Tirage Monthly: Issue Seven

Adam Day • Allison Spangenberg • Peycho Kanev • Tamara Keeney
Jacquelyn Bengfort • Emily Strauss   


 


Adam Day

WHEN YOU ASK, YOU CARRY

When you ask, you carry
hordes upon your flattened
breasts, leafing out -- two cages
in open pasture with star-nosed
moles retiring, or floating
in boats, gunwaled, giving transit
permanence amid a sleet
of plum blossoms. Everything
too sudden, our son doesn’t realize.
Your day to bathe -- the history
of costume -- the jacksy bush,
the over-large love canal, having come far
indeed, an abandoned furnace,
elaborating darkness,
against islands of treetops
far off, the blue ridges blackening.



APPREHENDED AT A DISTANCE

Disintegrated silence. Goes
without saying, yet fails
to reach meaning. A shrug,
an absurd onward.
In life without wanting
the world – things don’t
add up, but are in range.
I am sexually incoherent
and lack rhythm; I am
apprehended at a distance.
You are a thing for others –
give a gift. I was in that
thing – history in modes
of coping, bodily habits;
fucking without flirtation.
I miss your mechanical
attention. I subtract parts
of myself – now it, and it,
less I, without ceasing
to exist, commentary without
counterforce. Still, I should
like to be found well-composed
and wearing my glasses.


          

Allison Spangenberg

GASLIGHT

The lights dim and
I know you're in the attic
doing whatever thieves do
up there
you must have mistaken me
for Ingrid Bergman
and yourself the British version
that they tried to destroy
Your first date is at a place
that's called the Gaslight
secret letters and the
rubies are disguised
in the morning he will say you
took his wallet
his friend there is the chef
and the DJ is just terrible
Now you're at the can-can with
some parlor maid
I'm pleading that these
headaches will subside
the detective has told me
your real name so
we pick the lock
find all you have to hide
Your first date is at a place
that's called the Gaslight
though he promised
he would take you to the show
you'll run crying with a gold broach
to your family
not until they've
tied him to a chair


        


Peycho Kanev

THEORY

Slow music
is pouring out
from the broken
windows. It’s dark
outside and
quiet. Bats and
ravens hang silent
from the wires,
and I’m walking
slowly towards
the end and everything
is tilting and not quite
true.


         

Tamara Keeney

MEDITATION

I surrendered
a mould of myself—a sarcastic
one—to the Prince of Peace church
in Niagara Falls.

I do this in
uncomfortable situations—leaving pieces
of myself with
the perfect people; permanent offense
is a cathartic pleasure.

He hates my sarcasm; it gnaws
and burrows and endlessly drips
(on his forehead)
but I love the feeling of
covering him, like chocolate
syrup on ice cream.

After he took Communion
I asked him, “Did it taste good?”
and while he shrugged I
muttered, “Cannibal.”

And I can’t forget how during Communion,
his grandmother—brimming with Alzheimer’s--
crowed, “Where’s my husband?”
and we all giggled.

I wanted to leave a piece with her
maybe in some vain hope
of recognition the next
time I visited, but I felt
that might be out of
context. 



LETTERS

My grandmother lost herself in letters and syntax and grapes that refused to ripen, waiting for my grandfather to come back and rebuild their charred house, to hang the Jesus holograph photo in the kitchen. She waited for us to come back for her empty yellow high chair she glued to the ceiling and for her low oak branch that hoisted us onto thrones and prison cells. 


Her letters reversed themselves on paper as they traveled across state lines. She revealed truths of songs turned to scissors and leaves turned to cats and still I replied, writing each letter in straight lines, dousing the corners in chardonnay and licorice. I admitted great secrets in whispers and told her of my sexual conquests with other women I had accidentally fallen down for.

She said I was her favorite and sent a slice of doughy apple pie inside cat-figured salt and pepper shakers. She explained her green thumb was cut and wouldn't stop bleeding on the apple tree my grandfather planted in his lungs.

I dribbled the pie along my windowsill and wrote that the cats were well-fed and keeping the paprika in check. I asked if she missed my father fishing in the pool of wire and trout and God and screwdrivers, if she knew he sat long nights in front of fires eating cherry tree branches, if she could write and explain his father was hammering and painting and hanging and fishing for brook trout.

She scribbled my father's name and let the pencil find the side of the paper then take over. It sketched water lilies stretching off the page, notes deflating and missing the paper's lines, locks without keys, bowls of plastic bananas, apples, pears. It snuggled in the white spaces and bent and tore her Ts and Ns and Es until it collapsed off the page and table to rest.

She apologized and explained her thoughts were runny and smelled like new books. She remembered a small girl who once climbed her oak tree and plucked winter branches off to paint leaves on the ends.  She asked if I remembered—the girl who donned a summer dress and jumped from the low branch, flapping frozen branches in each hand as she fell.


          

Jacquelyn Bengfort

DIPTYCH FOR SAINT GERTRUDE OF NIVELLES, PROTECTORESS AGAINST MICE, RATS, AND MENTAL ILLNESS

I. Trappings

Her husband was no help. She bought traps and waited days for him to bait and set them. He was funny about certain things in this way--he always said a prayer when dropping a basket of live crabs into the steaming pot.

“Killing things falls in your wheelhouse,” she’d told him, 
without effect. He only made fun of her--the little feminist who couldn’t. Finally they struck a deal: she would catch the mice, she would clean the disease-laden crap from the cupboards and block the holes in the back wall with steel wool, if only he would dispose of the tiny carcasses.

So she set about eliminating the problem, all the time recalling some newsmagazine program she’d seen as a child: a discussion of hantavirus, nasty and deadly and spread by mice. The discovery of the pests had destroyed her peace of mind as well as her delight with the Victorian rowhouse they’d purchased at a price that made the mortgage a monthly struggle. At night, lying in bed and unable to sleep, straining to hear the clack of traps snapping to in the kitchen, she would read the CDC statistics concerning rodent-borne illnesses on her smartphone. Not many people fell ill--maybe a few dozen per year--but of those who did, maybe forty percent died. She found a stark sort of poetry of loss in those figures.

She also read up on all the ways people battled infestation. Once, she found a site that purported to advocate for live trapping and release but really seemed to advocate for no trapping at all.

“Did you know,” it said, “that mice are ever so intelligent?”
“Did you know,” it said, “that baby mice in their nests sing for their mother whenever she is gone?”
"It's only that we cannot hear it," it continued, "their cries being out of our range."    

In the spring she discovered she was pregnant. She redoubled her efforts, determined the mice be gone before the baby arrived that winter. She hadn’t yet told her husband. She experimented with exotic baits--smears of chocolate, pastes of flour and bacon fat. She obsessively emptied closets and pulled out furniture on the first two floors, vacuuming up the tiny oblongs of scat from every unlikely place, a flu mask pulled over her nose and mouth.

On a rainy day in May, as she dabbed a bit of peanut butter on the yellow pedal of a trap, she felt her stomach clench. She sat heavily on the tile, placing the loaded trap on the floor beside her.

She seemed to be shrinking.

As the cupboards loomed over her, lurching with the violence of her diminution, a sound like wordless angels filled her head. A plaintive chorus--a crying of several small things together, mournful and pleading and hungry and dying somewhere behind the cupboards, waiting on a mother never to return.
Her clothes turned gray, turned to fur. She saw the length of thin flesh sprouted behind her, felt her hands turn to paws that scrabbled under her.

Over the screaming of the baby mice, she heard the garage door opening. Surely he could help this once, could undo whatever had happened to her? She ran, blind with fear, her tiny body foundering and clumsy with newness and unfamiliarity, toward the back door.

Forgetting the trap that lay in her path.

The spring-loaded metal bar closed down on her head, shattering her skull like a nutcracker crushes a hazelnut shell.

Her husband opened the door, deactivated the alarm, and noticed the little corpse laying partially obscured under a trap that had flipped as it closed on her. “Oh honey, you caught one,” he called to the empty house, pulling a plastic newspaper bag over his hand as he bent to dispose of the mouse.

 

II. I Thought We Could Be Happy Here

Find a way in. It’s the first step. It’s easy. A crack, a loosely-fit pipe. A hole no larger than a dime. If I can fit my whiskers, the rest of me will follow, even heavy as I am with pups.

This house beckoned--I could smell the scent of a compost bucket, the trash can, a bag of dog food stored under the sink. So much to eat given we can live off bare crumbs.

Lots of fluff about. Lots of space to run behind the cupboards. I made a nest. I thought we could be happy here.

The pups came, and grew. They sang to me when I left to forage. Always plenty to eat. The people who live here--they are generous. “Leave the dishes ‘til morning,” I always hear them tell one another. It’s a great blessing to us.

But then--one of them saw me. Her shriek scared even the pups for a second, interrupting their song. I glanced back before diving into the oven control panel, to descend by way of wires to my children, my home. I saw her eyes. Panic, and worse: a determination. Recognition. We are at war.

War is full of waiting. And so there was a lull. Fewer crumbs, but we survived, though the pups were hardly that anymore. They’d begun to forage for themselves, in ever larger loops away from the nest.

I warned them. Be wary. Be cautious. I am an old mouse. You don’t get this old by running blindly at every delicious odor you smell.

It did no good.

I left the house one day, to scout some new place we might go, a secret place where the humans had no murder in their eyes. Upon my return the smell of peanut butter hung in the air, and I knew it was too late.

My children. My children. All my pups. She had trapped them, snapped them, every one.

Anger ripped through me, an anger too great for the body I had. It inflated me. I stretched, flesh straining flesh, until the pain threw a merciful blackness over my sight.

I awoke to the sound of a key in a lock, the tile of the floor cold against my unfamiliar, nearly hairless body. The dog found me first, barking as I huddled against the corner cupboard.

The woman came in next. “Who are you?” she demanded. I could smell her fear, different from that which I was wont to foment in her, but no less pungent.

I opened my mouth to speak, but words hadn’t come in the bargain with this human body. So instead I stood and pulled a heavy knife from the block while she gaped, standing herself as if stuck fast to the floor.


         

Emily Strauss

SLANTED LIGHT

In the slanted fall light even the burn
scar at the river's edge looks softly
yellow, the charred manzanita stumps
like fingers in the coming first rain,
their skin shining wetly black
against the cool old light--
we almost forget the late flames
pushing into the flowing stream.


         

Andrew Purcell (editor)

Trace by Simone Muench, Black Lawrence Press 2014 [available here]
Winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition

        Encapsulated in her chapbook Trace, Simone Muench's "Wolf Cento" draws on the lines and fragments of 167 writers, from Akhmatova to Zanzotto, to reveal the wolf as it exists in its dis-incarnate, lyrical form, that is, as it exists within us. Muench separates the overarching cento into what I'll refer to individually as poems, though with the repetition of thematic elements and phrasings, the effect is a subtle bleeding into one another, as hinted at by the book's title.

        To begin, let's address the fact that Trace is obviously a project-poem book. Dorothea Lasky's Poetry Is Not a Project confronts some of the problems associated with this approach, and while I largely agree with Lasky's observations, the cento has a long, robust tradition, being about two and half times older than the sonnet. That has to count for something, right? Being a project, however, it becomes essential to not half-ass the job, and here Muench holds up well. The fluidity with which she integrates 167 authors as varied as Dante and Levis, Frost and Vallejo, is astonishing. There are better and worse integrations, of course, but on the whole the book proceeds with a more or less unified voice. This is intellectually impressive and goes a long way to instill the reader with confidence that the author knows what she's doing. In turn, that confidence helps the reader to bridge the kind of gaps that inevitably emerge when reading a work constructed from fragments. 

       Though centos are in some sense a scholarly sort of exercise, Muench's aesthetic derives purely from the lyrical impulse. At its best, this results in arresting lines like:

The season lasted one moment, like the pause
     between a girl's teeth
            on the edge of sleep.

Or a few lines later in the same poem:

as you wrapped me with past
     & passing tenses, with the emptiness
          in your empty poison-tooth    (25)

       She leans frequently on poetry words. Stars and moons and bones and throats. But this is, I suppose, the wolf's proper domain. There's magic, "she sat with wolves & magicians" (6), and a haunted quality to the broken landscapes of the "Wolf Cento." Here Muench's unabashed lyricism operates at its finest, lines that rive you with shivers like the closing couplet of the third poem in the cento:

Like dizzy horses that dissolve into a dust of sheen,
I pass through them as they pass through me. (4)    

        In a work that relies on spell-binding rather than narrative, aphorism, epiphany, and so on, it's crucial that the spell be maintained. Muench does this, with one notable exception that I'm criticizing in detail not to scold her, but to make a larger point about the poet's obligation to get things right in a poem, however magical and lyrical that poem may be. Here's the offending poem "In moon-swallowed shadows," (15) which first appeared Poets & Artists:   

In moon-swallowed shadows
amid the tiger-purring greenery
I take a wolf's rib & whittle it
into little months, little smokes
& oblivion. Beautiful,
those boys among the roses
where fiery blossoms clot the light
& we lick the blood off our paws.
How many have died
in sweeter morgues?
It was all like a childhood picture:
our windows ravenous
as snow wolves & again
a rose-petal falls in an empty bed.

        There's a lot to admire about this poem, but to my mind there's also a distraction unintentionally embedded in the lines "How many have died / in sweeter morgues?" Morgues are where people are sent after they die. They don't die in morgues. This is the classic "what do you put in a toaster?" kind of problem. You think, toasters, toast. Morgues, dead people. But there's more to the relationship than that. There's a temporal order that needs to be considered. Regardless of how abstract, lyrical, ephemeral, whimsical, or magical the world of the poem is, the linguistic connection to meaning remains. I hate taking Muench to the whipping post for this, because it's one rather small flaw in the midst of a very difficult project that is executed marvelously on the whole. But I think it's important that the poet earn and keep the confidence of the reader, especially, as I mentioned before, when the spell-binding quality of a poem is so important. I don't necessarily care if Bukowski gets something fundamentally wrong, because he's a drunk and an asshole in his poems, but Muench is using a voice that seems to commune with the very elemental gods of our collective psyche and that means, to me at least, that the logic must hold so that I am not suddenly thrust out from the moment of the poem clinging to the bizarre, semi-comical idea of morgues as a place where people go to die.

      Now let's finish with the part of the compliment sandwich that Simone herself might actually want to read. Here's what I deeply admired about the book. She embraced a decadent style unironically and with evident passion. This is a book that seems almost purpose-made for lovers to read aloud to one another. Often erotically charged but not once vulgar –– “In my ear, / the tongue of a stranger. / That's the way it goes in the dark. One card, / one turn" (13) –– the book's themes of transmutation and alienation are refreshingly romantic. As for the decadence, I know there are good arguments from the Taylor Collier/Mary Karr school against decoration in poetry, but for my taste, I love the overindulgence of lines like "I want unfold like Aztec heiroglyphs, / to multiply in the glass a transparent gold shirt, / exquisite as oranges & leaking muscovado casks... / I want to know there will be wine on the table" (29). Lines like that make me ravenous, put me in the heat of the poet's brain or perhaps the wolf's.

         

Re Pinter
Bookstore Whore
Lines While Waiting in Line
Nightmares When I Wake