1999–2000 Readings and Talks

Nathaniel Mackey

April 27, 2000

from Unlay’s Late Promenade

   I was whistling when my lips fell off. Lip-
 less was to legless in some way I couldn’t
  say, the closer walk words got in the way
                                                                 of…

   What it was lay on the tip of my tongue,
 say to unlay already in some way, unsay’s
  day begun. We were of more than one mind
                                                                 Huff

 had it. Sophia said the same… I wanted rele-
   vance, trust, I whistled even so, wind in
                                                                 the
 gaps in my
teeth

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George O’Brien and Reginald Shepherd

O'Brien and ShepherdMarch 23, 2000

from Dancehall Days

— George O’Brien
 
I was a boy. I didn’t kiss the girls, so I had a chance to make them laugh. Ken himself contributed to the boyish mood. “Hell’s bells and buckets of blood!” he’d exclaim. “Jolly hockey sticks.” He had a thousand ways of saying splendid. He lunched with us. He went to the coffee-bar with us, and sometimes stood a round, even rising to a Jacobs Club if anyone wanted one. Knowing I lived near, he’d ask me to stay an extra hour an odd evening and afterwards he’d buy me chop and chips at Dinky Snacks, opposite the start of Leinster Road, and talk about his plans, ask me what I thought: his myriad plans, and how he seemed to effervesce with love for every one of them. I’d never come across a superior as open and as lively, had never seen work considered a pleasure not a burden, had never thought to find outside of books and banners equality and fraternity. Here, I thought, was someone to be like at last, someone obviously at liberty to believe in his own energy, for whom the world as he found it was right enough. My own version of that liberty–that’s what I need.

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Hesitation Theory

— Reginald Shepherd
 
I drift into the sound of wind,
how small my life must be
to fit into his palm like that, holly
leaf, bluejay feather, milkweed fluff,
pin straw or sycamore pod, resembling
scraps of light. The world
slips through these fingers
so easily, there’s so much
to miss: the sociable bones
linked up in supple rows, mineral
seams just under the skin. I hold
my palm against the sun and don’t see
palm or sun, don’t hold anything
in either hand. I look up, look
away (what’s that?), I trip
and stumble (fall
again), find myself face down
in duff, a foam of fallen live oak
leaves, with only
this life, mine at times.

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Joan Retallack, Nicole Brossard, and Carolyn Forché

Retallack, Brossard, and ForcheFebruary 15, 2000

The Ventriloquist’s Dilemma

— Joan Retallack
 
Birdsong entered our words and left with migratory
echoes insufficiently dispersed. We weren’t designed
to perceive most of what surrounds us or to fully
understand the rest. Maybe it’s true that differential
equations drove the teenager off the road. The self-
propagating slope remains unhindered in its x-y axis.
It’s really difficult to find the language to say these
things rigorously. Sound waves break on the shore and
make one feel unwelcome. And too, there’s that
conspicuous absence of real metaphors in nature.
Sorry, meant to say, there’s that conspicuous absence
of real nature in metaphors. Someone will always
claim night flew into a tree. The placement of (those)
words in a line.

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Shadow

— Nicole Brossard
 
a beautiful subjectivity that doesn’t broach
lucidity
all bodies pronounce shadow
avid for images
and those days we inhabit the same universe
impregnable passions still exist
that leave us dreaming my life
at arm’s length

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The Morning Baking

— Carolyn Forché
 
Grandma, come back, I forgot
How much lard for these rolls

Think you can put yourself in the ground
Like plain potatoes and grow in Ohio?
I am damn sick of getting fat like you

Think you can lie through your Slovak?
Tell filthy stories about the blood sausage?
Pish-pish nights at the virgin in Detroit?

I blame your raising me up for my Slav tongue
You beat me up out back, taught me to dance

I’ll tell you I don’t remember any kind of bread
Your wavy loaves of flesh
Stink through my sleep
The stars on your silk robes

But I’m glad I’ll look when I’m old
Like a gypsy dusha hauling milk

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Adrienne Rich

RichOctober 29, 1999

What Kind of Times Are These

 
There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

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Marlene Nourbese Philip and Xue Di

Philip and DiSeptember 30, 1999

The Hold Up

— Marlene Nourbese Philip
 
Stripped of leaves,
surprised–
the trees
scrape the grey winter sky
with veined brittle arms.

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The passage to heaven

— Xue Di
 
I see him from a distance. Sleep
is a long narrow train with
many empty seats. I see myself
sitting, traveling somewhere
Along the way, on my left
I see unfold, meticulously, a
mysterious orange and ochre shape. I
almost wake up
Heaven is just back of my
eyes, almost as if–the train moving
just a bit faster or
stopping–I might become
the first person to see heaven
and return. I can’t tell you
how that passage
woke me at midnight and made
me happy. The train reaches its
destination in the tropics. I’m
waking slowly and longing for
two women I love

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