In sleep I feared my soul would divide,
range free, having shrugged off the body,
go down to my basement where I once slept walked as a child,
our official childhood photographs, tilted a nail’s width.
My feet glided like that to the Earth Room,
behind a nondescript door in Soho where an angel sat
at a desk & pointed to the sign: no pictures,
for aren’t angels always pointing at things
and forbidding you to take them? The dirt was undulant, pure black,
verdant, like Walter de Maria’s hair, filled a former gallery
packed in since 1977 for me and this other guy
to gaze at in awe and when I turned away I saw
him wave to a man across the street in a window,
just transferring things from box to box,
exactly how my feet moved in sleep walk
all hoard and squander crushed like thyme under each sole.
You aren’t supposed to wake sleepwalkers, moving toward
their sure destination, for the soul is shameless about orders.
That dirt was dark as cake. Since the artist forbid reproduction
I took a memory instead of you, love, smiling under a great stair.
Merridawn Duckler is a poet, playwright and prose writer from Portland, Oregon. Recent poetry in TAB: Journal of Poetry and Poetics, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Blast Furnace, Zone 3, The Psychoanalytic Review, The Meadow and Really System, forthcoming from Stonecoast Review, The Offing, Rivet, Nerve Lantern, Blue Lyra. She was runner-up for the 2014 poetry residency at the Arizona Poetry Center, judged by Farid Matuk. Her manuscript was a finalist in the 2016 Brooklyn-based Center for Book Arts contest. Recent prose in Poetica and humor in Defenestration. She was a finalist for the 2016 Sozoplo Fiction Fellowship. Her play in verse was in the Emerging Female Playwright Festival of the Manhattan Shakespeare Project. Other plays have been performed in Arizona, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Valdez, Alaska. Fellowships/awards include Writers@Work, NEA, Yaddo, Squaw Valley, SLS in St. Petersburg, Russia, Berta Anolic Arts Fellowship to Jerusalem, others. She’s an editor at Narrative and at the international philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics.
Art is to resist time they say
Ozymandias, but don’t believe
in them, when the paint has
turned pale, when the canvas
got worn out, and the marble
fragmented in a rough enough
shake, neither Keats’s urn will
remain, nor the three hunters
in Bruegel’s picture in whom
Berryman invests hopes, but
if in case of a disaster there is
a tiny little chance to survive:
in Cemal Tollu’s picture, the
two wrestlers, who look as if
they’ve swallowed two anvils
in place of shanks, and set to
wrestling with concrete block
bodies nailed with rancor into
each millimeter square of the
ground under their feet who
knows with how much pressure
so that they cannot be moved
by a lift, seem to say: this life
that slips away from our hands
like muscles washed in olive oil
is short but certainly long is Art.
This poem is an author translation of a poem from his book, Yağmura Bunca Düşkün (So Fond of Rain) published in 2014.
Nazmi Ağıl graduated from the English Language and Literature Department, Bosphorus University, Istanbul where he also received his PhD with a dissertation on Auden’s poetry. Since 2008 he has been working at the Department of English Language and Comparative Literature, Koç University. He published several volumes of poetry, and translated some canonical works from English literature including Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, The Rape of the Lock and The Prelude.
(after Debussy, 12 Etudes For Piano)
1) For Five Fingers
Call up the smoke, slowly,
conjure your hidden animal soul. Quick,
this is an order, not a request (quit your giggling).
It's serious, we can't have this silliness, there's too much at stake.
Carve the smoke quickly with your tiny hands, make shadow cutouts, now.
(It's not that I don't care for you, loving only your skilled fingers,
your talented skin. No, but what I need now, today,
are what they promise in the dark tent of this bed,
where mysteries conspire and smoke rises from an invisible fire
that can't warm either of us). Do it now.
2) For the Thirds
Now, as the sun fights its way out of mist,
an avian concerto moves me from sleep
to waking. Already she has entered the day
leaving a gap in the bed, sheets still kissed
by her warmth. Perhaps, I think, I'll leap
out of bed, catch her on the stairs and say--
Well, what I forgot to say. My body resists
the impulse, the mind calculates that it will keep.
This is a squall of loss, not a storm. She's not far away.
3) For the Fourths
Away from this table, this pen, words
carry different weights. Silence is not
decoration there. Quick waterfall notes from birds
are just and only that. Things aren't taught
to mean beyond themselves. But right here,
at this cloth covered table, the white field
of a page demands thoughts that are near
reality but not themselves real.
That's not at all true, of course. I've heard
such theories but disagree. It's not
words reflecting facts, like a mirror,
just a mute language, recoverable but concealed.
4) For the Sixths
Concealed under clothes her form
eludes words, both truth and lies.
Her hair, at times a brown storm
sometimes a dark helmet. Her eyes
are more daunting than her shape,
to words, at least. There's a place, the nape
of her neck, that I never let escape
my kisses, she's so tasty there.
Often, never enough, I'll just drape
an arm across her shoulder, aware
of her quiet heart beat, her beauty, her soul,
I suppose. I want her whole.
5) For the Octaves
Holes punched in silence
by birds and children;
a patch of mist, forgotten
by the sun. There's no balance
to this morning. Diffused
minutes, a fractured sequence
of non-events. My patience
tries to mend things, but is refused.
6) For Eight Fingers
Refusing a smoke for now,
I squat by the fire and ask
for a story. Quick, with small
words, like sparks flying
from these logs. You start by lying,
which I enjoy. I like stories tall
in the woods, crackling with fire snaps. I bask
yellow in the purple night. Start again. Now.
7) For the Chromatic Scale
Three blackbirds smudge the sky
like dotted notes. Nearby, a red car
slides past a yellow house and down
a blue hill, now quick, now slow,
lost at last to distance and mist.
The birds bank and wheel
in careless formation, silent.
8) For the Ornaments
Silent smoke brushes past
late blossoms, the bough still damp
from last night's all too rare rain.
Fire is elsewhere, smoldering leftover from the last
winter feast, perhaps, or imprisoned by a presence lamp
in a cold church. The blossoms remain,
tossed lightly by a breeze, teased and passed
by confused birds, dazzled by the damp
leaves. Clouds are forming, perhaps it will rain
soon, but probably not. Each drop seems like the last
that will ever fall. It grows dark but I leave the lamp
alone, unlighted. Silence, I think is the main
requirement. It allows one to reach past
this melancholy drought, to cherish the damp
brown earth, and to pray for rain.
9) For Repeated Notes
Rain escaped again. Birds
scatter like smoke in the gray light. I'd heard
some storm was due, over due. Just words
from an insane weatherman. That's the third
day this week he's wrong. The ground's been stirred
but stays thirsty. A moon dryly wanes, interred
in a sterile sky. We've lamely entered
dust's reign, with these damned cheerful birds.
10) For Opposite Sonorities
Birds--gaps in silence--red
and blue blurs in the leaves,
more active than ear or eye,
a distraction from her, a difference.
She (ah, that sound) in her long languors,
studies in blacks and browns, the gaps
in her presence. I sit here, hunched
over this long table, warming my hands
above coffee, birds teasing my sight,
turning her over in my heart, as if
she were some image of woman
not a woman herself. Then suddenly
in the silence between two notes,
like smoke, the broken icon is gone.
11) For Compound Arpeggios
Gone, the mist has vanished
from the small valley of this yard. Quick
quiet notes, small stones under shoes next door
form a gardener's minuet. I am thinking nothing at all
(though I breathe her and live her I do not, always, think her)
just letting the cool day rinse me, remake me,
not even keeping watch. Silent.
12) For the Accords
Silence, startled to waking, to music--
No, not birds, not now, at this time, this place.
It's within her, as I make an ethic
of our love. Wrongly, I know, face to face
with myself over these words. I replace
feeling with fiction, with mirrors and smoke.
I cast shadow plays on the wall, then erase
them before she looks, afraid they might evoke
laughter, but lust, afraid of becoming a joke
at this late date. Concealed somewhere by mists
and evasions, there's a strongbox of words
whose meanings I've forgotten. It resists
me. But if it opened, if she just heard
what I meant to say, now, she would be stirred
and her enthusiastic hands would fall
on to my hungry skin, light as a bird's
note on an ear. Enough! I become small.
I've learned enough to wait, to listen for a call.
Mark J. Mitchell
Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologies Good Poems, American Places, Hunger Enough, Retail Woes and Line Drives. It has also been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Net. He is the author of two full-length collections, Lent 1999 (Leaf Garden Press) and Soren Kierkegaard Witnesses an Execution (Local Gems) as well as two chapbooks, Three Visitors (Negative Capability Press) and Artifacts and Relics, (Folded Word). His novel, Knight Prisoner, is available from Vagabondage Press and two more novels are forthcoming: A Book of Lost Songs (Wild Child Publishing) and The Magic War (Loose Leaves). He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and filmmaker Joan Juster where he makes a living showing people pretty things in his city.
It’s about two weeks from the 20 Poem Challenge.
There are no rules, aside from committing to trying to write a poem each weekday for twenty days, prompted loosely or intimately by the painting or visual artwork posted here every morning.
Everyone and anyone can play. Just make the commitment to the 20 Poem Challenge. That’s it.
Finish them, don’t finish them. Polish, or plow through. Abandon, or return late to nurture. It’s up to you and only you.
I have carefully curated an intriguing array of artworks. I have included some of my known secret worlds, and I have pushed myself to think away from inclinations and preconceived notions and plans. I have included works that you will love and works that you will hate. The result is your September.
The 20 Poem Challenge is a fun, creativity-generative project about jotting down words after thinking about the art. But the Challenge goes beyond fun, too, pushing you into some dark corners, getting you lost and keeping you out past your curfew.
Writing is always therapy, of course, and looking at art and thinking about it is really a form of psychoanalysis, so it’s a month of discovery. Of the world around you, and about yourself.
You owe me nothing and this challenge is about you, not me.
But nonetheless, I do have something to ask of you.
I want you to be as open and as expansive and as free as you have ever been. Dig deeper, or swim to the surface and survey the sky.
Some of you are well known and some of you are unknown, and all of you will put that aside and try to write without any mooring whatsoever from your literary life -or lack thereof.
I want you to lose your voice, and I want you to find it. I want you to play and to pray and put down the words that you’ve just never found so far.
That Day in Assisi
Remember that dark, patched robe
Held erect on some flimsy stand, its frayed
edges on display in the Chapel of Relics,
testament to the impoverished saint protected
in the fortress basilica in Assisi? Or, maybe,
not a robe robe but — what was that word? --
tunic or habit — though aren't those worn
by nuns? — and wasn't it the key to his story,
to the birth of his order, the foundation for
this edifice, a monument to modesty? You,
though, were drawn not to the long-dead saint's
vestments, the supposed trace of his actual
body, so small as to be startling; rather,
your eyes led to the Upper Basilica
and the frescoes that spoke of the world before the
Renaissance as they told the lives of Christ and Saint Francis.
I remember faint traces of some once regal blue
in what is most likely Cimabue’s time worn Crucifixion,
the Christ, Angels and followers faded to pale apparitions
of the artist’s intent, while the people in Giotto’s
Legend of Saint Francis — at least some attribute it to him,
Cimabue’s student — appeared so crisp in their lines
they seemed to represent a kind of contemporaneity
to bring the life of Francis back alive when the work was new.
And in your abstract painting, in which boxy shapes
appear connected or open into one another, linked
together, but without any clear beginning or end,
I see the dull brown of Saint Francis’s habit and a rich blue
hinting at either Cimabue’s or Giotto’s original intent,
and still more colours, soft grays, tans, and greens as silent
and somber as a chapel in the Lower Basilica in Assisi.
Your painting moves, or at least the shapes and colours
move the eye with a strong sense of momentum, even with
abrupt changes in direction, suggesting there is no one
definitive movement through the work, much like the questions
raised by how we remember ourselves on that day in Assisi,
in that ironic church — a glorious religious monument
to a man, a Saint, whose life and order rejected such things --
a temple to memory in which the art has faded over time
and has lifted a cloud of doubt of who exactly was the artist.
Michael Janairo is a former newspaper columnist and editor who now works at a museum in upstate New York, where he lives with his wife, son and dog. His writing has been published in various journals and anthologies, including Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, Star*Line Magazine, Eye to the Telescope, Kartika Review, Maganda Magazine, Walang Hiya: Literature Taking Risks Toward Liberatory Practice, and the Abiko Quarterly. His family name is pronounced "ha NIGH row." He blogs at michaeljanairo.com.
The Ekphrastic Review
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