Issue 6: Episode 3
Cardiac bypass means plucking veins from the patient’s limbs then tying them round the heart- chambers so new blood leaks in. Sometimes it works, but it’s the same with surgery as dad says about cars, it’s not just fitting parts into their places, it’s also the mechanic’s discretion, the make and condition of the machine, the weather in the area, whether they salt the roads. We live in Michigan. So the roads are salty.
When my dad had it done he was so out of it coming off the anesthesia that the first thing he told me over the phone was that ducks drink blood. Or probably he’d said “ducts drain,” some reference to internal mechanisms. But it sounded like “ducks drink blood” and I couldn’t get the picture out of my head. Not for months. Like that’s what they’re really doing with their heads dunked down in pond water, webbed feet waving. Guzzling down gizzards-full.
At the hospital they had a special arm chair for him, with a foot rest for his blue, bandaged ankles. He moved his toes to a beat and called it calisthenics. He kept time in little exhales of air that reminded me of fax machines, or the way internet used to sound. This was supposed to keep his circulation from cutting off, to make up for the veins they’d taken from his legs.
Thick clear tubes ran from below his gown to a machine that showed liquid levels ebbing with each awful little breath. They gave him a pillow to hug, oblong and shoebox-sized, with a heart embroidered on it. He was in a Catholic hospital. Old parish women made the pillows.
They sewed a firm bar inside the stuffing, so he could cross his arms and hold the pillow close when he coughed or laughed. The bar was there to keep his sternum from separating.
Dad coughs almost as much as he laughs, so that pillow ended up stained blue from being up against his chest so often, blue like his legs were blue around the bandages, where they’d disinfected him.
I left the hospital and found a party store. I got a Free Press for him and three oatmeal creme pies, a pop, and some cigarettes for myself. I don’t like creme pies or cigarettes. I only drink diet pop. But I stood outside the hospital in the designated smoking area and I ate all the creme pies and drank all the cherry pop and smoked until I thought I’d die. The cloud coming from the cigarettes was a different color than the cloud from my breath which was a different color than the white clouds from the smokestacks. When I didn’t die I walked back in the revolving door and brought him his paper.
That winter a worker at a Ford assembly plant did himself up like Rambo, tanktop, headband, AK-47, the whole thing. He shot up the one-armed steel-setting robots and a few of the workers who manned stations on the line. The gunman was a former employee. He knew all the best ways around the place, gave the cops a real run around. When they finally found him hours later he was in an underground storm drain tunnel, blood stained and asleep. November and there he was, curled up in a concrete tube, lips blue as my father’s legs. Cold weather can have a pronounced effect on any vehicle.
WHEN I’M WAKING UP
of the stomach whether
or not any objects are inside it
the stomach stomachs in on itself
holding its own
i can’t stop digesting
all the possible routes of the trains
their shuttling around in the dark
and you, peacefully
// the thought of you
stepping up from under the ground
like the organism you are
a soft intrusion
the night is nighting in on itself
i can’t stop needing to lie down
i can’t stop the child thoughts
the nurse’s office
the lump in the throat is in the stomach
my body receives my responsibilities
and crunches them
it lives in my cell phone
HOW NOT TO BE EMBARRASSED
HOW TO BE TRYING
i don’t know how to care for you
and contain the residue
of constricted possibility
(this time when i talk about care
i am talking about love
and i don’t know how)
speechless on a surface of wood
a surface of steel
a surface of stucco
i can’t stop needing to lie down
J says treasure the pangs
she says we are lucky
to be raw underneath
this time when i talk about love
i am talking about the squeal
of a ground tooth
chipping at last
HOW TO SPIT OUT THE RESIDUE
HOW NOT TO LOOK AT THE LIVING THING
living in the empty stomach of my stomach
it sticks to my vessels in gentle membranes
// a smooth encroachment
i fucked up
in my heart
and into my mouth. I'm promising you
an orange grove. The media promised me jet packs
but I'm a trooper. Send me your prosthetic leg
in a loose cannon and I'll inhale it like a bouquet.
I will suffer an ignoble death
blindfolded before a steak knife taped to a roomba.
This might take some time. Doing nothing is the new
something. I spent a whole afternoon candying yams
over an open flame. They tasted like citronella.
I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.
I feel like a boa constrictor that grows to the diameter
of the drainpipe and then stops growing.
From all the ganglia of desire I abbreviate:
This is my flower.
I've given it to you.
freezing and cracking like a screen.
Vodka poached by water doesn't freeze. I'm onto you
but it's mostly funny. We haven't yet eaten all our reserves
in the luxury of an emergency party,
put the water weight of this storm on our bodies.
Imagine the future after the end of the economy.
I dug your bad heart
out of your chest
in a fit of young shenanigans
but you put it back wet and cold.
You can do something good when you're young.
The same thing older is not as good. This is how I feel
about my love. This is how I feel about my art.
This is how I feel. This is the state of things.
This is the state flower of Florida.
through the woods / tugging the sky behind me
like I need to show it something
show it you
I want to hold the river’s hand
& bring it to you / I’d say
how special & shovel dirt
from my veins
I want to look at you
the way the moon looks at me
the way it seems to say how special
& come closer
how often have I stood alone
at the kitchen sink / to wait for the running water
to warm? my hands prune / they are cleaned
in the torrent
flowers the color of my flushed cheeks
bloomed in the backyard / so I gathered them up
to prove it to you
I want to sing hymns in the alley
in our makeshift canyon
let’s drink moonshine / let’s throw glass
at brick walls
let’s run barefoot
down a dirt road / clasp our hands
how often have I looked at this new
night sky & thought
it was forgiving me?
how often have I stood at the kitchen sink
I need to tell you something / quick
I have tried to make this matter
every brier-patch daughter grieves with the fervor of her own fastidious vision of holy. I would not let myself be touched. I gathered daylilies & set the table for dinner. I wore an apron. I embroidered. the preacher crooned to all the blonde-headed children: blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. I said but I am a girlchild of the brier patch. yes I am Appalachia’s shinbone. Kentucky I hummed I am all of your blonde-headed children. oh mountains, oh distilleries, oh rivers named for my distant kin, I hear you whisper me into the thicket. I will cease pining for any love that isn’t wrenched from a grass-covered hill. the brambles birthed me to inherit Kentucky, the soft arcs of my flesh belong to the roses & to your mountains. all distilleries. I may never have a lover who will stand beside me & behold these hills I’ve come to cherish: all my righteous wild brier, all great spectacles of dirt. oh pastures, oh great & racing horses of my youth, I will not let myself be beaten. I’ll run fast. I was born draped in a blanket of roses. the brier patch birthed me, the brier patch spat me out in brambles. who here will tell me I was not born the product of love? yes I’ve grieved, oh Appalachia, I’ve sewn quilts from my own fastidious vision of holy: the blur of being just-yet gone. my Kentucky, my blonde-headed mountains & my wild-scrabble horses. mine, that bird. stop belonging to me so much.
the laps it runs around its I wants
until desire is a pudding.
Oklahoma has a handle on itself.
I have an anal complex.
Birds will never remember my face.
A paper crane is lucky
because it will never question
the way it was made.
We are less human than elephants.
They are not ashamed of their grieving.
A photograph of a man screaming is edible.
It will taste like whatever sugar the guts make.
The hands are given all the credit for creation.
We forget about ovens, printers, the autism scale.
My breast is a megaphone, your mouth is a mouth.
You don’t say anything useful about my body
and the world cries for that.
Colorado is where people go to get lonely.
God is where people go to get lonely.
They are both thin atmosphere and bad bread.
If I get horny when I’m dying,
call it The New Testament.
If I clam up, call it The Old.
The tongue rolls its r’s
until language becomes pebbles.
God puts his mouth in my pants.
He says terror, mirror, error
until I become a mountain.
In my wilderness, God builds fires.
He reads the labels of canned goods
like a summons.
He doesn’t know if he is real
until a likeness of his pitiful body
slowly announces itself
like antlers out of the fog.
pink mat from Lulu Lemon soured with sweat, the teacher said,
and I remembered my favorite fantasy—
4) Sex for years hurt I thought it was in my head
At 25 my legs splayed in stirrups the doctor said
There’s a tear here
All the doctors through all the years
That scraped the lining of my walls, palmed cervix, circled breasts
Not one had mentioned the rip
1) I say no and mean yes and we come together.
2) This fantasy, identical to what he did but this time I don’t freeze don’t float away.
6) to be the nymphet at pool’s turquoise edge
wavelets kissing my feet
to flaunt my tick-size breasts the tiny hairs curling beneath polka dot spandex—
to rewrite the night that has become my story.
3) What’s strange is I felt
nothing—no pleasure or pain, to say it plain.
I went to Andrea’s bathroom and saw red river
my legs some already dried in metallic cakes
and I looked and looked.
7) With me he could be the boy in his woodshed
again toad croaking in his palms could be a row of red bicycles
up North Mountain Avenue his boy-gang riding till sunset and his mother
calls him in for lasagna and iceberg salad.
To return to that lost-boy palace a girlhood must be taken
and if you think my polka dot bikini and bone knees that made him burn has no roots
in the fear of death you’re a fool.
8) I watch Lamb with my father at the Montclair Film Festival a tale in which a man takes an 11-year-old girl to his childhood cabin in the deserts of California gives her a pale lace dress the rural romantics of Little House on the Prairie stitched into its seams walks her through firefly fields and head-high prairie grass they wade in a river fish silt from the floor let its minerals soften their fingers.after the film, my father says,
The Dream of Boyhood,
which is really
The Cowboy Dream The Dream of Endless Summer The Grassy Twang Dream
Our Myth of Muscle and Freedom. There’s a certain type of nostalgia
that can justify any trauma.
9) In my dream of consent,
we dream girls wink and proclaim
It’s sexy-fun to be the victim! —to know the hunger of the hunted.
the important dolls of history, and by doll
I mean architecture of holes or girl-shaped museum,
and by important I mean the sad women of white myth—
Marilyn and Saint Catherine and all of our favorite
tragedies. Marni Ludwig says that we are primarily
the slutty parts of the mind and announces
that her . . . concerns will be historical. In other words,
she once stood in flip-flops and polka dot
dress on the boardwalk in a beachside town
and realized she was born into this world
with sexual power. The first myth tells how a girl
in a village tightened her bonnet against the cold.
She walked into the forest, strayed from the path
her grandmother had warned her to follow
and nailed the tale of a wolf to a tree.
The girl understood the best way to conceal
a vanishing is with fable. The second
myth—this one my own—recounts the day Jamie
walked into class with a Marilyn Manson t-shirt,
chain wallet clanking against her thigh, black lining each eye,
and I snickered loud enough for all to hear, I bet she’s a cutter,
Ohio’s sad girl fable in one snarky sentence.
Have you ever circled your cul-de-sac in December
and looked up at the moon between branches
and remembered the sailor suit and penny loafer shoes
you sauntered into the parlor wearing on the day your grandma said
One strawberry scoop with extra sprinkles for my girl
and winked at you so you felt like a queen
in your shiny digs and pink ice cream.
The memory is sad, of course, because she’s dead
and you loved her but the sadness feels good
because it connects you to your child-self
which means your fable and also your grandma’s
who also had a grandma so the memory
takes on the quality of ritual and ancestry—
a line of grandmas with sunhats and smokes
tucked between their red lips like pageant contestants,
graceful in their age, and you look
at the stars that break through the Wal-Mart-like glare
that saturates the street—you forget you’re missing
the episode of Bachelorette on which Kaitlyn will choose her final man—
you let yourself feel sad which has power like snow
has power and cigarettes and grandmothers.
Notes: "To know the hunger of the hunted” is based on a line for Jenny Boully’s The Book of Beginnings and Endings (Sarabande Books, 2007): “I know the hunger of the hunted.” “She . . . realized she was born into this world / with sexual power” is based on a line from Eve Alexandra’s The Drowned Girl (Kent State University Press, 2004): “She came into the world like this. A child with the knowledge of her own sexual power."
From Discipline Park
fig 1. I ate alone at Potbellys and I was not nourished.
I watched a movie in which the institution demolishes the hospital where I was born,
unfolding as it goes into the raw open, an unfathomed wound, and I was not nourished.
I watched it again, and I was not nourished. At the time,
I drew a small monthly stipend from the institution, and yet I was not nourished. I fell on the ice and my shoulder caught me. Still I was not nourished. The fall lingered in my shoulder, a stuckness which would not nourish. In fact, the wound advanced through the house until it became hard abundance of leaf. Still I was not nourished.
On the phone, my father asked: “How does your labor read as sorrow?” My labor does not nourish, I said. The poem acts as the institution’s hammer. It tears without repair. It ends by making the body fruitful. “What does a body nourish?” he asked. “Obviously time heals no wounds. Obviously it multiplies the mouth. It can be cured only by the end of life.” Why do I seek the living? Because they do not nourish. All winter, I stopped my eyes and ears with dense paper to shut out the sweet recent. All winter, I promised myself: this mouth is dread. Nothing no longer can be said. Still I was not nourished.
fig 2. I imagine a building that inflicts escalating, persistent pain. This architecture does not permit mutation or break in the substance of the building. This architecture does not open. Its pain is legible. As a collar. It promises gradual release. From history, error, and loss. Into a brightly lit institutional space. In the absence of such objects, the armored personnel carrier appears as an elegant vessel for the divine, the dense spirit who traffics in wool, beet-root sugar, and potato spirits. Who speaks, when he speaks at all, in emulsified concrete.
This kind of falling is contagious. The bruise of the fall put my shoulder out of joint. Now the grinding passes into the earth. For a week, or maybe more, spars of brute concrete pierced the damp mirror. Afterward, I began to conceive of the ground as a weapon. I wrote in my notebook, “The human is / the transfer of / concrete / in itself.” Then: “The stone is / absorbed / in / the staircase.” I thought the future would bring a place of succulence and denial. A perishing retail center. Instead, I stand in the bottomless event and translate the sculpture back into stone. There is nothing to see here.
In the post war period, the management of meaning became the management of bodies: how to smooth their temporal pleats. The spars of brute concrete. The communal task of total war. This sentimental landscape has therefore been carefully organized as a packaged thinness. An intrinsic tendency toward orderly repetition. To reduce everything to simple, abstract, material volumes. To expose, accentuate, and toughen, the elements of simple building. Thus architecture becomes a journey without arrival. It ends by making the camera feeling.
Now my joint is hunted throughout. It becomes a hill of frost. I refuse to unfold its interior sweetness. The soft centrality which language nourishes. I refuse to unfold. Instead, I write the word ‘wound.’ Then I write it again. Is this a way of making it behave. Do I want to multiply its penetration. Why not. Every entrance is a weapon. Every entrance is a wound. I write the wound I lack. I lack the dark audacity to let myself be fucked. To open as a city opens. To anyone who wants to come. This kind of geography is contagious.
At the institution a woman says, “I don’t know where my body is going.” I too descend into muteness. Even my language asks me to be in a state of exile. “The step of the wandering Jew is in every son,” says Djuna Barnes. I too disappear into the lens. While my students look away, I massage the stony edge of my shoulder. This kind of touching makes the knot sharper. “This kind of stone cannot learn,” the institution says, “to be tender.” With my stipend, I buy hot pads and ice packs. I strip my shirt and lay them on my shoulder. Now the knot is loose in the world as such.
Don’t tell me that isn’t lovely. Don’t tell me that isn’t loss. Even my language asks me to be loss. One self is a winter. All my other self is gone. “Wherever you meet him,” (Barnes again) “you feel that he has come from…some country that he has devoured rather than resided in.” Eileen says that language has two functions: inventory and prophecy. Like money, all it says is loss. In this film, the institution’s money is visible as a series of cuttings. It slowly severs the tendon from the ankle. Without reprieve or repair. “That’s nice,” says the institution. “Now replace ‘it’ with ‘I.’”
Issue 6: Episode 3 Contributors
Bridget G. Dooley is from Michigan, but she now lives in Athens, GA, where she is a PhD student in Creative Writing and the assistant to the editors at The Georgia Review. You can find her at bgd.neocitites.org.
Liz Bowen is a poet and doctoral student in English and comparative literature at Columbia University. She spends a lot of time thinking and writing about unruly bodies; friendship, care and desire; and animals in the woods. Her first poetry collection, SUGARBLOOD, is forthcoming from Metatron Press.
Kendall Grady is a poet and scholar living in California with Miami in her heart. Her first chapbook, Roomba, is recently out from The Museum of Expensive Things.
Maggie Woodward is an MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Mississippi, where she's Senior Editor of the Yalobusha Review and curates the Trobar Ric Reading Series. She's also a programmer for the Oxford Film Festival and a high school debate coach. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Axolotl Magazine, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, & wu-wei fashion mag, among others.
Meghan Privitello is the author of A New Language for Falling Out of Love (YesYes Books, 2015) and Notes on the End of the World (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). Work has appeared in Boston Review, Kenyon Review Online, Gulf Coast, Best New Poets,Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation & elsewhere. She is the recipient of a NJ State Council of the Arts Fellowship in Poetry.
Claudia Cortese is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. WASP QUEEN, her first full-length book, explores the privilege and pathology, trauma and brattiness of suburban girlhood (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast Online, and The Offing, among others, and she is s book reviewer for Muzzle Magazine. The daughter of Neapolitan immigrants, Cortese grew up in Ohio and lives in New Jersey. She also lives at claudia-cortese.com
Toby Altman is the author of Arcadia, Indiana (Plays Inverse, 2017) as well as five chapbooks, including recently Security Theater (Present Tense Pamphlets, 2016). His poems can/will be found in Crazyhorse, Jubilat, Lana Turner, and other journals and anthologies.