Posts Tagged ‘Las Escalaras’

THERMOS 6: Cassie Donish

Las Escaleras, Oaxaca” led off our spring 2011 issue, my favorite issue of all. It’s representative of the poetry Cassie has written in the past decade — an extended sequence, concerned with place and people. Soon after writing this poem, Cassie went into a program in Human Geographies. We’ll publish some new poems tomorrow. — AS

Las Escaleras, Oaxaca

the play is called “dance of the indigenous stairs”

the plot involves a native species of maize
            as an emblem star)

it grows out of staircases, or soil where
stairs used to be

I stomped all day on ruins, the sun burned just my shoulders
two roses bloomed

the tall, wide stairs climbed up and up
till their ear-of-corn legs ached


you opened up

the upstairs, all around us again
the smell of herbs, all around us were vases
of black clay, barro negro and a repeated

line: I’m off course, of course

for one thousand years, or far
more, how women would bring gray rounded pots
to the river

they’d carry them between head and shoulder
back to the mountains white with little white

blossoms and back
to everywhere


the characters are totally obsessed
with whatever play they’re in

from across the field, say, one screams
this play is called dance of the indigenous stairs!

it’s frightening to know the many-acre field
is a small bandstand

where who you are is simply being performed

you’re surrounded by a plaza and trees you can’t see
or you face an audience, people dressed up and disturbed
in the darkness, in their anonymity

or you’re center stage, facing away, they’re behind you

how are you to know, this could even be an opera
and you don’t know you’re singing—

all you see: a field, and someone else across it
and you call


in the basement of the building
a man asked if he could kiss her stomach

she said okay and lifted her shirt a little
her back against an out-of-tune organ
she watched him kneel

meanwhile, up the stairs and out the door
                  in the plaza:

thorns on the trunks of pochote trees
ladle moon on a slanted roof
outdoor theaters projecting films
in inadequate dark—

                  the streetlight thrown from over the wall—the branches’
shadows cast on the screen—the thought
of what lay before us

it’s done before we have the time to ask
but there’s a place we’ve now been second-hand

                                and through a space of years a brass band played

in the street as we
were passing by

we stopped to listen, we went beyond
to the false pepper trees


to recommend a film
repeat a word: gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous

how about a romantic lunch?
one of us was cold
I gave him a scarf or I gained a scarf

we wrote verse about the shore, as if the state we’re in
has two coasts, we wrote twice
the state we’re in

black vases lined up in rows, they can’t hold
water because they’re not totally sealed, there’d be some filtration

but they can hold dry herb branches
hierba santa, cilantro, epazote


the method was discovered by dona rosa

fire the pots for only nine or ten hours
instead of the traditional thirteen or fourteen needed
to seal the clay

then with clear quartz burnish them

it was a windy day
my skirt kept flying up

we started saying the owls on the walls
to mean we felt watched

the man didn’t use a pottery wheel, but two clay plates
and the tone made by tapping a pot with a stick
depended on the amount of time in the kiln

the glossy black ones made a shallow sound
without resonance or richness, and they couldn’t

hold water of course, the designs have holes
so you won’t forget

but the people come and pay

in the van I slept
I dreamt of flor de calabaza
I dreamt of epazote

we arrived at the buffet


a story such that
you (the character) open your eyes and realize your eyes
are still closed

floating in a black philosophy

a small plain shell opened up to show a vast blank interior—

though you still have the capacity to see
the man using various tools to shape
                                                                the pot before the crowd

piece of cow hide
reed from the river
a gourd, a stone

started wondering if the capacity to make art
originated in a random variation
a glitch that was spark, a strange way of
                                                            selectively focusing

for instance not filtering out all stimuli unnecessary
for physical survival

what is “just an organism”


ear of corn, cereal that is a spike

“but what’s an inflorescence? the flower cluster

                the arrangement of flowers on the flowering
                axis of the plant”

they say without maize
there is no song
whatever’s growing
is growing for a reason

we walked beneath the nispero trees
at the fruit, spit out the seeds

we passed back and forth as if flame trees
and little cafes burned two o’clock signs

it was a windy day
unripe walnuts blew down off the tree

whatever’s growing
is growing, for some reason
on the cement walkway

green shells crushed underfoot


the dull gray pots were also used
to carry mezcal or milk
and if you tap them the sound
fulfills richly

I found a bell made from barro negro

you’ll ring it for the dogs
you’ll say lines that are either already in the script
or that will be after you say them

and I miss the organized outline
                                the profile I once recognized offhand
I wanted you there called out between the lines
as if a parade could force

we’re off course
outside the city, weeds grow in the maize
they’re messengers, they carry the most
important information while we’re busy
destroying everything in
the garden we’re busy not seeing in


each day I meet the last living speaker of a native language

we interact on the bandstand and then step down
for intermission

gorgeous weeds in her hair


at midnight all the church bells tolled

under the tops of fireworks, I heard

your words a crowded river in the dark

street dogs started barking

                at stars white with steam


the cement gleams as we step through it
as if on our way toward something unlocatable

the dialogue becomes a call and response—

will or would or had
“a freeze frame waterfall”

a dance that ends where it began
a corn maze, and many ways to say the night
will soon be over / will
not end

“a long-night plant”

                and ways to say you’ll find

yourself here once again

an old woman’s tamale stand, the smell
of masa rising, the music droned on all night, a wind
was up again

the idea that anything can be a flight of stairs—
that anything should be

there’s a wall of sweet corn growing I couldn’t
see anything

the voices keep calling in the field
out of the dark toward the dark