Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’

Isabel Balee: from “Extrications”

I’m glad to have an opportunity today to present some new poetry by Isabel Balee, a New Orleans native who studies at Brown University. Things I associate with Isabel, aside from poetry: great sunglasses, excellent music. — AS



from Extrications


Exhume the fool they make
of their bone-space.


Unsuffering liars.


Mistakes of freedom.


Contours of the night
so pretty that a boy tap dances
to that music again: the intrusion
of hallelujah snowflakes


dissolving wet streets        O wonderful


holy book of your faces


of my faces


of slippery flakes



***



Deliver me from the afternoon
throwing gravel at my faces
they don’t happen to change
so much yet and will be
remembered differently later
when I am another person
opening my fingers
to hold a pair of binoculars and look,
look at all the people.



***



Is that you at the gate
of moving silver
withdrawn from this believing
to be true—it doesn’t matter
that we are explanations
inhabiting bodies, beams
will bottom out
their lights, he said,
coming off his horse.



***



Exhume the moment from tiny florets
bending rain              and all
blue behavior of mudbricks.


Down, windows.


The sad story.
The saddest truth ignored.



***



So long stranger
parting rhapsodies.
Take my job. Take my dress.
Hand me my idiot
and remove my ghost.



***



Deliver me the clock tower
in all its parts
I want to touch its fist
sticking out and armed
in the immensity of night
of snow’s talent for disappearing over
rooftops by the skin of the moon
for miles and miles              disappearing


Advertisements

Nik De Dominic: From Henry Sturgis’ Essay “The Iron Spine” from Old Adventures of the West

The following is a poem by Nik De Dominic made via a process of erasure on the text named in the title. It is published here for the first time. Nik provided this statement on the project:


“I xeroxed pages out of a book my mother had sent me that had a pretty cover, yellow and green. I’d had it for years and had never looked at it. I hadn’t written for awhile and thought I would try my hand at an exercise I often work through with students, manipulating a found text, to generate, to get me out of my own head and tics and language and habits and techniques and the things that were probably causing the block in the first place, the me. I eliminated phrases, redacting away with a black chisel tip marks-a-lot . I felt like a spy. Or rather a person who redacts things for spies. It felt good. When I was finished I sent it to my friend Andrew Wessels and told him I’d made an erasure. I wanted his approval. Andrew is much smarter than I am. When he read it, he wrote back, “This isn’t an erasure.” I could imagine him shaking his head and judging me. I asked why not. He said, “erasures (that at least seem to work best to me) are works that find an otherness in the text, an unintended result of the problems of circumscription in the derridean and/or de manian meaning of that. difference/difference/etc. i think reddy (either written somewhere or just in conversation) has mentioned it as a ghostly voice within the text..you are finding your own story/poem there. the original text as generative for your own purposes. this poem feels like a nik de dominic poem/story.” I said, but Andrew, but I erased shit.”



From Henry Sturgis’ Essay “The Iron Spine” from Old Adventures of the West



          the raw afternoon
                                                                                                            dedicated



both oceans


                                    Before




                                                      a bystander


                  shouted






                                                                                                            hush





                                    the hissing
                                                      at the junction point






                                                                                                                                                the
    “Dot, dot, dot.”


                                                                                          aswarm from headlight to cab



                  discreet
    now truly – physical –






                                                                                                            driven home.)



                                                                                                                              wrangling
          each other’s pockets



                                                      and laying         under


them foolish. Nevertheless,


                                                      drawn
aside



                                                      and lumbering along




                  Good Hope.
                                                                                                           glowing
                                                                                         in the lush




                                    urge











                                    :a wagon            halts



                                                                                                                              the well-connected
















										

                                                                                                                                                                  parched
right-of-way














                                                      Iron                  one         fate would scorn





                                                                              The job called for
                                                                        Judah.


                                                                                                                                                                  recalled years
later


                                                                        ,


								

I’m going to have         to do     it.






                                                                                                            probed deeper
                                                                                          the magic
                  tried to convince those who would listen



                                                                                                                                                as     harmless if tire-


some






now preoccupied



                                                                        he handed in


the mountains

			


										      

                                                                                                                                                                        an old
wagon




and the Nevada flats beyond. That was it—
                                                                        for tunnel hogs and blasting crews.




Judah charged back                                                                         to his headquarters at
the drugstore.





                                                                                                                                                Judah went chumming
for bigger fish.
                                                                                          a number of fruitless meeting



                                                                                                                                                among them were








                                                                        a manipulator, a money raiser




		


                                                      a railroad to the Missouri.




                                    Judah told his wife







                                                                                                            “It’s about time





	


                                                                        in the construction of this road.”
                  a distinct asset:




	

                                                                                          the most wild-eyed






elephant.                                                       we can harness                                     up.
              What Judah did not know was







                  arm twisting




                                                                                                                                                                  Judah was






                                                                                                                                                                  alluvial soil







The cronies were                                                                         an eye



                                                                        later estimated





                                                                                                                              a number




                  Judah                   boarded a steamer for the East,






                                    he died.




the widow.                       got on with     heir business


                                                                        a





                  prime mover.












                                    ,                       (seated, third from left) .



                  schemes afoot. For Instance,













                                                                                                                                                                  hard-handed
men in the field.













You are about to build                                                       a country that has
neither law nor order.








                                                                        he was ordered to
pacify some of the more troublesome
troops of horses.



                                                                                          “Nobody knows where he is but everybody
knows where he has been.”




                                                                                                                                                                  The
railroads could                       issue








                                                                        the Missouri River
The Lord           so constructed



                                                                                                            fit to belong
to the profession.” There were, however, two major hazards: distance and Indians.














                                                                                          “Away she goes!” Then,         the
                  rail boomed




                                                                                                                                                the spikers and clamp-
ers                                                                                                                                           carried iron rods,
steel bars, cable, rope, switchstands,



				

                                                                                                                              A reporter from
the                   Deseret
                  the flatcars;




























Some                                                                                                             work                   in the High






So efficient



                                                                        one mile of




                  frantic race


                                                                                                                                                                  to their
considerable joy
                                    gamblers, peddlers, and prostitutes, all eager




                                                                        progress,
                                                                                                                                                  the pleasure-mon-
gers



					

                                                                                                                                                “Watchfires gleam
                  sea-like
                                    “while inside soliders
                                    are


                                                                                                                              a fellow creature












Sierras.                                                                         the terrible                                                       everyone.


	

                                                                        in daylight unwhipped




                  In                   daylight                                                       gliding through


                                                                                                            slung to                         waist.”

		


										

                                                                                                                                                                  passing out
riffles                                                                                           his toughest ironmen, walked slowly
through town one summer night.





there in the graveyard





Several small advance parties of
                                                                                                                                                                  the
trapped                                                                         in the flaming
Occasionally



                                                                                                            an iron horse alive

											

                                                                                                                                                                                    in-
fused with magic
                                                                                                                                                                  a
medicine rope                                                                                                                                       swept under
the wheels









											

                                                                                                                                                                                    with
little or no damage


                  the work of road                                                                                           the work of
                  making







	


                                                                                          the ink
The fact

											

                                                                                                                                                                                    of
                                                                                                                                                the                   good


                                                                                          The securities






                  The kited profits













                                                                                          The referee











									




changes my line I’ll quit the road







                                                                                                                                                                  the road





                                                      We all want                   to say with the road.




										

                                                                                                                                                                  there was
                                                                        the line


                                    no trouble at all –
                                                      passes to ride                                                       and
hitchhike









                                                      the assault
                                    modestly










                                    Roaring                                                                                                                             cease-
lessly, bragging, bullying



                                                                                                                                                                                    the
summit passes


                                                                                                            Flat on his back



                                                                                                                              shouting profane





of



                                                                        scheme, and the remaining


























                                    (standing under bird cage) settled the quarrel between
                  evening                                                             s
water, boiled











                                                                        sheer                                     rock                   miles from the
                                                      wove baskets of reeds





                                                                                                                                                while the nitro blew.
                                                                                          steam
                                                                                                                                                burrowed
through




                  the fall



                                                      hitched                         to




                  the
                  death in canyon bottoms:







                                                                                          The                   ordeal was over.





                                                      the                               boys spurred ahead.












              When they came     rivers or ravines,





                                                                                          Snow and even                   river ice
                                    laid rail                                                       so narrow
in the water










                  to carve parallel                   within sight of each other.




										

                                                                                                                                                                                    that
                                                                        of the nonsense












                  on a junction point









                  from sunup to sundown                                                                         for
ten miles and two hundred feet.





                                    it began to rain



                  the mud to champagne
                                                                                                                                                The track hands
                                                                        drunk                                                                         ramshackle





                                                                                                            rails met








                                                                        What was it the engines said,





	

                                                                                                                                    this was one hell of a way to
build a railroad.


THERMOS 6: Nik De Dominic

Nik De Dominic teaches in Orleans Parish Prison and in the Bard Early College New Orleans program. He’s an editor at The Offending Adam and New Orleans Review, and my favorite poet living and publishing in New Orleans today. — AS



Ataxia


We wait at the toll behind a train
of cars along the side of the highway


a work truck pulled over a man
stands in an empty field high


grass to his knees he stares
up at a billboard its planks


of plywood weathered curl
base and top to center


here we they meet



from here
I can only see the river how we cross


how it snakes through the city
an empty field:



*



here is the line the beauty
in its crossing


sound across the bay         holy roses
wrapped up in burlap bed sheets


the image an icon
your name on it don’t leave


California license plate key chain
bleeding


in the bed
an empty glass
rolling in the linens


let’s build a church here
the bottom



*



from place from place
from roadside fires and Waffle Houses
from the man-sized pines that litter


the highways of the southeast
places I’d never been I’d been before
fantastic things happened the night before:


You set fire to the cattle last night.
The whole field orange in the dark
the headlights of a passing truck.



*



Behind the school a small alleyway
fenced off from the sidewalk
sits a magician’s trunk


here is the line
to divide to limit space:
nine men wrestle


a round a foul
trains of birds
in molt in mid


dle in heat in
deed only action
in tents and in purses


each holds
ache holds
the other


sectioned
in threes by
brass hardware:



*



locks and hinges—draped
in a child’s purple sweater


dusted wood shavings
collapse chain-link
separate myself from you


separated in three by the woven steel
when I remove my hands already
I know what they’ll look like



I keep asking if we have gone.



*



Here is the line


to delineate symbol & thought:



red hat


spent book


matches


jar


content spill


the asphalt:


countless rubber bands


rubbers the bands


child’s skull


metal electroplating


metal salad bowl


cupric cupid


water-insoluble


rust



*



A church


sides the roadside


tinny bodies


all ten ears


grounded await


charge/change


in currents


a brief


electrical storm



*



You’re body your body underwater the smell water the smell chlorine your body body underwater body water each particle its taste tilt-a-wheel spin cycle washing machine maker heat comes pools body you are body so many bodies left here her to this holy roadside.



                  When did it start raining?



                  when we wake it is still
                  night close to light our bodies


                  in damp the taste your mouth
                  a burnt field barren dry without



                  then its hot glow the scar tissue raised
                  white floats above your hipbone


                  under your breasts circles areolas down
                  the spine under the jaw rope burns


                  here is where the body parts father
                  would say looks like you got into a hatchet fight


                  without your hatchet but you are not
                  I know this in fever dream



*



would say you look like you that we don’t like this but the night of cars along the side of the highway. Under the jaw rope burns. Here my father. Heat comes pools your body and singular. When I remove my hands already sectioned in threes with brass hardware: locks and hinges. The scar tissue raised white, floats all of them and the round’s on him. Left here to her this holy roadside how it snakes through the city there sits a magician’s trunk. He stares up at an empty billboard:



                  This is a body.



Last night
we met a guy who was a mobile glass guy:



                  drive to your house replace windshields et cetera
                  on your car as you wait—or don’t wait.


                  Leave a lot of receipts in newly sealed vehicles
                  insurance invoices et cetera.



*



Yeah I do of course when I install
large panes and everything is pre-cut at the shop


before I drive out of course et cetera. So I just slap it in
seal it and leave. But I don’t wear gloves pre-install


during the clean up the vacuuming et cetera of course
and the shit gets everywhere like glitter—even


the safety glass like glitter and now with the sun out
as it is et cetera my skin gets cut gets into my socks


in my chonies everywhere my whole body glows
et cetera et cetera et cetera et cetera et cetera et


here is the line



*



to catch and direct the eye over a given course
take me to the river orient a city from it watch


as we’ll go mad running our mouths out
filling our mouths with mouths


the ice cream truck loud
outside won’t you


you spare us
a quarter a field a billboard.


This is a vehicle.
This is the limen.



*



show position in space and/or time


Aboard about above across after against along amid among anti around as at
Before behind below beneath beside between beyond by


Down during
Except excluding


Following for from
In inside into


Like
Minus


Near
Of off on onto opposite outside over


Past per plus
Regarding round


Save since
Than through to toward


Under underneath unlike up upon
Versus via


With within
Lastly, without.



*



I knew a girl called Lila yeah yeah yeah
Here is the line to produce grey or tonal gradation:


we enter here from a place that looks like the others
its cheap patterned carpeting and leather-backed chairs


sectioned so we cannot sleep even if we wanted to
outside the window concrete divided


by yellow small carts wheeling around
the plane looks the same this one


perhaps smaller someone eats graham crackers
this is the first time that’s happened:



*



above us nothing


below the sectioned


patchwork of country


a singular body the line


to create arrangement


THERMOS 8: John Craun

Poetry by New Orleans musician John Craun, from our spring 2012 issue. See also his long poem “Picks Up Lucid,” from our fifth issue. And look for a new album from his band, HAWN, in the near future.



FEATURE



(Vallejo)


The dead—all the dead—
are satisfied: their allotments—


the space allotted—conforms
                      to their whims—


they have whims now—
                                          they whisper,


                              we think,


              and they’re satisfied


(Youth)


and fuck youth this
line


we’re going back
and fuck that/enable this


time, paying
I turn…We’re usually
you know…A man


nice hair,       tux…?


(Projector)


I glimpsed the feature
through the particular failures
of happiness


the general, oxymoronic
cataclysm covered
which has to land somewhere,


so screens


(Desire)


              and something collapses
To anything around…


It was not firmly affixed
Your hair (What color?) rose-
colored, in this light…


Collecting birds. An eagle,
our eagle—see what I mean!—
                  through drifting leaves, drywall dust…


holds a comb or crumb


Occupied


There. That must be news.
                              Broadcasts


Continue; we have had time—
What a time!—and a little


Money What’s this?
                              Mid-priced luxury


And another terrace beyond


(Reunion)


Of that time when I went to that place
and did not feel what I expected to feel…


I felt alone.
I knelt in the grass, wet grass, at night,
and walked all day.


Those were the last days for those shoes;
the knees held up.


That place still exists—I’m shortening
this story…People live there,


                                drive to school
singing, eat a diner’s food


off plain, worn plates, take a place


(Feature)


A voice can make it true.
Our mouths were both occupied.
Make what true? What?


While they were looking for you…
They invaded, invaded,


invaded. Looking, looking for you—
marching, invading, looking


for this, for that; the world,
occupied—already occupied
at the time—unable to resist


with whatever occupied us


Paul Killebrew: from Negro Yachtsmen I Have Known

We’re pleased to welcome Paul Killebrew back to New Orleans this week, as part of the PXP 2013 Symposium at Tulane University, and to begin a 3-day mini-feature of his work here at THERMOS. Paul’s second book with Canarium, Ethical Consciousness, came out earlier this year. It’s an astonishing book, my favorite of the year, anchored by the lengthy narrative poem “Muted Flags.” This new poem, the first chapter of an even lengthier narrative poem of the same name, carries on the work of the longer poems in Ethical Consciousness. We hope you’ll enjoy it, and come to see Paul read later in the week, along with fellow Canarium poet Robert Fernandez, and many others. — AS



from Negro Yachtsmen I Have Known


The incomplete mosaic into which I dazzlingly fit
began to come into view 
with the opening of a pair of automatic doors at Walmart in 2011, 
where I saw 
through a crisscross of ambling customers 
and disheveled intra-aisle displays, 
through a cornea-scouring rant of A/C,
through what Cornel West would later call 
my “egocentric predicament,” 
a middle-aged African American woman 
standing in the returns line at the customer service desk 
idly holding one of those awful 
cardboard-backed, clear-plastic-fronted packages 
that cheap toys and seemingly everything else comes in, 
in this case a pair of toy handcuffs, 
a toy sheriff’s badge, and a toy gun. 
I headed straight for her, 
both because I was intrigued to hear 
what drove her to this particular precipice–
if the Walmart returns line formed along the ledge of a tall building, 
would anyone make it to the counter?–
and because I was returning something myself, 
in my case a cheapo rice cooker 
that had no facility with the short-grained brown rice 
on which I’d become 
totally dependent. 
It had gotten to the point 
that I consumed embarrassing amounts of each day 
in the preparation of this rice, which formed 
the bedrock of every meal at the time, breakfast included. 
And because the rice is so much better freshly cooked than reheated, 
I insisted on only ever making enough rice for one meal at a time. 
Each batch takes–from pre-soaking to letting the cooked rice stand off the heat–
an hour and a half. I’m also a particularly forgetful person;
the smell of scorched rice is hardly unknown
to even the least observant of my kitchen towels.
I should mention that I’m a playwright, 
and I actually own my own performance space, 
though it’s really just the ground floor of my house,
and since for money I do freelance graphic design work from home,
I basically “live over the store” as Barack Obama often says, 
and it’s easy for me to slide into such time-swallowing intricacies 
as the perpetual making of temperamental rice. 
The endless rice-making had actually inspired my last piece, 
in which the curtain opens on the announcement by two white actors,
a man and a woman, who play a couple,
to five other white actors, three women and two men,
who play their friends, in a modest living room 
(my own, actually, in the only staging so far,
and “modest” is probably a bit hyperbolic)
that they are soon to be married. The five friends
are overcome with excitement–they shriek
and laugh and text other friends– 
when the groom gets a text message
that his father has fallen seriously ill, and he must
take the first available flight back home to Atlanta.
After a tense discussion over whether his fiancé
should go with him–she has never
met his family–the bride decides to stay, 
preferring to make her introductions during a less
trying time. The groom leaves, 
and the six remaining onstage 
are doused in a silence 
from which bright flickers suddenly appear–ringtones 
picked in more whimsical times 
that now seem in blanchingly poor taste. 
A few unmistakeable notes 
from “Country Grammar” and “In Da Club”
announce calls from friends for whom the friends 
of the bride and groom had just left excited voicemails.
After several of these calls, 
all of which the friends send straight to their own voicemails, 
yet another call comes in 
with an eerily normal ringtone,
and the actor, identified in the script
as Female Friend #1, 
says it’s her boss and she has to answer. 
FF1 tentatively does so 
and then says a series of yeses, 
each growing more assured than the last. 
She hangs up, looks around at her friends, 
and, in a dumbfounded voice, 
tells everyone that she has just been made 
the CFO of her company, 
a job she had not even applied for 
but that involves a substantial raise. 
FF1’s friends nervously congratulate her
with one eye on the distressed bride, 
who breaks the tension by walking over to FF1 
and giving her a long and gracious hug, 
which is interrupted by a loud crash offstage. 
Everyone runs to the window of the living room and 
sees that there has been a car accident outside–
a cement truck has tipped over, 
apparently trying to avoid some children
who biked unexpectedly into its path, 
and cement is now spilling out 
and covering the neighbor’s front yard, 
which causes one of the male friends to laugh uproariously 
because, the audience learns, 
this is his house, and he knows his neighbor 
to be especially tedious about lawn care.
The character, who is identified in the script as Male Friend #1,
explains that he was out walking his dog just a few days before
when his neighbor came running and screaming out of his house, 
wielding, improbably, a kitchen sponge.
MF1’s dog had urinated in the neighbor’s yard, 
and the neighbor wanted MF1 to sop it up. 
MF1 goes on to explain, with growing agitation, 
that he had done so,
but that when he tried to hand the sponge back to his neighbor, 
the man said, “Keep the change,” and walked off laughing. 
I should say at this point
that the actor I cast as MF1 
is the spitting image of the young Laura Dern, 
long blond hair and face, 
but with a frat boy’s voice and bearing.
MF1 looks ruefully out the window at the cement,
his friends a little spooked by his show of emotion,
when he suddenly screams out “Rachel!” 
and runs out the door. MF2 says, “His dog!” 
as the friends and the bride rush over to the window. 
The bride says, “Oh god, she ran straight into the cement!”
Then, through the highly contrived narration of the friends, 
the audience learns that Rachel
will not respond to MF1’s calls 
but instead just wallows there, 
a pig in rapidly hardening shit,
until MF1 finally wades in and rescues her.
MF1 then runs back onstage with Rachel in his arms,
both covered with drying cement, 
and says, “I’ll be in the bathroom.” 
While he’s gone, MF2 changes the subject entirely 
by telling the bride and the remaining friends
that he is considering relocating his artisanal stationery business 
to Montana, apparently to take advantage 
of certain unusual but quite favorable tax treatments 
for paper products in the Big Sky State. 
This prompts a fraught discussion among the friends
about whether moving your entire business to avoid taxes 
is the morally right thing to do,
a discussion that ends abruptly when the stationery mogul
blusteringly recites a passage from Judge Learned Hand:
“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes
shall be as low as possible; he is not bound
to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury.
There is not even a patriotic duty 
to increase one’s taxes. Over and over again 
the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister 
in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. 
Everyone does it, rich and poor alike 
and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty 
to pay more than the law demands.” 
Just as MF2 finishes his pretentious little show–
not at all too soon for his friends– 
MF1 returns to the room dogless, shirtless, and clean 
and asks if anyone would give him a cigarette. 
But you just quit smoking, his friends say, 
to which MF1 casually retorts
that he picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue. 
The Airplane reference sends a light titter through the room, 
and the bride, with a curious look on her face,
pulls a pack of cigarettes out of her purse
and hands one to MF1. 
He grabs a book of matches off the mantle, 
lights the cigarette, 
and looks around for a place to throw away the match,
realizing (out loud) that when he quit smoking, 
he threw out all his ashtrays. 
As he walks offstage he tells everyone 
he’s going to the kitchen to get something to ash into, 
and he returns a second later with an empty glass tumbler.
He says, “So where were we,” 
and in the awkward silence that follows 
his eyes fall on the bride,
and he blushes. Just then a billow of smoke
appears behind MF1 from the direction of the kitchen, 
and the bride yells out, “FIRE!” 
MF1 yells, “The match! 
I just threw it in the recycling with all the newspapers! 
I’m so stupid! Someone call 911!” 
FFs 1 through 3
peck frantically at their cell phones 
and report the fire so nearly in sync 
that they become incredibly confused, 
one trying to report the address 
while another tries to report the number she’s calling from
and the third inexplicably counts backwards from six.
Sirens are soon heard offstage 
as whirling red lights appear through the windows. 
Dozens of firefighters come onstage 
and are soon annoyed
because while several fires have been reported at this address,
there appears to be only one small kitchen fire. 
I won’t bore you with any more of this; 
the point is that the plot keeps accumulating 
for another couple of hours–
one of the firefighters faints from the sight of his own blood
after receiving a nasty papercut 
while helping MF1 clean out his unburnt recycling; 
FF1 learns that she has come into a substantial inheritance, 
which somehow triggers a memory, long suppressed,
of childhood abuse; 
a huge tornado passes less than half a mile from the house; 
the secret, smoldering romance between MF1 and the bride
comes obscenely into view 
just as the groom returns unannounced and quite unexpectedly 
from an airport that had canceled all flights due to the tornado; 
and so on. 
There’s no real effort to create “rising action” or a climax, 
and in fact the play ends
just as FF2 accidentally slices off the end of her thumb. 
Throughout the play 
there are two male African American teenage actors
at the back of the stage, 
barely visible behind the furniture 
and not lit in any deliberate way. 
They make box after box
of Uncle Ben’s Instant Rice, 
a cup at a time,
on a single-burner hot plate, 
throwing each finished batch onto to the stage 
as soon as it’s done. 
The directions for making Uncle Ben’s 
call for one cup of water
for each cup of uncooked rice, 
plus a tablespoon of butter or oil. 
Combine all ingredients and bring to a roiling boil. 
Cover the pan, remove it from heat, 
and let it stand for 5 to 7 minutes. 
Fluff with a fork and serve
or, in this case, dump it on the ground.
The actors started each night with ten 
unopened, 14-ounce boxes of Uncle Ben’s, 
two new gallons of spring water, 
and an unopened package of a pound of butter. 
Each batch takes between 10 and 12 minutes, 
and the performance usually ran
about two and a half hours, 
so they made about fifteen batches of rice per night, 
or 30 cups of cooked rice. 
There was no line of sight
from anywhere in the audience 
to the pile of rice on the stage, 
but you could smell it.
The white actors give no indication 
that they see the black actors 
throughout the performance, 
and the black actors say nothing
to the white actors or to each other.
They simply help one another 
make the appropriate measurements 
and otherwise stand there looking at the saucepan. 
The only thing even approaching tension in their actions, 
which I felt sure no one would notice, 
is that they cook the rice in a saucepan 
coated with nonstick teflon
and then fluff each batch with a metal fork.
I called the play Negro Yachtsmen I Have Known,
after the title of a book I once found 
on the bookshelves of a childhood friend.
I took particular notice of this book 
because my friend’s father, a Civil War buff,
was listed as its author, 
and I didn’t know he was a writer. 
I pulled the book off the shelf and flipped through it, 
finding a book of blank pages. 
Negro Yachtsmen–the play–owed a substantial debt
to Young Jean Lee’s play The Shipment, 
or really its second half. 
A young black man is having a party
for friends and co-workers, all of whom are also black.
The party grows increasingly neurotic 
as accusations are flung and alliances revealed. 
Like all of Lee’s plays
the whole thing is quite hilarious, 
that is, until the last two lines of the play, 
in which the audience learns 
that the characters aren’t actually black.
It’s not as if the actors are wearing makeup
like in that old Eddie Murphy skit from Saturday Night Live, 
“White Like Me”. It’s just that the race of the characters
hasn’t been made explicit in the dialogue
until those last two lines,
and when it is, the actual blackness of the actors
takes on the same deafening muteness 
that I tried to capture through Negro Yachtsmen’s rice-makers, 
though without Lee’s brilliant trompe l’oeil effect. 
The program for Negro Yatchsmen had this passage 
from Matthew 25:35 on the cover: 
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, 
I was thirsty and you gave me drink, 
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
This epigraph, my friend Tiffany explained to me, 
gave away too much. 
Tiffany, who is an artist and professor of internet sculpture 
at the University of Alabama,
said that when liberal white artists “deal” with race–
and the verb for what they do
usually falls between quotation marks–
it’s a gambit calculated to draw the eye
of the redeeming Christ. 
Tiffany said she understood
what I was trying to do, 
to enact the failure of integration
between white privilege in the form of endless plot 
and the plotless inertia of black poverty, 
to show them as characters living right alongside one another 
and yet never commingling.
Tiffany said she respected those intentions, 
but nevertheless the true object of this kind of work 
is personal salvation, and the terms of the artwork 
are correspondingly inward.
The actual black people I portrayed 
were purely tangential to my purposes. 
Were not the black teenagers
in Negro Yachtsmen totally silent?
Wasn’t their poverty strikingly free of pathology?
Even within the racial logic of the play,
wasn’t black struggle just a foil for white privilege, 
an expression of quiet nobility 
to make the yammering of the white people 
seem not merely ridiculous, but contemptible?
“Maybe another way of putting it,” Tiffany said,
“and I don’t mean to be too cute about it, Christopher,
but aren’t the teenagers just a residue
of the white characters’ lives, 
bits of teflon scraped into piles of white rice?”
Tiffany had noticed the metal fork. 
I told her I was more than a little annoyed
that she was voicing these criticisms only after the fact, 
even though she’d read drafts of the script
and saw the play in workshop a year before.
Tiffany said it had taken her some time
to identify her discomfort, and anyway 
what did it matter? “If you’re saying
you would have rewritten the play
had I told you all of this, 
doesn’t that prove my point? 
Why do you need my blessing?” 
She made the sign of the cross
and said, “I absolve you. Dominus vobiscum.”
I had closed my eyes, 
and I sat silently for about a minute, 
imagining that my forehead had shaped itself
into a book that I could open 
only by relaxing each muscle in my face. 
I said, “It’s exhausting. 
Why all this anticipatory maneuvering? 
Why am I trying to think 
of every avenue of criticism 
and building it into the work myself? 
It’s like chess.
But–and I apologize if this just shows my
profound lack of imagination–what
are the alternatives?” Tiffany said,
“What if you have none? 
What if you have reached the upper limit 
of white racial sensibility
because going any further
would require making concessions
that a white person like you 
is simply not prepared to make? 
Look at this play.
Your white characters are sinners,
and your black characters are saints.
On the surface that’s certainly admirable,
but what’s impossible for you, 
because of your racial guilt,
is to portray the sins of black people. 
To do so, you fear, 
would expose your racism.
And it surely would.”


PXP 2013: Schedule of Events

THERMOS’s editors will all be in New Orleans Nov. 7-9 to host the second annual Poetry Exchange Project Symposium at Tulane University and at other locations in the city. All events are free and open to the public. If you’re in the area, please stop by. — AS



Friday, Nov. 8 (Tulane campus, St. Charles Ave. side)


11:30am: PXP presentations, Norman Mayer Hall, Rm. 125
            Students from Tulane, University of Georgia, and University of the Arts deliver
            presentations of completed PXP projects.


1:00 pm: Panel A: Poetry Beyond the Classroom (Norman Mayer Hall, Rm. 200B)
            Moderator: Dan Rosenberg
            Panelists: Nik De Dominic, Melissa Dickey, Anne Marie Rooney, Jay Thompson
1:00 pm: Panel B: Poetic Lineage (Norman Mayer Hall, Rm. 125)
            Moderator: Andy Stallings
            Panelists: Peter Cooley, Robert Fernandez, Carolyn Hembree, Laura Walker


2:00 pm: Panel C: The Life of Contemporary Poetry (Norman Mayer Hall, Rm. 200B)
            Moderator: Zach Savich
            Panelists: Matt Hart, Mary Hickman, Paul Killebrew, Teresa Villa-Ignacio

 

3:30 pm: Ian Zelazny Memorial All-City Student Reading (Norman Mayer Hall Rm. 200B)
            25-30 students from schools and universities around the city and region read poems.


6:00 pm: PXP Keynote Reading (Rogers Memorial Chapel)
            Robert Fernandez, Matt Hart, Mary Hickman, Paul Killebrew, Anne Marie Rooney and Laura
            Walker read new poetry.


9:30 pm: Party and Concert (2433 St. Claude Ave., Entrance on Music St., byob)
            Students and symposium participants are all invited!



Saturday, Nov. 9 (Buddhist Community Center, 623 N. Rendon St.)


12:00 pm: Hunter Deely Memorial Reading
            Brief readings by Carroll Beauvais, Megan Burns, Carrie Chappell, Peter Cooley, Nik De
            Dominic, Melissa Dickey, Cassandra Donish, Maia Elgin, Rebecca Morgan Frank,
            Elizabeth Gross, Michael Jeffrey Lee, Kay Murphy, Brad Richard, Dan Rosenberg,
            Zach Savich, Shelly Taylor, Jay Thompson, Afton Wilky, Mark Yakich

THERMOS 6: Carolyn Hembree

Another terrific New Orleans poet, Carolyn Hembree’s first book of poems, Skinny, came out with Kore Press in 2012. She is the poetry editor for Bayou, the literary journal produced by the University of New Orleans, where she teaches. The poems that follow are from the sequence that closes Skinny. — AS



from The Venus de Milo Tree



               ~I’ve always been fascinated by the secret life of horses….~


you see for once everything one                 eye on the fence
one on the horizon jump               your abdomen and front               legs swimming
jump on                              tiptoe your shadow           does not show you           tremor
               jump       gimme a minute jump                your ears pinned back fly
throw your head                                             to the side keep the tree               limb in
focus the wooden                        beam slams your ribcage                the fence posts
going to pieces half boards splinters flying fifteen feet or more behind as if they
were detonated from underneath                           your gums pulling back begin
getting dry          the hock joint under a bunch of boards               crisscrossed on
your side
                                                                           heave                      heave




               ~Time and Space Collapse! (as our narrator and soldier battle the elements)~


A soldier in my dream:
a puffed-up knuckle
through them driving gloves
driving a scraper
over the windshield,
dumping a bucket,
driving a scraper,
the drifts hither and yon….
Us jimmying [rupture] a truck handle.


First killing frost
you can’t with a brogan
with a steel toe
with a spade–
hell no!–
break.




               ~Intermission: (you know Mamie was always the toast of every evening)~


The chain spread-eagle, the briolette’s million faces making little lights on the walls–


A fistful of bone meal won’t help. It won’t help us, Venus.


There’s a spot I carved you’ll never spot!


At her throat (where the briolette would go) twist and pin a rosette.


Gentle Reader, what are ladies’ hands for? Why, for playing gospel and setting spit curls!


Don’t wire and drape a tree to look like a god and a woman.


Hands too for handing down handmade heirlooms and for keeping faces soft and new (buttercream is best).


Don’t try and put a head on nature.


A briolette, a mind on the wing–


Lost you lost in this lost that you see that you got that you and that you in that




               ~Details for Fortifying a Winter Tree~


November, use 10-gage galvanized steel to wire Venus from tree-rats, inch your way up from the roots to make it last until the north side where the bark’s gone thick and if it’s damn cold get an old sheet to drape it.




               ~Mamie daydreams of springtime~


Mamie’s face gone
                                               from babyish to serious, minuscule under her comforter.
Weeks now the right one (her side that works) sliding around under the comforter,
crinkling in the bed pad. Were she to grab the dresser to stagger up.


Draw it on the sawmill walls. A circle, five feet in diameter, of skin and liquid on
the linoleum. Our roan under a blanket spins and spins on its side to stagger up.
Pulls the glove off by your teeth run your fingers over the spotty coat, the spine, the
sacroiliac joint, hip joint, all jutting. The leg’s broke. Fast, get under it. Gripping
the cabinet door for leverage. The roan’s throat on our jeans, its skin pulled shiny,
mouthing like it were bitted, Who’s the martyr here?


                                 There’s a nest in the lowest branch of the Venus de Milo tree.