecta 24 (1998).
                                          

            Ed bought Vera another pair of thong panties. He took them home to her after work. Vera politely opened the pink sack stenciled with fake lace and removed the tissue paper. She unfolded it and tore the taped end.
             "Thong panties,” she said, wadding up what there was of the underwear. “How nice." She stuffed them back into the bag. 
            "Don’t you like the spots?" he asked.
            "They're right colorful."
            "Well. What about the stripes?"
            "They're right vertical," she said.
            Ed could tell she didn’t like them.
            "Well, aren't you going to model them for me?" he asked.
            "Ed, you know I have a yeast infection."
            "Oh, I forgot," he said.
            Ed hadn't really forgotten.  He was hoping a gift of lingerie would stir her up a bit.  God knows something had to.  It’d been so long since they’d had sex for one reason or another, he wasn’t sure he would remember how.  He’d thought a trip to the lingerie shop might be just the thing.
            Ed had spent nearly a whole hour in the lingerie store wandering between the maze of panty trees and panty pools trying to find something that might work.  He’d studied the steel arms of the racks where each pair hung by its own hanger and realized that these panties not only came with their own hanger, but with the highest price tags, too.  So he'd begun fishing in the overstuffed bins where the cost was a little less. Here, clear plastic flexi-glass separated the layers of panties into a panty dessert trifle: lace panties, then crotchless panties, then the truly edible layer.  Ed spent most of the hour looking at them, rubbing them between his fingers and checking the price tags. When no one was looking, he even licked one pair of the edible ones. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

#136: Two Poems by Paul Shepherd


~This poem previously appeared in Pacific Review (1994).


WING NUT
           
 She knew, she tried to hold me, she said—

If you go from this place as you are,
breaking our walls and windows
with your hard, dangling heart,
an undone mobile hung awkwardly close
to that corner you've turned to take,
            then, no—a child,
            you will tighten quick with life
            and we will cry for you long,
            long after you leave here,
petrified,
a broken ornament the years glue down.


*****

Sunday, July 20, 2014

#135: "What the End Is For" by Rasma Haidri

~This essay was previously published in in Fourth Genre: Explorations in Non-Fiction (1999).

Today I will throw out the two-inch toy Coke glass. The two halves of it fit perfectly together and could have been glued, but I’m done with gluing. It is late spring and the glass has been here since November. I remember how my mother gasped, Oh what have I done now, with unusual vulnerability as she heard the clamorous crack. I heard it too and saw her lifting her foot, afraid of further destruction. I was afraid of her falling. It’s nothing, I said. Just that little Coke glass.
That’s from Detroit, she answered, meaning from the green-lawn days I set up my toy trademark Coke dispenser on Hawthorne Avenue and waited for business. The four miniature glasses, narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, had Coca-Cola in script on the sides. With careful fingers I filled the glasses, lined them up in a row, then lifted and drank each one. Perhaps I sat on my striped canvas director’s chair, my hair pulled into the popular Alice in Wonderland look. I don’t know, but my mother would have a clear memory of watching me do this through the window of our house, as she clutched my baby brother in her thin arms.
What a shame, she said. I lifted the broken toy off the kitchen floor and told her not to worry. I would glue it. At the time I intended to. Not for the sake of my own daughter. She didn't prize the little glass, had probably not noticed the authentic logo of the world’s most popular drink. I would put it back together for the memory, my debt of preserving the past and keeping track. And to assure my mother that all damage done under her foot could be undone. I showed her how easily the two halves fit, then placed them in the corner of the kitchen window.