Monday, 13 April 2020

A Conversation with Magdalena Ball





And today I'm welcoming well known poet, Magdalena Ball, to the Daily Kit for a conversation about making art in dark days, to whit the current COVID plague. Maggie is a poet, novelist, reviewer, interviewer, panelist, moderator, chapbookster and Flying Islander of note.

(This conversation took place over the last few weeks.)

KIT
Maybe we could start by seeing something new yr working, and discuss that? 
And I could respond in kind. 



MAGGIE:
I’ve been working on a few things. The first is a long suffering novel, which I’ve been working on for years. I can’t let go of it, but neither do I seem to be able to get to the end of it, so I keep working on it in bursts.  Also I’ve been pulling another poetry collection together - I guess with the usual dystopian themes - I keep wanting to do some happy happy turning the corner chirps, but 2020 keeps getting more intense and it’s hard to ignore it.  The lovely Karen Hughes, who has been encouraging me to finish my novel while I encourage her to finish her thesis - over cups of strong, good coffee at Suspension Cafe, suggested I do some novel writing in verse to free me a little from the constraints of time and space, so below is a poem written effectively as a novel chapter followed by a little snippet of prose taken directly and without context from the work-in-progress (which I’m happy to talk about later if you want). 

A Voice to Shatter Glass

There’s no scientific proof this ever happened
the sound isn’t even audible
unless you’re a dog, in which case      
rhythms preserved in the patterns of words. 

Every object has a resonant frequency
run a finger along the rim: ghost hum
she didn’t like being called a gypsy 
Romani, a Jew, dark eyes
secrets wrapped in a soothing voice
break the glass

they came in secret   
tea leaves in a mug, left with something other
than answers it was    not that kind of fortune.

She hummed, a single note amplified
working through the cavity of the mouth, the pharynx
stretched along the larynx
shattering of history   a portal
they came in secret but they didn’t keep quiet

sound carries
mechanical waves moving through gas, liquid, solids
through the medium of time

press your ear against the table 
and its there still, carrying energy outward
into the hallway of her cramped apartment 
smelling of damp clothing and Barley soup 

into the streets, against the silence of intent
rushing into the future, always pushing
struggling, desire and hunger, the means
air, water, glass, shattering 
into the present where
the only thing that can happen
is that which seems impossible. 

***

The air had a tangible taste - like mint, and exhaling her carbon dioxide, which almost had a palpable shape to it - oblong - before it dispersed into the air, she felt a sensation which took her several moments to identify – it was happiness.  How could she be feeling happiness?  Maybe relief that her mother’s operation was over.  This was once entirely a rural area - ocean, beach, and bush - basic blocks of nature set against one another. Now there were very little spaces, in the main drag anyway, that weren’t taken up by apartment buildings rising against the sand. The sound of a jackhammer drowned out the gulls, though she occasionally heard the birds when the rat-a-tat-tat stopped. The local population was growing by the day. There had to be a limit though. Otherwise the industrial growth would outweigh the beauty and people would stop coming. It was a delicate balancing act, and one that, in the city centre at least, seemed to be tipping in the wrong direction. The sun on her back was strong, so she took off her shirt, leaving only a tank top. The pain in her head had resolved and she felt light, gliding along the surface ground.  Louisa was fine. She was fine. They could all move on with their lives now. 


KIT
wow, Maggie… you embarrass with the riches and where to start… your novel problem reminds me of my dad’s… when he died he left me and my brother, Stephen, a two page list of works he wanted us to finish… including (now in an almost meter high box under the pool table) The Man from Overdraft, a novel he started in 1966 and never finished… I shall try to get onto this… although now I’m working through his unpublished autobiography (it’s March 1938 and he’s just missed his boat from Singapore to Durban - having been delayed a night in Johore Baru - all part of his ping pong tour of the world and a good time to not be in Europe)… a rollicking tale, with volumes to go…
it’s funny about the novel though, I have to admit, I guess when dad was in his eighties and not getting back to it, part of me was thinking ‘loser - just write the blood thing’, and now, in my sixties, I totally get it… the way a creative project can just drift away further and further under the pile
… I think you know I have quite a pile… but the main things I’m wanting to get back to right now are
a kind of an illustrated workbook about poetry writing (the picture book of the poem) which is a collaboration with a wonderful artist in Miami, Karla Caprali…
and a few kids’ books (possibly picture books) - especially the one about the girl who gets lost in her mother’s handbag trying to answer her phone
…and there’s another one from before that about a time travel bicycle (distance = time… seems oddly appropriate right now)… and there are novel ideas much older than that, to which I’d like to return
… but before I can get to any of that … a lot of poem sorting
… at the end of Project 366 (2016 - 2020), I had 14 hundred and something draft poems, that all need sorting into places and polishing or reshaping or discarding … so that’s an ongoing business… a lot of them are going into the three linked collections I promised for my Ozco grant - a field guide to Australian clouds, a book of ekphrastics and ataraxia (ataraxia being the overall title and the overarching idea - so a garden collection in a way),
… and then there are poems spilled out from there into a few other places…
one started out as a book of jetlag poems but has morphed into a more general sleep to dream kind of project … the other is a collection called godsbother -- essentially stuff (ideas and so on) designed to bother God or gods
… so that’s the general background of my impossible task of catching up with myself…
and I try to give dad a little time each day in the midst

…so better to get on to responding to your actual work-in-progress…
best respond in kind
but the problem is yv got such a lot of different themes and ideas going there …

I think we’re both very interested in questions of identity - of what we know and can’t know about ourselves… of where we are and how we got here, of the rights and responsibilities that go with that

these are good times to think through such things, and to think on… to think further
… this was from yesterday morning, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while … ‘some thing’? -- I suppose I mean a web of stuff with which I’m tangling… some echoes of Merleau-Ponty perhaps (the chiasm)?

the reciprocity

there are other worlds
from which
they made us
and we’re making them
that’s where we come in

with wings you’ll see
inside out of a dream
we dwell
diaphanous and gone

white heron
proud on the pond bank
sunning
and of its world
as worried no doubt
as we

thing and another
a tribe of rhymes
go under
undergo

be seen
be bitten
bite back

take a rise
out of the sun
let lost moons love
come around

believe and be trusted

wallaby is
damp smoulder

do a job on
song bursts in
and slough despond

birds sing, is it
fifteen times faster?
if you slow down
you’ll hear

give or take
say, think it
let’s just
blame, bless

make up
as we go

insects
one flew in
I killed it
another has me marked

I’m telling the story               

some days
see through myself
who’s in the mirror
and gone

.

I played a lot with that first stanza

there are other worlds
from which
they made us
and we’re making them
that’s where we come in

I want the ambiguities that come from not knowing where the sentences begin and end here… and the questions they raise… e.g. who made us?  or does that question not arise?

over to you, kiddo

MAGGIE
Hi Kit, your dad’s novel is intriguing. I’m really looking forward to seeing it once you’ve done.  That said I couldn’t even dream of asking my kids to finish my novel for me (if only!) - I mean they’re not writers as such, and you and Stephen are exceptional writers, so I guess he knew it would be in good hands.  It’s not so much that the work drifts further and further under the pile (though that happens very easily). If I stop writing other things and focus on it, it won’t drift, but there are so many structural difficulties - how to get through a timeline, an arc, a transition, and to resolve these major plot problems - all of which is more of an engineering issue than a writing one - and while everytime I sit down to do the writing I seem to enjoy myself, engineering is not my strong suit. I’ll keep at it though. 

I love the idea of an illustrated kids workbook - those stories sound so fun and quirky. I also agree that we share an interest in questions of identity - and not just our selves, but our collective selves - how we as individuals fit into the broader collectives of those groups we belong to and specifically don’t belong to, and what we inherit. This may be an aging thing but I’m more and more interested in cultural identity and inherited traumas but also inherited capability/insight (not just genetics but epigenetics and the psychological inheritance). I like to think about notions of time that are not necessarily colonial, but may be part of an inheritance I carry unknowingly (that may not make any sense - apologies if that’s the case!).  So how about I do a little response to your work (in the way of ‘A Conversation in Poetry’) which you can then respond to as you see fit - ask questions as you did with Kerri (a conversation I read with relish!) or just write another poem in response.  Here’s my response to “the reciprocity”:

A tribe of rhymes

Just as everything begins to pixilate
the breath coming in faster

I have always known 
at some cellular level

diaphanous, the word too flowery
for this world, incongruous
or some other four syllable thing
breaking against my tongue
when I recite words that undo
this construct
witch, witcher, at the cauldron

getting older with time
but never progressing
past the clock that holds
my wavering body in check.

We have never been more or less
than a project, a collective
a microbial community
coming together, falling apart
especially today, failing 
wholesale, with such exquisite emphasis.

if I bite hard enough
into this damp emptiness

and though isolation is the word of the day
nothing is unconnected

bacteria living in and on 
might bite back.

This one world, corrupted
a motion we can only measure
not feel

did you ever stop to think

she asked me, while I paused
briefly, evidence of my work
everywhere, pervasive

the hypothetical group of 
multiple universes
right there in front of your
eyes, vibrating, pulling at you
another kind of gravity.





KIT

Perhaps the clock is our connecting? I’m working on a series - or maybe it’s a long poem - about time… I’m not sure if it’s a part of godsbother or the dreambook …

… nice sometimes to let things drift for a while and take their own form before you find out what they’re part of…

pixelated … I like the nexus between pixelated (how the world is going) and pixilated
(which reminds me of mid twentieth century American movies, and might be some kind of a solution in the current circs… at least bottle shops seem to be doing a roaring trade)… I’m guessing you were intending both … I notice the Shorter OED also has a word ‘pixie led’, meaning, naturally, to be led off by pixies … the bottom of the garden being one of the safest places I can think of at this moment…

it’s funny at times like this … I mean funny/strange … I mean moments like the corona-tastrophe … our sense of time is seriously disturbed by it … for instance maybe we now measure from shop to shop or risk to risk, home and away… but of course the radio news is still there when we would expect it…

but the clock was stopped when I woke up this morning
and of course I took it for a sign!

clearly you’ve got me back on the time theme, Maggie
hence this morning’s

28.3.20
88
eerily idyllic

home
that’s the new sublime

kind of a dream
we find ourselves gone to

and take a big breath
coming, ready or not

symptoms imagine us
under we go

still standing
standing under
a tissue and all fall
undergo

in the birded world
sway, tip
there’s upside

and when the clock stopped
we left it like that
left it alone

perhaps meaning the time had come

stopped clock
points to a lucky numbness
to us
says here now surely

cryogeny
(and what’s it got to do with Ireland?)

dream toilet paper wars
and all around the lockdown
zeitgeisties
stay in stay out

that’s how come
and so we ask it
how far to a sunny day?



and from there I went on to think
actually I should call the time works clockworks probably
(regardless of what larger work it might be part of)

anyway here’s the next bit
(of course when I say ‘next’ I actually have no idea where it will fit)

.

for clockwork

look at a stopped clock

that pause at the top
merely conventional

could come anywhere
ye know not

un coup de

what does it mean to turn it around?

clock takes the shape of
a cookie
bitter pill
average celestial body up close

a motivated coincidence
world fallen to two dimensions

never does the Dali droop

a stopped clock is pointing

says
soon this will be back in the day
remember we got through this?

time has been lording
and you’ll need a snorkel

try counting by yourself
under your breath
and under that
understand
numbers you won’t know
trees unfelled
they are

the clock stops just where I am
as far as I’ve got
as far as I can see





…also meaning to say those multiple universes and gravity of yours remind me it’s time to read some science fiction… it’s binawhile … any suggestions there?

… this rain persisting now
seems oddly appropriate to the mood
… grown in, rained in

is that where you are too?

MAGGIE
"Eerily idyllic” immediately put me in mind of The Talking Heads' “This Must Be the Place (naive melody)” so I put it on and enjoyed it so much that I had to listen to the whole of Speaking in Tongues (the LP has been with me since I was a teenager - being something of a minimalist, there aren’t many possessions which have followed me across two continents, but that record has). The album seems bizarrely apt at the moment ("This ain't no party, this ain't no disco”).  I’ve now returned from the rabbit hole - thank you for sending me there! 

My reponse reflects all of that.  

under your breath

there are sounds that arrive 
solely via memory
old film music in the guise of insomnia

a pale buzz like electric shock 
smells of recognition

I found that dream again
under the breath

silently drumming
a temple throb that followed
the clock tick tock

falling further back
and though this situation
as it were
feels entirely unreal
it’s as if we’ve always been here
locked in this particular home 
living against a shadow 

there are lifeforms
to which we are merely 
another product
a food source

apt irony perhaps
for such cocksure apes
cruely consuming more 
than we need

change is real
but time is not

watching your discomfort as you pace
I can’t focus on anything 
but that damn noise
coloured sienna, rust, white 
it takes shape
under your breath, sickly sweet

it could be a symptom
an absolute direction
a locus that begins and ends
here, tenseless

***

For sci fi recommendations, I do like China Miéville's Bas-Lag series - that’s Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council. You could also do worse than Margaret Atwood’s Orxy and Crake (it’s a 3 part series and I’ve read them all but the first one is vastly superior to the other two and you can read it as a standalone).  It’s terrifyingly prescient, but also a funny, brilliant read. Finally, for classic sci fi of the best kind, I really love Octavia E Butler’s Lillith’s Brood series - Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago).  :-) 


KIT
ah now you remind me, Maggie of … a very clear memory… getting off an overnight bus at Pagan … a bus from Mandalay… beginning of ‘86 (I just checked my diary for that year… a bit of a hunt, but I got there… and I can tell you it was Tuesday 7th, January, 1986, and I’d written ‘the river is all clogged up with Buddhas’… not erribly enlightening but there you go)…
it’s funny with diaries, I can tell you where my dad was every day of 1938… but I can’t tell you where I was any day between 2000 and 2010 or thereabouts, because I kept digital records, which are now all lost …
which kind of reminds me about the importance of blogging this kind of conversation -- the irony that now authors, artists, and everybody is/are communicating more than ever, almost all of it is being lost in the ether…  remember when people died and their letters would be bundled and returned perhaps because the correspondence was important/ possible publishable … now there’s heaps more of it and all lost justabout

ah but remember Sterne ‘digression is the sunshine of the text’

and so to return to the early morning of Tuesday 7th January, 1986… Adam Aitken and I sleeplessly disembarking the old overnight rattle-trap from Rangoon and blearily into the temple laden dust of Pagan, wired up in my case to Talking Heads …I had a ‘professional’ walkman I’d just got (probably in Singapore).. fantastic sound quality …listening to ‘the world was moving she was right there with it and she was’ … a really otherworldly experience … walking round in this utterly magical dirt poor piece of desert by river with more ancient temples per square km than anywhere else on the planet I guess … it was like tripping…

dreamwork and clockwork, here we go…

anonymous

write the dream down
and you’re in it again

everything is true in there
duty to forget

no one notices
you are nameless there

this is the one death all know
drink from
grow into our own knowledge

everyone is pharaoh
would you say, distracted?

an itch and you’re over
an ache brings you round

how is the clock in the mirror?
you hold a candle to

no one loves
is loved there
all are ghosts

you yourself are the door
and a tree
made of tin

be in the mind of the thing

all the turning night
where the world was still

everything written is cloud and away
we fall as rain

drink of the dream well
mortal day

slave of the dream
locked solitary
of course you’re there

of the former life
of the long since

paint a way
slip stand and fall

rain could have driven it
or the sun rose

first among words
from light
born to light

every morning like this

all my best vanishing was done here
will you come with me?

let’s go

MAGGIE
I was reading The Letters of Virginia Woolf (Vol 1) and thinking the same thing - that we will lose the makings, the dialogues, the ’stuff’ behind our public images (whatever we choose to put out there, all filtered and fluffed) and I think I already mentioned that I’m the kind of person who loves to tidy up and throw out stuff (even, sometimes, to my later shame and denial, sentimental and important stuff), and not even an aerogramme will remain of the conversations. I’m old enough to remember how good a walkman sounded - the secret pleasure on the train, knowing no one else had what you had - that surround sound protection. I saw the Talking Heads live once - at Forest Hills, Queens NY at the tennis stadium. 1983. Byrne in a big suit. Lots of soul singers. Films flashing on the screen.  Psycho Killer was the opening.  Can’t remember who I was there with…

Duty to Forget

The demon duck of doom
is not a duck, as such

but it was here, true story
where that ordinary Chestnut Teal swims
a rain puddle that wasn’t there yesterday
its call more croaky gnow than quack

I can almost make out its girth
all 300 kilos of it, a shadow DNA
demons never fully disappear

this is the material world to which we belong
sunk costs, money money the red light

I no longer look into the mirror
trying to recreate the face
the fetching angle
the painful truth is enough

I walk and walk 
it’s all that’s allowed 
in isolation
everyday the numbers drop
and I am being altered

algorithmically, as broken RNA
my lips pull back, a spiky tongue
a docile bird
remembering where we began

the mind of the thing
where we will go
when the paint fades
where there is nothing but light


KIT
then who the fuck is that duck?

a duty to forget?  of course reminds of Carolyn Forché’s wonderful anthology Against Forgetting

but back into the mirror hutch diving now
and thinking of those who exercised that duty to forget
and wondering who I am…


silence of the grave

the truth
is a maze in the blood
consists entirely of what you were told

so is the river run through

let's play forget
apocalypse, messiah

you'll get the holy haunting yet
all you can believe
for the price
of what they're calling the soul

and later burn a heretic
so as to form the habit

the ancestors at large in me
just won't shut up
each of them is telling tales

my father's uncles
his father too
the ones who lost the family
lost the war
fell under another

then they go proverbial
o where is thy sting?

tomorrow they will say the sky

today has a date
they all do

but will an object keep to its meaning?
you think of it a bloodless thing

I followed a trail to here

devout of tribe
it's the many mansions of us
went out in just pyjamas

grandmother must be mother of God
if I never met her
that's how a family works

though this heaven has been figured

here are the bereaved
and here's the manner of forsaking

call names
they're all ghost vanishing
gone for the greater good

I live in a garden of this


MAGGIE
We seem to be on a bit of an association roll.  So your title puts me in mind of Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress ('but none I think do there embrace’were ). Also The Cranberry’s Yeats’ Grave ('were you sickened in time?’) (https://youtu.be/nKKS_qfswIw

Drumcliff Church

I hear the drums, even now
in isolation
tablas against your grave

you would have lost it
had you not already lost

not that you weren’t in 
voluntary confinement
bolt on the door
but it’s one thing to lock yourself in
and another to be locked in

I sit with this, with you
your music, your thoughts
comfortable enough
watching death like a long run movie
in slo mo, it keeps going

and I keep coming back
to this silence

you didn’t want a tombstone
terrified of burial: soil, worms
one eye maybe still open

they carried you out
throwing rose petals

the undertaker, a big burly guy
said you weighed less than nothing
those were his real words
a koan

I recited Under Ben Bulben
to you, in those final days 
and after, now, in absentia
brushing your thinning hair

we all wonder who we are
your fingers knotted, missing
still trying to play a song

while I sit here, time collapsing inward
and now, if there even is a now
there’s no distinction between those 
bleached, buried bones and your soft
dissipated ashes


KIT
Casting a cold eye, eh?

Do you know my ‘Reagan era To His Coy Mistress’ parody, Maggie?


FROM HIS COY PLANET

Annihilating all that's made
to a green thought in a green shade.
Marvell

Had we but worlds enough and time
This madness Ronnie were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To aim the missiles for today.
Rather than let the bombs devour
The earth, we'd make a show of power
 A virile play of cosmic lust
And turn some planets into dust.
One hundred bombs should set ablaze
The planets closest to our gaze.
Two hundred flying east and west
Would light the cosmos with our jest.
Your limitless domain would grow
Vast as nebulae, not as slow.
An ageing amorous bird of prey
Like every dog must have his day.
And young Mikhail should play his part
To show that bears are just as smart.
The Sandanistas watching by
Would praise the fireworks in the sky.
Harmless targets like black holes
Would ease the worried minds of Poles.

But at my back I seem to hear
The missiles shooting past too near.
Though isotopes decay at last
There's bits of planets whizzing past.
So before we all turn into glue
Or melt down into morning dew
Before five billion souls transpire
At every pore with instant fire
 Let us roll all our rhetoric and all
Our megatonnage up into one ball:
And so we'll re-invent détente,
To forge a lasting rapprochement.
Thus while we can't blow up the sun
Let's send the bombs there just for fun.


and bleached, buried bones/your soft
dissipated ashes

feels v Celan to me

your golden hair, Marguerite, your ashen hair, Shulamith

then there’s the question of the weight of the soul, something that was seriously pseudo-scientifically entertained late ninetheenth century, and a theme I’m looking at for godsbother

weight of the soul

I built the cage
I have the keys

cloud come to again
a little forest me
made of some doubt
and stream to run away

so this is captivity?
I always wondered

a day in the dark
sun slipped
sunk in the balance
bobbed up for air

damned whichever way
and blessed

no, never feathered for flight
but gossamer, go at it
like wearing nothing

glimpse of all other lives
worlds in it
creature we
phantom of an opera

darkest crimes
are down to here
just think of an adjective

sunk in the balance
bobbed up for air

like that pimple under the skin
or poem you know must be there

pray for me, won't you

first thing that comes into your head
when stars reach down to touch

it's all because you say

.

… but I’ve always been suspicious of negative numbers… when they started on those in maths (I think in first form), that was the beginning of the end


MAGGIE
didn’t know that parody - but it’s probably still relevant with a few little tweaks (Reagen used to seem so bad back then - he’s been well and truly Trumped.)

damned whichever way and blessed

she wore it well    slack jawed
waiting for the start  

on her bed
overdressed 
isolation    in the mega city
empty walls     the green light 
fills the room with    solitude
still life   

everywhere is industry    outside 
a sound effect     the city    is always 
on the go    even when    
dis ease is on everyone’s       lips
unspoken   skirted round   better
to stay quiet  

she watches   waits for change
stuck in the       tableau
misses the transition
night turning   to day
the harsh   angles   of shadow

an intrinsic    intelligence
dissasociated   
out of     the picture

what if she stayed in that    space
kept watch   sunlight in matte tones      
reflecting    on her temples

took nothing     broke no rules
curled in shadow    in stillness   
      but ready
to become heavy


KIT
among the butternuts
in plague time

I hear the hammering of those at home
and have these Bunnings thoughts myself
but know I shouldn’t go

it’s sunlight tops the trilling here
a yellow butterfly makes light
of this the moment following

sky grey enough to show its will
it’s sunshine keys the colour
we keep an open window

and let the day in still


MAGGIE
Ah the butternuts. Do you have a crop?  Such a great thing to have a glut of. 

the forest is still legal

so this is what it comes to
tall trunks, a Rufus Fantal
with a song of silver shards

it’s greening up again
after months of brown and black
vines, grass, a snake skin, signs of life
against all indications
the air smells eucalyptus clean

It's impossible to do anything else
but walk, smell, taste
senses open like pores
breathing in slowly

my eyes are closing
night is another constuct
like colour, which we take for granted

today an old friend told me
that this pandemic
is what we deserve

we are part of nature
not separate
evolving one way or another

my mother was a prepper
though I didn’t know it

outdated bags of rice, pasta 
cases of toilet paper
apple cider vinegar, soy sauce
filled her basement 
she didn’t make it to the apocalypse
nor did the goods 
full of moths and weevil
which had to be thrown away

meanwhile in another timeframe
a parallel universe
in the future, which is now
we’re ready not ready
toilet paper, sanitiser, neatly stacked
in a cupboard with a big sack of rice
that makes me cry



KIT
Yes, we are compelled to love our homes and appreciate them… and realise that we must be the luckiest people in the world… not that we didn’t / don’t work very hard at making the most of our luck (how it shits me when someone looks at the ramshackle house you built and tells you how lucky you are … of course they’re right, but in the sense that they almost invariably share your luck… to be born in this place, with this skin, to parents who loved and wanted the best for you and had the means to do it, etc)…
so I’ve been walking around
looking up
to get ahead of the curve

the treetop walk, in which

blue is the colour of up
riff on this

or mist it
in among a tracery
of see all sprung to leaf

tree is birding
birds tree too

all song is forth bursting
leaves vanish in a curlicue
kind of atom swerve
shaped for it

and unseen
in the after hours

someone is climbing for moonlight
someone is climbing for stars





MAGGIE
We are lucky. I don’t want to forget that. I’ve been walking along with my daughter grumbling about this and that and then I just look around - the fresh air, the heartbreaking beauty (who knows how long but it’s in front of us - would be a tragedy to not enjoy it while we have it), the comfort. 

subterranean

falling down the virtual hole
my rabbit fingers
my cheshire heart
small mushrooms act as keys
invisible doors

rocks under bare feet
in heavy rain

don’t pity me
this is rare freedom 
which I’m unable
to call constraint

water drips off my hair
my nose, eyes blurry 

I kneel against the dirt
bleeding and bruised
and find gratitude

yes, there’s a weight on my back
my grandmother’s hump
muscles tightening
against what could only be called 
fear though I don’t 
think that’s the right word

maybe it’s tenderness
the dull thud in the stomach
a longing that defies language
this soft, wet ache

leaning closer towards brackets
woody fungi, boletes and morels
a world beneath the feet
soothing in ways 
that make no logical sense
to think these mycelium might still be here
repairing, renewing, breaking down
waiting, always waiting
 

KIT
recharging the wom-battery

you say hutch
I burrow
down among them
and put on a new good room
dig it

this could be Coober Peedy
fur enough
pun up!
pun up!

do the quick cannonball upstairs

come to dusk, call it
light is a kind of contagion

we bring our own down here
by eye and inward

eat me and drink me
how green was my valley?
hat it madly
vanish a cat
I like a wise caterpillar

library where the leaves are damp
weather is coming or so I am told
but under the waves
it’s DIY
take that as read

alight here for MUSEUM
(otherwise over-sized shed)

I ran with your rabbit
o worthy pioner!
(invasive species)

doomed for a certain time to tread
lurching zeitgeist leitmotiv

there’s yoga down there
where creatures get their gear gone

cave with bung flicker
and take that for truth

down here for the duration

come out in from the gloom
lie flat out grazing
the wombats are singing again

MAGGIE
I  loved "corona consciousness” (and so far all the poems you’ve sent - am trying to refrain from commenting, but am open to doing that too, and of course, there is indeed yoga down there). I’ve been watching the NWF all weekend - really appreciate being able to watch every session, but also my head is buzzing (as it does during the in-person weekend) with all sorts of connections. This one plays with both of your poems (“recharging” and “cc”). 

Watching through a lattice

it’s odd to find myself, bunkered
just when I’m breaking up
only half human no suprise there
meanwhile trillions of viruses 
are in motion over my face
transformng the features
every second something new appears
a mole that wasn’t there before
a slight tilt to the nose, a crease
it’s almost beautiful
if you like decay.

Don’t grimace, brother
this is no longer the place
for squeamishness, fake cleanliness
high horses, even if you 
are descended from a queen
my invisible aura is microbial, progressive
a remnant from cellular processes
and yes, you

The old paradigm no longer applies
to me, at least
though maybe you ought to check.

Finding myself locked in, fully conscious
edges dissolving as I reach 
across the membrane
our bacteria connecting, just like that

each an expression of one another, a lattice
joining the dots, the patterns in our honeycomb

it’s hard to take in this view 
because it’s close
unnerving, subversive 
if you believe in status quo
but once you see it you can’t unsee.






KIT
unbelieve this!
the hardwire billboard of the highway gone

of course we love to mulch it
and decompose one day

one curve flattens, another goes up

might we not simply be kind to each other
in earnest, more often, as a matter of course?

it’s only the future if you can see


MAGGIE
hardwire billboard

this is what I found 
in the centre of the rogue
pumpkin patch
the Kents of course
giant, pink, yellow, pale brown
mottled like pastel easter eggs
already segmented

it’s as if they arrived
an alien gift sent
down-to-earth
to nourish us 
through the transition
beta carotine, vitamin c
vibrant orange shimmering

but something else 
decomposes invisibly 
into the rich soil, untitled

not sure what to call it
it’s not a food source
it’s some other kind of signal
apart from micro life
ecosystems
sharing a common life

the billboard
flashing in neon excess
buy buy buy bye
hardwired to self-destruct



KIT
Okay - you’ve got me onto

the pumpkins!  
in corona-time

they are the only ones travelling now
they are joining the dots
swell connected
they are rising
they are rhizome of the open air
world revolution a few thoughts away

this is their year
umbrella crowded
solar collectors  

take the fences  
scale the bath
they escape all bounds

carbs!  nomad empire!
day by day wilted and more  
fast, well ahead of winter

no social distancing with them

mosquitoes with
more otherworldly  

shrink underleaf to be among
every lantern head one of us kin

we’re all of us buried there
in the company of pumpkins   

in soup and scone  
in fresh invention

of course we cannot picture
those who have already
gone to a better place




MAGGIE (finally worked out the schema :-)) Poem for my granny who your poem, inexplicably, made me think of.  

Klezmer to Kaddish

Eve, the world didn’t wait for dinner
though you kept on cooking 
your violet eyes watery with death and longing
hidden under floral apron ruffles.

I blinked and it was you there
so tangible I smelled the scones, sweet 
with home made pumpkin jam
sticky enough to lick off my fingers.

Your voice was everywhere
nowhere, bodiless
embodied, filling my kitchen

the longbilled Hoopoe of your Galician 
past, in Klezmer violin
cried in vibrato 
every night
when no one was watching.

It was a spiritual practice, a mitzvah
though you gave up on god 
that bastard father, the first time 
you stopped your mother 
from jumping off the roof
of the bleak tenement 
where you kept opening windows 
but no light came.

How many times was it
climbing up the steel ladder 
with your great legs
the ones that made men whistle
to tar beach, where you and your girlfriends
would sunbake, before the darkness
took her, finally, and left you
alone to clean up the mess. 

Now Eve, first mother
the heavens sing because you created them
the rocks vibrate a thousand miles away
the cosmos pulsate
and you never need to moisten 
your parched throat with tears
or punch the pillow in frustration. 

Your voice carries. 
You’re setting yourself free
you are free.

KIT
I think you’re confusing grandma with gramma, Maggie.
I must retaliate with some grandfather… a speculative enterprise

apotheosis
Béla's fate


1944
the Americans are coming

then the radio is taken

a ghost is like a cloud
all vanishing
look up!

and look around yourself
you won't know who
you never know when spite

in the last war
so kind the Russian prisoners
Christmas we gave them presents

then White Terror, Red Terror
some things in life you won't opt out

in this sun the buttons shine
the buckles
death is a starched uniform

a bullet could take generations
it won't matter that you served

1944
the Germans are here
the Soviets are coming
the Arrow Cross in charge

you think overcast, even teeming
but it's autumn already
bright, crisp

no radio
but we know
the Americans are coming
the Germans have left
so many trains went with them
whole quarters emptied

now a ghetto

the Russians will be here

it was a bright clear day that one
the Arrow Cross in charge

I witness
but I don't know what

no running at the end

of course one has to step out of one's shoes

more like a dentist's waiting room
though nowhere to sit, no magazines

short sharp
you see the others go

I'm here surviving just to say

the river will wash us all down

looked up to a little cloud
and just a wisp away

it was a bright clear day

I wonder who wore those shoes away


And still have one grandfather up my sleeve… not that I ever met either…




MAGGIE
the river will wash us all down

one can always hope he said
laughing freely, head thrown back
knowing the rain was coming

he knew how to read the weather
the synoptic, the radar
strong winds, showers, cold rain

he knew a lot of things
collecting wisdom like knick knacks
neatly arranged, shared freely
with no little pleasure

I imagine him today
his china pale eyes
clouded by cataracts
giving me breathing tips
health tips, stats and anecdotes
dispensed from the pharmacy
of his memory
while on horseback

now I’m his memory
carrying a photo
those close-cropped war shots
in sepia, neat, young, a gun slung
on his shoulder

PTSD didn’t have a name yet
so he pretended it didn’t exist
built a house, started a business
in sunny suburbia 
all that death held in check
in secret parcels left behind
as code, no one could link 
Fort Benning, Iceland, France

until it came out in little rages
broken pots, broken plates
a few bruises maybe
who knows, everything heals
after enough time





KIT

reconstruction of and from the mysteries we're left 

just reading dad's autobio April 38 sailing from Cape Town to Buenos Aires and he mentions having a German Spanish dictionary on board and to be studying it ... but I'm sure that dictionary had a a Buenos Aires bookseller's sticker in it ... maybe I'm wrong ... tricks of memory over generations!

I'm just thinking -- on account of how long this is getting -- that maybe -- without prejudice to where this is going -- we should put up what we've got so far ... 

in fact it's probably a good moment to pause and consider where this is going 

it is a kind of unplanned collaboration at this point... I mean maybe more than just a conversation 

... so shall we have a think

and shall I put up what we have on the blog?


MAGGIE
Certainly - put it up. And yes, let’s think if there’s something we can do other than converse freely. As you mention, I think memory and time are both pretty consistent themes/interests we have in common (also vegetables and forests…). if nothing else it has been an excellent prompt for me - you may want to get other voices on the blog, which I completely understand, but I’m open to anything.   


… conversation off-line now, to be continued 

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