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Guest Poets from the South West

 

When Suzanne asked us to give her a handful of poems for a special supplement to the L.A. Poetry Festival site, we knew that we couldn’t possibly represent the wealth and diversity of New Mexico’s–even Santa Fe’s–writing scene with a such small selection. So we simply decided to ask some poets who’ve been on our minds lately to send us a poem each. Each of the poets we’ve picked has his or her own fully achieved and distinctive voice as well as an active record in the literary community.

From Sherwin Bitsu’s associative landscape of an inner state of being to Anne Valley-Fox’s intimate evocation to the Muse, from E.A. Mare’s vivid mood piece in Athens to Rebecca Seiferle’s old testament infused rural-based poem lamenting genetic research, from Miriam Sagan’s homage to the archeologist Harriet Silliman Cosgrove to our own two poems, we hope you get a sense of the richness of writing going on in Northern New Mexico today.

Carol Moldaw and Arthur Sze

THE SCENT OF BURNING HAIR

by Sherwin Bitsui

I circle my shadow
at 5 AM when crickets gather in the doorway
showing their teeth and striped tongues
silver eyes
singing about a wind blown desert
sinking into the waist of the setting sun.

I have become a man crawling over his broken fingers
searching for a ring to plant my lips on,
eating cinders while breaking eggs on my brother’s white skin.

I have either become a black dot growing legs
running from the blank page,
or the mud that is caked over the keyhole of a church
hiding its bandaged eyes.

This bed quivers,
it wants to become a spider again
and sting silent the antelope that leap over children
whose mothers abandon their pots
and follow hoof prints into the city
smudging themselves with the smoke of burning hair.
Look! There between the eyes of the horizon
two crows waiting for our bodies.

Imagine this at 5 AM,
when the river slides into a silent city
stuffed with decaying corn husk,
when everyone discovers razors in the womb of this land,
and the sun decides which bridge
should be covered with skin and leaves
and which should remain as goat ribs submerged in
sand smelling of diesel engines.
*****

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APHRODITE HOTEL, LA PLACA Athens, 5:30 a.m.

by E.A. Mares

Birdsong weaves a splash of dark roofs,
whitewashed walls, and green awnings
into a cool dawn of gray hills
south from the fifth floor window.

The Parthenon rises to the west renewed
by sunlight and the singing of swallows.
Nearby, a Greek Orthodox Temple
choked by a cubist surround of buildings

lifts its cross to the milky sky.
Beneath its battered red tiled cupola
maroon flowers wildly cascade
down the brick walls. Revving up,

a car annoys the sleeping city.
White laundry on a distant balcony
catches the sun, flutters the day.

*****

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GEESE
by Carol Moldaw

We called them ducks, but they were geese, Canadian geese.
When they dipped their beaks into the water to nibble pond-scum
their tails tipped up, and their bodies bobbed, like buoys–
a row of geese, a string of buoys.
For two weeks we watched them from the windows and deck
of our rented boat-house overlooking the salt-water pond.
Beyond the edge of the pond, which wasn’t that far, you could see
a rocky beach, a strip of sea.

The gestation had just begun. Swimming through moon jellies
and reeds to the middle of the pond, I liked to see
how close I could get
to the placidly floating ducks, which is how I thought of the geese.
Flotilla of ducks, armada of geese.

So as not to disrupt the delicate orchestration going on within,
I swam side stroke, gliding along the surface of the water like one
of the geese, one of the ducks, my eyes fixed on the shore.
Idle moorings, the houses on shore.

But each time I swam in the pond, the pond reeds ribboned
and swirled over my thighs, exerting such a gently seductive suction
that I imagined them pulling me down, onto a bed of reeds–
a sea-creatures lair, the swaying reeds.

And though we were already home by the time the bleeding began,
looking back now I can remember pushing aside what part of me knew
as I looked out the window, weighing my breasts in my hands,
watching the geese, my breasts in my hands.

*****

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KILL HOLE
Harriet Silliman Cosgrove, 1877-1970
by Miriam Sagan

Take the Victorian, like a faded valentine, and
Place it against the real–
A cave, the desert heat
A woman of forty
Decides it is time to start digging
For the past, for those
Who buried their dead beneath the floors
Of their houses, corpses
With knees flexed
As if in the womb.

A gracious house with a wrap-around porch
Lace tablecloths, a roast, the usual
Conversation
A wife–she digs
A widow–she keeps digging
As archeologist, she may lecture
At Harvard University
As a woman, is barred
From attending lectures
Must stand in her skirts, constrained
To the hall, straining
To hear the jargon of her field
At the Peabody Museum
Where I, a melancholy undergraduate
Wasted snowy afternoons
Inhaling the scent of looted collections
Mayan plaster casts
Huge amethysts
Moth-eaten lynx
Painstaking glass flowers
Showing cross-sections
Of sexual reproduction.

What she finds is this:
Black and white pots,
Hundreds, thousands,
Painted with joyful scenes
Yin-Yang fish
Air full of butterflies
Flute players
Lines fresh, lively as Knossos murals
Jar with a Cretan octopus.
Each pot has a kill hole
Placed right through its belly,
The foot it has to stand on,
Soul of the pot set free,
Placed over the face of the corpse.
What she finds is this, her own face,
Aging gently in the mirror
Her own hand
Copying the leaping deer, the dragonfly,
These images that live again
Because she found them.

*****

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THE VOICE IN THE WHIRLWIND
by Rebecca Seiferle

I know about the birth of the mountain
goats, have kept vigil for the birth pangs
of the does, have numbered
the months that they must fulfill
and calculated the time of their bringing forth.
They crouch down and bear their young;
they deliver their progeny in the desert,
but I do not know why you have done this,
why the earth cries out and is afflicted,
why it cries out as if in labor
and does not bring forth.

In the high mountain meadows of Utah,
deep in the green with the rich texture
of newly printed money, the lambs
struggle to their feet, each spring,
their legs growing a little shorter,
the shanks diminishing, as the breed
is genetically engineered for its haunches,
so that one day nothing will frolic
in these pastoral scenes but
a rounded rump, a chine of living meat.

I asked the beasts to teach me,
I lay down among the grasses,
I asked the birds of the air to tell me,
the snakes and the bright lizards
to instruct me, I cast my understanding
into the waters of the oceans,
the rivers, and the lakes,
and asked the fish of the sea to inform me,
but they could not tell me why
you have done this.

In the fields of Eastern Europe, in the pastures
sown with abandoned mines,
the fireflies flicker every night
as they hunt for the sweet sexual
scent of TNT, the landmines
emitting a faint odor
that the fireflies are drawn to
as once they were drawn to
the male and female of their own kind…

My days have passed away, my plans are at an end.
Such men change the night into day;
when there is darkness, they talk of approaching
light.

Another phosphorescent
glow, pheromone of longing,
now trembles in their cells
so they wish to mate with dynamite.
Created in the shape of our desire
to locate the hidden mines
that we buried in the earth,
they are tiny whirlwinds of agitated light
gathering above the earth, fathering
nothing.

Because you could not look into the faces of the wounded
without believing only in the wound.
Because you could not look
into the face of the wound
even the wound you yourself have inflicted
and love it. Because you could not
look into the face of the wound
without wanting to erase its
puzzling gaze. Because you believe
only in your own necessity
to exist, because the universe
owes you this, even the birds
of the air, the creatures moving
upon the face of the earth, and
those in the depths of the sea, I have turned
away from you, I have spit you out…

In upper state New York, in a sterile
laboratory, a special breed
of white mouse is growing
a human ear in the skin
on its back. The whorl
rides upon its spine, as the tender
lobe, the spiral of human flesh,
takes shape like a fetus
in the placenta
of the mouse’s almost transparent
skin. The mouse is pure,
a genetic X, its skin
like the thinnest
of veils, revealing
the ear caught in the net
of its veins. As it moves through the
cage, the mouse stops, tentatively
turns toward the glass, as if it could hear
the voice of the whirlwind on the other side
with that human ear pricked
on its back, listening, listening…

I know that you can do all things,
can stretch out your hand and give
an ear to a boy who was born with none,
can stretch out your hand
and all the firstborn will be born without limbs,
can send the creatures of the air
to find the weapons which you have hidden
in the valleys and in the mountains, can feed
the hungry with food that will not sustain them,
can heal the sick so that they bear within them,
the heart of a monkey, a pig’s liver, the kidney
of a murdered boy, can make the dying outlast
the organs of their own body, can transform
a desert into a garden, and make a
desert of the earth,
and no purpose of yours can be hindered,
and that your wonders are infinite,
beyond number. I have dealt
with things that I do not understand,
things too terrible for me,
which I cannot know.
I have heard of you by word of mouth,
but now that I have seen
how you truly are,
I tremble with fear and sorrow
for all that lives and breathes.
*****

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