Archive for the ‘Daniel Khalastchi’ Category

Daniel Khalastchi: Three Poems

Our feature of Danny Khalastchi’s poetry concludes today with three new poems from Homewrecker, a recently-completed manuscript. We’re happy to be the first residence of these poems, and look forward to seeing where they’re published again in the future. Many thanks to Danny, to Tupelo Press, to Marc Rahe, and to all of you who stopped by to read along. — AS



Year-End Reconciliation Adjustment:


With the lights on, I walk back toward the
linen cabinet and remove a set of off-white


stoneware dishes and a pair of your proportionately
unfitting underwear. Next to the front


door of my apartment is a crude stick and yard-
sack body I recently made from


the hair I kept removing from the bathtub when
you were still sleeping here. The body doesn’t


stand properly so I tape it to a curtain and
make inappropriate hand gestures


around the bottle of whiskey I’ve fastened
just below its belt. At a calculated distance,


the body looks enough like me to let
the scene play out—there is its thick drawn


beard; its dead robin for a heart; its
mirror glued to its right hand reflecting


the real me, wearing your brassier, chafed and red
along the shoulders. It is more difficult than


I imagined to be wearing your clothes and this
faux rabbit-fur wig, but since you moved on to


your new husband, what else am I to do? Holding
the dishes in my hand, I throw the first salad


plate and say, acute sexual misfire! I throw the oval
serving tray, six misguided cereal bowls, a cup


with a state’s inglorious motto stenciled in gold
lettering between images of citizens and their often flooded


levy, but nothing ever breaks. One of the windows
behind the body starts to shake and someone calls


my cell phone to talk about a party. I take off
the wig and smell the still-whole terror of my living


space. There are fish under the washing machine in my
basement and that will make me famous. I am sorry


I never took anything from you or your belief
in me. The night isn’t here. Won’t ever now


come. For the record, if they ask, I will say this
was always the case.




The Hysterical Likeness:


I.


Outside this basement
window is a second
window that looks
directly at a



II.


box. The box contains



III.


something not
worth much



IV.


of anything. I want
you to open the box, but
you don’t answer



V.


my messages. There
have been times
these last seven-
teen days where



VI.


I’ve wondered how
I got this weight-
lifting set or why



VII.


I’ve been drinking
my mother’s Robitussin
mixed with all



VIII.


this scotch. I have
in my hands two
tranquilizers. They



IX.


do not help
me sleep. I take
them with me
to the gas station



X.


and think about
the likelihood of
problematic communication
in the age of caged
physical



XI.


contact. You do not read



XII.


these. You do read
these but you do not wish to



XIII.


respond. You do wish



XIV.


to respond but
the effort to do
so is speared rust
in your chest. O-



XV.


kay. You never asked



XVI.


for this animal. But
what are we together if



XVII.


not that?




You Have The Right To Make Mistakes — And Be Responsible For Them:


Your new husband calls and says
you are getting off in the bathroom to
my landlord’s letter detailing the issues
I’ve had recently when trying to balance
hope and bulimic indifference. The con-


versation is brief, but we agree to meet that
night in elaborate costume near an
unimpressive statue you had erected in
the graveyard. Hunched beneath a flowering
willow, I wait for your man as a man in


waiting. I am dressed like a misfired
piston rod from a specific car you once
buried in a telephone pole. There isn’t any
evidence, but I know it is you directing
the motorcycle—your husband, his


knees—as it tunnels toward me in the
dark, weak-breasted and fragrant. He doesn’t
hit me but he doesn’t not try to. When we
finally come face to face in our hats, the rust
of my metal chinstrap is lost in his


plumage. You have dressed him as
a bird, or he has dressed as you asked
him to as a bird, or he isn’t a bird but
I can’t split the difference. Taped to his
chest is a sealed statement you’ve written that


we aren’t allowed to read until someone
unlocks our wet leatherette handcuffs. I won’t
go into detail, but when I finally free my hands and
examine your correspondence, I am not shocked
to see the following words assembled with


authority: reasons, to, considering, behavior, and made
it very clear this isn’t something you can handle
. Your
new husband is a medic on leave. He wants to
tell me the ways you’ve made him have you, but
instead I stay focused on a Randy Newman


song about scattering loss. If we had a
boat, I say, we could tremor this city for a televised
escape
. Your husband, poor thing, doesn’t
understand the metaphor.


An Interview With Daniel Khalastchi

Nearly three years ago now, I talked with Danny about Manoleria in an interview to be included with Tupelo Press’s Reader’s Companion, released on their website concurrent with the book’s release. It was one of the most interesting conversations about poetry I’ve ever had, even as, or because, the conversation drifted as much to Springsteen and Mobb Deep as anything. I’m excited to have the opportunity to put that interview before you again today, and encourage you to check out the rest of that Reader’s Companion if you have a chance. We’ll conclude our feature of Danny’s work tomorrow, with new poems from his aforementioned manuscript, Homewrecker. — AS



AS: I’d like to begin with a discussion of disruption — of the body (by unnamable, alien force), of rhythm (by in-line caesura), of dinner (by men with axes), all the forms it takes in this collection. Each form of disruption is a creative or propulsive force, the first and most present radicalism in Manoleria’s poetics. I’m invested from the very beginning in your distinctive use of spatial caesura, and am particularly interested in understanding its technical importance to you. In fact, to start there, how does disruption — whether technical, narrative, metaphorical, or otherwise — operate for you as a compositional force?


DK: Disruption, indeed, is something I think about often when writing. The poems in Manoleria came from a time (in my life, in the world) when I felt very disrupted. When these poems were written, I was living in Provincetown, finishing my fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center — I was far away from the people I loved, the fear of securing a job and health insurance overwhelming me on a daily basis, and I was listening to news pour in from my small kitchen radio about a collapsing housing market and a seemingly endless parade of recently uncovered secrets about war, torture, and extraordinary rendition. As a person living in the world, I didn’t know how to react, and as a writer I wasn’t sure I could react.


When I did begin to write, the poems took the form of a recurring narrator who was (quite literally) physically destroyed while the world, the people around him, took little notice. Not such a subtle metaphor I realize, but to me this felt like the best way to examine the utter catastrophe I (like everyone?) was witnessing at the time.


As the poems became more and more sonically driven, it became important to me to bridge the gap between what I heard in my head (a stutter, an uncertainty) and what the reader would encounter on the page. I began experimenting with space, with caesuras, and with punctuation that arrived when the audience didn’t expect or want punctuation, or wasn’t sure how to handle it. Big inspirations to me during this time were writers/artists like D. A. Powell, Caryl Pagel, Nas, Claudia Rankine, Gertrude Stein, Matthea Harvey, Bruce Springsteen, John Berryman, and Mobb Deep.


Music has always been an important part of my life, and to be honest I’m not sure where I’d be without music. That said, I heard Springsteen say in an interview once that he gets away with certain things lyrically that an author/poet would not because he has, “the music raging underneath.” On the page, however, we only have our words and the way we present them — since I didn’t have instruments/a rumbling beat surrounding my poems, I felt it was my responsibility when writing Manoleria to create that “rage” through hiccups/gaps/gasps/delay/disruption. My goal, then, is for you (as a reader) to hear/read the poems the same way I do — so that we (and pardon the terrible cliché here) hear the same song, even if we hear different singers, from different speakers, in different cars, driving down different highways.


AS: I want to pick up later on these comments about music.


However, let’s follow this for a moment: “Not such a subtle metaphor,” you say, and certainly one of the most striking aspects of this book is its unapologetic use of physically grotesque description — of violent forces working their way through the narrator’s body, and of violences imposed on the narrator from without. Whether metaphorically, psychologically, or purely in terms of imagery, there is nothing subtle in the presentation of Manoleria’s main current. It is pure voltage. And, in the wake of the visceral experience of reading these poems, I’m inclined to think that subtlety is overrated.


Psychological terror is something I’m accustomed to in my reading of contemporary poetry — it’s the physical element foregrounded here that I have encountered much less frequently.


What’s interesting to me about it, and to bridge this back to disruption somewhat, is that for all that the world is unflinching around the disruptive force that the narrator might logically become, so too is the narrator entirely calm in the face of all that afflicts or disrupts him. It’s as though there is a mutually derived accord between the disruptive force and the would-be disrupted audience that above all else remaining calm is necessary in these circumstances. As a reader, I find this sort of in-narrative agreed-upon equivocality to be rather calming. I wonder if you could speak some to the impact of an equivocal (or dogged, or numbed) tone on these poems, and your experience writing them?


DK: These are wonderful questions, Andy. While I’d love to give you an impressively original/mind-blowing answer, the truth is that the poems in Manoleria were written with a kind of disturbed apathy because that’s what I saw going on around me at the time.


What I mean to say is that when these poems were shaking loose from my typewriter, we (as a country, as Americans, as humans, etc.) were involved in a war, in torture, in an election cycle that was just beginning to dominate every aspect of the news, in an unemployment crisis, in a healthcare crisis, in an educational crisis, and no one seemed to notice or care.


Now, obviously, that’s a gross generalization — people noticed, but it didn’t seem to me that anyone (including myself) was doing anything about what was happening. When I began to think about writing during such a politically charged/definitive time in our history, I was hyper aware of my limitations (or, perceived limitations): I came from a supportive, middleclass family; I graduated college, went to graduate school, was being paid (at the time) to do nothing else but write in a cottage on the shores of Cape Cod. Since I was in such fear of coming across as (gasp!) pompous/naïve/presumptuous, I wanted to present these poems (this narrator, these terrors) in as much horrific-nonchalance as possible. Maybe it was silly of me, but the thought was that if I could make readers feel the grotesque, if I could bother them by how little the world around the narrator (and the narrator himself) appeared to care about what was happening, maybe the meta-connection to the present state of our crumbling existence (not to sound hyperbolic) would somehow suddenly become more viscerally apparent.


In the absence of all this politically charged rhetoric, I think maybe the poems in Manoleria remained “calm” or quiet because in the face of such glaring and obvious wrongdoing, shouting doesn’t always seem to help. Sometimes, I drive down the street and watch as kids push each other on sidewalks or listen to students on campus use potentially hurtful language as they attempt to make their friends laugh. As an outsider, I am reassured when someone stands up for himself or herself. When a person can vocalize a defense (“Hey, stop pushing me,” “That word is offensive, you shouldn’t use it”), this seems to signal a strength that suggests a recognition of borders/boundaries/ respect/power. What bothers me, however, is when no ones says anything — when we watch the kids bully each other for sport and then seem surprised to hear of a school shooting; when I walk past a homeless vet being ushered from underneath the awning of a sandwich shop and don’t ask the students taking pictures with their smartphones why none of us have enlisted.


I fear, here, that I’m not fully making sense, so I’ll leave you with this thought: It’s uncomfortable to watch people not be able to defend themselves, but it’s potentially more disturbing to realize they don’t want to. That discomfort, that personal/social disruption (to come full circle) is something I’m very interested in, and I hope the poems in Manoleria bring that to light in some way.


AS:It’s safe to say that Manoleria does bring some of that personal discomfort to light, and in such a way as, for instance, a pedagogical theorist would find sound (if you’ll pardon the comparison): that is, this book forces me to begin an interrogation of my own response. Confronted with violence, I remain calm — feel, even, calmed. That’s a situation few readers would claim comfort in recognizing.


But let’s return to the thoughts about music (as an underpinning, as an aspiration) that you brought up a while back. There are multiple tracks I’d like to head down on that subject. Leaving aside the obvious — artists are constantly inspired by and in conversation with other artists, living and dead, in and out of their own discipline, in the same way that they are engaged with, say, landscape or memory — what impact has music had on your writing, in this book and in other writing?


I think, for instance, of the titles taken from Mobb Deep songs in your extended sequence, “Send Weight” (a series not included in Manoleria but published in Thermos) — and you mentioned both Mobb Deep and Nas as presences in your daily life as you wrote Manoleria. Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) is legendary for the coldness in his line from “Shook Ones, Pt. 2,” when he says, “rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nose bone.” And while the coldness is coming from the opposite end in your figuration of violence and non-response, it seems like one place where you might easily have found an example.


Does much of your inspiration stemming from music come from content, as here, and as in your interest in the social situations handled in Springsteen’s music? Do you find hip-hop beats or flow in the current of your own poetic rhythms? Where does music enter technique for you?


DK: I’ll say, first, that I’m overjoyed we are able to discuss Mobb Deep and Springsteen in an “academic” interview. Second, these questions are incredibly interesting to me, and I’ll do my best to rein in my response.


Music, to me, is the most important aspect of poetry. The rhythms, the cadence, the sonic bravado (or lack thereof) of any given poem are what allow a reader (this reader?) a clear shot at the heart. While some poets rely on music to push/pull their pieces in new and engaging directions (Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dora Malech, Michelle Taransky), others use it more sparingly to signal shifts I find utterly breathtaking in their subtlety (Denis Johnson, Zach Savich, Marc Rahe . . . the list could go on). I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes the music of poetry is a knocking 808 drum machine, and sometimes it’s silence. For me, word choice and rhythm happen so intrinsically that I do my best to avoid attempting to disguise or analyze it. Like a rapper (say, Prodigy in “Shook Ones, Pt. 2”), when I write there is something in my head that is driving me towards certain words and their combinations. While I don’t have a slick beat thundering in my headphones, I do have a feeling (in the case of Manoleria, a feeling of destruction/political upheaval/uncertainty, etc.) that I want to say something about. If you think of that feeling as a beat, the full “music” of the piece comes together when lyrics/poetic lines are laced on top. What I mean to say is that Prodigy, with that grimy beat from “Shook Ones…”, wasn’t likely to say “kiss you on the cheek, hug you tight cause I love you.” The beat, the feeling it created, allowed him to lyrically represent the violence he felt and saw growing up in Queens. The sound let him let go, and I think I try to allow that same thing to happen to me when writing.


To say this more succinctly, and to go back to the Springsteen quote I mentioned earlier, while I don’t have a beat/“music raging” underneath my poems, I still want my poems to sing. The rise and fall of each syllable, each gerund, each moment of punctuation, is there hopefully to help the reader feel/hear/connect to whatever it is I’m trying to get across — I’ve never stabbed anyone in the brain with their own nose bone, but I understand the anger Prodigy was surrounded by in his youth; my dad never worked in a factory, but I understand the backbreaking labor Springsteen’s characters go through on albums like Darkness on the Edge of Town. Those songs, those musicians, move me — I guess I use music in my poems to try and move the reader in a similar way.


In an attempt to answer this question specifically, I should state more exactly that music plays a direct role in my writing. Every morning, I get up and spend an hour or so reading hip-hop blogs, listening to new rappers, new songs, and new flows. Although it sometimes feels that the rap genre (like all art forms) is “played out,” or that there can no longer be a fresh way to present the same formula (beat, 16 bars, chorus, more bars, more chorus, etc.), I’m always inspired by what I hear. The drive, the determination of some of these artists reminds me to “stay hungry,” as they say. They get me excited about word play, about language, and about what it’s like to have a voice with something to say and a world around you that doesn’t necessarily want to hear you. (Sounds a lot like contemporary poetry, huh?) I go back and forth with musical genres and styles — some days I’ll only listen to Tommy Dorsey, others Springsteen, still others Jimmy Witherspoon. But most days, I stick with hip-hop, and I take walks or drives around town when all I do is listen to one song over and over, focusing intently on how the artist was able to pull me as a listener in and out of the track. How they maintained control. How they kept me from “switching the channel” — how they kept me in it. (As a side note, this week that artist/song was Freddie Gibbs’ “National Anthem.” If you haven’t listened to this, you should. Right now.)


I once heard a rapper (I forget who) say that rapping was like boxing — that every time an artist picks up a notepad or gets in the recording booth, they have to believe they’re the strongest/most well trained/hardest person in the world. If not, and they get in the ring with someone else who’s more hungry, more tough, they’ll just get eaten alive. I don’t mean for this to sound like I believe, in any way, that poetry is a competition, or that I want to be better than my peers — what I mean is that through music I’ve learned that a certain amount of confidence is necessary, and that taking risks and chances with my word play/presentation/disruption (we’ve come full circle again!) keeps me from falling in to the “only twelve notes a man can play” thought process that (at times) seems to inundate all art forms, poetry not excluded.


My final point is a small one: Springsteen is the greatest poet who has ever lived. But maybe that’s something we can talk about later.


AS: There are many avenues to take out of that response — including: Springsteen as the greatest poet, how and why? But I’m most interested in the issue of confidence.


I think we would agree that artists must move with confidence — even something beyond confidence, a non-acknowledgment of confidence — through whatever ground they deem necessary in order to achieve the rhythm/music/form/content that constitutes meaning for them in writing poetry. That there is no terrifying realm of consciousness that should be held outside the materials of a poem. But for the reader — even the serious and seasoned reader of literature — that is not necessarily true. There are territories that a reader might justifiably not wish to engage, for whatever reason. Leaving aside the question of how much a writer owes to an audience, I’m interested in hearing from you about some of the territories you found, as a poet, difficult to traverse — and where you might expect readers to encounter restraints and limits in themselves. I ask because there is evidence in the music of the Manoleria poems of deeper disruptions than the sort we discussed earlier on — things you must have had to reconcile with yourself in order, as your narrator does, to press forward.


DK: I may have said this before, but as a writer I find great comfort in discomfort. For me, there is so much in the world that is upsetting and utterly frustrating (poor education, wars, political issues, etc.) that while I may choose to avoid these to an extent in my daily life (I’m not one to picket, to proselytize my beliefs in any particularly public forum), my poems are a chance to get in the face or the head of another person (of myself?) and say, “Hey — isn’t this fucked up?”


I don’t mean to be crass, but hopefully you see my point. Certainly there are many territories I wish not to (and don’t) write about — I avoid (for the most part) writing about my family’s history (escaping Iraq) because it’s difficult and I don’t feel I have the right to write about this. I also avoid writing direct “confessional” pieces because if I wanted someone to know about my failed attempts at living my own life, I’d leave my journal on a public bus or start a blog.


Maybe the bigger question here is how I expect my readers to deal with the issues/images/violent dismemberment that occurs throughout Manoleria, and the truth is I simply hope they trust me. I worked hard at avoiding “shock value” in this book. I’m not writing to show how weird my brain is, or (honestly I’m shaking my head here) to be funny. Poetry — and I stress that this is a personal opinion — is not meant to be stand-up comedy. Too often contemporary poetry feels like the poets are out to try and amuse their friends at a bar where everyone is wearing skinny jeans; like poetry has become easy, in the sense that (strangely?) it is suddenly a hip thing to do, and if a person makes a few jokes and breaks a few lines, they’ll have a book done in no time. I don’t want Manoleria to read that way. I want the discomfort, the moments where a reader would rather turn away or close their eyes, to be somehow balanced with a more engaged, purposeful stillness. Maybe that’s why so many of the poems in the collection are “narrative” — it was very important to me when creating these pieces that the reader not feel like I was saying anything just to say it. I wanted there to be a feeling of deliberateness — perhaps that leads to the “calm” feeling we discussed earlier — and I’m thankful that the editors at Tupelo saw that in the book.


When I teach creative writing, I tell my students that they owe their audience everything and nothing — they just have to remember that the reader only has what the writer leaves on the page. After that, misinterpretation/alternate readings/etc. are fair game. Hopefully Manoleria doesn’t ask too much of the reader, but also doesn’t ask too little. Hopefully that impulse to want to cover one’s eyes from the proverbial car-crash of images, but still peek through to see the wreck’s aftermath comes from a quiet voice somewhere in the collection telling everyone: there, there — yes, this is happening, but it’s okay.


AS: All right, so you called Bruce Springsteen “the greatest poet who ever lived,” and there’s a part of me that’s inclined to agree, largely for temperamental reasons. What I want to know is what you mean by that statement? How would you justify that claim?


DK: Listen to Darkness on the Edge of Town front to back four times in a row. Listen to The River (all of it), and then put on Nebraska, turn off the lights, and spend three days only eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the floor of your apartment. Make note of the control. The ability for one man to assume the voice of a country (its politics, its people, its economic diversity/frustration/limitation/need), and then try to give me another writer who is able to achieve anything close in a total run-time of roughly 159 minutes. Then we can talk about justification. Am I right? (I get all hot and bothered when I talk about Bruce — maybe my claim can’t be justified, but Springsteen is the one who first showed me what was possible as a writer, if I just opened my eyes; if I just looked out the door, the window, down the stairwell. If I just saw. In fact, I get a very similar feeling every time I listen to Nas’s Illmatic, but maybe that’s a conversation for another time.)


AS: I’ve encountered a question many times with the primary word “responsibilities,” but I feel that an artist’s primary responsibility is to the art, so I want to frame this slightly differently: What do you see as the possibilities of the poet in public conversation? I mean primarily political conversation, but interpret as you will. Who are some poets who have recently advanced these possibilities for you?


DK: Every poet has different responsibilities, and maybe every poet also has different possibilities. That said, I think a poem has the chance to cause action — whether that’s a fiery riot by a critical mass in objection to political tyranny, or a sudden understanding of what to say to a lover and how to say it. In other words, if we can get poems out there (which is easier now, in some ways, with online journals, etc.), they have the possibility of (gulp) changing the world. For me, as I’ve mentioned before, I feel this change, this call to action, often from musicians/hip-hop artists, but there are also many poets/writers who have greatly advanced what I understand to be “possible” on the page. I’m not one for lists, but I will say that the writers whose work I return to regularly for this reason are Roberto Bolaño, Leonard Michaels, Claudia Rankine, Dan Beachy-Quick, D. A. Powell, Jack Gilbert, Robyn Schiff, John Berryman, Vinnie Wilhelm, Inger Christensen, Mario Bellatin, Matthea Harvey, and James Wright. Obviously I am forgetting people (James Galvin, Suzanne Buffam, and others) but these writers/poets all show me, every time I pick up one of their books, that there’s no limit to the power of language. I owe a lot to all of these writers. It’s that simple.


AS: Finally, since you finished writing Manoleria, what are some books you’ve read, films you’ve seen, experiences you’ve had (etc.) that have altered the context of the book for you in some way?


DK: After finishing Manoleria I went on a pretty big TV series kick that I’m honestly still trying to work my way out of. I didn’t have television for a good stretch of the last four years, so I’ve worked pretty hard to play catch up when I can. One show that has made me think about (albeit in different contexts) the themes raised in Manoleria is the beautiful and amazingly under-appreciated Friday Night Lights. Aside from the strange dip in season two (possibly because of the writers’ strike) I think FNL does a terrific job of highlighting the struggles of everyday Americans, everyday people. Like Springsteen, the show touches on everything and everyone — it covers how economic class is driving our country apart, investigates how bad political decisions are impacting our educational system, examines (daringly, by contemporary television standards) the role religion plays in social/personal decisions and actions, and shows people finding a way to survive in the face of obvious hardship and adversity.

 

While I hope Manoleria doesn’t read as a “family drama,” the themes I’m discussing in the collection are not unique to my poems. Friday Night Lights seems to have similar aims, just with pretty actors and a sexier drawl. If you haven’t seen it, it’s highly recommended.


I’m not sure if that’s the answer you’re looking for. Obviously the election of President Obama, the book The Dark Side by Jane Mayer, my move to Milwaukee, and other experiences/events/etc. have all altered the way I look at Manoleria — but isn’t it more fun to talk about television?


Daniel Khalastchi: First-Book Conversation (Re-printed)

We first published this conversation, on this blog, two years ago this week. What I find most interesting in re-reading the conversation this week is the fact that many of the concerns Danny expresses in the past tense in his wonderful public letter are posited in the present tense in these answers. I’m grateful for both. — AS



TH: How has having a first book out changed how you think about your writing?


DK: I used to think (when I was young, silly, naive, etc.) that having a book out would mean finally getting that Bentley I always wanted and having jobs thrown at me left and right. Yet, to be more serious for a second, I think I actually thought it would give me the chance to really explore poetry in ways any writer who hasn’t gotten their foot in the door may not feel able to.  But in truth, it’s made me more nervous about both the act of writing itself and my personal connection to the global megaphone. I find myself asking more frequently now, “what do I want to say/why would anyone care to listen to me/how come I suddenly have all these gray hairs?”


Writing has become more stressful, but I’m not sure I would change that.  Once Manoleria entered the world, I realized I had to stand behind it, and I had to keep moving. It’s easy to write a bad Danny Khalastchi poem. It’s been more difficult to write somewhat-bad-but-also-somewhat-interesting/possibly-good Danny Khalastchi poems since the book was released, and that’s what I’ve taken away most from the experience.  I don’t want (as a writer/artist) to ever be complacent. I’m proud of Manoleria, but I also know nothing is guaranteed.  Like many other poets with a book, I have to dive right back into the “prize” system. I’m back to getting rejection letters and small notes of “we like this but we can’t take it,” etc.  Though it would be nice to be like some of my fiction writing colleagues (money, agents, cocktail parties with jokes about astronauts!), poetry is the real art. It lasts. Since Manoleria came out, I’m just trying to make more things that will continue to do just that.


TH: You seem to be a various and prolific writer. Is Manoleria a capsule of a specific time, or of a specific mood returned to in the midst of many other projects?


DK: It’s strange to admit this as often as I do, but the initial draft of Manoleria was written on my typewriter while I had a residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.  I had maybe a month left on the Cape, and I remember waking up every day with the weight of a brick-filled laundry basket pressing on my kidneys.  I was anxious and afraid that the time I had that winter/spring would (possibly) be the only time in my entire life where someone afforded me the opportunity to do nothing but write.  I read and wrote a lot that year, but everything seemed stale and young and (for lack of a better word) repetitive.


While my own writing was lying flat and shaved in my mind, the news from around the world was doing just the opposite to my body. A new election cycle was starting, we were in the middle of wars on multiple fronts, and information was coming in daily about torture and what these things truly (right word?) meant about being an “American.” Suddenly, I was energized. I wanted to try writing about these things, and I gave myself (possibly for the first time in my writing life) complete freedom to do so.


I had a painting by the artist Justin Richel over my desk, and I wrote every morning and afternoon poems that I didn’t really look at for three months. When I finally did go back and see what had come out of that specific time in my life, Manoleria was there. All packed up. All ready to go. I’ve worked on many projects prior and since completing that collection, but the actual writing of Manoleria was as uninterrupted and focused as I’m likely to ever get.


TH: How do you see your work in what’s happening now in poetry? Are there other first books out there that you feel like yours is friends with?


DK: The closer you read and pay attention to the “aesthetics” of a given press or “school” in contemporary poetry, the more you can become frustrated with what appears to be complete and utter writing towards the middle.  There is a lot of slapstick poetry in the world today, and that’s not something that really gets me excited.  Having said that, there are many first books that I would hope Manoleria could friend-request on Facebook and get a kind acceptance.  I’m thinking here of Arda Collins’ It Is Daylight, Shane McCrae’s Mule, Srikanth Reddy’s Facts for Visitors, Sabrina Orah Mark’s The Babies, Jericho Brown’s Please, and Nick Demske’s Nick Demske (a book that I’ll argue from the top of any building you put me on is not reckless humor—that book, and author, have serious heart).


I also think here of the work of Dora Malech, Caryl Pagel, Marc Rahe, Suzanne Buffam, and Robyn Schiff whose books/chapbooks/and individual poems continually inspire me and my writing every time I think/read/head to the typewriter.


TH: What poems or lines from your book feel the “youngest” to you, like they most show your development (though you remain fond of them)? Why/how?


DK: Juvenilia shines brightest when you least expect it to, and it keeps humming and glowing no matter what you try to do to eradicate it.  There is part of me that wants to answer this question by simply saying now, today, the entire book feels “young” to me. But I have a flair for being dramatic. To pick a single line or poem from Manoleria to illustrate this shockingly youthful ignorance may be hard, but I can do it. For instance, “Audible Retraction” is a poem I appreciate for its detail/drive toward the disturbing, but the last two lines (the rhyme of “flesh in my teeth and screw in/whatever’s in reach”) seem forced and heavy. Like I was more excited about the sounds than the image. In fact, I’ve never read that poem in public for that very reason.


I have other examples of where I believe I missed the mark in Manoleria, but in the end I think it’s okay that some words/phrases/poems/sections/structures feel young. It’s my first book. Maybe my only book. It’s a collection of poems from a specific time in my life and the world, and it reads (for better or worse)—I hope—like a documentation of that era.


THERMOS 4: Daniel Khalastchi, “Send Weight”

When I read “Send Weight” for the first time five years ago, I felt that I had never read anything quite like it. I still feel that way today. I’ll write about why elsewhere, but essentially, it has this effect: it makes me feel quiet. For that reason and others, it’s one of my favorite sequences, one of my favorite poems. When we published it in our fourth issue, we selected 2/3 of the poems, leaving the other 1/3 out for spatial reasons. I’m happy now to finally have the chance to publish “Send Weight” in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it — AS



The Commission:


Standing on the edge
of his neighbor’s cattled yard,
Reza Kholoff
has made the decision
to purchase a jacket. Soon,
when the day breaks
down in beat
high yellow, he will leave his litter,
head into town,
and retrieve the first full cover
the first salesman shows
him, without first looking
at the price. The cloth set
on body must hold
together, but there is little
other mandate.
On the frontage gravel road
pulling long behind his pasture,
the sister of an old school-
mate drives past,
kicking rocks back at the
bovine, tapping her palm
against the door panel
to the beat of left music.
With the windows down,
the cab of the pick-up must
be incredibly dusty. Her
head is sewn against the
seat rest. She is not coughing.



No Pretend: (Walking Suite — Morning)


Stretched long, the cover
up over is tallied with white
ticks of lynched
columns, pushing
against their middle
as spleened banks along
a river, waiting to give back
the bend. Many large
paces ahead of him, Reza’s
Nissan is fallen,
surrounded by a steep
of Dutch rabbits and
Maine Coon that must
belong to one of the
other cats still behind
him in the shade by
the feeders. Closer
to the handle, like lines
hip the rocker panels,
cleeting attention
as he steps nearer
the beast. Able reach
to under-cup,
the door latch plays
against rolled bails off-set
by leveled framing. When he shoots
the gas to draw up the cylinders,
everything stays still
on the dash. The windshield loads
blue tint to heavy
clear the day pulled out. Reza doesn’t
turn his head while reversing
from the drive. He uses his mirrors,
maintains a cushion of safety.



Trouble If: (Clear Out)


Left limp
wrist held over
the steering yoke,
Reza birds his thumb
against the shift
column, allowing
the right lower digits
to kibble for a
station. Between commercials,
there is pitched rent
of female melisma running
into failed signal
as he bows the leg
of a cross bridge. School
buses pass
single file nearer the shoulder,
making way, Reza imagines,
to a toothbrush
factory in the district
so the kids
can watch hot plastic
fastened to cut bristles
before packaging. A boy in
the last bus is making
faces and hand gestures
through the clear out
emergency exit but
his classmates aren’t
watching. The lanes around them
fold 200 yards before a set of train
tracks laying west
and east as an underused
option. When the procession
slows, the doors of the
first bus open
into open growth. Song castles split
latched gates inside the carriage. This will
happen two more times.



It’s Not That: (Power 107.9)


A mamma bird leans in her nest to feed
some all her babies. In chewing first the find
of worms, she makes less work their throats and needs
not keep survival fear for now on mind.
When one or two or three or all her rows
hold back their begging, mamma bird will rent a condo
or chest-take shots from a pellet gun. Below
the gutter of houses around her, baths swallow
cement hands still shown
to be a cleanser. Peanut butter suet
cages press against loose siding blown
down during storms last spring. As she knew it
then, mamma bird knows now provision has limits.
This close, the panic is screaming: the limit the limit the limit.



Ooh-Ooh:


Shocks don’t stop
the rumble of axels
and motor-fill as
Reza crosses the
crossing. Having
allowed more space
between himself
and the busses that
passed him, the sounds
of rubber, of
pulled com-press
lowed above laid asphalt,
teakettle through
the door gaps and gutter-
buck the cabin space to which
the children are no longer
facing. From the air
letting in the vents,
the weather appears
to have stayed considerate.
This has happened
before: warmer days
cut between the snowfall;
screens set back in place
of storm panes, left facing
painted wood for seven
more
weeks. The tricks
small animals do aren’t really
that impressive. Reza is
sitting. Shaking. Playing
with the skin under
his index finger knowing
he needs a coat. There is
a turning lane ahead that has
only recently been painted.
A man in the shoulder.
Chasing.



Ain’t A Crook: (Back Right)


A man in chase of two loose horses is wishing he’d fixed his gate. He is nervous, knees chest-high as he makes through the stalk-crush, holding his dungarees at the thigh, keeping the hemline out from under his work boots. Because the road weeds wide around his land, the passing reflection of Reza’s Nissan sets-flat an allowance of wreck-headed tree fall. Through the back right window, Reza can see the Hackneys eating, shoulders bedded in the sheets of their own skin, knowing they’ve upset their owner. From the withers, the horses are 13, maybe 16 hands against the north. From the car seat, the roads around continue; land spent out in the frame of molded glass and defrost lines; flat trunk, long stage, farmer enters with harness.



Ice Pick Your Neck: (Back Left)


Nearing the fruit
of a bloom-metal city,
a police officer has stopped
to help a small lady
up jack her Taurus. He
is black, laid under, eyes
focused on the lift placement
so as not to loose
the rocker panel, sweating
through his Kevlar
gun belt just
hugging off
the road. To passers by, the woman
is embarrassed
or nervous
or late to a movie
she hadn’t ever cared
to see. Because they are
studied on the right
shoulder, drivers are expected
to show courtesy by drifting
more defiantly
into another lane, no
outs available. The cruiser’s
lights are not rolling but
something kings the back
left window as Reza checks his
spots, well timing the steering
wheel. In the ditches, men
with pokes and trash
bags reflect
the wild, wearing DOT vests
and visors. If he looked
into the right side
mirror, it would seem
the pressed car was changing
the officer. On this side,
however, the cattails look planted,
hailed beige in long
mowed lake. One
hundred yards from now
Reza will decide which lane to
stay in. One hundred yards
after that, he’ll still be
out of luck.



Body Calling:


When there is space and time,
Reza pulls into the break
of a long divided highway
and places his hands on the wheel:
right low, palm up; left high,
not holding; preparing to turn left
over left over leftover animal cover
retained in the asphalt,
bringing himself
into position to see
great strapped metal
pointing loud against
the tree line. This close
to the city, more cars
and more people
have less patience
to swallow movement.
Auxiliary sewer piping
lines the highway be-
coming in two
blocks a boulevard. When the car
crests the road’s rise, signs
will show the traffic
other people are also known
to visit. There is no
reason to feel bad about
shopping: big volume
used car lots, a family D.O.,
frame shops, paper warehouse,
Blain’s Farm and Fleet
feel-patched against
the border of its own letters leaning to
children in the lots nearer
the cemetery. Within the next seven
years, brick walls
six feet in height
will line the beds around him
to keep out the growing noise. Smaller
stones are used for walkways. They are on
sale, the radio says, along with
bug candles and ginger ale, through
the after coming holidays. Reza remembers
from school the feeling of gaps
between the NM
of a typewriter. Maybe
there will be time tomorrow.



Concealed By Weight: (Talk City 98.3)


If you look close into
the mirror behind your
door or above your bathroom


sink, you are likely to see one of four
things: a terrible outline
where your hair cut used to taper; a store-


age of patterned cotton signed
in stitches by a famous designer who
may or may not be anti-Semitic; bird feet by


the eye corners; a length of breadth too
large when compared proportionately
to how small your wallet proves


to be, embezzled between two roughly
stitched leaves of denim
below a slug of branded leather Levi’s


uses for product recognition and size keep. In-
between the lower half of the upper case
E and the middle dent of the lower case X pinned

to the chests of FedEx workers and blazed
against the sides of their trucks around the city,
there is an arrow. At our store, we sell shirts that say


suggestive things so common audience won’t leave
their eyes on body. Farm and Fleet. We have your size and style.
Come get it.



Cook It/Cut It:


Turning low
the volume
of his Radio,
Reza steers down
the knob with
his right thumb,
and moves his hand
back to his thigh.
Focused now on avoiding
congestion, he has held
so long in the left
lane that there is strong possibility
he will not make the change
in time enough to enter
the store’s parking entrance
three blocks away. Between
his current location
and the business he is trying
to do business with,
there is a traffic light
at every intersection. The poor
planning of this design was said
to keep a flow of product,
but over the years the timing
has fallen off. Many people
find themselves every block
moving only small measure
before being signaled to rest
again. Reza is stopped. He needs to
get over
within the next few seconds and he knows
the Explorer on his left
is trying its best
to let that happen. At the cross streets
of King and Addison Avenue,
Reza rolls down his window
and lets the smoke from the Irish
bar on his right slip
into his nostrils.
When the light turns green, the
Explorer puts on its left directional,
stalling progress long enough
for Reza’s Nissan to cut
its losses. After another light,
Reza puts on a directional
of his own. There are no cars in
the Farm and Fleet’s lot; the employees are waiting
outside on smoke breaks and there is no
suggestion of fire sale. Putting the car
in park, the engine ticks low like lost men
looking for their wives. Through the reflection of
show windows, the mannequins seem
dressed in his windshield.



Fuck Your Money:


The agenda for the evening didn’t account for all that
drinking. I had been working. Was tired from the night before
when I had also been working on telling work I didn’t want to
work for them anymore and I needed some kind of
leverage. Elise called. Whined about her mother and how I was
never home to help her explain how into each other we were and
that I wasn’t, get this, a waste of her good years. I mean,
Christ. She works at a frame shop. Selling pre-matted pictures of
landscapes to older men who say my wife would have really
loved this but she’s dead. Can I get your number?
Selling
overalls isn’t much better, but at least I get a lunch break.
Anyways, I was needing. I called John and he was going to this
girl Meghan’s house who liked one of us in high school. Her
sister was having a party. They were young; too young for me
not to want to go; old enough for me not to feel bad about it. We,
John and I, bought four 40oz a piece and I was landed
by the time we go there. I remember the music being terrible.
Kids shouting things, their free hands pushing down the air
above them while they groped whatever belt they could agree to
see in front. Next to the stereo there was a CD wallet. I wanted
to teach all of us a lesson. I took the music. Held it all above my
body and ran through the swell to a roof I remember climbing off
of years earlier which I don’t think I ever told John about.
I stood on the roof threatening to throw out the music, let it
plummet to the under-let, but nobody cared. I ended up keeping
the wallet, leaving the party and the satellite dish I had been
supported by alone. When I woke up, I remembered my cell
phone had fallen by the gutter and my service provider says it
will be 75 dollars to re-set my contract. It was a bad night and
my head hurts. I’m sorry sir, did you need help with something?



Lean With It:


Reza smiles lightly
and pulls out
the two-piece glass
door as instructed
by the three by seven
black and off
black sticker
posted just above the pole-
handle, stepping
into the warehouse show-
room. To his immediate
front, there is one cashier
island padded with bruise
blue carpet so the four
tenders it rests beneath
will have less occasion
to stiff their backs. Reza
was followed into the building
by most of its workers and
he hears them
spread the floor. The garments
around him smell of tone
deaf truckers and time
release air freshener. In the back
left corner of the building
there is a neon sign reading
Boots and Shoes showing
too far under what Reza came
to leave with. A young
boy folding jeans by
the entrance receives a call
on what he makes clear
is not his cell phone. Shooting his sleeves,
Reza asks where he can find
some cover. The boy puts his right hand over
the speaker and up-nods in the direction
of Commercial Services. Moving west
and right, Reza sees the arms
of many jackets layered out
against their neighbors
like duck-denier cotton flags
on the masts of stale rafts. Reza pulls
his wallet to the front watch
pocket of his jeans. A voice from
an office in the back yells
Bernadette while horns fill space
around its harmony. Across his chest
Reza measures 38 inches. From his shoulders
he looks too small for his body.



Eight Words:


Storm cuffs and shot
product information feel out
to wasted aisles like pushed
pavement at strip
malls throwing up to slow
for children. The day
has been found
tired; shadows at
the store entrance
lean longer than expected
while a man in tough
jeans nearing the rested garments
is heard with his supervisor
from an Earth Moving
company telling high
his plans for dinner. Reza’s plan
is dining. He is standing,
watered at the forehead,
thumbing size rings
over pony racks
hoping somehow there’s an
order. From his left,
Reza feels the struggle
not to want to be alone. A woman
with short hair and belly
stuffing steps into his
arena, tapping lookly at
her thigh.
    There are others in the back if you can’t find your want.
    I am too skinny.
    We could always measure.
    It won’t send weight.
    Rest now.
Reza nods, drops
his right foot one step
nearer his attendant and about
faces his back to
the foreground. The drill
is simple: stand cut,
span, cock elbow mid swing
to square your body’s
reading,    wait. Reza feels the tape of numbers
start at the center
of his back, between the shoulder
blades, and follow his arm track
to the wrist. Said lady
pulls three coats to
a clearing, one full away
from hanger.
    Do you like to fit a sweatshirt?
    It’s almost summer.
    This is a good place to start.
    I’ll take it.



Ski Mask: (outsource)


Handling himself
the gather of resource, Reza
shuts his mouth
over the curl of right
index, biting in time
as he sweeps back
his feet. Right foot
one step. Wait: light
drops from above where
new ballast has been
placed. Left foot
one step: slide to-
gether. He holds. Small
turn. Walking. Right
foot one step: Reza bites
harder at his finger. Left foot
one step: Red Wing-
ed Black Bird flies
into store front window.
Right foot
leaves ground, left foot
follows: stockboy watches
bird struggle at neck. Right
foot, left
foot, weight shift, wait,
turn right,
left space, leave space,
step slow, good gait,
leave space,
good gait, right foot,
left foot: cashier moves
to off the radio. Remote
access. Speakers blank
eek. Right foot
worries the base
of the counter. Left
foot. Reza bends wrist.
Hears talk of animal
control. Left
watch pocket. Right
card. Left
arm leaves jacket
for bag.



Call 1:


Stepping back
nearer the car, light
cloud cover moves
low around the setting,
laying wide
the resin of horizon. Diners
alive in the city. Traffic
along the Avenue has
called back to one
lane, and Reza has opened
his options: key,
fire, hummm. …ebanon
again today as Israeli officials
insists she has a right
to defend herself.
Shhhh. Reza
shuffles his wrist against the
tour of the radio,
piles down the voice’s
reach out. He checks
his mirrors. Straights
his hand along the shoulder
curve of the front passenger
chair, and reaches across
his person to down shift
his fevered recession. It is quiet
in the cab and the buildings
stay still. As he rolls away
his sleeve length, Reza huddles
his head on the window. Colors
change in metal boxes
strung the width of lonely
service. Back now
to sitting in wait; birds resting
on the phone lines; phone lines resting
in the bury of bone black birds.



Call 2:


Left limp
wrist held over
the steering yoke,
Reza birds his thumb
against the shift
column and digs
at the plastic cap. Between commercials,
there is music again
on the radio; raised rent;
mamma I’m low; someone’s
coming up the driveway quick
get in the closet.
Running
into failed signal as he lifts
back the leg of a cross
bridge, Reza sees flies
fire light-dark
along his either. The sea
of static swells. Leads eyes
to shelled clusters of
tracheal end cells
pulling through
bean fields while the road
breaks way
from the city. Gray lanes around him
splay 200 yards wide
after a set of train tracks
netted east
and west down plays
his carried cage. Reza eyes again
the longing ahead. Engages
the headlamps. Lets off
the pedal and
    brakes he rolls the basin.



Nose Bone: (Station Identification)


One light waiting
in a room where
someone’s left him
dinner reads hot
the shot night of wide
open. There is nothing else
to do now but guide
the Nissan to bed
pan. To shift the shift
column low, pull back
the long brake
playing straight the straight
console, and ease
the door out/back. Back
on his ground Reza feels
for his buckle, his zipper,
his knees. Pants come on
to the lid of his
engine; shirt it
falls to the brush. Reza reaches
back. It is cold
when he touches again
the handle but his coat
is supposed to be warm. Light
outs the framed shadow
of house on land. Swallows
the body flat. No music. Reza listens
his wheeze in the night. Bowls
arms though new cover. Walks singing
his feet to the earth.


Public Letter: Daniel Khalastchi

Dear Reader:


I.


When I was 16, I was in an accident. My mother had given me the keys to the first brand-new car she’d ever bought—a two-toned, maroon and tan Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Explorer—and she waved as I reversed down the driveway, watching me pause at a stop sign near the end of our street to push a cassette tape into the in-dash player, hands swarming away from the steering wheel in an attempt to locate the volume control.



II.


When I was 16, I was in a band. Our name was Heatherwood—the same name of the street I was driving to that afternoon, the street where our drummer, Phil, lived with his cigarettes, his long hair, his empty basement that we furnished with macramé owls and other pieces of 70s kitsch paraphernalia that we bought at Goodwill one afternoon after we learned the word ambiance in our English class. There were amplifiers in Phil’s basement. Guitars. Small relief windows we covered with paper; a rust-colored pole that sent light electric pulses down through our All-Stars if we touched it while someone upstairs was watching the television. There was also a microphone hanging from the rafters, its dead-black cord snaking the length of the bare cement floor until it rose in a slow arc, connecting to the back of a battery-powered tape recorder.



III.


When I was 16, I had a plan. I was sad and unattractive and I had trouble reading. I didn’t do well in school, couldn’t stand in a crowd without breathing in fits, and I was experiencing increased myopia but refused to wear glasses. The world was to me unfocused, unconcerned with misdirection, and I had to meet a doctor twice a month to talk about my sleeping problem. During one of those sessions, a receptionist asked me why I never smiled. When I got home that night, I told my mother before dinner that I wanted a guitar and I promised to be happy.



IV.


When I was 16, my friend Sean—the singer in our band—stole $110 that was hidden inside a lamp in his parents’ living room so he could buy The Velvet Underground’s boxed set, Peel Slowly and See. We listened to those songs after school. In my bedroom. While we drove around the streets of our Midwestern suburban sprawl-scape. We listened on the weekends while our friends played sports. We listened at work. In the parking lot outside the Quick-Trip on High Street just west of downtown. We listened while we walked the sidewalked blocks surrounding Heatherwood, dressed like idiots, some of us with sideburns drenched in mascara so they would finally look full. We listened to those songs and we felt unsettled, and we stood in a circle and screamed out light.



V.


When I was 16, I learned to play three songs on the guitar: “Sweet Jane” and “Run Run Run” by The Velvet Underground, and a song by the band Cake from an album called Motorcade of Generosity. I practiced those songs whenever I could and wherever I shouldn’t. The first time I played them for my sister, she asked me who Jane was. The first time I played them on the floor of the Synagogue, the rabbi asked me if I was tall enough to take out his hearing aids without him having to bend over. The first time I played them in front of Phil—his left foot lightly throttling the pedal of his bass drum, his hands cracking rim shots as he fumbled for a beat—I got a menacing erection and buried myself for an hour upstairs in his bathroom with a hair-dryer.



VI.


When I was 16, I recorded my band playing The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” on grey Maxwell high-bias cassette tapes that I purchased with my mother at a membership warehouse store called PACE. In Phil’s basement, our amplifiers faced each other. The sound moved like weather, untuned and annoyingly significant. We repeated and repeated and repeated that song, the words a loose dialogue between our ignorant bodies and our spirited teenage angst: you know, children are the only ones who blush/ and life is just to die. Hours of this, recorded week after week, the song giving us something to say and those tapes proving we said it.



VII.


When I was 16, I wanted to be heard. The audience was small—a few friends in a basement—but at the time, it felt like a metropolis.



VIII.


When I was 16, I was in an accident. I had a tape of my band and I was dressed like an idiot and I was in a new car and that car was my mother’s and I was driving my friends and we were going downtown and I had the stereo blaring and I wanted more volume and it was us in the speakers there in October and the traffic was restless and I saw a yellow light and I entered an intersection and pointed to a billboard and looked down for the equalizer but I couldn’t find it and when I looked up we were hit by a semi.



IX.


When I was 16, I stood outside a gas station and called my father collect from a payphone to tell him that I was alive but he needed to pick me up. My mother’s car was compacted, the windows shattered out and sparkling like the aftermath of a perverse and frightening party. When my father arrived, I watched him smoke a cigarette for the first time in my life. My friends wanted tacos but we were driven straight home. I went in my room, found another tape worn hard in my walkman and pressed play.



X.


When I was 16, I wanted an outlet. I was anxious and naive and I fell asleep most nights giddy with a dark-hot irrational belief in possibility. Though it was always my first love, perhaps it’s no surprise that I stopped playing music. Band relationships became difficult to manage, I didn’t know how to find my way into the “industry,” and I never had much talent for writing a pop song. After high school and college I stopped gigging with bands in favor of spending more time alone in various apartments across the Midwest reading stories and poems and calling myself a writer. I was accepted to a masters program. I received a fellowship. I wrote a book, helped start a publishing company, became a professor, got a very stable job, became very single, panicked and wondered if it had all been a mistake. I stopped generating work I liked, and I stopped liking what I heard from others. The noise was too loud, so I went inside. I lived in that silence. I felt no release.



XI.


When I was 16, I was in an accident. Now, at 33, I try my best to avoid them. As a “professional” writer, I am depressively aware of the ways in which I am playing things safe. I am too concerned with how my writing is supposed to sound, and I think too much about who will actually read it. I spend large portions of my day devastated by contest results, worrying about which judges know which authors, preparing for rejection, and constantly reminding myself to get better at self promotion. I am thinking so frequently about jobs and popularity, am so paralyzed by the small but at times competitively toxic world associated with the art I’ve chosen to make such a large part of my life, that I rarely take the chance to simply drive head-on into the proverbial traffic of literature with the type of reckless energy I had when I was young. It seems now that I’m afraid of wreckage.



XII.


When I was 16, I knew that if I wanted to be heard I had to play the music—even if those willing to listen were just a small group of friends gathered in a basement. Though it certainly isn’t easy, for the last few years I’ve tried returning to this model. With my most recent manuscript—a collection of poems called Homewrecker—I forced myself to move away from such heavy consideration of what is currently trending in the world of contemporary poetry. My goal with this book was to write poems I wanted to read, and poems I was excited to share, and now some of these pieces will appear on this wonderful site. I am sincerely thankful to the editors of THERMOS (and to Andy Stallings specifically) for giving these new accidents a home. I am also thankful to you, reader, for taking a moment to listen to what music can be made in the crash.


Marc Rahe on Daniel Khalastchi

Today we begin a week-long feature of Daniel Khalastchi’s poetry at THERMOS. Marc Rahe introduces Danny below, and you can scroll down beyond this post to read four poems from Manoleria, his first full-length collection of poems, and from our first issue. — AS



AN INTRODUCTION TO DANNY KHALASTCHI


If Daniel Khalastchi’s poetry has entered your horizon, and you’ve found your way to THERMOS, I’m confident that you are one who does not need me to point out that Danny’s poems share thematic concerns with those of such and such, or that he has made formal choices similar to those of that other poet (in their later work). You’ll notice. Or not, and it won’t even matter. Danny’s poems are beautiful, intelligent, and moving. Your attention will be drawn.


What I thought could be more interesting is to write a few sentences about Danny as a kind of introduction. For instance, did you know his high school team was the Screamin’ Ceasuras? Not a fact. And that during season 1 of Battlestar Galactica he played the part of Starbuck’s awkwardly tight tank top? That’s only true in as far as the imaginary is true.


Of course, true imaginings are the fabric of Danny’s work. For example, these lines from “National Growth:” from his book Manoleria – a book largely inspired by daily listening to NPR’s Marketplace – in which the speaker reports his human condition,


            “…A/ row of haired carrot// tops sink straight through/my nipples. Their roots// grab
            for vessels/ for spine and I bite// my lip while they steady/ their hold. Somewhere a//
            radio plays soft/ news of a shooting. A couple// comes near holding/ drinks with umbrellas.
            I// feel such weight lay/ heavy my stomach. See red// heads of lettuce where/ I was told
            I have ovaries.”


Did you know the juice from those carrots contains more than 30% of the inflation and parasites needed in a daily diet? Plus, it gives you improved night vision. You know that’s not right. But you can hear the truth.


Another truth is that, as with Michael J. Fox, the secret to Danny’s success is that he’s living 25 hours a day. In addition to being a prolific writer, he’s also the Associate Director of the Frank N. Magid Undergraduate Writing Center (the new cross-discipline undergraduate writing program at the University of Iowa), a professor, a managing editor and co-founder of Rescue Press, a publisher of both earthwords and Ink Lit Mag, an executive board member of the James Gang (a nonprofit community building organization), and an instructor at both the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Iowa Young Writers Studio. But there’s no reason to read about Danny; you can read Danny, here in THERMOS and elsewhere. I imagine it will be to your liking.

THERMOS 1: Daniel Khalastchi

Daniel Khalastchi is one of the poets we started THERMOS to publish. His work has meant a lot to me over the past 6 years, as has his enthusiasm for our journal. When he sent these poems, it was the first I’d seen of the work that would make up his first book, Manoleria, which came out with Tupelo Press a couple years later. I was and remain amazed by the poems’s intensity, their strangeness. He insists they’re not nightmares. They populate mine when I read them, just as their stuttering rhythms take hold of my syntax for days. It’s powerful stuff, and we’re pleased to feature Khalastchi’s work throughout this week. — AS




Manoleria:


I am in a boat.   I am wearing a
red life jacket, goggles, a neck-
lace of worms.     Most are dead
but one   pulls at my beard line.
As  we  move  out  to  sea,  I  am
handed  a  box  of  small  crack-
ers.     My ankles are hooked to
lead weights with sturdy linked
chains, and my feet are piled in
quick  drying  cement.   The  air
feels  weak on my  fresh shaven
back. Handing me a nose-plug,
they  tie  my  wrists  to  the  port
bow  with  hair.          My  mouth
is taped over and I make to shut
my  eyes.       Before  I’m  thrown
to  the  water,     I’m  given   two
holes   in  my  windpipe;   asked
to   stay  up  as   long  as  I   can.



Went We.     Inside.     My Colon A Tree:  (Diagnosis)


Went we.   Inside.   My       colon a tree.   Broom heavy with         light.
With     heavy cut     leaves left.   Standing             the spill of. My le-
vee.   My                 leaving.   My find young             ulcers. Tall kick-
ing             in.   Skirts.   Legs     white.     High       stockings stored.   Up   low
were my.   Enzymes.   And you.       Curtained the colon.   Red     salad your.
Shoulder.   So long.   So     roll.   So     still we waited I   was dis.   Eased
clean.   Under my sternum.     Here         was the.   Mandarin.       Orange
deep water breath     here.     Was the steady fed.     Crate where they   saw
through the     inside of     this.   Hot future to get     it.   Out.   Get it out.
Get.     It.     Out.



Set Rough Your.     Hold My.     Ribs Stayed Calm:  (Surgery)


Set rough your.     Hold my.     Ribs stayed         calm.     In.       Open cream
the.       Bandage ready the.     Damp     crane.     Of your.   Neck.       watched
me.   Wash.       Down the         water. With rocks my       stomach. Treading
my.       Stomach walls   settled then         you were.     Here       by me     we.
Counted to       the.   Threes of. Our       knowledge. One. ce you cracked.
The blood was still.       Talking the lines of its.   Measure I.   Heard you fall
to   my.   Body was music.



Manoleria:


My left  wrist is tied to a bumper.
My  right,  to  a   horse  drinking
water.   The car and the   animal
face opposite directions.    There
are two women with flags raised
high  in  the  night.    The engine
revs  and  the  horse  is  mounted
by  a  jockey.       Counting  down
from  ten,  the  girls  heavy  their
breath.   The    moon   is   hidden
by  lights from a city.    When we
start to pull away,   even I am ex-
cited.