#28 Discomfort Index
Amy Leigh Davis
Steven O. Young, Jr.
cento: "The Human Abstract"
cento: "You Keep Me Waiting in a Truck"
erasure: "the heart of the people"
erasure: "Listen to the crowd"
found: "Of the Epidemics"
cento: "One That Is Small"
two erasure/collages: "Scarlet"
Along the Edge of the World
cut-out/collage "Slow Emotional Deterioration: Forest, Fire & Monsoon"
found: "What Swamp I Sweated Through for All These Years"
collage: "A Mantra in the Making"
erasures: " S ON " and " EAR TH"
found: "What My Urn Will Say, Maybe"
two braided centos: "Then again—perhaps it does feel like a fire" & "The Hall of Paper Windows"
found: "Discomfort Index"
cento: "And waking one morning we realize
The Human Abstract
I dreamed you did not return.
It was March, the month of human discourse.
Irony, neatness and rhyme pretending to be poetry
flapped like a rag in my ears.
How fiercely I miss your vicinity—
flesh, bone, there is nothing there.
Since everyone says that you’re dead,
my dreams had a blank area in the center.
How I wish I could lean back into the past.
It is burden enough that death lies on all sides,
stranded without a language for it.
The body itself is the vector,
the only way to leave even the smallest trace,
as water is broken by the falling of a leaf.
For this sometimes the birds sing without purpose.
Your bones already asterisks
seems all eternity I’ll ever need.
The days and nights bear me along.
Out of the early morning darkness
cold clouds go over,
the clear air filled with ice.
How even a little violence
eases the mind.
Only a crust of moon is left,
and, in a breath, is taken away.
These lines come from many of my favorite poets who speak to each other in my head. Sources, in order: Title: William Blake, “The Human Abstract” Stanza 1: Louise Glück, “Brennende Liebe” Stanza 2: Dean Young, “Howl Upone Eskaping...”; Jack Gilbert, “Measuring the Tyger”; Ted Kooser, “December 27”; Amy Gerstler, “Dispersion”; Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus” Stanza 3: Amy Gerstler, “Blown Out”; Sharon Olds, “Ode to my Whiteness”; Ellery Akers, “For the Child I Was”; Jack Gilbert, “A Kind of Decorum”; Jack Gilbert, “Crossing the Border, Searching for the City” Stanza 4: Diane di Prima, “Another Part of Loba”, pg 213; Jack Gilbert, “Trying to Have Something Left Over”; Robert Lowell, “The Garden by Moonlight”; Jack Gilbert, “Adulterated” Stanza 5: Dean Young, “Dear Reader”; Dean Young, “Bronzed”; Jane Kenyon, “Now Where?” Stanza 6: Ted Kooser, “Preface to Early Morning Walks”; Sylvia Plath, “Little Fugue”; Alicia Ostriker, “The End of the Line”; Jane Kenyon, “Bright Sun After Heavy Snow” Stanza 7: Ted Kooser, “March 12”; Ted Kooser, “Screech Owl”
Joan Baranow is the author of In the Next Life, Living Apart, and two chapbooks. She teaches in the Low-Residency MFA program in Creative Writing at Dominican University of CA.
Cento: You Keep Me Waiting in a Truck
Watching you in the mirror I wonder
Who is this man out walking
He drew hundreds of women
Not while, but long after he had told me
Mind a clutter: sick with love for another
You and I—we agitate
That year we hardly slept, waking like inmates
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico
The highway forever draws away
Captain: the weathervane’s rusted
No one’s dancing here tonight
Nothing to be said about it, and everything—
The great sun has changed itself into a pumpkin moon
I am smoking Camels and crying.
A cento of first lines from poems in The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, one of the books that made me fall in love with poetry. It was a text in a writing class I took with the author Susan Thames at Columbia’s School of General Studies back when these poets and I really were younger.
Title: Ai, “Twenty-Year Marriage”/1. Louise Glück, “The Mirror”/2. Michael Pettit, “Sunday Stroll”/3. Cathy Song, “Beauty and Sadness”/4. Tess Gallagher, “Each Bird Walking”/5. Sydney Lea, “Night Trip Across the Chesapeake and After”/6. Denis Johnson, “Minutes”/7. Cleopatra Mathis, “Getting Out”/ 8. Naomi Shihab Nye, “Making a Fist”/9. Rosanna Warren, “Lily”/10. Elizabeth Spires, “Widow’s Walk”/11. Daniel Halpern, “The Dance”/12. Robert Pinsky, “Dying”/13. Sherod Santos, “Goodbye”/14. Arthur Vogelsang, “The Clouds”
Susan Thomsen, a community TA in Penn’s online class Modern & Contemporary American Poetry, is an alumna of the New Yorker’s "Goings On About Town" department. Her street art photography is on Instagram at SusanThomsen03.
the heart of the people
A large number of passengers were already at the station-house awaiting the departure of the cars. By the aspect and demeanor of these persons it was easy to judge that the feelings of the community had undergone a very favorable change in reference to the celestial pilgrimage. It would have done Bunyan's heart good to see it. Instead of a lonely and ragged man with a huge burden on his back, plodding along sorrowfully on foot while the whole city hooted after him, here were parties of the first gentry and most respectable people in the neighborhood setting forth towards the Celestial City as cheerfully as if the pilgrimage were merely a summer tour. Among the gentlemen were characters of deserved eminence—magistrates, politicians, and men of wealth, by whose example religion could not but be greatly recommended to their meaner brethren. In the ladies' apartment, too, I rejoiced to distinguish some of those flowers of fashionable society who are so well fitted to adorn the most elevated circles of the Celestial City. There was much pleasant conversation about the news of the day, topics of business and politics, or the lighter matters of amusement; while religion, though indubitably the main thing at heart, was thrown tastefully into the background. Even an infidel would have heard little or nothing to shock his sensibility.
One great convenience of the new method of going on pilgrimage I must not forget to mention. Our enormous burdens, instead of being carried on our shoulders as had been the custom of old, were all snugly deposited in the baggage car, and, as I was assured, would be delivered to their respective owners at the journey's end. Another thing, likewise, the benevolent reader will be delighted to understand. It may be remembered that there was an ancient feud between Prince Beelzebub and the keeper of the wicket gate, and that the adherents of the former distinguished personage were accustomed to shoot deadly arrows at honest pilgrims while knocking at the door. This dispute, much to the credit as well of the illustrious potentate above mentioned as of the worthy and enlightened directors of the railroad, has been pacifically arranged on the principle of mutual compromise. The prince's subjects are now pretty numerously employed about the station-house, some in taking care of the baggage, others in collecting fuel, feeding the engines, and such congenial occupations; and I can conscientiously affirm that persons more attentive to their business, more willing to accommodate, or more generally agreeable to the passengers, are not to be found on any railroad. Every good heart must surely exult at so satisfactory an arrangement of an immemorial difficulty.
"Where is Mr. Greatheart?" inquired I. "Beyond a doubt the directors have engaged that famous old champion to be chief conductor on the railroad?"
"Why, no," said Mr. Smooth-it-away, with a dry cough. "He was offered the situation of brakeman; but, to tell you the truth, our friend Greatheart has grown preposterously stiff and narrow in his old age. He has so often guided pilgrims over the road on foot that he considers it a sin to travel in any other fashion. Besides, the old fellow had entered so heartily into the ancient feud with Prince Beelzebub that he would have been perpetually at blows or ill language with some of the prince's subjects, and thus have embroiled us anew. So, on the whole, we were not sorry when honest Greatheart went off to the Celestial City in a huff and left us at liberty to choose a more suitable and accommodating man. Yonder comes the engineer of the train. You will probably recognize him at once."
the heart of the people
is a part of the light
the heart of the person
is the light of the promise
the heart of the truth
is the whole of liberty
Derived from “The Celestial Railroad,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Deborah-Zenha Adams (she/her) is an award-winning author of novels, short fiction, CNF, and poetry. She is also a certified naturalist who enjoys introducing children to the wonder of animal scat.
Dora Rollins finds collage very much like poetry in that she looks for unexpected connections via imagery that both complement and contrast. Inspiration comes from anything that grabs her attention as a piece that might fit in a collective statement. Her art has been published in the Rain Shadow Review, Corvus Review and Right Hand Pointing.
I dream in thoughts of formaldehyde.
Be kind to the commas,
like you, they would rather be curled up in fetal position.
If you plan to write about sex,
make sure you’ve had it,
at least once.
Are you, too, looking for something
new in your life?
Something that's more you?
Somehow your head has detached,
and so I have to tote it around
to meetings, classes, and lunch.
At dusk I refrigerate you
because your bloodstream no longer
throbs with heart-driven verve.
Don't sign your name
between worlds; how you die out in me:
At the heart of all great art is an essential melancholy.
Sources: Melanie Whithaus, Joanna Fuhrman, Nin Andrews, William Doreski, Paul Celan, Frederico Garcia Lorca
Erika Lutzner has written one book, While Everything Slipped Away From Me (Calypso Editions) and four chapbooks; three with dancing girl press and one with Kattywompus Press. She grew up in Garrett Park MD, next to Porcupine Woods and behind the train tracks. She now resides in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former violinist and chef and loves cats.
Listen to the crowd
impossible to turn
head wedged like an egg
into a box of others.
slip forwards be carried
chests and backs
a ragged patch of blue.
lack of space
beneath this empty sky.
the spread of fires
movement of crows—
try to stay together
shock wave travelling.
Denied the fallen
body to lean against,
a larger hole.
Buried in bodies,
perhaps bodies that you know.
Crushed by others
who have no choice in the matter,
the people who choose
Be aware. Look ahead. Listen to the crowd.
Erasure of “Hajj Crush: How Crowd Disasters Happen, and How They Can Be Avoided,” The Guardian, 03 October 2015
Batnadiv HaKarmi is a writer and visual artist who currently resides in Jerusalem. Her work has been published in Poet Lore, Radar Poetry, and most recently in Belmont Story Review. A graduate of the graduate writing program in Bar Ilan University, she is the recipient of the Andrea Moria Prize for Poetry, and was shortlisted for the Brideport Prize. Her work can be followed on www.batnadiv.com and on Instagram @batnadiv_art
Of the Epidemics
OF THE EPIDEMICS: FIRST CONSTITUTION
But always now the map and X-ray seem
resemblant pictures of one living breath
one country marked by error
and one by air.
- Muriel Rukeyser, from "The Disease: After-Effects"
The rains were abundant,
The winter southerly,
the northerly winds.
The whole attended
Many had dry
Fever and some not.
The one day,
The twentieth day,
Cases in which
it did not leave them
came at the approach of winter.
OF THE EPIDEMICS: SECOND CONSTITUTION
The winter suddenly
The rains in torrents
after the solstice.
Copious rains. The sky
healthy, but early in spring
the greater part set in.
Breaking. And did not
All these fevers.
All these fevers.
And the dying.
Fevers under the
The whole turning
to coma, bowels.
The worst of all
The most of these,
the some of these
left without a crisis.
And those who did not
were unseasonably thirsty,
Whatever cut them off
did them no good.
A speedy recovery!
The present, future
must mediate two objects:
Namely to do good
or to do harm.
Head, neck, heaviness.
Mistiness about the eyes.
These cases end in paralysis,
mania, loss of sight.
OF THE EPIDEMICS: THIRD CONSTITUTION
Northerly winds, southerly
rains. Dog-star. Dog-days.
In this state of things
Early in spring.
Those that were attacked...
For the most part...
Few of them...
I do not know a single person...
On the fourth and fifth day,
on the sixth day, the twenty
-fourth day, fortieth day.
The pregnant state.
The proper color.
lodged in the house.
The slave and the wife.
Afterwards it would be worth while
to inquire what was
the cause of this.
Fevers set in.
And many died.
They had much
in the feet,
in their hands.
The disease assumed
a violent character
about the seventh day.
An involuntary discharge
of tears. Swellings.
Brothers became ill
at the same hour.
Elder, younger, son,
We form a judgement
by attending to the general
nature of all, the peculiar
nature of each.
To the disease, the patient,
the person, the constitution,
The nature of each country.
To habits, conversation, manners,
thoughts, sleep, absence of sleep.
Dreams, what and when, one
into the other. To the deposits.
To hemorrhages. From these
and their consequences.
OF THE EPIDEMICS: LAST CONSTITUTION
Diseases have their paroxysms
on even days, their paroxysms
on uneven days.
The crisis on even days:
4th 6th 8th
10th 14th 30th
40th 60th 80th
On uneven days:
1st 3rd 5th
7th 9th 11th
17th 27th 31st
If on any other day,
In these seasons
what will lead to recovery
and what to death.
To changes for the better,
or the worse.
Composed of found text from "Of the Epidemics: Book 1" by Hippocrates, trans. by Francis Adams in The Genuine Works of Hippocrates (Classics of Medicine Library, 1985).
Lee Peterson is the author of In the Hall of North American Mammals (winner of the 2021 Cider Press Review Award), Rooms and Fields: Dramatic Monologues from the War in Bosnia (Kent State University Press), and the chapbook The Needles Road (forthcoming from Seven Kitchens Press). She teaches at Penn State Altoona and lives in Central Pennsylvania.
One That is Small
I am sneaking away
toward the sky, measuring
drawls and hums. This song
is one Celtic knot that is small.
Line dancing through the clouds,
floating like balloons, goblins and goons,
lungs like stung lemons,
an entire body of eye
dazed, I’m counting drops of rain, pocketing light.
Still wet from the clouds,
my feet on the cold speckled stars,
I spot a five-stripe sparrow so fine.
My eyes are wide open.
To get closer to the real thing
I strain my eyes to watch.
The air grows sweet with rhythm and blues,
I swallow letters and chew.
Forgive me if I find it difficult—
the cat’s purring and it’s hard to concentrate.
All I wish is to place my palm
in the garden every day
and scribble a poem or two.
Cento: Lines & partial-lines, in order of appearance, from: Michaella Batten, Lauren Whitehead, Tina Mozelle Braziel, Austin Rodenbiker, Nyah Hardmon, Darius V. Daughtry, Christa Romanovsky, Marlanda Dekine-Sapient Soul, Lindsay Stuart Hill, Annik Adey-Babinski, Felicia Zamora, Sandra Gustin, Ray McManus, Cathy Linh Che, Julia Edwards, Nyah Hardmon, Amorette “Epiphany” Lormil, Xaire, Susan Browne, Nicole Cooley, Tina Mozelle Braziel, Darius V. Daughtry—All poets included in Poetry, June 2021
Jacquelyn “Jacsun” Shah—A.B., M.A. English; M.F.A., Ph.D. creative writing–poetry; iconoclast, pacifist. Chapbook: small fry; book: What to Do with Red. Literal Latté’s Food Verse Contest winner.
Skin, Syringe, Latex Gloves
Stunted Apples, Homegrown
Erasures of Jack London's The Scarlet Plague, collaged with glitched imagery from everyday life during the pandemic.
Francesco Levato is a poet, translator, and new media artist. Recent books include Arsenal/Sin Documentos; Endless, Beautiful, Exact; and Elegy for Dead Languages. He holds an MFA in Poetry, a PhD in English Studies, and is an Associate Professor of Literature & Writing Studies at California State University San Marcos.
Amy Leigh Davis
Along the Edge of the World
having no money they fed on shriveled stars
now it hurts to breath
what is there in this pungent darkness?
it’s not what you suspect
to go between this world and the next
there is a sharp taste like the smell of by-products
[a released consequence]
the suicidal soul makes a beautiful blanket
philosophers have been here and poets
they claw themselves until the blood flows
[we are animals]
a kind of repeating analogy
once giants roamed the earth and maidens
now crack addicts tango clear as ghosts
we drove along the edge of the world
for comfort or to pass the time, remember
the axis spinning is why we don’t fall off
the truth is we can live forever
in a simple realm of unembroidered desires
We are, in this version, an image of hope.
“Along the Edge of the World” is composed of lines and phrases from Mong-Lan and Rachel Zucker’s poems. Several lines have been altered slightly for cohesion. Also, a few lines have words added and/or rearranged entirely to create a new meaning in this space. Source Texts: Why is the Edge Always Windy? by Mong-Lan (Tupelo Press, 2005); The Last Clear Narrative by Rachel Zucker (Wesleyan University Press, 2004).
Amy Leigh Davis lives in Kansas City, Mo. She is the author of The Alter Ego of the Universe, a chapbook published by Finishing Line Press.
Slow Emotional Deterioration: Forest, Fire & Monsoon
A cut-out and collage poem of a geoscience research paper, titled "Forest, fire & monsoon: investigating the long-term threshold dynamics of south-east Asia’s seasonally dry tropical forests." I was particularly interested in using very fringe, niche diction of environmental processes to mirror emotional collapse.
Mimi Yang is a student poet currently residing in Shanghai. Her work has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, and appears or is forthcoming in The Margins, Up North Lit, and Palette Poetry. When she's not writing poetry, she's engaging in angry political polemics and devouring magical realism novels.
What Swamp I Sweated Through for All These Years
What should be my singing?
Stricken with noise, confused with light
And this page empty
A timid woman
I will not flaw perfection with my grief
What should be my singing?
My thirst and my hunger
And this page empty
The voice that I heard crying
I will control myself, or go inside
What should be my singing?
Faint and perilous, far from shore
At my hand an unrelenting hand
And this page empty
I should be listening to the wind
Handsome, this day: no matter who has died
The wind should be my singing
And this page empty
All the lines, some slightly modified, are from Edna St .Vincent Millay’s work, including these that she’d circled in her notebook on the night she died, from a fall down the stairs in her home: I will not flaw perfection with my grief. I will control myself, or go inside. Handsome, this day, no matter who has died. The title and other lines are from the following poems: “Not So Far as the Forest,” “The Singing-Woman from the Wood’s Edge,” “Exiled,” “Interim,” “Assault,” “Feast,” “God’s World,” “Three Songs from ‘The Lamp and the Bell,’” “Low-Tide,” “Journey,” and “The Philosopher.”
Ann Pelletier is the author of Letter That Never. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.
A Mantra in the Making
This began as a blackout poem from an article in Garden & Gun's Aug/Sept 2020 issue by Caroline Sanders titled "Bucking Convention, Zeke Mitchell's Unorthodox Rise to the Top of Professional Bull Riding." The original blackout was longer but didn't have the impact of just these few words which I then cut out and placed against the backdrop of a photo of a clock I have in my home. All words are original except for "in the Making" in the title which I felt added clarity.
Nadine Ellsworth-Moran lives in Georgia where she serves full time in ministry. She is fascinated by the stories of the modern South unfolding all around her and seeks to bring everyone into conversation around a common table. Her essays and poems have appeared in Interpretation, Ekstasis, Emrys, Structo, Kakalak, and Saint Katherine Review, among others. She lives with her husband and three unrepentant cats.
live edge cherry slab, abduction of persephone, WWII maritime pulley, allegory of good government in the country, vintage glass shower door, book of homilies, 2-door p-lam cabinet, education of the virgin, 1-door p-lam cabinet, human-headed winged lion, 208 sqft white floor tile, child with toy hand grenade, granite with double sink, buddha and attendants, 10 gem cut cabinet pulls, codex mendoza, brushed nickel bath towel bar, bride stripped bare by her bachelors, fleck white oak, commentary on the apocalypse, 500 lb chain tool, garden scene, nine arm chandelier, triumph of the name of jesus and the fall of the damned, cvg fir bi-fold door, magic bird, steel half lite door (no glass), man's love story, vinyl slider window, vitruvian man, P-lam bulit-in cubbie shelf, large odalisque, kitchen sink, portrait of charles baudelaire, kitchen sink, the meeting, commercial towel dispenser, mary at her devotions, 4" tape on flexible corner, making an offering to isis, maple picture rail moulding (10 ft), madonna with the long neck, quartz vanity top, hermes and the infant dionysos, salvaged steel bench legs, python crushing an african horseman, bolt down bollard, qingbian mountains, quiet walk underlayment, captain frans banning cocq mustering his company (the night watch), american standard sink
From https://www.seconduse.com/inventory and Marilyn Stockstad's index of Art History (Revised Second Edition).
Catherine Bull lives in Tacoma, Washington, hold degrees in Poetry and English/Creative Writing from Oberlin College and U.C. Davis, and is a four-time Seattle Independent Bookstore Day Champ.
Steven O. Young, Jr.
An erasure of “Persimmons,” by Li-Young Lee (from Rose)
A hybrid erasure and blackout (the only words salvaged are from the first stanza, everything thereafter is erased) of “Early in the Morning,” by Li-Young Lee (from Rose)
Steven O. Young Jr. lives outside Detroit, where he received an MA from Oakland University. His works have or will appear at Freeze Frame Fiction, 101 Words, The Drabble, Inklette, and West Trade Review.
What My Urn Will Say, Maybe
I don’t miss my driftwood teeth,
short-lived and pitch-black.
I was eager to grow up,
eager to be worn down by living.
I sipped whisky and philosophy,
got high on the sublime lightness of desolation,
and dove into the pyre.
I am. Then I was.
Let my ashes float or drop,
it does not matter.
Someday they will sit again amongst the stars.
"What My Urn Will Say, Maybe" comes from three pages of Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air, which sits directly in front of me while I work. After a particularly difficult day in the hospital, I opened the book to a random page and tried to find meaning in the words.
Brian Smith is a first-year medical student at the Stanford University School of Medicine. His writing has been published in JAMA Oncology, in-Training, Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, and The Intima.
Snow in the tropics.
No weather house reports
flowers like snowflakes;
the greenhouse like gardens.
deserts the North Pole.
Air masses tropical
there and in Antarctica.
The inversion of
air conditioning and
heating. On television
sleet in Malaya,
a typhoon in Iceland,
ships that transport rain-making
the Australian desert
to England, and the annual
showers the troposphere
like coded messages in
warfare, and weather
and the damage caused by
weather, the depressions and
doldrums, the effects
of weather, hail a jet
stream to sunshine. A sun god
waves.) Venus and Mars,
occluded, front up as
birds above Mount Everest.
Rising on thermals
to an anvil-topped cloud,
the planets trade Mercury,
Neptune and Uranus
for Earth. Aircraft from
the average world thunder
through the Himalayas; France
storms off the radar…
And the mountains, sinking
in the floods of GODS ON CLOUDS
the travel industry
to ballooning in Worcester
and tea-clipper it
down to Chiripunji
for summer. Wind direction
changes out over
the Indian Ocean –
the South-West Monsoon rockets
to the Sahara.
Farmers in India
freak. Weather magic
and superstitions on
an international scale
(Norway plants stinging
nettle, for example,
and Washington positions
mistletoe on the
Empire State Building)
fog up weather satellites
and, with low or no
photographs, make satellite
pictures black as glass.
The title is an index entry in The Weather, a book I found in a charity shop in Australia. The index also provided most of the poem’s words and phrases; a smattering of others was sourced from the book’s short glossary and illustration credits. I have added articles, prepositions, a couple of negatives and pronouns, the conjunction ‘and’ and the adverb ‘there’. The Weather was published in 1974 by Macdonald and Co. in London.
Notes: Although The Weather was published in 1974, 11 years after the Federation of Malaya (which had gained independence from Britain in 1957) united with North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore to form the larger entity of Malaysia, the latter remains ‘Malaya’ in the book’s index. ‘Chiripunji’, more commonly ‘Cherrapunji’, is the book’s spelling. The town has now been renamed to its original, Sohra.
And waking one morning we realise
(i) You and your sky
It is May. Scraps of black cloud
and other cloudy things in the sky.
Day in day out sparrows sit along the wires.
(All week through the round window
the days continue.)
(ii) The heart wears a body
I am exhausted.
I shrink from the wild grieving.
There's not much I care about anymore.
(A fine rain,
no sound from the birds.)
(iii) This I know for certain
When my quantity of years,
walking at ease,
leaves its lodging
to fall asleep in an unfamiliar house:
Paint this day a bright holiday.
(iv) How do you sing?
Like a wretched heap of rubbish
A paw which a train ran over
A towel laundered to a rag
A bricked-up door
(Seize me and string me up)
(v) There are no fools today
Aw come on the voice says
you're disappointing God.
Remember the breeze in the morning
walking down to the river –
To hell with all that.
(vi) Today is a bad day
There are spiders, and dust on everything –
It's all the same to me.
The electrician's curses won't help the lamps light up –
He's dead, you too, everyone's dead.
(It's time to go to sleep.)
(vii) The mysterious, the glorious
The sun like a monocle:
ancient animals; gigantic, Biblical oaks;
the gilt sign of a bakery a giant pretzel;
green water all around on every side;
And the swan, as before, floats across centuries.
(viii) OK, OK
Listen you, come and be lessoned.
It is necessary to look closely.
All you are capable of
is standing fair as a poplar,
a witness to everything in the world.
(ix) To the kingdom
By the side of the road
the streetlights burn funereally.
A single car rushes past.
And flying up the roofs, the small pigeons.
(x) Like foliage
And waking one morning we realise that we have forgotten
money and dark windows
and the strain of awkward silence.
And I go around as if the sun were in my body
and an empty cage was behind me.
This poem is a cento, sourced from the work of ten Russian poets, five of them living, five dead: Anna Akhmatova (trans. Judith Hemschemeyer;), Maxim Amelin (trans. Derek Mong and Anne O Fisher), Alexander Blok (trans. Vladimir Nabokov and Maria Carlson), Marina Boroditskaya (trans. Sasha Dugdale and Ruth Fainlight), Natalia Gorbanevskaya (trans. Misha Semenov), Osip Mandelstam (trans. Robert Tracy, W. S. Merwin & Clarence Brown), Vladimir Mayakovsky (trans. Max Hayward and George Reavey), Boris Ryzhy (trans. Philip Nikolayev), Marina Tsvetaeva (trans. A. S. Kline, Andrey Kneller, Elaine Feinstein, Illya Kaminsky & Jean Valentine), and Alexander Ulanov (trans. Alex Cigale and Michelle Murphy).
Lel Sebastian lives in Australia. Her poems have been published in various online and print poetry journals, and broadcast on Radio National.
Then again—perhaps it does feel like a fire
The blue core of it, not the theatrical orange crackling.
Tonight under an unkissed moon—grief smells of ash
—ash and linen. I have been trying, for some time now
to find dignity in my loneliness.
I want to wind myself in a midnight of stars.
From this, it seemed there'd be some order
as if we could scrape the color off the iris and still see.
It's a falsehood to believe we can pin life
into the windowsills.
We are quiet birds under the morning,
the silvery garden after every evening thunderstorm.
The part I do remember—the blue of the sky
an orchid behind my ear—it's the color of language.
As if blue not only had a heart, but also a mind.
To compose braided cento I choose three poetry collections and select one line at a time from each poet's book in turn, maintaining the same order of source books until the cento is complete. Only one line is selected from each source poem. In the beginning, this was my full process. Now I often more actively edit and the pure braid of the cento may fall away as I re-arrange lines into a different order or place partial source lines from two poets onto the same line of my cento.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Dialogues With Rising Tides, Copper Canyon Press, 2021;
Holaday Mason, The Red Bowl, Red Hen Press, 2016;
Maggie Nelson, Bluets, Wave Books, 2009; Title is a line by Maggie Nelson.
The Hall of Paper Windows
The world is beautiful so you will try to stay.
The honeybee, with opal body, garnet
head and golden wings like the phosphorous glow
from a cave tunneled miles through the earth.
Grief can open you
like a blossom,
looking at it
is like looking into a mirror.
More than memory or the image of the slant of grey rain,
the hummingbirds sounded
like tin trumpets.
White peonies blooming along the porch,
a rosy blaze reaching out to small crafts at sea.
And the sky was a red bowl of wings.
II. Scissoring the Air
And the sky was a red bowl of wings
I remember the house and barn
my brother out in the summer yard
like a moon that will not set
He lay on the earth
smelling the leaves and mosses
the green curtain of the willow tree
rustling its prayer-beads in the wind
Go while he curls on the graves of the whisperers
Woooh, says the wind, and I stop
where I am, put out my arms
bridge of stars over rowed cornstalks and the elfin
images small as daggers cut out our silhouettes
Hay fills the barn; only the rake and one empty wagon are left
III. Hay Fills The Barn
only the rake and one empty wagon are left
under a sun as yellow as salted fish
I carried my fear of the world
and of death | fanned like a rainbow
in the afternoon | See the engine |
the neat cloud of steam above it
There's a swale of new fieldgrass
rainsprung | I've heard this same song
my whole life | The mother is landscape |
dust in the gleam of light
swirled with a cupped hand
The woman's voice rising | then rising
more | as if the crows panic at the fallen sky
trailing their small skirts of rain and glory
IV. From This Heaven To Its Source
Trailing their small skirts of rain and glory,
all their days and nights
a paradise of palm and palm and palm
and glittering sea.
Stars impossibly star-shaped
in the palace chamber,
as if they were shaking a great tangle
of golden wire. From the shore
the past seems to go on forever, because it does.
The bodies slammed like two bronze cymbals,
drums then, on the horizon, a muffled thunder
dressed in the ragged sailcloth of dead ships.
Beautiful things reassure us of the world's wholeness
and the surface of the water glitters hard against it.
V. A Line Is The Distance Between Two Points
and the surface of the water glitters hard against it.
Forget the sun, the tent of sky, the wind in vast cotillions
when the clouds lived high and white at the top of the page.
As sensitive to temperature as skin is to a lover's touch,
the island bides its solitude with sharp trees of parakeets.
Orbits are a matter of force, or faith,
gulls and lulls and glittering sea.
We became connoisseurs of water, making love after
to the sound of waves,
the sound of waves.
Our constellations slip under the horizon as we sail
beyond God. Flying off at random
into the world, which is to say into the air.
I am an acolyte. I peel time, with absolute care.
VI. I Am An Acolyte
I peel time, with absolute care.
I know a story I can tell you
The souls of Earthlings tried to hide in the sea.
They rise moonward, like the aeronaut
Or just yourself. Or your father,
A violet glance of lightning.
For now, the only name I give you is my own,
though maps are drawn, the bright shadows
of things that became themselves until
slowly their white pathway sinks from the world.
I am forgiven by water, but savaged by sky.
This happened, although that doesn't matter
to you, who know about the truth of poems
like a needle sewing body and soul together.
Like a needle sewing body and soul together,
this dark finery of words,
the entire floor of the heavens.
Somewhere the salmon have turned back
into the sea, the air full of memory, each atom
refusing silence. No poems on your lips
where the pool unfurls its undercloud,
the veil between us thin as a mirrored shield.
We have but one life, then a shattering.
Someone packs a bag full of stars
and the names of fireflies, broken windows
like our hearts, red-breasted as if they bled.
And whatever was you and the life you lived
will have slipped free. There it lies.
"The Hall of Paper Windows" is a crown of braided cento wraparound sonnets.
Title is a line by L. I. Henley
I. Flight and II Scissoring the Air : Garrett Hongo, The River of Heaven, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988; Jane Kenyon, Constance, Graywolf Press, 1993; Holaday Mason, The Red Bowl, Red Hen Press, 2016
III. Hay Fills The Barn : Garrett Hongo, The River of Heaven, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988; Adrian Matejka, The Big Smoke, Penguin Books, 2013; Maggie Smith, Good Bones, Tupelo Press, 2017
IV. From This Heaven To Its Source : Andrei Codrescu, It Was Today, Coffee House Press, 2003; Robert Hass, Time And Materials, Ecco, 2007; Garrett Hongo, The River of Heaven, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988; Maggie Smith, Good Bones, Tupelo Press, 2017
V. A Line Is The Distance Between Two Points : Robert Hass, Time And Materials, Ecco, 2007; Robin Beth Schaer, Shipbreaking, Anhinga Press 2014; Jason Schneiderman, Sublimation Point, Four Way Books, 2004
VI. I Am An Acolyte : Robin Beth Schaer, Shipbreaking, Anhinga Press 2014; Lawrence Raab, What We Don't Know About Each Other, Penguin Books, 1993; Ted Hughes, River, Harper & Row, 1983
VII. Elegy : Neal Aitken, Babbage's Dream, Sundress Publications, 2016;
Azure Antoinette, Whyld: A Write of Passage, Ticonderoga Press, 2018; Ted Hughes, River, Harper & Row, 1983
Sandra Crouch is a poet, artist and letterpress printer living in Los Angeles, California. She's studied poetry on two coasts and two continents for more decades than she may admit—most recently with Hollowdeck Press. Sandra's poems appear in Rogue Agent and are forthcoming in West Trestle Review. Follow her on Twitter @iamsandracrouch.
Unlost #28: Discomfort Index
Unlost is edited by Dale Wisely, Ken Chau, Tom Fugalli, and Kelli Goldsmith. Our staff dentist/spiritual advisor is the Reverend Colonel J. Ratchet IV, D.D.S. Roo Black is founding editor emeritus. Our thanks to the contributors to this issue and all who submitted their work.