Posts Tagged ‘Thermos’

Laura Walker: from story as a cloud above the bed, haze of flies, a little suture

This week, THERMOS has run a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. We conclude today with a series of new poems. Thanks for taking the opportunity to read new work by one of our favorite poets.

from story as a cloud above the bed, haze of flies, a little suture

if a story like a river, loose and fretful, twine. if a story with debris and froth, pulling from the banks as it comes, never the same twice, step in and be renewed. if glass-bottomed boats and red-dotted fishes. if another line just under the surface, if you can’t see without drowning, if sometimes in storm, sometimes becalmed. if each person carries her own boat, dam, leaf. cutting its own way through or swept along and over the cliff, story as waterfall and prismed light, story as gravity.


to make an honest betrayal, shoving ahead in the dark. her brother’s blond head rising above waves; a man on the bed telling stories. little girls in exquisite ice, beaded swans, a soldier inside a hollow tree. three sets of enormous eyes. and when the story bolts out of the tree: an old woman as mound and x’s on doors. incongruous. the man with one glimpse wishing her forever. he smelled like salvage. damp books that hadn’t been opened in years. dust along the corners.


a story as skin. boundary, temperature, delineation. what she was told and what she saw making fuzzy scratches in the dark. coming to terms, carefully, over tea. if he saw her he didn’t see her; if he didn’t see her is perspective a concept worth inhabiting. the era of loose meditation gowns and full frontal nudity, a thin acrid smell underneath the baking bread; they grew it themselves in the basement. lights buzzing all night long. swimming as context, the house and its inhabitants: to get her head above water.


the story spills and is not absorbed, excess running off hard ground, rising, collecting old bottles and fenceposts, swirling and sucking, the girl and the boy climbing a little faster now, up onto the hill or the barn or someone’s front stairs, keeping their feet dry.

the story of the woods before the woods; the story of the woods.

her story as the moment she opens her eyes, slowly, in case someone has wired them shut. the pull and feel of gravity, the north pole, snow and magnet. each track identifiable if you know how to look: rabbit, solider, a dragged wing. they ran a new fence just along the gully, her brothers, inhabited trees.


to go with the soldiers. burn your clothes and follow them, stepping across dirt, the terrible winding roads. they have no concept of what they will see; their guns are unwaxed and staring. by the time they return they will be solitary, wandering the high grass, looking for wild honey and a hollow tree. story as a cradled gash, warm bubbling of space, a hole to carry in your pocket.


the story continues on its own, intent, limping toward water or a nearby road. she can see it in the distance, in one version calls out, in another doesn’t, standing barefoot on the porch. we eat the same fruit, follow the same thoughts of shade, but we are different creatures and the difference cannot be sustained or distracted. the story tries to move forward, falls, circles back and tries again. she stands on floorboards. she doesn’t know the way either, couldn’t help if she wanted to, but slowly descends and heads toward it. to keep a story company; to give it shade.


A Conversation with Laura Walker

This week, THERMOS is running a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. Today’s installment is an interview, conducted by e-mail in the summer of 2014. Please check back tomorrow for some new poetry.

Cassie Donish: When I met you last November at the Poetry Exchange Project in New Orleans, I had the privilege of hearing you read from some of the same new works that we’re featuring here at THERMOS, including genesis. Could you tell us about genesis?

Laura Walker: I’ve always been haunted by the pulling cadences of the King James Version of the Bible. I think it’s partly because the rhythms are incredibly mesmerizing, and partly because I grew up in the Bible Belt with a proselytizing atheist for a father, which created its own host of contradictions and yearnings and hauntings. I felt simultaneously included and excluded by that language. I think genesis was my attempt to go back in time and explore the somewhat forbidden rhythms that have shaped me deeply.

CD: What are you currently writing? How does your current writing depart from your past projects?

LW: I’m in the last stages (I think) of a manuscript I’ve been working on for about a year. It’s a series of prose blocks circling around ideas of story and its manifestations, weaving characters, fairy tales, family stories, and memories, both “real” and created. Sometimes I say it’s as close to writing a novel as I’ll ever get, which is not very close. But there was something that felt “novelistic” for me as I wrote it, for example the ways in which I needed to erect a structure and simultaneously keep it aloft while turning my attention elsewhere—like putting up a circus tent and drawing something obscure and difficult on the floor at the same time. Destined for failure but exhilarating too.

In my mind it departs quite a bit from what I’ve written previously. And that’s part of what I’ve enjoyed about it—the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, at all—the unfamiliarity. I’ve always been most comfortable with partial narrative, pieces of stories, multiple and shifting and overlapping—I have a huge distrust of anything that presents itself as complete, of beginnings and endings, of story arcs. So in this project I’ve had to write alongside my discomfort. Even though the stories here are still fragmented and incomplete, they’re central and substantive in a way that’s new for me. I’ve had to fight, hard, against my natural inclination to take things out, to subtract. Narrative here is, in some way, the point—not a hazy aura or shifting backdrop or ghostly presence—even though it’s still all those things, too, at least I hope. Anyway, it’s made me really uncomfortable, in a great way. I can feel myself having to reach toward new ways of holding things.

I was haunted by a lot of things while I wrote it. By my own experience of memory, especially of the way my memory now has gaps and holes since a concussion a few years ago, with new gaps being created all the time— and what that means for identity, “truth,” the communal, for creating something. By listening to my grandmother’s memories turn more and more gauzy over a period of years. By my visceral memories of fairy tales, what I took in and made my own, long ago, what I recreated, and perhaps why. By the idea of story as a character, with her own needs and trajectory. By my reading about recovered memories. By the idea of our body as a story we tell ourselves, and what that means for boundaries, transgression, injury. By narrative shape built through layer or repetition or eddies of water, vs. movement over ground and space—a finger rubbing the same circle repeatedly, eroding the surface.

CD: You mention several things that one might think of as characteristic of your writing: fragmentation, the experience of memory, “distrust of anything that presents itself as complete.” What is the role of absence or silence in your work? Is it a character too?

LW: I love the idea of absence as a character. For years I’ve been enamored with Barbara Guest’s description of a poem’s “little ghost.” I’m mesmerized by what hovers— glimpsed but never seen, unarticulated, unknown, unknowable—but still present. Palpable absence. And perhaps, related to that, it can be interesting to think of a poem as landscape or structure, as a place something else might briefly touch down in, or move through. Not to imply that place or landscape (or poem) is passive, awaiting some Other—but more an idea of movement, invitation, shifting inhabitances. And how to create a poem as a place or a stance—and an invitation to what can’t be written and what can’t be sustained.

CD: Reading your most recent book, Follow-Haswed (Apogee Press, 2012), I felt as though I were on a midnight tour through a mysterious landscape, one that indicated or implicated our world through a kind of echolocation. The book, which could be described as a project of erasure and collage, struck me as a different type of translation—in which the OED volume you used was not an original text, but a translator. What do I mean? How did you come to use this particular OED volume, the sixth? Did you work with a hard copy of the volume? What was it like writing this book?

LW: I really love that: an idea of poetry “that indicated or implicated our world through a kind of echolocation.” If you got that sense from Follow-Haswed, I’m thrilled.

Follow-Haswed began when I bought a single volume of the OED off of eBay ten or so years ago, because it was only 15 dollars, while the whole set was well beyond my means, and my space. It was volume VI, “Follow-Haswed.” I think there were three or four volumes to choose from, and I imagine the word “follow” lured me, as well as not having any idea what “haswed” meant.

I fell in love with it when it arrived. I just loved having it there on the shelf, loved the look of the print, loved the layout, loved the heft: loved it. And had no idea what to do with any of that love, creatively speaking. So I just kept packing and unpacking it as I moved.

And then one day, years later, I picked it up and started to read it. And I became enamored with the weird ways the various entries seemed to speak to one another, in part by virtue of the source texts for the illustrative quotations, and in part rather mysteriously.
Everywhere I looked there seemed to be references to water, and soldiers, and girlhood, and war – in follow and gogibber and gain…. that is, in places I would not expect these themes to crowd in.

And so I became really interested in what a single word might carry, in the word as a world, in a word as a maze. And in the idea that just in the place where we try to pin a word down—in a dictionary—meaning explodes, implodes. I was fascinated by the fact that the smallest units of language are also terribly full, terribly laden. And that words are imprinted, just as they imprint us. Because the themes I was finding everywhere were also, of course, my own obsessions: girlhood, soldiers, water, war. So reading the dictionary started to resemble reading any book—thinking about what we receive and what we project, and the complicated relationship of reader and text. There was something slippery at the core— which I think your text/translator question is getting at—and I’m always mesmerized by slipperiness.

Writing the book was a process of reading an entry, copying out pieces and phrases that struck me as compelling, and then going back to those long lists and collaging. It was hugely enjoyable. It was also something I could do in the small, broken bits of writing time I had as a mother of two young kids. Everything in a poem is taken verbatim from a particular entry, and line breaks reflect where I jumped within the entry—so with all that given, I focused on juxtaposition, on break and link, on rhythm and music, and on echo and repetition—and on, hopefully, having something arise off the page a bit.

CD: What poetic traditions do you see your work as part of, or as emerging from?

LW: I feel very lucky that I went to SF State for my MFA. I went there for all the wrong reasons but it was there that I started to study the work of women who were publishing innovative work in the 1980’s and beyond, many in San Francisco, and many of them brought together in the pages of the journal HOW(ever) in the 80’s. Kathleen Fraser co-founded and edited HOW(ever) and her work became incredibly important to me. I feel lucky that I went to school in a place with such a rich history of women’s experimental writing, where I could stumble across books published by Kelsey Street Press, or take classes from Myung Mi Kim, Norma Cole, and Susan Gevirtz, or hear Cole Swensen or Brenda Hillman or Barbara Guest read frequently. Through these poets I became immersed in ideas of broken or interrupted lyric, in the role of silence or space on the page, in poetic forms shaped in part by women’s lived experiences—motherhood, for example—and in poetry as inquiry or investigation.

CD: What are some advantages and obstacles, in your opinion, of being associated with a community or tradition in poetry that defines itself in part by gender, specifically the identity of ‘woman’? Do you have any reflections you could share with us on the issue of gender and poetics?

LW: I doubt I have anything new to say on that huge and many-branched topic. I identify as a woman and I write poetry, and obviously my ways of seeing and experiencing the world, as a woman, necessarily come to play in what I write, and how I read, and what I’m drawn to read, and how I read the world, and how the world reads me, etc., etc. And this has many implications for what work I end up having access to, and who has access to my work, and how such work is contextualized (VIDA is doing amazing work around these issues.) I feel a deep debt to people like Kathleen Fraser and Patricia Dienstfrey and countless others for making a space for poetry by women when there was very little space for it; and of course that space is still contested and fraught in many ways (see VIDA again), though better, I think, than what it’s been in the past; and of course again gender is just one of the lenses through which we can examine what work is celebrated/ read/ published, and by whom, and how those things are decided. Access and prestige and visibility are huge issues.

At the same time, of course, identity read in a simplistic way is, well, simplistic. It would be ridiculous to read my poetry to find out “what a woman thinks,” or “what women’s poetry is like”—in that weird but weirdly persistent way of reading poetry outside a dominant mode— as if I or anyone can somehow stand in for a group we’re a part of. I guess I believe in constellation rather than essentialism.

So I guess I see such associations as wonderful when they open things up and not so great when they shut things down. “Open things up” by providing space and access and opportunities to share work and explore poetry that moves away from assumptions of the mainstream. “Shut things down” by essentializing one aspect of someone’s very complex identity and making sweeping generalizations based upon it. But that’s more about how these groupings or associations are interpreted or misinterpreted, perhaps?— than about being a part of them.

CD: What’s exciting to you about contemporary poetry? What are you reading right now?

LW: I remember Stacy Doris talking once about how she entered a new book of poetry— from the middle, skipping around as she liked, and hardly ever from beginning to end. And I was so struck by what I took as the freedom of that, the boldness of the recognition that we meet a book where we are, from where we are, because of where we are—her embracing of the subjectivity of reading, as I understood it.

It’s in part why I always find myself on the opposite side of arguments about there being “too much poetry”, about poetry being published “too soon,” whatever that means—that there’s too much chaff vs. wheat, I guess. Bring on the chaff, I say—maybe I like chaff. Maybe chaff is exactly what I need to read at this moment; one woman’s chaff is another woman’s, etc. Which is quite different from saying I like everything, but rather I’m grateful for the proliferation. I’m excited that we can publish each other in affordable ways, that there are so many micro-communities around reading series and blogs and online magazines and installations, as well as books-in-paper. That there’s room. I think there are still plenty of thorny issues around resources and access and prestige, as I said above, but I’m excited for the ways in which we can encounter work outside the land of contests and book publication.

It also means, though, that there’s always more work I want to read than I have time to read. And I read slowly. Recently I’ve been reading Tiff Dressen, Todd Melicker, Martin Camps, Teresa Miller, Joseph Lease, giovanni singleton, John Sakkis, Jenn McCreary, Sarah Vap. And I have a huge stack of books and bookmarked websites waiting for me.

CD: Aside from poetry, what influences your work and your thinking?

LW: Ecosystems, both wild and not—forests, fields, mountains, gardens—all that interplay, the many complex relationships occurring—I find it endlessly thought-provoking, or feeling-provoking, or something. Also, weather—both my direct experience of it and the systems developed to describe it—cloud formations, humidity and temperature, sun and fog and radar maps. Maps in general are amazing to me, both conceptually and physically. Also, I recently wrote a series of poems drawing from the picture books I read repeatedly to my children when they were young and I was extremely sleep-deprived—that combination of sleep deprivation and repetition created an almost mystical space in which I entered those books, lived in those books, in ways I can’t return to, but remember vividly.

CD: Would you mind sharing which children’s books you’re referring to? 

LW: Oh, many more than I can list here—I think I drew from more than fifty books—everything from books from my parents’ generation (Mike Mulligan, Rapunzel, Madeline, The Secret Garden) to books I grew up with (The Lorax, Are you My Mother, Horton Hears a Who, Harold and the Purple Crayon) to books I only discovered alongside my kids (When the Sky is Like Lace, Storm Boy, Mole Music, The Visitor). They all merged in this wonderful hazy space created by my extreme sleep-deprivation and the ritual of reading them aloud again and again.

CD: What’s the biggest challenge for you when it comes to writing? What comes easily?

LW: I love playing with a text. Putting words on paper or a screen, to create something to play with, is not so easy for me. But once I have material, I can break it apart and reform it and recirculate it and try it a hundred different ways, and stay happy. So I’d say I’m happiest when I’m (endlessly) revising something, or re-inventing something, and least happy when I’ve just finished a project and am casting around for something new—something that opens a door to the elusive thing-I-can’t-name which will inspire more messing around.

I’m also terrible at writing “about” something. For example, when my kids were small, people were always suggesting lovely or challenging or poignant things they were doing or I was experiencing that I should write about, that would “make a good poem.” I can’t do that. A lot of times I’ve wished I could, and I try occasionally, but it’s just a mess. I’m sure my daily life enters my writing in other ways, but not directly, or in ways I can easily point to.

CD: What’s something you can easily point to where you are right now?

LW: Just one thing? I can never do just one thing. Quinnehutukqut by Joshua Harmon. A can of Gold Brick Pale Ale. A picture of the sun by one of my sons. And through the window, my new bee hives, swirling.

Laura Walker: from Genesis

This week, THERMOS is running a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. We continue today with selections from Walker’s Genesis. Please check back throughout the week for more new poems, and an interview.

from Genesis

in the beginning what was startled flew up into the liquid sky. and the children came tiptoeing round, to see the man sleeping there in the fields; and they carried their pie plates and rosined spoons out onto the clay

and the plows, whiskering away in the darkness; and the sheeted moss; and the furrows, newly made, baring themselves among the birds

and we were small and formless and our hands did not settle


in the beginning a way of yielding, and the sound of retrieval and rattled blue frames. and intentionality, and the young; and those who held themselves apart continued apart and rose in sanctioned masses to rooftops and to bloom. and the forgetting; and the struck expanse; and the way the light aircraft made their maps across the sky, billowy and upturned

and the angle
and the shatter

and the glass was written, and contained; and the air was remedial, and alight; and the noise of boots on shards was something knocking on a door, far away and beneath a handle


in the beginning the lines were rampant and the air was full of clock and bird. the smallest lay down among her notes and wrappers blew about the trees, between the branches and the memory of hours and a small ticking sound, not to be ignored

and the raptors
and the hard wiring

and each bright thing weighed itself in succession, positioned itself against the ledge and lined up two by two


in the beginning the stones came loose, and the words were wax and singing under the faint porch light. and a pocket, and a flare; and the birds assembled at last, awaiting snow and cloth and the sound of sticks. and the fires; and the arrival; and the clouds bought and paid for

and the settled

and the prostrate

and the arrival was styrofoam, and inchoate; and the welcome was creviced, and slit; and the sound increased against the walls in battles and shifting shores


in the beginning what we found just off the edge of our paper would circulate again, fall back among us as dreams of snow or the slough of someone’s new suit. the children were brought round to enter the fields again; and they were collaged in reds and browns, and told which birds to hold and which to scatter with their feet. the morning light came round again, and someone held spoons and someone held clatter and sawdust piled and began to converge

and we were a building

and we were a formation

and we were sick, and suited, and grouped in twos and threes

THERMOS 5: Laura Walker

This week, THERMOS is running a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. These poems, from the collection bird book, first appeared in THERMOS 5. Please check back throughout the week for more poems, and an interview.

                                                                                eastern kingbird

we saw him walking down from the store

coal headed

to be seldom visible

give in a series


near water

                                                                                prothonotary warbler

half of numerous

we were dark         prominent

              two boys in the backseat

              large white peaches

                                                                      to call


                                                                      an only tree


    sluggish or stagnant

or water

                                                                                mourning dove

she awaits a violent body

our more abundant

the larger       a small

                                          ask him to come in

                                                                                eastern phoebe

he followed her through the store

darkest head

told from

and out into the street

              compare the lack of


                          leaves and rafters

                                                                                house sparrow

obscuring as pastime

a combination of her

                          unstreaked and aggressive

                          she paused by the back steps


                                                                                willow flycatcher

to lack what is prominent

              she has your eyes

Public Letter: Laura Walker

This week, THERMOS will run a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. It begins today with a public letter — or, a series of public letters — addressed to Cassie. Please check back throughout the week for poems, new and old, and an interview.

dear cassie,

i can’t write and mean it at the same time.

it’s an old problem, a recurring dream where the characters happily shift places with each other. intent becomes a brisk snow becomes a wide-eyed betrayal. sleep turns visible, perception moves among its various guises, the dream of a steady gaze. i envy people who write what they know.

dear cassie,

my first ghost story was the one about the woman with the blue ribbon around her neck. do you know it? she tells her husband she can’t take the ribbon off. when he finally does, late at night while she sleeps, her head falls onto the floor.

was she already a ghost or always about-to-be-one? and which was more alluring to me, eight years old and unable to sleep? the silkiest of betrayals. what’s known and what’s believed; who positions whom. sketching the dark because you’re awake anyway.

dear cassie,

the first ghost i ever saw i didn’t actually see. i was driven by a dark house in a dark night and something shuddered. it seemed like a new way of knowing, the way things touch you in the dark.

containment and the precarious: waiting for someone to grow tired of waiting. watching your fingers twitch in the night.

that year we moved into a blue house and i saw a ghost on the stairs. swept skirts, hair done up. not looking at me; me not looking at her. we had, i guess, other things on our mind.

what do you see when you look away from what you see? a helpless envy.

dear cassie,

like the girl who switched places with her dead twin, an episode of the incredible hulk we watched with my first stepfather in a blue and humid night: a ghost differently. i dreamed about her for years, re-enacting her sister’s body, the bent of her head. meticulous. resemblances, semblances, assembly. what can’t be even though it’s exactly the same; a container aware of itself. holding becomes another beast entirely.

clear and steady.

a ribbon, a twin’s body, a dead house.

something to hover and move through.

dear cassie,

my mother read us the little matchgirl from the front seat on long car rides, hoping we’d fall asleep.

we never fell asleep.

when the matchgirl stands outside the pulsing windows, watching them eat in the light, what is the ghost? glass, candles, a tree. they shimmer and merge and become rivers through the floor. the matches burned our fingers. when her grandmother arrives, ribbons and arms, who is the ghost then, asleep in the snow? the boys who chased her across the street and made her lose her slipper. the pavement stones. something about the air.

a fading in the first clear light.

The New Census: Sarah Vap

Our feature of Rescue Press’ new anthology of contemporary poetry, The New Census, picks up today for a final installment: new work from Sarah Vap. She’s included a statement on the poems, below. Please feel free to visit the full feature here, and purchase the anthology here.


These poems were taken verbatim from the dictionary feature on the Investopedia website, and are part of a longer manuscript called Viability — the whole effort of which rolls around in Capitalism’s mechanisms and certainties of owning certain kinds of people, creatures, communities.

from Viability

Lindsay Lohan Stock Index: A stock index comprised of companies associated with actress Lindsay Lohan. Investors might correlate the popularity of Lohan with increased sales surrounding her related products. Firms involved with Lohan endorsements, advertising or movies are included in the index.

Fans may see Lindsay Lohan use a certain product, such as her Mercedes Benz, and rush to purchase one for themselves. The increased demand will usually drive up a company’s sales, merely for being associated with Lohan. Companies involved in the index include Disney (NYSE: DIS), who produce many of Lohan’s films, Daimler Chrysler (NYSE: DCX), and Mattel (NASDAQ: MAT).

As with most celebrity-related terms, buzz words such as this usually have a shorter shelf life and may become irrelevant.

Sleeping Beauty: A company that is considered prime for takeover, but has not yet been approached by an acquiring company. A company may be considered a sleeping beauty for a variety of reasons, including large cash reserves, undervalued real estate, undervalued share price, attractive assets or strong growth and earnings potential. A takeover, or acquisition, is typically characterized by the purchase of a smaller company by a larger firm. The acquiring company generally offers a cash price per share, thereby purchasing the target outright for its own shareholders.

In relation to mergers and acquisitions (M&A), a sleeping beauty is a company that is “sleeping;” that is, one that is ripe for takeover to achieve its full potential. A sleeping beauty might be a new company that has great potential but has not yet been noticed, or it could be an established company that has not been managed well, and is therefore not maximizing its potential. A sleeping beauty essentially lies in wait until a takeover occurs, at which point the company theoretically would be able to live up to its potential.

Leading Lipstick Indicator: An indicator based on the theory that a consumer turns to less expensive indulgences, such as lipstick, when she feels less than confident about the future. Therefore, lipstick sales tend to increase during times of economic uncertainty or a recession. Also known as the “lipstick effect.”

This term was coined by Leonard Lauder (chairman of Estee Lauder), who consistently found that during tough economic times, his lipstick sales went up. Believe it or not, the indicator has been quite a reliable signal of consumer attitudes over the years. For example, in the months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, lipstick sales doubled.

Skirt Length Theory: The idea that skirt lengths are a predictor of the stock market direction. According to the theory, if skirts are short, it means the markets are going up. And if skirts are long, it means the markets are heading down. Also called the Hemline Theory.

The idea behind this theory is that shorter skirts tend to appear in times when general consumer confidence and excitement is high, meaning the markets are bullish. In contrast, the theory says long skirts are worn more in times of fear and general gloom, indicating that things are bearish.

Although some investors may secretly believe in such a theory, serious analysts and investors—instead of examining skirt length to make investment decisions—insist on focusing on market fundamentals and data.

THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, “Dobro Lathe Bone Star Bryophyte Observatory”

This is the final poem from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry — and also the final poem Hunter completed prior to his death. For an introduction, see here.

Dobro Lathe Bone Star Bryophyte Observatory

He set up the telescope on the gravel path and trained it on the north star, explained to the boy that once set the gears in the telescope would turn it precisely along with the rotation of the earth, so they could watch the moons of Jupiter all night and not have to worry about moving the lens, because within the machinery of the telescope was a perfect microcosm of the machinery of the universe. Not a day goes by I don’t think of you. She was a fan of Lolita, kept the movie poster above her bed. The electroshock made her forget me but she remembered Lolita. They watched the moons of Jupiter till morning, also their own moon, and a satellite spinning. As they walked back through a field of dry grasses wet with dew, smelling of dew, he looked down at his feet and saw the body of a luna moth, perfectly dried and dead there caught up in the feet of the grasses. He lifted it gently from where it was tangled so as not to crush it and showed it to the boy, showed him the two white antennae that look like feathers and the black spots on the wings and explained their purpose. Years later I thought of this as I sat with you in the town graveyard while we injected each other with white gardenias. The houses there curved up at sharp angles like a skating ramp, and leaned over dogfighting rings full of broken glass the color of an iris. Her hair started to fall out from the medication, which they purchased from the company her father defended in court. He wore beautiful white suits and had a beautiful daughter with dark eyes that had trouble seeing because really they belonged in the skull of a deer.

The birdbaths froze over some time that night, and he woke early and showed the boy, first the sycamore leaves that had got stuck beneath the ice, their image refracted so the fractal edges extended to the edge of the water, and second how to scrape the ice away and refill the bath with a pot of warm water heated up on the yellow stove, to keep the birds from freezing as they cleaned their feathers. Then they split some wood to add to the ever- burning winter fire and set a black cauldron of pinto beans over the flames. The worst part is, if you ever said you loved me, I would never believe it. You were never there in the graveyard, you were down by the docks with another man. But the idea of you was there in the form of another, as often happens in these kinds of situations.

Later in the day, as they walked down toward the river, they encountered a long rattle snake trying to swallow a mourning dove. The dove was halfway down the throat already, and all its feathers had fallen out. They spread out to form an iridescent halo around the head of the snake. The naked dove struggled. He promptly cut the snake’s head off with an axe and set it along with the rattle in a jar with salt on the bookshelf next to a slim volume on the medicinal uses of the wild herbs of central Idaho. It was too late for the dove. I wonder if herbs would have been enough for you. That is a fallacy. They went to the river and he taught the boy how to swim, the names of the fish and the water birds: kingfisher, mallard, egret, heron. The river was green and the riverbed was made of soft clay. The boy used the clay to fashion small figures that resembled wolves with dragonfly wings. I was upset by the morning light, because it meant you were leaving. I got a job in a microchip factory and saw your reflection in the red sheen of the silicon twelve hours a day.

Her condition improved, which only made it harder for her to identify with her identity as it was comprised of the person she had been some- where between ten years and ten minutes prior. He began to get attacks of vertigo. Walking along a path lined with mockingbird skeletons he had to lean against a tree, and he laughed, wondering if he had somehow become drunk without drinking. Then he realized he was not standing, that he could not stand no matter how hard he tried, and he decided to see a doctor, but there were no doctors there, then, so he died, and explained to the boy the proper method of burial.

I have dirt beneath my fingernails. After we finished with the gardenias it became very difficult to take the intersecting angles of telephone wires, insect wings, and sunlight. They make me want to say that I love you. But you know I love you, so why say it? That is not really the point, anyway. She smelled a bit like orchid soil. Not a day goes by I don’t think of you. He showed the boy how certain plants grow on tree limbs and live off what they can gather from the air. This, he said, is a very good way to live one’s life. Just remember that it can be very difficult to accept only what is given. Just remember that that is all we will ever have.

THERMOS 10: Two Poems by Hunter Deely

These two poems are from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. Check back tomorrow for a final poem. For an introduction, see here.

For the possibility of the dead

These are the avocado seed cities,
                            tomatoes and chocolate in the streets.
              When our reflections in the blue glass
                                of office buildings begin to remember
their pilgrimage. The young men on the streets of Piedras Negras
                                          with Virgin Guadalupe tattoos, unsure
                            from which dream they are waking.

I have eyes in the back of my head that detect
                            the scent of approaching frogs, swarms
          of spider flies. These are the cities we burned
              as we recited the different types of clouds:

We don’t have an immigration problem,
we have a capitalism problem,
                                    we have a problem
                                    of biting into tomatoes
                                    and being covered in blood.

              He has a coffee stain on his forehead
              which functions as a violent cipher.

We suffer from the reverence of rebellion,
                              suffer the coffee burning red
          and black stars into our chests – the image
          that lets us sustain the deadly abstraction.

The power plant is made of bones.
                      Coal butterflies tumbling over the lake.

For the possibility of the dead, we divide sycamore leaves by their veins.

No, it is not a metaphor – we do receive these messages,
                      the trees are covered in gang tattoos.

She made love to me in an elevator
                      and drank a bottle of eyedrops.

She made love to me on the beach
                      and cut her hand open with broken glass.
She made love to me in a pecan orchard
                      and used the insecticide for contraception.

These are the vaults of undying fruit. We
                      took their possibility for granted,
              forgot how soft her avocado felt as I
                pushed it through my teeth. Let it go.

Just let it go. The truth is what we call it.
                                              The lake is dead, peopled by ghost turtles
              and heavy metal. From the checker tile mansion
we sneak into the labyrinth, open the vault door
                            out to a beach of coal.

                            Chocolate drops from her eyes.
              Chocolatl. Avocatl. When she speaks Nahuatl
                            she does it softly.

Ocelots line the streets of border towns.
Everyone will be forgotten. Everyone
will be forgotten.

She made love to me in the bowels of Yucca Mountain.
With my finger in her ass she vomited uranium, our half life
                      approaching in the eyes of ocelots.
            I disgust myself. In the city
                                          of electrical bones the clairvoyant reminds me
    I have chosen to receive these words.
              These hieroglyphs on her bloody cheeks.
    Her turquoise teeth.
Ah, the taste of her eyes.
The taste of her bloody, chocolate eyes.
Everyone will be forgotten. Everyone
                            will be

After the Flood / The Nest

Fossil hunting on a hill, I found a book
my mother had left in a sudden shower
when she still had strength to climb.

It had warped and caught in mountain laurel
branches, and it seemed very hard, yet light.

The binding flaked onto my fingers,
and its brittleness showed how much rain
it really had drunk: down to a cavern
emptied and refilled at the center.

There would be a Great Mystical Significance
to whichever poem I read. A shared meaning
would curl palpably in the air above the outcrop
of limestone. As soon as I knew the words,
pieces of the universe would fly together to show
that there is no space between any two things.

When I split the spine termites poured
over my hands like escaped letters, pages
ground down at the edges and excreted in a fine
dust that settled brown at the mountain laurel’s roots.

I couldn’t remember the sound of her voice
caught in the silence of the nest of dead words,
in the shriveled, hollow shell of a paper mask.

THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, “Hush, hearse: arise” (Notes by Pat Deely)

This poem, along with a commentary by Pat Deely, come from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every day this week for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.

Hush, hearse: arise

Stop. Smell oranges, taste fog
                off the swamp. Ask
directions at the gas station-cum-funeral
home in Norco.
                                That None Shall Perish
on staccato windows. Hush
the cormorant’s wing. Time
hush, moss hang
                like vapor from a rusted crane.
                                                Crane rust.

You with a head of morning
                                glory describe
the nameless lovers in your hair.
                                Name love.

Name: How the goats did sob, Emiliana,
in brittle marsh trees, in lilies.

                                East hush, to leave behind
the needle, platoons of corn like terra
cotta soldiers. Suck
the mud from my arm like chocolate,
                                liana, rung with thorns:
                That None
                                who pass
                                as grace, with rust
Shall Perish. How
these crops and wildflowers,
                                cormorant, goat,
                                –refinery, incinerator,
                                crane, hearse–arise
from silt, through duckweed / Nitrogen and
                how creation breaks down: Black
abscess pulse
                                                a separate life, That None
                                you swore, what saturates the flesh,
                Emiliana my junkie. What burns it.
Move. Push
the orange in my
                mouth like a nipple.
                                                                Shall Perish

On “Hush, hearse: arise,” or “emiliana my junkie”

I have vacillated over the meaning of this poem. Thinking about it one way leads me to believe the speaker is traveling with the woman, but another view leads me to conclude that the speaker is lamenting her death. Either way, the commanding tone and religious theme resonate strongly in me.

The title – “Hush, hearse: arise” – reminds me of a line in W.H. Auden’s poem, “Funeral Blues”: “Stop all the clocks . . . .” The hearse – a funerary vehicle that transports a dead person from a church or funeral home to a cemetery – is ordered to stop and someone is ordered to “arise” invoking a biblical image such as Christ’s raising Lazarus after he had been buried for four days (John11: 1-46), the rising from death to life of those who heard the voice of God’s son (John 5: 24-29), or Christ’s own ascension after three days of entombment (1 Corinthians 15:4).

Implying movement, the command to “Stop” as the first word in the first line jolts the reader into experiencing the senses of smell and taste. “Smell oranges”; orange being a color associated with sexuality and the aroma of the fruit an aid to reducing anxiety, nervousness, and stress. Tasting the swamp fog suggests a still, heavy atmosphere and that the speaker is lost, which is reinforced when the speaker has to ask for directions. And a swamp or marsh is a common symbol of the decomposition of the spirit.

The place for direction is a dual-purpose building: a gas station for refuel- ing and a funeral home for preparing the dead for an afterlife. And this “gas station-cum-funeral home” is located in Norco. Norco, Louisiana, is a small refinery town west of New Orleans on the eastern edge of the large Bonnett Carre Spillway. The town’s name is an acronym for New Orleans Refinery Company. Refining is the conversion of oil into gasoline and related hydro- carbon chemicals. Norco also was the site of the 1811 so-called German Coast Uprising revolt of 200 slaves led by free person of color, Charles Delondes. So, the building and town represent places of conversion or transition.

The next line is dropped down with words offset and in italics. We are read- ing the words “That None Shall Perish” that are printed on the abrupt and disjointed, “staccato” windows of the dual-purpose building. This phrase is sort of a punch line for the rationale underlying apostle Peter’s argument to those denying the prophecy of New Testament scripture that the world will come to an end by pointing to the fact that it has not happened. Peter’s argument is that the Lord is patient, wanting everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), so “That None Shall Perish.” Repentance can be summed up as the act of viewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs and in Christian theology, to turn to God.

The speaker commands that the cormorant’s wing “hush” as well as “Time.” The double-crested black cormorant is common to Louisiana. Often seen perched with wings half open to dry, Christians see the bird as representing the cross. The fact that it dives under water to catch fish makes the cormorant a common symbol for “transformation,” but in this poem the speaker wants any transformation and time to stop. Why does the speaker want the hearse, time, and the cormorant’s wing to stop? Suspended by these commands and images the reader is directed to moss hanging from a rusting crane. An operating crane lifts and moves objects. This crane, how- ever, is in a degenerative stasis.

The speaker then shifts the reader’s focus to another person and her hair; her “head of morning glory” (I say “her” because in a few lines we learn her name). The morning glory often is a symbol of the Resurrection. The woman describes the “nameless lovers” in her hair full of morning glory. The speaker then challenges the reader to “Name love” and begins a new line with the word “Name” at which point the reader is introduced to the name of the other person in the poem: “Emiliana.”

In primitive thought, the name of a person is not merely an appellation, but denotes what he or she is to the world outside him or herself. The name, Emiliana, which means to strive, excel, or rival, most famously belonged to one of three aunts of St. Gregory the Great. She and her sister, Tarsilla, lived in their father’s house as if in a monastery encouraging each to virtue by discourse and example. Tarsilla passed on to heaven on Christmas eve and, a few days later, appeared to Emiliana and called her to celebrate the Epiphany in heaven. Emiliana died on January 5th.

We are given Emiliana’s name in a scene with goats sobbing in “brittle marsh trees” like the thicket in which Abraham caught the soon to be sacrificed ram (Genesis 22:13) and among lilies, which symbolize purity to Christians and chastity and virtue. The goat is a popular Christian symbol for the damned. The speaker suggests that the damned are sobbing because they have given up the “needle”; quit using heroin. The metaphorical connection of “platoons of corn” – corn being a symbol of sustenance, staff of life – with “terra cotta soldiers” – a reference most probably to the collection of terra cotta sculptures of soldiers buried with the first Emperor of China (Qin Shi Huang Di) to protect him in the afterlife – emphasizes the significance of heroin in the speaker’s life.

The speaker then commands Emiliana to suck the mud from his arm “like chocolate.” “Mud” is slang for heroin as is the Aztec word for a chocolate- like concoction, “chocolatl.” The poet splits the woman’s name with the word “Sun.” A few lines before, the poet commanded that the “East hush,” which could be a reference to the rising sun. Now, the woman’s name is part of the “sun,” which is a common symbol for the soul rising to heaven, and her head is “rung with thorns.” In Christian symbolism, thorns represent the fall of man, sin, sorrow, etc. Woven thorn branches were placed on the head of Jesus before his crucifixion.

The poet reiterates the funeral home window phrase, but inserts the con- cepts of those people “who pass as grace, with rust” to underscore the concept that those who have sinned, those who have “rust,” but experience grace – an unmerited gift of the divine favor in the salvation of sinners, and the divine influence operating in man for his regeneration and sanctification – shall not perish.

The speaker then reflects on the broader cycle of life – how these plants, animals, machines arise – and how it all degenerates: “breaks down.” These creations “arise from silt, through duckweed / Nitrogen.” Duckweed is an aquatic plant that fuels its growth by rapidly removing necessary minerals from the water on which it floats. It is especially adept at removing phosphates and nitrogen, particularly ammonia. Nitrogen is an element that is a constituent of all living tissue and a major element in plant nutrition.

The break down of life is symbolized by the black abscess signifying a separate life; that is, a life under the influence of heroin. “Black” is the color of darkness, depression, death, and mourning. “Abscess” is a localized collection of pus surrounded by a black ring and reddish inflamed tissue that is common among injecting drug users.

Then, the speaker presents the funeral home window phrase, for the third time, split by yet a larger aside. The speaker appears to be admonishing Emiliana because she swore she left the needle behind and the drug that “saturates the flesh,” “burns it.” The speaker then commands Emiliana to “move” and “push the orange” in his “mouth like a nipple” conjuring up the image of a mother giving vital sustenance to her baby. But there is no evidence that Emiliana can move.

P.S. The poem is saved as “emiliana my junkie.” An earlier rough draft is clearer about the ending eating an orange connecting the beginning: “We the smell of oranges…” the “mud from my arm like chocolate” referring to heroin by following “chocolate,” which is Mexican slang for heroin and that Emiliana has not quit heroin: “You swore you were cleaned-up.”

                ‧ Pat Deely

THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, “salmon river, idaho”

This poem is from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back during the remainder of this week for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.

salmon river, idaho

ah the dead pig’s ghost
ambles down the riverbank
every morning, blessed be

on a burned stump the
hummingbird clung
to his flannel

the burned trees piercing
the mountain sides
like feathers, hunting
grouse all morning

he used to shoot up cocaine,
still a purple gnarl
on the inside of his elbow
where he hit, a kind of slug
or flower

a kind of amnesia, blessed
be, in these hills, the open
knife with its taste buds

i am waiting for a living
man to die so i can ask him

they kill the pig each fall

and when he looks down
the barrel, does he see
the eye of his father

does he see the tree of dark
metal twisting in the night

saying blessed be, here
twenty two nez perce were
massacred in the night

ah there is blood all over,
watch the trees, watch
the hummingbird

do not forget that omens
are real, that they touch us