~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor for Poetry.
~This poem was previously published in Nimrod International Journal (2011).
A Broken Abecedarius of How Things Might Be if the World Were Saved
Achoo! at the beginning of a tale.
Beasts wandering in daylight, unafraid of being shot, even
Centaurs, who would not be drunk any more if invited to your wedding.
A dragon or a dinosaur named
Flies who would go to the front screen door on command so you could
let them out.
Galumphing as the normal gait of soldiers.
Hazelnuts that fall one by one into the mouth of the Salmon of Wisdom who swims
beneath, until the time comes for her to be caught by a wizard’s
apprentice and cooked over a slow fire until she has rendered up all the
wisdom remaining in her unsung parts. But
I digress. . . .
Intoxication once a day by the scent from white
Jasmine flowers tumbling over a garden wall, except for the
Keepers of Butterflies, who would need to remain sober.
Loping as an alternate choice (see G above).
More respect for Dame Love, who has thoughtfully abolished Reason.
Nearly all the children reaching the house in the middle of the forest, where they will be
temporarily changed into birds, and introduced to their hearts’ desire by a very
Old bear, who knows all the tales with caves in them.
Pearls of music rolling around between the warm, uneven bricks, under the chairs.
Regales of yellow leaves, and the musk of grapes.
Sisyphus released from duty but staying on as a volunteer on weekends when he has
Time off from being a taxi driver in New York, something he has always wanted to
Whim, who has finally convinced Steven Hawking that she is indeed the final black hole
Xanadu with its plazas and feasts, its gardens of endless endings for which we have all
Yearned—and to which we have spent the last million years
Zigging and Zagging (see G above) and where we will arrive this very
~This poem was previously published in Nimrod International (2015).
The Harpsichord Builder’s Tale
We are here on the sun-porch where our friend is speaking
about the severing, though we already knew the story,
but never from him.
Months later, after he picked them up off the floor,
waited for the helicopter on the front porch, after doctors
sewed them back on and made them work, he leans back in a chair
holding his fingers up to shade his eyes from the sun.
He explains the hand to us. It must be supple
enough to bend, strong enough to stretch out and hold firm.
No more, no less, but proportion is crucial in such binding,
and the doctors, lining up the dangling ligatures in the waning light,
He was alone in the shop, he was making a saw-cut
he had made a thousand times on a harpsichord lid, he knelt
to fumble in the sawdust—could barely tell
one splinter from another—ran down the hall for ice.
We face him in the setting sun, his voice is low, he speaks
only the newest part of the tale, not his journeys under the mountain
where they pulled him through each surgery
helpless against jackals.
His middle finger is thick, and permanently crooked, making it easy
to drop over the reins for riding their black horse (he mimes).
When he puts out his hand towards the new saw blade ugly birds leer down,
stubble rasps the air, hot pitch flares in his old wound
where the final artery withdrew like a snake
fleeing winter shadows.
Today I notice for the first time the porch floor is gray,
the October sun warms it but pallidly.
After his voice goes still, our fingers tighten
around our slender goblets of proseco, the four of us
raise our glasses and pull together
all the strings of all the polished instruments
throughout the house, pull the house,
its chords drawing, being drawn, taut—ringing.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
I like to think that poetry is an aspect of language that is not truly narrative. Poetry allows us use words as if they were a sixth (or seventh) sense; they work in circles, by festooning, caroming, evoking rather than straight-up telling. After awhile, straight tale-telling alone will harden into piles of lava, which we tend to equate with reality itself, instead of remembering that language is a code, an approximation, a commons for the exchange of fundamentally wordless impressions, plans, information.
Poetry can allow us to keep in mind the actual, far more complex situation that truly is taking place in all the nooks and crannies of the world – the actual, incredibly complex situation each human being is thrust into at birth, with its incredible network of fissures, chasms, pits, swarming molecules, rapidly and slowly shifting patterns, and crazy forked paths. Poetry keeps language honest by constantly nudging and urging it away from the safe zone, the planned and plotted story. Poetry works by accident, by that-which. As with the universe itself, with poetry there is no primary purpose: there is only secondary purpose. Only.
ABOUT ANITA SULLIVAN
Anita Sullivan writes and publishes fiction, nonfiction and poetry in pretty much equal measure. During a 25-year career as a piano tuner she won the Western States Book Award for creative nonfiction with The Seventh Dragon: The Riddle of Equal Temperament, a lyrical exploration of the tuning system used on pianos. She published a travel essay book on Greece, Ikaria: A Love Odyssey on a Greek Island, and more recently a fantasy novel Ever After about the same island. She has a full length book of poems Garden of Beasts, and three poetry chapbooks, the most recent (2016) And If The Dead Do Dream. Her work has been anthologized and she writes regularly for the blog Weekly Hubris (www.weeklyhubris.com). Her website is www.anitasullivan.org.